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Foreigners as Liberators: Education and Cultural Diversity in Plato's Menexenus


Though recent scholarship challenges the traditional interpretation of Plato as anti-democratic, his antipathy to cultural diversity is still generally assumed. The Menexenus appears to offer some of the most striking evidence of Platonic xenophobia, as it features Socrates delivering a mock funeral oration that glorifies Athens’ exclusion of foreigners. Yet when readers play along with Socrates’ exhortation to imagine the oration through the voice of its alleged author Aspasia, Pericles’ foreign mistress, the oration becomes ironic or dissonant. Through this, Plato shows that foreigners can act as gadflies, liberating citizens from the intellectual hubris that occasions democracy's fall into tyranny. In reminding readers of Socrates’ death, the dialogue warns, however, that fear of education may prevent democratic citizens from appreciating the role of cultural diversity in cultivating the virtue of Socratic wisdom.

Corresponding author
Rebecca LeMoine is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University (
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An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2012 annual meeting of the Association for Political Theory, where it benefitted greatly from Susan Bickford's insightful commentary. Thanks to Ethan Alexander-Davey, Andreas Avgousti, Richard Avramenko, Brendan Irons, Daniel Kapust, Michelle Schwarze, the APSR editorial team (both present and former), and four anonymous referees for their invaluable feedback on earlier drafts. Finally, I am grateful to my husband, Matthew Taylor, for serving as my gadfly through multiple renditions of this article.

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