Schadenfreude, envy and jealousy in Plato’s Philebus and Phaedrus


  • Alessandra Fussi University of Pisa



Plato, envy, jealousy, Schadenfreude, love, friendship, Aristotle, Plutarch.


This paper concerns the conflict between loving and envious feelings in the Philebus and the Phaedrus. The Greek word phthonos, used by Plato in different contexts, characterizes emotions that contemporary theories classify as envy, Schadenfreude and jealousy. My claim is that in the Philebus Plato characterizes phthonos mainly qua Schadenfreude (an emotion which plays an important role in comedies). In this case the rivalry towards friends and neighbors neither stops at emulation, nor is explicitly experienced as malicious envy, and laughter offers the opportunity to feel pleasure at the other’s misfortune without experiencing guilt or shame. In the Phaedrus, phthonos initially refers to the jealousy felt by the older lover towards his beloved. As the dialogue progresses, however, Socrates highlights the important role played by malicious envy when the love described is blind to transcendent beauty. Reference is made to Aristotle’s account of emotions in the Rhetoric, and to Plutarch’s treatise On Envy and Hate for valuable insights towards differentiating envy from other negative emotions.

Author Biography

Alessandra Fussi, University of Pisa

Department of Philology, Literature and Linguistics

Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy