Phaedrus

by

Plato

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Phaedrus: 231a-234c Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Phaedrus reads Lysias’s speech to Socrates. Lysias begins by claiming that he will not “fail to achieve the things I ask for because I happen not to be in love with you.” He explains that, while those who are in love often later repent of “services” rendered, those who aren’t in love do not, because they act according to their own choosing, not under the “compulsion” of love. Furthermore, Lysias argues, someone who promises great things to a lover, elevating him above all others, will eventually fall in love with somebody else and neglect him in turn.
Lysias speaks as one who desires sex with his hearer (presumably a younger man), but isn’t actually in love with him. With little preamble, he immediately begins giving reasons why agreeing to his proposition is better than agreeing to such an advance from someone who is in love. A major theme is “compulsion” versus free choice.
Themes
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Lysias continues that it’s unreasonable to agree to sex with someone who’s in the “unfortunate” condition of being in love—"for the ones who suffer it agree themselves that they are sick rather than in their right mind,” and when they come to their senses, they disapprove of how they themselves have acted. Further, it’s better not to limit oneself to those who are in love; outside that limited subset, one has a better chance of finding a man “worthy of your affection.”
If a lover himself admits he isn’t in his right mind, Lysias argues, then how is it reasonable to agree to sex with someone in this state, who will likely repent of his actions later? Also, only sleeping with men who are in love with you narrows your options unnecessarily. (It’s worth noting here that a young boyfriend was likely not expecting a long-term commitment from his wooer; in the ancient Greek context, he was more likely to gain mentorship and social connections through such a relationship.)
Themes
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Related Quotes
Lysias points out that men in love will likely boast about their conquests, while those not in love are more likely to be discreet. Lovers, too, are more likely to take needless offense at things and become quarrelsome, and they tend to be jealous. Lovers sometimes come to dislike their boyfriends after their passion is spent; when a sexual encounter is based on friendship, however, friendship is more likely to outlast sex.
Lysias’s arguments are based on (what appears to be) good sense and are guided by long-term self-interest, as well as concern for how a relationship will appear within society. Socrates will undermine many of these assumptions later.
Themes
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It seems to make sense, Lysias says, to grant favors to those who need them the most, because they’ll be most grateful. But he argues that it’s actually more fitting to grant favors to those who’ll be in a position to pay you back someday, and to those who aren’t simply interested in your youthful beauty, but in sharing their advantages with you. His speech trails off soon after.
Lysias’s arguments, while baldly self-interested, do make sense in the context of mentoring relationships that are oriented toward a youth’s long-term societal advantage. At the same time, it’s easy to hear a potentially seductive and manipulative note as well.
Themes
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