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'Our mind went to the Platonic Charmides': the reception of Plato’s Charmides in Wilde, Cavafy and Plutarch

Duff, T. ORCID: (2021) 'Our mind went to the Platonic Charmides': the reception of Plato’s Charmides in Wilde, Cavafy and Plutarch. In: Fantuzzi, M., Morales, H. and Whitmarsh, T. (eds.) Reception in the Greco-Roman World: Literary Studies in Theory and Practice. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 167-193. ISBN 9781316518588

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1017/9781108993845.008


Plato’s Charmides is notable as being the only Platonic text in which Socrates admits to feeling sexual desire for a young man. This paper examines three different receptions of this text: Oscar Wilde’s 666-line poem Charmides, C. P. Cavafy’s 8-line poem In a town of Osroene (Ἐν πόλει τῆς Ὀσροηνῆς), and Plutarch’s much earlier Life of Alcibiades. It focus on how the three authors respond to the erotic and philosophical element in the Charmides. Wilde’s 1881 Charmides provides an example of minimal textual engagement: the name Charmides is invoked solely for its connotations of young, male beauty; the tone is erotically charged but the homoerotic content is muted, and the philosophical element entirely absent. In Cavafy’s In a town of Osroene, first printed in 1917, explicit allusion to ‘the Platonic Charmides’ in the last line recasts the poem an expression of homoerotic desire, and endows its group of young men with the prestige of a Platonic gathering and Platonic love. In contrast, Plutarch’s engagement with the Charmides in his Life of Alcibiades is implicit, and depends entirely on the reader’s ability to recognise a series of detailed verbal echoes. Furthermore, while calling to mind the educational conversation with which Socrates engaged Charmides, Plutarch denies that Socrates’ motivation was sexual, and integrates allusion to the Charmides into a broader network of allusions to other passages in which Plato describes Socrates’ encounters with beautiful young men, or the ideal relationship of a mature man with a younger beloved, in which the sexual element is entirely absent. In so doing, Plutarch “corrects” Plato with Plato, and removes what had become an embarrassment in his period.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Humanities > Classics
ID Code:100346
Uncontrolled Keywords:Plutarch, Oscar Wilde, Cavafy, Charmides, Alcibiades, Socrates, Plato, same-sex relationships, homosexuality, Classical reception
Publisher:Cambridge University Press


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