How to be a good symposiast and other lessons from Xenophon's Symposium

Hobden, Fiona (2004). How to be a good symposiast and other lessons from Xenophon's Symposium. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 50 pp. 121–140.



Xenophon's Symposium lies at a confluence between two trends in modern scholarship. On the one hand, its author and his writings have recently attracted a resurgence in interest and credibility. No longer is Xenophon regarded as merely a ‘literary dilettante’, a dull, unimaginative and ultimately incompetent philosopher, or a conservative gentleman of the British old school. He is rather a political radical, an innovator in literary form, and the defender of a ‘trendy and shocking philosopher’. In this vein, his Symposium has been rescued from condemnation as a poor imitation of Plato's dialogue of the same name. No modern reader of Xenophon's work would go so far as Eunapius in declaring its writer to be ‘the only man out of all the philosophers to adorn philosophy in word and deed’. Yet, as Huss's comprehensive commentary has shown, the Symposium is much more than the product of an amateur philosopher and writer. It is a work of considerable complexity which draws on a variety of literary influences beyond Plato's Symposium, mixing seriousness with jest in order to explore, among other issues, beauty and desire.

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