POLS 650: Basic Topics in Ancient Political Philosophy

Plato’s Symposium and Alcibiades I & II

Northern Illinois University

Department of Political Science

Fall 2008


Professor Radasanu

Office: Zulauf 408

Phone Number: 753-7052

Email Address: aradasanu@niu.edu

Office Hours: Mondays 12:30pm-1:30pm; Tuesdays 1pm-2pm; Wednesdays 3:30pm-4:30pm; and by appointment

Class Time: Tuesday 3:30-6:10pm

Classroom: DU 466


Course Description:


This semester we are reading three works by Plato: the Symposium and the two Alcibiades. The common thread between them is the character of Alcibiades, the most controversial political player in the history of Ancient Athens. While Thucydides and Xenophon defend him (if a little ambivalently) in their respective histories of the Peloponnesian War, he is clearly a threat to the democracy in Athens. After the war, once the democracy was reestablished, Socrates’ past association with Alcibiades and other men with aristocratic or even tyrannical aspirations precipitated the trial in which he was accused of corrupting the youth and not believing in the gods of the city. This is the backdrop of our inquiry.


We will put our minds to determining the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades, the nature of their attachment to one another, and, most importantly, Socrates’ failure to teach Alcibiades that the philosophic life is the best one for human beings. This set of questions will help us consider even more fundamental ones.  What is the nature of human desire or eros? What is love, and how ought we determine what is lovable? What is the relationship between love, justice and the human longing for immortality? 


Required Texts:


Plato. Socrates and Alcibiades. Translated with introduction and notes by David M. Johnson. Newburyport, MA: Focus Philosophical Library, 2003. This book contains the English translations of the two Alcibiades dialogues that we will be studying.


Plato. Plato’s Symposium. Translation by Seth Benardete, with commentaries by Allan Bloom and Seth Benardete. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Recommended Secondary Readings

Bruell, Christopher. On the Socratic Education. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

Ellis, Walter M. Alcibiades. London: Routledge, 1989.

Howland, Jacob. “Socrates and Alcibiades: Eros, Piety, and Politics.” Interpretation 18: 63-90.

Lutz, Mark J. Socrates’ Education to Virtue: Learning the Love of the Noble. Albany: SUNY, 1998.

Nussbaum, Martha C. The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Pangle, Thomas L. ed. The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues. Translated, with Interpretive Studies. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1987.

Strauss, Leo. On Plato’s Symposium. Edited and with a foreword by Seth Benardete. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it should give you a very good running start for tracking down other secondary sources.

Formal Requirements and Basis of Grading:


·   Attendance and class participation: 15%

·   Short Paper: 25% (800-1000 words). Topic will be assigned.

·   Class presentation, oral and written: 20%. Each student will give one presentation during the semester. This presentation will lead off a given seminar and provide an interpretation of an assigned passage. The presentation will be between ten and fifteen minutes, and the written version will be handed in for evaluation. 15% of grade will be determined by the oral presentation, and 5% by the written version of presentation.

·   Term paper: 40% (3000 words). Topic of your own devising.


Expectations of Students:




Attendance and participation are crucial components of this class. You are expected to attend and participate every class, or offer a very good excuse for not doing so. This means that you must read the text to be covered that day, and be prepared to discuss the text thoughtfully. Ask and answer questions, offer comments, and argue with the professor’s interpretation of the text. Without doing most of these things on a regular basis, it will not be possible to earn an A for the attendance and participation portion of your grade (15%).




To earn an A in the course, both active and thoughtful participation and excellent written work will be required. For written work, A’s are earned when compelling interpretations are provided (and expressed clearly) in response to the assigned topics or topics of your own devising.




Incompletes are given only for unforeseeable events that make it impossible to complete course work by the end of the semester. Students are responsible for informing the professor of such events, and for securing her consent for an incomplete, as promptly as possible.



Tentative Class Schedule:


The following can only be called a “schedule” in the loosest terms. If you must miss a class, it is imperative that you find out where we broke off, and what reading is required for the following class. What is certain is that you must be prepared to begin discussing Alcibiades I as of the first class. You need not have completed the whole dialogue, but do read through the first half to start familiarizing yourself with the arguments.



August 26


Begin Alcibiades I

September 2

Alcibiades I, con’d

September 9

Alcibiades I, con’d

September 16

Symposium, setting &Phaedrus

September 23

Symposium, Pausanias

September 30

Symposium, Pausanias, con’d

October 7

Symposium, Eryximachus


October 14

Symposium, Aristophanes

Short Paper due

October 21

Symposium, Agathon

October 28

Symposium, Socrates

November 4

Symposium, Socrates, con’d

November 11

Symposium, Socrates, con’d

November 18

Symposium, Alcibiades

November 25

Class Canceled (in Chicago with Model UN Club) Write your papers!

December 2

Symposium, Alcibiades con’d

Term Paper due

December 9

Discussion of Alcibiades II; return papers


Assignment dates are firm (unless changed by unanimous consent of students and professor). All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the day specified.


We will schedule the presentations in the first two weeks of classes. Once scheduled, those are firm due dates as well.