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Themes and Colors
The Soul’s Struggle for Wisdom Theme Icon
Love and Madness Theme Icon
Rhetoric and Philosophy Theme Icon
The Limits of Writing Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Phaedrus, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Soul’s Struggle for Wisdom

In Phaedrus, the ancient philosopher Socrates uses an extended metaphor to describe the human soul as “a winged pair of horses and their charioteer.” He explains that, while gods’ horses are of good stock, everyone else’s “horses” are of mixed stock—one of the horses is noble and good, while the other has the opposite nature. “Perfectly winged” souls sail above the earth and govern the cosmos, but souls who have lost their wings fall…

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Love and Madness

Phaedrus, a young student of rhetoric, has just come from hearing famous speechwriter Lysias deliver a speech at a friend’s house. When he and philosopher Socrates later cross paths, Socrates asks to hear Lysias’s speech from Phaedrus. In his speech, Lysias makes a sensible, straightforward argument that young men should resist the advances of men who are in love with them, preferring relationships with men who don’t love them, since the latter aren’t driven…

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Rhetoric and Philosophy

After Socrates has refuted the speechwriter Lysias’s argument about love, Socrates and Phaedrus begin talking about the speechwriting (rhetorical) profession in general. In the ancient world, rhetoric—which Socrates defines as “a kind of leading of the soul by means of speech”—was sometimes dismissed as a manipulative art that held loosely to the truth. Through Socrates and Phaedrus’s discussion, Plato argues that, while rhetoric in itself isn’t a shameful pursuit, it isn’t enough for…

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The Limits of Writing

Near the end of Phaedrus, Socrates and Phaedrus have a short but fascinating exchange on the subject of the “propriety and impropriety [of] … writing.” Writing things down wasn’t common even among learned circles in classical Greece; in this discussion, in fact, it’s regarded as an ambivalent new technology. While Plato doesn’t mean to dismiss writing as a worthless practice, he uses Socrates’s arguments to show that, in the pursuit of wisdom, writing has…

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