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Elements Of Childhood In Plato's "Lysis"

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Childhood in the Ancient world was viewed in somewhat of a different light then in the post Greco-Roman world of Europe circa the Medieval age. For this very reason the attitude, language, and style of the writings that are found from the Ancient world must be considered in the context of their time period. Classical Greek writers like Plato comprised extensive works detailing their own teachings through plays or epic poems. Plato commonly would write plays in which his teacher, the famous philosopher Socrates, would commence in extensive dialogue and debate with several other characters. As a student of Socrates, Plato viewed his teacher as a great man who's teachings were worthy of documentation and most of the present-day knowledge of Socrates' works are through the writings of Plato. In addition to the philosophical merits of these works, they are also of great importance because they provide the reader with a first-hand look at the attitudes of the Ancient Greeks towards such things as the ancient idea of Childhood.

"Lysis," written by Plato in approximately 380 BCE (the exact year is unknown) is an in depth look, through the teachings of Socrates, at the nature of friendship, desire, usefulness and personal identity. This work is relevant to our course about childhood because the characters in the dialogue that Socrates is speaking with are youths. Socrates reveals through his teachings many of the ancient attitudes towards different aspects of "childhood." It is quite apparent that this outlook on children more closely resembles the later ideas of the Renaissance, rather than those found in Medieval history. Due to the obsession with knowledge and learning found in both the Classical and Renaissance eras, those who partook in the learning, the youth of society, held a much higher standing in society than the children of the plague-ridden society of the 14th and early 15th century.

This specific work by Plato is particularly interesting and relevant because in the text Socrates talks about childhood in great extent and he seems to have a great appreciation for the young men in Greek society. Socrates also employs a much different style of teaching than that is found in later Judeo-Christian society of Europe. Plato describes this method with great admiration as he writes, "Socrates maintains his character of a 'know nothing;' but the boys have already learned the lesson which he is unable to teach them, and they are free from the conceit of knowledge." (Plato, "Lysis" pg. 4) Socrates' method involves asking the student questions so that the student can come to his own conclusions, rather than the instructor simply spitting information at the child until it is memorized and embedded in their brain. By doing this, the instructor can guide the student in the path of the conclusion, but the student is mostly responsible for working through the understanding of the idea. As we see in many sources found from Medieval society, education was much more structuralized and literal, rather than rhetorical. However, as is suggested in "Lysis," Classical Greek society placed an enormous importance on the teaching of children in order to raise them as moral citizens.

One negative aspects of this source is the almost exclusive philosophical slant of the literature. Most of the text concerns the nature of "love" and "like", which doesn't tell the reader too much about many aspects of everyday life for children. As in most of his teachings, Socrates becomes enthralled in the usage of language concerning certain ideas and discovering the core meaning of the terms that are connected to specific ideas. It does, however, clearly reveals that the citizens of the Ancient Grecian era were concerned enough with children and the concept of friendship among children that they would engage in extensive philosophical debates about them.

Likewise, several obstacles that a modern-day reader may encounter while examining "Lysis," include the difficulty in translating an ancient text and attempting to understand its thesis in a contemporary environment. This text has, in all probability, been translated from the original Greek language into several different European languages before the final English translation emerged. This could lead to some confusion due to the drastic differences between the myriad languages that can be found in Europe, each with its own embedded set of ideals and characteristics. It is very possible that some of the meaning may have been changed or lost in translation, so a historical study of this work must take into very careful consideration that very fact. One specific example of this confusion arises in Socrates' discussion of boyish lovers and the language he uses in doing so. In a modern day context, we would consider the term "lover" to mean one who is romantically and sexually linked to another person. However, in Ancient Greece, the love that they speak of is not meant in a blatant sexual way, rather, it expresses a deep understanding and appreciation of the intellect of a fellow citizen or student. When Plato refers to the young boys Lysis and Menexenus as "lovers" he is not implying that there is some sort of homosexuality occurring, even though it was not that uncommon of the age. We must also remember that Greeks used some of the same words to mean many different things and vice-versa, which can be seen in the interchangeable nature of the words "lover" and "friend."

Another intricacy that arises in examining "Lysis" as a primary source is that there are not very many other classical writings that deal with childhood in the period. In the later Medieval and Renaissance eras of European history, there are a growing number of studies



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