The moral of the story: on fables and philosophy in Plato's 'Symposium'
Scholars have puzzled over the fact that Plato’s criticisms of poetry are themselves contained in mimetic works. This paper sheds light on that phenomenon by examining an analogous one. The Symposium contains one fable (told by Aristophanes) which is criticised by means of another (told by Diotima) which is thought to represent Plato’s own view. Diotima’s fable, however, is suspended within a larger narrative that invites us to examine and question it. The Symposium thus affords opportunity to observe Plato’s criticisms of a genre and the qualifications that must be made regarding his own use of it. In particular, the Symposium emphasises that stories have no automatic claim to authority, whether they are told by a poet, or a priest or a philosopher. The upshot for Plato’s dialogues is that they remain always a starting point for philosophy: they are neither specimens of philosophical poetry nor philosophy per se.