The Review of Politics

Research Article

The Challenge of Plato's Menexenus

Susan D. Collins and Devin Stauffer

Only recently have students of political theory begun to pay attention to Plato's Menexenus, and it deserves this closer study. In this article, it is argued that the dialogue is best read as Plato's at least quasi—serious critique of Pericle' famous Funeral Oration, and that a comparison of these two works leads to a paradoxical discovery. For by presenting Socrates in the Menexenus as a defender of a restrained and traditional politics against the bold imperialism of Pericles, Plato presents a figure who is hard to square with the dialectical critic of the city found in dialogues like the Apology. Whether there is nonetheless some thread tying Socrates' venture at political rhetoric to his signature form of philosophy is the deepest question posed by the Menexenus and one which offers new insight on Plato's complex view of the relation between politics and philosophy.