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Claudia Zichi

Use of Fiction in Plato and Thucydides

That the literary aspects in Plato’s philosophical dialogues and Thucydides’ Histories are as important as their philosophical arguments and historical accounts is a statement with which few scholars nowadays disagree. For my project at the institute I would like to examine the concepts of falsehood, fiction, and noble lies in the works of Plato and Thucydides. Plato’s criticism of poetry revolves around the moral value of the teachings contained in specific poems. In the Republic, Socrates is concerned that the poets instil false beliefs in the minds of the young, what he calls a “falsehood in the psyche” or a “lie in the soul” (Resp. 382b9–11).

Although in Plato’s dialogues, poets are criticised for their lack of substantial, rational knowledge, still we find in these dialogues an ample use of myths and poetic allusions. One conclusion that can be drawn from an analysis of the preludes to the Laws, to which I devoted my Phd thesis, is that the Athenian employs myth (either through allusion to a previous myth, or by inventing one himself) in order to instil in the young morally true principles, i.e. principles which have already passed the judgement of the philosopher legislator. In the next step of my research, I would like to investigate which persuasive strategies are employed, for similar moral purposes, by the historiographer Thucydides, a contemporary of Plato.


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