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Plato’s Necromantic Persuasion: Rhetoric, Death, and Sorcery in and beyond the Menexenus.

Blank, Ryan (2023) Plato’s Necromantic Persuasion: Rhetoric, Death, and Sorcery in and beyond the Menexenus. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Throughout the Platonic corpus, Plato has his protagonist, usually Socrates, compare rhetoric and sophistry to second-rate magic, including snake charming and, oddly, necromancy. Necromancy should be understood as a means of prophesying from and communicating with the dead, while also serving the quasi-religious function of guiding the soul from a living body into Hades (and occasionally back again). Plato’s protagonist or his interlocutors often signal that the necromantic or magical characterization of rhetoric is play or irony, which serves to further undermine the potential seriousness of rhetorical magic. But Socrates, too, is likened to a magician, sorcerer, and necromancer throughout the corpus, which indicates that for Plato there is a higher form of magic at which both rhetoric and philosophy might aim. A jarring instance of Socrates likening rhetoric to necromancy appears in the Menexenus, a dialogue in which Socrates delivers a funeral oration composed by Aspasia of Miletus that displays several acts of necromancy and includes one of the earliest usages of rhētorikē.

In this dissertation I argue that rather than dismissing Plato’s characterizations of rhetoric as necromancy in the Platonic corpus, we instead treat the Menexenus as the central text for understanding Platonic rhetoric. I do this by first introducing the historical and cultural contexts in which ancient Greek necromancy arose, including novel understandings of the soul and the figures most associated with early necromancy, such as Orpheus, Pythagoras, Empedocles, and Gorgias. With a background of necromantic traditions in place, I turn to the Menexenus to understand why Plato first likens rhetoric to witchcraft and then performs it with necro-rhetorical brilliance that only few before Plato could match. In the following chapter, I show that there is real substance to Plato’s necromantic rhetoric by tracing it across the Platonic corpus in light of kēlēsis, enchantment by eloquence, and epōdē, an incantation for which earlier necromancers were renowned. Finally, I extend the insights into Plato’s necromantic rhetoric developed in previous chapters to read the rhetorical art of psychagōgia, soul-leading, in the Phaedrus as one steeped in a long tradition of ancient Greek necromancy.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Blank, Ryanryanblank4810@gmail.comrab184
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairMarshall, David
Committee MemberMitchell, Gordon
Committee MemberMatheson,
Committee MemberKennerly,
Date: 5 September 2023
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 12 July 2023
Approval Date: 5 September 2023
Submission Date: 3 August 2023
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 223
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: plato, menexenus, rhetoric, necromancy, psychagogia, epode, kelesis, goeteia
Date Deposited: 05 Sep 2023 16:20
Last Modified: 05 Sep 2023 16:20


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