Title: "Socrates and the Minotaur: Following the Thread of Myth in Plato's Dialogues", Teaching Philosophy, 16/3, 1993, 193-204.
Author: Jeremiah P. Conway
Date: April 2002
Reviewer: John Sellars
 When teaching Plato's dialogues one should not simply extract only those parts that conform to the modern image of a philosophical argument. Nor should one mine them for biographical information about Socrates. Instead their dramatic form and mythical content should respected. In particular, the author suggests that Plato created a myth out of Socrates.
 By myth the author understands a symbolic image produced by the human imagination and often preoccupied with a 'oneness of being'. When approaching myths one should not take them literally. Such literalism is evident 'in the supposition that Plato's image of Socrates ... merely concerns a particular individual walking about ... Athens in the 5th century BC'.  Nor should one demand conceptual clarity from myths.
The Mythic Context of the Crito
In order to illustrate his suggestion the author turns to the Crito. In the dialogue Socrates' dream [at 44b, not 43c as cited] echoes a passage in the Illiad, suggesting that Socrates is being portrayed as a hero like Achilles.  In order to explore this idea it is necessary to look for other mythic themes in the dialogue. The most obvious is the opening reference to the journey of the sacred ship commemorating Theseus' battle with the minotaur.
Theseus and the Minotaur
The author recounts the origins of the Athenian hero Theseus.  Famously, he offered himself as one of the regular Athenian sacrifices to the minotaur of Crete but managed to kill the minotaur and escape the minotaur's labyrinth by following a thread he had laid down on his way in. 
The Myth's Philosophical Implications
This myth forms the background to the Crito. Socrates resembles the minotaur, destroying the youth of Athens just as the monster consumed the Athenian sacrifices. Crito is himself caught in the labyrinth of popular opinion. Philosophy is the thread that might enable Crito to escape.  For Socrates, it is Athens that is the minotaur. However Socrates does not try to slay this monster.  'The hero's journey for Socrates is learning to do no harm'. 
Implications for Teaching
When teaching Plato's dialogues their 'mythic dimension cannot be overlooked'. In the Crito, Crito represents an entrapped consciousness while Socrates represents an enlightened consciousness. The pedagogic advantage is that this makes the content of the dialogue perennially relevant, regardless of the conclusions or validity of the arguments within it. All students have their own labyrinths to escape and minotaurs to defeat.
 Moreover, paying attention to the mythical content in the dialogues challenges our preconceptions about the nature of philosophical discourse. [...]
This article opens with a number of quite reasonable points that one should bear in mind when teaching Plato:
All of these are, I think, worth emphasising and the author does well to bring them to our attention. However his fairly detailed attempt to draw a parallel between the Crito and the story of Theseus is inconsistent. Either Socrates is the hero (i.e. Theseus) who will save Crito and the other Athenians from the labyrinth of popular opinion, or he is a monster (i.e. the minotaur) who destroys the youth - but he cannot be both. The author may well be correct to note that the dialogue's opening reference to the sacred ship commemorating Theseus may have been intended by Plato as an important literary device, one perhaps lost on some modern readers. But his particular explication of what Plato intended by it is, to me, unconvincing.
Re-reading the opening pages of the Crito in the light of the author's interpretation makes me even less inclined to accept the parallel that he attempts to draw. The reference to the sacred ship and the delay in Socrates' execution forced by its late arrival appears simply to be a literary device that enables Plato to create a space between trial and execution in which Socrates can explain his reasons for not trying to escape from prison. [Alternatively, it may simply be a statement of fact; perhaps Socrates' trail was delayed.] It is perhaps also worth noting that the reference to the ship in the Crito is brief to say the least. Where Plato actually discusses Theseus is at the beginning of the Phaedo. In sum, I imagine that there are far better ways to illustrate the continuing relevance of the Platonic dialogues than the one that the author outlines here.
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