To ask whether a classical tradition of dialogue ended in late antiquity, it is important to identify what kind of phenomenon ancient dialogue was, as our sources reflect it. First and foremost, dialogue, as it has come down to us, was a literary genre. What remains to us, of course, are texts. Dialogic texts involve the reader in a drama. More than one speaker speaks; positions are taken; lines are drawn and dissolve again; the reader has to ‘find’ himself – herself – among the speakers, among the positions offered.
Secondly, however, the dialogic drama purports to reflect a concrete social formation, a ‘happening’ in social reality, something that also took place outside of texts. We know less about this, of course, than we do about the literary artefact. But the texts that have come down to us imply that they are reflecting a social ritual, a habit of discourse, a distinctive mode of enquiry, a socially dynamic protocol to which problems were subjected, with a view to finding ‘answers’ that were more valuable – possibly more ‘true’ – because of the stake-holder method by which they were derived.
If dialogue is a philosophical tool, it is also a mode of literary representation, and it is a literary medium that is exploding in various directions in late antiquity. How the social ritual changed across time, and how the literary genre changed, are of course very different questions, and it is important to be aware which question we are asking.