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Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 1 (Charmides, Lysis, Laches, Protagoras, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Phaedrus, Ion, Symposium) [387]

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Plato, The Dialogues of Plato, vol. 1, translated into English with Analyses and Introductions by B. Jowett, M.A. in Five Volumes. 3rd edition revised and corrected (Oxford University Press, 1892).

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Volume 1 (with 9 dialogues) of a 5 volume edition of Plato by the great English Victorian Greek scholar, Benjamin Jowett. The scholarly apparatus is immense and detailed. The online version preserves the marginal comments of the printed edition and has links to all the notes and comments provided by Jowett.

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This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.

Table of Contents:

Edition: current; Page: [i]
Edition: current; Page: [ii]

Oxford University Press

Amen House, E.C. 4

London Edinburgh Glasgow Leipzig New York Toronto Melbourne Capetown Bombay Calcutta Madras Shanghai

Humphrey Milford Publisher to the University

First Edition 1871

Second Edition 1875

Third Edition 1892

Impression of 1931

This impression has been produced photographically from sheets of the Third Edition, and has been printed in Great Britain for theMuston Company, 4 Bell Yard, Temple Bar, W.C. 2, by Lowe & Brydone, London

Edition: current; Page: [iii]
by B. JOWETT, M.A. master of balliol college regius professor of greek in the university of oxford doctor in theology of the university of leyden
Edition: current; Page: [iv] Edition: current; Page: [v]

IN BALLIOL COLLEGE AND IN THE UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD who during fifty years have been the best of friends to me these volumes are inscribed in grateful recognition of their never failing attachment

Edition: current; Page: [vi] Edition: current; Page: [vii]

The additions and alterations which have been made, both in the Introductions and in the Text of this Edition, affect at least a third of the work.

Having regard to the extent of these alterations, and to the annoyance which is naturally felt by the owner of a book at the possession of it in an inferior form, and still more keenly by the writer himself, who must always desire to be read as he is at his best, I have thought that the possessor of either of the former Editions (1870 and 1876) might wish to exchange it for the present one. I have therefore arranged that those who would like to make this exchange, on depositing a perfect and undamaged copy of the first or second Edition with any agent of the Clarendon Press, shall be entitled to receive a copy of a new Edition at half–price.

Edition: current; Page: [viii] Edition: current; Page: [ix]


The Text which has been mostly followed in this Translation of Plato is the latest 8vo. edition of Stallbaum; the principal deviations are noted at the bottom of the page.

I have to acknowledge many obligations to old friends and pupils. These are:—Mr. John Purves, Fellow of Balliol College, with whom I have revised about half of the entire Translation; the Rev. Professor Campbell, of St. Andrews, who has helped me in the revision of several parts of the work, especially of the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Politicus; Mr. Robinson Ellis, Fellow of Trinity College, and Mr. Alfred Robinson, Fellow of New College, who read with me the Cratylus and the Gorgias; Mr. Paravicini, Student of Christ Church, who assisted me in the Symposium; Mr. Raper, Fellow of Queen’s College, Mr. Monro, Fellow of Oriel College, and Mr. Shadwell, Student of Christ Church, who gave me similar assistance in the Laws. Dr. Greenhill, of Hastings, has also kindly sent me remarks on the physiological part of the Timaeus, which I have inserted as corrections under the head of errata at the end of the Introduction. The degree of accuracy which I have been enabled to attain is in great measure due Edition: current; Page: [x] to these gentlemen, and I heartily thank them for the pains and time which they have bestowed on my work.

I have further to explain how far I have received help from other labourers in the same field. The books which I have found of most use are Steinhart and Müller’s German Translation of Plato with Introductions; Zeller’s ‘Philosophie der Griechen,’ and ‘Platonische Studien;’ Susemihl’s ‘Genetische Entwickelung der Platonischen Philosophie;’ Hermann’s ‘Geschichte der Platonischen Philosophie;’ Bonitz, ‘Platonische Studien;’ Stallbaum’s Notes and Introductions; Professor Campbell’s editions of the ‘Theaetetus,’ the ‘Sophist,’ and the ‘Politicus;’ Professor Thompson’s ‘Phaedrus;’ Th. Martin’s ‘Études sur le Timée;’ Mr. Poste’s edition and translation of the ‘Philebus;’ the Translation of the ‘Republic,’ by Messrs. Davies and Vaughan, and the Translation of the ‘Gorgias,’ by Mr. Cope.

I have also derived much assistance from the great work of Mr. Grote, which contains excellent analyses of the Dialogues, and is rich in original thoughts and observations. I agree with him in rejecting as futile the attempt of Schleiermacher and others to arrange the Dialogues of Plato into a harmonious whole. Any such arrangement appears to me not only to be unsupported by evidence, but to involve an anachronism in the history of philosophy. There is a common spirit in the writings of Plato, but not a unity of design in the whole, nor perhaps a perfect unity in any single Dialogue. The hypothesis of a general plan which is worked out in the successive Dialogues is an after–thought of the critics who have attributed a system to writings belonging to an age when system had not as yet taken possession of philosophy.

If Mr. Grote should do me the honour to read any portion of this work he will probably remark that I have Edition: current; Page: [xi] endeavoured to approach Plato from a point of view which is opposed to his own. The aim of the Introductions in these volumes has been to represent Plato as the father of Idealism, who is not to be measured by the standard of utilitarianism or any other modern philosophical system. He is the poet or maker of ideas, satisfying the wants of his own age, providing the instruments of thought for future generations. He is no dreamer, but a great philosophical genius struggling with the unequal conditions of light and knowledge under which he is living. He may be illustrated by the writings of moderns, but he must be interpreted by his own, and by his place in the history of philosophy. We are not concerned to determine what is the residuum of truth which remains for ourselves. His truth may not be our truth, and nevertheless may have an extraordinary value and interest for us.

I cannot agree with Mr. Grote in admitting as genuine all the writings commonly attributed to Plato in antiquity, any more than with Schaarschmidt and some other German critics who reject nearly half of them. The German critics, to whom I refer, proceed chiefly on grounds of internal evidence; they appear to me to lay too much stress on the variety of doctrine and style, which must be equally acknowledged as a fact, even in the Dialogues regarded by Schaarschmidt as genuine, e.g. in the Phaedrus, or Symposium, when compared with the Laws. He who admits works so different in style and matter to have been the composition of the same author, need have no difficulty (see vol. iv, Appendix) in admitting the Sophist or the Politicus. [The negative argument adduced by the same school of critics, which is based on the silence of Aristotle, is not worthy of much consideration. For why should Aristotle, because he has quoted several Dialogues of Plato, have quoted them all? Something must be allowed to chance, and to the nature of the subjects treated Edition: current; Page: [xii] of in them.] On the other hand, Mr. Grote trusts mainly to the Alexandrian Canon. But I hardly think that we are justified in attributing much weight to the authority of the Alexandrian librarians in an age when there was no regular publication of books, and every temptation to forge them; and in which the writings of a school were naturally attributed to the founder of the school. And even without intentional fraud, there was an inclination to believe rather than to enquire. Would Mr. Grote accept as genuine all the writings which he finds in the lists of learned ancients attributed to Hippocrates, to Xenophon, to Aristotle? The Alexandrian Canon of the Platonic writings is deprived of credit by the admission of the Epistles, which are not only unworthy of Plato, and in several passages plagiarized from him, but flagrantly at variance with historical fact. It will be seen also that I do not agree with Mr. Grote’s views about the Sophists; nor with the low estimate which he has formed of Plato’s Laws; nor with his opinion respecting Plato’s doctrine of the rotation of the earth. But I ‘am not going to lay hands on my father Parmenides’ [Soph. 241 D], who will, I hope, forgive me for differing from him on these points. I cannot close this Preface without expressing my deep respect for his noble and gentle character, and the great services which he has rendered to Greek Literature.

Balliol College,
Edition: current; Page: [xiii]


In publishing a Second Edition (1875) of the Dialogues of Plato in English, I had to acknowledge the assistance of several friends: of the Rev. G. G. Bradley, Master of University College, now Dean of Westminster, who sent me some valuable remarks on the Phaedo; of Dr. Greenhill, who had again revised a portion of the Timaeus; of Mr. R. L. Nettleship, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, to whom I was indebted for an excellent criticism of the Parmenides; and, above all, of the Rev. Professor Campbell of St. Andrews, and Mr. Paravicini, late Student of Christ Church and Tutor of Balliol College, with whom I had read over the greater part of the translation. I was also indebted to Mr. Evelyn Abbott, Fellow and Tutor of Balliol College, for a complete and accurate index.

In this, the Third Edition, I am under very great obligations to Mr. Matthew Knight, who has not only favoured me with valuable suggestions throughout the work, but has largely extended the Index (from 61 to 175 pages) and translated the Eryxias and Second Alcibiades; and to Mr. Frank Fletcher, of Balliol College, my Secretary, who has assisted me chiefly in Vols. iii, iv, and v. I am also considerably indebted to Mr. J. W. Mackail, late Fellow of Edition: current; Page: [xiv] Balliol College, who read over the Republic in the Second Edition and noted several inaccuracies.

In both editions the Introductions to the Dialogues have been enlarged, and essays on subjects having an affinity to the Platonic Dialogues have been introduced into several of them. The analyses have been corrected, and innumerable alterations have been made in the Text. There have been added also, in the Third Edition, headings to the pages and a marginal analysis to the text of each dialogue.

At the end of a long task, the translator may without impropriety point out the difficulties which he has had to encounter. These have been far greater than he would have anticipated; nor is he at all sanguine that he has succeeded in overcoming them. Experience has made him feel that a translation, like a picture, is dependent for its effect on very minute touches; and that it is a work of infinite pains, to be returned to in many moods and viewed in different lights.

I. An English translation ought to be idiomatic and interesting, not only to the scholar, but to the unlearned reader. Its object should not simply be to render the words of one language into the words of another or to preserve the construction and order of the original;—this is the ambition of a schoolboy, who wishes to show that he has made a good use of his Dictionary and Grammar; but is quite unworthy of the translator, who seeks to produce on his reader an impression similar or nearly similar to that produced by the original. To him the feeling should be more important than the exact word. He should remember Dryden’s quaint admonition not to ‘lacquey by the side of his author, but to mount up behind him1 .’ He must carry in his mind a comprehensive view of the whole Edition: current; Page: [xv] work, of what has preceded and of what is to follow,—as well as of the meaning of particular passages. His version should be based, in the first instance, on an intimate knowledge of the text; but the precise order and arrangement of the words may be left to fade out of sight, when the translation begins to take shape. He must form a general idea of the two languages, and reduce the one to the terms of the other. His work should be rhythmical and varied, the right admixture of words and syllables, and even of letters, should be carefully attended to; above all, it should be equable in style. There must also be quantity, which is necessary in prose as well as in verse: clauses, sentences, paragraphs, must be in due proportion. Metre and even rhyme may be rarely admitted; though neither is a legitimate element of prose writing, they may help to lighten a cumbrous expression (cp. Symp. 185 D, 197, 198). The translation should retain as far as possible the characteristic qualities of the ancient writer — his freedom, grace, simplicity, stateliness, weight, precision; or the best part of him will be lost to the English reader. It should read as an original work, and should also be the most faithful transcript which can be made of the language from which the translation is taken, consistently with the first requirement of all, that it be English. Further, the translation being English, it should also be perfectly intelligible in itself without reference to the Greek, the English being really the more lucid and exact of the two languages. In some respects it may be maintained that ordinary English writing, such as the newspaper article, is superior to Plato: at any rate it is couched in language which is very rarely obscure. On the other hand, the greatest writers of Greece, Thucydides, Plato, Æschylus, Sophocles, Pindar, Demosthenes, are generally those which are found Edition: current; Page: [xvi] to be most difficult and to diverge most widely from the English idiom. The translator will often have to convert the more abstract Greek into the more concrete English, or vice versa, and he ought not to force upon one language the character of another. In some cases, where the order is confused, the expression feeble, the emphasis misplaced, or the sense somewhat faulty, he will not strive in his rendering to reproduce these characteristics, but will re–write the passage as his author would have written it at first, had he not been ‘nodding’; and he will not hesitate to supply anything which, owing to the genius of the language or some accident of composition, is omitted in the Greek, but is necessary to make the English clear and consecutive.

It is difficult to harmonize all these conflicting elements. In a translation of Plato what may be termed the interests of the Greek and English are often at war with one another. In framing the English sentence we are insensibly diverted from the exact meaning of the Greek; when we return to the Greek we are apt to cramp and overlay the English. We substitute, we compromise, we give and take, we add a little here and leave out a little there. The translator may sometimes be allowed to sacrifice minute accuracy for the sake of clearness and sense. But he is not therefore at liberty to omit words and turns of expression which the English language is quite capable of supplying. He must be patient and self–controlled; he must not be easily run away with. Let him never allow the attraction of a favourite expression, or a sonorous cadence, to overpower his better judgment, or think much of an ornament which is out of keeping with the general character of his work. He must ever be casting his eyes upwards from the copy to the original, and down again Edition: current; Page: [xvii] from the original to the copy (Rep. vi. 501 A). His calling is not held in much honour by the world of scholars; yet he himself may be excused for thinking it a kind of glory to have lived so many years in the companionship of one of the greatest of human intelligences, and in some degree, more perhaps than others, to have had the privilege of understanding him (cp. Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Lectures: Disc. xv. sub fin.).

There are fundamental differences in Greek and English, of which some may be managed while others remain intractable. (1). The structure of the Greek language is partly adversative and alternative, and partly inferential; that is to say, the members of a sentence are either opposed to one another, or one of them expresses the cause or effect or condition or reason of another. The two tendencies may be called the horizontal and perpendicular lines of the language; and the opposition or inference is often much more one of words than of ideas. But modern languages have rubbed off this adversative and inferential form: they have fewer links of connexion, there is less mortar in the interstices, and they are content to place sentences side by side, leaving their relation to one another to be gathered from their position or from the context. The difficulty of preserving the effect of the Greek is increased by the want of adversative and inferential particles in English, and by the nice sense of tautology which characterizes all modern languages. We cannot have two ‘buts’ or two ‘fors’ in the same sentence where the Greek repeats ἀλλὰ or γάρ. There is a similar want of particles expressing the various gradations of objective and subjective thought—που, δὴ, μὴ–, μέντοι, and the like, which are so thickly scattered over the Greek page. Further, we can only realize to a very imperfect Edition: current; Page: [xviii] degree the common distinction between οὐ and μή, and the combination of the two suggests a subtle shade of negation which cannot be expressed in English. And while English is more dependent than Greek upon the apposition of clauses and sentences, yet there is a difficulty in using this form of construction owing to the want of case endings. For the same reason there cannot be an equal variety in the order of words or an equal nicety of emphasis in English as in Greek.

(2). The formation of the sentence and of the paragraph greatly differs in Greek and English. The lines by which they are divided are generally much more marked in modern languages than in ancient. Both sentences and paragraphs are more precise and definite—they do not run into one another. They are also more regularly developed from within. The sentence marks another step in an argument or a narrative or a statement; in reading a paragraph we silently turn over the page and arrive at some new view or aspect of the subject. Whereas in Plato we are not always certain where a sentence begins and ends; and paragraphs are few and far between. The language is distributed in a different way, and less articulated than in English. For it was long before the true use of the period was attained by the classical writers both in poetry or prose; it was πολλη̂ς πείρας τελευταîον ἐπιγέννημα. The balance of sentences and the introduction of paragraphs at suitable intervals must not be neglected if the harmony of the English language is to be preserved. And still a caution has to be added on the other side, that we must avoid giving it a numerical or mechanical character.

(3). This, however, is not one of the greatest difficulties of the translator; much greater is that which arises from the restriction of the use of the genders. Men and women Edition: current; Page: [xix] in English are masculine and feminine, and there is a similar distinction of sex in the words denoting animals; but all things else, whether outward objects or abstract ideas, are relegated to the class of neuters. Hardly in some flight of poetry do we ever endue any of them with the characteristics of a sentient being, and then only by speaking of them in the feminine gender. The virtues may be pictured in female forms, but they are not so described in language; a ship is humorously supposed to be the sailor’s bride; more doubtful are the personifications of church and country as females. Now the genius of the Greek language is the opposite of this. The same tendency to personification which is seen in the Greek mythology is common also in the language; and genders are attributed to things as well as persons according to their various degrees of strength and weakness; or from fanciful resemblances to the male or female form, or some analogy too subtle to be discovered. When the gender of any object was once fixed, a similar gender was naturally assigned to similar objects, or to words of similar formation. This use of genders in the denotation of objects or ideas not only affects the words to which genders are attributed, but the words with which they are construed or connected, and passes into the general character of the style. Hence arises a difficulty in translating Greek into English which cannot altogether be overcome. Shall we speak of the soul and its qualities, of virtue, power, wisdom, and the like, as feminine or neuter? The usage of the English language does not admit of the former, and yet the life and beauty of the style are impaired by the latter. Often the translator will have recourse to the repetition of the word, or to the ambiguous ‘they,’ ‘their,’ &c.; for fear of spoiling Edition: current; Page: [xx] the effect of the sentence by introducing ‘it.’ Collective nouns in Greek and English create a similar but lesser awkwardness.

(4). The use of relation is far more extended in Greek than in English. Partly the greater variety of genders and cases makes the connexion of relative and antecedent less ambiguous: partly also the greater number of demonstrative and relative pronouns, and the use of the article, make the correlation of ideas simpler and more natural. The Greek appears to have had an ear or intelligence for a long and complicated sentence which is rarely to be found in modern nations; and in order to bring the Greek down to the level of the modern, we must break up the long sentence into two or more short ones. Neither is the same precision required in Greek as in Latin or English, nor in earlier Greek as in later; there was nothing shocking to the contemporary of Thucydides and Plato in anacolutha and repetitions. In such cases the genius of the English language requires that the translation should be more intelligible than the Greek. The want of more distinctions between the demonstrative pronouns is also greatly felt. Two genitives dependent on one another, unless familiarised by idiom, have an awkward effect in English. Frequently the noun has to take the place of the pronoun. ‘This’ and ‘that’ are found repeating themselves to weariness in the rough draft of a translation. As in the previous case, while the feeling of the modern language is more opposed to tautology, there is also a greater difficulty in avoiding it.

(5). Though no precise rule can be laid down about the repetition of words, there seems to be a kind of impertinence in presenting to the reader the same thought in the same words, repeated twice over in the same Edition: current; Page: [xxi] passage without any new aspect or modification of it. And the evasion of tautology—that is, the substitution of one word of precisely the same meaning for another—is resented by us equally with the repetition of words. Yet on the other hand the least difference of meaning or the least change of form from a substantive to an adjective, or from a participle to a verb, will often remedy the unpleasant effect. Rarely and only for the sake of emphasis or clearness can we allow an important word to be used twice over in two successive sentences or even in the same paragraph. The particles and pronouns, as they are of most frequent occurrence, are also the most troublesome. Strictly speaking, except a few of the commonest of them, ‘and,’ ‘the,’ &c., they ought not to occur twice in the same sentence. But the Greek has no such precise rules; and hence any literal translation of a Greek author is full of tautology. The tendency of modern languages is to become more correct as well as more perspicuous than ancient. And, therefore, while the English translator is limited in the power of expressing relation or connexion, by the law of his own language increased precision and also increased clearness are required of him. The familiar use of logic, and the progress of science, have in these two respects raised the standard. But modern languages, while they have become more exacting in their demands, are in many ways not so well furnished with powers of expression as the ancient classical ones.

Such are a few of the difficulties which have to be overcome in the work of translation; and we are far from having exhausted the list. (6). The excellence of a translation will consist, not merely in the faithful rendering of words, or in the composition of a sentence only, or yet of a single paragraph, but in the colour and style Edition: current; Page: [xxii] of the whole work. Equability of tone is best attained by the exclusive use of familiar and idiomatic words. But great care must be taken; for an idiomatic phrase, if an exception to the general style, is of itself a disturbing element. No word, however expressive and exact, should be employed, which makes the reader stop to think, or unduly attracts attention by difficulty and peculiarity, or disturbs the effect of the surrounding language. In general the style of one author is not appropriate to another; as in society, so in letters, we expect every man to have ‘a good coat of his own,’ and not to dress himself out in the rags of another. (a) Archaic expressions are therefore to be avoided. Equivalents may be occasionally drawn from Shakspere, who is the common property of us all; but they must be used sparingly. For, like some other men of genius of the Elizabethan and Jacobean age, he outdid the capabilities of the language, and many of the expressions which he introduced have been laid aside and have dropped out of use. (b) A similar principle should be observed in the employment of Scripture. Having a greater force and beauty than other language, and a religious association, it disturbs the even flow of the style. It may be used to reproduce in the translation the quaint effect of some antique phrase in the original, but rarely; and when adopted, it should have a certain freshness and a suitable ‘entourage.’ It is strange to observe that the most effective use of Scripture phraseology arises out of the application of it in a sense not intended by the author. (c) Another caution: metaphors differ in different languages, and the translator will often be compelled to substitute one for another, or to paraphrase them, not giving word for word, but diffusing over several words the more concentrated Edition: current; Page: [xxiii] thought of the original. The Greek of Plato often goes beyond the English in its imagery: cp. Laws iii. 695 C, ω̂̔ν καὶ νν̂ν ἔτι σμικρὰ ὀνείρατα λέλειπται; Rep. i. 345 E; ix. 588 C, &c. Or again the modern word, which in substance is the nearest equivalent to the Greek, may be found to include associations alien to Greek life: e.g. δικασταί, ‘jurymen,’ τὰ μέσα τŵν πολιτŵν, ‘the bourgeoisie.’ (d) The translator has also to provide expressions for philosophical terms of very indefinite meaning in the more definite language of modern philosophy. And he must not allow discordant elements to enter into the work. For example, in translating Plato, it would equally be an anachronism to intrude on him the feeling and spirit of the Jewish or Christian Scriptures or the technical terms of the Hegelian or Darwinian philosophy.

(7). As no two words are precise equivalents (just as no two leaves of the forest are exactly similar), it is a mistaken attempt at precision always to translate the same Greek word by the same English word. There is no reason why in the New Testament δικαιοσύνη should always be rendered ‘righteousness,’ or διαθήκη ‘covenant.’ In such cases the translator may be allowed to employ two words —sometimes when the two meanings occur in the same passage, varying them by an ‘or’—e.g. ἐπιστήμη, ‘science’ or ‘knowledge,’ εɩ̓̂δος, ‘idea’ or ‘class,’ σωϕροσύνη, ‘temperance’ or ‘prudence,’—at the point where the change of meaning occurs. If translations are intended not for the Greek scholar but for the general reader, their worst fault will be that they sacrifice the general effect and meaning to the over–precise rendering of words and forms of speech.

(8). There is no kind of literature in English which corresponds to the Greek Dialogue; nor is the English Edition: current; Page: [xxiv] language easily adapted to it. The rapidity and abruptness of question and answer, the constant repetition of ἧ δ’ ὅς, εɩ̓̂πε, ἔϕη, &c., which Cicero avoided in Latin (de Amicit. c. 1), the frequent occurrence of expletives, would, if reproduced in a translation, give offence to the reader. Greek has a freer and more frequent use of the Interrogative, and is of a more passionate and emotional character, and therefore lends itself with greater readiness to the dialogue form. Most of the so–called English Dialogues are but poor imitations of Plato, which fall very far short of the original. The breath of conversation, the subtle adjustment of question and answer, the lively play of fancy, the power of drawing characters, are wanting in them. But the Platonic dialogue is a drama as well as a dialogue, of which Socrates is the central figure, and there are lesser performers as well:—the insolence of Thrasymachus, the anger of Callicles and Anytus, the patronizing style of Protagoras, the self–consciousness of Prodicus and Hippias, are all part of the entertainment. To reproduce this living image the same sort of effort is required as in translating poetry. The language, too, is of a finer quality; the mere prose English is slow in lending itself to the form of question and answer, and so the ease of conversation is lost, and at the same time the dialectical precision with which the steps of the argument are drawn out is apt to be impaired.

II. In the Introductions to the Dialogues there have been added some essays on modern philosophy, and on political and social life. The chief subjects discussed in these are Utility, Communism, the Kantian and Hegelian philosophies, Psychology, and the Origin of Language1.

Edition: current; Page: [xxv]

Ancient and modern philosophy throw a light upon one another: but they should be compared, not confounded. Although the connexion between them is sometimes accidental, it is often real. The same questions are discussed by them under different conditions of language and civilization; but in some cases a mere word has survived, while nothing or hardly anything of the pre–Socratic, Platonic, or Aristotelian meaning is retained. There are other questions familiar to the moderns, which have no place in ancient philosophy. The world has grown older in two thousand years, and has enlarged its stock of ideas and methods of reasoning. Yet the germ of modern thought is found in ancient, and we may claim to have inherited, notwithstanding many accidents of time and place, the spirit of Greek philosophy. There is, however, no continuous growth of the one into the other, but a new beginning, partly artificial, partly arising out of the questionings of the mind itself, and also receiving a stimulus from the study of ancient writings.

Considering the great and fundamental differences which exist in ancient and modern philosophy, it seems best that we should at first study them separately, and seek for the interpretation of either, especially of the ancient, from itself only, comparing the same author with himself and with his contemporaries, and with the general state of thought and feeling prevalent in his age. Afterwards comes the remoter light which they cast on one another. We begin to feel that the ancients had the same thoughts as ourselves, the same difficulties which characterize all periods of transition, almost the same opposition between science and religion. Although we cannot maintain that ancient and modern philosophy are one and continuous (as has been affirmed with more truth Edition: current; Page: [xxvi] respecting ancient and modern history), for they are separated by an interval of a thousand years, yet they seem to recur in a sort of cycle, and we are surprised to find that the new is ever old, and that the teaching of the past has still a meaning for us.

III. In the preface to the first edition I expressed a strong opinion at variance with Mr. Grote’s, that the so–called Epistles of Plato were spurious. His friend and editor, Professor Bain, thinks that I ought to give the reasons why I differ from so eminent an authority. Reserving the fuller discussion of the question for another place, I will shortly defend my opinion by the following arguments:—

(a) Because almost all epistles purporting to be of the classical age of Greek literature are forgeries1. Of all documents this class are the least likely to be preserved and the most likely to be invented. The ancient world swarmed with them; the great libraries stimulated the demand for them; and at a time when there was no regular publication of books, they easily crept into the world.

(b) When one epistle out of a number is spurious, the remainder of the series cannot be admitted to be genuine, unless there be some independent ground for thinking them so: when all but one are spurious, overwhelming evidence is required of the genuineness of the one: when they are all similar in style or motive, like witnesses who agree in the same tale, they stand or fall together. But no one, not even Mr. Grote, would maintain that all the Epistles of Plato are genuine, and very few critics think that more than one of them is so. And they are clearly all written from the same motive, whether serious or only literary. Nor is there an example in Edition: current; Page: [xxvii] Greek antiquity of a series of Epistles, continuous and yet coinciding with a succession of events extending over a great number of years.

The external probability therefore against them is enormous, and the internal probability is not less: for they are trivial and unmeaning, devoid of delicacy and subtlety, wanting in a single fine expression. And even if this be matter of dispute, there can be no dispute that there are found in them many plagiarisms, inappropriately borrowed, which is a common note of forgery (compare 330 C foll. with Rep. iv. 425 E, 426 B, vi. 488 A: 347 E with Phaedrus 249 D: 326 A, B and 328 A with Rep. v. 473 C, D, &c.). They imitate Plato, who never imitates either himself or any one else; reminiscences of the Republic and the Laws are continually recurring in them; they are too like him and also too unlike him, to be genuine (see especially Karsten, Commentatio Critica de Platonis quae feruntur Epistolis, p. 111 foll.). They are full of egotism, self–assertion, affectation, faults which of all writers Plato was most careful to avoid, and into which he was least likely to fall (ib. p. 99 foll.). They abound in obscurities, irrelevancies, solecisms, pleonasms, inconsistencies (ib. p. 96 foll.), awkwardnesses of construction, wrong uses of words (ib. pp. 58, 59, 117, 121). They also contain historical blunders, such as the statement respecting Hipparinus and Nysaeus, the nephews of Dion (328 A), who are said to ‘have been well inclined to philosophy, and well able to dispose the mind of their brother Dionysius in the same course,’ at a time when they could not have been more than six or seven years of age—also foolish allusions, such as the comparison of the Athenian empire to the empire of Darius (332 A, B), which show a spirit very different from that of Plato; and Edition: current; Page: [xxviii] mistakes of fact, as e.g. about the Thirty Tyrants (p. 324 C), whom the writer of the letters seems to have confused with certain inferior magistrates, making them in all fifty–one. These palpable errors and absurdities are absolutely irreconcileable with their genuineness. And as they appear to have a common parentage, the more they are studied, the more they will be found to furnish evidence against themselves. The Seventh, which is thought to be the most important of these Epistles, has affinities with the Third and the Eighth, and is quite as impossible and inconsistent as the rest. It is therefore involved in the same condemnation.—The final conclusion is that neither the Seventh nor any other of them, when carefully analyzed, can be imagined to have proceeded from the hand or mind of Plato. The other testimonies to the voyages of Plato to Sicily and the court of Dionysius are all of them later by several centuries than the events to which they refer. No extant writer mentions them older than Cicero and Cornelius Nepos. It does not seem impossible that so attractive a theme as the meeting of a philosopher and a tyrant, once imagined by the genius of a Sophist, may have passed into a romance which became famous in Hellas and the world. It may have created one of the mists of history, like the Trojan war or the legend of Arthur, which we are unable to penetrate. In the age of Cicero, and still more in that of Diogenes Laertius and Appuleius, many other legends had gathered around the personality of Plato,—more voyages, more journeys to visit tyrants and Pythagorean philosophers. But if, as we agree with Karsten in supposing, they are the forgery of some rhetorician or sophist, we cannot agree with him in also supposing that they are of any historical value, the rather as there is no early independent testimony by Edition: current; Page: [xxix] which they are supported or with which they can be compared.

IV. There is another subject to which I must briefly call attention, lest I should seem to have overlooked it. Dr. Henry Jackson, of Trinity College, Cambridge, in a series of articles which he has contributed to the Journal of Philology (1881–6; Vol. x. 132–150, 253–293; xi. 287–331; xiii. 1–40; xiv. 173–230, extending to about 200 pages), has put forward an entirely new explanation of the Platonic ‘Ideas.’ He supposes that in the mind of Plato they took, at different times in his life, two essentially different forms:— an earlier one which is found chiefly in the Republic and the Phaedo, and a later, which appears in the Theaetetus, Philebus, Sophist, Politicus, Parmenides, Timaeus. In the first stage of his philosophy Plato attributed Ideas to all things, at any rate to all things which have classes or common notions: these he supposed to exist only by participation in them. In the later Dialogues he no longer included in them manufactured articles and ideas of relation, but restricted them to ‘types of nature,’ and having become convinced that the many cannot be parts of the one, for the idea of participation in them he substituted imitation of them (xi. 292). To quote Dr. Jackson’s own expressions (x. 297),—‘whereas in the period of the Republic and the Phaedo, it was proposed to pass through ontology to the sciences, in the period of the Parmenides and the Philebus, it is proposed to pass through the sciences to ontology’: or, as he repeats in nearly the same words (xi. 320),—‘whereas in the Republic and in the Phaedo he had dreamt of passing through ontology to the sciences, he is now content to pass through the sciences to ontology.’

This theory is supposed to be based on Aristotle’s Edition: current; Page: [xxx] Metaphysics (Book I. c. 6), a passage containing an account of the ideas, which hitherto scholars have found impossible to reconcile with the statements of Plato himself. The preparations for the new departure are discovered in the Parmenides and in the Theaetetus; and it is said to be expressed under a different form by the πέρας and the ἄπειρον of the Philebus (vol. x. 275 foll.). The πέρας of the Philebus is the principle which gives form and measure to the ἄπειρον; and in the ‘Later Theory’ is held to be the πόσον or μέτριον which converts the Infinite or Indefinite into ideas. They are neither περαίνοντα nor ἄπειρα, but belong to the μικτὸν γένος which partakes of both.

With great respect for the learning and ability of Dr. Jackson, I find myself unable to agree in this newly fashioned doctrine of the Ideas, which he ascribes to Plato. I have not the space to go into the question fully; but I will briefly state some objections which are, I think, fatal to it.

(1). First, the foundation of his argument is laid in the Metaphysics of Aristotle. But we cannot argue, either from the Metaphysics, or from any other of the philosophical treatises of Aristotle, to the dialogues of Plato until we have ascertained the relation in which his so–called works stand to the philosopher himself. There is of course no doubt of the great influence exercised upon Greece and upon the world by Aristotle and his philosophy. But on the other hand almost every one who is capable of understanding the subject acknowledges that his writings have not come down to us in an authentic form like most of the dialogues of Plato. How much of them is to be ascribed to Aristotle’s own hand, how much is due to his successors in the Peripatetic School, is a question which has never been determined, and probably Edition: current; Page: [xxxi] never can be, because the solution of it depends upon internal evidence only. To ‘the height of this great argument’ I do not propose to ascend. But one little fact, not irrelevant to the present discussion, will show how hopeless is the attempt to explain Plato out of the writings of Aristotle. In the chapter of the Metaphysics quoted by Dr. Jackson (I. 6), about two octavo pages in length, there occur no less than seven or eight references to Plato, although nothing really corresponding to them can be found in his extant writings:—a small matter truly; but what a light does it throw on the character of the entire book in which they occur! We can hardly escape from the conclusion that they are not statements of Aristotle respecting Plato, but of a later generation of Aristotelians respecting a later generation of Platonists1.

(2). There is no hint in Plato’s own writings that he was conscious of having made any change in the Doctrine of Ideas such as Dr. Jackson attributes to him, although in the Republic the platonic Socrates speaks of ‘a longer and a shorter way’ (iv. 435; vi. 504), and of a way in which his disciple Glaucon ‘will be unable to follow him’ (vii. 533); also of a way of Ideas, to which he still holds fast, although it has often deserted him (Philebus 16 C, Phaedo 97–108), and although in the later dialogues and in the Laws the reference to Ideas disappears, and Mind claims her own (Phil. 31, 65; Laws xii. 965 B). No hint is given of what Plato meant by the ‘longer way’ (Rep. iv. 435 D), or ‘the way in which Glaucon was unable to follow’ (ib. vii. 533 A); or of the relation of Mind to the Ideas. It might be said with truth that the conception of the Idea predominates in the first half of the Dialogues, which, according Edition: current; Page: [xxxii] to the order adopted in this work, ends with the Republic, the ‘conception of Mind’ and a way of speaking more in agreement with modern terminology, in the latter half. But there is no reason to suppose that Plato’s theory, or, rather, his various theories, of the Ideas underwent any definite change during his period of authorship. They are substantially the same in the twelfth Book of the Laws (962, 963 foll.) as in the Meno and Phaedo; and since the Laws were written in the last decade of his life, there is no time to which this change of opinions can be ascribed. It is true that the theory of Ideas takes several different forms, not merely an earlier and a later one, in the various Dialogues. They are personal and impersonal, ideals and ideas, existing by participation or by imitation, one and many, in different parts of his writings or even in the same passage (cp. Vol. II. p. 13 foll.). They are the universal definitions of Socrates, and at the same time ‘of more than mortal knowledge’ (Rep. vi. 485). But they are always the negations of sense, of matter, of generation, of the particular: they are always the subjects of knowledge and not of opinion; and they tend, not to diversity, but to unity. Other entities or intelligences are akin to them, but not the same with them, such as mind, measure, limit, eternity, essence (cp. Philebus sub fin.; Timaeus passim): these and similar terms appear to express the same truths from a different point of view, and to belong to the same sphere with them. But we are not justified, therefore, in attempting to identify them, any more than in wholly opposing them. The great oppositions of the sensible and intellectual, the unchangeable and the transient, in whatever form of words expressed, are always maintained in Plato. But the lesser logical distinctions, as we should call them, whether of ontology or predication, Edition: current; Page: [xxxiii] which troubled the pre–Socratic philosophy and came to the front in Aristotle, are variously discussed and explained. Thus far we admit inconsistency in Plato, but no further. He lived in an age before logic and system had wholly permeated language, and therefore we must not always expect to find in him systematic arrangement or logical precision:—‘poema magis putandum.’ But he is always true to his own context, the careful study of which is of more value to the interpreter than all the commentators and scholiasts put together.

(3). The conclusions at which Dr. Jackson has arrived are such as might be expected to follow from his method of procedure. For he takes words without regard to their connexion, and pieces together different parts of dialogues in a purely arbitrary manner, although there is no indication that the author intended the two passages to be so combined, or that when he appears to be experimenting on the different points of view from which a subject of philosophy may be regarded, he is secretly elaborating a system. By such a use of language any premises may be made to lead to any conclusion. I am not one of those who believe Plato to have been a mystic or to have had hidden meanings; nor do I agree with Dr. Jackson in thinking that ‘when he is precise and dogmatic, he generally contrives to introduce an element of obscurity into the exposition’ (J. of Philol. x. 150). The great master of language wrote as clearly as he could in an age when the minds of men were clouded by controversy, and philosophical terms had not yet acquired a fixed meaning. I have just said that Plato is to be interpreted by his context; and I do not deny that in some passages, especially in the Republic and Laws, the context is at a greater distance than would be allowable in a modern Edition: current; Page: [xxxiv] writer. But we are not therefore justified in connecting passages from different parts of his writings, or even from the same work, which he has not himself joined. We cannot argue from the Parmenides to the Philebus, or from either to the Sophist, or assume that the Parmenides, the Philebus, and the Timaeus were ‘written simultaneously,’ or ‘were intended to be studied in the order in which they are here named’ (J. of Philol. xiii. 38). We have no right to connect statements which are only accidentally similar. Nor is it safe for the author of a theory about ancient philosophy to argue from what will happen if his statements are rejected. For those consequences may never have entered into the mind of the ancient writer himself; and they are very likely to be modern consequences which would not have been understood by him. ‘I cannot think,’ says Dr. Jackson, ‘that Plato would have changed his opinions, but have nowhere explained the nature of the change.’ But is it not much more improbable that he should have changed his opinions, and not stated in an unmistakable manner that the most essential principle of his philosophy had been reversed? It is true that a few of the dialogues, such as the Republic and the Timaeus, or the Theaetetus and the Sophist, or the Meno and the Apology, contain allusions to one another. But these allusions are superficial and, except in the case of the Republic and the Laws, have no philosophical importance. They do not affect the substance of the work. It may be remarked further that several of the dialogues, such as the Phaedrus, the Sophist, and the Parmenides, have more than one subject. But it does not therefore follow that Plato intended one dialogue to succeed another, or that he begins anew in one dialogue a subject which he has left unfinished in Edition: current; Page: [xxxv] another, or that even in the same dialogue he always intended the two parts to be connected with each other. We cannot argue from a casual statement found in the Parmenides to other statements which occur in the Philebus. Much more truly is his own manner described by himself when he says that ‘words are more plastic than wax’ (Rep. ix. 588 C), and ‘whither the wind blows, the argument follows’ (ib. iii. 394 D). The dialogues of Plato are like poems, isolated and separate works, except where they are indicated by the author himself to have an intentional sequence.

It is this method of taking passages out of their context and placing them in a new connexion when they seem to confirm a preconceived theory, which is the defect of Dr. Jackson’s procedure. It may be compared, though not wholly the same with it, to that method which the Fathers practised, sometimes called ‘the mystical interpretation of Scripture,’ in which isolated words are separated from their context, and receive any sense which the fancy of the interpreter may suggest. It is akin to the method employed by Schleiermacher of arranging the dialogues of Plato in chronological order according to what he deems the true arrangement of the ideas contained in them. (Dr. Jackson is also inclined, having constructed a theory, to make the chronology of Plato’s writings dependent upon it1.) It may likewise be illustrated by the ingenuity of those who employ symbols to find in Shakespeare a hidden meaning. In the three cases the error is nearly the same:—words are taken out of their natural context, and thus become destitute of any real meaning.

(4). According to Dr. Jackson’s ‘Later Theory,’ Plato’s Ideas, which were once regarded as the summa genera of Edition: current; Page: [xxxvi] all things, are now to be explained as Forms or Types of some things only,—that is to say, of natural objects: these we conceive imperfectly, but are always seeking in vain to have a more perfect notion of them. He says (J. of Philol. xi. 319) that ‘Plato hoped by the study of a series of hypothetical or provisional classifications to arrive at one in which nature’s distribution of kinds is approximately represented, and so to attain approximately to the knowledge of the ideas. But whereas in the Republic, and even in the Phaedo, though less hopefully, he had sought to convert his provisional definitions into final ones by tracing their connexion with the summum genus, the ἀγαθόν, in the Parmenides his aspirations are less ambitious,’ and so on. But where does Dr. Jackson find any such notion as this in Plato or anywhere in ancient philosophy? Is it not an anachronism, gracious to the modern physical philosopher, and the more acceptable because it seems to form a link between ancient and modern philosophy, and between physical and metaphysical science; but really unmeaning?

(5). To this ‘Later Theory’ of Plato’s Ideas I oppose the authority of Professor Zeller, who affirms that none of the passages to which Dr. Jackson appeals (Theaet. 185 C foll.; Phil. 25 B foll.; Tim. 57 C; Parm. 130 B foll., 142 B–155 E, 157 B–159 E) ‘in the smallest degree prove his point’; and that in the second class of dialogues, in which the ‘Later Theory of Ideas’ is supposed to be found, quite as clearly as in the first, are admitted Ideas, not only of natural objects, but of properties, relations, works of art, negative notions (Theaet. 176 E; Parm. 130 B foll.; Soph. 254 B foll., 258 B); and that what Dr. Jackson distinguishes as the first class of dialogues from the second equally assert or imply that the relation of things to the Ideas, is one of Edition: current; Page: [xxxvii] participation in them as well as of imitation of them (Prof. Zeller’s summary of his own review of Dr. Jackson, Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. I, Berlin, 1888, pp. 617, 618).

In conclusion I may remark that in Plato’s writings there is both unity, and also growth and development; but that we must not intrude upon him either a system or a technical language.

Balliol College,
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The chief additions to the Introductions in the Third Edition consist of Essays on the following subjects:—

(1) Language Vol. I, 295–321.
(2) The decline of Greek Literature Vol. I, 424–429.
(3) The ‘Ideas’ of Plato and Modern Philosophy Vol. II, 12–25.
(4) The myths of Plato Vol. II, 316–324.
(5) The relation of the Republic, Statesman and Laws Vol. III, ccxi–ccxvii.
(6) The legend of Atlantis Vol. III, 429–433.
(7) Psychology Vol. IV, 175–191.
(8) Comparison of the Laws of Plato with Spartan and Athenian Laws and Institutions Vol. V, ccxiii–ccxxxvi.
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The subject of the Charmides is Temperance or σωϕροσύνη, a peculiarly Greek notion, which may also be rendered Moderation1, Modesty, Discretion, Wisdom, without completely exhausting by all these terms the various associations of the word. It may be described as ‘mens sana in corpore sano,’ the harmony or due proportion of the higher and lower elements of human nature which ‘makes a man his own master,’ according to the definition of the Republic. In the accompanying translation the word has been rendered in different places either Temperance or Wisdom, as the connection seemed to require: for in the philosophy of Plato σωϕροσύνη still retains an intellectual element (as Socrates is also said to have identified σωϕροσύνη with σοϕία: Xen. Mem. iii. 9, 4), and is not yet relegated to the sphere of moral virtue, as in the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle (iii. 10).


Jowett1892: 159The beautiful youth, Charmides, who is also the most temperateJowett1892: 160 of human beings, is asked by Socrates, ‘What is Temperance?’ He answers characteristically, (1) ‘Quietness.’ ‘But Temperance is a fine and noble thing; and quietness in many or most cases is not so fine a thing as quickness.’ He tries again and says (2) that temperance is modesty. But this again is set aside by a sophisticalJowett1892: 161 application of Homer: for temperance is good as well as noble, and Homer has declared that ‘modesty is not good for a needy man.’ (3) Once more Charmides makes the attempt. This timeJowett1892: 162 he gives a definition which he has heard, and of which Socrates conjectures that Critias must be the author: ‘Temperance is doing one’s own business.’ But the artisan who makes another man’s shoes may be temperate, and yet he is not doing his own business; and temperance defined thus would be opposed to the Edition: current; Page: [4] division of labour which exists in every temperate or well–ordered state. How is this riddle to be explained?

Critias, who takes the place of Charmides, distinguishes in hisJowett1892: 163 answer between ‘making’ and ‘doing,’ and with the help of a misapplied quotation from Hesiod assigns to the words ‘doing’ and ‘work’ an exclusively good sense: Temperance is doing one’s own business;—(4) is doing good.

Still an element of knowledge is wanting which Critias is readilyJowett1892: 164 induced to admit at the suggestion of Socrates; and, in the spirit of Socrates and of Greek life generally, proposes as a fifth definition,Jowett1892: 165 (5) Temperance is self–knowledge. But all sciences have a subject: number is the subject of arithmetic, health of medicine—what is the subject of temperance or wisdom? The answer is thatJowett1892: 166 (6) Temperance is the knowledge of what a man knows and ofJowett1892: 167 what he does not know. But this is contrary to analogy; there is no vision of vision, but only of visible things; no love of loves, but only of beautiful things; how then can there be a knowledge of knowledge? That which is older, heavier,Jowett1892: 168 lighter, is older, heavier, and lighter than something else, not than itself, and this seems to be true of all relative notions—the object of relation is outside of them; at any rate they can only have relation to themselves in the form of that object. Whether there are any such cases of reflex relation or not, and whether that sort of knowledge which we term Temperance is of this reflex nature has yet to be determinedJowett1892: 169 by the great metaphysician. But even if knowledge can know itself, how does the knowledge of what we know imply theJowett1892: 170 knowledge of what we do not know? Besides, knowledge is an abstraction only, and will not inform us of any particular subject, such as medicine, building, and the like. It may tell us thatJowett1892: 171 we or other men know something, but can never tell us what we know.

Admitting that there is a knowledge of what we know and ofJowett1892: 172 what we do not know, which would supply a rule and measure of all things, still there would be no good in this; and the knowledge which temperance gives must be of a kind which will do us good;Jowett1892: 173 for temperance is a good. But this universal knowledge does not tend to our happiness and good: the only kind of knowledge which brings happiness is the knowledge of good and evil. To thisJowett1892: 174 Critias replies that the science or knowledge of good and evil, and Edition: current; Page: [5] all the other sciences, are regulated by the higher science or knowledge of knowledge. Socrates replies by again dividing the abstract from the concrete, and asks how this knowledge conduces to happiness in the same definite way in which medicine conducesJowett1892: 175 to health.

And now, after making all these concessions, which are really inadmissible, we are still as far as ever from ascertaining the nature of temperance, which Charmides has already discovered,Jowett1892: 176 and had therefore better rest in the knowledge that the more temperate he is the happier he will be, and not trouble himself with the speculations of Socrates.


In this Dialogue may be noted (1) The Greek ideal of beauty and goodness, the vision of the fair soul in the fair body, realised in the beautiful Charmides; (2) The true conception of medicine as a science ofthe whole as well as the parts, and of the mind as well as the body, which is playfully intimated in the story of the Thracian; (3) The tendency of the age to verbal distinctions, which here, as in the Protagoras and Cratylus, are ascribed to the ingenuity of Prodicus; and to interpretations or rather parodies of Homer or Hesiod, which are eminently characteristic of Plato and his contemporaries; (4) The germ of an ethical principle contained in the notion that temperance is ‘doing one’s own business,’ which in the Republic (such is the shifting character of the Platonic philosophy) is given as the definition, not of temperance, but of justice; (5) The impatience which is exhibited by Socrates of any definition of temperance in which an element of science or knowledge is not included; (6) The beginning of metaphysics and logic implied in the two questions: whether there can be a science of science, and whether the knowledge of what you know is the same as the knowledge of what you do not know; and also in the distinction between ‘what you know’ and ‘that you know,’ ἃ οὶδεν and ὅτι οɩ̓̂δεν; here too is the first conception of an absolute self–determined science (the claims of which, however, are disputed by Socrates, who asks cui bono?) as well as the first suggestion of the difficulty of the abstract and concrete, and one of the earliest anticipations of the relation of subject and object, and of the subjective element in knowledge—a ‘rich banquet’ of metaphysical questions in which we ‘taste of many Edition: current; Page: [6] things.’ (7) And still the mind of Plato, having snatched for a moment at these shadows of the future, quickly rejects them: thus early has he reached the conclusion that there can be no science which is a ‘science of nothing’ (Parmen. 132 B). (8) The conception of a science of good and evil also first occurs here, an anticipation of the Philebus and Republic as well as of moral philosophy in later ages.

The dramatic interest of the Dialogue chiefly centres in the youth Charmides, with whom Socrates talks in the kindly spirit of an elder. His childlike simplicity and ingenuousness are contrasted with the dialectical and rhetorical arts of Critias, who is the grown–up man of the world, having a tincture of philosophy. No hint is given, either here or in the Timaeus, of the infamy which attaches to the name of the latter in Athenian history. He is simply a cultivated person who, like his kinsman Plato, is ennobled by the connection of his family with Solon (cp. Tim. 20, 21), and had been the follower, if not the disciple, both of Socrates and of the Sophists. In the argument he is not unfair, if allowance is made for a slight rhetorical tendency, and for a natural desire to save his reputation with the company; he is sometimes nearer the truth than Socrates. Nothing in his language or behaviour is unbecoming the guardian of the beautiful Charmides. His love of reputation is characteristically Greek, and contrasts with the humility of Socrates. Nor in Charmides himself do we find any resemblance to the Charmides of history, except, perhaps, the modest and retiring nature which, according to Xenophon, at one time of his life prevented him from speaking in the Assembly (Mem. 3, 7); and we are surprised to hear that, like Critias, he afterwards became one of the thirty tyrants. In the Dialogue he is a pattern of virtue, and is therefore in no need of the charm which Socrates is unable to apply. With youthful naïveté, keeping his secret and entering into the spirit of Socrates, he enjoys the detection of his elder and guardian Critias, who is easily seen to be the author of the definition which he has so great an interest in maintaining (262 B). The preceding definition, ‘Temperance is doing one’s own business,’ is assumed to have been borrowed by Charmides from another; and when the enquiry becomes more abstract he is superseded by Critias (cp. Theaet. 168 E; Euthyd. 290 E). Socrates preserves his accustomed irony to the end; he Edition: current; Page: [7] is in the neighbourhood of several great truths, which he views in various lights, but always either by bringing them to the test of common sense, or by demanding too great exactness in the use of words, turns aside from them and comes at last to no conclusion.

The definitions of temperance proceed in regular order from the popular to the philosophical. The first two are simple enough and partially true, like the first thoughts of an intelligent youth; the third, which is a real contribution to ethical philosophy, is perverted by the ingenuity of Socrates, and hardly rescued by an equal perversion on the part of Critias. The remaining definitions have a higher aim, which is to introduce the element of knowledge, and at last to unite good and truth in a single science. But the time has not yet arrived for the realization of this vision of metaphysical philosophy; and such a science when brought nearer to us in the Philebus and the Republic will not be called by the name of σωϕροσύνη. Hence we see with surprise that Plato, who in his other writings identifies good and knowledge, here opposes them, and asks, almost in the spirit of Aristotle, how can there be a knowledge of knowledge, and even if attainable, how can such a knowledge be of any use?

The difficulty of the Charmides arises chiefly from the two senses of the word σωϕροσύνη, or temperance. From the ethical notion of temperance, which is variously defined to be quietness, modesty, doing our own business, the doing of good actions, the dialogue passes on to the intellectual conception of σωϕροσύνη, which is declared also to be the science of self–knowledge, or of the knowledge of what we know and do not know, or of the knowledge of good and evil. The dialogue represents a stage in the history of philosophy in which knowledge and action were not yet distinguished. Hence the confusion between them, and the easy transition from one to the other. The definitions which are offered are all rejected, but it is to be observed that they all tend to throw a light on the nature of temperance, and that, unlike the distinction of Critias between ποιεîν, πράττειν, ἐργάζεσθαι, none of them are merely verbal quibbles. It is implied that this question, although it has not yet received a solution in theory, has been already answered by Charmides himself, who has learned to practise the virtue of self–knowledge which philosophers are vainly trying to define in words. In a similar spirit we might say Edition: current; Page: [8] to a young man who is disturbed by theological difficulties, ‘Do not trouble yourself about such matters, but only lead a good life;’ and yet in either case it is not to be denied that right ideas of truth may contribute greatly to the improvement of character.

The reasons why the Charmides, Lysis, Laches have been placed together and first in the series of Platonic dialogues, are: (i) Their shortness and simplicity. The Charmides and the Lysis, if not the Laches, are of the same ‘quality’ as the Phaedrus and Symposium: and it is probable, though far from certain, that the slighter effort preceded the greater one. (ii) Their eristic, or rather Socratic character; they belong to the class called dialogues of search (πειραστικαί), which have no conclusion. (iii) The absence in them of certain favourite notions of Plato, such as the doctrine of recollection and of the Platonic ideas; the questions, whether virtue can be taught; whether the virtues are one or many. (iv) They have a want of depth, when compared with the dialogues of the middle and later period; and a youthful beauty and grace which is wanting in the later ones. (v) Their resemblance to one another; in all the three boyhood has a great part. These reasons have various degrees of weight in determining their place in the catalogue of the Platonic writings, though they are not conclusive. No arrangement of the Platonic dialogues can be strictly chronological. The order which has been adopted is intended mainly for the convenience of the reader; at the same time, indications of the date supplied either by Plato himself or allusions found in the dialogues have not been lost sight of. Much may be said about this subject, but the results can only be probable; there are no materials which would enable us to attain to anything like certainty.

The relations of knowledge and virtue are again brought forward in the companion dialogues of the Lysis and Laches; and also in the Protagoras and Euthydemus. The opposition of abstract and particular knowledge in this dialogue may be compared with a similar opposition of ideas and phenomena which occurs in the Prologue to the Parmenides, but seems rather to belong to a later stage of the philosophy of Plato.

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Socrates, who is the narrator.




Scene:—The Palaestra of Taureas, which is near the Porch of the King Archon.

Charmides. Chaerephon, Socrates. Socrates, who has just returned to Athens, visits his old friends and tells them the news from the army at Potidaea.

Jowett1892: 153Yesterday evening I returned from the army at Potidaea, and having been a good while away, I thought that I should like to go and look at my old haunts. So I went into the palaestra of Taureas, which is over against the temple adjoining the porch of the King Archon, and there I found a number of persons, most of whom I knew, but not all. My visit was unexpected, and no sooner did they see me entering than they saluted me from afar on all sides; and Chaerephon, who is a kind of madman, started up and ran to me, seizing my hand, and saying, How did you escape, Socrates?—(I should explain that an engagement had taken place at Potidaea not long before we came away, of which the news had only just reached Athens.)

You see, I replied, that here I am.

There was a report, he said, that the engagement was very severe, and that many of our acquaintance had fallen.

That, I replied, was not far from the truth.

I suppose, he said, that you were present.

I was.

Then sit down, and tell us the whole story, which as yet we have only heard imperfectly.

I took the place which he assigned to me, by the side of Edition: current; Page: [10] Critias the son of Callaeschrus, and when I had saluted him and the rest of the company, I told them the news from the army, and answered their several enquiries.

He proceeds to make enquiries about the state of philosophy and about the youth; and is told of the beautiful Charmides,

Then, when there had been enough of this, I, in my turn, began to make enquiries about matters at home—about the present state of philosophy, and about the youth. I asked whether any of them were remarkable for wisdom or beauty, or both. Critias, glancing at the door, invited my attentionJowett1892: 154 to some youths who were coming in, and talking noisily to one another, followed by a crowd. Of the beauties, Socrates, he said, I fancy that you will soon be able to form a judgment. For those who are just entering are the advanced guard of the great beauty, as he is thought to be, of the day, and he is likely to be not far off himself.

Who is he, I said; and who is his father?

Charmides, he replied, is his name; he is my cousin, and the son of my uncle Glaucon: I rather think that you know him too, although he was not grown up at the time of your departure.

Certainly, I know him, I said, for he was remarkable even then when he was still a child, and I should imagine that by this time he must be almost a young man.

You will see, he said, in a moment what progress he has made and what he is like. He had scarcely said the word, when Charmides entered.

Now you know, my friend, that I cannot measure anything, and of the beautiful, I am simply such a measure as a white line is of chalk; for almost all young persons appear to be beautiful in my eyes. But at that moment, when I saw him coming in, I confess that I was quite astonished at his beauty and stature; all the world seemed to be enamoured of him; amazement and confusion reigned when he entered; and a troop of lovers followed him. That grown–up men like ourselves should have been affected in this way was not surprising, but I observed that there was the same feeling among the boys; all of them, down to the very least child, turned and looked at him, as if he had been a statue.

Chaerephon called me and said: What do you think of him, Socrates? Has he not a beautiful face?

Most beautiful, I said.

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But you would think nothing of his face, he replied, if you could see his naked form: he is absolutely perfect.

And to this they all agreed.

By Heracles, I said, there never was such a paragon, if he has only one other slight addition.

What is that? said Critias.

If he has a noble soul; and being of your house, Critias, he may be expected to have this.

He is as fair and good within, as he is without, replied Critias.

whose soul is as fair as his body.

Then, before we see his body, should we not ask him to show us his soul, naked and undisguised? he is just of an age at which he will like to talk.

Jowett1892: 155That he will, said Critias, and I can tell you that he is a philosopher already, and also a considerable poet, not in his own opinion only, but in that of others.

That, my dear Critias, I replied, is a distinction which has long been in your family, and is inherited by you from Solon. But why do you not call him, and show him to us? for even if he were younger than he is, there could be no impropriety in his talking to us in the presence of you, who are his guardian and cousin.

Very well, he said; then I will call him; and turning to the attendant, he said, Call Charmides, and tell him that I want him to come and see a physician about the illness of which he spoke to me the day before yesterday. Then again addressing me, he added: He has been complaining lately of having a headache when he rises in the morning: now why should you not make him believe that you know a cure for the headache?

Why not, I said; but will he come?

He will be sure to come, he replied.

He himself presently appears, and a ludicrous scene ensues. The feelings suggested to Socrates by the sight of him.

He came as he was bidden, and sat down between Critias and me. Great amusement was occasioned by every one pushing with might and main at his neighbour in order to make a place for him next to themselves, until at the two ends of the row one had to get up and the other was rolled over sideways. Now I, my friend, was beginning to feel awkward; my former bold belief in my powers of conversing with him had vanished. And when Critias told him that I was the Edition: current; Page: [12] person who had the cure, he looked at me in such an indescribable manner, and was just going to ask a question. And at that moment all the people in the palaestra crowded about us, and, O rare! I caught a sight of the inwards of his garment, and took the flame. Then I could no longer contain myself. I thought how well Cydias understood the nature of love, when, in speaking of a fair youth, he warns some one ‘not to bring the fawn in the sight of the lion to be devoured by him,’ for I felt that I had been overcome by a sort of wild–beast appetite. But I controlled myself, and when he asked me if I knew the cure of the headache, I answered, but with an effort, that I did know.

And what is it? he said.

The cure for the headache.

I replied that it was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail.

Then I will write out the charm from your dictation, heJowett1892: 156 said.

With my consent? I said, or without my consent?

With your consent, Socrates, he said, laughing.

Very good, I said; and are you quite sure that you know my name?

I ought to know you, he replied, for there is a great deal said about you among my companions; and I remember when I was a child seeing you in company with my cousin Critias.

The eyes, as physicians tell us, cannot be cured without the head, nor the head without the body;

I am glad to find that you remember me, I said; for I shall now be more at home with you and shall be better able to explain the nature of the charm, about which I felt a difficulty before. For the charm will do more, Charmides, than only cure the headache. I dare say that you have heard eminent physicians say to a patient who comes to them with bad eyes, that they cannot cure his eyes by themselves, but that if his eyes are to be cured, his head must be treated; and then again they say that to think of curing the head alone, and not the rest of the body also, is the height of folly. And arguing in this way they apply their methods to the whole body, and try to treat and heal the whole and Edition: current; Page: [13] the part together. Did you ever observe that this is what they say?

Yes, he said.

And they are right, and you would agree with them?

Yes, he said, certainly I should.

nor the body without the soul.

His approving answers reassured me, and I began by degrees to regain confidence, and the vital heat returned. Such, Charmides, I said, is the nature of the charm, which I learned when serving with the army from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zamolxis, who are said to be so skilful that they can even give immortality. This Thracian told me that in these notions of theirs, which I was just now mentioning, the Greek physicians are quite right as far as they go; but Zamolxis, he added, our king, who is also a god, says further, ‘that as you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this,’ he said, ‘is the reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also; for the part can never be well unless the whole is well.’ For all good and evil, whether in the body or in human nature, originates, as he declared, in the soul, and overflows from thence, as if from the head intoJowett1892: 157 the eyes. And therefore if the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first thing. And the cure, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body. And he who taught me the cure and the charm at the same time added a special direction: ‘Let no one,’ he said, ‘persuade you to cure the head, until he has first given you his soul to be cured by the charm. For this,’ he said, ‘is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.’ And he added with emphasis, at the same time making me swear to his words, ‘Let no one, however rich, or noble, or fair, persuade you to give him the cure, without the charm.’ Now I have sworn, and I must keep my oath, and therefore if you will allow me to apply the Thracian Edition: current; Page: [14] charm first to your soul, as the stranger directed, I will afterwards proceed to apply the cure to your head. But if not, I do not know what I am to do with you, my dear Charmides.

Critias, when he heard this, said: The headache will be an unexpected gain to my young relation, if the pain in his head compels him to improve his mind: and I can tell you, Socrates, that Charmides is not only pre-eminent in beauty among his equals, but also in that quality which is given by the charm; and this, as you say, is temperance?

Yes, I said.

Then let me tell you that he is the most temperate of human beings, and for his age inferior to none in any quality.

The outward form of Charmides does no discredit to his great ancestors. Has he temperance also?

Yes, I said, Charmides; and indeed I think that you ought to excel others in all good qualities; for if I am not mistaken there is no one present who could easily point out two Athenian houses, whose union would be likely to produce a better or nobler scion than the two from which you are sprung. There is your father’s house, which is descended from Critias the son of Dropidas, whose family has been commemorated in the panegyrical verses of Anacreon, Solon, and many other poets, as famous for beauty and virtue and all other high fortune: and your mother’s house is equallyJowett1892: 158 distinguished; for your maternal uncle, Pyrilampes, is reputed never to have found his equal, in Persia at the court of the great king, or on the continent of Asia, in all the places to which he went as ambassador, for stature and beauty; that whole family is not a whit inferior to the other. Having such ancestors you ought to be first in all things, and, sweet son of Glaucon, your outward form is no dishonour to any of them. If to beauty you add temperance, and if in other respects you are what Critias declares you to be, then, dear Charmides, blessed art thou, in being the son of thy mother. And here lies the point; for if, as he declares, you have this gift of temperance already, and are temperate enough, in that case you have no need of any charms, whether of Zamolxis or of Abaris the Hyperborean, and I may as well let you have the cure of the head at once; but if you have not yet acquired this quality, I must use the charm before I give you the medicine. Please, therefore, to inform me whether you admit Edition: current; Page: [15] the truth of what Critias has been saying;—have you or have you not this quality of temperance?

The modest reply of Charmides.

Charmides blushed, and the blush heightened his beauty, for modesty is becoming in youth; he then said very ingenuously, that he really could not at once answer, either yes, or no, to the question which I had asked: For, said he, if I affirm that I am not temperate, that would be a strange thing for me to say of myself, and also I should give the lie to Critias, and many others who think as he tells you, that I am temperate: but, on the other hand, if I say that I am, I shall have to praise myself, which would be ill manners; and therefore I do not know how to answer you.

I said to him: That is a natural reply, Charmides, and I think that you and I ought together to enquire whether you have this quality about which I am asking or not; and then you will not be compelled to say what you do not like; neither shall I be a rash practitioner of medicine: therefore, if you please, I will share the enquiry with you, but I will not press you if you would rather not.

There is nothing which I should like better, he said; and as far as I am concerned you may proceed in the way which you think best.

A question about temperance: What is it?

Jowett1892: 159I think, I said, that I had better begin by asking you a question; for if temperance abides in you, you must have an opinion about her; she must give some intimation of her nature and qualities, which may enable you to form a notion of her. Is not that true?

Yes, he said, that I think is true.

You know your native language, I said, and therefore you must be able to tell what you feel about this.

Certainly, he said.

In order, then, that I may form a conjecture whether you have temperance abiding in you or not, tell me, I said, what, in your opinion, is Temperance?

First definition: Temperance is quietness.

At first he hesitated, and was very unwilling to answer: then he said that he thought temperance was doing things orderly and quietly, such things for example as walking in the streets, and talking, or anything else of that nature. In a word, he said, I should answer that, in my opinion, temperance is quietness.

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Are you right, Charmides? I said. No doubt some would affirm that the quiet are the temperate; but let us see whether these words have any meaning; and first tell me whether you would not acknowledge temperance to be of the class of the noble and good?


But in many actions quickness is found to be better than quietness; e. g. writing, reading, running, etc.

But which is best when you are at the writing–master’s, to write the same letters quickly or quietly?


And to read quickly or slowly?

Quickly again.

And in playing the lyre, or wrestling, quickness or sharpness are far better than quietness and slowness?


And the same holds in boxing and in the pancratium?


And in leaping and running and in bodily exercises generally, quickness and agility are good; slowness, and inactivity, and quietness, are bad?

That is evident.

Then, I said, in all bodily actions, not quietness, but the greatest agility and quickness, is noblest and best?

Yes, certainly.

And is temperance a good?


Then, in reference to the body, not quietness, but quickness will be the higher degree of temperance, if temperance is a good?

True, he said.

And which, I said, is better—facility in learning, or difficulty in learning?


Yes, I said; and facility in learning is learning quickly, and difficulty in learning is learning quietly and slowly?


And is it not better to teach another quickly and energetically, rather than quietly and slowly?


And which is better, to call to mind, and to remember, quickly and readily, or quietly and slowly?

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The former.

Jowett1892: 160And is not shrewdness a quickness or cleverness of the soul, and not a quietness?


And is it not best to understand what is said, whether at the writing–master’s or the music–master’s, or anywhere else, not as quietly as possible, but as quickly as possible?


And in the searchings or deliberations of the soul, not the quietest, as I imagine, and he who with difficulty deliberates and discovers, is thought worthy of praise, but he who does so most easily and quickly?

Quite true, he said.

And in all that concerns either body or soul, swiftness and activity are clearly better than slowness and quietness?

Clearly they are.

Temperance therefore is no more quietness than quickness.

Then temperance is not quietness, nor is the temperate life quiet,—certainly not upon this view; for the life which is temperate is supposed to be the good. And of two things, one is true,—either never, or very seldom, do the quiet actions in life appear to be better than the quick and energetic ones; or supposing that of the nobler actions, there are as many quiet, as quick and vehement: still, even if we grant this, temperance will not be acting quietly any more than acting quickly and energetically, either in walking or talking or in anything else; nor will the quiet life be more temperate than the unquiet, seeing that temperance is admitted by us to be a good and noble thing, and the quick have been shown to be as good as the quiet.

I think, he said, Socrates, that you are right.

Then once more, Charmides, I said, fix your attention, and look within; consider the effect which temperance has upon yourself, and the nature of that which has the effect. Think over all this, and, like a brave youth, tell me—What is temperance?

Second definition: Temperance is modesty.

After a moment’s pause, in which he made a real manly effort to think, he said: My opinion is, Socrates, that temperance makes a man ashamed or modest, and that temperance is the same as modesty.

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Very good, I said; and did you not admit, just now, that temperance is noble?

Yes, certainly, he said.

And the temperate are also good?


And can that be good which does not make men good?

Certainly not.

And you would infer that temperance is not only noble, but also good?

That is my opinion.Jowett1892: 161

Well, I said; but surely you would agree with Homer when he says,

  • ‘Modesty is not good for a needy man’?
But Homer says that modesty is not always good.

Yes, he said; I agree.

Then I suppose that modesty is and is not good?


But temperance, whose presence makes men only good, and not bad, is always good?

That appears to me to be as you say.

And the inference is that temperance cannot be modesty—if temperance is a good, and if modesty is as much an evil as a good?

Third definition: Temperance is doing our own business. Charmides had heard this from Critias, who denies that he said it.

All that, Socrates, appears to me to be true; but I should like to know what you think about another definition of temperance, which I just now remember to have heard from some one, who said, ‘That temperance is doing our own business.’ Was he right who affirmed that?

You monster! I said; this is what Critias, or some philosopher has told you.

Some one else, then, said Critias; for certainly I have not.

But what matter, said Charmides, from whom I heard this?

No matter at all, I replied; for the point is not who said the words, but whether they are true or not.

There you are in the right, Socrates, he replied.

The terms of the definition are ambiguous.

To be sure, I said; yet I doubt whether we shall ever be able to discover their truth or falsehood; for they are a kind of riddle.

What makes you think so? he said.

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Because, I said, he who uttered them seems to me to have meant one thing, and said another. Is the scribe, for example, to be regarded as doing nothing when he reads or writes?

I should rather think that he was doing something.

And does the scribe write or read, or teach you boys to write or read, your own names only, or did you write your enemies’ names as well as your own and your friends’?

As much one as the other.

And was there anything meddling or intemperate in this?

Certainly not.

Writing is doing; is writing your enemy’s name doing your own business?

And yet if reading and writing are the same as doing, you were doing what was not your own business?

But they are the same as doing.

And the healing art, my friend, and building, and weaving, and doing anything whatever which is done by art,—these all clearly come under the head of doing?


Must a good citizen make his own coat, etc.?

And do you think that a state would be well ordered by a law which compelled every man to weave and wash his own coat, and make his own shoes, and his own flask and strigil,Jowett1892: 162 and other implements, on this principle of every one doing and performing his own, and abstaining from what is not his own?

I think not, he said.

But, I said, a temperate state will be a well–ordered state.

Of course, he replied.

Then temperance, I said, will not be doing one’s own business; not at least in this way, or doing things of this sort?

Clearly not.

Then, as I was just now saying, he who declared that temperance is a man doing his own business had another and a hidden meaning; for I do not think that he could have been such a fool as to mean this. Was he a fool who told you, Charmides?

Nay, he replied, I certainly thought him a very wise man.

Then I am quite certain that he put forth his definition as Edition: current; Page: [20] a riddle, thinking that no one would know the meaning of the words ‘doing his own business.’

I dare say, he replied.

And what is the meaning of a man doing his own business? Can you tell me?

Indeed, I cannot; and I should not wonder if the man himself who used this phrase did not understand what he was saying. Whereupon he laughed slyly, and looked at Critias.

The secret dissatisfaction of Critias,

Critias had long been showing uneasiness, for he felt that he had a reputation to maintain with Charmides and the rest of the company. He had, however, hitherto managed to restrain himself; but now he could no longer forbear, and I am convinced of the truth of the suspicion which I entertained at the time, that Charmides had heard this answer about temperance from Critias. And Charmides, who did not want to answer himself, but to make Critias answer, tried to stir him up. He went on pointing out that he had been refuted, at which Critias grew angry, and appeared, as I thought, inclined to quarrel with him; just as a poet might quarrel with an actor who spoiled his poems in repeating them; so he looked hard at him and said—

Do you imagine, Charmides, that the author of this definition of temperance did not understand the meaning of his own words, because you do not understand them?

Why, at his age, I said, most excellent Critias, he can hardly be expected to understand; but you, who are older, and have studied, may well be assumed to know the meaning of them; and therefore, if you agree with him, and accept his definition of temperance, I would much rather argue with you than with him about the truth or falsehood of the definition.

who maintains the definition against Socrates,

I entirely agree, said Critias, and accept the definition.

Very good, I said; and now let me repeat my question—Do you admit, as I was just now saying, that all craftsmen make or do something?

I do.

And do they make or do their own business only, or that ofJowett1892: 163 others also?

They make or do that of others also.

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And are they temperate, seeing that they make not for themselves or their own business only?

Why not? he said.

No objection on my part, I said, but there may be a difficulty on his who proposes as a definition of temperance, ‘doing one’s own business,’ and then says that there is no reason why those who do the business of others should not be temperate.

and is quickly caught in contradictions by him.

Nay1, said he; did I ever acknowledge that those who do the business of others are temperate? I said, those who make, not those who do.

What! I asked; do you mean to say that doing and making are not the same?

He tries to save himself by new distinctions.

No more, he replied, than making or working are the same; thus much I have learned from Hesiod, who says that ‘work is no disgrace.’ Now do you imagine that if he had meant by working and doing such things as you were describing, he would have said that there was no disgrace in them—for example, in the manufacture of shoes, or in selling pickles, or sitting for hire in a house of ill–fame? That, Socrates, is not to be supposed: but I conceive him to have distinguished making from doing and work; and, while admitting that the making anything might sometimes become a disgrace, when the employment was not honourable, to have thought that work was never any disgrace at all. For things nobly and usefully made he called works; and such makings he called workings, and doings; and he must be supposed to have called such things only man’s proper business, and what is hurtful, not his business: and in that sense Hesiod, and any other wise man, may be reasonably supposed to call him wise who does his own work.

O Critias, I said, no sooner had you opened your mouth, than I pretty well knew that you would call that which is proper to a man, and that which is his own, good; and that the makings (ποιήσεις) of the good you would call doings (πράξεις), for I am no stranger to the endless distinctions which Prodicus draws about names. Now I have no objection to your giving names any signification which you please, Edition: current; Page: [22] if you will only tell me what you mean by them. Please then to begin again, and be a little plainer. Do you mean that this doing or making, or whatever is the word which you would use, of good actions, is temperance?

I do, he said.

Then not he who does evil, but he who does good, is temperate?

Yes, he said; and you, friend, would agree.

No matter whether I should or not; just now, not what I think, but what you are saying, is the point at issue.

Fourth definition: Temperance is the doing of good actions.

Well, he answered; I mean to say, that he who does evil, and not good, is not temperate; and that he is temperate who does good, and not evil: for temperance I define in plain words to be the doing of good actions.

And you may be very likely right in what you are saying;Jowett1892: 164 but I am curious to know whether you imagine that temperate men are ignorant of their own temperance?

I do not think so, he said.

And yet were you not saying, just now, that craftsmen might be temperate in doing another’s work, as well as in doing their own?

I was, he replied; but what is your drift?

Cross–examination by Socrates of Critias, who admits that the temperate man does not always know himself to be acting temperately, and then digresses into a lengthy explanation of the Delphic motto, ‘Know thyself,’ which he explains as meaning ‘Be temperate.’

I have no particular drift, but I wish that you would tell me whether a physician who cures a patient may do good to himself and good to another also?

I think that he may.

And he who does so does his duty?


And does not he who does his duty act temperately or wisely?

Yes, he acts wisely.

But must the physician necessarily know when his treatment is likely to prove beneficial, and when not? or must the craftsman necessarily know when he is likely to be benefited, and when not to be benefited, by the work which he is doing?

I suppose not.

Then, I said, he may sometimes do good or harm, and not know what he is himself doing, and yet, in doing good, as you say, he has done temperately or wisely. Was not that your statement?

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Then, as would seem, in doing good, he may act wisely or temperately, and be wise or temperate, but not know his own wisdom or temperance?

Fifth definition: Temperance is self–knowledge.

But that, Socrates, he said, is impossible; and therefore if this is, as you imply, the necessary consequence of any of my previous admissions, I will withdraw them, rather than admit that a man can be temperate or wise who does not know himself; and I am not ashamed to confess that I was in error. For self–knowledge would certainly be maintained by me to be the very essence of knowledge, and in this I agree with him who dedicated the inscription, ‘Know thyself!’ at Delphi. That word, if I am not mistaken, is put there as a sort of salutation which the god addresses to those who enter the temple; as much as to say that the ordinary salutation of ‘Hail!’ is not right, and that the exhortation ‘Be temperate!’ would be a far better way of saluting one another. The notion of him who dedicated the inscription was, as I believe, that the god speaks to those who enter his temple, not as men speak; but, when a worshipper enters, the first word which he hears is ‘Be temperate!’ This, however, like a prophet he expresses in a sort of riddle, for ‘Know thyself!’ and ‘Be temperate!’ are the same, as I maintain, and as the letters imply [σωϕρόνει, γνŵθι σαυτόν], and yet they may be easily misunderstood;Jowett1892: 165 and succeeding sages who added ‘Never too much,’ or, ‘Give a pledge, and evil is nigh at hand,’ would appear to have so misunderstood them; for they imagined that ‘Know thyself!’ was a piece of advice which the god gave, and not his salutation of the worshippers at their first coming in; and they dedicated their own inscription under the idea that they too would give equally useful pieces of advice. Shall I tell you, Socrates, why I say all this? My object is to leave the previous discussion (in which I know not whether you or I are more right, but, at any rate, no clear result was attained), and to raise a new one in which I will attempt to prove, if you deny, that temperance is self–knowledge.

Yes, I said, Critias; but you come to me as though I professed to know about the questions which I ask, and as though I could, if I only would, agree with you1. Whereas the fact Edition: current; Page: [24] is that I enquire with you into the truth of that which is advanced from time to time, just because I do not know; and when I have enquired, I will say whether I agree with you or not. Please then to allow me time to reflect.

Reflect, he said.

But temperance is also a science of something.

I am reflecting, I replied, and discover that temperance, or wisdom, if implying a knowledge of anything, must be a science, and a science of something.

Yes, he said; the science of itself.

Is not medicine, I said, the science of health?


And suppose, I said, that I were asked by you what is the use or effect of medicine, which is this science of health, I should answer that medicine is of very great use in producing health, which, as you will admit, is an excellent effect.


What then is the result of it?

And if you were to ask me, what is the result or effect of architecture, which is the science of building, I should say houses, and so of other arts, which all have their different results. Now I want you, Critias, to answer a similar question about temperance, or wisdom, which, according to you, is the science of itself. Admitting this view, I ask of you, what good work, worthy of the name wise, does temperance or wisdom, which is the science of itself, effect? Answer me.

No material result any more than in the abstract sciences.

That is not the true way of pursuing the enquiry, Socrates, he said; for wisdom is not like the other sciences, any more than they are like one another: but you proceed as if they were alike. For tell me, he said, what result is there of computation or geometry, in the same sense as a house is the result of building, or a garment of weaving, or any other work of any other art? Can you show me any such result ofJowett1892: 166 them? You cannot.

But still abstract sciences have a subject–matter.

That is true, I said; but still each of these sciences has a subject which is different from the science. I can show you that the art of computation has to do with odd and even numbers in their numerical relations to themselves and to each other. Is not that true?

Yes, he said.

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And the odd and even numbers are not the same with the art of computation?

They are not.

The art of weighing, again, has to do with lighter and heavier; but the art of weighing is one thing, and the heavy and the light another. Do you admit that?


Now, I want to know, what is that which is not wisdom, and of which wisdom is the science?

Temperance or wisdom is defined to be the science of other sciences, and of itself.

You are just falling into the old error, Socrates, he said. You come asking in what wisdom or temperance differs from the other sciences, and then you try to discover some respect in which they are alike; but they are not, for all the other sciences are of something else, and not of themselves; wisdom alone is a science of other sciences, and of itself. And of this, as I believe, you are very well aware; and that you are only doing what you denied that you were doing just now, trying to refute me, instead of pursuing the argument.

Personalities are beginning, to which Socrates quickly puts an end.

And what if I am? How can you think that I have any other motive in refuting you but what I should have in examining into myself? which motive would be just a fear of my unconsciously fancying that I knew something of which I was ignorant. And at this moment I pursue the argument chiefly for my own sake, and perhaps in some degree also for the sake of my other friends. For is not the discovery of things as they truly are, a good common to all mankind?

Yes, certainly, Socrates, he said.

Then, I said, be cheerful, sweet sir, and give your opinion in answer to the question which I asked, never minding whether Critias or Socrates is the person refuted; attend only to the argument, and see what will come of the refutation.

A difficulty: A science of itself and other sciences must also be a science of the absence of science.

I think that you are right, he replied; and I will do as you say.

Tell me, then, I said, what you mean to affirm about wisdom.

I mean to say that wisdom is the only science which is the science of itself as well as of the other sciences.

But the science of science, I said, will also be the science of the absence of science.

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Very true, he said.

Then the wise or temperate man, and he only, will knowJowett1892: 167 himself, and be able to examine what he knows or does not know, and to see what others know and think that they know and do really know; and what they do not know, and fancy that they know, when they do not. No other person will be able to do this. And this is wisdom and temperance and self–knowledge—for a man to know what he knows, and what he does not know. That is your meaning?

Yes, he said.

Now then, I said, making an offering of the third or last argument to Zeus the Saviour, let us begin again, and ask, in the first place, whether it is or is not possible for a person to know that he knows and does not know what he knows and does not know; and in the second place, whether, if perfectly possible, such knowledge is of any use.

That is what we have to consider, he said.

And here, Critias, I said, I hope that you will find a way out of a difficulty into which I have got myself. Shall I tell you the nature of the difficulty?

By all means, he replied.

Does not what you have been saying, if true, amount to this: that there must be a single science which is wholly a science of itself and of other sciences, and that the same is also the science of the absence of science?


But is this conceivable?

But consider how monstrous this proposition is, my friend: in any parallel case, the impossibility will be transparent to you.

How is that? and in what cases do you mean?

In such cases as this: Suppose that there is a kind of vision which is not like ordinary vision, but a vision of itself and of other sorts of vision, and of the defect of them, which in seeing sees no colour, but only itself and other sorts of vision: Do you think that there is such a kind of vision?

Certainly not.

Or is there a kind of hearing which hears no sound at all, but only itself and other sorts of hearing, or the defects of them?

There is not.

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Or take all the senses: can you imagine that there is any sense of itself and of other senses, but which is incapable of perceiving the objects of the senses?

It is not supported by the analogy of sense or of the affections;

I think not.

Could there be any desire which is not the desire of any pleasure, but of itself, and of all other desires?

Certainly not.

Or can you imagine a wish which wishes for no good, but only for itself and all other wishes?

I should answer, No.

Or would you say that there is a love which is not the love of beauty, but of itself and of other loves?

I should not.

Jowett1892: 168Or did you ever know of a fear which fears itself or other fears, but has no object of fear?

I never did, he said.

Or of an opinion which is an opinion of itself and of other opinions, and which has no opinion on the subjects of opinion in general?

Certainly not.

But surely we are assuming a science of this kind, which, having no subject–matter, is a science of itself and of the other sciences?

Yes, that is what is affirmed.

But how strange is this, if it be indeed true: we must not however as yet absolutely deny the possibility of such a science; let us rather consider the matter.

You are quite right.

and involves a contradiction in the case of comparative terms.

Well then, this science of which we are speaking is a science of something, and is of a nature to be a science of something?


Just as that which is greater is of a nature to be greater than something else1?

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Which is less, if the other is conceived to be greater?

To be sure.

And if we could find something which is at once greater than itself, and greater than other great things, but not greater than those things in comparison of which the others are greater, then that thing would have the property of being greater and also less than itself?

That, Socrates, he said, is the inevitable inference.

Or if there be a double which is double of itself and of other doubles, these will be halves; for the double is relative to the half?

That is true.

And that which is greater than itself will also be less, and that which is heavier will also be lighter, and that which is older will also be younger: and the same of other things; that which has a nature relative to self will retain also the nature of its object: I mean to say, for example, that hearing is, as we say, of sound or voice. Is that true?


Then if hearing hears itself, it must hear a voice; for there is no other way of hearing.


And sight also, my excellent friend, if it sees itself must see a colour, for sight cannot see that which has no colour.


The relation to self generally incredible and hardly ever certain.

Do you remark, Critias, that in several of the examples which have been recited the notion of a relation to self is altogether inadmissible, and in other cases hardly credible—inadmissible, for example, in the case of magnitudes, numbers, and the like?

Very true.

But in the case of hearing and sight, or in the power of self–motion, and the power of heat to burn, this relation to self will be regarded as incredible by some, but perhaps notJowett1892: 169 by others. And some great man, my friend, is wanted, who will satisfactorily determine for us, whether there is nothing which has an inherent property of relation to self, or some things only and not others; and whether in this class of self–related things, if there be such a class, that science which Edition: current; Page: [29] is called wisdom or temperance is included. I altogether distrust my own power of determining these matters: I am not certain whether there is such a science of science at all; and even if there be, I should not acknowledge this to be wisdom or temperance, until I can also see whether such a science would or would not do us any good; for I have an impression that temperance is a benefit and a good. And therefore, O son of Callaeschrus, as you maintain that temperance or wisdom is a science of science, and also of the absence of science, I will request you to show in the first place, as I was saying before, the possibility, and in the second place, the advantage, of such a science; and then perhaps you may satisfy me that you are right in your view of temperance.

Critias heard me say this, and saw that I was in a difficulty; and as one person when another yawns in his presence catches the infection of yawning from him, so did he seem to be driven into a difficulty by my difficulty. But as he had a reputation to maintain, he was ashamed to admit before the company that he could not answer my challenge or determine the question at issue; and he made an unintelligible attempt to hide his perplexity. In order that the argument might proceed, I said to him, Well then, Critias, if you like, let us assume that there is this science of science; whether the assumption is right or wrong may hereafter be investigated. Admitting the existence of it, will you tell me how such a science enables us to distinguish what we know or do not know, which, as we were saying, is self–knowledge or wisdom: so we were saying?

A knowledge of knowledge or a knowledge of self can

Yes, Socrates, he said; and that I think is certainly true: for he who has this science or knowledge which knows itself will become like the knowledge which he has, in the same way that he who has swiftness will be swift, and he who has beauty will be beautiful, and he who has knowledge will know. In the same way he who has that knowledge which is self–knowing, will know himself.

I do not doubt, I said, that a man will know himself, when he possesses that which has self–knowledge: but what necessity is there that, having this, he should know what he knows and what he does not know?

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Because, Socrates, they are the same.Jowett1892: 170

Very likely, I said; but I remain as stupid as ever; for still I fail to comprehend how this knowing what you know and do not know is the same as the knowledge of self.

What do you mean? he said.

never give us a knowledge of other things; for it is incapable of distinguishing them.

This is what I mean, I replied: I will admit that there is a science of science;—can this do more than determine that of two things one is and the other is not science or knowledge?

No, just that.

But is knowledge or want of knowledge of health the same as knowledge or want of knowledge of justice?

Certainly not.

The one is medicine, and the other is politics; whereas that of which we are speaking is knowledge pure and simple.

Very true.

And if a man knows only, and has only knowledge of knowledge, and has no further knowledge of health and justice, the probability is that he will only know that he knows something, and has a certain knowledge, whether concerning himself or other men.


Then how will this knowledge or science teach him to know what he knows? Say that he knows health;—not wisdom or temperance, but the art of medicine has taught it to him;—and he has learned harmony from the art of music, and building from the art of building,—neither, from wisdom or temperance: and the same of other things.

That is evident.

The science or knowledge of knowledge is unmeaning and unprofitable.

How will wisdom, regarded only as a knowledge of knowledge or science of science, ever teach him that he knows health, or that he knows building?

It is impossible.

Then he who is ignorant of these things will only know that he knows, but not what he knows?


Then wisdom or being wise appears to be not the knowledge of the things which we do or do not know, but only the knowledge that we know or do not know?

That is the inference.

Then he who has this knowledge will not be able to examine Edition: current; Page: [31] whether a pretender knows or does not know that which he says that he knows: he will only know that he has a knowledge of some kind; but wisdom will not show him of what the knowledge is?

Plainly not.

Neither will he be able to distinguish the pretender in medicine from the true physician, nor between any other true and false professor of knowledge. Let us consider the matter in this way: If the wise man or any other man wants to distinguish the true physician from the false, how will he proceed? He will not talk to him about medicine; and that, as we were saying, is the only thing which the physician understands.


And, on the other hand, the physician knows nothing of science, for this has been assumed to be the province of wisdom.


Jowett1892: 171And further, since medicine is science, we must infer that he does not know anything of medicine.


Then the wise man may indeed know that the physician has some kind of science or knowledge; but when he wants to discover the nature of this he will ask, What is the subject–matter? For the several sciences are distinguished not by the mere fact that they are sciences, but by the nature of their subjects. Is not that true?

Quite true.

And medicine is distinguished from other sciences as having the subject–matter of health and disease?


And he who would enquire into the nature of medicine must pursue the enquiry into health and disease, and not into what is extraneous?


And he who judges rightly will judge of the physician as a physician in what relates to these?

He will.

He will consider whether what he says is true, and whether what he does is right, in relation to health and disease?

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He will.

But can any one attain the knowledge of either unless he have a knowledge of medicine?

He cannot.

No one at all, it would seem, except the physician can have this knowledge; and therefore not the wise man; he would have to be a physician as well as a wise man.

Very true.

This science of science and of the absence of science which has raised such great expectations in our minds is shown to be impossible.

Then, assuredly, wisdom or temperance, if only a science of science, and of the absence of science or knowledge, will not be able to distinguish the physician who knows from one who does not know but pretends or thinks that he knows, or any other professor of anything at all; like any other artist, he will only know his fellow in art or wisdom, and no one else.

That is evident, he said.

But then what profit, Critias, I said, is there any longer in wisdom or temperance which yet remains, if this is wisdom? If, indeed, as we were supposing at first, the wise man had been able to distinguish what he knew and did not know, and that he knew the one and did not know the other, and to recognize a similar faculty of discernment in others, there would certainly have been a great advantage in being wise; for then we should never have made a mistake, but have passed through life the unerring guides of ourselves and of those who are under us; and we should not have attempted to do what we did not know, but we should have found out those who knew, and have handed the business over to them and trusted in them; nor should we have allowed those who were under us to do anything which they were not likely to do well; and they would be likely to do well just that of which they had knowledge; and the house or state which was ordered or administered under the guidance of wisdom, and everything else of which wisdom was the lord, would have been well ordered; for truth guiding, and error having been eliminated, in all their doings, men would have doneJowett1892: 172 well, and would have been happy. Was not this, Critias, what we spoke of as the great advantage of wisdom—to know what is known and what is unknown to us?

Very true, he said.

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And now you perceive, I said, that no such science is to be found anywhere.

I perceive, he said.

Yet the a priori idea of knowledge may make it easier to test the knowledge of others.

May we assume then, I said, that wisdom, viewed in this new light merely as a knowledge of knowledge and ignorance, has this advantage:—that he who possesses such knowledge will more easily learn anything which he learns; and that everything will be clearer to him, because, in addition to the knowledge of individuals, he sees the science, and this also will better enable him to test the knowledge which others have of what he knows himself; whereas the enquirer who is without this knowledge may be supposed to have a feebler and weaker insight? Are not these, my friend, the real advantages which are to be gained from wisdom? And are not we looking and seeking after something more than is to be found in her?

That is very likely, he said.

That is very likely, I said; and very likely, too, we have been enquiring to no purpose; as I am led to infer, because I observe that if this is wisdom, some strange consequences would follow. Let us, if you please, assume the possibility of this science of sciences, and further admit and allow, as was originally suggested, that wisdom is the knowledge of what we know and do not know. Assuming all this, still, upon further consideration, I am doubtful, Critias, whether wisdom, such as this, would do us much good. For we were wrong, I think, in supposing, as we were saying just now, that such wisdom ordering the government of house or state would be a great benefit.

How so? he said.

A doubt raised about the advantage of a science of sciences, even if it is assumed to be possible.

Why, I said, we were far too ready to admit the great benefits which mankind would obtain from their severally doing the things which they knew, and committing the things of which they are ignorant to those who were better acquainted with them.

Were we not right in making that admission?

I think not.

How very strange, Socrates!

By the dog of Egypt, I said, there I agree with you; and I was thinking as much just now when I said that strange Edition: current; Page: [34] consequences would follow, and that I was afraid we were on the wrong track; for however ready we may be to admit that this is wisdom, I certainly cannot make out what goodJowett1892: 173 this sort of thing does to us.

What do you mean? he said; I wish that you could make me understand what you mean.

I dare say that what I am saying is nonsense, I replied; and yet if a man has any feeling of what is due to himself, he cannot let the thought which comes into his mind pass away unheeded and unexamined.

I like that, he said.

A dream of universal knowledge. But the possession of all this knowledge will not necessarily give the knowledge of good and evil which can alone make men happy.

Hear, then, I said, my own dream; whether coming through the horn or the ivory gate, I cannot tell. The dream is this: Let us suppose that wisdom is such as we are now defining, and that she has absolute sway over us; then each action will be done according to the arts or sciences, and no one professing to be a pilot when he is not, or any physician or general, or any one else pretending to know matters of which he is ignorant, will deceive or elude us; our health will be improved; our safety at sea, and also in battle, will be assured; our coats and shoes, and all other instruments and implements will be skilfully made, because the workmen will be good and true. Aye, and if you please, you may suppose that prophecy, which is the knowledge of the future, will be under the control of wisdom, and that she will deter deceivers and set up the true prophets in their place as the revealers of the future. Now I quite agree that mankind, thus provided, would live and act according to knowledge, for wisdom would watch and prevent ignorance from intruding on us. But whether by acting according to knowledge we shall act well and be happy, my dear Critias,—this is a point which we have not yet been able to determine.

Yet I think, he replied, that if you discard knowledge, you will hardly find the crown of happiness in anything else.

But of what is this knowledge? I said. Just answer me that small question. Do you mean a knowledge of shoemaking?

God forbid.

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Or of working in brass?

Certainly not.

Or in wool, or wood, or anything of that sort?

No, I do not.

Then, I said, we are giving up the doctrine that he who lives according to knowledge is happy, for these live according to knowledge, and yet they are not allowed by you to be happy; but I think that you mean to confine happiness to particular individuals who live according to knowledge, suchJowett1892: 174 for example as the prophet, who, as I was saying, knows the future. Is it of him you are speaking or of some one else?

Yes, I mean him, but there are others as well.

Yes, I said, some one who knows the past and present as well as the future, and is ignorant of nothing. Let us suppose that there is such a person, and if there is, you will allow that he is the most knowing of all living men.

Certainly he is.

Yet I should like to know one thing more: which of the different kinds of knowledge makes him happy? or do all equally make him happy?

Not all equally, he replied.

But which most tends to make him happy? the knowledge of what past, present, or future thing? May I infer this to be the knowledge of the game of draughts?

Nonsense about the game of draughts.

Or of computation?


Or of health?

That is nearer the truth, he said.

And that knowledge which is nearest of all, I said, is the knowledge of what?

The knowledge with which he discerns good and evil.

Not universal knowledge, but the knowledge of good and evil, is really required by man.

Monster! I said; you have been carrying me round in a circle, and all this time hiding from me the fact that the life according to knowledge is not that which makes men act rightly and be happy, not even if knowledge include all the sciences, but one science only, that of good and evil. For, let me ask you, Critias, whether, if you take away this, medicine will not equally give health, and shoemaking equally produce shoes, and the art of the weaver clothes?— Edition: current; Page: [36] whether the art of the pilot will not equally save our lives at sea, and the art of the general in war?

Quite so.

Without this no other science can be of much avail.

And yet, my dear Critias, none of these things will be well or beneficially done, if the science of the good be wanting.


But that science is not wisdom or temperance, but a science of human advantage; not a science of other sciences, or of ignorance, but of good and evil: and if this be of use, then wisdom or temperance will not be of use.

This science of good or advantage is affirmed by Critias and denied by Socrates to be wisdom.

And why, he replied, will not wisdom be of use? For, however much we assume that wisdom is a science of sciences, and has a sway over other sciences, surely she will have this particular science of the good under her control, and in this way will benefit us.

And will wisdom give health? I said; is not this rather the effect of medicine? Or does wisdom do the work of any of the other arts,—do they not each of them do their own work? Have we not long ago asseverated that wisdom is only the knowledge of knowledge and of ignorance, and of nothing else?

That is obvious.

Then wisdom will not be the producer of health.

Certainly not.

The art of health is different.

Yes, different.

Nor does wisdom give advantage, my good friend; forJowett1892: 175 that again we have just now been attributing to another art.

Very true.

How then can wisdom be advantageous, when giving no advantage?

That, Socrates, is certainly inconceivable.

Recapitulation: The argument says ‘No’ to all our definitions. Very likely Charmides has no need of the charm, and Socrates is a fool who is incapable of reasoning.

You see then, Critias, that I was not far wrong in fearing that I could have no sound notion about wisdom; I was quite right in depreciating myself; for that which is admitted to be the best of all things would never have seemed to us useless, if I had been good for anything at an enquiry. But now I have been utterly defeated, and have failed to Edition: current; Page: [37] discover what that is to which the imposer of names gave this name of temperance or wisdom. And yet many more admissions were made by us than could be fairly granted; for we admitted that there was a science of science, although the argument said No, and protested against us; and we admitted further, that this science knew the works of the other sciences (although this too was denied by the argument), because we wanted to show that the wise man had knowledge of what he knew and did not know; also we nobly disregarded, and never even considered, the impossibility of a man knowing in a sort of way that which he does not know at all; for our assumption was, that he knows that which he does not know; than which nothing, as I think, can be more irrational. And yet, after finding us so easy and good–natured, the enquiry is still unable to discover the truth; but mocks us to a degree, and has gone out of its way to prove the inutility of that which we admitted only by a sort of supposition and fiction to be the true definition of temperance or wisdom: which result, as far as I am concerned, is not so much to be lamented, I said. But for your sake, Charmides, I am very sorry—that you, having such beauty and such wisdom and temperance of soul, should have no profit or good in life from your wisdom and temperance. And still more am I grieved about the charm which I learned with so much pain, and to so little profit, from the Thracian, for the sake of a thing which is nothing worth. I think indeed that there is a mistake, and that I must be a bad enquirer, for wisdom or temperance I believe to be really a great good; and happy are you, Charmides, if you certainlyJowett1892: 176 possess it. Wherefore examine yourself, and see whether you have this gift and can do without the charm; for if you can, I would rather advise you to regard me simply as a fool who is never able to reason out anything; and to rest assured that the more wise and temperate you are, the happier you will be.

Nevertheless Charmides is desirous to be charmed.

Charmides said: I am sure that I do not know, Socrates, whether I have or have not this gift of wisdom and temperance; for how can I know whether I have a thing, of which even you and Critias are, as you say, unable to discover the nature?—(not that I believe you.) And further, I am sure, Edition: current; Page: [38] Socrates, that I do need the charm, and as far as I am concerned, I shall be willing to be charmed by you daily, until you say that I have had enough.

Very good, Charmides, said Critias; if you do this I shall have a proof of your temperance, that is, if you allow yourself to be charmed by Socrates, and never desert him at all.

You may depend on my following and not deserting him, said Charmides: if you who are my guardian command me, I should be very wrong not to obey you.

And I do command you, he said.

Then I will do as you say, and begin this very day.

You sirs, I said, what are you conspiring about?

We are not conspiring, said Charmides, we have conspired already.

And are you about to use violence, without even going through the forms of justice?

Yes, I shall use violence, he replied, since he orders me; and therefore you had better consider well.

But the time for consideration has passed, I said, when violence is employed; and you, when you are determined on anything, and in the mood of violence, are irresistible.

Do not you resist me then, he said.

I will not resist you, I replied.

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No answer is given in the Lysis to the question, ‘What is Friendship?’ any more than in the Charmides to the question, ‘What is Temperance?’ There are several resemblances in the two Dialogues: the same youthfulness and sense of beauty pervades both of them; they are alike rich in the description of Greek life. The question is again raised of the relation of knowledge to virtue and good, which also recurs in the Laches; and Socrates appears again as the elder friend of the two boys, Lysis and Menexenus. In the Charmides, as also in the Laches, he is described as middle–aged; in the Lysis he is advanced in years.


The Dialogue consists of two scenes or conversations which seem to have no relation to each other. The first is a conversation between Socrates and Lysis, who, like Charmides, is an Athenian youth of noble descent and of great beauty, goodness, and intelligenceJowett1892: 207: this is carried on in the absence of Menexenus, who is called away to take part in a sacrifice. Socrates asks Lysis whether his father and mother do not love him very much? ‘To be sure they do.’ ‘Then of course they allow him to do exactly as heJowett1892: 208 likes.’ ‘Of course not: the very slaves have more liberty than heJowett1892: 209 has.’ ‘But how is this?’ ‘The reason is that he is not old enough.’ ‘No; the real reason is that he is not wise enough: for are there not some things which he is allowed to do, although he is not allowed to do others?’ ‘Yes, because he knows them, and doesJowett1892: 210 not know the others.’ This leads to the conclusion that all men everywhere will trust him in what he knows, but not in what he does not know; for in such matters he will be unprofitable to them, and do them no good. And no one will love him, if he does them no good; and he can only do them good by knowledge; and as he is still without knowledge, he can have as yet no conceit of knowledge. In this manner Socrates reads a lesson to Hippothales, the Edition: current; Page: [42] foolish lover of Lysis, respecting the style of conversation which he should address to his beloved.

After the return of Menexenus, Socrates, at the request of Lysis,Jowett1892: 211 asks him a new question: ‘What is friendship? You, Menexenus, who have a friend already, can tell me, who am always longing toJowett1892: 212 find one, what is the secret of this great blessing.’

When one man loves another, which is the friend—he who loves,Jowett1892: 213 or he who is loved? or are both friends? From the first of these suppositions they are driven to the second; and from the second to the third; and neither the two boys nor Socrates are satisfied with any of the three or with all of them. Socrates turns to theJowett1892: 214 poets, who affirm that God brings like to like (Homer), and to philosophers (Empedocles), who also assert that like is the friend of like. But the bad are not friends, for they are not even like themselves, and still less are they like one another. And the good have no need of one another, and therefore do not care aboutJowett1892: 215 one another. Moreover there are others who say that likeness is a cause of aversion, and unlikeness of love and friendship; and they too adduce the authority of poets and philosophers in support of their doctrines; for Hesiod says that ‘potter is jealous of potter, bard of bard;’ and subtle doctors tell us that ‘moist is theJowett1892: 216 friend of dry, hot of cold,’ and the like. But neither can their doctrine be maintained; for then the just would be the friend of the unjust, good of evil.

Thus we arrive at the conclusion that like is not the friend of like, nor unlike of unlike; and therefore good is not the friend of good, nor evil of evil, nor good of evil, nor evil of good. What remains but that the indifferent, which is neither good nor evil, should be the friend (not of the indifferent, for that would be ‘likeJowett1892: 217 the friend of like,’ but) of the good, or rather of the beautiful?

But why should the indifferent have this attachment to the beautiful or good? There are circumstances under which such an attachment would be natural. Suppose the indifferent, say the human body, to be desirous of getting rid of some evil, such as disease, which is not essential but only accidental to it (for if the evil were essential the body would cease to be indifferent, and would become evil)—in such a case the indifferent becomes aJowett1892: 218 friend of the good for the sake of getting rid of the evil. In this intermediate ‘indifferent’ position the philosopher or lover of Edition: current; Page: [43] wisdom stands: he is not wise, and yet not unwise, but he has ignorance accidentally clinging to him, and he yearns for wisdom as the cure of the evil. (Cp. Symp. 204.)

After this explanation has been received with triumphant accord,Jowett1892: 219 a fresh dissatisfaction begins to steal over the mind of Socrates: Must not friendship be for the sake of some ulterior end? and what can that final cause or end of friendship be, other than the good? But the good is desired by us only as the cure of evil; andJowett1892: 220 therefore if there were no evil there would be no friendship. Some other explanation then has to be devised. May not desireJowett1892: 221 be the source of friendship? And desire is of what a man wants and of what is congenial to him. But then the congenial cannotJowett1892: 222 be the same as the like; for like, as has been already shown, cannot be the friend of like. Nor can the congenial be the good; for good is not the friend of good, as has been also shown. The problem is unsolved, and the three friends, Socrates, Lysis, and Menexenus, are still unable to find out what a friend is.


Thus, as in the Charmides and Laches, and several of the other Dialogues of Plato (compare especially the Protagoras and Theaetetus), no conclusion is arrived at. 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. (Cp. Charm. pp. 175, 176.) The dialogue is what would be called in the language of Thrasyllus tentative or inquisitive. The subject is continued in the Phaedrus and Symposium, and treated, with a manifest reference to the Lysis, in the eighth and ninth books of the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. As in other writings of Plato (for example, the Republic), there is a progress from unconscious morality, illustrated by the friendship of the two youths, and also by the sayings of the poets (‘who are our fathers in wisdom,’ and yet only tell us half the truth, and in this particular instance are not much improved upon by the philosophers), to a more comprehensive notion of friendship. This, however, is far from being cleared of its perplexity. Two notions appear to be struggling or balancing in the mind of Socrates:—First, the sense that friendship arises out of human needs and wants; Secondly, that the higher form or ideal of friendship exists only for the sake of the good. That friends are not necessarily either like or unlike, is also a truth confirmed by Edition: current; Page: [44] experience. But the use of the terms ‘like’ or ‘good’ is too strictly limited; Socrates has allowed himself to be carried away by a sort of eristic or illogical logic against which no definition of friendship would be able to stand. In the course of the argument (217 D, E) he makes a distinction between property and accident which is a real contribution to the science of logic. Some higher truths appear through the mist. The manner in which the field of argument is widened, as in the Charmides and Laches by the introduction of the idea of knowledge, so here by the introduction of the good, is deserving of attention. The sense of the interdependence of good and evil, and the allusion to the possibility of the non–existence of evil, are also very remarkable.

The dialectical interest is fully sustained by the dramatic accompaniments. Observe, first, the scene, which is a Greek Palaestra, at a time when a sacrifice is going on, and the Hermaea are in course of celebration; secondly, the ‘accustomed irony’ of Socrates, who declares, as in the Symposium (177 D), that he is ignorant of all other things, but claims to have a knowledge of the mysteries of love. There are likewise several contrasts of character; first of the dry, caustic Ctesippus, of whom Socrates professes a humorous sort of fear, and Hippothales the flighty lover, who murders sleep by bawling out the name of his beloved; there is also a contrast between the false, exaggerated, sentimental love of Hippothales towards Lysis, and the childlike and innocent friendship of the boys with one another. Some difference appears to be intended between the characters of the more talkative Menexenus and the reserved and simple Lysis. Socrates draws out the latter by a new sort of irony, which is sometimes adopted in talking to children, and consists in asking a leading question which can only be answered in a sense contrary to the intention of the question: ‘Your father and mother of course allow you to drive the chariot?’ ‘No they do not.’ When Menexenus returns, the serious dialectic begins. He is described as ‘very pugnacious,’ and we are thus prepared for the part which a mere youth takes in a difficult argument. But Plato has not forgotten dramatic propriety, and Socrates proposes at last to refer the question to some older person (223 A).

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The subject of friendship has a lower place in the modern than in the ancient world, partly because a higher place is assigned by us to love and marriage. The very meaning of the word has become slighter and more superficial; it seems almost to be borrowed from the ancients, and has nearly disappeared in modern treatises on Moral Philosophy. The received examples of friendship are to be found chiefly among the Greeks and Romans. Hence the casuistical or other questions which arise out of the relations of friends have not often been considered seriously in modern times. Many of them will be found to be the same which are discussed in the Lysis. We may ask with Socrates, 1) whether friendship is ‘of similars or dissimilars,’ or of both; 2) whether such a tie exists between the good only and for the sake of the good; or 3) whether there may not be some peculiar attraction, which draws together ‘the neither good nor evil’ for the sake of the good and because of the evil; 4) whether friendship is always mutual,—may there not be a one–sided and unrequited friendship? This question, which, like many others, is only one of a laxer or stricter use of words, seems to have greatly exercised the minds both of Aristotle and Plato.

5) Can we expect friendship to be permanent, or must we acknowledge with Cicero, ‘Nihil difficilius quam amicitiam usque ad extremum vitae permanere’? Is not friendship, even more than love, liable to be swayed by the caprices of fancy? The person who pleased us most at first sight or upon a slight acquaintance, when we have seen him again, and under different circumstances, may make a much less favourable impression on our minds. Young people swear ‘eternal friendships,’ but at these innocent perjuries their elders laugh. No one forms a friendship with the intention of renouncing it; yet in the course of a varied life it is practically certain that many changes will occur of feeling, opinion, locality, occupation, fortune, which will divide us from some persons and unite us to others. 6) There is an ancient saying, Qui amicos amicum non habet. But is not some less exclusive form of friendship better suited to the condition and nature of man? And in those especially who have no family ties, may not the feeling pass beyond one or a few, and embrace all Edition: current; Page: [46] with whom we come into contact, and, perhaps in a few passionate and exalted natures, all men everywhere? 7) The ancients had their three kinds of friendship, ‘for the sake of the pleasant, the useful, and the good:’ is the last to be resolved into the two first; or are the two first to be included in the last? The subject was puzzling to them: they could not say that friendship was only a quality, or a relation, or a virtue, or a kind of virtue; and they had not in the age of Plato reached the point of regarding it, like justice, as a form or attribute of virtue. They had another perplexity: 8) How could one of the noblest feelings of human nature be so near to one of the most detestable corruptions of it? (cp. Symposium 180 ff., 218 ff.; Laws VIII, 835 ff.).

Leaving the Greek or ancient point of view, we may regard the question in a more general way. Friendship is the union of two persons in mutual affection and remembrance of one another. The friend can do for his friend what he cannot do for himself. He can give him counsel in time of difficulty; he can teach him ‘to see himself as others see him’; he can stand by him, when all the world are against him; he can gladden and enlighten him by his presence; he ‘can divide his sorrows,’ he can ‘double his joys;’ he can anticipate his wants. He will discover ways of helping him without creating a sense of his own superiority; he will find out his mental trials, but only that he may minister to them. Among true friends jealousy has no place: they do not complain of one another for making new friends, or for not revealing some secret of their lives; (in friendship too there must be reserves;) they do not intrude upon one another, and they mutually rejoice in any good which happens to either of them, though it may be to the loss of the other. They may live apart and have little intercourse, but when they meet, the old tie is as strong as ever—according to the common saying, they find one another always the same. The greatest good of friendship is not daily intercourse, for circumstances rarely admit of this; but on the great occasions of life, when the advice of a friend is needed, then the word spoken in season about conduct, about health, about marriage, about business,—the letter written from a distance by a disinterested person who sees with clearer eyes may be of inestimable value. When the heart is failing and despair is setting in, then to hear the voice or grasp the hand of a friend, in Edition: current; Page: [47] a shipwreck, in a defeat, in some other failure or misfortune, may restore the necessary courage and composure to the paralysed and disordered mind, and convert the feeble person into a hero; (cp. Symposium 179 ff.).

It is true that friendships are apt to be disappointing: either we expect too much from them; or we are indolent and do not ‘keep them in repair;’ or being admitted to intimacy with another, we see his faults too clearly and lose our respect for him; and he loses his affection for us. Friendships may be too violent; and they may be too sensitive. The egotism of one of the parties may be too much for the other. The word of counsel or sympathy has been uttered too obtrusively, at the wrong time, or in the wrong manner; or the need of it has not been perceived until too late. ‘Oh if he had only told me’ has been the silent thought of many a troubled soul. And some things have to be indicated rather than spoken, because the very mention of them tends to disturb the equability of friendship. The alienation of friends, like many other human evils, is commonly due to a want of tact and insight. There is not enough of the Scimus et hanc veniam petimusque damusque vicissim. The sweet draught of sympathy is not inexhaustible; and it tends to weaken the person who too freely partakes of it. Thus we see that there are many causes which impair the happiness of friends.

We may expect a friendship almost divine, such as philosophers have sometimes dreamed of: we find what is human. The good of it is necessarily limited; it does not take the place of marriage; it affords rather a solace than an arm of support. It had better not be based on pecuniary obligations; these more often mar than make a friendship. It is most likely to be permanent when the two friends are equal and independent, or when they are engaged together in some common work or have some public interest in common. It exists among the bad or inferior sort of men almost as much as among the good; the bad and good, and ‘the neither bad nor good,’ are drawn together in a strange manner by personal attachment. The essence of it is loyalty, without which it would cease to be friendship.

Another question 9) may be raised, whether friendship can safely exist between young persons of different sexes, not connected by ties of relationship, and without the thought of love or marriage; Edition: current; Page: [48] whether, again, a wife or a husband should have any intimate friend, besides his or her partner in marriage. The answer to this latter question is rather perplexing, and would probably be different in different countries (cp. Sympos. p. 182). While we do not deny that great good may result from such attachments, for the mind may be drawn out and the character enlarged by them; yet we feel also that they are attended with many dangers, and that this Romance of Heavenly Love requires a strength, a freedom from passion, a self–control, which, in youth especially, are rarely to be found. The propriety of such friendships must be estimated a good deal by the manner in which public opinion regards them; they must be reconciled with the ordinary duties of life; and they must be justified by the result.

Yet another question, 10). Admitting that friendships cannot be always permanent, we may ask when and upon what conditions should they be dissolved. It would be futile to retain the name when the reality has ceased to be. That two friends should part company whenever the relation between them begins to drag may be better for both of them. But then arises the consideration, how should these friends in youth or friends of the past regard or be regarded by one another? They are parted, but there still remain duties mutually owing by them. They will not admit the world to share in their difference any more than in their friendship; the memory of an old attachment, like the memory of the dead, has a kind of sacredness for them on which they will not allow others to intrude. Neither, if they were ever worthy to bear the name of friends, will either of them entertain any enmity or dislike of the other who was once so much to him. Neither will he by ‘shadowed hint reveal’ the secrets great or small which an unfortunate mistake has placed within his reach. He who is of a noble mind will dwell upon his own faults rather than those of another, and will be ready to take upon himself the blame of their separation. He will feel pain at the loss of a friend; and he will remember with gratitude his ancient kindness. But he will not lightly renew a tie which has not been lightly broken. . . . These are a few of the Problems of Friendship, some of them suggested by the Lysis, others by modern life, which he who wishes to make or keep a friend may profitably study. (Cp. Bacon, Essay on Friendship; Cic. de Amicitia.)

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Socrates, who is the narrator.





Scene:—A newly–erected Palaestra outside the walls of Athens.

Lysis. Socrates, Hippothales.

Jowett1892: 203I WAS going from the Academy straight to the Lyceum, intending to take the outer road, which is close under the wall. When I came to the postern gate of the city, which is by the fountain of Panops, I fell in with Hippothales, the son of Hieronymus, and Ctesippus the Paeanian, and a company of young men who were standing with them. Hippothales, seeing me approach, asked whence I came and whither I was going.

I am going, I replied, from the Academy straight to the Lyceum.

Then come straight to us, he said, and put in here; you may as well.

Who are you, I said; and where am I to come?

He showed me an enclosed space and an open door over against the wall. And there, he said, is the building at which we all meet: and a goodly company we are.

And what is this building, I asked; and what sort of entertainment have you?

Jowett1892: 204The building, he replied, is a newly–erected Palaestra; and the entertainment is generally conversation, to which you are welcome.

Thank you, I said; and is there any teacher there?

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Yes, he said, your old friend and admirer, Miccus.

Indeed, I replied; he is a very eminent professor.

Are you disposed, he said, to go with me and see them?

Yes, I said; but I should like to know first, what is expected of me, and who is the favourite among you?

Some persons have one favourite, Socrates, and some another, he said.

And who is yours? I asked: tell me that, Hippothales.

The love fancies of Hippothales are very ridiculous.

At this he blushed; and I said to him, O Hippothales, thou son of Hieronymus! do not say that you are, or that you are not, in love; the confession is too late; for I see that you are not only in love, but are already far gone in your love. Simple and foolish as I am, the Gods have given me the power of understanding affections of this kind.

Whereupon he blushed more and more.

Ctesippus said: I like to see you blushing, Hippothales, and hesitating to tell Socrates the name; when, if he were with you but for a very short time, you would have plagued him to death by talking about nothing else. Indeed, Socrates, he has literally deafened us, and stopped our ears with the praises of Lysis; and if he is a little intoxicated, there is every likelihood that we may have our sleep murdered with a cry of Lysis. His performances in prose are bad enough, but nothing at all in comparison with his verse; and when he drenches us with his poems and other compositions, it is really too bad; and worse still is his manner of singing them to his love; he has a voice which is truly appalling, and we cannot help hearing him: and now having a question put to him by you, behold he is blushing.

Who is Lysis? I said: I suppose that he must be young; for the name does not recall any one to me.

Why, he said, his father being a very well–known man, he retains his patronymic, and is not as yet commonly called by his own name; but, although you do not know his name, I am sure that you must know his face, for that is quite enough to distinguish him.

But tell me whose son he is, I said.

He is the eldest son of Democrates, of the deme of Aexonè.

Ah, Hippothales, I said; what a noble and really perfect Edition: current; Page: [51] love you have found! I wish that you would favour me with the exhibition which you have been making to the restJowett1892: 205 of the company, and then I shall be able to judge whether you know what a lover ought to say about his love, either to the youth himself, or to others.

Nay, Socrates, he said; you surely do not attach any importance to what he is saying.

Do you mean, I said, that you disown the love of the person whom he says that you love?

No; but I deny that I make verses or address compositions to him.

He is not in his right mind, said Ctesippus; he is talking nonsense, and is stark mad.

O Hippothales, I said, if you have ever made any verses or songs in honour of your favourite, I do not want to hear them; but I want to know the purport of them, that I may be able to judge of your mode of approaching your fair one.

Ctesippus will be able to tell you, he said; for if, as he avers, the sound of my words is always dinning in his ears, he must have a very accurate knowledge and recollection of them.

But though he is so devoted a lover, the love poems which he composes are made up of commonplaces.

Yes, indeed, said Ctesippus; I know only too well; and very ridiculous the tale is: for although he is a lover, and very devotedly in love, he has nothing particular to talk about to his beloved which a child might not say. Now is not that ridiculous? He can only speak of the wealth of Democrates, which the whole city celebrates, and grandfather Lysis, and the other ancestors of the youth, and their stud of horses, and their victory at the Pythian games, and at the Isthmus, and at Nemea with four horses and single horses—these are the tales which he composes and repeats. And there is greater twaddle still. Only the day before yesterday he made a poem in which he described the entertainment of Heracles, who was a connexion of the family, setting forth how in virtue of this relationship he was hospitably received by an ancestor of Lysis; this ancestor was himself begotten of Zeus by the daughter of the founder of the deme. And these are the sort of old wives’ tales which he sings and recites to us, and we are obliged to listen to him.

When I heard this, I said: O ridiculous Hippothales! how Edition: current; Page: [52] can you be making and singing hymns in honour of yourself before you have won?

But my songs and verses, he said, are not in honour of myself, Socrates.

You think not? I said.

Nay, but what do you think? he replied.

The verses are really in honour of himself if he win his love; or in dishonour of himself if his fair one jilts him.

Most assuredly, I said, those songs are all in your own honour; for if you win your beautiful love, your discourses and songs will be a glory to you, and may be truly regarded as hymns of praise composed in honour of you who have conquered and won such a love; but if he slips away from you, the more you have praised him, the more ridiculous you will look at having lost this fairest and best of blessings; and therefore the wise lover does not praise his beloved until heJowett1892: 206 has won him, because he is afraid of accidents. There is also another danger; the fair, when any one praises or magnifies them, are filled with the spirit of pride and vain–glory. Do you not agree with me?

Yes, he said.

And the more vain–glorious they are, the more difficult is the capture of them?

I believe you.

What should you say of a hunter who frightened away his prey, and made the capture of the animals which he is hunting more difficult?

He would be a bad hunter, undoubtedly.

Yes; and if, instead of soothing them, he were to infuriate them with words and songs, that would show a great want of wit: do you not agree?


He injures both his beloved and himself by writing poetry.

And now reflect, Hippothales, and see whether you are not guilty of all these errors in writing poetry. For I can hardly suppose that you will affirm a man to be a good poet who injures himself by his poetry.

Assuredly not, he said; such a poet would be a fool. And this is the reason why I take you into my counsels, Socrates, and I shall be glad of any further advice which you may have to offer. Will you tell me by what words or actions I may become endeared to my love?

That is not easy to determine, I said; but if you will Edition: current; Page: [53] bring your love to me, and will let me talk with him, I may perhaps be able to show you how to converse with him, instead of singing and reciting in the fashion of which you are accused.

There will be no difficulty in bringing him, he replied; if you will only go with Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and sit down and talk, I believe that he will come of his own accord; for he is fond of listening, Socrates. And as this is the festival of the Hermaea, the young men and boys are all together, and there is no separation between them. He will be sure to come: but if he does not, Ctesippus with whom he is familiar, and whose relation Menexenus is his great friend, shall call him.

That will be the way, I said. Thereupon I led Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and the rest followed.

The boys at their games. The beauty and goodness of Lysis. Lysis and his friend Menexenus leave the boys and join the circle of young men.

Upon entering we found that the boys had just been sacrificing; and this part of the festival was nearly at an end. They were all in their white array, and games at dice were going on among them. Most of them were in the outer court amusing themselves; but some were in a corner of the Apodyterium playing at odd and even with a number of dice, which they took out of little wicker baskets. There was also a circle of lookers–on; among them was Lysis. He wasJowett1892: 207 standing with the other boys and youths, having a crown upon his head, like a fair vision, and not less worthy of praise for his goodness than for his beauty. We left them, and went over to the opposite side of the room, where, finding a quiet place, we sat down; and then we began to talk. This attracted Lysis, who was constantly turning round to look at us—he was evidently wanting to come to us. For a time he hesitated and had not the courage to come alone; but first of all, his friend Menexenus, leaving his play, entered the Palāestra from the court, and when he saw Ctesippus and myself, was going to take a seat by us; and then Lysis, seeing him, followed, and sat down by his side; and the other boys joined. I should observe that Hippothales, when he saw the crowd, got behind them, where he thought that he would be out of sight of Lysis, lest he should anger him; and there he stood and listened.

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I turned to Menexenus, and said: Son of Demophon, which of you two youths is the elder?

That is a matter of dispute between us, he said.

Socrates asks which is the elder, nobler, fairer.

And which is the nobler? Is that also a matter of dispute?

Yes, certainly.

And another disputed point is, which is the fairer?

The two boys laughed.

I shall not ask which is the richer of the two, I said; for you are friends, are you not?

Certainly, they replied.

And friends have all things in common, so that one of you can be no richer than the other, if you say truly that you are friends.

Menexenus is called away and Socrates continues the conversation with Lysis alone. His parents love him very much; will they allow him to do whatever he likes? Certainly not.

They assented. I was about to ask which was the juster of the two, and which was the wiser of the two; but at this moment Menexenus was called away by some one who came and said that the gymnastic–master wanted him. I supposed that he had to offer sacrifice. So he went away, and I asked Lysis some more questions. I dare say, Lysis, I said, that your father and mother love you very much.

Certainly, he said.

And they would wish you to be perfectly happy.


But do you think that any one is happy who is in the condition of a slave, and who cannot do what he likes?

I should think not indeed, he said.

And if your father and mother love you, and desire that you should be happy, no one can doubt that they are very ready to promote your happiness.

Certainly, he replied.

And do they then permit you to do what you like, and never rebuke you or hinder you from doing what you desire?

Yes, indeed, Socrates; there are a great many things which they hinder me from doing.

What do you mean? I said. Do they want you to be happy, and yet hinder you from doing what you like? forJowett1892: 208 example, if you want to mount one of your father’s chariots, and take the reins at a race, they will not allow you to do so—they will prevent you?

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Certainly, he said, they will not allow me to do so.

Whom then will they allow?

There is a charioteer, whom my father pays for driving.

And do they trust a hireling more than you? and may he do what he likes with the horses? and do they pay him for this?

They do.

But I dare say that you may take the whip and guide the mule–cart if you like;—they will permit that?

Permit me! indeed they will not.

Then, I said, may no one use the whip to the mules?

Yes, he said, the muleteer.

And is he a slave or a free man?

A slave, he said.

And do they esteem a slave of more value than you who are their son? And do they entrust their property to him rather than to you? and allow him to do what he likes, when they prohibit you? Answer me now: Are you your own master, or do they not even allow that?

Nay, he said; of course they do not allow it.

Then you have a master?

Yes, my tutor; there he is.

And is he a slave?

To be sure; he is our slave, he replied.

He is a freeman and is governed by a slave.

Surely, I said, this is a strange thing, that a free man should be governed by a slave. And what does he do with you?

He takes me to my teachers.

You do not mean to say that your teachers also rule over you?

Of course they do.

He may not touch one of his mother’s spinning implements,

Then I must say that your father is pleased to inflict many lords and masters on you. But at any rate when you go home to your mother, she will let you have your own way, and will not interfere with your happiness; her wool, or the piece of cloth which she is weaving, are at your disposal: I am sure that there is nothing to hinder you from touching her wooden spathe, or her comb, or any other of her spinning implements.

Nay, Socrates, he replied, laughing; not only does she Edition: current; Page: [56] hinder me, but I should be beaten, if I were to touch one of them.

Well, I said, this is amazing. And did you ever behave ill to your father or your mother?

No, indeed, he replied.

and he derives no good from all his parents’ wealth.

But why then are they so terribly anxious to prevent you from being happy, and doing as you like?—keeping you all day long in subjection to another, and, in a word, doing nothing which you desire; so that you have no good, as would appear, out of their great possessions, which are underJowett1892: 209 the control of anybody rather than of you, and have no use of your own fair person, which is tended and taken care of by another; while you, Lysis, are master of nobody, and can do nothing?

Why, he said, Socrates, the reason is that I am not of age.

I doubt whether that is the real reason, I said; for I should imagine that your father Democrates, and your mother, do permit you to do many things already, and do not wait until you are of age: for example, if they want anything read or written, you, I presume, would be the first person in the house who is summoned by them.

Very true.

But he may write or read or tune the lyre at his own discretion.

And you would be allowed to write or read the letters in any order which you please, or to take up the lyre and tune the notes, and play with the fingers, or strike with the plectrum, exactly as you please, and neither father nor mother would interfere with you.

That is true, he said.

Then what can be the reason, Lysis, I said, why they allow you to do the one and not the other?

I suppose, he said, because I understand the one, and not the other.

People will trust him in what he understands.

Yes, my dear youth, I said, the reason is not any deficiency of years, but a deficiency of knowledge; and whenever your father thinks that you are wiser than he is, he will instantly commit himself and his possessions to you.

I think so.

Aye, I said; and about your neighbour, too, does not the same rule hold as about your father? If he is satisfied that Edition: current; Page: [57] you know more of housekeeping than he does, will he continue to administer his affairs himself, or will he commit them to you?

I think that he will commit them to me.

Even the Athenians or the great king will allow him to manage their affairs, to cook for them, to cure their eyes, if he knows how and can be of any use to them.

Will not the Athenian people, too, entrust their affairs to you when they see that you have wisdom enough to manage them?


And oh! let me put another case, I said: There is the great king, and he has an eldest son, who is the Prince of Asia;—suppose that you and I go to him and establish to his satisfaction that we are better cooks than his son, will he not entrust to us the prerogative of making soup, and putting in anything that we like while the pot is boiling, rather than to the Prince of Asia, who is his son?

To us, clearly.

And we shall be allowed to throw in salt by handfuls, whereas the son will not be allowed to put in as much as he can take up between his fingers?

Of course.

Or suppose again that the son has bad eyes, will he allow him, or will he not allow him, to touch his own eyes if he thinks that he has no knowledge of medicine?

Jowett1892: 210He will not allow him.

Whereas, if he supposes us to have a knowledge of medicine, he will allow us to do what we like with him—even to open the eyes wide and sprinkle ashes upon them, because he supposes that we know what is best?

That is true.

And everything in which we appear to him to be wiser than himself or his son he will commit to us?

That is very true, Socrates, he replied.

Then now, my dear Lysis, I said, you perceive that in things which we know every one will trust us,—Hellenes and barbarians, men and women,—and we may do as we please about them, and no one will like to interfere with us; we shall be free, and masters of others; and these things will be really ours, for we shall be benefited by them. But in things of which we have no understanding, no one will trust us to do as seems good to us—they will hinder us as far as they Edition: current; Page: [58] can; and not only strangers, but father and mother, and the friend, if there be one, who is dearer still, will also hinder us; and we shall be subject to others; and these things will not be ours, for we shall not be benefited by them. Do you agree?

He assented.

And shall we be friends to others, and will any others love us, in as far as we are useless to them?

Certainly not.

Neither can your father or mother love you, nor can anybody love anybody else, in so far as they are useless to them?


He must learn then to be useful and wise. Having no knowledge he has no conceit of knowledge.

And therefore, my boy, if you are wise, all men will be your friends and kindred, for you will be useful and good; but if you are not wise, neither father, nor mother, nor kindred, nor any one else, will be your friends. And in matters of which you have as yet no knowledge, can you have any conceit of knowledge?

That is impossible, he replied.

And you, Lysis, if you require a teacher, have not yet attained to wisdom.


And therefore you are not conceited, having nothing of which to be conceited.

Indeed, Socrates, I think not.

When I heard him say this, I turned to Hippothales, and was very nearly making a blunder, for I was going to say to him: That is the way, Hippothales, in which you should talk to your beloved, humbling and lowering him, and not as you do, puffing him up and spoiling him. But I saw that he was in great excitement and confusion at what had been said, and I remembered that, although he was in the neighbourhood, he did not want to be seen by Lysis; so upon second thoughtsJowett1892: 211 I refrained.

Lysis asks Socrates to argue with Menexenus.

In the meantime Menexenus came back and sat down in his place by Lysis; and Lysis, in a childish and affectionate manner, whispered privately in my ear, so that Menexenus should not hear: Do, Socrates, tell Menexenus what you have been telling me.

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Suppose that you tell him yourself, Lysis, I replied; for I am sure that you were attending.

Certainly, he replied.

Try, then, to remember the words, and be as exact as you can in repeating them to him, and if you have forgotten anything, ask me again the next time that you see me.

I will be sure to do so, Socrates; but go on telling him something new, and let me hear, as long as I am allowed to stay.

I certainly cannot refuse, I said, since you ask me; but then, as you know, Menexenus is very pugnacious, and therefore you must come to the rescue if he attempts to upset me.

Yes, indeed, he said; he is very pugnacious, and that is the reason why I want you to argue with him.

That I may make a fool of myself?

No, indeed, he said; but I want you to put him down.

That is no easy matter, I replied; for he is a terrible fellow—a pupil of Ctesippus. And there is Ctesippus himself: do you see him?

Never mind, Socrates, you shall argue with him.

Well, I suppose that I must, I replied.

Hereupon Ctesippus complained that we were talking in secret, and keeping the feast to ourselves.

I shall be happy, I said, to let you have a share. Here is Lysis, who does not understand something that I was saying, and wants me to ask Menexenus, who, as he thinks, is likely to know.

And why do you not ask him? he said.

Socrates has set his heart upon having a friend but has never been able to find one. As Lysis and Menexenus have experience in friendship he would ask a question of them:—Is the lover or the beloved the friend?

Very well, I said, I will; and do you, Menexenus, answer. But first I must tell you that I am one who from my childhood upward have set my heart upon a certain thing. All people have their fancies; some desire horses, and others dogs; and some are fond of gold, and others of honour. Now, I have no violent desire of any of these things; but I have a passion for friends; and I would rather have a good friend than the best cock or quail in the world: I would even go further, and say the best horse or dog. Yea, by the dogJowett1892: 212 of Egypt, I should greatly prefer a real friend to all the gold of Darius, or even to Darius himself: I am such a lover of friends as that. And when I see you and Lysis, at your Edition: current; Page: [60] early age, so easily possessed of this treasure, and so soon, he of you, and you of him, I am amazed and delighted, seeing that I myself, although I am now advanced in years, am so far from having made a similar acquisition, that I do not even know in what way a friend is acquired. But I want to ask you a question about this, for you have experience: tell me then, when one loves another, is the lover or the beloved the friend; or may either be the friend?

Either may, I should think, be the friend of either.

Do you mean, I said, that if only one of them loves the other, they are mutual friends?

Yes, he said; that is my meaning.

But what if the lover is not loved in return? which is a very possible case.


Or is, perhaps, even hated? which is a fancy which sometimes is entertained by lovers respecting their beloved. Nothing can exceed their love; and yet they imagine either that they are not loved in return, or that they are hated. Is not that true?

Yes, he said, quite true.

In that case, the one loves, and the other is loved?


Or must there be in friendship a return of love?

Then which is the friend of which? Is the lover the friend of the beloved, whether he be loved in return, or hated; or is the beloved the friend; or is there no friendship at all on either side, unless they both love one another?

There would seem to be none at all.

Then this notion is not in accordance with our previous one. We were saying that both were friends, if one only loved; but now, unless they both love, neither is a friend.

That appears to be true.

Then nothing which does not love in return is beloved by a lover?

I think not.

Then they are not lovers of horses, whom the horses do not love in return; nor lovers of quails, nor of dogs, nor of wine, nor of gymnastic exercises, who have no return of love; no, nor of wisdom, unless wisdom loves them in return. Or shall we say that they do love them, although they are Edition: current; Page: [61] not beloved by them; and that the poet was wrong who sings—

  • ‘Happy the man to whom his children are dear, and steeds having single hoofs, and dogs of chase, and the stranger of another land’?
Yet many things are dear which do not love in return; and so we arrive at the conclusion that what is beloved is dear and not what loves;

I do not think that he was wrong.

You think that he is right?


as, for example, young children when they are punished by their parents.

Then, Menexenus, the conclusion is, that what is beloved, whether loving or hating, may be dear to the lover of it: for example, very young children, too young to love, or evenJowett1892: 213 hating their father or mother when they are punished by them, are never dearer to them than at the time when they are being hated by them.

I think that what you say is true.

And, if so, not the lover, but the beloved, is the friend or dear one?


And the hated one, and not the hater, is the enemy?


What then is the result?—That neither the lover nor the beloved nor both together are friends.

Then many men are loved by their enemies, and hated by their friends, and are the friends of their enemies, and the enemies of their friends. Yet how absurd, my dear friend, or indeed impossible is this paradox of a man being an enemy to his friend or a friend to his enemy.

I quite agree, Socrates, in what you say.

But if this cannot be, the lover will be the friend of that which is loved?


And the hater will be the enemy of that which is hated?


Yet we must acknowledge in this, as in the preceding instance, that a man may be the friend of one who is not his friend, or who may be his enemy, when he loves that which does not love him or which even hates him. And he may be the enemy of one who is not his enemy, and is even his friend: for example, when he hates1 that which does not hate him, or which even loves him.

That appears to be true.

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But if the lover is not a friend, nor the beloved a friend, nor both together, what are we to say? Whom are we to call friends to one another? Do any remain?

Indeed, Socrates, I cannot find any.

But, O Menexenus! I said, may we not have been altogether wrong in our conclusions?

I am sure that we have been wrong, Socrates, said Lysis. And he blushed as he spoke, the words seeming to come from his lips involuntarily, because his whole mind was taken up with the argument; there was no mistaking his attentive look while he was listening.

I was pleased at the interest which was shown by Lysis, and I wanted to give Menexenus a rest, so I turned to him and said, I think, Lysis, that what you say is true, and that, if we had been right, we should never have gone so far wrong; let us proceed no further in this direction (for the road seems to be getting troublesome), but take the other path into which we turned, and see what the poets have to say; for they are to us in a manner the fathers and authorsJowett1892: 214 of wisdom, and they speak of friends in no light or trivial manner, but God himself, as they say, makes them and draws them to one another; and this they express, if I am not mistaken, in the following words:—

  • ‘God is ever drawing like towards like, and making them acquainted.’
The poets say that ‘God is ever drawing like towards like,

I dare say that you have heard those words.

Yes, he said; I have.

And have you not also met with the treatises of philosophers who say that like must love like? they are the people who argue and write about nature and the universe.

Very true, he replied.

And are they right in saying this?

They may be.

Perhaps, I said, about half, or possibly, altogether, right, if their meaning were rightly apprehended by us. For the more a bad man has to do with a bad man, and the more nearly he is brought into contact with him, the more he will be likely to hate him, for he injures him; and injurer and injured cannot be friends. Is not that true?

Yes, he said.

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Then one half of the saying is untrue, if the wicked are like one another?

That is true.

meaning that not the wicked,

But the real meaning of the saying, as I imagine, is, that the good are like one another, and friends to one another; and that the bad, as is often said of them, are never at unity with one another or with themselves; for they are passionate and restless, and anything which is at variance and enmity with itself is not likely to be in union or harmony with any other thing. Do you not agree?

Yes, I do.

but only the good are friends.

Then, my friend, those who say that the like is friendly to the like mean to intimate, if I rightly apprehend them, that the good only is the friend of the good, and of him only; but that the evil never attains to any real friendship, either with good or evil. Do you agree?

He nodded assent.

Then now we know how to answer the question ‘Who are friends?’ for the argument declares ‘That the good are friends.’

Yes, he said, that is true.

But what good or harm can the good do to one another which they could not do for themselves?

Yes, I replied; and yet I am not quite satisfied with this answer. By heaven, and shall I tell you what I suspect? I will. Assuming that like, inasmuch as he is like, is the friend of like, and useful to him—or rather let me try another way of putting the matter: Can like do any good or harm to like which he could not do to himself, or suffer anything from his like which he would not suffer from himself? AndJowett1892: 215 if neither can be of any use to the other, how can they be loved by one another? Can they now?

They cannot.

And can he who is not loved be a friend?

Certainly not.

But say that the like is not the friend of the like in so far as he is like; still the good may be the friend of the good in so far as he is good?


The good have no need of friends.

But then again, will not the good, in so far as he is good, be sufficient for himself? Certainly he will. And he who is sufficient wants nothing—that is implied in the word sufficient.

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Of course not.

And he who wants nothing will desire nothing?

He will not.

Neither can he love that which he does not desire?

He cannot.

And he who loves not is not a lover or friend?

Clearly not.

What place then is there for friendship, if, when absent, good men have no need of one another (for even when alone they are sufficient for themselves), and when present have no use of one another? How can such persons ever be induced to value one another?

They cannot.

And friends they cannot be, unless they value one another?

Very true.

But see now, Lysis, whether we are not being deceived in all this—are we not indeed entirely wrong?

How so? he replied.

Have I not heard some one say, as I just now recollect, that the like is the greatest enemy of the like, the good of the good?—Yes, and he quoted the authority of Hesiod, who says:

  • ‘Potter quarrels with potter, bard with bard,
  • Beggar with beggar;’
Another word of a poet: ‘Potter quarrels with potter.’ Friendship then is of opposites.

and of all other things he affirmed, in like manner, ‘That of necessity the most like are most full of envy, strife, and hatred of one another, and the most unlike, of friendship. For the poor man is compelled to be the friend of the rich, and the weak requires the aid of the strong, and the sick man of the physician; and every one who is ignorant, has to love and court him who knows.’ And indeed he went on to say in grandiloquent language, that the idea of friendship existing between similars is not the truth, but the very reverse of the truth, and that the most opposed are the most friendly; for that everything desires not like but that which is most unlike: for example, the dry desires the moist, the cold the hot, the bitter the sweet, the sharp the blunt, the void the full, the full the void, and so of all other things; for the opposite is the food of the opposite, whereas like receives nothing from Edition: current; Page: [65]Jowett1892: 216 like. And I thought that he who said this was a charming man, and that he spoke well. What do the rest of you say?

I should say, at first hearing, that he is right, said Menexenus.

Then we are to say that the greatest friendship is of opposites?


But this is a monstrous doctrine. For friendship is of love and not of hate.

Yes, Menexenus; but will not that be a monstrous answer? and will not the all–wise eristics be down upon us in triumph, and ask, fairly enough, whether love is not the very opposite of hate; and what answer shall we make to them—must we not admit that they speak the truth?

We must.

They will then proceed to ask whether the enemy is the friend of the friend, or the friend the friend of the enemy?

Neither, he replied.

Well, but is a just man the friend of the unjust, or the temperate of the intemperate, or the good of the bad?

I do not see how that is possible.

And yet, I said, if friendship goes by contraries, the contraries must be friends.

They must.

Then neither like and like, nor unlike and unlike, are friends.

Then neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends.

I suppose not.

And yet there is a further consideration: may not all these notions of friendship be erroneous? but may not that which is neither good nor evil still in some cases be the friend of the good?

How do you mean? he said.

The beautiful which is also the good is the friend of the neither good nor evil.

Why really, I said, the truth is that I do not know; but my head is dizzy with thinking of the argument, and therefore I hazard the conjecture, that ‘the beautiful is the friend,’ as the old proverb says. Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. For I affirm that the good is the beautiful. You will agree to that?


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This I say from a sort of notion that what is neither good nor evil is the friend of the beautiful and the good, and I will tell you why I am inclined to think so: I assume that there are three principles—the good, the bad, and that which is neither good nor bad. You would agree—would you not?

I agree.

And neither is the good the friend of the good, nor the evil of the evil, nor the good of the evil;—these alternatives are excluded by the previous argument; and therefore, if there be such a thing as friendship or love at all, we must infer that what is neither good nor evil must be the friend, either of the good, or of that which is neither good nor evil, for nothing can be the friend of the bad.


But neither can like be the friend of like, as we were just now saying.


And if so, that which is neither good nor evil can have no friend which is neither good nor evil.

Clearly not.

Then the good alone is the friend of that only which is neither good nor evil.

That may be assumed to be certain.Jowett1892: 217

Analogy of medicine.

And does not this seem to put us in the right way? Just remark, that the body which is in health requires neither medical nor any other aid, but is well enough; and the healthy man has no love of the physician, because he is in health.

He has none.

But the sick loves him, because he is sick?

The human body, which is neither good nor evil in itself, may, by reason of the presence of evil, have need of good.


And sickness is an evil, and the art of medicine a good and useful thing?


But the human body, regarded as a body, is neither good nor evil?


And the body is compelled by reason of disease to court and make friends of the art of medicine?

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Then that which is neither good nor evil becomes the friend of good, by reason of the presence of evil?

So we may infer.

And clearly this must have happened before that which was neither good nor evil had become altogether corrupted with the element of evil—if itself had become evil it would not still desire and love the good; for, as we were saying, the evil cannot be the friend of the good.


Evil may be present, but yet not assimilated.

Further, I must observe that some substances are assimilated when others are present with them; and there are some which are not assimilated: take, for example, the case of an ointment or colour which is put on another substance.

Very good.

In such a case, is the substance which is anointed the same as the colour or ointment?

What do you mean? he said.

This is what I mean: Suppose that I were to cover your auburn locks with white lead, would they be really white, or would they only appear to be white?

They would only appear to be white, he replied.

And yet whiteness would be present in them?


But that would not make them at all the more white, notwithstanding the presence of white in them—they would not be white any more than black?


But when old age infuses whiteness into them, then they become assimilated, and are white by the presence of white.


Now I want to know whether in all cases a substance is assimilated by the presence of another substance; or must the presence be after a peculiar sort?

The latter, he said.

Then that which is neither good nor evil may be in the presence of evil, but not as yet evil, and that has happened before now?


The presence of evil arouses in what is not evil the desire of good.

Edition: current; Page: [68] And when anything is in the presence of evil, not being as yet evil, the presence of good arouses the desire of good in that thing; but the presence of evil, which makes a thingJowett1892: 218 evil, takes away the desire and friendship of the good; for that which was once both good and evil has now become evil only, and the good was supposed to have no friendship with the evil?


And therefore we say that those who are already wise, whether Gods or men, are no longer lovers of wisdom; nor can they be lovers of wisdom who are ignorant to the extent of being evil, for no evil or ignorant person is a lover of wisdom. There remain those who have the misfortune to be ignorant, but are not yet hardened in their ignorance, or void of understanding, and do not as yet fancy that they know what they do not know: and therefore those who are the lovers of wisdom are as yet neither good nor bad. But the bad do not love wisdom any more than the good; for, as we have already seen, neither is unlike the friend of unlike, nor like of like. You remember that?

Yes, they both said.

Friendship is the love of the good when evil is present.

And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of friendship—there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love which by reason of the presence of evil the neither good nor evil has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.

They both agreed and entirely assented, and for a moment I rejoiced and was satisfied like a huntsman just holding fast his prey. But then a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and I felt that the conclusion was untrue. I was pained, and said, Alas! Lysis and Menexenus, I am afraid that we have been grasping at a shadow only.

Why do you say so? said Menexenus.

Arguments, like men, are often pretenders.

I am afraid, I said, that the argument about friendship is false: arguments, like men, are often pretenders.

How do you mean? he asked.

Well, I said; look at the matter in this way: a friend is the friend of some one; is he not?

Certainly he is.

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And has he a motive and object in being a friend, or has he no motive and object?

He has a motive and object.

And is the object which makes him a friend, dear to him, or neither dear nor hateful to him?

I do not quite follow you, he said.

I do not wonder at that, I said. But perhaps, if I put the matter in another way, you will be able to follow me, and my own meaning will be clearer to myself. The sick man, as I was just now saying, is the friend of the physician—is he not?


And he is the friend of the physician because of disease, and for the sake of health?


And disease is an evil?


And what of health? I said. Is that good or evil, or neither?

Jowett1892: 219Good, he replied.

And we were saying, I believe, that the body being neither good nor evil, because of disease, that is to say because of evil, is the friend of medicine, and medicine is a good: and medicine has entered into this friendship for the sake of health, and health is a good.


And is health a friend, or not a friend?

A friend.

And disease is an enemy?


Then that which is neither good nor evil is the friend of the good because of the evil and hateful, and for the sake of the good and the friend?


Then the friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, and because of the enemy?

That is to be inferred.

Then at this point, my boys, let us take heed, and be on our guard against deceptions. I will not again repeat that the friend is the friend of the friend, and the like of the like, Edition: current; Page: [70] which has been declared by us to be an impossibility; but, in order that this new statement may not delude us, let us attentively examine another point, which I will proceed to explain: Medicine, as we were saying, is a friend, or dear to us for the sake of health?


And health is also dear?


And if dear, then dear for the sake of something?


And surely this object must also be dear, as is implied in our previous admissions?


And that something dear involves something else dear?


But then, proceeding in this way, shall we not arrive at some first principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of being referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we maintain, all other things are dear, and, having there arrived, we shall stop?


Nothing can be dear in the highest sense for the sake of something else.

My fear is that all those other things, which, as we say, are dear for the sake of another, are illusions and deceptions only, but where that first principle is, there is the true ideal of friendship. Let me put the matter thus: Suppose the case of a great treasure (this may be a son, who is more precious to his father than all his other treasures); would not the father, who values his son above all things, value other things also for the sake of his son? I mean, for instance, if he knew that his son had drunk hemlock, and the father thought that wine would save him, he would value the wine?

He would.

And also the vessel which contains the wine?


But does he therefore value the three measures of wine, or the earthen vessel which contains them, equally with his son? Is not this rather the true state of the case? All his anxiety has regard not to the means which are provided for the sakeJowett1892: 220 of an object, but to the object for the sake of which they are provided. And although we may often say that gold and Edition: current; Page: [71] silver are highly valued by us, that is not the truth; for there is a further object, whatever it may be, which we value most of all, and for the sake of which gold and all our other possessions are acquired by us. Am I not right?

Yes, certainly.

And may not the same be said of the friend? That which is only dear to us for the sake of something else is improperly said to be dear, but the truly dear is that in which all these so–called dear friendships terminate.

That, he said, appears to be true.

And the truly dear or ultimate principle of friendship is not for the sake of any other or further dear.


Then we have done with the notion that friendship has any further object. May we then infer that the good is the friend?

I think so.

The good which is loved for the sake of the evil is relative only. Some higher principle of friendship than this is required.

And the good is loved for the sake of the evil? Let me put the case in this way: Suppose that of the three principles, good, evil, and that which is neither good nor evil, there remained only the good and the neutral, and that evil went far away, and in no way affected soul or body, nor ever at all that class of things which, as we say, are neither good nor evil in themselves;—would the good be of any use, or other than useless to us? For if there were nothing to hurt us any longer, we should have no need of anything that would do us good. Then would be clearly seen that we did but love and desire the good because of the evil, and as the remedy of the evil, which was the disease; but if there had been no disease, there would have been no need of a remedy. Is not this the nature of the good—to be loved by us who are placed between the two, because of the evil? but there is no use in the good for its own sake.

I suppose not.

Then the final principle of friendship, in which all other friendships terminated, those, I mean, which are relatively dear and for the sake of something else, is of another and a different nature from them. For they are called dear because of another dear or friend. But with the true friend or dear, the case is quite the reverse; for that is proved to Edition: current; Page: [72] be dear because of the hated, and if the hated were away it would be no longer dear.

Very true, he replied: at any rate not if our present view holds good.

A passing speculation respecting the nature of evil.

But, oh! will you tell me, I said, whether if evil were to perish, we should hunger any more, or thirst any more, or have any similar desire? Or may we suppose that hungerJowett1892: 221 will remain while men and animals remain, but not so as to be hurtful? And the same of thirst and the other desires,—that they will remain, but will not be evil because evil has perished? Or rather shall I say, that to ask what either will be then or will not be is ridiculous, for who knows? This we do know, that in our present condition hunger may injure us, and may also benefit us:—Is not that true?


And in like manner thirst or any similar desire may sometimes be a good and sometimes an evil to us, and sometimes neither one nor the other?

To be sure.

But is there any reason why, because evil perishes, that which is not evil should perish with it?


Then, even if evil perishes, the desires which are neither good nor evil will remain?

Clearly they will.

And must not a man love that which he desires and affects?

He must.

Then, even if evil perishes, there may still remain some elements of love or friendship?


But not if evil is the cause of friendship: for in that case nothing will be the friend of any other thing after the destruction of evil; for the effect cannot remain when the cause is destroyed.


Evil not the true cause of friendship.

And have we not admitted already that the friend loves something for a reason? and at the time of making the admission we were of opinion that the neither good nor evil loves the good because of the evil?

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Very true.

But now our view is changed, and we conceive that there must be some other cause of friendship?

I suppose so.

Is desire the true cause?

May not the truth be rather, as we were saying just now, that desire is the cause of friendship; for that which desires is dear to that which is desired at the time of desiring it? and may not the other theory have been only a long story about nothing?

Likely enough.

But surely, I said, he who desires, desires that of which he is in want?


And that of which he is in want is dear to him?


And he is in want of that of which he is deprived?


Yes,—desire of the natural or the congenial.

Then love, and desire, and friendship would appear to be of the natural or congenial. Such, Lysis and Menexenus, is the inference.

They assented.

Then if you are friends, you must have natures which are congenial to one another?

Certainly, they both said.

And I say, my boys, that no one who loves or desiresJowett1892: 222 another would ever have loved or desired or affected him, if he had not been in some way congenial to him, either in his soul, or in his character, or in his manners, or in his form.

Yes, yes, said Menexenus. But Lysis was silent.

Then, I said, the conclusion is, that what is of a congenial nature must be loved.

It follows, he said.

Then the lover, who is true and no counterfeit, must of necessity be loved by his love.

Lysis and Menexenus gave a faint assent to this; and Hippothales changed into all manner of colours with delight.

But our former argument showed that the like was useless to the like: we must therefore find a way to distinguish between the congenial and the like.

Here, intending to revise the argument, I said: Can we point out any difference between the congenial and the like? Edition: current; Page: [74] For if that is possible, then I think, Lysis and Menexenus, there may be some sense in our argument about friendship. But if the congenial is only the like, how will you get rid of the other argument, of the uselessness of like to like in as far as they are like; for to say that what is useless is dear, would be absurd? Suppose, then, that we agree to distinguish between the congenial and the like—in the intoxication of argument, that may perhaps be allowed.

Very true.

And shall we further say that the good is congenial, and the evil uncongenial to every one? Or again that the evil is congenial to the evil, and the good to the good; and that which is neither good nor evil to that which is neither good nor evil?

They agreed to the latter alternative.

Then, my boys, we have again fallen into the old discarded error; for the unjust will be the friend of the unjust, and the bad of the bad, as well as the good of the good.

That appears to be the result.

Shall we say that the congenial is the good?

But again, if we say that the congenial is the same as the good, in that case the good and he only will be the friend of the good.


But that proposition has been already disproved.

But that too was a position of ours which, as you will remember, has been already refuted by ourselves.

We remember.

A conclusion in which nothing is concluded.

Then what is to be done? Or rather is there anything to be done? I can only, like the wise men who argue in courts, sum up the arguments:—If neither the beloved, nor the lover, nor the like, nor the unlike, nor the good, nor the congenial, nor any other of whom we spoke—for there were such a number of them that I cannot remember all—if none of these are friends, I know not what remains to be said.

Here I was going to invite the opinion of some olderJowett1892: 223 person, when suddenly we were interrupted by the tutors of Lysis and Menexenus, who came upon us like an evil apparition with their brothers, and bade them go home, as it was getting late. At first, we and the by–standers drove them off; but afterwards, as they would not mind, and only Edition: current; Page: [75] went on shouting in their barbarous dialect, and got angry, and kept calling the boys—they appeared to us to have been drinking rather too much at the Hermaea, which made them difficult to manage—we fairly gave way and broke up the company.

I said, however, a few words to the boys at parting: O Menexenus and Lysis, how ridiculous that you two boys, and I, an old boy, who would fain be one of you, should imagine ourselves to be friends—this is what the by–standers will go away and say—and as yet we have not been able to discover what is a friend!

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Laches. Analysis.

Jowett1892: 178Lysimachus, the son of Aristides the Just, and Melesias, the son of the elder Thucydides, two aged men who live together, are desirous of educating their sons in the best manner. Their ownJowett1892: 179 education, as often happens with the sons of great men, has been neglected; and they are resolved that their children shall have more care taken of them, than they received themselves at the hands of their fathers.

At their request, Nicias and Laches have accompanied them to see a man named Stesilaus fighting in heavy armour. The twoJowett1892: 180 fathers ask the two generals what they think of this exhibition, and whether they would advise that their sons should acquire the accomplishment. Nicias and Laches are quite willing to give their opinion; but they suggest that Socrates should be invited to take part in the consultation. He is a stranger to Lysimachus, but isJowett1892: 181 afterwards recognised as the son of his old friend Sophroniscus, with whom he never had a difference to the hour of his death. Socrates is also known to Nicias, to whom he had introduced the excellent Damon, musician and sophist, as a tutor for his son, and to Laches, who had witnessed his heroic behaviour at the battle of Delium (cp. Symp. 221).

Socrates, as he is younger than either Nicias or Laches, prefers to wait until they have delivered their opinions, which they give in a characteristic manner. Nicias, the tactician, is very much inJowett1892: 182 favour of the new art, which he describes as the gymnastics of war—useful when the ranks are formed, and still more useful when they are broken; creating a general interest in military studies, and greatly adding to the appearance of the soldier in the field.Jowett1892: 183 Laches, the blunt warrior, is of opinion that such an art is not knowledge, and cannot be of any value, because the Lacedaemonians, those great masters of arms, neglect it. His own experience in actual service has taught him that these pretenders Edition: current; Page: [80] are useless and ridiculous. This man Stesilaus has been seen by him on board ship making a very sorry exhibition of himself. The possession of the art will make the coward rash, and subject theJowett1892: 184 courageous, if he chance to make a slip, to invidious remarks. And now let Socrates be taken into counsel. As they differ he must decide.

Socrates would rather not decide the question by a plurality of votes: in such a serious matter as the education of a friend’sJowett1892: 185 children, he would consult the one skilled person who has had masters, and has works to show as evidences of his skill. This is not himself; for he has never been able to pay the sophists forJowett1892: 186 instructing him, and has never had the wit to do or discover anything. But Nicias and Laches are older and richer than he is:Jowett1892: 187 they have had teachers, and perhaps have made discoveries; and he would have trusted them entirely, if they had not been diametrically opposed.

Lysimachus here proposes to resign the argument into the hands of the younger part of the company, as he is old, and has a bad memory. He earnestly requests Socrates to remain;—in this showing, as Nicias says, how little he knows the man, whoJowett1892: 188 will certainly not go away until he has cross–examined the company about their past lives. Nicias has often submitted to this process; and Laches is quite willing to learn from Socrates, because hisJowett1892: 189 actions, in the true Dorian mode, correspond to his words.

Socrates proceeds: We might ask who are our teachers? ButJowett1892: 190 a better and more thorough way of examining the question will be to ask, ‘What is Virtue?’—or rather, to restrict the enquiry to that part of virtue which is concerned with the use of weapons—‘What is Courage?’ Laches thinks that he knows this: (1) ‘He is courageous who remains at his post.’ But some nations fightJowett1892: 191 flying, after the manner of Aeneas in Homer; or as the heavy–armed Spartans also did at the battle of Plataea. (2) Socrates wants a more general definition, not only of military courage, butJowett1892: 192 of courage of all sorts, tried both amid pleasures and pains. Laches replies that this universal courage is endurance. But courage is a good thing, and mere endurance may be hurtful and injurious. Therefore (3) the element of intelligence must be added. But thenJowett1892: 193 again unintelligent endurance may often be more courageous than the intelligent, the bad than the good. How is this contradiction Edition: current; Page: [81] to be solved? Socrates and Laches are not set ‘to the Dorian mode’ of words and actions; for their words are all confusion, although their actions are courageous. Still they must ‘endure’ in an argument about endurance. Laches is very willing, and is quite sure that he knows what courage is, if he could only tell.

Jowett1892: 194Nicias is now appealed to; and in reply he offers a definition which he has heard from Socrates himself, to the effect that (1) ‘Courage is intelligence.’ Laches derides this; and Socrates enquires, ‘What sort of intelligence?’ to which Nicias replies,Jowett1892: 195 ‘Intelligence of things terrible.’ ‘But every man knows the things to be dreaded in his own art.’ ‘No they do not. They may predict results, but cannot tell whether they are really terrible; only the courageous man can tell that.’ Laches drawsJowett1892: 196 the inference that the courageous man is either a soothsayer or a god.

Again, (2) in Nicias’ way of speaking, the term ‘courageous’ must be denied to animals or children, because they do not knowJowett1892: 197 the danger. Against this inversion of the ordinary use of language Laches reclaims, but is in some degree mollified by a compliment to his own courage. Still, he does not like to see an Athenian statesman and general descending to sophistries of this sort.Jowett1892: 198 Socrates resumes the argument. Courage has been defined to be intelligence or knowledge of the terrible; and courage is not allJowett1892: 199 virtue, but only one of the virtues. The terrible is in the future, and therefore the knowledge of the terrible is a knowledge of the future. But there can be no knowledge of future good or evil separated from a knowledge of the good and evil of the past or present; that is to say, of all good and evil. Courage, therefore, is the knowledge of good and evil generally. But he who has the knowledge of good and evil generally, must not only have courage,Jowett1892: 200 but also temperance, justice, and every other virtue. Thus, a single virtue would be the same as all virtues (cp. Protagoras, 350 foll.). And after all the two generals, and Socrates, the hero of Delium, are still in ignorance of the nature of courage. TheyJowett1892: 201 must go to school again, boys, old men and all.


Some points of resemblance, and some points of difference, appear in the Laches when compared with the Charmides and Lysis. There is less of poetical and simple beauty, and more of dramatic interest and power. They are richer in the externals Edition: current; Page: [82] of the scene; the Laches has more play and development of character. In the Lysis and Charmides the youths are the central figures, and frequent allusions are made to the place of meeting, which is a palaestra. Here the place of meeting, which is also a palaestra, is quite forgotten, and the boys play a subordinate part. The séance is of old and elder men, of whom Socrates is the youngest.

First is the aged Lysimachus, who may be compared with Cephalus in the Republic, and, like him, withdraws from the argument. Melesias, who is only his shadow, also subsides into silence. Both of them, by their own confession, have been ill–educated, as is further shown by the circumstance that Lysimachus, the friend of Sophroniscus, has never heard of the fame of Socrates, his son; they belong to different circles. In the Meno (p. 94) their want of education in all but the arts of riding and wrestling is adduced as a proof that virtue cannot be taught. The recognition of Socrates by Lysimachus is extremely graceful; and his military exploits naturally connect him with the two generals, of whom one has witnessed them. The characters of Nicias and Laches are indicated by their opinions on the exhibition of the man fighting in heavy armour. The more enlightened Nicias is quite ready to accept the new art, which Laches treats with ridicule, seeming to think that this, or any other military question, may be settled by asking, ‘What do the Lacedaemonians say?’ The one is the thoughtful general, willing to avail himself of any discovery in the art of war (Aristoph. Aves, 363); the other is the practical man, who relies on his own experience, and is the enemy of innovation; he can act but cannot speak, and is apt to lose his temper. It is to be noted that one of them is supposed to be a hearer of Socrates; the other is only acquainted with his actions. Laches is the admirer of the Dorian mode; and into his mouth the remark is put that there are some persons who, having never been taught, are better than those who have. Like a novice in the art of disputation, he is delighted with the hits of Socrates; and is disposed to be angry with the refinements of Nicias.

In the discussion of the main thesis of the Dialogue—‘What is Courage?’ the antagonism of the two characters is still more clearly brought out; and in this, as in the preliminary question, the truth is parted between them. Gradually, and not without difficulty, Edition: current; Page: [83] Laches is made to pass on from the more popular to the more philosophical; it has never occurred to him that there was any other courage than that of the soldier; and only by an effort of the mind can he frame a general notion at all. No sooner has this general notion been formed than it evanesces before the dialectic of Socrates; and Nicias appears from the other side with the Socratic doctrine, that courage is knowledge. This is explained to mean knowledge of things terrible in the future. But Socrates denies that the knowledge of the future is separable from that of the past and present; in other words, true knowledge is not that of the soothsayer but of the philosopher. And all knowledge will thus be equivalent to all virtue—a position which elsewhere Socrates is not unwilling to admit, but which will not assist us in distinguishing the nature of courage. In this part of the Dialogue the contrast between the mode of cross–examination which is practised by Laches and by Socrates, and also the manner in which the definition of Laches is made to approximate to that of Nicias, are worthy of attention.

Thus, with some intimation of the connexion and unity of virtue and knowledge, we arrive at no distinct result. The two aspects of courage are never harmonized. The knowledge which in the Protagoras is explained as the faculty of estimating pleasures and pains is here lost in an unmeaning and transcendental conception. Yet several true intimations of the nature of courage are allowed to appear: (1) That courage is moral as well as physical: (2) That true courage is inseparable from knowledge, and yet (3) is based on a natural instinct. Laches exhibits one aspect of courage; Nicias the other. The perfect image and harmony of both is only realized in Socrates himself.

The Dialogue offers one among many examples of the freedom with which Plato treats facts. For the scene must be supposed to have occurred between b.c. 424, the year of the battle of Delium (181 B), and b.c. 418, the year of the battle of Mantinea, at which Laches fell. But if Socrates was more than seventy years of age at his trial in 399 (see Apology), he could not have been a young man at any time after the battle of Delium.

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Lysimachus, son of Aristides.

Melesias, son of Thucydides.

Their Sons.




Laches. Lysimachus. Lysimachus and Melesias request Nicias and Laches to advise with them respecting the education of their sons. Should the art of fighting in armour be taught them?

Jowett1892: 178You have seen the exhibition of the man fighting in armour, Nicias and Laches, but we did not tell you at the time the reason why my friend Melesias and I asked you to go with us and see him. I think that we may as well confess what this was, for we certainly ought not to have any reserve with you. The reason was, that we were intending to ask your advice. Some laugh at the very notion of advising others, and when they are asked will not say what they think. They guess at the wishes of the person who asks them, and answer according to his, and not according to their own, opinion. But as we know that you are good judges, and will say exactly what you think, we have taken you into our counsels. The matter about which I am making all this preface is as follows: Melesias and I have two sons; that is his son, and he is named Thucydides, after hisJowett1892: 179 grandfather; and this is mine, who is also called after his grandfather, Aristides. Now, we are resolved to take the greatest care of the youths, and not to let them run about as they like, which is too often the way with the young, when they are no longer children, but to begin at once and do the utmost that we can for them. And knowing you to have sons of your own, we thought that you were most likely to have attended to their training and improvement, and, if perchance Edition: current; Page: [86] you have not attended to them, we may remind you that you ought to have done so, and would invite you to assist us in the fulfilment of a common duty. I will tell you, Nicias and Laches, even at the risk of being tedious, how we came to think of this. Melesias and I live together, and our sons live with us; and now, as I was saying at first, we are going to confess to you. Both of us often talk to the lads about the many noble deeds which our own fathers did in war and peace—in the management of the allies, and in the administration of the city; but neither of us has any deeds of his own which he can show. The truth is that we are ashamed of this contrast being seen by them, and we blame our fathers for letting us be spoiled in the days of our youth, while they were occupied with the concerns of others; and we urge all this upon the lads, pointing out to them that they will not grow up to honour if they are rebellious and take no pains about themselves; but that if they take pains they may, perhaps, become worthy of the names which they bear. They, on their part, promise to comply with our wishes; and our care is to discover what studies or pursuits are likely to be most improving to them. Some one commended to us the art of fighting in armour, which he thought an excellent accomplishment for a young man to learn; and he praised the man whose exhibition you have seen, and told us to go and see him. And we determined that we would go, and get you to accompany us; and we were intending at the same time, if you did not object, to take counsel with you about the education of our sons. That is the matter which we wanted to talk over with you; and we hope that you will give us your opinion about this art ofJowett1892: 180 fighting in armour, and about any other studies or pursuits which may or may not be desirable for a young man to learn. Please to say whether you agree to our proposal.


As far as I am concerned, Lysimachus and Melesias, I applaud your purpose, and will gladly assist you; and I believe that you, Laches, will be equally glad.

Laches recommends that they shall take Socrates into their counsels.

Certainly, Nicias; and I quite approve of the remark which Lysimachus made about his own father and the father of Melesias, and which is applicable, not only to them, but to us, and to every one who is occupied with public affairs. Edition: current; Page: [87] As he says, such persons are too apt to be negligent and careless of their own children and their private concerns. There is much truth in that remark of yours, Lysimachus. But why, instead of consulting us, do you not consult our friend Socrates about the education of the youths? He is of the same deme with you, and is always passing his time in places where the youth have any noble study or pursuit, such as you are enquiring after.


Why, Laches, has Socrates ever attended to matters of this sort?


Certainly, Lysimachus.


That I have the means of knowing as well as Laches; for quite lately he supplied me with a teacher of music for my sons,—Damon, the disciple of Agathocles, who is a most accomplished man in every way, as well as a musician, and a companion of inestimable value for young men at their age.

Lysimachus had heard the name of Socrates, and makes the discovery that he is the son of his old friend Sophroniscus.

Those who have reached my time of life, Socrates and Nicias and Laches, fall out of acquaintance with the young, because they are generally detained at home by old age; but you, O son of Sophroniscus, should let your fellow demesman have the benefit of any advice which you are able to give. Moreover I have a claim upon you as an old friend of your father; for I and he were always companions and friends, and to the hour of his death there never was a difference between us; and now it comes back to me, at the mention of your name, that I have heard these lads talkingJowett1892: 181 to one another at home, and often speaking of Socrates in terms of the highest praise; but I have never thought to ask them whether the son of Sophroniscus was the person whom they meant. Tell me, my boys, whether this is the Socrates of whom you have often spoken?


Certainly, father, this is he.

Laches praises the courage which was shown by Socrates at the battle of Delium.

I am delighted to hear, Socrates, that you maintain the name of your father, who was a most excellent man; and I further rejoice at the prospect of our family ties being renewed.


Indeed, Lysimachus, you ought not to give him up; for I can assure you that I have seen him maintaining, not only his father’s, but also his country’s name. He was my Edition: current; Page: [88] companion in the retreat from Delium, and I can tell you that if others had only been like him, the honour of our country would have been upheld, and the great defeat would never have occurred.

The opinion of Socrates is asked respecting the art of fighting in armour; he would like to hear what Nicias has to say before giving an opinion.

That is very high praise which is accorded to you, Socrates, by faithful witnesses and for actions like those which they praise. Let me tell you the pleasure which I feel in hearing of your fame; and I hope that you will regard me as one of your warmest friends. You ought to have visited us long ago, and made yourself at home with us; but now, from this day forward, as we have at last found one another out, do as I say—come and make acquaintance with me, and with these young men, that I may continue your friend, as I was your father’s. I shall expect you to do so, and shall venture at some future time to remind you of your duty. But what say you of the matter of which we were beginning to speak—the art of fighting in armour? Is that a practice in which the lads may be advantageously instructed?


I will endeavour to advise you, Lysimachus, as far as I can in this matter, and also in every way will comply with your wishes; but as I am younger and not so experienced, I think that I ought certainly to hear first what my elders have to say, and to learn of them, and if I have anything to add, then I may venture to give my opinion to them as well as to you. Suppose, Nicias, that one or other of you begin.

Nicias thinks that the art is an excellent gymnastic, and of the greatest value when the soldier is fighting singly; it will arouse in him noble thoughts, and will enable him to make a better figure in battle.

I have no objection, Socrates; and my opinion is that the acquirement of this art is in many ways useful to young men. It is an advantage to them that among the favourite amusements of their leisure hours they should have one which tends to improve and not to injure their bodily health. No gymnastics could be better or harder exercise; and this, andJowett1892: 182 the art of riding, are of all arts most befitting to a freeman; for they only who are thus trained in the use of arms are the athletes of our military profession, trained in that on which the conflict turns. Moreover in actual battle, when you have to fight in a line with a number of others, such an acquirement will be of some use, and will be of the greatest whenever the ranks are broken and you have to fight singly, either in pursuit, when you are attacking some one who is defending himself, or in flight, when you have to defend yourself against an Edition: current; Page: [89] assailant. Certainly he who possessed the art could not meet with any harm at the hands of a single person, or perhaps of several; and in any case he would have a great advantage. Further, this sort of skill inclines a man to the love of other noble lessons; for every man who has learned how to fight in armour will desire to learn the proper arrangement of an army, which is the sequel of the lesson: and when he has learned this, and his ambition is once fired, he will go on to learn the complete art of the general. There is no difficulty in seeing that the knowledge and practice of other military arts will be honourable and valuable to a man; and this lesson may be the beginning of them. Let me add a further advantage, which is by no means a slight one,—that this science will make any man a great deal more valiant and self–possessed in the field. And I will not disdain to mention, what by some may be thought to be a small matter;—he will make a better appearance at the right time; that is to say, at the time when his appearance will strike terror into his enemies. My opinion then, Lysimachus, is, as I say, that the youths should be instructed in this art, and for the reasons which I have given. But Laches may take a different view; and I shall be very glad to hear what he has to say.

Laches attaches no importance to the art, which would have long ago been discovered by the Lacedaemonians, and would have been introduced among them, if it had been of any value. These masters of fence never venture on Lacedaemonian ground. Laches had seen this same Stesilaus cutting a very ridiculous figure in a naval engagement. The art an imposition.

I should not like to maintain, Nicias, that any kind of knowledge is not to be learned; for all knowledge appears to be a good: and if, as Nicias and as the teachers of the art affirm, this use of arms is really a species of knowledge, then it ought to be learned; but if not, and if those who profess to teach it are deceivers only; or if it be knowledge, but not of a valuable sort, then what is the use of learning it?Jowett1892: 183 I say this, because I think that if it had been really valuable, the Lacedaemonians, whose whole life is passed in finding out and practising the arts which give them an advantage over other nations in war, would have discovered this one. And even if they had not, still these professors of the art would certainly not have failed to discover that of all the Hellenes the Lacedaemonians have the greatest interest in such matters, and that a master of the art who was honoured among them would be sure to make his fortune among other nations, just as a tragic poet would who is honoured among Edition: current; Page: [90] ourselves; which is the reason why he who fancies that he can write a tragedy does not go about itinerating in the neighbouring states, but rushes hither straight, and exhibits at Athens; and this is natural. Whereas I perceive that these fighters in armour regard Lacedaemon as a sacred inviolable territory, which they do not touch with the point of their foot; but they make a circuit of the neighbouring states, and would rather exhibit to any others than to the Spartans; and particularly to those who would themselves acknowledge that they are by no means firstrate in the arts of war. Further, Lysimachus, I have encountered a good many of these gentlemen in actual service, and have taken their measure, which I can give you at once; for none of these masters of fence have ever been distinguished in war,—there has been a sort of fatality about them; while in all other arts the men of note have been always those who have practised the art, they appear to be a most unfortunate exception. For example, this very Stesilaus, whom you and I have just witnessed exhibiting in all that crowd and making such great professions of his powers, I have seen at another time making, in sober truth, an involuntary exhibition of himself, which was a far better spectacle. He was a marine on board a ship which struck a transport vessel, and was armed with a weapon, half spear, half scythe; the singularity of this weapon was worthy of the singularity of the man. To make a long story short, I will only tell you what happened to this notable invention of the scythe–spear. He was fighting, and the scythe was caught in the rigging of the other ship, and stuck fast; and he tugged, but was unable to get his weapon free. The two ships were passing one another. He first ran along his own ship holding on to the spear; but as the other ship passed by and drew him after as he was holding on, he let the spear slip through his hand until heJowett1892: 184 retained only the end of the handle. The people in the transport clapped their hands, and laughed at his ridiculous figure; and when some one threw a stone, which fell on the deck at his feet, and he quitted his hold of the scythe–spear, the crew of his own trireme also burst out laughing; they could not refrain when they beheld the weapon waving in the air, suspended from the transport. Now I do not deny that Edition: current; Page: [91] there may be something in such an art, as Nicias asserts, but I tell you my experience; and, as I said at first, whether this be an art of which the advantage is so slight, or not an art at all, but only an imposition, in either case such an acquirement is not worth having. For my opinion is, that if the professor of this art be a coward, he will be likely to become rash, and his character will be only more notorious; or if he be brave, and fail ever so little, other men will be on the watch, and he will be greatly traduced; for there is a jealousy of such pretenders; and unless a man be pre–eminent in valour, he cannot help being ridiculous, if he says that he has this sort of skill. Such is my judgment, Lysimachus, of the desirableness of this art; but, as I said at first, ask Socrates, and do not let him go until he has given you his opinion of the matter.

Our two councillors disagree, and therefore we must appeal to Socrates.

I am going to ask this favour of you, Socrates; as is the more necessary because the two councillors disagree, and some one is in a manner still needed who will decide between them. Had they agreed, no arbiter would have been required. But as Laches has voted one way and Nicias another, I should like to hear with which of our two friends you agree.

What, and are we to decide by a majority?

What, Lysimachus, are you going to accept the opinion of the majority?


Why, yes, Socrates; what else am I to do?


And would you do so too, Melesias? If you were deliberating about the gymnastic training of your son, would you follow the advice of the majority of us, or the opinion of the one who had been trained and exercised under a skilful master?

No, the opinion of one expert is worth that of all the rest.

The latter, Socrates; as would surely be reasonable.


His one vote would be worth more than the vote of all us four?




And for this reason, as I imagine,—because a good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers?


To be sure.

Jowett1892: 185Soc.

Must we not then first of all ask, whether there is any one of us who has knowledge of that about which we are deliberating? If there is, let us take his advice, though he be one only, and not mind the rest; if there is not, let us seek Edition: current; Page: [92] further counsel. Is this a slight matter about which you and Lysimachus are deliberating? Are you not risking the greatest of your possessions? For children are your riches; and upon their turning out well or ill depends the whole order of their father’s house.


That is true.


Great care, then, is required in this matter?



What is the question?

Suppose, as I was just now saying, that we were considering, or wanting to consider, who was the best trainer. Should we not select him who knew and had practised the art, and had the best teachers?


I think that we should.


But would there not arise a prior question about the nature of the art of which we want to find the masters?


I do not understand.


Let me try to make my meaning plainer then. I do not think that we have as yet decided what that is about which we are consulting, when we ask which of us is or is not skilled in the art, and has or has not had a teacher of the art.


Why, Socrates, is not the question whether young men ought or ought not to learn the art of fighting in armour?

There are two questions, one relating to the means and the other to the end.

Yes, Nicias; but there is also a prior question, which I may illustrate in this way: When a person considers about applying a medicine to the eyes, would you say that he is consulting about the medicine or about the eyes?


About the eyes.


And when he considers whether he shall set a bridle on a horse and at what time, he is thinking of the horse and not of the bridle?




And in a word, when he considers anything for the sake of another thing, he thinks of the end and not of the means?




And when you call in an adviser, you should see whether he too is skilful in the accomplishment of the end which you have in view?

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Most true.


And at present we have in view some knowledge, of which the end is the soul of youth?

The means is some kind of knowledge; the end the improvement of the soul of youth. Which of us can teach and has had good teachers?



And we are enquiring, Which of us is skilful or successful in the treatment of the soul, and which of us has had good teachers?


Well but, Socrates; did you never observe that some persons, who have had no teachers, are more skilful than those who have, in some things?


Yes, Laches, I have observed that; but you would not be very willing to trust them if they only professed to be masters of their art, unless they could show some proof ofJowett1892: 186 their skill or excellence in one or more works.


That is true.

We must either tell who our teachers are, or appeal to works of our own. Socrates could never afford a teacher, but Nicias and Laches may have learned of the Sophists, and their opinions might be of value if they only agreed with one another. Who were their teachers, or do they experiment for themselves? In the latter case they should be warned against trying experiments on their own children.

And therefore, Laches and Nicias, as Lysimachus and Melesias, in their anxiety to improve the minds of their sons, have asked our advice about them, we too should tell them who our teachers were, if we say that we have had any, and prove them to be in the first place men of merit and experienced trainers of the minds of youth and also to have been really our teachers. Or if any of us says that he has no teacher, but that he has works of his own to show; then he should point out to them what Athenians or strangers, bond or free, he is generally acknowledged to have improved. But if he can show neither teachers nor works, then he should tell them to look out for others; and not run the risk of spoiling the children of friends, and thereby incurring the most formidable accusation which can be brought against any one by those nearest to him. As for myself, Lysimachus and Melesias, I am the first to confess that I have never had a teacher of the art of virtue; although I have always from my earliest youth desired to have one. But I am too poor to give money to the Sophists, who are the only professors of moral improvement; and to this day I have never been able to discover the art myself, though I should not be surprised if Nicias or Laches may have discovered or learned it; for they are far wealthier than I am, and may therefore have learnt of others. And they are older too; so that they have had more time to make the discovery. And I really Edition: current; Page: [94] believe that they are able to educate a man; for unless they had been confident in their own knowledge, they would never have spoken thus decidedly of the pursuits which are advantageous or hurtful to a young man. I repose confidence in both of them; but I am surprised to find that they differ from one another. And therefore, Lysimachus, as Laches suggested that you should detain me, and not let me go until I answered, I in turn earnestly beseech and advise you to detain Laches and Nicias, and question them. I would have you say to them: Socrates avers that he has no knowledge of the matter—he is unable to decide which of you speaks truly; neither discoverer nor student is he of anything of the kind. But you, Laches and Nicias, should each of you tell us who is the most skilful educator whom you have ever known; and whether you invented the art yourselves, or learned of another; and if you learned, who were yourJowett1892: 187 respective teachers, and who were their brothers in the art; and then, if you are too much occupied in politics to teach us yourselves, let us go to them, and present them with gifts, or make interest with them, or both, in the hope that they may be induced to take charge of our children and of yours; and then they will not grow up inferior, and disgrace their ancestors. But if you are yourselves original discoverers in that field, give us some proof of your skill. Who are they who, having been inferior persons, have become under your care good and noble? For if this is your first attempt at education, there is a danger that you may be trying the experiment, not on the ‘vile corpus’ of a Carian slave, but on your own sons, or the sons of your friend, and, as the proverb says, ‘break the large vessel in learning to make pots.’ Tell us then, what qualities you claim or do not claim. Make them tell you that, Lysimachus, and do not let them off.

Lysimachus suggests that Socrates shall interrogate Nicias and Laches.

I very much approve of the words of Socrates, my friends; but you, Nicias and Laches, must determine whether you will be questioned, and give an explanation about matters of this sort. Assuredly, I and Melesias would be greatly pleased to hear you answer the questions which Socrates asks, if you will: for I began by saying that we took you into our counsels because we thought that you would have attended to the subject, especially as you have children who, Edition: current; Page: [95] like our own, are nearly of an age to be educated. Well, then, if you have no objection, suppose that you take Socrates into partnership; and do you and he ask and answer one another’s questions: for, as he has well said, we are deliberating about the most important of our concerns. I hope that you will see fit to comply with our request.

Socrates will be sure to ask you about your soul.

I see very clearly, Lysimachus, that you have only known Socrates’ father, and have no acquaintance with Socrates himself: at least, you can only have known him when he was a child, and may have met him among his fellow–wardsmen, in company with his father, at a sacrifice, or at some other gathering. You clearly show that you have never known him since he arrived at manhood.


Why do you say that, Nicias?

Nicias is of opinion that such conversation is very profitable. Laches, like Nicias, is very ready to be cross–examined, especially by a true man whose deeds correspond with his actions.

Because you seem not to be aware that any one who has an intellectual affinity to Socrates and enters into conversation with him is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject he may start, he will be continually carried round and round by him, until at last he finds that he has toJowett1892: 188 give an account both of his present and past life; and when he is once entangled, Socrates will not let him go until he has completely and thoroughly sifted him. Now I am used to his ways; and I know that he will certainly do as I say, and also that I myself shall be the sufferer; for I am fond of his conversation, Lysimachus. And I think that there is no harm in being reminded of any wrong thing which we are, or have been, doing: he who does not fly from reproof will be sure to take more heed of his after–life; as Solon says, he will wish and desire to be learning so long as he lives, and will not think that old age of itself brings wisdom. To me, to be cross–examined by Socrates is neither unusual nor unpleasant; indeed, I knew all along that where Socrates was, the argument would soon pass from our sons to ourselves; and therefore, I say that for my part, I am quite willing to discourse with Socrates in his own manner; but you had better ask our friend Laches what his feeling may be.

He is willing like Solon ‘to learn many things,’ but of the good only.

I have but one feeling, Nicias, or (shall I say?) two feelings, about discussions. Some would think that I am a lover, and to others I may seem to be a hater of discourse; for when I hear a man discoursing of virtue, or of any sort Edition: current; Page: [96] of wisdom, who is a true man and worthy of his theme, I am delighted beyond measure: and I compare the man and his words, and note the harmony and correspondence of them. And such an one I deem to be the true musician, attuned to a fairer harmony than that of the lyre, or any pleasant instrument of music; for truly he has in his own life a harmony of words and deeds arranged, not in the Ionian, or in the Phrygian mode, nor yet in the Lydian, but in the true Hellenic mode, which is the Dorian, and no other. Such an one makes me merry with the sound of his voice; and when I hear him I am thought to be a lover of discourse; so eager am I in drinking in his words. But a man whose actions do not agree with his words is an annoyance to me; and the better he speaks the more I hate him, and then I seem to be a hater of discourse. As to Socrates, I have no knowledge of his words, but of old, as would seem, I have had experience of his deeds; and his deeds show that free and noble sentiments are natural to him.Jowett1892: 189 And if his words accord, then I am of one mind with him, and shall be delighted to be interrogated by a man such as he is, and shall not be annoyed at having to learn of him: for I too agree with Solon, ‘that I would fain grow old, learning many things.’ But I must be allowed to add ‘of the good only.’ Socrates must be willing to allow that he is a good teacher, or I shall be a dull and uncongenial pupil: but that the teacher is younger, or not as yet in repute—anything of that sort is of no account with me. And therefore, Socrates, I give you notice that you may teach and confute me as much as ever you like, and also learn of me anything which I know. So high is the opinion which I have entertained of you ever since the day on which you were my companion in danger, and gave a proof of your valour such as only the man of merit can give. Therefore, say whatever you like, and do not mind about the difference of our ages.


I cannot say that either of you show any reluctance to take counsel and advise with me.

Lysimachus retires from the argument.

But this is our proper business; and yours as well as ours, for I reckon you as one of us. Please then to take my place, and find out from Nicias and Laches what we want to Edition: current; Page: [97] know, for the sake of the youths, and talk and consult with them: for I am old, and my memory is bad; and I do not remember the questions which I am going to ask, or the answers to them; and if there is any interruption I am quite lost. I will therefore beg of you to carry on the proposed discussion by your selves; and I will listen, and Melesias and I will act upon your conclusions.

Socrates proceeds:—Before we can impart a gift we must know the nature of it.

Let us, Nicias and Laches, comply with the request of Lysimachus and Melesias. There will be no harm in asking ourselves the question which was first proposed to us: ‘Who have been our own instructors in this sort of training, and whom have we made better?’ But the other mode of carrying on the enquiry will bring us equally to the same point, and will be more like proceeding from first principles. For if we knew that the addition of something would improve some other thing, and were able to make the addition, then, clearly, we must know how that about which we are advising may be best and most easily attained. Perhaps you do not understand what I mean. Then let meJowett1892: 190 make my meaning plainer in this way. Suppose we knew that the addition of sight makes better the eyes which possess this gift, and also were able to impart sight to the eyes, then, clearly, we should know the nature of sight, and should be able to advise how this gift of sight may be best and most easily attained; but if we knew neither what sight is, nor what hearing is, we should not be very good medical advisers about the eyes or the ears, or about the best mode of giving sight and hearing to them.


That is true, Socrates.


And are not our two friends, Laches, at this very moment inviting us to consider in what way the gift of virtue may be imparted to their sons for the improvement of their minds?


Very true.

If we would impart virtue we must know the nature of virtue.

Then must we not first know the nature of virtue? For how can we advise any one about the best mode of attaining something of which we are wholly ignorant?


I do not think that we can, Socrates.


Then, Laches, we may presume that we know the nature of virtue?



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And that which we know we must surely be able to tell?




I would not have us begin, my friend, with enquiring about the whole of virtue; for that may be more than we can accomplish; let us first consider whether we have a sufficient knowledge of a part; the enquiry will thus probably be made easier to us.


Let us do as you say, Socrates.

And the particular virtue with which we are at present concerned is courage.

Then which of the parts of virtue shall we select? Must we not select that to which the art of fighting in armour is supposed to conduce? And is not that generally thought to be courage?


Yes, certainly.


Then, Laches, suppose that we first set about determining the nature of courage, and in the second place proceed to enquire how the young men may attain this quality by the help of studies and pursuits. Tell me, if you can, what is courage.


Indeed, Socrates, I see no difficulty in answering; he is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and fights against the enemy; there can be no mistake about that.

Who is the courageous man?

Very good, Laches; and yet I fear that I did not express myself clearly; and therefore you have answered not the question which I intended to ask, but another.


What do you mean, Socrates?Jowett1892: 191

(1) He who stands and fights; and also

I will endeavour to explain; you would call a man courageous who remains at his post, and fights with the enemy?


Certainly I should.

(2) he who flies and fights.

And so should I; but what would you say of another man, who fights flying, instead of remaining?


How flying?


Why, as the Scythians are said to fight, flying as well as pursuing; and as Homer says in praise of the horses of Aeneas, that they knew ‘how to pursue, and fly quickly hither and thither;’ and he passes an encomium on Aeneas himself, as having a knowledge of fear or flight, and calls him ‘an author of fear or flight.’

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Yes, Socrates, and there Homer is right: for he was speaking of chariots, as you were speaking of the Scythian cavalry, who have that way of fighting; but the heavy–armed Greek fights, as I say, remaining in his rank.


And yet, Laches, you must except the Lacedaemonians at Plataea, who, when they came upon the light shields of the Persians, are said not to have been willing to stand and fight, and to have fled; but when the ranks of the Persians were broken, they turned upon them like cavalry, and won the battle of Plataea.


That is true.

Courage is also shown in perils by sea, in disease and poverty, and in civil strife; also in the battle against pleasures and desires.

That was my meaning when I said that I was to blame in having put my question badly, and that this was the reason of your answering badly. For I meant to ask you not only about the courage of heavy–armed soldiers, but about the courage of cavalry and every other style of soldier; and not only who are courageous in war, but who are courageous in perils by sea, and who in disease, or in poverty, or again in politics, are courageous; and not only who are courageous against pain or fear, but mighty to contend against desires and pleasures, either fixed in their rank or turning upon their enemy. There is this sort of courage—is there not, Laches?


Certainly, Socrates.


And all these are courageous, but some have courage in pleasures, and some in pains: some in desires, and some in fears, and some are cowards under the same conditions, as I should imagine.


Very true.


Now I was asking about courage and cowardice in general. And I will begin with courage, and once more ask, What is that common quality, which is the same in all these cases, and which is called courage? Do you now understand what I mean?


Not over well.

Jowett1892: 192Soc.

I mean this: As I might ask what is that quality which is called quickness, and which is found in running, in playing the lyre, in speaking, in learning, and in many other similar actions, or rather which we possess in nearly every action that is worth mentioning of arms, legs, mouth, Edition: current; Page: [100] voice, mind;—would you not apply the term quickness to all of them?


Quite true.


And suppose I were to be asked by some one: What is that common quality, Socrates, which, in all these uses of the word, you call quickness? I should say the quality which accomplishes much in a little time—whether in running, speaking, or in any other sort of action.


You would be quite correct.

What is that common quality in all which is called courage? Endurance.

And now, Laches, do you try and tell me in like manner, What is that common quality which is called courage, and which includes all the various uses of the term when applied both to pleasure and pain, and in all the cases to which I was just now referring?


I should say that courage is a sort of endurance of the soul, if I am to speak of the universal nature which pervades them all.


But that is what we must do if we are to answer the question. And yet I cannot say that every kind of endurance is, in my opinion, to be deemed courage. Hear my reason: I am sure, Laches, that you would consider courage to be a very noble quality.


Most noble, certainly.


And you would say that a wise endurance is also good and noble?


Very noble.


But what would you say of a foolish endurance? Is not that, on the other hand, to be regarded as evil and hurtful?




And is anything noble which is evil and hurtful?


I ought not to say that, Socrates.

Yes, but it must be a noble or wise endurance.

Then you would not admit that sort of endurance to be courage—for it is not noble, but courage is noble?


You are right.


Then, according to you, only the wise endurance is courage?




But as to the epithet ‘wise,’—wise in what? In all things small as well as great? For example, if a man Edition: current; Page: [101] shows the quality of endurance in spending his money wisely, knowing that by spending he will acquire more in the end, do you call him courageous?


Assuredly not.


Or, for example, if a man is a physician, and his son, or some patient of his, has inflammation of the lungs, and begs that he may be allowed to eat or drink something, and the other is firm and refuses; is that courage?

Jowett1892: 193La.

No; that is not courage at all, any more than the last.

Is he who by prudent foresight escapes a danger, or he who, having no foresight, endures and remains at his post, the braver? The latter.

Again, take the case of one who endures in war, and is willing to fight, and wisely calculates and knows that others will help him, and that there will be fewer and inferior men against him than there are with him; and suppose that he has also advantages of position;—would you say of such a one who endures with all this wisdom and preparation, that he, or some man in the opposing army who is in the opposite circumstances to these and yet endures and remains at his post, is the braver?


I should say that the latter, Socrates, was the braver.


But, surely, this is a foolish endurance in comparison with the other?


That is true.


Then you would say that he who in an engagement of cavalry endures, having the knowledge of horsemanship, is not so courageous as he who endures, having no such knowledge?


So I should say.


And he who endures, having a knowledge of the use of the sling, or the bow, or of any other art, is not so courageous as he who endures, not having such a knowledge?




And he who descends into a well, and dives, and holds out in this or any similar action, having no knowledge of diving, or the like, is, as you would say, more courageous than those who have this knowledge?


Why, Socrates, what else can a man say?


Nothing, if that be what he thinks.


But that is what I do think.

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And yet men who thus run risks and endure are foolish, Laches, in comparison of those who do the same things, having the skill to do them.

And yet he is the more foolish.

That is true.


But foolish boldness and endurance appeared before to be base and hurtful to us.


Quite true.


Whereas courage was acknowledged to be a noble quality.




And now on the contrary we are saying that the foolish endurance, which was before held in dishonour, is courage.


Very true.

This conclusion can never be right.

And are we right in saying so?


Indeed, Socrates, I am sure that we are not right.


Then according to your statement, you and I, Laches, are not attuned to the Dorian mode, which is a harmony of words and deeds; for our deeds are not in accordance with our words. Any one would say that we had courage who saw us in action, but not, I imagine, he who heard us talking about courage just now.


That is most true.


And is this condition of ours satisfactory?


Quite the reverse.


Suppose, however, that we admit the principle of which we are speaking to a certain extent.


To what extent and what principle do you mean?Jowett1892: 194

And yet if we show endurance we may very likely discover that courage after all is endurance.

The principle of endurance. We too must endure and persevere in the enquiry, and then courage will not laugh at our faint–heartedness in searching for courage; which after all may, very likely, be endurance.


I am ready to go on, Socrates; and yet I am unused to investigations of this sort. But the spirit of controversy has been aroused in me by what has been said; and I am really grieved at being thus unable to express my meaning. For I fancy that I do know the nature of courage; but, somehow or other, she has slipped away from me, and I cannot get hold of her and tell her nature.


But, my dear friend, should not the good sportsman follow the track, and not be lazy?

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Certainly, he should.


And shall we invite Nicias to join us? he may be better at the sport than we are. What do you say?


I should like that.

Nicias is invited to join in the enquiry.

Come then, Nicias, and do what you can to help your friends, who are tossing on the waves of argument, and at the last gasp: you see our extremity, and may save us and also settle your own opinion, if you will tell us what you think about courage.

He suggests that courage is a sort of wisdom.

I have been thinking, Socrates, that you and Laches are not defining courage in the right way; for you have forgotten an excellent saying which I have heard from your own lips.


What is it, Nicias?


I have often heard you say that ‘Every man is good in that in which he is wise, and bad in that in which he is unwise.’


That is certainly true, Nicias.


And therefore if the brave man is good, he is also wise.


Do you hear him, Laches?


Yes, I hear him, but I do not very well understand him.


I think that I understand him; and he appears to me to mean that courage is a sort of wisdom.


What can he possibly mean, Socrates?


That is a question which you must ask of himself.




Tell him then, Nicias, what you mean by this wisdom; for you surely do not mean the wisdom which plays the flute?


Certainly not.


Nor the wisdom which plays the lyre?



Courage is the knowledge which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in anything.

But what is this knowledge then, and of what?


I think that you put the question to him very well, Socrates; and I would like him to say what is the nature of this knowledge or wisdom.

Jowett1892: 195Nic.

I mean to say, Laches, that courage is the knowledge of that which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in anything.

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How strangely he is talking, Socrates.


Why do you say so, Laches?


Why, surely courage is one thing, and wisdom another.


That is just what Nicias denies.


Yes, that is what he denies; but he is so silly.


Suppose that we instruct instead of abusing him?


Laches does not want to instruct me, Socrates; but having been proved to be talking nonsense himself, he wants to prove that I have been doing the same.

What is disease? Are the physicians the same as the courageous?

Very true, Nicias; and you are talking nonsense, as I shall endeavour to show. Let me ask you a question: Do not physicians know the dangers of disease? or do the courageous know them? or are the physicians the same as the courageous?


Not at all.


No more than the husbandmen who know the dangers of husbandry, or than other craftsmen, who have a knowledge of that which inspires them with fear or confidence in their own arts, and yet they are not courageous a whit the more for that.


What is Laches saying, Nicias? He appears to be saying something of importance.


Yes, he is saying something, but it is not true.


How so?

The physicians can only tell the nature of disease, not whether health is better than disease, life than death.

Why, because he does not see that the physician’s knowledge only extends to the nature of health and disease: he can tell the sick man no more than this. Do you imagine, Laches, that the physician knows whether health or disease is the more terrible to a man? Had not many a man better never get up from a sick bed? I should like to know whether you think that life is always better than death. May not death often be the better of the two?


Yes certainly so in my opinion.


And do you think that the same things are terrible to those who had better die, and to those who had better live?


Certainly not.


And do you suppose that the physician or any other artist knows this, or any one indeed, except he who is skilled Edition: current; Page: [105] in the grounds of fear and hope? And him I call the courageous.


Do you understand his meaning, Laches?

Nay, the soothsayer only knows what will be best.

Yes; I suppose that, in his way of speaking, the soothsayers are courageous. For who but one of them can know to whom to die or to live is better? And yet, Nicias, would you allow that you are yourself a soothsayer, or are you neither a soothsayer nor courageous?


What! do you mean to say that the soothsayer ought to know the grounds of hope or fear?


Indeed I do: who but he?

The soothsayer only knows the signs of the future.

Much rather I should say he of whom I speak; for the soothsayer ought to know only the signs of things that are about to come to pass, whether death or disease, or loss ofJowett1892: 196 property, or victory, or defeat in war, or in any sort of contest; but to whom the suffering or not suffering of these things will be for the best, can no more be decided by the soothsayer than by one who is no soothsayer.

According to Laches, Nicias is talking nonsense.

I cannot understand what Nicias would be at, Socrates; for he represents the courageous man as neither a soothsayer, nor a physician, nor in any other character, unless he means to say that he is a god. My opinion is that he does not like honestly to confess that he is talking nonsense, but that he shuffles up and down in order to conceal the difficulty into which he has got himself. You and I, Socrates, might have practised a similar shuffle just now, it we had only wanted to avoid the appearance of inconsistency. And if we had been arguing in a court of law there might have been reason in so doing; but why should a man deck himself out with vain words at a meeting of friends such as this?


I quite agree with you, Laches, that he should not. But perhaps Nicias is serious, and not merely talking for the sake of talking. Let us ask him just to explain what he means, and if he has reason on his side we will agree with him; if not, we will instruct him.


Do you, Socrates, if you like, ask him: I think that I have asked enough.


I do not see why I should not; and my question will do for both of us.

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Very good.

Socrates undertakes to cross–examine him.

Then tell me, Nicias, or rather tell us, for Laches and I are partners in the argument: Do you mean to affirm that courage is the knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear?


I do.


And not every man has this knowledge; the physician and the soothsayer have it not; and they will not be courageous unless they acquire it—that is what you were saying?


I was.


Then this is certainly not a thing which every pig would know, as the proverb says, and therefore he could not be courageous.


I think not.

If courage is wisdom, no animal is courageous.

Clearly not, Nicias; not even such a big pig as the Crommyonian sow would be called by you courageous. And this I say not as a joke, but because I think that he who assents to your doctrine, that courage is the knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope, cannot allow that any wild beast is courageous, unless he admits that a lion, or a leopard, or perhaps a boar, or any other animal, has such a degree of wisdom that he knows things which but a few human beings ever know by reason of their difficulty. He who takes your view of courage must affirm that a lion, and a stag, and a bull, and a monkey, have equally little pretensions to courage.


Capital, Socrates; by the gods, that is truly good.Jowett1892: 197 And I hope, Nicias, that you will tell us whether these animals, which we all admit to be courageous, are really wiser than mankind; or whether you will have the boldness, in the face of universal opinion, to deny their courage.

Thoughtful courage is a very rare quality.

Why, Laches, I do not call animals or any other things which have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, courageous, but only fearless and senseless. Do you imagine that I should call little children courageous, which fear no dangers because they know none? There is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many Edition: current; Page: [107] children, many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the term ‘courageous’ actions which I call rash;—my courageous actions are wise actions.


Behold, Socrates, how admirably, as he thinks, he dresses himself out in words, while seeking to deprive of the honour of courage those whom all the world acknowledges to be courageous.


Not so, Laches, but do not be alarmed; for I am quite willing to say of you and also of Lamachus, and of many other Athenians, that you are courageous and therefore wise.


I could answer that; but I would not have you cast in my teeth that I am a haughty Aexonian.


Do not answer him, Laches; I rather fancy that you are not aware of the source from which his wisdom is derived. He has got all this from my friend Damon, and Damon is always with Prodicus, who, of all the Sophists, is considered to be the best puller to pieces of words of this sort.


Yes, Socrates; and the examination of such niceties is a much more suitable employment for a Sophist than for a great statesman whom the city chooses to preside over her.


Yes, my sweet friend, but a great statesman is likely to have a great intelligence. And I think that the view which is implied in Nicias’ definition of courage is worthy of examination.


Then examine for yourself, Socrates.


That is what I am going to do, my dear friend. Do not, however, suppose I shall let you out of the partnership; for I shall expect you to apply your mind, and join with me in the consideration of the question.


I will if you think that I ought.

Jowett1892: 198Soc.
We must begin again:

Yes, I do; but I must beg of you, Nicias, to begin again. You remember that we originally considered courage to be a part of virtue.

(1) Courage is a part of virtue.

Very true.


And you yourself said that it was a part; and there were many other parts, all of which taken together are called virtue.




Do you agree with me about the parts? For I say Edition: current; Page: [108] that justice, temperance, and the like, are all of them parts of virtue as well as courage. Would you not say the same?



(2) Courage is a knowledge of good and evil in the future.

Well then, so far we are agreed. And now let us proceed a step, and try to arrive at a similar agreement about the fearful and the hopeful: I do not want you to be thinking one thing and myself another. Let me then tell you my own opinion, and if I am wrong you shall set me right: in my opinion the terrible and the hopeful are the things which do or do not create fear, and fear is not of the present, nor of the past, but is of future and expected evil. Do you not agree to that, Laches?


Yes, Socrates, entirely.


That is my view, Nicias; the terrible things, as I should say, are the evils which are future; and the hopeful are the good or not evil things which are future. Do you or do you not agree with me?


I agree.


And the knowledge of these things you call courage?




And now let me see whether you agree with Laches and myself as to a third point.


What is that?

(3) In the future, and equally in the past and in the present.

I will tell you. He and I have a notion that there is not one knowledge or science of the past, another of the present, a third of what is likely to be best and what will be best in the future; but that of all three there is one science only: for example, there is one science of medicine which is concerned with the inspection of health equally in all times, present, past, and future; and one science of husbandry in like manner, which is concerned with the productions of the earth in all times. As to the art of the general, you yourselves will be my witnesses that he has an excellent foreknowledge of the future, and that he claims to be the master and not the servant of the soothsayer, because he knows better what is happening or isJowett1892: 199 likely to happen in war: and accordingly the law places the soothsayer under the general, and not the general under the soothsayer. Am I not correct in saying so, Laches?

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Quite correct.


And do you, Nicias, also acknowledge that the same science has understanding of the same things, whether future, present, or past?


Yes, indeed, Socrates; that is my opinion.


And courage, my friend, is, as you say, a knowledge of the fearful and of the hopeful?




And the fearful, and the hopeful, are admitted to be future goods and future evils?




And the same science has to do with the same things in the future or at any time?


That is true.


Then courage is not the science which is concerned with the fearful and hopeful, for they are future only; courage, like the other sciences, is concerned not only with good and evil of the future, but of the present and past, and of any time?


That, as I suppose, is true.


Then the answer which you have given, Nicias, includes only a third part of courage; but our question extended to the whole nature of courage: and according to your view, that is, according to your present view, courage is not only the knowledge of the hopeful and the fearful, but seems to include nearly every good and evil without reference to time. What do you say to that alteration in your statement?


I agree, Socrates.

But if courage is the knowledge of the past, present, and future, it must comprehend all virtue.

But then, my dear friend, if a man knew all good and evil, and how they are, and have been, and will be produced, would he not be perfect, and wanting in no virtue, whether justice, or temperance, or holiness? He would possess them all, and he would know which were dangers and which were not, and guard against them whether they were supernatural or natural; and he would provide the good, as he would know how to deal both with gods or men.


I think, Socrates, that there is a great deal of truth in what you say.


But then, Nicias, courage, according to this new Edition: current; Page: [110] definition of yours, instead of being a part of virtue only, will be all virtue?


It would seem so.


But we were saying that courage is one of the parts of virtue?


Yes, that was what we were saying.


And that is in contradiction with our present view?


That appears to be the case.


Then, Nicias, we have not discovered what courage is.


We have not.

An altercation between Laches and Nicias.

And yet, friend Nicias, I imagined that you would haveJowett1892: 200 made the discovery, when you were so contemptuous of the answers which I made to Socrates. I had very great hopes that you would have been enlightened by the wisdom of Damon.


I perceive, Laches, that you think nothing of having displayed your ignorance of the nature of courage, but you look only to see whether I have not made a similar display; and if we are both equally ignorant of the things which a man who is good for anything should know, that, I suppose, will be of no consequence. You certainly appear to me very like the rest of the world, looking at your neighbour and not at yourself. I am of opinion that enough has been said on the subject which we have been discussing; and if anything has been imperfectly said, that may be hereafter corrected by the help of Damon, whom you think to laugh down, although you have never seen him, and with the help of others. And when I am satisfied myself, I will freely impart my satisfaction to you, for I think that you are very much in want of knowledge.

They agree in recommending Lysimachus and Melesias to refer the question respecting the education of their two boys to Socrates.

You are a philosopher, Nicias; of that I am aware: nevertheless I would recommend Lysimachus and Melesias not to take you and me as advisers about the education of their children; but, as I said at first, they should ask Socrates and not let him off; if my own sons were old enough, I would have asked him myself.


To that I quite agree, if Socrates is willing to take them under his charge. I should not wish for any one else to be the tutor of Niceratus. But I observe that when I mention the matter to him he recommends to me some other tutor and Edition: current; Page: [111] refuses himself. Perhaps he may be more ready to listen to you, Lysimachus.


He ought, Nicias: for certainly I would do things for him which I would not do for many others. What do you say, Socrates—will you comply? And are you ready to give assistance in the improvement of the youths?


Indeed, Lysimachus, I should be very wrong in refusing to aid in the improvement of anybody. And if I had shown in this conversation that I had a knowledge which Nicias and Laches have not, then I admit that you would be right in inviting me to perform this duty; but as we are all in the same perplexity, why should one of us be preferred toJowett1892: 201 another? I certainly think that no one should; and under these circumstances, let me offer you a piece of advice (and this need not go further than ourselves). I maintain, my friends, that every one of us should seek out the best teacher whom he can find, first for ourselves, who are greatly in need of one, and then for the youth, regardless of expense or anything. But I cannot advise that we remain as we are. And if any one laughs at us for going to school at our age, I would quote to them the authority of Homer, who says, that

  • ‘Modesty is not good for a needy man.’
Then, says Socrates, let us all go to school together.

Let us then, regardless of what may be said of us, make the education of the youths our own education.


I like your proposal, Socrates; and as I am the oldest, I am also the most eager to go to school with the boys. Let me beg a favour of you: Come to my house to–morrow at dawn, and we will advise about these matters. For the present, let us make an end of the conversation.


I will come to you to–morrow, Lysimachus, as you propose, God willing.

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Protagoras. Analysis.

The Protagoras, like several of the Dialogues of Plato, is put into the mouth of Socrates, who describes a conversation which had taken place between himself and the great Sophist at the house of Callias—‘the man who had spent more upon the Sophists than all the rest of the world’—and in which the learned Hippias and the grammarian Prodicus had also shared, as well as Alcibiades and Critias, both of whom said a few words—in the presence of a distinguished company consisting of disciples of Protagoras and of leading Athenians belonging to the SocraticJowett1892: 310circle. The dialogue commences with a request on the part of Hippocrates that Socrates would introduce him to the celebrated teacher. He has come before the dawn had risen—so fervid is hisJowett1892: 311 zeal. Socrates moderates his excitement and advises him to find out ‘what Protagoras will make of him,’ before he becomes his pupil.

Jowett1892: 314They go together to the house of Callias; and Socrates, after explaining the purpose of their visit to Protagoras, asks theJowett1892: 318 question, ‘What he will make of Hippocrates.’ Protagoras answers, ‘That he will make him a better and a wiser man.’ ‘But in what will he be better?’—Socrates desires to have a moreJowett1892: 319 precise answer. Protagoras replies, ‘That he will teach him prudence in affairs private and public; in short, the science or knowledge of human life.’

This, as Socrates admits, is a noble profession; but he is or rather would have been doubtful, whether such knowledge can be taught, if Protagoras had not assured him of the fact, for two reasons: (1) Because the Athenian people, who recognize in their assemblies the distinction between the skilled and the unskilled in the arts, do not distinguish between the trained politician and Edition: current; Page: [116] the untrained; (2) Because the wisest and best Athenian citizensJowett1892: 320 do not teach their sons political virtue. Will Protagoras answer these objections?

Protagoras explains his views in the form of an apologue, in which, after Prometheus had given men the arts, Zeus is representedJowett1892: 321 as sending Hermes to them, bearing with him Justice and Reverence. These are not, like the arts, to be imparted to a fewJowett1892: 322 only, but all men are to be partakers of them. Therefore theJowett1892: 323 Athenian people are right in distinguishing between the skilled and unskilled in the arts, and not between skilled and unskilled politicians. (1) For all men have the political virtues to a certain degree, and are obliged to say that they have them, whether they have them or not. A man would be thought a madman who professed an art which he did not know; but he would be equally thought a madman if he did not profess a virtue which he had not. (2) And that the political virtues can be taught and acquired, inJowett1892: 324 the opinion of the Athenians, is proved by the fact that they punish evil–doers, with a view to prevention, of course—mereJowett1892: 325 retribution is for beasts, and not for men. (3) Again, would parents who teach their sons lesser matters leave them ignorant of the common duty of citizens? To the doubt of Socrates the best answer is the fact, that the education of youth in virtue begins almost as soon as they can speak, and is continued by the stateJowett1892: 326 when they pass out of the parental control. (4) Nor need we wonder that wise and good fathers sometimes have foolish and worthless sons. Virtue, as we were saying, is not the privateJowett1892: 327 possession of any man, but is shared by all, only however to the extent of which each individual is by nature capable. And, as a matter of fact, even the worst of civilized mankind will appear virtuous and just, if we compare them with savages. (5) TheJowett1892: 328 error of Socrates lies in supposing that there are no teachers of virtue, whereas all men are teachers in a degree. Some, like Protagoras, are better than others, and with this result we ought to be satisfied.

Socrates is highly delighted with the explanation of Protagoras.Jowett1892: 329 But he has still a doubt lingering in his mind. Protagoras has spoken of the virtues: are they many, or one? are they parts of aJowett1892: 330 whole, or different names of the same thing? Protagoras replies that they are parts, like the parts of a face, which have their Edition: current; Page: [117] several functions, and no one part is like any other part. This admission, which has been somewhat hastily made, is now takenJowett1892: 331 up and cross–examined by Socrates:—

‘Is justice just, and is holiness holy? And are justice and holiness opposed to one another?’—‘Then justice is unholy.’ Protagoras would rather say that justice is different from holiness, and yet in a certain point of view nearly the same. He does not,Jowett1892: 332 however, escape in this way from the cunning of Socrates, who inveigles him into an admission that everything has but oneJowett1892: 333 opposite. Folly, for example, is opposed to wisdom; and folly is also opposed to temperance; and therefore temperance and wisdom are the same. And holiness has been already admitted to be nearly the same as justice. Temperance, therefore, has now to be compared with justice.

Jowett1892: 334Protagoras, whose temper begins to get a little ruffled at the process to which he has been subjected, is aware that he will soon be compelled by the dialectics of Socrates to admit that the temperate is the just. He therefore defends himself with his favourite weapon; that is to say, he makes a long speech not much to the point, which elicits the applause of the audience.

Here occurs a sort of interlude, which commences with aJowett1892: 335 declaration on the part of Socrates that he cannot follow a long speech, and therefore he must beg Protagoras to speak shorter.Jowett1892: 336 As Protagoras declines to accommodate him, he rises to depart, but is detained by Callias, who thinks him unreasonable in not allowing Protagoras the liberty which he takes himself of speaking as he likes. But Alcibiades answers that the two cases are not parallel. For Socrates admits his inability to speak long; will Protagoras in like manner acknowledge his inability to speak short?

Jowett1892: 337Counsels of moderation are urged first in a few words by Critias, and then by Prodicus in balanced and sententious language:Jowett1892: 338 and Hippias proposes an umpire. But who is to be the umpire? rejoins Socrates; he would rather suggest as a compromise that ProtagorasJowett1892: 339 shall ask and he will answer, and that when Protagoras is tired of asking he himself will ask and Protagoras shall answer. To this the latter yields a reluctant assent.

Protagoras selects as his thesis a poem of Simonides of Ceos, in which he professes to find a contradiction. First the poet says,

  • ‘Hard is it to become good,’
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and then reproaches Pittacus for having said, ‘Hard is it to be good.’ How is this to be reconciled? Socrates, who is familiar with the poem, is embarrassed at first, and invokes the aid of Prodicus, the countryman of Simonides, but apparently only withJowett1892: 340 the intention of flattering him into absurdities. First a distinction is drawn between (εɩ̓̂ναι) to be, and (λενέσθαι) to become: to become good is difficult; to be good is easy. Then the word difficult orJowett1892: 341 hard is explained to mean ‘evil’ in the Cean dialect. To all this Prodicus assents; but when Protagoras reclaims, Socrates slily withdraws Prodicus from the fray, under the pretence that his assent was only intended to test the wits of his adversary. He then proceeds to give another and more elaborate explanationJowett1892: 342 of the whole passage. The explanation is as follows:—

The Lacedaemonians are great philosophers (although this is a fact which is not generally known); and the soul of their philosophy is brevity, which was also the style of primitive antiquityJowett1892: 343 and of the seven sages. Now Pittacus had a saying, ‘Hard is it to be good:’ and Simonides, who was jealous of the fame of this saying, wrote a poem which was designed to controvert it. No,Jowett1892: 344 says he, Pittacus; not ‘hard to be good,’ but ‘hard to become good.’ Socrates proceeds to argue in a highly impressive mannerJowett1892: 345 that the whole composition is intended as an attack upon Pittacus. This, though manifestly absurd, is accepted by the company, andJowett1892: 347 meets with the special approval of Hippias, who has however a favourite interpretation of his own, which he is requested by Alcibiades to defer.

The argument is now resumed, not without some disdainful remarks of Socrates on the practice of introducing the poets, who ought not to be allowed, any more than flute–girls, to come into good society. Men’s own thoughts should supply them with theJowett1892: 348 materials for discussion. A few soothing flatteries are addressed to Protagoras by Callias and Socrates, and then the old questionJowett1892: 349 is repeated, ‘Whether the virtues are one or many?’ To which Protagoras is now disposed to reply, that four out of the five virtues are in some degree similar; but he still contends that the fifth, courage, is unlike the rest. Socrates proceeds to undermine the last stronghold of the adversary, first obtaining from him the admission that all virtue is in the highest degree good:—

The courageous are the confident; and the confident are thoseJowett1892: 350 Edition: current; Page: [119] who know their business or profession: those who have no such knowledge and are still confident are madmen. This is admitted.Jowett1892: 351 Then, says Socrates, courage is knowledge—an inference which Protagoras evades by drawing a futile distinction between the courageous and the confident in a fluent speech.

Socrates renews the attack from another side: he would like to know whether pleasure is not the only good, and pain the only evil? Protagoras seems to doubt the morality or propriety of assenting to this; he would rather say that ‘some pleasures are good, some pains are evil,’ which is also the opinion of theJowett1892: 352 generality of mankind. What does he think of knowledge? Does he agree with the common opinion that knowledge is overcome by passion? or does he hold that knowledge is power? Protagoras agrees that knowledge is certainly a governing power.

Jowett1892: 353This, however, is not the doctrine of men in general, who maintain that many who know what is best, act contrary to their knowledge under the influence of pleasure. But this opposition of good and evil is really the opposition of a greater or lesser amountJowett1892: 354 of pleasure. Pleasures are evils because they end in pain, and pains are goods because they end in pleasures. Thus pleasure is seen to be the only good; and the only evil is the prillegibleence ofJowett1892: 355 the lesser pleasure to the greater. But then comes in the illusionJowett1892: 359 of distance. Some art of mensuration is required in order to show us pleasures and pains in their true proportion. This art of mensuration is a kind of knowledge, and knowledge is thus proved once more to be the governing principle of human life, and ignorance the origin of all evil: for no one prefers the less pleasure to the greater, or the greater pain to the less, except from ignorance. The argument is drawn out in an imaginary ‘dialogue within a dialogue,’ conducted by Socrates and Protagoras on the one part, and the rest of the world on the other. Hippias and Prodicus, as well as Protagoras, admit the soundness of the conclusion.

Socrates then applies this new conclusion to the case of courage—the only virtue which still holds out against the assaults of the Socratic dialectic. No one chooses the evil or refuses the good except through ignorance. This explains why cowards refuse to go to war:—because they form a wrong estimate of good, andJowett1892: 360 honour, and pleasure. And why are the courageous willing to go to war?—because they form a right estimate of pleasures and Edition: current; Page: [120] pains, of things terrible and not terrible. Courage then is knowledge, and cowardice is ignorance. And the five virtues, which were originally maintained to have five different natures, after having been easily reduced to two only, at last coalesce in one. The assent of Protagoras to this last position is extracted withJowett1892: 361 great difficulty.

Socrates concludes by professing his disinterested love of the truth, and remarks on the singular manner in which he and his adversary had changed sides. Protagoras began by asserting, and Socrates by denying, the teachableness of virtue, and now the latter ends by affirming that virtue is knowledge, which is the most teachable of all things, while Protagoras has been striving to show that virtue is not knowledge, and this is almost equivalent to saying that virtue cannot be taught. He is not satisfied with the result, and would like to renew the enquiry with the help of Protagoras in a different order, asking (1) What virtue is, and (2) Whether virtue can be taught. Protagoras declines this offer, but commends Socrates’ earnestness and his style of discussion.


The Protagoras is often supposed to be full of difficulties. These are partly imaginary and partly real. The imaginary ones are (1) Chronological,—which were pointed out in ancient times by Athenaeus (v. 59), and are noticed by Schleiermacher and others, and relate to the impossibility of all the persons in the Dialogue meeting at any one time, whether in the year 425 b.c., or in any other. But Plato, like all writers of fiction, aims only at the probable, and shows in many Dialogues (e.g. the Symposium and Republic, and already in the Laches) an extreme disregard of the historical accuracy which is sometimes demanded of him. (2) The exact place of the Protagoras among the Dialogues, and the date of composition, have also been much disputed. But there are no criteria which afford any real grounds for determining the date of composition; and the affinities of the Dialogues, when they are not indicated by Plato himself, must always to a great extent remain uncertain. (3) There is another class of difficulties, which may be ascribed to preconceived notions of commentators, who imagine that Protagoras the Sophist ought always to be in the wrong, and his adversary Socrates in the right; or that in this or that passage—e.g. in the explanation of good as pleasure— Edition: current; Page: [121] Plato is inconsistent with himself; or that the Dialogue fails in unity, and has not a proper beginning, middle, and ending. They seem to forget that Plato is a dramatic writer who throws his thoughts into both sides of the argument, and certainly does not aim at any unity which is inconsistent with freedom, and with a natural or even wild manner of treating his subject; also that his mode of revealing the truth is by lights and shadows, and far–off and opposing points of view, and not by dogmatic statements or definite results.

The real difficulties arise out of the extreme subtlety of the work, which, as Socrates says of the poem of Simonides, is a most perfect piece of art. There are dramatic contrasts and interests, threads of philosophy broken and resumed, satirical reflections on mankind, veils thrown over truths which are lightly suggested, and all woven together in a single design, and moving towards one end.

In the introductory scene Plato raises the expectation that a ‘great personage’ is about to appear on the stage; perhaps with a further view of showing that he is destined to be overthrown by a greater still, who makes no pretensions. Before introducing Hippocrates to him, Socrates thinks proper to warn the youth against the dangers of ‘influence,’ of which the invidious nature is recognized by Protagoras himself. Hippocrates readily adopts the suggestion of Socrates that he shall learn of Protagoras only the accomplishments which befit an Athenian gentleman, and let alone his ‘sophistry.’ There is nothing however in the introduction which leads to the inference that Plato intended to blacken the character of the Sophists; he only makes a little merry at their expense.

The ‘great personage’ is somewhat ostentatious, but frank and honest. He is introduced on a stage which is worthy of him—at the house of the rich Callias, in which are congregated the noblest and wisest of the Athenians. He considers openness to be the best policy, and particularly mentions his own liberal mode of dealing with his pupils, as if in answer to the favourite accusation of the Sophists that they received pay. He is remarkable for the good temper which he exhibits throughout the discussion under the trying and often sophistical cross–examination of Socrates. Although once or twice ruffled, and reluctant to continue the Edition: current; Page: [122] discussion, he parts company on perfectly good terms, and appears to be, as he says of himself, the ‘least jealous of mankind.’

Nor is there anything in the sentiments of Protagoras which impairs this pleasing impression of the grave and weighty old man. His real defect is that he is inferior to Socrates in dialectics. The opposition between him and Socrates is not the opposition of good and bad, true and false, but of the old art of rhetoric and the new science of interrogation and argument; also of the irony of Socrates and the self–assertion of the Sophists. There is quite as much truth on the side of Protagoras as of Socrates; but the truth of Protagoras is based on common sense and common maxims of morality, while that of Socrates is paradoxical or transcendental, and though full of meaning and insight, hardly intelligible to the rest of mankind. Here as elsewhere is the usual contrast between the Sophists representing average public opinion and Socrates seeking for increased clearness and unity of ideas. But to a great extent Protagoras has the best of the argument and represents the better mind of man.

For example: (1) one of the noblest statements to be found in antiquity about the preventive nature of punishment is put into his mouth; (2) he is clearly right also in maintaining that virtue can be taught (which Socrates himself, at the end of the Dialogue, is disposed to concede); and also (3) in his explanation of the phenomenon that good fathers have bad sons; (4) he is right also in observing that the virtues are not like the arts, gifts or attainments of special individuals, but the common property of all: this, which in all ages has been the strength and weakness of ethics and politics, is deeply seated in human nature; (5) there is a sort of half–truth in the notion that all civilized men are teachers of virtue; and more than a half–truth (6) in ascribing to man, who in his outward conditions is more helpless than the other animals, the power of self–improvement; (7) the religious allegory should be noticed, in which the arts are said to be given by Prometheus (who stole them), whereas justice and reverence and the political virtues could only be imparted by Zeus; (8) in the latter part of the Dialogue, when Socrates is arguing that ‘pleasure is the only good,’ Protagoras deems it more in accordance with his character to maintain that ‘some pleasures only are good;’ and admits that Edition: current; Page: [123] ‘he, above all other men, is bound to say “that wisdom and knowledge are the highest of human things.”’

There is no reason to suppose that in all this Plato is depicting an imaginary Protagoras; he seems to be showing us the teaching of the Sophists under the milder aspect under which he once regarded them. Nor is there any reason to doubt that Socrates is equally an historical character, paradoxical, ironical, tiresome, but seeking for the unity of virtue and knowledge as for a precious treasure; willing to rest this even on a calculation of pleasure, and irresistible here, as everywhere in Plato, in his intellectual superiority.

The aim of Socrates, and of the Dialogue, is to show the unity of virtue. In the determination of this question the identity of virtue and knowledge is found to be involved. But if virtue and knowledge are one, then virtue can be taught; the end of the Dialogue returns to the beginning. Had Protagoras been allowed by Plato to make the Aristotelian distinction, and say that virtue is not knowledge, but is accompanied with knowledge; or to point out with Aristotle that the same quality may have more than one opposite; or with Plato himself in the Phaedo to deny that good is a mere exchange of a greater pleasure for a less—the unity of virtue and the identity of virtue and knowledge would have required to be proved by other arguments.

The victory of Socrates over Protagoras is in every way complete when their minds are fairly brought together. Protagoras falls before him after two or three blows. Socrates partially gains his object in the first part of the Dialogue, and completely in the second. Nor does he appear at any disadvantage when subjected to ‘the question’ by Protagoras. He succeeds in making his two ‘friends,’ Prodicus and Hippias, ludicrous by the way; he also makes a long speech in defence of the poem of Simonides, after the manner of the Sophists, showing, as Alcibiades says, that he is only pretending to have a bad memory, and that he and not Protagoras is really a master in the two styles of speaking; and that he can undertake, not one side of the argument only, but both, when Protagoras begins to break down. Against the authority of the poets with whom Protagoras has ingeniously identified himself at the commencement of the Dialogue, Socrates sets up the proverbial philosophers and those masters of brevity the Lacedaemonians. Edition: current; Page: [124] The poets, the Laconizers, and Protagoras are satirized at the same time.

Not having the whole of this poem before us, it is impossible for us to answer certainly the question of Protagoras, how the two passages of Simonides are to be reconciled. We can only follow the indications given by Plato himself. But it seems likely that the reconcilement offered by Socrates is a caricature of the methods of interpretation which were practised by the Sophists—for the following reasons: (1) The transparent irony of the previous interpretations given by Socrates. (2) The ludicrous opening of the speech in which the Lacedaemonians are described as the true philosophers, and Laconic brevity as the true form of philosophy, evidently with an allusion to Protagoras’ long speeches. (3) The manifest futility and absurdity of the explanation of ἐμŵν ἐπαίνημι ἀλαθέως, which is hardly consistent with the rational interpretation of the rest of the poem. The opposition of εɩ̓̂ναι and γενέσθαι seems also intended to express the rival doctrines of Socrates and Protagoras, and is a facetious commentary on their differences. (4) The general treatment in Plato both of the Poets and the Sophists, who are their interpreters, and whom he delights to identify with them. (5) The depreciating spirit in which Socrates speaks of the introduction of the poets as a substitute for original conversation, which is intended to contrast with Protagoras’ exaltation of the study of them—this again is hardly consistent with the serious defence of Simonides. (6) The marked approval of Hippias, who is supposed at once to catch the familiar sound, just as in the previous conversation Prodicus is represented as ready to accept any distinctions of language however absurd. At the same time Hippias is desirous of substituting a new interpretation of his own; as if the words might really be made to mean anything, and were only to be regarded as affording a field for the ingenuity of the interpreter.

This curious passage is, therefore, to be regarded as Plato’s satire on the tedious and hypercritical arts of interpretation which prevailed in his own day, and may be compared with his condemnation of the same arts when applied to mythology in the Phaedrus, and with his other parodies, e. g. with the two first speeches in the Phaedrus and with the Menexenus. Several lesser touches of satire may be observed, such as the claim of philosophy advanced Edition: current; Page: [125] for the Lacedaemonians, which is a parody of the claims advanced for the Poets by Protagoras; the mistake of the Laconizing set in supposing that the Lacedaemonians are a great nation because they bruise their ears; the far–fetched notion, which is ‘really too bad,’ that Simonides uses the Lesbian (?) word, ἐπαίνημι, because he is addressing a Lesbian. The whole may also be considered as a satire on those who spin pompous theories out of nothing. As in the arguments of the Euthydemus and of the Cratylus, the veil of irony is never withdrawn; and we are left in doubt at last how far in this interpretation of Simonides Socrates is ‘fooling,’ how far he is in earnest.

All the interests and contrasts of character in a great dramatic work like the Protagoras are not easily exhausted. The impressiveness of the scene should not be lost upon us, or the gradual substitution of Socrates in the second part for Protagoras in the first. The characters to whom we are introduced at the beginning of the Dialogue all play a part more or less conspicuous towards the end. There is Alcibiades, who is compelled by the necessity of his nature to be a partisan, lending effectual aid to Socrates; there is Critias assuming the tone of impartiality; Callias, here as always inclining to the Sophists, but eager for any intellectual repast; Prodicus, who finds an opportunity for displaying his distinctions of language, which are valueless and pedantic, because they are not based on dialectic; Hippias, who has previously exhibited his superficial knowledge of natural philosophy, to which, as in both the Dialogues called by his name, he now adds the profession of an interpreter of the Poets. The two latter personages have been already damaged by the mock heroic description of them in the introduction. It may be remarked that Protagoras is consistently presented to us throughout as the teacher of moral and political virtue; there is no allusion to the theories of sensation which are attributed to him in the Theaetetus and elsewhere, or to his denial of the existence of the gods in a well–known fragment ascribed to him; he is the religious rather than the irreligious teacher in this Dialogue. Also it may be observed that Socrates shows him as much respect as is consistent with his own ironical character; he admits that the dialectic which has overthrown Protagoras has carried himself round to a conclusion opposed to his first thesis. The force Edition: current; Page: [126] of argument, therefore, and not Socrates or Protagoras, has won the day.

But is Socrates serious in maintaining (1) that virtue cannot be taught; (2) that the virtues are one; (3) that virtue is the knowledge of pleasures and pains present and future? These propositions to us have an appearance of paradox—they are really moments or aspects of the truth by the help of which we pass from the old conventional morality to a higher conception of virtue and knowledge. That virtue cannot be taught is a paradox of the same sort as the profession of Socrates that he knew nothing. Plato means to say that virtue is not brought to a man, but must be drawn out of him; and cannot be taught by rhetorical discourses or citations from the poets. The second question, whether the virtues are one or many, though at first sight distinct, is really a part of the same subject; for if the virtues are to be taught, they must be reducible to a common principle; and this common principle is found to be knowledge. Here, as Aristotle remarks, Socrates and Plato outstep the truth—they make a part of virtue into the whole. Further, the nature of this knowledge, which is assumed to be a knowledge of pleasures and pains, appears to us too superficial and at variance with the spirit of Plato himself. Yet, in this, Plato is only following the historical Socrates as he is depicted to us in Xenophon’s Memorabilia. Like Socrates, he finds on the surface of human life one common bond by which the virtues are united,—their tendency to produce happiness,—though such a principle is afterwards repudiated by him.

It remains to be considered in what relation the Protagoras stands to the other Dialogues of Plato. That it is one of the earlier or purely Socratic works—perhaps the last, as it is certainly the greatest of them—is indicated by the absence of any allusion to the doctrine of reminiscence; and also by the different attitude assumed towards the teaching and persons of the Sophists in some of the later Dialogues. The Charmides, Laches, Lysis, all touch on the question of the relation of knowledge to virtue, and may be regarded, if not as preliminary studies or sketches of the more important work, at any rate as closely connected with it. The Io and the lesser Hippias contain discussions of the Poets, which offer a parallel to the ironical criticism of Simonides, and are conceived in a similar spirit. The affinity of the Protagoras to Edition: current; Page: [127] the Meno is more doubtful. For there, although the same question is discussed, ‘whether virtue can be taught,’ and the relation of Meno to the Sophists is much the same as that of Hippocrates, the answer to the question is supplied out of the doctrine of ideas; the real Socrates is already passing into the Platonic one. At a later stage of the Platonic philosophy we shall find that both the paradox and the solution of it appear to have been retracted. The Phaedo, the Gorgias, and the Philebus offer further corrections of the teaching of the Protagoras; in all of them the doctrine that virtue is pleasure, or that pleasure is the chief or only good, is distinctly renounced.

Thus after many preparations and oppositions, both of the characters of men and aspects of the truth, especially of the popular and philosophical aspect; and after many interruptions and detentions by the way, which, as Theodorus says in the Theaetetus, are quite as agreeable as the argument, we arrive at the great Socratic thesis that virtue is knowledge. This is an aspect of the truth which was lost almost as soon as it was found; and yet has to be recovered by every one for himself who would pass the limits of proverbial and popular philosophy. The moral and intellectual are always dividing, yet they must be reunited, and in the highest conception of them are inseparable. The thesis of Socrates is not merely a hasty assumption, but may be also deemed an anticipation of some ‘metaphysic of the future,’ in which the divided elements of human nature are reconciled.

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Socrates, who is the narrator of the Dialogue to his Companion.




Protagoras, Sophists.

Hippias, Sophists.

Prodicus, Sophists.

Callias, a wealthy Athenian.

Scene:—The House of Callias.

Protagoras. Companion, Socrates. The fair Alcibiades.

Jowett1892: 309Where do you come from, Socrates? And yet I need hardly ask the question, for I know that you have been in chase of the fair Alcibiades. I saw him the day before yesterday; and he had got a beard like a man,—and he is a man, as I may tell you in your ear. But I thought that he was still very charming.


What of his beard? Are you not of Homer’s opinion, who says1

  • ‘Youth is most charming when the beard first appears’?

And that is now the charm of Alcibiades.


Well, and how do matters proceed? Have you been visiting him, and was he gracious to you?


Yes, I thought that he was very gracious; and especially to–day, for I have just come from him, and he has been helping me in an argument. But shall I tell you a strange thing? I paid no attention to him, and several times I quite forgot that he was present.


What is the meaning of this? Has anything happened between you and him? For surely you cannot have discovered a fairer love than he is; certainly not in this city of Athens.

But there is a fairer still.

Yes, much fairer.


What do you mean—a citizen or a foreigner?

Edition: current; Page: [130]

A foreigner.


Of what country?


Of Abdera.


And is this stranger really in your opinion a fairer love than the son of Cleinias?

The fairer is the wiser, and the wisest of all men is Protagoras.

And is not the wiser always the fairer, sweet friend?


But have you really met, Socrates, with some wise one?


Say rather, with the wisest of all living men, if you are willing to accord that title to Protagoras.


What! Is Protagoras in Athens?


Yes; he has been here two days.


And do you just come from an interview with him?


Yes; and I have heard and said many things.Jowett1892: 310


Then, if you have no engagement, suppose that you sit down and tell me what passed, and my attendant here shall give up his place to you.


To be sure; and I shall be grateful to you for listening.


Thank you, too, for telling us.


That is thank you twice over. Listen then:—

Last night, or rather very early this morning, Hippocrates, the son of Apollodorus and the brother of Phason, gave a tremendous thump with his staff at my door; some one opened to him, and he came rushing in and bawled out:

He is actually in Athens, and Hippocrates has come to bring the good news to Socrates.

Socrates, are you awake or asleep?

I knew his voice, and said: Hippocrates, is that you? and do you bring any news?

Good news, he said; nothing but good.

Delightful, I said; but what is the news? and why have you come hither at this unearthly hour?

He drew nearer to me and said: Protagoras is come.

Yes, I replied; he came two days ago: have you only just heard of his arrival?

Yes, by the gods, he said; but not until yesterday evening.

At the same time he felt for the truckle–bed, and sat down at my feet, and then he said: Yesterday quite late in the evening, on my return from Oenoe whither I had gone in pursuit of my runaway slave Satyrus, as I meant to have told you, if some other matter had not come in the way;—on my Edition: current; Page: [131] return, when we had done supper and were about to retire to rest, my brother said to me: Protagoras is come. I was going to you at once, and then I thought that the night was far spent. But the moment sleep left me after my fatigue, I got up and came hither direct.

I, who knew the very courageous madness of the man, said: What is the matter? Has Protagoras robbed you of anything?

He replied, laughing: Yes, indeed he has, Socrates, of the wisdom which he keeps from me.

But, surely, I said, if you give him money, and make friends with him, he will make you as wise as he is himself.

He wants Socrates to introduce him at once.

Would to heaven, he replied, that this were the case! He might take all that I have, and all that my friends have, if he pleased. But that is why I have come to you now, in order that you may speak to him on my behalf; for I am young, and also I have never seen nor heard him; (when he visitedJowett1892: 311 Athens before I was but a child;) and all men praise him, Socrates; he is reputed to be the most accomplished of speakers. There is no reason why we should not go to him at once, and then we shall find him at home. He lodges, as I hear, with Callias the son of Hipponicus: let us start.

But the day has not yet risen, so the two take a turn in the court.

I replied: Not yet, my good friend; the hour is too early. But let us rise and take a turn in the court and wait about there until day–break; when the day breaks, then we will go. For Protagoras is generally at home, and we shall be sure to find him; never fear.

Socrates seizes the opportunity of questioning Hippocrates—Why is he going to Protagoras? What will he make of him?

Upon this we got up and walked about in the court, and I thought that I would make trial of the strength of his resolution. So I examined him and put questions to him. Tell me, Hippocrates, I said, as you are going to Protagoras, and will be paying your money to him, what is he to whom you are going? and what will he make of you? If, for example, you had thought of going to Hippocrates of Cos, the Asclepiad, and were about to give him your money, and some one had said to you: You are paying money to your namesake Hippocrates, O Hippocrates; tell me, what is he that you give him money? how would you have answered?

I should say, he replied, that I gave money to him as a physician.

Edition: current; Page: [132]

And what will he make of you?

A physician, he said.

And if you were resolved to go to Polycleitus the Argive, or Pheidias the Athenian, and were intending to give them money, and some one had asked you: What are Polycleitus and Pheidias? and why do you give them this money?—how would you have answered?

I should have answered, that they were statuaries.

And what will they make of you?

A statuary, of course.

Well now, I said, you and I are going to Protagoras, and we are ready to pay him money on your behalf. If our own means are sufficient, and we can gain him with these, we shall be only too glad; but if not, then we are to spend the money of your friends as well. Now suppose, that while we are thus enthusiastically pursuing our object some one were to say to us: Tell me, Socrates, and you Hippocrates, what is Protagoras, and why are you going to pay him money,—how should we answer? I know that Pheidias is a sculptor, and that Homer is a poet; but what appellation is given to Protagoras? how is he designated?

They call him a Sophist, Socrates, he replied.

Then we are going to pay our money to him in the character of a Sophist?


But suppose a person were to ask this further question: And how about yourself? What will Protagoras make ofJowett1892: 312 you, if you go to see him?

The breaking dawn reveals a blush on the face of Hippocrates as he replies, ‘A Sophist.’

He answered, with a blush upon his face (for the day was just beginning to dawn, so that I could see him): Unless this differs in some way from the former instances, I suppose that he will make a Sophist of me.

By the gods, I said, and are you not ashamed at having to appear before the Hellenes in the character of a Sophist?

Indeed, Socrates, to confess the truth, I am.

But you should not assume, Hippocrates, that the instruction of Protagoras is of this nature: may you not learn of him in the same way that you learned the arts of the grammarian, or musician, or trainer, not with the view of making any of them a profession, but only as a part of education, and Edition: current; Page: [133] because a private gentleman and freeman ought to know them?

Just so, he said; and that, in my opinion, is a far truer account of the teaching of Protagoras.

Do you know what you are doing, or what is the nature of the Sophist?

I said: I wonder whether you know what you are doing?

And what am I doing?

You are going to commit your soul to the care of a man whom you call a Sophist. And yet I hardly think that you know what a Sophist is; and if not, then you do not even know to whom you are committing your soul and whether the thing to which you commit yourself be good or evil.

I certainly think that I do know, he replied.

Then tell me, what do you imagine that he is?

I take him to be one who knows wise things, he replied, as his name implies.

And might you not, I said, affirm this of the painter and of the carpenter also: Do not they, too, know wise things? But suppose a person were to ask us: In what are the painters wise? We should answer: In what relates to the making of likenesses, and similarly of other things. And if he were further to ask: What is the wisdom of the Sophist, and what is the manufacture over which he presides?—how should we answer him?

He is one who makes men talk eloquently about what he knows.

How should we answer him, Socrates? What other answer could there be but that he presides over the art which makes men eloquent?

Yes, I replied, that is very likely true, but not enough; for in the answer a further question is involved: Of what does the Sophist make a man talk eloquently? The player on the lyre may be supposed to make a man talk eloquently about that which he makes him understand, that is about playing the lyre. Is not that true?


Then about what does the Sophist make him eloquent? Must not he make him eloquent in that which he understands?

Yes, that may be assumed.

And what is that which the Sophist knows and makes his disciple know?

Indeed, he said, I cannot tell.

But if you do not know what that is, you cannot safely trust yourself to him.

Edition: current; Page: [134] Then I proceeded to say: Well, but are you aware of theJowett1892: 313 danger which you are incurring? If you were going to commit your body to some one, who might do good or harm to it, would you not carefully consider and ask the opinion of your friends and kindred, and deliberate many days as to whether you should give him the care of your body? But when the soul is in question, which you hold to be of far more value than the body, and upon the good or evil of which depends the well–being of your all,—about this you never consulted either with your father or with your brother or with any one of us who are your companions. But no sooner does this foreigner appear, than you instantly commit your soul to his keeping. In the evening, as you say, you hear of him, and in the morning you go to him, never deliberating or taking the opinion of any one as to whether you ought to intrust yourself to him or not;—you have quite made up your mind that you will at all hazards be a pupil of Protagoras, and are prepared to expend all the property of yourself and of your friends in carrying out at any price this determination, although, as you admit, you do not know him, and have never spoken with him: and you call him a Sophist, but are manifestly ignorant of what a Sophist is; and yet you are going to commit yourself to his keeping.

When he heard me say this, he replied: No other inference, Socrates, can be drawn from your words.

The Sophist is one who sells the food of the soul,

I proceeded: Is not a Sophist, Hippocrates, one who deals wholesale or retail in the food of the soul? To me that appears to be his nature.

And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul?

which may be poison.

Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul; and we must take care, my friend, that the Sophist does not deceive us when he praises what he sells, like the dealers wholesale or retail who sell the food of the body; for they praise indiscriminately all their goods, without knowing what are really beneficial or hurtful: neither do their customers know, with the exception of any trainer or physician who may happen to buy of them. In like manner those who carry about the wares of knowledge, and make the round of the cities, and sell or retail them to any customer who is in want of them, praise them all alike; though I should not wonder, Edition: current; Page: [135] O my friend, if many of them were really ignorant of their effect upon the soul; and their customers equally ignorant, unless he who buys of them happens to be a physician of the soul. If, therefore, you have understanding of what is good and evil, you may safely buy knowledge of Protagoras or ofJowett1892: 314 any one; but if not, then, O my friend, pause, and do not hazard your dearest interests at a game of chance. For there is far greater peril in buying knowledge than in buying meat and drink: the one you purchase of the wholesale or retail dealer, and carry them away in other vessels, and before you receive them into the body as food, you may deposit them at home and call in any experienced friend who knows what is good to be eaten or drunken, and what not, and how much, and when; and then the danger of purchasing them is not so great. But you cannot buy the wares of knowledge and carry them away in another vessel; when you have paid for them you must receive them into the soul and go your way, either greatly harmed or greatly benefited; and therefore we should deliberate and take counsel with our elders; for we are still young—too young to determine such a matter. And now let us go, as we were intending, and hear Protagoras; and when we have heard what he has to say, we may take counsel of others; for not only is Protagoras at the house of Callias, but there is Hippias of Elis, and, if I am not mistaken, Prodicus of Ceos, and several other wise men.

The porter of the house shows that he is not a friend of the Sophists. Socrates pacifies him.

To this we agreed, and proceeded on our way until we reached the vestibule of the house; and there we stopped in order to conclude a discussion which had arisen between us as we were going along; and we stood talking in the vestibule until we had finished and come to an understanding. And I think that the door–keeper, who was a eunuch, and who was probably annoyed at the great inroad of the Sophists, must have heard us talking. At any rate, when we knocked at the door, and he opened and saw us, he grumbled: They are Sophists—he is not at home; and instantly gave the door a hearty bang with both his hands. Again we knocked, and he answered without opening: Did you not hear me say that he is not at home, fellows? But, my friend, I said, you need not be alarmed; for we are not Edition: current; Page: [136] Sophists, and we are not come to see Callias, but we want to see Protagoras; and I must request you to announce us. At last, after a good deal of difficulty, the man was persuaded to open the door.

A well–trained band of listeners accompany Protagoras while walking in the cloister.

When we entered, we found Protagoras taking a walk in the cloister; and next to him, on one side, were walking Callias, the son of Hipponicus, and Paralus, the son of Pericles, who, by the mother’s side, is his half–brother, and Charmides, the son of Glaucon. On the other side of himJowett1892: 315 were Xanthippus, the other son of Pericles, Philippides, the son of Philomelus; also Antimoerus of Mende, who of all the disciples of Protagoras is the most famous, and intends to make sophistry his profession. A train of listeners followed him; the greater part of them appeared to be foreigners, whom Protagoras had brought with him out of the various cities visited by him in his journeys, he, like Orpheus, attracting them by his voice, and they following1. I should mention also that there were some Athenians in the company. Nothing delighted me more than the precision of their movements: they never got into his way at all; but when he and those who were with him turned back, then the band of listeners parted regularly on either side; he was always in front, and they wheeled round and took their places behind him in perfect order.

Hippias is seated in the opposite cloister.

After him, as Homer says2, ‘I lifted up my eyes and saw’ Hippias the Elean sitting in the opposite cloister on a chair of state, and around him were seated on benches Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus, and Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and Andron the son of Androtion, and there were strangers whom he had brought with him from his native city of Elis, and some others: they were putting to Hippias certain physical and astronomical questions, and he, ex cathedrâ, was determining their several questions to them, and discoursing of them.

Prodicus in the store–house, still in bed. Pausanias the lover of Agathon.

Also, ‘my eyes beheld Tantalus3;’ for Prodicus the Cean was at Athens: he had been lodged in a room which, in the days of Hipponicus, was a storehouse; but, as the house was full, Callias had cleared this out and made the room into Edition: current; Page: [137] a guest–chamber. Now Prodicus was still in bed, wrapped up in sheepskins and bedclothes, of which there seemed to be a great heap; and there was sitting by him on the couches near, Pausanias of the deme of Cerameis, and with Pausanias was a youth quite young, who is certainly remarkable for his good looks, and, if I am not mistaken, is also of a fair and gentle nature. I thought that I heard him called Agathon, and my suspicion is that he is the beloved of Pausanias. There was this youth, and also there were the two Adeimantuses, one the son of Cepis, and the other of Leucolophides, and some others. I was very anxious to hear what Prodicus was saying, for he seems to me to be an all–wise and inspiredJowett1892: 316 man; but I was not able to get into the inner circle, and his fine deep voice made an echo in the room which rendered his words inaudible.

Alcibiades makes his appearance.

No sooner had we entered than there followed us Alcibiades the beautiful, as you say, and I believe you; and also Critias the son of Callaeschrus.

On entering we stopped a little, in order to look about us, and then walked up to Protagoras, and I said: Protagoras, my friend Hippocrates and I have come to see you.

Do you wish, he said, to speak with me alone, or in the presence of the company?

Whichever you please, I said; you shall determine when you have heard the purpose of our visit.

And what is your purpose? he said.

Hippocrates and Socrates approach Protagoras, who enlarges upon the antiquity of his art and upon the jealousies and suspicions which are entertained of him.

I must explain, I said, that my friend Hippocrates is a native Athenian; he is the son of Apollodorus, and of a great and prosperous house, and he is himself in natural ability quite a match for anybody of his own age. I believe that he aspires to political eminence; and this he thinks that conversation with you is most likely to procure for him. And now you can determine whether you would wish to speak to him of your teaching alone or in the presence of the company.

The Sophists of old concealed themselves under the names of poets and musicians, but Protagoras thinks that openness is the best policy.

Thank you, Socrates, for your consideration of me. For certainly a stranger finding his way into great cities, and persuading the flower of the youth in them to leave the company of their kinsmen or any other acquaintances, old or young, and live with him, under the idea that they will be Edition: current; Page: [138] improved by his conversation, ought to be very cautious; great jealousies are aroused by his proceedings, and he is the subject of many enmities and conspiracies. Now the art of the Sophist is, as I believe, of great antiquity; but in ancient times those who practised it, fearing this odium, veiled and disguised themselves under various names, some under that of poets, as Homer, Hesiod, and Simonides, some, of hierophants and prophets, as Orpheus and Musaeus, and some, as I observe, even under the name of gymnasticmasters, like Iccus of Tarentum, or the more recently celebrated Herodicus, now of Selymbria and formerly of Megara, who is a first–rate Sophist. Your own Agathocles pretended to be a musician, but was really an eminent Sophist; also Pythocleides the Cean; and there were many others; and all of them, as I was saying, adopted these arts as veils or disguises because they were afraid of the odium which they would incur. But that is not my way, for I do not believe thatJowett1892: 317 they effected their purpose, which was to deceive the government, who were not blinded by them; and as to the people, they have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased to tell them. Now to run away, and to be caught in running away, is the very height of folly, and also greatly increases the exasperation of mankind; for they regard him who runs away as a rogue, in addition to any other objections which they have to him; and therefore I take an entirely opposite course, and acknowledge myself to be a Sophist and instructor of mankind; such an open acknowledgment appears to me to be a better sort of caution than concealment. Nor do I neglect other precautions, and therefore I hope, as I may say, by the favour of heaven that no harm will come of the acknowledgment that I am a Sophist. And I have been now many years in the profession—for all my years when added up are many: there is no one here present of whom I might not be the father. Wherefore I should much prefer conversing with you, if you want to speak with me, in the presence of the company.

As I suspected that he would like to have a little display and glorification in the presence of Prodicus and Hippias, and would gladly show us to them in the light of his Edition: current; Page: [139] admirers, I said: But why should we not summon Prodicus and Hippias and their friends to hear us?

Very good, he said.

They agree to hold a council.

Suppose, said Callias, that we hold a council in which you may sit and discuss.—This was agreed upon, and great delight was felt at the prospect of hearing wise men talk; we ourselves took the chairs and benches, and arranged them by Hippias, where the other benches had been already placed. Meanwhile Callias and Alcibiades got Prodicus out of bed and brought in him and his companions.

When we were all seated, Protagoras said: Now that the company are assembled, Socrates, tell me about the youngJowett1892: 318 man of whom you were just now speaking.

The question is asked, What will happen to Hippocrates if he becomes the disciple of Protagoras? Answer: He will daily grow wiser and better.

I replied: I will begin again at the same point, Protagoras, and tell you once more the purport of my visit: this is my friend Hippocrates, who is desirous of making your acquaintance; he would like to know what will happen to him if he associates with you. I have no more to say.

Protagoras answered: Young man, if you associate with me, on the very first day you will return home a better man than you came, and better on the second day than on the first, and better every day than you were on the day before.

But in what?

When I heard this, I said: Protagoras, I do not at all wonder at hearing you say this; even at your age, and with all your wisdom, if any one were to teach you what you did not know before, you would become better no doubt: but please to answer in a different way—I will explain how by an example. Let me suppose that Hippocrates, instead of desiring your acquaintance, wished to become acquainted with the young man Zeuxippus of Heraclea, who has lately been in Athens, and he had come to him as he has come to you, and had heard him say, as he has heard you say, that every day he would grow and become better if he associated with him: and then suppose that he were to ask him, ‘In what shall I become better, and in what shall I grow?’—Zeuxippus would answer, ‘In painting.’ And suppose that he went to Orthagoras the Theban, and heard him say the same thing, and asked him, ‘In what shall I become better day by day?’ he would reply, ‘In flute–playing.’ Now I want you to make the same sort of answer to this young man and Edition: current; Page: [140] to me, who am asking questions on his account. When you say that on the first day on which he associates with you he will return home a better man, and on every day will grow in like manner,—in what, Protagoras, will he be better? and about what?

In the knowledge of affairs private as well as public.

When Protagoras heard me say this, he replied: You ask questions fairly, and I like to answer a question which is fairly put. If Hippocrates comes to me he will not experience the sort of drudgery with which other Sophists are in the habit of insulting their pupils; who, when they have just escaped from the arts, are taken and driven back into them by these teachers, and made to learn calculation, and astronomy, and geometry, and music (he gave a look at Hippias as he said this); but if he comes to me, he will learn that which he comes to learn. And this is prudence in affairs private as well as public; he will learn to order his own house in the best manner, and he will be able to speak and act for the best in the affairs of the state.

Do I understand you, I said; and is your meaning thatJowett1892: 319 you teach the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?

That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make.

But such knowledge cannot be taught or communicated by one man to another. Pericles could not teach his own sons politics, nor his ward Cleinias virtue. Will Protagoras be so good as to prove that virtue can be taught? Protagoras promises to do so in an apologue.

Then, I said, you do indeed possess a noble art, if there is no mistake about this; for I will freely confess to you, Protagoras, that I have a doubt whether this art is capable of being taught, and yet I know not how to disbelieve your assertion. And I ought to tell you why I am of opinion that this art cannot be taught or communicated by man to man. I say that the Athenians are an understanding people, and indeed they are esteemed to be such by the other Hellenes. Now I observe that when we are met together in the assembly, and the matter in hand relates to building, the builders are summoned as advisers; when the question is one of ship–building, then the ship–wrights; and the like of other arts which they think capable of being taught and learned. And if some person offers to give them advice who is not supposed by them to have any skill in the art, even though he be good–looking, and rich, and noble, they will not listen to him, but laugh and hoot at him, until either he is clamoured down and retires of himself; or if he persist, he is dragged Edition: current; Page: [141] away or put out by the constables at the command of the prytanes. This is their way of behaving about professors of the arts. But when the question is an affair of state, then everybody is free to have a say—carpenter, tinker, cobbler, sailor, passenger; rich and poor, high and low—any one who likes gets up, and no one reproaches him, as in the former case, with not having learned, and having no teacher, and yet giving advice; evidently because they are under the impression that this sort of knowledge cannot be taught. And not only is this true of the state, but of individuals; the best and wisest of our citizens are unable to impart theirJowett1892: 320 political wisdom to others: as for example, Pericles, the father of these young men, who gave them excellent instruction in all that could be learned from masters, in his own department of politics neither taught them, nor gave them teachers; but they were allowed to wander at their own free will in a sort of hope that they would light upon virtue of their own accord. Or take another example: there was Cleinias the younger brother of our friend Alcibiades, of whom this very same Pericles was the guardian; and he being in fact under the apprehension that Cleinias would be corrupted by Alcibiades, took him away, and placed him in the house of Ariphron to be educated; but before six months had elapsed, Ariphron sent him back, not knowing what to do with him. And I could mention numberless other instances of persons who were good themselves, and never yet made any one else good, whether friend or stranger. Now I, Protagoras, having these examples before me, am inclined to think that virtue cannot be taught. But then again, when I listen to your words, I waver; and am disposed to think that there must be something in what you say, because I know that you have great experience, and learning, and invention. And I wish that you would, if possible, show me a little more clearly that virtue can be taught. Will you be so good?

That I will, Socrates, and gladly. But what would you like? Shall I, as an elder, speak to you as younger men in an apologue or myth, or shall I argue out the question?

To this several of the company answered that he should choose for himself.

Edition: current; Page: [142]

Well, then, he said, I think that the myth will be more interesting.

The creation of the brute animals, who were equipped with the qualities necessary for their preservation, while men remained naked and defenceless. To meet this need of theirs Prometheus stole the arts of Athene and Hephaestus, together with fire.

Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures. But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their proper qualities. Epimetheus said to Prometheus: ‘Let me distribute, and do you inspect.’ This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the distribution. There were some to whom he gave strength without swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed, and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus didJowett1892: 321 he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from becoming extinct. And when he had provided against their destruction by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair and hard and callous skins under their feet. Then he gave them varieties of food,—herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees, and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was preserved. Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities which he had to give,—and when he came to man, who was still unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence. The appointed hour Edition: current; Page: [143] was approaching when man in his turn was to go forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Thus man had the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven, where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaestus, in which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off Hephaestus’ art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus.

But men were still destitute of political wisdom, and were in danger of being exterminated by the wild beasts. So to protect themselves they gathered into cities; but having no sense of right, they began to destroy one another. Hermes at the desire of Zeus imparted justice and reverence to them. These virtues were imparted not, like the arts, to a few only but to all.

Jowett1892: 322 Now man, having a share of the divine attributes, was at first the only one of the animals who had any gods, because he alone was of their kindred; and he would raise altars and images of them. He was not long in inventing articulate speech and names; and he also constructed houses and clothes and shoes and beds, and drew sustenance from the earth. Thus provided, mankind at first lived dispersed, and there were no cities. But the consequence was that they were destroyed by the wild beasts, for they were utterly weak in comparison of them, and their art was only sufficient to provide them with the means of life, and did not enable them to carry on war against the animals: food they had, but not as yet the art of government, of which the art of war is a part. After a while the desire of self–preservation gathered them into cities; but when they were gathered together, having no art of government, they evil intreated one another, and were again in process of dispersion and destruction. Zeus feared that the entire race would be exterminated, and so he sent Hermes to them, bearing reverence and justice to be the ordering principles of cities and the bonds of friendship and conciliation. Hermes asked Zeus how he should impart justice and reverence among men:—Should he distribute them as the arts are distributed; Edition: current; Page: [144] that is to say, to a favoured few only, one skilled individual having enough of medicine or of any other art for many unskilled ones? ‘Shall this be the manner in which I am to distribute justice and reverence among men, or shall I give them to all?’ ‘To all,’ said Zeus; ‘I should like them all to have a share; for cities cannot exist, if a few only share in the virtues, as in the arts. And further, make a law by my order, that he who has no part in reverence and justice shall be put to death, for he is a plague of the state.’

And this is the reason, Socrates, why the Athenians and mankind in general, when the question relates to carpentering or any other mechanical art, allow but a few to share in their deliberations; and when any one else interferes, then, as you say, they object, if he be not of the favoured few; which, as I reply, is very natural. But when they meet to deliberate about political virtue, which proceeds onlyJowett1892: 323 by way of justice and wisdom, they are patient enough of any man who speaks of them, as is also natural, because they think that every man ought to share in this sort of virtue, and that states could not exist if this were otherwise. I have explained to you, Socrates, the reason of this phenomenon.

And certainly all men are expected to profess them,

And that you may not suppose yourself to be deceived in thinking that all men regard every man as having a share of justice or honesty and of every other political virtue, let me give you a further proof, which is this. In other cases, as you are aware, if a man says that he is a good flute–player, or skilful in any other art in which he has no skill, people either laugh at him or are angry with him, and his relations think that he is mad and go and admonish him; but when honesty is in question, or some other political virtue, even if they know that he is dishonest, yet, if the man comes publicly forward and tells the truth about his dishonesty, then, what in the other case was held by them to be good sense, they now deem to be madness. They say that all men ought to profess honesty whether they are honest or not, and that a man is out of his mind who says anything else. Their notion is, that a man must have some degree of honesty; and that if he has none at all he ought not to be in the world.

and are punished for the want of them, which is a proof that they can be acquired and taught.

I have been showing that they are right in admitting every man as a counsellor about this sort of virtue, as they are of Edition: current; Page: [145] opinion that every man is a partaker of it. And I will now endeavour to show further that they do not conceive this virtue to be given by nature, or to grow spontaneously, but to be a thing which may be taught; and which comes to a man by taking pains. No one would instruct, no one would rebuke, or be angry with those whose calamities they suppose to be due to nature or chance; they do not try to punish or to prevent them from being what they are; they do but pity them. Who is so foolish as to chastise or instruct the ugly, or the diminutive, or the feeble? And for this reason. Because he knows that good and evil of this kind is the work of nature and of chance; whereas if a man is wanting in those good qualities which are attained by study and exercise and teaching, and has only the contrary evil qualities, other men are angry with him, and punish and reprove him—ofJowett1892: 324 these evil qualities one is impiety, another injustice, and they may be described generally as the very opposite of political virtue. In such cases any man will be angry with another, and reprimand him,—clearly because he thinks that by study and learning, the virtue in which the other is deficient may be acquired. If you will think, Socrates, of the nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes the evil–doer under the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong,—only the unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous that the man who is punished, and he who sees him punished, may be deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of prevention, thereby clearly implying that virtue is capable of being taught. This is the notion of all who retaliate upon others either privately or publicly. And the Athenians, too, your own citizens, like other men, punish and take vengeance on all whom they regard as evil doers; and hence, we may infer them to be of the number of those who think that virtue may be acquired and taught. Thus far, Socrates, I have shown you clearly enough, if I am not mistaken, that your countrymen are right in admitting the Edition: current; Page: [146] tinker and the cobbler to advise about politics, and also that they deem virtue to be capable of being taught and acquired.

But why do not good men teach their sons virtue?

There yet remains one difficulty which has been raised by you about the sons of good men. What is the reason why good men teach their sons the knowledge which is gained from teachers, and make them wise in that, but do nothing towards improving them in the virtues which distinguish themselves? And here, Socrates, I will leave the apologue and resume the argument. Please to consider: Is there or is there not some one quality of which all the citizens must be partakers, if there is to be a city at all? In the answer to this question is contained the only solution of your difficulty; there is no other. For if there be any such quality, and this quality or unity is not the art of the carpenter, or the smith, or the potter, but justice andJowett1892: 325 temperance and holiness and, in a word, manly virtue—if this is the quality of which all men must be partakers, and which is the very condition of their learning or doing anything else, and if he who is wanting in this, whether he be a child only or a grown–up man or woman, must be taught and punished, until by punishment he becomes better, and he who rebels against instruction and punishment is either exiled or condemned to death under the idea that he is incurable—if what I am saying be true, good men have their sons taught other things and not this, do consider how extraordinary their conduct would appear to be. For we have shown that they think virtue capable of being taught and cultivated both in private and public; and, notwithstanding, they have their sons taught lesser matters, ignorance of which does not involve the punishment of death: but greater things, of which the ignorance may cause death and exile to those who have no training or knowledge of them—aye, and confiscation as well as death, and, in a word, may be the ruin of families—those things, I say, they are supposed not to teach them,—not to take the utmost care that they should learn. How improbable is this, Socrates!

They do in fact teach them in all stages of their life by the help of tutors, nurses, teachers, and professors of all sorts. When they grow up the laws become their teacher. Beyond question, then, virtue can be taught.

Education and admonition commence in the first years of childhood, and last to the very end of life. Mother and nurse and father and tutor are vying with one another about the improvement of the child as soon as ever he is able Edition: current; Page: [147] to understand what is being said to him: he cannot say or do anything without their setting forth to him that this is just and that is unjust; this is honourable, that is dishonourable; this is holy, that is unholy; do this and abstain from that. And if he obeys, well and good; if not, he is straightened by threats and blows, like a piece of bent or warped wood. At a later stage they send him to teachers, and enjoin them to see to his manners even more than to his reading and music; and the teachers do as they are desired. And when the boy has learned his letters and is beginning to understand what is written, as before he understood onlyJowett1892: 326 what was spoken, they put into his hands the works of great poets, which he reads sitting on a bench at school; in these are contained many admonitions, and many tales, and praises, and encomia of ancient famous men, which he is required to learn by heart, in order that he may imitate or emulate them and desire to become like them. Then, again, the teachers of the lyre take similar care that their young disciple is temperate and gets into no mischief; and when they have taught him the use of the lyre, they introduce him to the poems of other excellent poets, who are the lyric poets; and these they set to music, and make their harmonies and rhythms quite familiar to the children’s souls, in order that they may learn to be more gentle, and harmonious, and rhythmical, and so more fitted for speech and action; for the life of man in every part has need of harmony and rhythm. Then they send them to the master of gymnastic, in order that their bodies may better minister to the virtuous mind, and that they may not be compelled through bodily weakness to play the coward in war or on any other occasion. This is what is done by those who have the means, and those who have the means are the rich; their children begin to go to school soonest and leave off latest. When they have done with masters, the state again compels them to learn the laws, and live after the pattern which they furnish, and not after their own fancies; and just as in learning to write, the writing–master first draws lines with a style for the use of the young beginner, and gives him the tablet and makes him follow the lines, so the city draws the laws, which were the invention of good lawgivers living in the olden time; Edition: current; Page: [148] these are given to the young man, in order to guide him in his conduct whether he is commanding or obeying; and he who transgresses them is to be corrected, or, in other words, called to account, which is a term used not only in your country, but also in many others, seeing that justice calls men to account. Now when there is all this care about virtue private and public, why, Socrates, do you still wonder and doubt whether virtue can be taught? Cease to wonder, for the opposite would be far more surprising.

But the sons of good men are not always good men, any more than the sons of good artists are always good artists. The worst of civilized men are good enough compared with savages. All men are teachers of virtue to a certain extent.

But why then do the sons of good fathers often turn out ill? There is nothing very wonderful in this; for, as I have been saying, the existence of a state implies that virtue is not any man’s private possession. If so—and nothingJowett1892: 327 can be truer—then I will further ask you to imagine, as an illustration, some other pursuit or branch of knowledge which may be assumed equally to be the condition of the existence of a state. Suppose that there could be no state unless we were all flute–players, as far as each had the capacity, and everybody was freely teaching everybody the art, both in private and public, and reproving the bad player as freely and openly as every man now teaches justice and the laws, not concealing them as he would conceal the other arts, but imparting them—for all of us have a mutual interest in the justice and virtue of one another, and this is the reason why every one is so ready to teach justice and the laws;—suppose, I say, that there were the same readiness and liberality among us in teaching one another flute–playing, do you imagine, Socrates, that the sons of good flute–players would be more likely to be good than the sons of bad ones? I think not. Would not their sons grow up to be distinguished or undistinguished according to their own natural capacities as flute–players, and the son of a good player would often turn out to be a bad one, and the son of a bad player to be a good one, and all flute–players would be good enough in comparison of those who were ignorant and unacquainted with the art of flute–playing? In like manner I would have you consider that he who appears to you to be the worst of those who have been brought up in laws and humanities, would appear to be a just man and a master of justice if he were to be compared with men who Edition: current; Page: [149] had no education, or courts of justice, or laws, or any restraints upon them which compelled them to practise virtue—with the savages, for example, whom the poet Pherecrates exhibited on the stage at the last year’s Lenaean festival. If you were living among men such as the manhaters in his Chorus, you would be only too glad to meet with Eurybates and Phrynondas, and you would sorrowfully long to revisit the rascality of this part of the world. And you, Socrates, are discontented, and why? Because all men are teachers of virtue, each one according to his ability; and you say Where are the teachers? You might as wellJowett1892: 328 ask, Who teaches Greek? For of that too there will not be any teachers found. Or you might ask, Who is to teach the sons of our artisans this same art which they have learned of their fathers? He and his fellow–workmen have taught them to the best of their ability,—but who will carry them further in their arts? And you would certainly have a difficulty, Socrates, in finding a teacher of them; but there would be no difficulty in finding a teacher of those who are wholly ignorant. And this is true of virtue or of anything else; if a man is better able than we are to promote virtue ever so little, we must be content with the result. A teacher of this sort I believe myself to be, and above all other men to have the knowledge which makes a man noble and good; and I give my pupils their money’s–worth, and even more, as they themselves confess. And therefore I have introduced the following mode of payment:—When a man has been my pupil, if he likes he pays my price, but there is no compulsion; and if he does not like, he has only to go into a temple and take an oath of the value of the instructions, and he pays no more than he declares to be their value.

Such is my Apologue, Socrates, and such is the argument by which I endeavour to show that virtue may be taught, and that this is the opinion of the Athenians. And I have also attempted to show that you are not to wonder at good fathers having bad sons, or at good sons having bad fathers, of which the sons of Polycleitus afford an example, who are the companions of our friends here, Paralus and Xanthippus, but are nothing in comparison with their father; and this is true of the sons of many other artists. As yet I ought not to say Edition: current; Page: [150] the same of Paralus and Xanthippus themselves, for they are young and there is still hope of them.

Protagoras ended, and in my ear

  • ‘So charming left his voice, that I the while
  • Thought him still speaking; still stood fixed to hear1.’
Socrates is overwhelmed by the eloquence of Protagoras. But he would like to put a small question to him:—Are the virtues the parts of a whole or the names of one and the same thing?

At length, when the truth dawned upon me, that he had really finished, not without difficulty I began to collect myself, and looking at Hippocrates, I said to him: O son of Apollodorus, how deeply grateful I am to you for having brought me hither; I would not have missed the speech of Protagoras for a great deal. For I used to imagine that no human care could make men good; but I know better now. Yet I have still one very small difficulty which I am sure that Protagoras will easily explain, as he has already explained so much. If a man were to go and consult PericlesJowett1892: 329 or any of our great speakers about these matters, he might perhaps hear as fine a discourse; but then when one has a question to ask of any of them, like books, they can neither answer nor ask; and if any one challenges the least particular of their speech, they go ringing on in a long harangue, like brazen pots, which when they are struck continue to sound unless some one puts his hand upon them; whereas our friend Protagoras can not only make a good speech, as he has already shown, but when he is asked a question he can answer briefly; and when he asks he will wait and hear the answer; and this is a very rare gift. Now I, Protagoras, want to ask of you a little question, which if you will only answer, I shall be quite satisfied. You were saying that virtue can be taught;—that I will take upon your authority, and there is no one to whom I am more ready to trust. But I marvel at one thing about which I should like to have my mind set at rest. You were speaking of Zeus sending justice and reverence to men; and several times while you were speaking, justice, and temperance, and holiness, and all these qualities, were described by you as if together they made up virtue. Now I want you to tell me truly whether virtue is one whole, of which justice and temperance and holiness are parts; or whether all these are Edition: current; Page: [151] only the names of one and the same thing: that is the doubt which still lingers in my mind.

There is no difficulty, Socrates, in answering that the qualities of which you are speaking are the parts of virtue which is one.

They are the parts of a whole differing in the same manner as the parts of a face.

And are they parts, I said, in the same sense in which mouth, nose, and eyes, and ears, are the parts of a face; or are they like the parts of gold, which differ from the whole and from one another only in being larger or smaller?

I should say that they differed, Socrates, in the first way; they are related to one another as the parts of a face are related to the whole face.

And do men have some one part and some another part of virtue? Or if a man has one part, must he also have all the others?

By no means, he said; for many a man is brave and not just, or just and not wise.

You would not deny, then, that courage and wisdom are also parts of virtue?

Jowett1892: 330Most undoubtedly they are, he answered; and wisdom is the noblest of the parts.

And they are all different from one another? I said.


Many men have one part of virtue and not another.

And has each of them a distinct function like the parts of the face;—the eye, for example, is not like the ear, and has not the same functions; and the other parts are none of them like one another, either in their functions, or in any other way? I want to know whether the comparison holds concerning the parts of virtue. Do they also differ from one another in themselves and in their functions? For that is clearly what the simile would imply.

Yes, Socrates, you are right in supposing that they differ.

Then, I said, no other part of virtue is like knowledge, or like justice, or like courage, or like temperance, or like holiness?

No, he answered.

Well then, I said, suppose that you and I enquire into their natures. And first, you would agree with me that justice is Edition: current; Page: [152] of the nature of a thing, would you not? That is my opinion: would it not be yours also?

Mine also, he said.

And suppose that some one were to ask us, saying, ‘O Protagoras, and you, Socrates, what about this thing which you were calling justice, is it just or unjust?’—and I were to answer, just: would you vote with me or against me?

With you, he said.

Justice is of the nature of the just.

Thereupon I should answer to him who asked me, that justice is of the nature of the just: would not you?

Yes, he said.

And suppose that he went on to say: ‘Well now, is there also such a thing as holiness?’—we should answer, ‘Yes,’ if I am not mistaken?

Yes, he said.

Which you would also acknowledge to be a thing—should we not say so?

He assented.

‘And is this a sort of thing which is of the nature of the holy, or of the nature of the unholy?’ I should be angry at his putting such a question, and should say, ‘Peace, man; nothing can be holy if holiness is not holy.’ What would you say? Would you not answer in the same way?

Certainly, he said.

And then after this suppose that he came and asked us, ‘What were you saying just now? Perhaps I may not have heard you rightly, but you seemed to me to be saying that the parts of virtue were not the same as one another.’ I should reply, ‘You certainly heard that said, but not, as youJowett1892: 331 imagine, by me; for I only asked the question; Protagoras gave the answer.’ And suppose that he turned to you and said, ‘Is this true, Protagoras? and do you maintain that one part of virtue is unlike another, and is this your position?’—how would you answer him?

I could not help acknowledging the truth of what he said, Socrates.

The virtues differ, yet many of the, e.g. holiness and justice, are very much alike.

Well then, Protagoras, we will assume this; and now supposing that he proceeded to say further, ‘Then holiness is not of the nature of justice, nor justice of the nature of Edition: current; Page: [153] holiness, but of the nature of unholiness; and holiness is of the nature of the not just, and therefore of the unjust, and the unjust is the unholy:’ how shall we answer him? I should certainly answer him on my own behalf that justice is holy, and that holiness is just; and I would say in like manner on your behalf also, if you would allow me, that justice is either the same with holiness, or very nearly the same; and above all I would assert that justice is like holiness and holiness is like justice; and I wish that you would tell me whether I may be permitted to give this answer on your behalf, and whether you would agree with me.

He replied, I cannot simply agree, Socrates, to the proposition that justice is holy and that holiness is just, for there appears to me to be a difference between them. But what matter? if you please I please; and let us assume, if you will, that justice is holy, and that holiness is just.

Pardon me, I replied; I do not want this ‘if you wish’ or ‘if you will’ sort of conclusion to be proven, but I want you and me to be proven: I mean to say that the conclusion will be best proven if there be no ‘if.’

Protagoras admits the likeness, but denies the identity of the virtues.

Well, he said, I admit that justice bears a resemblance to holiness, for there is always some point of view in which everything is like every other thing; white is in a certain way like black, and hard is like soft, and the most extreme opposites have some qualities in common; even the parts of the face which, as we were saying before, are distinct and have different functions, are still in a certain point of view similar, and one of them is like another of them. And you may prove that they are like one another on the same principle that all things are like one another; and yet things which are alike in some particular ought not to be called alike, nor things which are unlike in some particular, however slight, unlike.

And do you think, I said in a tone of surprise, that justice and holiness have but a small degree of likeness?

Certainly not; any more than I agree with what I understand to be your view.

Jowett1892: 332Well, I said, as you appear to have a difficulty about this, let us take another of the examples which you mentioned instead. Do you admit the existence of folly?

Edition: current; Page: [154]

I do.

And is not wisdom the very opposite of folly?

That is true, he said.

Protagoras is drawn into making the admission that everything has but one opposite.

And when men act rightly and advantageously they seem to you to be temperate?

Yes, he said.

And temperance makes them temperate?


And they who do not act rightly act foolishly, and in acting thus are not temperate?

I agree, he said.

Then to act foolishly is the opposite of acting temperately?

He assented.

And foolish actions are done by folly, and temperate actions by temperance?

He agreed.

And that is done strongly which is done by strength, and that which is weakly done, by weakness?

He assented.

And that which is done with swiftness is done swiftly, and that which is done with slowness, slowly?

He assented again.

And that which is done in the same manner, is done by the same; and that which is done in an opposite manner by the opposite?

He agreed.

Once more, I said, is there anything beautiful?


To which the only opposite is the ugly?

There is no other.

And is there anything good?

There is.

To which the only opposite is the evil?

There is no other.

And there is the acute in sound?


To which the only opposite is the grave?

There is no other, he said, but that.

Then every opposite has one opposite only and no more?

He assented.

Edition: current; Page: [155]

Then now, I said, let us recapitulate our admissions. First of all we admitted that everything has one opposite and not more than one?

We did so.

And we admitted also that what was done in opposite ways was done by opposites?


Thus, if folly has two opposites, wisdom and temperance, those two opposites must be the same.

And that which was done foolishly, as we further admitted, was done in the opposite way to that which was done temperately?


And that which was done temperately was done by temperance, and that which was done foolishly by folly?

He agreed.

And that which is done in opposite ways is done by opposites?


And one thing is done by temperance, and quite another thing by folly?


And in opposite ways?


And therefore by opposites:—then folly is the opposite of temperance?


And do you remember that folly has already been acknowledged by us to be the opposite of wisdom?

He assented.

And we said that everything has only one opposite?


Jowett1892: 333Then, Protagoras, which of the two assertions shall we renounce? One says that everything has but one opposite; the other that wisdom is distinct from temperance, and that both of them are parts of virtue; and that they are not only distinct, but dissimilar, both in themselves and in their functions, like the parts of a face. Which of these two assertions shall we renounce? For both of them together are certainly not in harmony; they do not accord or agree: for how can they be said to agree if everything is assumed to have only one opposite and not more than one, and yet folly, which is Edition: current; Page: [156] one, has clearly the two opposites—wisdom and temperance? Is not that true, Protagoras? What else would you say?

He assented, but with great reluctance.

Then temperance and wisdom are the same, as before justice and holiness appeared to us to be nearly the same. And now, Protagoras, I said, we must finish the enquiry, and not faint. Do you think that an unjust man can be temperate in his injustice?

I should be ashamed, Socrates, he said, to acknowledge this, which nevertheless many may be found to assert.

And shall I argue with them or with you? I replied.

I would rather, he said, that you should argue with the many first, if you will.

Whichever you please, if you will only answer me and say whether you are of their opinion or not. My object is to test the validity of the argument; and yet the result may be that I who ask and you who answer may both be put on our trial.

Protagoras at first made a show of refusing, as he said that the argument was not encouraging; at length, he consented to answer.

Now then, I said, begin at the beginning and answer me. You think that some men are temperate, and yet unjust?

Yes, he said; let that be admitted.

And temperance is good sense?


And good sense is good counsel in doing injustice?


If they succeed, I said, or if they do not succeed?

If they succeed.

And you would admit the existence of goods?


The good is the expedient; yet some things inexpedient are nevertheless good.

And is the good that which is expedient for man?

Yes, indeed, he said: and there are some things which may be inexpedient, and yet I call them good.

I thought that Protagoras was getting ruffled and excited; he seemed to be setting himself in an attitude of war. Seeing this, I minded my business, and gently said:—

When you say, Protagoras, that things inexpedient areJowett1892: 334 good, do you mean inexpedient for man only, or inexpedient altogether? and do you call the latter good?

Protagoras answers in a lengthy manner,

Edition: current; Page: [157] Certainly not the last, he replied; for I know of many things,—meats, drinks, medicines, and ten thousand other things, which are inexpedient for man, and some which are expedient; and some which are neither expedient nor inexpedient for man, but only for horses; and some for oxen only, and some for dogs; and some for no animals, but only for trees; and some for the roots of trees and not for their branches, as for example, manure, which is a good thing when laid about the roots of a tree, but utterly destructive if thrown upon the shoots and young branches; or I may instance olive oil, which is mischievous to all plants, and generally most injurious to the hair of every animal with the exception of man, but beneficial to human hair and to the human body generally; and even in this application (so various and changeable is the nature of the benefit), that which is the greatest good to the outward parts of a man, is a very great evil to his inward parts: and for this reason physicians always forbid their patients the use of oil in their food, except in very small quantities, just enough to extinguish the disagreeable sensation of smell in meats and sauces.

and is requested by Socrates, who pretends to have a bad memory, to make his answers shorter.

When he had given this answer, the company cheered him. And I said: Protagoras, I have a wretched memory, and when any one makes a long speech to me I never remember what he is talking about. As then, if I had been deaf, and you were going to converse with me, you would have had to raise your voice; so now, having such a bad memory, I will ask you to cut your answers shorter, if you would take me with you.

What do you mean? he said: how am I to shorten my answers? shall I make them too short?

Certainly not, I said.

But short enough?

Yes, I said.

Shall I answer what appears to me to be short enough, or what appears to you to be short enough?

I have heard, I said, that you can speak and teach others to speak about the same things at such length that words never seemed to fail, or with such brevity that no one couldJowett1892: 335 use fewer of them. Please therefore, if you talk with me, to adopt the latter or more compendious method.

As Protagoras declines to adopt his adversary’s method, Socrates rises to depart,

Edition: current; Page: [158] Socrates, he replied, many a battle of words have I fought, and if I had followed the method of disputation which my adversaries desired, as you want me to do, I should have been no better than another, and the name of Protagoras would have been nowhere.

I saw that he was not satisfied with his previous answers, and that he would not play the part of answerer any more if he could help; and I considered that there was no call upon me to continue the conversation; so I said: Protagoras, I do not wish to force the conversation upon you if you had rather not, but when you are willing to argue with me in such a way that I can follow you, then I will argue with you. Now you, as is said of you by others and as you say of yourself, are able to have discussions in shorter forms of speech as well as in longer, for you are a master of wisdom; but I cannot manage these long speeches: I only wish that I could. You, on the other hand, who are capable of either, ought to speak shorter as I beg you, and then we might converse. But I see that you are disinclined, and as I have an engagement which will prevent my staying to hear you at greater length (for I have to be in another place), I will depart; although I should have liked to have heard you.

but is detained by Callias.

Thus I spoke, and was rising from my seat, when Callias seized me by the right hand, and in his left hand caught hold of this old cloak of mine. He said: We cannot let you go, Socrates, for if you leave us there will be an end of our discussions: I must therefore beg you to remain, as there is nothing in the world that I should like better than to hear you and Protagoras discourse. Do not deny the company this pleasure.

Socrates would be very willing to comply with his wishes if he could. He cannot run, but Protagoras can walk.

Now I had got up, and was in the act of departure. Son of Hipponicus, I replied, I have always admired, and do now heartily applaud and love your philosophical spirit, and I would gladly comply with your request, if I could. But the truth is that I cannot. And what you ask is as great an impossibility to me, as if you bade me run a race with Crison of Himera, when in his prime, or with some one of the longJowett1892: 336 or day course runners. To such a request I should reply that I would fain ask the same of my own legs; but they refuse to comply. And therefore if you want to see Crison Edition: current; Page: [159] and me in the same stadium, you must bid him slacken his speed to mine, for I cannot run quickly, and he can run slowly. And in like manner if you want to hear me and Protagoras discoursing, you must ask him to shorten his answers, and keep to the point, as he did at first; if not, how can there be any discussion? For discussion is one thing, and making an oration is quite another, in my humble opinion.

Yet Protagoras may claim to speak in his own manner. Not so, says Alcibiades, unless he will admit his inferiority to Socrates in the shorter method.

But you see, Socrates, said Callias, that Protagoras may fairly claim to speak in his own way, just as you claim to speak in yours.

Here Alcibiades interposed, and said: That, Callias, is not a true statement of the case. For our friend Socrates admits that he cannot make a speech—in this he yields the palm to Protagoras: but I should be greatly surprised if he yielded to any living man in the power of holding and apprehending an argument. Now if Protagoras will make a similar admission, and confess that he is inferior to Socrates in argumentative skill, that is enough for Socrates; but if he claims a superiority in argument as well, let him ask and answer—not, when a question is asked, slipping away from the point, and instead of answering, making a speech at such length that most of his hearers forget the question at issue (not that Socrates is likely to forget—I will be bound for that, although he may pretend in fun that he has a bad memory). And Socrates appears to me to be more in the right than Protagoras; that is my view, and every man ought to say what he thinks.

Critias attempts to reconcile Protagoras and Socrates.

When Alcibiades had done speaking, some one—Critias, I believe—went on to say: O Prodicus and Hippias, Callias appears to me to be a partisan of Protagoras: and this led Alcibiades, who loves opposition, to take the other side. But we should not be partisans either of Socrates or of Protagoras; let us rather unite in entreating both of them not to break up the discussion.

Jowett1892: 337Prodicus in a balanced form of words advocates impartiality.

Prodicus added: That, Critias, seems to me to be well said, for those who are present at such discussions ought to be impartial hearers of both the speakers; remembering, however, that impartiality is not the same as equality, for both sides should be impartially heard, and yet an equal Edition: current; Page: [160] meed should not be assigned to both of them; but to the wiser a higher meed should be given, and a lower to the less wise. And I as well as Critias would beg you, Protagoras and Socrates, to grant our request, which is, that you will argue with one another and not wrangle; for friends argue with friends out of good–will, but only adversaries and enemies wrangle. And then our meeting will be delightful; for in this way you, who are the speakers, will be most likely to win esteem, and not praise only, among us who are your audience; for esteem is a sincere conviction of the hearers’ souls, but praise is often an insincere expression of men uttering falsehoods contrary to their conviction. And thus we who are the hearers will be gratified and not pleased; for gratification is of the mind when receiving wisdom and knowledge, but pleasure is of the body when eating or experiencing some other bodily delight. Thus spoke Prodicus, and many of the company applauded his words.

Hippias, in a sententious speech, advocates the appointment of an arbiter.

Hippias the sage spoke next. He said: All of you who are here present I reckon to be kinsmen and friends and fellow–citizens, by nature and not by law; for by nature like is akin to like, whereas law is the tyrant of mankind, and often compels us to do many things which are against nature. How great would be the disgrace then, if we, who know the nature of things, and are the wisest of the Hellenes, and as such are met together in this city, which is the metropolis of wisdom, and in the greatest and most glorious house of this city, should have nothing to show worthy of this height of dignity, but should only quarrel with one another like the meanest of mankind! I do pray and advise you, Protagoras, and you, Socrates, to agree upon a compromise. Let us be your peacemakers. And do not you, Socrates, aim at this precise and extreme brevity in discourse, if Protagoras objects, but loosen and let go theJowett1892: 338 reins of speech, that your words may be grander and more becoming to you1. Neither do you, Protagoras, go forth on the gale with every sail set out of sight of land into an ocean of words, but let there be a mean observed by both of you. Do as I say. And let me also persuade you to Edition: current; Page: [161] choose an arbiter or overseer or president; he will keep watch over your words and will prescribe their proper length.

But there can be no arbiter superior to Protagoras, and therefore Socrates suggests that Protagoras shall ask, and he will answer; and when he is tired of asking, Socrates will ask and Protagoras shall answer.

This proposal was received by the company with universal approval; Callias said that he would not let me off, and they begged me to choose an arbiter. But I said that to choose an umpire of discourse would be unseemly; for if the person chosen was inferior, then the inferior or worse ought not to preside over the better; or if he was equal, neither would that be well; for he who is our equal will do as we do, and what will be the use of choosing him? And if you say, ‘Let us have a better then,’—to that I answer that you cannot have any one who is wiser than Protagoras. And if you choose another who is not really better, and whom you only say is better, to put another over him as though he were an inferior person would be an unworthy reflection on him; not that, as far as I am concerned, any reflection is of much consequence to me. Let me tell you then what I will do in order that the conversation and discussion may go on as you desire. If Protagoras is not disposed to answer, let him ask and I will answer; and I will endeavour to show at the same time how, as I maintain, he ought to answer: and when I have answered as many questions as he likes to ask, let him in like manner answer me; and if he seems to be not very ready at answering the precise question asked of him, you and I will unite in entreating him, as you entreated me, not to spoil the discussion. And this will require no special arbiter—all of you shall be arbiters.

Protagoras reluctantly assents, and proposes to base his questions on a passage in Simonides.

This was generally approved, and Protagoras, though very much against his will, was obliged to agree that he would ask questions; and when he had put a sufficient number of them, that he would answer in his turn those which he was asked in short replies. He began to put his questions as follows:—

I am of opinion, Socrates, he said, that skill in poetry isJowett1892: 339 the principal part of education; and this I conceive to be the power of knowing what compositions of the poets are correct, and what are not, and how they are to be distinguished, and of explaining when asked the reason of the difference. And I propose to transfer the question which Edition: current; Page: [162] you and I have been discussing to the domain of poetry; we will speak as before of virtue, but in reference to a passage of a poet. Now Simonides says to Scopas the son of Creon the Thessalian:—

  • ‘Hardly on the one hand can a man become truly good, built four–square in hands and feet and mind, a work without a flaw.’

Do you know the poem? or shall I repeat the whole?

There is no need, I said; for I am perfectly well acquainted with the ode,—I have made a careful study of it.

Very well, he said. And do you think that the ode is a good composition, and true?

Yes, I said, both good and true.

But if there is a contradiction, can the composition be good or true?

No, not in that case, I replied.

And is there not a contradiction? he asked. Reflect.

Well, my friend, I have reflected.

And does not the poet proceed to say, ‘I do not agree with the word of Pittacus, albeit the utterance of a wise man: Hardly can a man be good?’ Now you will observe that this is said by the same poet.

I know it.

And do you think, he said, that the two sayings are consistent?

Yes, I said, I think so (at the same time I could not help fearing that there might be something in what he said). And you think otherwise?

There is an apparent contradiction in the words of Simonides: he blames what he also affirms.

Why, he said, how can he be consistent in both? First of all, premising as his own thought, ‘Hardly can a man become truly good;’ and then a little further on in the poem, forgetting, and blaming Pittacus and refusing to agree with him, when he says, ‘Hardly can a man be good,’ which is the very same thing. And yet when he blames him who says the same with himself, he blames himself; so that he must be wrong either in his first or his second assertion.

Many of the audience cheered and applauded this. And I felt at first giddy and faint, as if I had received a blow from the hand of an expert boxer, when I heard his words and the sound of the cheering; and to confess the truth, I wanted to get time to think what the meaning of the poet really was. Edition: current; Page: [163] So I turned to Prodicus and called him. Prodicus, I said, Simonides is a countryman of yours, and you ought to comeJowett1892: 340 to his aid. I must appeal to you, like the river Scamander in Homer, who, when beleaguered by Achilles, summons the Simoïs to aid him, saying:

  • ‘Brother dear, let us both together stay the force of the hero1.’
But the inconsistency is not a real one; for ‘being’ is not the same as ‘becoming.’

And I summon you, for I am afraid that Protagoras will make an end of Simonides. Now is the time to rehabilitate Simonides, by the application of your philosophy of synonyms, which enables you to distinguish ‘will’ and ‘wish,’ and make other charming distinctions like those which you drew just now. And I should like to know whether you would agree with me; for I am of opinion that there is no contradiction in the words of Simonides. And first of all I wish that you would say whether, in your opinion, Prodicus, ‘being’ is the same as ‘becoming.’

Not the same, certainly, replied Prodicus.

Did not Simonides first set forth, as his own view, that ‘Hardly can a man become truly good’?

Quite right, said Prodicus.

And then he blames Pittacus, not, as Protagoras imagines, for repeating that which he says himself, but for saying something different from himself. Pittacus does not say as Simonides says, that hardly can a man become good, but hardly can a man be good: and our friend Prodicus would maintain that being, Protagoras, is not the same as becoming; and if they are not the same, then Simonides is not inconsistent with himself. I dare say that Prodicus and many others would say, as Hesiod says,

  • ‘On the one hand, hardly can a man become good,
  • For the gods have made virtue the reward of toil;
  • But on the other hand, when you have climbed the height,
  • Then, to retain virtue, however difficult the acquisition, is easy2.’
Simonides could never have meant to say that virtue can be easily possessed.

Prodicus heard and approved; but Protagoras said: Your correction, Socrates, involves a greater error than is contained in the sentence which you are correcting.

Alas! I said, Protagoras; then I am a sorry physician, and do but aggravate a disorder which I am seeking to cure.

Edition: current; Page: [164]

Such is the fact, he said.

How so? I asked.

The poet, he replied, could never have made such a mistake as to say that virtue, which in the opinion of all men is the hardest of all things, can be easily retained.

Socrates has learned from Prodicus that ‘hard’ means ‘evil.’

Well, I said, and how fortunate are we in having Prodicus among us, at the right moment; for he has a wisdom, Protagoras, which, as I imagine, is more than human and of very ancient date, and may be as old as Simonides or evenJowett1892: 341 older. Learned as you are in many things, you appear to know nothing of this; but I know, for I am a disciple of his. And now, if I am not mistaken, you do not understand the word ‘hard’ (χαλεπόν) in the sense which Simonides intended; and I must correct you, as Prodicus corrects me when I use the word ‘awful’ (δεινόν) as a term of praise. If I say that Protagoras or any one else is an ‘awfully’ wise man, he asks me if I am not ashamed of calling that which is good ‘awful’; and then he explains to me that the term ‘awful’ is always taken in a bad sense, and that no one speaks of being ‘awfully’ healthy or wealthy, or of ‘awful’ peace, but of ‘awful’ disease, ‘awful’ war, ‘awful’ poverty, meaning by the term ‘awful,’ evil. And I think that Simonides and his countrymen the Ceans, when they spoke of ‘hard’ meant ‘evil,’ or something which you do not understand. Let us ask Prodicus, for he ought to be able to answer questions about the dialect of Simonides. What did he mean, Prodicus, by the term ‘hard’?

Evil, said Prodicus.

And therefore, I said, Prodicus, he blames Pittacus for saying, ‘Hard is the good,’ just as if that were equivalent to saying, Evil is the good.

Yes, he said, that was certainly his meaning; and he is twitting Pittacus with ignorance of the use of terms, which in a Lesbian, who has been accustomed to speak a barbarous language, is natural.

Do you hear, Protagoras, I asked, what our friend Prodicus is saying? And have you an answer for him?

Nonsense, says Protagoras.

You are entirely mistaken, Prodicus, said Protagoras; and I know very well that Simonides in using the word ‘hard’ meant what all of us mean, not evil, but that which is not Edition: current; Page: [165] easy—that which takes a great deal of trouble: of this I am positive.

We were only making trial of you, replies Socrates; but as you are not to be taken in, shall I offer an interpretation?

I said: I also incline to believe, Protagoras, that this was the meaning of Simonides, of which our friend Prodicus was very well aware, but he thought that he would make fun, and try if you could maintain your thesis; for that Simonides could never have meant the other is clearly proved by the context, in which he says that God only has this gift. Now he cannot surely mean to say that to be good is evil, when he afterwards proceeds to say that God only has this gift, and that this is the attribute of him and of no other. For if this be his meaning, Prodicus would impute to Simonides a character of recklessness which is very unlike his countrymen.Jowett1892: 342 And I should like to tell you, I said, what I imagine to be the real meaning of Simonides in this poem, if you will test what, in your way of speaking, would be called my skill in poetry; or if you would rather, I will be the listener.

To this proposal Protagoras replied: As you please;—and Hippias, Prodicus, and the others told me by all means to do as I proposed.

The true ancient philosophy is to be found, not in the long discourses of the Sophists, but in the pregnant brevity of the Lacedaemonians.

Then now, I said, I will endeavour to explain to you my opinion about this poem of Simonides. There is a very ancient philosophy which is more cultivated in Crete and Lacedaemon than in any other part of Hellas, and there are more philosophers in those countries than anywhere else in the world. This, however, is a secret which the Lacedaemonians deny; and they pretend to be ignorant, just because they do not wish to have it thought that they rule the world by wisdom, like the Sophists of whom Protagoras was speaking, and not by valour of arms; considering that if the reason of their superiority were disclosed, all men would be practising their wisdom. And this secret of theirs has never been discovered by the imitators of Lacedaemonian fashions in other cities, who go about with their ears bruised in imitation of them, and have the caestus bound on their arms, and are always in training, and wear short cloaks; for they imagine that these are the practices which have enabled the Lacedaemonians to conquer the other Hellenes. Now when the Lacedaemonians want to unbend and hold free conversation with their wise men, and are no longer satisfied Edition: current; Page: [166] with mere secret intercourse, they drive out all these laconizers, and any other foreigners who may happen to be in their country, and they hold a philosophical séance unknown to strangers; and they themselves forbid their young men to go out into other cities—in this they are like the Cretans—in order that they may not unlearn the lessons which they have taught them. And in Lacedaemon and Crete not only men but also women have a pride in their high cultivation. And hereby you may know that I am right in attributing to the Lacedaemonians this excellence in philosophy and speculation: If a man converses with the most ordinary Lacedaemonian, he will find him seldom good for much in general conversation, but at any point in the discourse he will be darting out some notable saying, terse and full of meaning, with unerring aim; and the person with whom he is talking seems to be like a child in his hands. And many of our own age and of former ages have noted that the true Lacedaemonian type of character has the love of philosophy even stronger than the love of gymnastics; they are conscious that only a perfectly educated man is capable of uttering such expressions. Such were Thales ofJowett1892: 343 Miletus, and Pittacus of Mitylene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus the Lindian, and Myson the Chenian; and seventh in the catalogue of wise men was the Lacedaemonian Chilo. All these were lovers and emulators and disciples of the culture of the Lacedaemonians, and any one may perceive that their wisdom was of this character; consisting of short memorable sentences, which they severally uttered. And they met together and dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, as the first–fruits of their wisdom, the far–famed inscriptions, which are in all men’s mouths,—‘Know thyself,’ and ‘Nothing too much.’

Why do I say all this? I am explaining that this Lacedaemonian brevity was the style of primitive philosophy. Now there was a saying of Pittacus which was privately circulated and received the approbation of the wise, ‘Hard is it toJowett1892: 344 be good.’ And Simonides, who was ambitious of the fame of wisdom, was aware that if he could overthrow this saying, then, as if he had won a victory over some famous athlete, he would carry off the palm among his contemporaries. Edition: current; Page: [167] And if I am not mistaken, he composed the entire poem with the secret intention of damaging Pittacus and his saying.

Let us all unite in examining his words, and see whether I am speaking the truth. Simonides must have been a lunatic, if, in the very first words of the poem, wanting to say only that to become good is hard, he inserted μέν, ‘on the one hand’ [‘on the one hand to become good is hard’]; there would be no reason for the introduction of μέν, unless you suppose him to speak with a hostile reference to the words of Pittacus. Pittacus is saying ‘Hard is it to be good,’ and he, in refutation of this thesis, rejoins that the truly hard thing, Pittacus, is to become good, not joining ‘truly’ with ‘good,’ but with ‘hard.’ Not, that the hard thing is to be truly good, as though there were some truly good men, and there were others who were good but not truly good (this would be a very simple observation, and quite unworthy of Simonides); but you must suppose him to make a trajection of the word ‘truly’ (ἀλαθέως), construing the saying of Pittacus thus (and let us imagine Pittacus to be speaking and Simonides answering him): ‘O my friends,’ says Pittacus, ‘hard is it to be good,’ and Simonides answers, ‘In that, Pittacus, you are mistaken; the difficulty is not to be good, but on the one hand, to become good, four–square in hands and feet and mind, without a flaw—that is hard truly.’ This way of reading the passage accounts for the insertion of μέν, ‘on the one hand,’ and for the position at the end of the clause of the word ‘truly,’ and all that follows shows this to be the meaning. A great deal might be said in praise of the details of the poem, which is a charming piece of workmanship, and very finished, but such minutiae would be tedious. I should like, however, to point out the general intention of the poem, which is certainly designed in every part to be a refutation of the saying of Pittacus. For he speaks in what follows a little further on as if he meant to argue that although there is a difficulty in becoming good, yet this is possible for a time, and only for a time. But having become good, to remain in a good state and be good, as you, Pittacus, affirm, is not possible, and is not granted to man; God only has this blessing; ‘but man cannot help being bad when the force of circumstances overpowers him.’ Now whom does Edition: current; Page: [168] the force of circumstance overpower in the command of a vessel?—not the private individual, for he is always overpowered; and as one who is already prostrate cannot be overthrown, and only he who is standing upright but not he who is prostrate can be laid prostrate, so the force of circumstances can only overpower him who, at some time or other, has resources, and not him who is at all times helpless. The descent of a great storm may make the pilot helpless, or the severity of the season the husbandman or the physician; for the good may become bad, as another poet witnesses:—

  • ‘The good are sometimes good and sometimes bad.’

But the bad does not become bad; he is always bad. So that when the force of circumstances overpowers the man of resources and skill and virtue, then he cannot help being bad. And you, Pittacus, are saying, ‘Hard is it to be good.’ Now there is a difficulty in becoming good; and yet this is possible: but to be good is an impossibility—

  • ‘For he who does well is the good man, and he who does ill is the bad.’

But what sort of doing is good in letters? and what sort ofJowett1892: 345 doing makes a man good in letters? Clearly the knowing of them. And what sort of well–doing makes a man a good physician? Clearly the knowledge of the art of healing the sick. ‘But he who does ill is the bad.’ Now who becomes a bad physician? Clearly he who is in the first place a physician, and in the second place a good physician; for he may become a bad one also: but none of us unskilled individuals can by any amount of doing ill become physicians, any more than we can become carpenters or anything of that sort; and he who by doing ill cannot become a physician at all, clearly cannot become a bad physician. In like manner the good may become deteriorated by time, or toil, or disease, or other accident (the only real doing ill is to be deprived of knowledge), but the bad man will never become bad, for he is always bad; and if he were to become bad, he must previously have been good. Thus the words of the poem tend to show that on the one hand a man cannot be continuously good, but that he may become good and may also become bad; and again that

  • ‘They are the best for the longest time whom the gods love.’
Socrates proposes an explanation, ingenious rather than true, of the verses of Simonides. He seems to be adopting the Sophists’ arts of interpretation. Socrates by the help of logic and rhetoric strives to elicit the meaning of Simonides. Edition: current; Page: [169]

All this relates to Pittacus, as is further proved by the sequel. For he adds:—

  • ‘Therefore I will not throw away my span of life to no purpose in searching after the impossible, hoping in vain to find a perfectly faultless man among those who partake of the fruit of the broad–bosomed earth: if I find him, I will send you word.’

(this is the vehement way in which he pursues his attack upon Pittacus throughout the whole poem):

  • ‘But him who does no evil, voluntarily I praise and love;—not even the gods war against necessity.’

All this has a similar drift, for Simonides was not so ignorant as to say that he praised those who did no evil voluntarily, as though there were some who did evil voluntarily. For no wise man, as I believe, will allow that any human being errs voluntarily, or voluntarily does evil and dishonourable actions; but they are very well aware that all who do evil and dishonourable things do them against their will. And Simonides never says that he praises him who does no evil voluntarily; the word ‘voluntarily’ applies to himself. ForJowett1892: 346 he was under the impression that a good man might often compel himself to love and praise another1, and to be the friend and approver of another; and that there might be an involuntary love, such as a man might feel to an unnatural father or mother, or country, or the like. Now bad men, when their parents or country have any defects, look on them with malignant joy, and find fault with them and expose and denounce them to others, under the idea that the rest of mankind will be less likely to take themselves to task and accuse them of neglect; and they blame their defects far more than they deserve, in order that the odium which is necessarily incurred by them may be increased: but the good man dissembles his feelings, and constrains himself to praise them; and if they have wronged him and he is angry, he pacifies his anger and is reconciled, and compels himself to love and praise his own flesh and blood. And Simonides, as is probable, considered that he himself had often had to praise and magnify a tyrant or the like, much against his will, and he also wishes to imply to Pittacus that he does not censure him because he is censorious.

  • Edition: current; Page: [170]
  • ‘For I am satisfied,’ he says, ‘when a man is neither bad nor very stupid; and when he knows justice (which is the health of states), and is of sound mind, I will find no fault with him, for I am not given to finding fault, and there are innumerable fools’

(implying that if he delighted in censure he might have abundant opportunity of finding fault).

  • ‘All things are good with which evil is unmingled.’

In these latter words he does not mean to say that all things are good which have no evil in them, as you might say ‘All things are white which have no black in them,’ for that would be ridiculous; but he means to say that he accepts and finds no fault with the moderate or intermediate state.

  • [‘I do not hope,’ he says, ‘to find a perfectly blameless man among those who partake of the fruits of the broad–bosomed earth (if I find him, I will send you word); in this sense I praise no man. But he who is moderately good, and does no evil, is good enough for me, who love and approve every one’]

(and here observe that he uses a Lesbian word, ἐπαὶνημι (approve), because he is addressing Pittacus,—

  • ‘Who love and approve every one voluntarily, who does no evil:’
The entire poem is really a polemic against Pittacus.

and that the stop should be put after ‘voluntarily’); ‘but there are some whom I involuntarily praise and love. And you, Pittacus, I would never have blamed, if you had spokenJowett1892: 347 what was moderately good and true; but I do blame you because, putting on the appearance of truth, you are speaking falsely about the highest matters.’—And this, I said, Prodicus and Protagoras, I take to be the meaning of Simonides in this poem.

Hippias thinks this an excellent interpretation of the poem; but he has a still better one of his own.

Hippias said: I think, Socrates, that you have given a very good explanation of the poem; but I have also an excellent interpretation of my own which I will propound to you, if you will allow me.

Nay, Hippias, said Alcibiades; not now, but at some other time. At present we must abide by the compact which was made between Socrates and Protagoras, to the effect that as long as Protagoras is willing to ask, Socrates should answer; or that if he would rather answer, then that Socrates should ask.

He is prevented from interrupting by Alcibiades. Socrates would rather have done with the poets and return to the argument.

I said: I wish Protagoras either to ask or answer as he is Edition: current; Page: [171] inclined; but I would rather have done with poems and odes, if he does not object, and come back to the question about which I was asking you at first, Protagoras, and by your help make an end of that. The talk about the poets seems to me like a commonplace entertainment to which a vulgar company have recourse; who, because they are not able to converse or amuse one another, while they are drinking, with the sound of their own voices and conversation, by reason of their stupidity, raise the price of flute–girls in the market, hiring for a great sum the voice of a flute instead of their own breath, to be the medium of intercourse among them: but where the company are real gentlemen and men of education, you will see no flute–girls, nor dancing–girls, nor harp–girls; and they have no nonsense or games, but are contented with one another’s conversation, of which their own voices are the medium, and which they carry on by turns and in an orderly manner, even though they are very liberal in their potations. And a company like this of ours, and men such as we profess to be, do not require the help of another’s voice, or of the poets whom you cannot interrogate about the meaning of what they are saying; people who cite them declaring, some that the poet has one meaning, and others that he has another, and the point which is in dispute can never be decided. This sort of entertainment they decline, and prefer to talk with one another, and put one another to the proof in conversation.Jowett1892: 348 And these are the models which I desire that you and I should imitate. Leaving the poets, and keeping to ourselves, let us try the mettle of one another and make proof of the truth in conversation. If you have a mind to ask, I am ready to answer; or if you would rather, do you answer, and give me the opportunity of resuming and completing our unfinished argument.

I made these and some similar observations; but Protagoras would not distinctly say which he would do. Thereupon Alcibiades turned to Callias, and said:—Do you think, Callias, that Protagoras is fair in refusing to say whether he will or will not answer? for I certainly think that he is unfair; he ought either to proceed with the argument, or distinctly to refuse to proceed, that we may Edition: current; Page: [172] know his intention; and then Socrates will be able to discourse with some one else, and the rest of the company will be free to talk with one another.

Protagoras is compelled to resume the argument.

I think that Protagoras was really made ashamed by these words of Alcibiades, and when the prayers of Callias and the company were superadded, he was at last induced to argue, and said that I might ask and he would answer.

So I said: Do not imagine, Protagoras, that I have any other interest in asking questions of you but that of clearing up my own difficulties. For I think that Homer was very right in saying that

  • ‘When two go together, one sees before the other1,’

for all men who have a companion are readier in deed, word, or thought; but if a man

  • ‘Sees a thing when he is alone,’
Half ironical eulogium of Protagoras. To the old question,—‘Are the virtues one or many?’—the old answer is returned that four out of five are to some extent similar, but the fifth, courage, is very different from the other four.

he goes about straightway seeking until he finds some one to whom he may show his discoveries, and who may confirm him in them. And I would rather hold discourse with you than with any one, because I think that no man has a better understanding of most things which a good man may be expected to understand, and in particular of virtue. For who is there, but you?—who not only claim to be a good man and a gentleman, for many are this, and yet have not the power of making others good—whereas you are not only good yourself, but also the cause of goodness in others. Moreover such confidence have you in yourself, that although other Sophists conceal their profession, you proclaim in the face of Hellas that you are a Sophist or teacher of virtue and education, and are the first who demanded pay in return. How then can I do otherwise than invite you to theJowett1892: 349 examination of these subjects, and ask questions and consult with you? I must, indeed. And I should like once more to have my memory refreshed by you about the questions which I was asking you at first, and also to have your help in considering them. If I am not mistaken the question was this: Are wisdom and temperance and courage and justice and holiness five names of the same thing? or has each of Edition: current; Page: [173] the names a separate underlying essence and corresponding thing having a peculiar function, no one of them being like any other of them? And you replied that the five names were not the names of the same thing, but that each of them had a separate object, and that all these objects were parts of virtue, not in the same way that the parts of gold are like each other and the whole of which they are parts, but as the parts of the face are unlike the whole of which they are parts and one another, and have each of them a distinct function. I should like to know whether this is still your opinion; or if not, I will ask you to define your meaning, and I shall not take you to task if you now make a different statement. For I dare say that you may have said what you did only in order to make trial of me.

I answer, Socrates, he said, that all these qualities are parts of virtue, and that four out of the five are to some extent similar, and that the fifth of them, which is courage, is very different from the other four, as I prove in this way: You may observe that many men are utterly unrighteous, unholy, intemperate, ignorant, who are nevertheless remarkable for their courage.

And the courageous are the confident; but not all the confident are truly courageous.

Stop, I said; I should like to think about that. When you speak of brave men, do you mean the confident, or another sort of nature?

Yes, he said; I mean the impetuous, ready to go at that which others are afraid to approach.

In the next place, you would affirm virtue to be a good thing, of which good thing you assert yourself to be a teacher.

Yes, he said; I should say the best of all things, if I am in my right mind.

And is it partly good and partly bad, I said, or wholly good?

Wholly good, and in the highest degree.

Jowett1892: 350Tell me then; who are they who have confidence when diving into a well?

I should say, the divers.

And the reason of this is that they have knowledge?

Yes, that is the reason.

And who have confidence when fighting on horseback—the skilled horseman or the unskilled?

The skilled.

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And who when fighting with light shields—the peltasts or the nonpeltasts?

The peltasts. And that is true of all other things, he said, if that is your point: those who have knowledge are more confident than those who have no knowledge, and they are more confident after they have learned than before.

And have you not seen persons utterly ignorant, I said, of these things, and yet confident about them?

Yes, he said, I have seen such persons far too confident.

And are not these confident persons also courageous?

In that case, he replied, courage would be a base thing, for the men of whom we are speaking are surely madmen.

Then who are the courageous? Are they not the confident?

Yes, he said; to that statement I adhere.

And those, I said, who are thus confident without knowledge are really not courageous, but mad; and in that case the wisest are also the most confident, and being the most confident are also the bravest, and upon that view again wisdom will be courage.

Protagoras complains that Socrates has misrepresented him.

Nay, Socrates, he replied, you are mistaken in your remembrance of what was said by me. When you asked me, I certainly did say that the courageous are the confident; but I was never asked whether the confident are the courageous; if you had asked me, I should have answered ‘Not all of them:’ and what I did answer you have not proved to be false, although you proceeded to show that those who have knowledge are more courageous than they were before they had knowledge, and more courageous than others who have no knowledge, and were then led on to think that courage is the same as wisdom. But in this way of arguing you might come to imagine that strength is wisdom. You might begin by asking whether the strong are able, and I should say ‘Yes;’ and then whether those who know how to wrestle are not more able to wrestle than those who do not know how to wrestle, and more able after than before they had learned, and I should assent. And when I had admitted this, you might use my admissions in such a way as to prove that upon my view wisdom is strength; whereas in that case I should not have admitted, any more than in the other, that the able are strong, although I have admitted Edition: current; Page: [175]Jowett1892: 351 that the strong are able. For there is a difference between ability and strength; the former is given by knowledge as well as by madness or rage, but strength comes from nature and a healthy state of the body. And in like manner I say of confidence and courage, that they are not the same; and I argue that the courageous are confident, but not all the confident courageous. For confidence may be given to men by art, and also, like ability, by madness and rage; but courage comes to them from nature and the healthy state of the soul.

I said: You would admit, Protagoras, that some men live well and others ill?

He assented.

And do you think that a man lives well who lives in pain and grief?

He does not.

But if he lives pleasantly to the end of his life, will he not in that case have lived well?

He will.

Then to live pleasantly is a good, and to live unpleasantly an evil?

Yes, he said, if the pleasure be good and honourable.

Socrates insinuates that the pleasant is the good.

And do you, Protagoras, like the rest of the world, call some pleasant things evil and some painful things good?—for I am rather disposed to say that things are good in as far as they are pleasant, if they have no consequences of another sort, and in as far as they are painful they are bad.

Protagoras demurs to this assumption.

I do not know, Socrates, he said, whether I can venture to assert in that unqualified manner that the pleasant is the good and the painful the evil. Having regard not only to my present answer, but also to the whole of my life, I shall be safer, if I am not mistaken, in saying that there are some pleasant things which are not good, and that there are some painful things which are good, and some which are not good, and that there are some which are neither good nor evil.

And you would call pleasant, I said, the things which participate in pleasure or create pleasure?

Certainly, he said.

Then my meaning is, that in as far as they are pleasant they Edition: current; Page: [176] are good; and my question would imply that pleasure is a good in itself.

According to your favourite mode of speech, Socrates, ‘let us reflect about this,’ he said; and if the reflection is to the point, and the result proves that pleasure and good are really the same, then we will agree; but if not, then we will argue.

And would you wish to begin the enquiry? I said; or shall I begin?

You ought to take the lead, he said; for you are the author of the discussion.

Let Protagoras reveal to us his mind about knowledge.

May I employ an illustration? I said. Suppose someJowett1892: 352 one who is enquiring into the health or some other bodily quality of another:—he looks at his face and at the tips of his fingers, and then he says, Uncover your chest and back to me that I may have a better view:—that is the sort of thing which I desire in this speculation. Having seen what your opinion is about good and pleasure, I am minded to say to you: Uncover your mind to me, Protagoras, and reveal your opinion about knowledge, that I may know whether you agree with the rest of the world. Now the rest of the world are of opinion that knowledge is a principle not of strength, or of rule, or of command: their notion is that a man may have knowledge, and yet that the knowledge which is in him may be overmastered by anger, or pleasure, or pain, or love, or perhaps by fear,—just as if knowledge were a slave, and might be dragged about anyhow. Now is that your view? or do you think that knowledge is a noble and commanding thing, which cannot be overcome, and will not allow a man, if he only knows the difference of good and evil, to do anything which is contrary to knowledge, but that wisdom will have strength to help him?

Is not knowledge the strongest of all things? Protagoras–agrees, but the world will not agree about this and many other things which are true, nevertheless.

I agree with you, Socrates, said Protagoras; and not only so, but I, above all other men, am bound to say that wisdom and knowledge are the highest of human things.

Good, I said, and true. But are you aware that the majority of the world are of another mind; and that men are commonly supposed to know the things which are best, and not to do them when they might? And most persons whom I have asked the reason of this have said that when men act contrary to knowledge they are overcome by pain, or pleasure, Edition: current; Page: [177] or some of those affections which I was just now mentioning.

Yes, Socrates, he replied; and that is not the only point about which mankind are in error.

Suppose, then, that you and I endeavour to instruct and inform them what is the nature of this affection which they call ‘being overcome by pleasure,’ and which theyJowett1892: 353 affirm to be the reason why they do not always do what is best. When we say to them: Friends, you are mistaken, and are saying what is not true, they would probably reply: Socrates and Protagoras, if this affection of the soul is not to be called ‘being overcome by pleasure,’ pray, what is it, and by what name would you describe it?

But why, Socrates, should we trouble ourselves about the opinion of the many, who just say anything that happens to occur to them?

I believe, I said, that they may be of use in helping us to discover how courage is related to the other parts of virtue. If you are disposed to abide by our agreement, that I should show the way in which, as I think, our recent difficulty is most likely to be cleared up, do you follow; but if not, never mind.

You are quite right, he said; and I would have you proceed as you have begun.

Well then, I said, let me suppose that they repeat their question, What account do you give of that which, in our way of speaking, is termed being overcome by pleasure? I should answer thus: Listen, and Protagoras and I will endeavour to show you. When men are overcome by eating and drinking and other sensual desires which are pleasant, and they, knowing them to be evil, nevertheless indulge in them, would you not say that they were overcome by pleasure? They will not deny this. And suppose that you and I were to go on and ask them again: ‘In what way do you say that they are evil,—in that they are pleasant and give pleasure at the moment, or because they cause disease and poverty and other like evils in the future? Would they still be evil, if they had no attendant evil consequences, simply because they give the consciousness of pleasure of whatever nature?’—Would they not answer that they are not evil on account of the pleasure which is immediately given by them, Edition: current; Page: [178] but on account of the after consequences—diseases and the like?

I believe, said Protagoras, that the world in general would answer as you do.

Pleasure is evil when it deprives us of some other pleasure.

And in causing diseases do they not cause pain? and in causing poverty do they not cause pain;—they would agree to that also, if I am not mistaken?

Protagoras assented.

Then I should say to them, in my name and yours: Do you think them evil for any other reason, except because they end in pain and rob us of other pleasures:—there again they would agree?

We both of us thought that they would.Jowett1892: 354

Goods are painful which are remedial, and, though they occasion immediate suffering, bring good in the future.

And then I should take the question from the opposite point of view, and say: ‘Friends, when you speak of goods being painful, do you not mean remedial goods, such as gymnastic exercises, and military service, and the physician’s use of burning, cutting, drugging, and starving? Are these the things which are good but painful?’—they would assent to me?

He agreed.

‘And do you call them good because they occasion the greatest immediate suffering and pain; or because, afterwards, they bring health and improvement of the bodily condition and the salvation of states and power over others and wealth?’—they would agree to the latter alternative, if I am not mistaken?

He assented.

‘Are these things good for any other reason except that they end in pleasure, and get rid of and avert pain? Are you looking to any other standard but pleasure and pain when you call them good?’—they would acknowledge that they were not?

I think so, said Protagoras.

‘And do you not pursue after pleasure as a good, and avoid pain as an evil?’

He assented.

Pain is an evil and pleasure is a good:

‘Then you think that pain is an evil and pleasure is a good: and even pleasure you deem an evil, when it robs you of greater pleasures than it gives, or causes pains greater than Edition: current; Page: [179] the pleasure. If, however, you call pleasure an evil in relation to some other end or standard, you will be able to show us that standard. But you have none to show.’

I do not think that they have, said Protagoras.

but pain is also a good when it takes away a greater pain.

‘And have you not a similar way of speaking about pain? You call pain a good when it takes away greater pains than those which it has, or gives pleasures greater than the pains: then if you have some standard other than pleasure and pain to which you refer when you call actual pain a good, you can show what that is. But you cannot.’

True, said Protagoras.

When we say of a man that he is overcome by pleasure we only mean that he is overcome by a lesser pleasure. Whether we speak of pleasure and pain, or of good and evil, the result is the same.

Suppose again, I said, that the world says to me: ‘Why do you spend many words and speak in many ways on this subject?’ Excuse me, friends, I should reply; but in the first place there is a difficulty in explaining the meaning of the expression ‘overcome by pleasure;’ and the whole argument turns upon this. And even now, if you see anyJowett1892: 355 possible way in which evil can be explained as other than pain, or good as other than pleasure, you may still retract. Are you satisfied, then, at having a life of pleasure which is without pain? If you are, and if you are unable to show any good or evil which does not end in pleasure and pain, hear the consequences:—If what you say is true, then the argument is absurd which affirms that a man often does evil knowingly, when he might abstain, because he is seduced and overpowered by pleasure; or again, when you say that a man knowingly refuses to do what is good because he is overcome at the moment by pleasure. And that this is ridiculous will be evident if only we give up the use of various names, such as pleasant and painful, and good and evil. As there are two things, let us call them by two names—first, good and evil, and then pleasant and painful. Assuming this, let us go on to say that a man does evil knowing that he does evil. But some one will ask, Why? Because he is overcome, is the first answer. And by what is he overcome? the enquirer will proceed to ask. And we shall not be able to reply ‘By pleasure,’ for the name of pleasure has been exchanged for that of good. In our answer, then, we shall only say that he is overcome. ‘By what?’ he will reiterate. By the good, we shall have to reply; indeed we Edition: current; Page: [180] shall. Nay, but our questioner will rejoin with a laugh, if he be one of the swaggering sort, ‘That is too ridiculous, that a man should do what he knows to be evil when he ought not, because he is overcome by good. Is that, he will ask, because the good was worthy or not worthy of conquering the evil’? And in answer to that we shall clearly reply, Because it was not worthy; for if it had been worthy, then he who, as we say, was overcome by pleasure, would not have been wrong. ‘But how,’ he will reply, ‘can the good be unworthy of the evil, or the evil of the good’? Is not the real explanation that they are out of proportion to one another, either as greater and smaller, or more and fewer? This we cannot deny. And when you speak of being overcome—‘what do you mean,’ he will say, ‘but that you choose the greater evil in exchange for the lesser good’? Admitted. And now substitute the names of pleasure and pain for good and evil, and say, not as before, that a man does what is evil knowingly, but that he does what is painful knowingly, and because he is overcome by pleasure, which is unworthy to overcome. What measure is there of theJowett1892: 356 relations of pleasure to pain other than excess and defect, which means that they become greater and smaller, and more and fewer, and differ in degree? For if any one says: ‘Yes, Socrates, but immediate pleasure differs widely from future pleasure and pain’—To that I should reply: And do they differ in anything but in pleasure and pain? There can be no other measure of them. And do you, like a skilful weigher, put into the balance the pleasures and the pains, and their nearness and distance, and weigh them, and then say which outweighs the other. If you weigh pleasures against pleasures, you of course take the more and greater; or if you weigh pains against pains, you take the fewer and the less; or if pleasures against pains, then you choose that course of action in which the painful is exceeded by the pleasant, whether the distant by the near or the near by the distant; and you avoid that course of action in which the pleasant is exceeded by the painful. Would you not admit, my friends, that this is true? I am confident that they cannot deny this.

He agreed with me.

Pleasures are made greater or less by distance; that is, they appear to be greater. The art of measuring contrasted with the power of appearance.

Edition: current; Page: [181] Well then, I shall say, if you agree so far, be so good as to answer me a question: Do not the same magnitudes appear larger to your sight when near, and smaller when at a distance? They will acknowledge that. And the same holds of thickness and number; also sounds, which are in themselves equal, are greater when near, and lesser when at a distance. They will grant that also. Now suppose happiness to consist in doing or choosing the greater, and in not doing or in avoiding the less, what would be the saving principle of human life? Would not the art of measuring be the saving principle; or would the power of appearance? Is not the latter that deceiving art which makes us wander up and down and take the things at one time of which we repent at another, both in our actions and in our choice of things great and small? But the art of measurement would do away with the effect of appearances, and, showing the truth, would fain teach the soul at last to find rest in the truth, and would thus save our life. Would not mankind generally acknowledge that the art which accomplishes this result is the art of measurement?

Yes, he said, the art of measurement.

The numbering principle and the measuring principle are the laws of human life.

Suppose, again, the salvation of human life to depend on the choice of odd and even, and on the knowledge of when a man ought to choose the greater or less, either in referenceJowett1892: 357 to themselves or to each other, and whether near or at a distance; what would be the saving principle of our lives? Would not knowledge?—a knowledge of measuring, when the question is one of excess and defect, and a knowledge of number, when the question is of odd and even? The world will assent, will they not?

Protagoras himself thought that they would.

Well then, my friends, I say to them; seeing that the salvation of human life has been found to consist in the right choice of pleasures and pains,—in the choice of the more and the fewer, and the greater and the less, and the nearer and remoter, must not this measuring be a consideration of their excess and defect and equality in relation to each other?

This is undeniably true.

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And this, as possessing measure, must undeniably also be an art and science?

They will agree, he said.

Thus we arrive at the conclusion that men err in their choice of good and evil through ignorance, and yet the world refuses to be taught by the Sophists who are the physicians of ignorance.

The nature of that art or science will be a matter of future consideration; but the existence of such a science furnishes a demonstrative answer to the question which you asked of me and Protagoras. At the time when you asked the question, if you remember, both of us were agreeing that there was nothing mightier than knowledge, and that knowledge, in whatever existing, must have the advantage over pleasure and all other things; and then you said that pleasure often got the advantage even over a man who has knowledge; and we refused to allow this, and you rejoined: O Protagoras and Socrates, what is the meaning of being overcome by pleasure if not this?—tell us what you call such a state:—if we had immediately and at the time answered ‘Ignorance,’ you would have laughed at us. But now, in laughing at us, you will be laughing at yourselves: for you also admitted that men err in their choice of pleasures and pains; that is, in their choice of good and evil, from defect of knowledge; and you admitted further, that they err, not only from defect of knowledge in general, but of that particular knowledge which is called measuring. And you are also aware that the erring act which is done without knowledge is done in ignorance. This, therefore, is the meaning of being overcome by pleasure;—ignorance, and that the greatest. And our friends Protagoras and Prodicus and Hippias declare that they are the physicians of ignorance; but you, who are under the mistaken impression that ignorance is not the cause, and that the art of which I am speaking cannot be taught, neither go yourselves, nor send your children, to the Sophists, who are the teachers of these things—you take care of your money and give them none; and the result is, that you are the worse off both in public and private life:—Let us suppose this to be our answer to the world in general: And now I should like to ask you, Hippias, and you, Prodicus,Jowett1892: 358 as well as Protagoras (for the argument is to be yours as well as ours), whether you think that I am speaking the truth or not?

They all thought that what I said was entirely true.

Edition: current; Page: [183]

Then you agree, I said, that the pleasant is the good, and the painful evil. And here I would beg my friend Prodicus not to introduce his distinction of names, whether he is disposed to say pleasurable, delightful, joyful. However, by whatever name he prefers to call them, I will ask you, most excellent Prodicus, to answer in my sense of the words.

Prodicus laughed and assented, as did the others.

Then, my friends, what do you say to this? Are not all actions honourable and useful, of which the tendency is to make life painless and pleasant? The honourable work is also useful and good?

This was admitted.

Then, I said, if the pleasant is the good, nobody does anything under the idea or conviction that some other thing would be better and is also attainable, when he might do the better. And this inferiority of a man to himself is merely ignorance, as the superiority of a man to himself is wisdom.

They all assented.

And is not ignorance the having a false opinion and being deceived about important matters?

To this also they unanimously assented.

No man voluntarily pursues evil.

Then, I said, no man voluntarily pursues evil, or that which he thinks to be evil. To prefer evil to good is not in human nature; and when a man is compelled to choose one of two evils, no one will choose the greater when he may have the less.

All of us agreed to every word of this.

Well, I said, there is a certain thing called fear or terror; and here, Prodicus, I should particularly like to know whether you would agree with me in defining this fear or terror as expectation of evil.

Protagoras and Hippias agreed, but Prodicus said that this was fear and not terror.

Then will a man pursue that which he fears, although he need not?

Never mind, Prodicus, I said; but let me ask whether, if our former assertions are true, a man will pursue that which he fears when he is not compelled? Would not this be in flat contradiction to the admission which has been already made, that he thinks the things which he fears to be evil; and no one will pursue or voluntarily accept that which he thinks to be evil?

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That also was universally admitted.Jowett1892: 359

Then, I said, these, Hippias and Prodicus, are our premisses; and I would beg Protagoras to explain to us how he can be right in what he said at first. I do not mean in what he said quite at first, for his first statement, as you may remember, was that whereas there were five parts of virtue none of them was like any other of them; each of them had a separate function. To this, however, I am not referring, but to the assertion which he afterwards made that of the five virtues four were nearly akin to each other, but that the fifth, which was courage, differed greatly from the others. And of this he gave me the following proof. He said: You will find, Socrates, that some of the most impious, and unrighteous, and intemperate, and ignorant of men are among the most courageous; which proves that courage is very different from the other parts of virtue. I was surprised at his saying this at the time, and I am still more surprised now that I have discussed the matter with you. So I asked him whether by the brave he meant the confident. Yes, he replied, and the impetuous or goers. (You may remember, Protagoras, that this was your answer.)

He assented.

Well then, I said, tell us against what are the courageous ready to go—against the same dangers as the cowards?

No, he answered.

Then against something different?

Yes, he said.

Then do cowards go where there is safety, and the courageous where there is danger?

Yes, Socrates, so men say.

The courageous pursue dangers, but not in the belief that they are dangers. The courageous and the cowardly alike go to meet dangers, but they have different notions of what constitutes danger.

Very true, I said. But I want to know against what do you say that the courageous are ready to go—against dangers, believing them to be dangers, or not against dangers?

No, said he; the former case has been proved by you in the previous argument to be impossible.

That, again, I replied, is quite true. And if this has been rightly proven, then no one goes to meet what he thinks to be dangers, since the want of self–control, which makes men rush into dangers, has been shown to be ignorance.

He assented.

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And yet the courageous man and the coward alike go to meet that about which they are confident; so that, in this point of view, the cowardly and the courageous go to meet the same things.

And yet, Socrates, said Protagoras, that to which the coward goes is the opposite of that to which the courageous goes; the one, for example, is ready to go to battle, and the other is not ready.

And is going to battle honourable or disgraceful? I said.

Honourable, he replied.

And if honourable, then already admitted by us to be good; for all honourable actions we have admitted to be good.

That is true; and to that opinion I shall always adhere.

Jowett1892: 360True, I said. But which of the two are they who, as you say, are unwilling to go to war, which is a good and honourable thing?

The cowards, he replied.

And what is good and honourable, I said, is also pleasant?

It has certainly been acknowledged to be so, he replied.

And do the cowards knowingly refuse to go to the nobler, and pleasanter, and better?

The admission of that, he replied, would belie our former admissions.

But does not the courageous man also go to meet the better, and pleasanter, and nobler?

That must be admitted.

And the courageous man has no base fear or base confidence?

True, he replied.

And if not base, then honourable?

He admitted this.

And if honourable, then good?


But the fear and confidence of the coward or foolhardy or madman, on the contrary, are base?

He assented.

And these base fears and confidences originate in ignorance and uninstructedness?

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True, he said.

Then as to the motive from which the cowards act, do you call it cowardice or courage?

I should say cowardice, he replied.

And have they not been shown to be cowards through their ignorance of dangers?

Assuredly, he said.

And because of that ignorance they are cowards?

He assented.

And the reason why they are cowards is admitted by you to be cowardice?

He again assented.

Then the ignorance of what is and is not dangerous is cowardice?

He nodded assent.

But surely courage, I said, is opposed to cowardice?


Then the wisdom which knows what are and are not dangers is opposed to the ignorance of them?

To that again he nodded assent.

And the ignorance of them is cowardice?

To that he very reluctantly nodded assent.

And the knowledge of that which is and is not dangerous is courage, and is opposed to the ignorance of these things?

At this point he would no longer nod assent, but was silent.

And why, I said, do you neither assent nor dissent, Protagoras?

Finish the argument by yourself, he said.

I only want to ask one more question, I said. I want to know whether you still think that there are men who are most ignorant and yet most courageous?

You seem to have a great ambition to make me answer, Socrates, and therefore I will gratify you, and say, that this appears to me to be impossible consistently with the argument.

Complimentary speeches which Socrates and Protagoras address to one another. They have somehow both of them changed their position in the course of the argument.

My only object, I said, in continuing the discussion, has been the desire to ascertain the nature and relations of virtue; for if this were clear, I am very sure that the other controversyJowett1892: 361 which has been carried on at great length by both of us—you Edition: current; Page: [187] affirming and I denying that virtue can be taught—would also become clear. The result of our discussion appears to me to be singular. For if the argument had a human voice, that voice would be heard laughing at us and saying: ‘Protagoras and Socrates, you are strange beings; there are you, Socrates, who were saying that virtue cannot be taught, contradicting yourself now by your attempt to prove that all things are knowledge, including justice, and temperance, and courage,—which tends to show that virtue can certainly be taught; for if virtue were other than knowledge, as Protagoras attempted to prove, then clearly virtue cannot be taught; but if virtue is entirely knowledge, as you are seeking to show, then I cannot but suppose that virtue is capable of being taught. Protagoras, on the other hand, who started by saying that it might be taught, is now eager to prove it to be anything rather than knowledge; and if this is true, it must be quite incapable of being taught.’ Now I, Protagoras, perceiving this terrible confusion of our ideas, have a great desire that they should be cleared up. And I should like to carry on the discussion until we ascertain what virtue is, and whether capable of being taught or not, lest haply Epimetheus should trip us up and deceive us in the argument, as he forgot us in the story; I prefer your Prometheus to your Epimetheus, for of him I make use, whenever I am busy about these questions, in Promethean care of my own life. And if you have no objection, as I said at first, I should like to have your help in the enquiry.

Protagoras replied: Socrates, I am not of a base nature, and I am the last man in the world to be envious. I cannot but applaud your energy and your conduct of an argument. As I have often said, I admire you above all men whom I know, and far above all men of your age; and I believe that you will become very eminent in philosophy. Let us come back to the subject at some future time; at present we had better turn to something else.

By all means, I said, if that is your wish; for I too ought long since to have kept the engagement of which I spoke before, and only tarried because I could not refuse the request of the noble Callias. So the conversation ended, and we went our way.

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Euthydemus. Introduction.

The Euthydemus, though apt to be regarded by us only as an elaborate jest, has also a very serious purpose. It may fairly claim to be the oldest treatise on logic; for that science originates in the misunderstandings which necessarily accompany the first efforts of speculation. Several of the fallacies which are satirized in it reappear in the Sophistici Elenchi of Aristotle and are retained at the end of our manuals of logic. But if the order of history were followed, they should be placed not at the end but at the beginning of them; for they belong to the age in which the human mind was first making the attempt to distinguish thought from sense, and to separate the universal from the particular or individual. How to put together words or ideas, how to escape ambiguities in the meaning of terms or in the structure of propositions, how to resist the fixed impression of an ‘eternal being’ or ‘perpetual flux,’ how to distinguish between words and things—these were problems not easy of solution in the infancy of philosophy. They presented the same kind of difficulty to the half–educated man which spelling or arithmetic do to the mind of a child. It was long before the new world of ideas which had been sought after with such passionate yearning was set in order and made ready for use. To us the fallacies which arise in the pre–Socratic philosophy are trivial and obsolete because we are no longer liable to fall into the errors which are expressed by them. The intellectual world has become better assured to us, and we are less likely to be imposed upon by illusions of words.

The logic of Aristotle is for the most part latent in the dialogues of Plato. The nature of definition is explained not by rules but by examples in the Charmides, Lysis, Laches, Protagoras, Meno, Euthyphro, Theaetetus, Gorgias, Republic; the nature of division is likewise illustrated by examples in the Sophist (p. 219 ff.) and Edition: current; Page: [192] Statesman (283 ff.); a scheme of categories is found in the Philebus (p. 66); the true doctrine of contradiction (436 ff.) is taught, and the fallacy of arguing in a circle (p. 505) is exposed in the Republic; the nature of synthesis and analysis is graphically described in the Phaedrus (p. 265); the nature of words is analysed in the Cratylus; the form of the syllogism is indicated in the genealogical trees of the Sophist and Statesman; a true doctrine of predication and an analysis of the sentence are given in the Sophist (p. 262); the different meanings of one and being are worked out in the Parmenides. Here we have most of the important elements of logic, not yet systematized or reduced to an art or science, but scattered up and down as they would naturally occur in ordinary discourse. They are of little or no use or significance to us; but because we have grown out of the need of them we should not therefore despise them. They are still interesting and instructive for the light which they shed on the history of the human mind.

There are indeed many old fallacies which linger among us, and new ones are constantly springing up. But they are not of the kind to which ancient logic can be usefully applied. The weapons of common sense, not the analytics of Aristotle, are needed for their overthrow. Nor is the use of the Aristotelian logic any longer natural to us. We no longer put arguments into the form of syllogisms like the schoolmen; the simple use of language has been, happily, restored to us. Neither do we discuss the nature of the proposition, nor extract hidden truths from the copula, nor dispute any longer about nominalism and realism. We do not confuse the form with the matter of knowledge, or invent laws of thought, or imagine that any single science furnishes a principle of reasoning to all the rest. Neither do we require categories or heads of argument to be invented for our use. Those who have no knowledge of logic, like some of our great physical philosophers, seem to be quite as good reasoners as those who have. Most of the ancient puzzles have been settled on the basis of usage and common sense; there is no need to reopen them. No science should raise problems or invent forms of thought which add nothing to knowledge and are of no use in assisting the acquisition of it. This seems to be the natural limit of logic and metaphysics; if they give us a more comprehensive or a more definite view of Edition: current; Page: [193] the different spheres of knowledge they are to be studied; if not, not. The better part of ancient logic appears hardly in our own day to have a separate existence; it is absorbed in two other sciences: (1) rhetoric, if indeed this ancient art be not also fading away into literary criticism; (2) the science of language, under which all questions relating to words and propositions and the combinations of them may properly be included.

To continue dead or imaginary sciences, which make no signs of progress and have no definite sphere, tends to interfere with the prosecution of living ones. The study of them is apt to blind the judgment and to render men incapable of seeing the value of evidence, and even of appreciating the nature of truth. Nor should we allow the living science to become confused with the dead by an ambiguity of language. The term logic has two different meanings, an ancient and a modern one, and we vainly try to bridge the gulf between them. Many perplexities are avoided by keeping them apart. There might certainly be a new science of logic; it would not however be built up out of the fragments of the old, but would be distinct from them—relative to the state of knowledge which exists at the present time, and based chiefly on the methods of Modern Inductive philosophy. Such a science might have two legitimate fields: first, the refutation and explanation of false philosophies still hovering in the air as they appear from the point of view of later experience or are comprehended in the history of the human mind, as in a larger horizon: secondly, it might furnish new forms of thought more adequate to the expression of all the diversities and oppositions of knowledge which have grown up in these latter days; it might also suggest new methods of enquiry derived from the comparison of the sciences. Few will deny that the introduction of the words ‘subject’ and ‘object’ and the Hegelian reconciliation of opposites have been ‘most gracious aids’ to psychology, or that the methods of Bacon and Mill have shed a light far and wide on the realms of knowledge. These two great studies, the one destructive and corrective of error, the other conservative and constructive of truth, might be a first and second part of logic. Ancient logic would be the propaedeutic or gate of approach to logical science,—nothing more. But to pursue such speculations further, though not irrelevant, might lead us too far away from the argument of the dialogue.

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The Euthydemus is, of all the Dialogues of Plato, that in which he approaches most nearly to the comic poet. The mirth is broader, the irony more sustained, the contrast between Socrates and the two Sophists, although veiled, penetrates deeper than in any other of his writings. Even Thrasymachus, in the Republic, is at last pacified, and becomes a friendly and interested auditor of the great discourse. But in the Euthydemus the mask is never dropped; the accustomed irony of Socrates continues to the end. . . . . . .


Socrates narrates to Crito a remarkable scene in which he hasJowett1892: 271 himself taken part, and in which the two brothers, Dionysodorus and Euthydemus, are the chief performers. They are natives of Chios, who had settled at Thurii, but were driven out, and in former days had been known at Athens as professors of rhetoric and of the art of fighting in armour. To this they have now added a new accomplishment—the art of Eristic, or fighting with words,Jowett1892: 272 which they are likewise willing to teach ‘for a consideration.’ But they can also teach virtue in a very short time and in the very best manner. Socrates, who is always on the look–out for teachers of virtue, is interested in the youth Cleinias, the grandson of the great Alcibiades, and is desirous that he should have the benefit of their instructions. He is ready to fall down and worship them: although the greatness of their professions does arouse in his mind a temporary incredulity.

A circle gathers round them, in the midst of which are Socrates, the two brothers, the youth Cleinias, who is watched by the eager eyes of his lover Ctesippus, and others. The performance begins;Jowett1892: 275 and such a performance as might well seem to require an invocation of Memory and the Muses. It is agreed that the brothers shall question Cleinias. ‘Cleinias,’ says Euthydemus, ‘who learn, the wise or the unwise?’ ‘The wise,’ is the reply; given with blushing and hesitation. ‘And yet when you learned you did notJowett1892: 276 know and were not wise.’ Then Dionysodorus takes up the ball: ‘Who are they who learn dictation of the grammar–master; theJowett1892: 277 wise boys or the foolish boys?’ ‘The wise.’ ‘Then, after all, the wise learn.’ ‘And do they learn,’ said Euthydemus, ‘what they know or what they do not know?’ ‘The latter.’ ‘And dictation is a dictation of letters?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you know letters?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then you learn what you know.’ ‘But,’ retorts Dionysodorus, Edition: current; Page: [195] ‘is not learning acquiring knowledge?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you acquire that which you have not got already?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then you learn that which you do not know.’

Socrates is afraid that the youth Cleinias may be discouraged at these repeated overthrows. He therefore explains to him the nature of the process to which he is being subjected. The twoJowett1892: 278 strangers are not serious; there are jests at the mysteries which precede the enthronement, and he is being initiated into the mysteries of the sophistical ritual. This is all a sort of horse–play, which is now ended. The exhortation to virtue will follow, and Socrates himself (if the wise men will not laugh at him) is desirous of showing the way in which such an exhortation should be carried on, according to his own poor notion. He proceeds to question Cleinias. The result of the investigation may be summed up as follows:—

Jowett1892: 279All men desire good; and good means the possession of goods, such as wealth, health, beauty, birth, power, honour; not forgetting the virtues and wisdom. And yet in this enumeration the greatest good of all is omitted. What is that? Good fortune. But what need is there of good fortune when we have wisdom already:—in every art and business are not the wise also the fortunate?Jowett1892: 280 This is admitted. And again, the possession of goods is not enough; there must also be a right use of them which can only beJowett1892: 281 given by knowledge: in themselves they are neither good nor evil—knowledge and wisdom are the only good, and ignorance andJowett1892: 282 folly the only evil. The conclusion is that we must get ‘wisdom.’ But can wisdom be taught? ‘Yes,’ says Cleinias. The ingenuousness of the youth delights Socrates, who is at once relieved from the necessity of discussing one of his great puzzles. ‘Since wisdom is the only good, he must become a philosopher, or loverJowett1892: 283 of wisdom.’ ‘That I will,’ says Cleinias.

After Socrates has given this specimen of his own mode of instruction, the two brothers recommence their exhortation to virtue, which is of quite another sort.

‘You want Cleinias to be wise?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And he is not wise yet?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then you want him to be what he is not, and not to be what he is?—not to be—that is, to perish. Pretty lovers and friends you must all be!’

Jowett1892: 284Here Ctesippus, the lover of Cleinias, interposes in great excitement, thinking that he will teach the two Sophists a lesson of Edition: current; Page: [196] good manners. But he is quickly entangled in the meshes of their sophistry; and as a storm seems to be gathering Socrates pacifiesJowett1892: 285 him with a joke, and Ctesippus then says that he is not reviling the two Sophists, he is only contradicting them. ‘But,’ says Dionysodorus, ‘there is no such thing as contradiction. When you and I describe the same thing, or you describe one thing andJowett1892: 286 I describe another, how can there be a contradiction?’ Ctesippus is unable to reply.

Socrates has already heard of the denial of contradiction, and would like to be informed by the great master of the art, ‘What is the meaning of this paradox? Is there no such thing as error,Jowett1892: 287 ignorance, falsehood? Then what are they professing to teach?’ The two Sophists complain that Socrates is ready to answer what they said a year ago, but is ‘non–plussed’ at what they are saying now. ‘What does the word “non–plussed” mean?’ Socrates is informed, in reply, that words are lifeless things, and lifeless things have no sense or meaning. Ctesippus again breaks out, and againJowett1892: 288 has to be pacified by Socrates, who renews the conversation with Cleinias. The two Sophists are like Proteus in the variety of their transformations, and he, like Menelaus in the Odyssey, iv. 306 ff., hopes to restore them to their natural form.

He had arrived at the conclusion that Cleinias must become a philosopher. And philosophy is the possession of knowledge;Jowett1892: 289 and knowledge must be of a kind which is profitable and may be used. What knowledge is there which has such a nature? Not the knowledge which is required in any particular art; nor again the art of the composer of speeches, who knows how to write them, but cannot speak them, although he too must be admitted toJowett1892: 290 be a kind of enchanter of wild animals. Neither is the knowledge which we are seeking the knowledge of the general. For the general makes over his prey to the statesman, as the huntsman does to the cook, or the taker of quails to the keeper of quails; he has not the use of that which he acquires. The two enquirers,Jowett1892: 291 Cleinias and Socrates, are described as wandering about in a wilderness, vainly searching after the art of life and happiness. At last they fix upon the kingly art, as having the desired sort of knowledge. But the kingly art only gives men those goodsJowett1892: 292 which are neither good nor evil: and if we say further that it makes us wise, in what does it make us wise? Not in special arts, Edition: current; Page: [197] such as cobbling or carpentering, but only in itself: or say again that it makes us good, there is no answer to the question, ‘good in what?’ At length in despair Cleinias and Socrates turn to theJowett1892: 293 ‘Dioscuri’ and request their aid.

Euthydemus argues that Socrates knows something; and as he cannot know and not know, he cannot know some things and notJowett1892: 294 know others, and therefore he knows all things: he and Dionysodorus and all other men know all things. ‘Do they know shoemaking, &c.?’ ‘Yes.’ The sceptical Ctesippus would like to have some evidence of this extraordinary statement: he will believe if Euthydemus will tell him how many teeth Dionysodorus has, and if Dionysodorus will give him a like piece of information aboutJowett1892: 295 Euthydemus. Even Socrates is incredulous, and indulges in a little raillery at the expense of the brothers. But he restrainsJowett1892: 296 himself, remembering that if the men who are to be his teachers think him stupid they will take no pains with him. Another fallacy is produced which turns on the absoluteness of the verb ‘to know.’ And here Dionysodorus is caught ‘napping,’ and is induced byJowett1892: 297 Socrates to confess that ‘he does not know the good to be unjust.’ Socrates appeals to his brother Euthydemus; at the same time he acknowledges that he cannot, like Heracles, fight against a Hydra, and even Heracles, on the approach of a second monster, called upon his nephew Iolaus to help. Dionysodorus rejoins that Iolaus was no more the nephew of Heracles than of Socrates.Jowett1892: 298 For a nephew is a nephew, and a brother is a brother, and a father is a father, not of one man only, but of all; nor of men only, but of dogs and sea–monsters. Ctesippus makes merry with theJowett1892: 299 consequences which follow: ‘Much good has your father got out of the wisdom of his puppies.’

‘But,’ says Euthydemus, unabashed, ‘nobody wants much good.’ Medicine is a good, arms are a good, money is a good, and yet there may be too much of them in wrong places. ‘No,’ says Ctesippus, ‘there cannot be too much gold.’ ‘And would you be happy if you had three talents of gold in your belly, a talent in your pate, and a stater in either eye?’ Ctesippus, imitating the new wisdom, replies, ‘And do not the Scythians reckon those to be the happiest of men who have their skulls gilded and see theJowett1892: 300 inside of them?’ ‘Do you see,’ retorts Euthydemus, ‘what has the quality of vision or what has not the quality of vision?’ ‘What Edition: current; Page: [198] has the quality of vision.’ ‘And you see our garments?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then our garments have the quality of vision.’ A similar play of words follows, which is successfully retorted by Ctesippus, to the great delight of Cleinias, who is rebuked by Socrates for laughing at such solemn and beautiful things.

‘But are there any beautiful things? And if there are such, areJowett1892: 301 they the same or not the same as absolute beauty?’ Socrates replies that they are not the same, but cach of them has some beauty present with it. ‘And are you an ox because you have an ox present with you?’ After a few more amphiboliae,Jowett1892: 302 in which Socrates, like Ctesippus, in self–defence borrows the weapons of the brothers, they both confess that the two heroes are invincible; and the scene concludes with a grand chorus of shouting and laughing, and a panegyrical oration fromJowett1892: 303 Socrates:—

First, he praises the indifference of Dionysodorus and Euthydemus to public opinion; for most persons would rather be refuted by such arguments than use them in the refutation of others. Secondly, he remarks upon their impartiality; for they stop their own mouths, as well as those of other people. Thirdly, he notesJowett1892: 304 their liberality, which makes them give away their secret to all the world: they should be more reserved, and let no one be present at this exhibition who does not pay them a handsome fee; or better still they might practise on one another only. He concludes with a respectful request that they will receive him and Cleinias among their disciples.

Crito tells Socrates that he has heard one of the audience criticise severely this wisdom,—not sparing Socrates himself for countenancingJowett1892: 305 such an exhibition. Socrates asks what manner of man was this censorious critic. ‘Not an orator, but a great composer of speeches.’ Socrates understands that he is an amphibious animal, half philosopher, half politician; one of a class who have the highest opinion of themselves and a spite against philosophers, whom they imagine to be their rivals. They are a class who are very likely to get mauled by Euthydemus and his friends, and have a great notion of their own wisdom; for they imagine themselves to have all the advantages and none of the drawbacks both of politics and of philosophy. They do not understand the principlesJowett1892: 306 of combination, and hence are ignorant that the union of two good Edition: current; Page: [199] things which have different ends produces a compound inferior to either of them taken separately.

Crito is anxious about the education of his children, one of whom is growing up. The description of Dionysodorus and EuthydemusJowett1892: 307 suggests to him the reflection that the professors of education are strange beings. Socrates consoles him with the remark that the good in all professions are few, and recommends that ‘he and his house’ should continue to serve philosophy, and not mind about its professors.


There is a stage in the history of philosophy in which the old is dying out, and the new has not yet come into full life. Great philosophies like the Eleatic or Heraclitean, which have enlarged the boundaries of the human mind, begin to pass away in words. They subsist only as forms which have rooted themselves in language—as troublesome elements of thought which cannot be either used or explained away. The same absoluteness which was once attributed to abstractions is now attached to the words which are the signs of them. The philosophy which in the first and second generation was a great and inspiring effort of reflection, in the third becomes sophistical, verbal, eristic.

It is this stage of philosophy which Plato satirises in the Euthydemus. The fallacies which are noted by him appear trifling to us now, but they were not trifling in the age before logic, in the decline of the earlier Greek philosophies, at a time when language was first beginning to perplex human thought. Besides he is caricaturing them; they probably received more subtle forms at the hands of those who seriously maintained them. They are patent to us in Plato, and we are inclined to wonder how any one could ever have been deceived by them; but we must remember also that there was a time when the human mind was only with great difficulty disentangled from such fallacies.

To appreciate fully the drift of the Euthydemus, we should imagine a mental state in which not individuals only, but whole schools during more than one generation, were animated by the desire to exclude the conception of rest, and therefore the very word ‘this’ (Theaet. 183 C) from language; in which the ideas of space, time, matter, motion, were proved to be contradictory and imaginary; in which the nature of qualitative change was a puzzle, Edition: current; Page: [200] and even differences of degree, when applied to abstract notions, were not understood; in which there was no analysis of grammar, and mere puns or plays of words received serious attention; in which contradiction itself was denied, and, on the one hand, every predicate was affirmed to be true of every subject, and on the other, it was held that no predicate was true of any subject, and that nothing was, or was known, or could be spoken. Let us imagine disputes carried on with religious earnestness and more than scholastic subtlety, in which the catchwords of philosophy are completely detached from their context. (Cp. Theaet. 180.) To such disputes the humour, whether of Plato in the ancient, or of Pope and Swift in the modern world, is the natural enemy. Nor must we forget that in modern times also there is no fallacy so gross, no trick of language so transparent, no abstraction so barren and unmeaning, no form of thought so contradictory to experience, which has not been found to satisfy the minds of philosophical enquirers at a certain stage, or when regarded from a certain point of view only. The peculiarity of the fallacies of our own age is that we live within them, and are therefore generally unconscious of them.

Aristotle has analysed several of the same fallacies in his book ‘De Sophisticis Elenchis,’ which Plato, with equal command of their true nature, has preferred to bring to the test of ridicule. At first we are only struck with the broad humour of this ‘reductio ad absurdum:’ gradually we perceive that some important questions begin to emerge. Here, as everywhere else, Plato is making war against the philosophers who put words in the place of things, who tear arguments to tatters, who deny predication, and thus make knowledge impossible; to whom ideas and objects of sense have no fixedness, but are in a state of perpetual oscillation and transition. Two great truths seem to be indirectly taught through these fallacies: (1) The uncertainty of language, which allows the same words to be used in different meanings, or with different degrees of meaning: (2) The necessary limitation or relative nature of all phenomena. Plato is aware that his own doctrine of ideas (p. 301 A), as well as the Eleatic Being and Not–being, alike admit of being regarded as verbal fallacies (p. 284 A, B). The sophism advanced in the Meno (p. 80 D), ‘that you cannot enquire either into what you know or do not know,’ is lightly Edition: current; Page: [201] touched upon at the commencement of the Dialogue (pp. 275, 276); the thesis of Protagoras, that everything is true to him to whom it seems to be true, is satirized at p. 286. In contrast with these fallacies is maintained the Socratic doctrine that happiness is gained by knowledge. The grammatical puzzles with which the Dialogue concludes probably contain allusions to tricks of language which may have been practised by the disciples of Prodicus or Antisthenes. They would have had more point, if we were acquainted with the writings against which Plato’s humour is directed. Most of the jests appear to have a serious meaning; but we have lost the clue to some of them, and cannot determine whether, as in the Cratylus, Plato has or has not mixed up purely unmeaning fun with his satire.

The two discourses of Socrates may be contrasted in several respects with the exhibition of the Sophists: (1) In their perfect relevancy to the subject of discussion, whereas the Sophistical discourses are wholly irrelevant: (2) In their enquiring sympathetic tone, which encourages the youth, instead of ‘knocking him down,’ after the manner of the two Sophists: (3) In the absence of any definite conclusion—for while Socrates and the youth are agreed that philosophy is to be studied, they are not able to arrive at any certain result about the art which is to teach it. This is a question which will hereafter be answered in the Republic; as the conception of the kingly art (291, 292) is more fully developed in the Politicus, and the caricature of rhetoric (290) in the Gorgias.

The characters of the Dialogue are easily intelligible. There is Socrates once more in the character of an old man; and his equal in years, Crito, the father of Critobulus, like Lysimachus in the Laches, his fellow demesman (Apol. 33 D), to whom the scene is narrated, and who once or twice interrupts with a remark after the manner of the interlocutor in the Phaedo, and adds his commentary at the end; Socrates makes a playful allusion to his money–getting habits. There is the youth Cleinias, the grandson of Alcibiades, who may be compared with Lysis, Charmides, Menexenus, and other ingenuous youths out of whose mouths Socrates draws his own lessons, and to whom he always seems to stand in a kindly and sympathetic relation. Crito will not believe that Socrates has not improved or perhaps invented the answers of Cleinias (cp. Phaedrus, 275 B). The name of the grandson Edition: current; Page: [202] of Alcibiades, who is described as long dead, τον̂ παλαιον̂, and who died at the age of forty–four, in the year 404 b.c., suggests not only that the intended scene of the Euthydemus could not have been earlier than 404, but that as a fact this Dialogue could not have been composed before 390 at the soonest. Ctesippus, who is the lover of Cleinias, has been already introduced to us in the Lysis, and seems there too to deserve the character which is here given him, of a somewhat uproarious young man. But the chief study of all is the picture of the two brothers, who are unapproachable in their effrontery, equally careless of what they say to others and of what is said to them, and never at a loss. They are ‘Arcades ambo et cantare pares et respondere parati.’ Some superior degree of wit or subtlety is attributed to Euthydemus, who sees the trap in which Socrates catches Dionysodorus (296 A).

The epilogue or conclusion of the Dialogue has been criticised as inconsistent with the general scheme. Such a criticism is like similar criticisms on Shakespeare, and proceeds upon a narrow notion of the variety which the Dialogue, like the drama, seems to admit. Plato in the abundance of his dramatic power has chosen to write a play upon a play, just as he often gives us an argument within an argument. At the same time he takes the opportunity of assailing another class of persons who are as alien from the spirit of philosophy as Euthydemus and Dionysodorus. The Eclectic, the Syncretist, the Doctrinaire, have been apt to have a bad name both in ancient and modern times. The persons whom Plato ridicules in the epilogue to the Euthydemus are of this class. They occupy a border–ground between philosophy and politics; they keep out of the dangers of politics, and at the same time use philosophy as a means of serving their own interests. Plato quaintly describes them as making two good things, philosophy and politics, a little worse by perverting the objects of both. Men like Antiphon or Lysias would be types of the class. Out of a regard to the respectabilities of life, they are disposed to censure the interest which Socrates takes in the exhibition of the two brothers. They do not understand, any more than Crito, that he is pursuing his vocation of detecting the follies of mankind, which he finds ‘not unpleasant.’ (Cp. Apol. 23 B, 33 B.)

Education is the common subject of all Plato’s earlier Dialogues. Edition: current; Page: [203] The concluding remark of Crito, that he has a difficulty in educating his two sons, and the advice of Socrates to him that he should not give up philosophy because he has no faith in philosophers, seems to be a preparation for the more peremptory declaration of the Meno that ‘Virtue cannot be taught because there are no teachers.’

The reasons for placing the Euthydemus early in the series are: (1) the similarity in plan and style to the Protagoras, Charmides, and Lysis;—the relation of Socrates to the Sophists is still that of humorous antagonism, not, as in the later Dialogues of Plato, of embittered hatred; and the places and persons have a considerable family likeness; (2) the Euthydemus belongs to the Socratic period in which Socrates is represented as willing to learn, but unable to teach; and in the spirit of Xenophon’s Memorabilia, philosophy is defined as ‘the knowledge which will make us happy;’ (3) we seem to have passed the stage arrived at in the Protagoras, for Socrates is no longer discussing whether virtue can be taught—from this question he is relieved by the ingenuous declaration of the youth Cleinias; and (4) not yet to have reached the point at which he asserts ‘that there are no teachers.’ Such grounds are precarious, as arguments from style and plan are apt to be (ὀλισθηρότατον τὸ γένος). But no arguments equally strong can be urged in favour of assigning to the Euthydemus any other position in the series.

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Socrates, who is the narrator of the Dialogue.






Scene:—The Lyceum.

Crito, Socrates.

Jowett1892: 271Who was the person, Socrates, with whom you were talking yesterday at the Lyceum? There was such a crowd around you that I could not get within hearing, but I caught a sight of him over their heads, and I made out, as I thought, that he was a stranger with whom you were talking: who was he?


There were two, Crito; which of them do you mean?


The one whom I mean was seated second from you on the right–hand side. In the middle was Cleinias the young son of Axiochus, who has wonderfully grown; he is only about the age of my own Critobulus, but he is much forwarder and very good–looking: the other is thin and looks younger than he is.


He whom you mean, Crito, is Euthydemus; and on my left hand there was his brother Dionysodorus, who also took part in the conversation.


1 Neither of them are known to me, Socrates; they are a new importation of Sophists, as I should imagine. Of what country are they, and what is their line of wisdom?

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The various accomplishments of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus.

As to their origin, I believe that they are natives of this part of the world, and have migrated from Chios to Thurii; they were driven out of Thurii, and have been living for many years past in these regions. As to their wisdom, about which you ask, Crito, they are wonderful—consummate! I never knew what the true pancratiast was before; they are simply made up of fighting, not like the two Acarnanian brothers who fight with their bodies only, but this pair of heroes, besides being perfect in the use of their bodies, are invincible in every sort of warfare; for theyJowett1892: 272 are capital at fighting in armour, and will teach the art to any one who pays them; and also they are most skilful in legal warfare; they will plead themselves and teach others to speak and to compose speeches which will have an effect upon the courts. And this was only the beginning of their wisdom, but they have at last carried out the pancratiastic art to the very end, and have mastered the only mode of fighting which had been hitherto neglected by them; and now no one dares even to stand up against them: such is their skill in the war of words, that they can refute any proposition whether true or false. Now I am thinking, Crito, of placing myself in their hands; for they say that in a short time they can impart their skill to any one.


But, Socrates, are you not too old? there may be reason to fear that.

Socrates thinks that he is not too old to become their pupil.

Certainly not, Crito; as I will prove to you, for I have the consolation of knowing that they began this art of disputation which I covet, quite, as I may say, in old age; last year, or the year before, they had none of their new wisdom. I am only apprehensive that I may bring the two strangers into disrepute, as I have done Connus the son of Metrobius, the harp–player, who is still my music–master; for when the boys who go to him see me going with them, they laugh at me and call him grandpapa’s master. Now I should not like the strangers to experience similar treatment; the fear of ridicule may make them unwilling to receive me; and therefore, Crito, I shall try and persuade some old men to accompany me to them, as I persuaded them to go with me to Connus, and I hope that you will make one: and perhaps we had better take your sons as a bait; they will want to Edition: current; Page: [207] have them as pupils, and for the sake of them will be willing to receive us.


I see no objection, Socrates, if you like; but first I wish that you would give me a description of their wisdom, that I may know beforehand what we are going to learn.

He describes the scene of which he had been a witness. The youth Cleinias and his lover Ctesippus.

In less than no time you shall hear; for I cannot say that I did not attend—I paid great attention to them, and I remember and will endeavour to repeat the whole story. Providentially I was sitting alone in the dressing–room of the Lyceum where you saw me, and was about to depart; when I was getting up I recognized the familiar divine sign:Jowett1892: 273 so I sat down again, and in a little while the two brothers Euthydemus and Dionysodorus came in, and several others with them, whom I believe to be their disciples, and they walked about in the covered court; they had not taken more than two or three turns when Cleinias entered, who, as you truly say, is very much improved: he was followed by a host of lovers, one of whom was Ctesippus the Paeanian, a well–bred youth, but also having the wildness of youth. Cleinias saw me from the entrance as I was sitting alone, and at once came and sat down on the right hand of me, as you describe; and Dionysodorus and Euthydemus, when they saw him, at first stopped and talked with one another, now and then glancing at us, for I particularly watched them; and then Euthydemus came and sat down by the youth, and the other by me on the left hand; the rest anywhere. I saluted the brothers, whom I had not seen for a long time; and then I said to Cleinias: Here are two wise men, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, Cleinias, wise not in a small but in a large way of wisdom, for they know all about war,—all that a good general ought to know about the array and command of an army, and the whole art of fighting in armour: and they know about law too, and can teach a man how to use the weapons of the courts when he is injured.

They heard me say this, but only despised me. I observed that they looked at one another, and both of them laughed; and then Euthydemus said: Those, Socrates, are matters which we no longer pursue seriously; to us they are secondary occupations.

Indeed, I said, if such occupations are regarded by you as Edition: current; Page: [208] secondary, what must the principal one be; tell me, I beseech you, what that noble study is?

The two Sophists have given up teaching the arts; they are now engaged in teaching virtue.

The teaching of virtue, Socrates, he replied, is our principal occupation; and we believe that we can impart it better and quicker than any man.

My God! I said, and where did you learn that? I always thought, as I was saying just now, that your chief accomplishment was the art of fighting in armour; and I used to say as much of you, for I remember that you professed this when you were here before. But now if you really have the other knowledge, O forgive me: I address you as I would superior beings, and ask you to pardon the impiety of my former expressions. But are you quite sure about this, DionysodorusJowett1892: 274 and Euthydemus? the promise is so vast, that a feeling of incredulity steals over me.

You may take our word, Socrates, for the fact.

Then I think you happier in having such a treasure than the great king is in the possession of his kingdom. And please to tell me whether you intend to exhibit your wisdom; or what will you do?

That is why we have come hither, Socrates; and our purpose is not only to exhibit, but also to teach any one who likes to learn.

Can they teach virtue to those only who are willing or to those also who are unwilling to learn?

But I can promise you, I said, that every unvirtuous person will want to learn. I shall be the first; and there is the youth Cleinias, and Ctesippus: and here are several others, I said, pointing to the lovers of Cleinias, who were beginning to gather round us. Now Ctesippus was sitting at some distance from Cleinias; and when Euthydemus leaned forward in talking with me, he was prevented from seeing Cleinias, who was between us; and so, partly because he wanted to look at his love, and also because he was interested, he jumped up and stood opposite to us: and all the other admirers of Cleinias, as well as the disciples of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, followed his example. And these were the persons whom I showed to Euthydemus, telling him that they were all eager to learn: to which Ctesippus and all of them with one voice vehemently assented, and bid him exhibit the power of his wisdom. Then I said: O Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, I earnestly request you to do myself and the Edition: current; Page: [209] company the favour to exhibit. There may be some trouble in giving the whole exhibition; but tell me one thing,—can you make a good man of him only who is already convinced that he ought to learn of you, or of him also who is not convinced, either because he imagines that virtue is a thing which cannot be taught at all, or that you are not the teachers of it? Has your art power to persuade him, who is of the latter temper of mind, that virtue can be taught; and that you are the men from whom he will best learn it?

Certainly, Socrates, said Dionysodorus; our art will do both.

And you and your brother, Dionysodorus, I said, of all men who are now living are the most likely to stimulate him to philosophy and to the study of virtue?

Jowett1892: 275Yes, Socrates, I rather think that we are.

Then I wish that you would be so good as to defer the other part of the exhibition, and only try to persuade the youth whom you see here that he ought to be a philosopher and study virtue. Exhibit that, and you will confer a great favour on me and on every one present; for the fact is I and all of us are extremely anxious that he should become truly good. His name is Cleinias, and he is the son of Axiochus, and grandson of the old Alcibiades, cousin of the Alcibiades that now is. He is quite young, and we are naturally afraid that some one may get the start of us, and turn his mind in a wrong direction, and he may be ruined. Your visit, therefore, is most happily timed; and I hope that you will make a trial of the young man, and converse with him in our presence, if you have no objection.

Euthydemus begins in a lofty and cheerful tone.

These were pretty nearly the expressions which I used; and Euthydemus, in a manly and at the same time encouraging tone, replied: There can be no objection, Socrates, if the young man is only willing to answer questions.

He is quite accustomed to do so, I replied; for his friends often come and ask him questions and argue with him; and therefore he is quite at home in answering.

The scene which followed was beyond description.

What followed, Crito, how can I rightly narrate? For not slight is the task of rehearsing infinite wisdom, and therefore, like the poets, I ought to commence my relation with an invocation to Memory and the Muses. Now Euthydemus, if Edition: current; Page: [210] I remember rightly, began nearly as follows: O Cleinias, are those who learn the wise or the ignorant?

The youth, overpowered by the question, blushed, and in his perplexity looked at me for help; and I, knowing that he was disconcerted, said: Take courage, Cleinias, and answer like a man whichever you think; for my belief is that you will derive the greatest benefit from their questions.

Whichever he answers, said Dionysodorus, leaning forward so as to catch my ear, his face beaming with laughter, I prophesy that he will be refuted, Socrates.

The wise only learn:

While he was speaking to me, Cleinias gave his answer: and therefore I had no time to warn him of the predicament in which he was placed, and he answered that those whoJowett1892: 276 learned were the wise.

Euthydemus proceeded: There are some whom you would call teachers, are there not?

The boy assented.

And they are the teachers of those who learn—the grammar–master and the lyre–master used to teach you and other boys; and you were the learners?


and yet those who learn are unlearned:

And when you were learners you did not as yet know the things which you were learning?

No, he said.

And were you wise then?

No, indeed, he said.

But if you were not wise you were unlearned?


You then, learning what you did not know, were unlearned when you were learning?

The youth nodded assent.

and therefore the unlearned learn and not the wise.

Then the unlearned learn1, and not the wise, Cleinias, as you imagine.

At these words the followers of Euthydemus, of whom I spoke, like a chorus at the bidding of their director, laughed and cheered. Then, before the youth had time to recover his breath, Dionysodorus cleverly took him in hand, and said: Yes, Cleinias; and when the grammar–master dictated Edition: current; Page: [211] anything to you, were they the wise boys or the unlearned who learned the dictation?

The wise, replied Cleinias.

Then after all the wise are the learners and not the unlearned; and your last answer to Euthydemus was wrong.

Then once more the admirers of the two heroes, in an ecstasy at their wisdom, gave vent to another peal of laughter, while the rest of us were silent and amazed. Euthydemus, observing this, determined to persevere with the youth; and in order to heighten the effect went on asking another similar question, which might be compared to the double turn of an expert dancer. Do those, said he, who learn, learn what they know, or what they do not know?

A similar trick of argument.

Again Dionysodorus whispered to me: That, Socrates, is just another of the same sort.

Good heavens, I said; and your last question was so good!

Like all our other questions, Socrates, he replied—inevitable.

I see the reason, I said, why you are in such reputation among your disciples.

The teacher dictates to his pupils that which they do not know; and yet he dictates letters which they know.

Meanwhile Cleinias had answered Euthydemus that those who learned learn what they do not know; and he put him through a series of questions the same as before.

Jowett1892: 277Do you not know letters?

He assented.

All letters?


But when the teacher dictates to you, does he not dictate letters?

To this also he assented.

Then if you know all letters, he dictates that which you know?

This again was admitted by him.

Then, said the other, you do not learn that which he dictates; but he only who does not know letters learns?

Nay, said Cleinias; but I do learn.

Then, said he, you learn what you know, if you know all the letters?

He admitted that.

Then, he said, you were wrong in your answer.

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The word was hardly out of his mouth when Dionysodorus took up the argument, like a ball which he caught, and had another throw at the youth. Cleinias, he said, Euthydemus is deceiving you. For tell me now, is not learning acquiring knowledge of that which one learns?

Cleinias assented.

The trick reversed.

And knowing is having knowledge at the time?

He agreed.

And not knowing is not having knowledge at the time?

He admitted that.

And are those who acquire those who have or have not a thing?

Those who have not.

And have you not admitted that those who do not know are of the number of those who have not?

He nodded assent.

Then those who learn are of the class of those who acquire, and not of those who have?

He agreed.

Then, Cleinias, he said, those who do not know learn, and not those who know.

Socrates explains to Cleinias the sophistical mode of procedure. The two Sophists were having a game of play with him.

Euthydemus was proceeding to give the youth a third fall; but I knew that he was in deep water, and therefore, as I wanted to give him a respite lest he should be disheartened, I said to him consolingly: You must not be surprised, Cleinias, at the singularity of their mode of speech: this I say because you may not understand what the two strangers are doing with you; they are only initiating you after the manner of the Corybantes in the mysteries; and this answers to the enthronement, which, if you have ever been initiated, is, as you will know, accompanied by dancing and sport; and now they are just prancing and dancing about you, and will next proceed to initiate you; imagine then that you have gone through the first part of the sophistical ritual, which, as Prodicus says, begins with initiation into the correct use of terms. The two foreign gentlemen, perceiving that you did not know, wanted to explain to you that the word ‘to learn’ has two meanings, and is used, first, in the sense of acquiringJowett1892: 278 knowledge of some matter of which you previously have no knowledge, and also, when you have the knowledge, in the Edition: current; Page: [213] sense of reviewing this matter, whether something done or spoken by the light of this newly–acquired knowledge; the latter is generally called ‘knowing’ rather than ‘learning,’ but the word ‘learning’ is also used; and you did not see, as they explained to you, that the term is employed of two opposite sorts of men, of those who know, and of those who do not know. There was a similar trick in the second question, when they asked you whether men learn what they know or what they do not know. These parts of learning are not serious, and therefore I say that the gentlemen are not serious, but are only playing with you. For if a man had all that sort of knowledge that ever was, he would not be at all the wiser; he would only be able to play with men, tripping them up and oversetting them with distinctions of words. He would be like a person who pulls away a stool from some one when he is about to sit down, and then laughs and makes merry at the sight of his friend overturned and laid on his back. And you must regard all that has hitherto passed between you and them as merely play. But in what is to follow I am certain that they will exhibit to you their serious purpose, and keep their promise (I will show them how); for they promised to give me a sample of the hortatory philosophy, but I suppose that they wanted to have a game with you first. And now, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, I think that we have had enough of this. Will you let me see you explaining to the young man how he is to apply himself to the study of virtue and wisdom? And I will first show you what I conceive to be the nature of the task, and what sort of a discourse I desire to hear; and if I do this in a very inartistic and ridiculous manner, do not laugh at me, for I only venture to improvise before you because I am eager to hear your wisdom: and I must therefore ask you and your disciples to refrain from laughing. And now, O son of Axiochus, let me put a question to you: Do not all men desire happiness? And yet, perhaps, this is one of those ridiculous questions which I am afraid to ask, and which ought not to be asked by a sensible man: for what human being is there who does not desire happiness?

Jowett1892: 279There is no one, said Cleinias, who does not.

Well, then, I said, since we all of us desire happiness, how Edition: current; Page: [214] can we be happy?—that is the next question. Shall we not be happy if we have many good things? And this, perhaps, is even a more simple question than the first, for there can be no doubt of the answer.

Happiness is the possession of many good things:

He assented.

And what things do we esteem good? No solemn sage is required to tell us this, which may be easily answered; for every one will say that wealth is a good.

Certainly, he said.

and good things are wealth, health, beauty, good birth, power, honour, and all the duties, justice, temperance, courage, wisdom.

And are not health and beauty goods, and other personal gifts?

He agreed.

Can there be any doubt that good birth, and power, and honours in one’s own land, are goods?

He assented.

And what other goods are there? I said. What do you say of temperance, justice, courage: do you not verily and indeed think, Cleinias, that we shall be more right in ranking them as goods than in not ranking them as goods? For a dispute might possibly arise about this. What then do you say?

They are goods, said Cleinias.

Very well, I said; and where in the company shall we find a place for wisdom—among the goods or not?

Among the goods.

And now, I said, think whether we have left out any considerable goods.

I do not think that we have, said Cleinias.

Upon recollection, I said, indeed I am afraid that we have left out the greatest of them all.

What is that? he asked.

Fortune, Cleinias, I replied; which all, even the most foolish, admit to be the greatest of goods.

True, he said.

But we have omitted, or rather not omitted, good–fortune; for it is already contained in wisdom.

On second thoughts, I added, how narrowly, O son of Axiochus, have you and I escaped making a laughing–stock of ourselves to the strangers.

Why do you say so?

Why, because we have already spoken of good–fortune, and are but repeating ourselves.

What do you mean?

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I mean that there is something ridiculous in again putting forward good–fortune, which has a place in the list already, and saying the same thing twice over.

He asked what was the meaning of this, and I replied: Surely wisdom is good–fortune; even a child may know that.

The fortunate are only the wise under another name.

The simple–minded youth was amazed; and, observing his surprise, I said to him: Do you not know, Cleinias, that flute–players are most fortunate and successful in performing on the flute?

He assented.

And are not the scribes most fortunate in writing and reading letters?


Amid the dangers of the sea, again, are any more fortunate on the whole than wise pilots?

None, certainly.

And if you were engaged in war, in whose company would you rather take the risk—in company with a wise general, or with a foolish one?

With a wise one.

And if you were ill, whom would you rather have as a companion in a dangerous illness—a wise physician, or an ignorant one?

A wise one.

You think, I said, that to act with a wise man is more fortunate than to act with an ignorant one?

He assented.

And we are deemed fortunate when we are possessed of many good things. But we must use them as well as have them.

Jowett1892: 280 Then wisdom always makes men fortunate: for by wisdom no man would ever err, and therefore he must act rightly and succeed, or his wisdom would be wisdom no longer.

We contrived at last, somehow or other, to agree in a general conclusion, that he who had wisdom had no need of fortune. I then recalled to his mind the previous state of the question. You remember, I said, our making the admission that we should be happy and fortunate if many good things were present with us?

He assented.

And should we be happy by reason of the presence of good things, if they profited us not, or if they profited us?

If they profited us, he said.

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And would they profit us, if we only had them and did not use them? For example, if we had a great deal of food and did not eat, or a great deal of drink and did not drink, should we be profited?

Certainly not, he said.

Or would an artisan, who had all the implements necessary for his work, and did not use them, be any the better for the possession of them? For example, would a carpenter be any the better for having all his tools and plenty of wood, if he never worked?

Certainly not, he said.

And if a person had wealth and all the goods of which we were just now speaking, and did not use them, would he be happy because he possessed them?

No indeed, Socrates.

Then, I said, a man who would be happy must not only have the good things, but he must also use them; there is no advantage in merely having them?


Well, Cleinias, but if you have the use as well as the possession of good things, is that sufficient to confer happiness?

Yes, in my opinion.

And may a person use them either rightly or wrongly?

He must use them rightly.

That is quite true, I said. And the wrong use of a thing is far worse than the non–use; for the one is an evil, and the other is neither a good nor an evil. You admit that?Jowett1892: 281

He assented.

Illustrations of the necessity of knowledge taken from the arts.

Now in the working and use of wood, is not that which gives the right use simply the knowledge of the carpenter?

Nothing else, he said.

And surely, in the manufacture of vessels, knowledge is that which gives the right way of making them?

He agreed.

And in the use of the goods of which we spoke at first—wealth and health and beauty, is not knowledge that which directs us to the right use of them, and regulates our practice about them?

He assented.

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Then in every possession and every use of a thing, knowledge is that which gives a man not only good–fortune but success?

He again assented.

And tell me, I said, O tell me, what do possessions profit a man, if he have neither good sense nor wisdom? Would a man be better off, having and doing many things without wisdom, or a few things with wisdom? Look at the matter thus: If he did fewer things would he not make fewer mistakes? if he made fewer mistakes would he not have fewer misfortunes? and if he had fewer misfortunes would he not be less miserable?

Certainly, he said.

And who would do least—a poor man or a rich man?

A poor man.

A weak man or a strong man?

A weak man.

A noble man or a mean man?

A mean man.

And a coward would do less than a courageous and temperate man?


And an indolent man less than an active man?

He assented.

And a slow man less than a quick; and one who had dull perceptions of seeing and hearing less than one who had keen ones?

All this was mutually allowed by us.

The element of knowledge or wisdom is essential to good,

Then, I said, Cleinias, the sum of the matter appears to be that the goods of which we spoke before are not to be regarded as goods in themselves, but the degree of good and evil in them depends on whether they are or are not under the guidance of knowledge: under the guidance of ignorance, they are greater evils than their opposites, inasmuch as they are more able to minister to the evil principle which rules them; and when under the guidance of wisdom and prudence, they are greater goods: but in themselves they are nothing?

That, he replied, is obvious.

What then is the result of what has been said? Is not this Edition: current; Page: [218] the result—that other things are indifferent, and that wisdom is the only good, and ignorance the only evil?

He assented.

or rather to the true and only good.

Let us consider a further point, I said: Seeing that allJowett1892: 282 men desire happiness, and happiness, as has been shown, is gained by a use, and a right use, of the things of life, and the right use of them, and good–fortune in the use of them, is given by knowledge,—the inference is that everybody ought by all means to try and make himself as wise as he can?

Yes, he said.

To get wisdom is necessary and honourable, if only wisdom can be taught.

And when a man thinks that he ought to obtain this treasure, far more than money, from a father or a guardian or a friend or a suitor, whether citizen or stranger—the eager desire and prayer to them that they would impart wisdom to you, is not at all dishonourable, Cleinias; nor is any one to be blamed for doing any honourable service or ministration to any man, whether a lover or not, if his aim is to get wisdom. Do you agree? I said.

The youthful Cleinias is confident that it may.

Yes, he said, I quite agree, and think that you are right.

Yes, I said, Cleinias, if only wisdom can be taught, and does not come to man spontaneously; for this is a point which has still to be considered, and is not yet agreed upon by you and me—

But I think, Socrates, that wisdom can be taught, he said.

Best of men, I said, I am delighted to hear you say so; and I am also grateful to you for having saved me from a long and tiresome investigation as to whether wisdom can be taught or not. But now, as you think that wisdom can be taught, and that wisdom only can make a man happy and fortunate, will you not acknowledge that all of us ought to love wisdom, and you individually will try to love her?

Certainly, Socrates, he said; I will do my best.

I was pleased at hearing this; and I turned to Dionysodorus and Euthydemus and said: That is an example, clumsy and tedious I admit, of the sort of exhortations which I would have you give; and I hope that one of you will set forth what I have been saying in a more artistic style: or at least take up the enquiry where I left off, and proceed to show the youth whether he should have all knowledge; or whether there is one sort of knowledge only which will make him good Edition: current; Page: [219] and happy, and what that is. For, as I was saying at first, the improvement of this young man in virtue and wisdom is a matter which we have very much at heart.

Jowett1892: 283Thus I spoke, Crito, and was all attention to what was coming. I wanted to see how they would approach the question, and where they would start in their exhortation to the young man that he should practise wisdom and virtue. Dionysodorus, who was the elder, spoke first. Everybody’s eyes were directed towards him, perceiving that something wonderful might shortly be expected. And certainly they were not far wrong; for the man, Crito, began a remarkable discourse well worth hearing, and wonderfully persuasive regarded as an exhortation to virtue.

Tell me, he said, Socrates and the rest of you who say that you want this young man to become wise, are you in jest or in real earnest?

I was led by this to imagine that they fancied us to have been jesting when we asked them to converse with the youth, and that this made them jest and play, and being under this impression, I was the more decided in saying that we were in profound earnest. Dionysodorus said:

The quibble of Dionysodorus: Those who wish Cleinias not to be ignorant wish him not to be.

Reflect, Socrates; you may have to deny your words.

I have reflected, I said; and I shall never deny my words.

Well, said he, and so you say that you wish Cleinias to become wise?


And he is not wise as yet?

At least his modesty will not allow him to say that he is.

You wish him, he said, to become wise and not to be ignorant?

That we do.

You wish him to be what he is not, and no longer to be what he is?

I was thrown into consternation at this.

Taking advantage of my consternation he added: You wish him no longer to be what he is, which can only mean that you wish him to perish. Pretty lovers and friends they must be who want their favourite not to be, or to perish!

Indignation of Ctesippus.

When Ctesippus heard this he got very angry (as a lover well might) and said: Stranger of Thurii—if politeness would Edition: current; Page: [220] allow me I should say, A plague upon you! What can make you tell such a lie about me and the others, which I hardly like to repeat, as that I wish Cleinias to perish?

No one can tell a lie, says Euthydemus, for no one can do what is not, and, if saying is doing, no one can say what is not.

Euthydemus replied: And do you think, Ctesippus, that it is possible to tell a lie?

Yes, said Ctesippus; I should be mad to say anything else.

And in telling a lie, do you tell the thing of which youJowett1892: 284 speak or not?

You tell the thing of which you speak.

And he who tells, tells that thing which he tells, and no other?

Yes, said Ctesippus.

And that is a distinct thing apart from other things?


And he who says that thing says that which is?


And he who says that which is, says the truth. And therefore Dionysodorus, if he says that which is, says the truth of you and no lie.

Yes, Euthydemus, said Ctesippus; but in saying this, he says what is not.

Euthydemus answered: And that which is not is not?


And that which is not is nowhere?


And can any one do anything about that which has no existence, or do to Cleinias that which is not and is nowhere?

I think not, said Ctesippus.

Well, but do rhetoricians, when they speak in the assembly, do nothing?

Nay, he said, they do something.

And doing is making?


And speaking is doing and making?

He agreed.

Then no one says that which is not, for in saying what is not he would be doing something; and you have already acknowledged that no one can do what is not. And therefore, upon your own showing, no one says what is false; but Edition: current; Page: [221] if Dionysodorus says anything, he says what is true and what is.

Yes, Euthydemus, said Ctesippus; but he speaks of things in a certain way and manner, and not as they really are.

Why, Ctesippus, said Dionysodorus, do you mean to say that any one speaks of things as they are?

Yes, he said,—all gentlemen and truth–speaking persons.

And are not good things good, and evil things evil?

He assented.

And you say that gentlemen speak of things as they are?


Then the good speak evil of evil things, if they speak of them as they are?

Yes, indeed, he said; and they speak evil of evil men. And if I may give you a piece of advice, you had better take care that they do not speak evil of you, since I can tell you that the good speak evil of the evil.

And do they speak great things of the great, rejoined Euthydemus, and warm things of the warm?

To be sure they do, said Ctesippus; and they speak coldly of the insipid and cold dialectician.

Ctesippus and the Sophists begin to quarrel; but Socrates restores good–humour with a joke.

You are abusive, Ctesippus, said Dionysodorus, you are abusive!

Indeed, I am not, Dionysodorus, he replied; for I love you and am giving you friendly advice, and, if I could, wouldJowett1892: 285 persuade you not like a boor to say in my presence that I desire my beloved, whom I value above all men, to perish.

I saw that they were getting exasperated with one another, so I made a joke with him and said: O Ctesippus, I think that we must allow the strangers to use language in their own way, and not quarrel with them about words, but be thankful for what they give us. If they know how to destroy men in such a way as to make good and sensible men out of bad and foolish ones—whether this is a discovery of their own, or whether they have learned from some one else this new sort of death and destruction which enables them to get rid of a bad man and turn him into a good one—if they know this (and they do know this—at any rate they said just now that this was the secret of their newly–discovered art)—let them, in their phraseology, destroy the youth and make him Edition: current; Page: [222] wise, and all of us with him. But if you young men do not like to trust yourselves with them, then fiat experimentum in corpore senis; I will be the Carian on whom they shall operate. And here I offer my old person to Dionysodorus; he may put me into the pot, like Medea the Colchian, kill me, boil me, if he will only make me good.

Ctesippus said: And I, Socrates, am ready to commit myself to the strangers; they may skin me alive, if they please (and I am pretty well skinned by them already), if only my skin is made at last, not like that of Marsyas, into a leathern bottle, but into a piece of virtue. And here is Dionysodorus fancying that I am angry with him, when really I am not angry at all; I do but contradict him when I think that he is speaking improperly to me: and you must not confound abuse and contradiction, O illustrious Dionysodorus; for they are quite different things.

Dionysodorus denies the possibility of contradiction.

Contradiction! said Dionysodorus; why, there never was such a thing.

If no man can affirm a negation, no one can contradict.

Certainly there is, he replied; there can be no question of that. Do you, Dionysodorus, maintain that there is not?

You will never prove to me, he said, that you have heard any one contradicting any one else.

Indeed, said Ctesippus; then now you may hear me contradicting Dionysodorus.

Are you prepared to make that good?

Certainly, he said.

Well, have not all things words expressive of them?


Of their existence or of their non–existence?

Of their existence.

Yes, Ctesippus, and we just now proved, as you mayJowett1892: 286 remember, that no man could affirm a negative; for no one could affirm that which is not.

And what does that signify? said Ctesippus; you and I may contradict all the same for that.

When two persons describe the same thing, or two persons describe different things, or one person speaks and another is silent, there is no contradiction.

But can we contradict one another, said Dionysodorus, when both of us are describing the same thing? Then we must surely be speaking the same thing?

He assented.

Edition: current; Page: [223]

Or when neither of us is speaking of the same thing? For then neither of us says a word about the thing at all?

He granted that proposition also.

But when I describe something and you describe another thing, or I say something and you say nothing—is there any contradiction? How can he who speaks contradict him who speaks not?

Socrates takes up the argument. The Sophists maintain that there is no such thing as falsehood or false opinion, or ignorance or the refutation of ignorance.

Here Ctesippus was silent; and I in my astonishment said: What do you mean, Dionysodorus? I have often heard, and have been amazed to hear, this thesis of yours, which is maintained and employed by the disciples of Protagoras, and others before them, and which to me appears to be quite wonderful, and suicidal as well as destructive, and I think that I am most likely to hear the truth about it from you. The dictum is that there is no such thing as falsehood; a man must either say what is true or say nothing. Is not that your position?

He assented.

But if he cannot speak falsely, may he not think falsely?

No, he cannot, he said.

Then there is no such thing as false opinion?

No, he said.

Then there is no such thing as ignorance, or men who are ignorant; for is not ignorance, if there be such a thing, a mistake of fact?

Certainly, he said.

And that is impossible?

Impossible, he replied.

Are you saying this as a paradox, Dionysodorus; or do you seriously maintain no man to be ignorant?

Refute me, he said.

But how can I refute you, if, as you say, to tell a falsehood is impossible?

Very true, said Euthydemus.

Neither did I tell you just now to refute me, said Dionysodorus; for how can I tell you to do that which is not?

O Euthydemus, I said, I have but a dull conception of these subtleties and excellent devices of wisdom; I am afraid that I hardly understand them, and you must forgive me thereforeJowett1892: 287 if I ask a very stupid question: if there be no falsehood or Edition: current; Page: [224] false opinion or ignorance, there can be no such thing as erroneous action, for a man cannot fail of acting as he is acting—that is what you mean?

Yes, he replied.

And now, I said, I will ask my stupid question: If there is no such thing as error in deed, word, or thought, then what, in the name of goodness, do you come hither to teach? And were you not just now saying that you could teach virtue best of all men, to any one who was willing to learn?

The Sophists are above consistency and all that sort of thing.

And are you such an old fool, Socrates, rejoined Dionysodorus, that you bring up now what I said at first—and if I had said anything last year, I suppose that you would bring that up too—but are non–plussed at the words which I have just uttered?

Why, I said, they are not easy to answer; for they are the words of wise men: and indeed I know not what to make of this word ‘non–plussed,’ which you used last: what do you mean by it, Dionysodorus? You must mean that I cannot refute your argument. Tell me if the words have any other sense.

No, he replied, they mean what you say. And now answer.

What, before you, Dionysodorus? I said.

Answer, said he.

And is that fair?

Yes, quite fair, he said.

Upon what principle? I said. I can only suppose that you are a very wise man who comes to us in the character of a great logician, and who knows when to answer and when not to answer—and now you will not open your mouth at all, because you know that you ought not.

You prate, he said, instead of answering. But if, my good sir, you admit that I am wise, answer as I tell you.

You ask me, Socrates, what sense my words have? Things which have sense are alive:—are my words alive?

I suppose that I must obey, for you are master. Put the question.

Are the things which have sense alive or lifeless?

They are alive.

And do you know of any word which is alive?

I cannot say that I do.

Then why did you ask me what sense my words had?

Socrates retorts upon the Sophists their own statement that error cannot be refuted.

Why, because I was stupid and made a mistake. And yet, Edition: current; Page: [225] perhaps, I was right after all in saying that words have a sense;—what do you say, wise man? If I was not in error, even you will not refute me, and all your wisdom will be non–plussed; but if I did fall into error, then again you are wrong in saying that there is no error,—and this remark wasJowett1892: 288 made by you not quite a year ago. I am inclined to think, however, Dionysodorus and Euthydemus, that this argument lies where it was and is not very likely to advance: even your skill in the subtleties of logic, which is really amazing, has not found out the way of throwing another and not falling yourself, now any more than of old.

High words.

Ctesippus said: Men of Chios, Thurii, or however and whatever you call yourselves, I wonder at you, for you seem to have no objection to talking nonsense.

Socrates again tries to pour oil upon the waters.

Fearing that there would be high words, I again endeavoured to, soothe Ctesippus, and said to him: To you, Ctesippus, I must repeat what I said before to Cleinias—that you do not understand the ways of these philosophers from abroad. They are not serious, but, like the Egyptian wizard, Proteus, they take different forms and deceive us by their enchantments: and let us, like Menelaus, refuse to let them go until they show themselves to us in earnest. When they begin to be in earnest their full beauty will appear: let us then beg and entreat and beseech them to shine forth. And I think that I had better once more exhibit the form in which I pray to behold them; it might be a guide to them. I will go on therefore where I left off, as well as I can, in the hope that I may touch their hearts and move them to pity, and that when they see me deeply serious and interested, they also may be serious. You, Cleinias, I said, shall remind me at what point we left off. Did we not agree that philosophy should be studied? and was not that our conclusion?

Yes, he replied.

And philosophy is the acquisition of knowledge?

Yes, he said.

And what knowledge ought we to acquire? May we not answer with absolute truth—A knowledge which will do us good?

Certainly, he said.

And should we be any the better if we went about having a Edition: current; Page: [226] knowledge of the places where most gold was hidden in the earth?

Perhaps we should, he said.

The old argument resumed.

But have we not already proved, I said, that we should be none the better off, even if without trouble and digging all the gold which there is in the earth were ours? And if we knew how to convert stones into gold, the knowledge wouldJowett1892: 289 be of no value to us, unless we also knew how to use the gold? Do you not remember? I said.

I quite remember, he said.

Nor would any other knowledge, whether of money–making, or of medicine, or of any other art which knows only how to make a thing, and not to use it when made, be of any good to us. Am I not right?

He agreed.

And if there were a knowledge which was able to make men immortal, without giving them the knowledge of the way to use the immortality, neither would there be any use in that, if we may argue from the analogy of the previous instances?

To all this he agreed.

Then, my dear boy, I said, the knowledge which we want is one that uses as well as makes?

True, he said.

The knowledge which makes is not to be separated from the knowledge which uses.

And our desire is not to be skilful lyre–makers, or artists of that sort—far otherwise; for with them the art which makes is one, and the art which uses is another. Although they have to do with the same, they are divided: for the art which makes and the art which plays on the lyre differ widely from one another. Am I not right?

He agreed.

And clearly we do not want the art of the flute–maker; this is only another of the same sort?

He assented.

But suppose, I said, that we were to learn the art of making speeches—would that be the art which would make us happy?

I should say, no, rejoined Cleinias.

And why should you say so? I asked.

I see, he replied, that there are some composers of speeches who do not know how to use the speeches which they make, Edition: current; Page: [227] just as the makers of lyres do not know how to use the lyres; and also some who are of themselves unable to compose speeches, but are able to use the speeches which the others make for them; and this proves that the art of making speeches is not the same as the art of using them.

The sophistical art is a part of the greater art of enchantment.

Yes, I said; and I take your words to be a sufficient proof that the art of making speeches is not one which will make a man happy. And yet I did think that the art which we have so long been seeking might be discovered in that direction; for the composers of speeches, whenever I meet them, always appear to me to be very extraordinary men, Cleinias, and their art is lofty and divine, and no wonder. For their art isJowett1892: 290 a part of the great art of enchantment, and hardly, if at all, inferior to it: and whereas the art of the enchanter is a mode of charming snakes and spiders and scorpions, and other monsters and pests, this art of their’s acts upon dicasts and ecclesiasts and bodies of men, for the charming and pacifying of them. Do you agree with me?

Yes, he said, I think that you are quite right.

Whither then shall we go, I said, and to what art shall we have recourse?

I do not see my way, he said.

But I think that I do, I replied.

And what is your notion? asked Cleinias.

I think that the art of the general is above all others the one of which the possession is most likely to make a man happy.

I do not think so, he said.

Why not? I said.

The art of the general is surely an art of hunting mankind.

What of that? I said.

Cleinias of his own accord declares that the art of the general is not the one most likely to make men happy, because, like the huntsman, he can only take and not use the prey.

Why, he said, no art of hunting extends beyond hunting and capturing; and when the prey is taken the huntsman or fisherman cannot use it; but they hand it over to the cook, and the geometricians and astronomers and calculators (who all belong to the hunting class, for they do not make their diagrams, but only find out that which was previously contained in them)—they, I say, not being able to use but only to catch their prey, hand over their inventions to the dialectician to be applied by him, if they have any sense in them.

Edition: current; Page: [228]

Good, I said, fairest and wisest Cleinias. And is this true?

Certainly, he said; just as a general when he takes a city or a camp hands over his new acquisition to the statesman, for he does not know how to use them himself; or as the quail–taker transfers the quails to the keeper of them. If we are looking for the art which is to make us blessed, and which is able to use that which it makes or takes, the art of the general is not the one, and some other must be found.

Crito suspects that neither Cleinias nor Ctesippus is the author of this observation, but some one far superior to either of them.

And do you mean, Socrates, that the youngster said all this?


Are you incredulous, Crito?


Indeed, I am; for if he did say so, then in my opinion he needs neither Euthydemus nor any one else to be his instructor.


Perhaps I may have forgotten, and Ctesippus was the real answerer.


Ctesippus! nonsense.Jowett1892: 291


All I know is that I heard these words, and that they were not spoken either by Euthydemus or Dionysodorus. I dare say, my good Crito, that they may have been spoken by some superior person: that I heard them I am certain.


Yes, indeed, Socrates, by some one a good deal superior, as I should be disposed to think. But did you carry the search any further, and did you find the art which you were seeking?


Find! my dear sir, no indeed. And we cut a poor figure; we were like children after larks, always on the point of catching the art, which was always getting away from us. But why should I repeat the whole story? At last we came to the kingly art, and enquired whether that gave and caused happiness, and then we got into a labyrinth, and when we thought we were at the end, came out again at the beginning, having still to seek as much as ever.


How did that happen, Socrates?


I will tell you; the kingly art was identified by us with the political.


Well, and what came of that?

Pursuing the enquiry, we found that the royal or political art was the only one which knew how the other arts were to be used.

To this royal or political art all the arts, including the art of the general, seemed to render up the supremacy, that Edition: current; Page: [229] being the only one which knew how to use what they produce. Here obviously was the very art which we were seeking—the art which is the source of good government, and which may be described, in the language of Aeschylus, as alone sitting at the helm of the vessel of state, piloting and governing all things, and utilizing them.


And were you not right, Socrates?


You shall judge, Crito, if you are willing to hear what followed; for we resumed the enquiry, and a question of this sort was asked: Does the kingly art, having this supreme authority, do anything for us? To be sure, was the answer. And would not you, Crito, say the same?


Yes, I should.


And what would you say that the kingly art does? If medicine were supposed to have supreme authority over the subordinate arts, and I were to ask you a similar question about that, you would say—it produces health?


I should.


And what of your own art of husbandry, supposing that to have supreme authority over the subject arts—whatJowett1892: 292 does that do? Does it not supply us with the fruits of the earth?



Such an art ought to make us useful, and, if wisdom is the most useful of all things, should impart wisdom to us.

And what does the kingly art do when invested with supreme power? Perhaps you may not be ready with an answer?


Indeed I am not, Socrates.


No more were we, Crito. But at any rate you know that if this is the art which we were seeking, it ought to be useful.




And surely it ought to do us some good?


Certainly, Socrates.


And Cleinias and I had arrived at the conclusion that knowledge of some kind is the only good.


Yes, that was what you were saying.


All the other results of politics, and they are many, as for example, wealth, freedom, tranquillity, were neither good nor evil in themselves; but the political science ought to make us wise, and impart knowledge to us, if that is Edition: current; Page: [230] the science which is likely to do us good, and make us happy.


Yes; that was the conclusion at which you had arrived, according to your report of the conversation.


And does the kingly art make men wise and good?


Why not, Socrates?


What, all men, and in every respect? and teach them all the arts,—carpentering, and cobbling, and the rest of them?


I think not, Socrates.

What is this superior knowledge?

But then what is this knowledge, and what are we to do with it? For it is not the source of any works which are neither good nor evil, and gives no knowledge, but the knowledge of itself; what then can it be, and what are we to do with it? Shall we say, Crito, that it is the knowledge by which we are to make other men good?


By all means.


And in what will they be good and useful? Shall we repeat that they will make others good, and that these others will make others again, without ever determining in what they are to be good; for we have put aside the results of politics, as they are called. This is the old, old song over again; and we are just as far as ever, if not farther, from the knowledge of the art or science of happiness.


Indeed, Socrates, you do appear to have got into a great perplexity.

Socrates in perplexity turns to the two Sophists for an answer.

Thereupon, Crito, seeing that I was on the point of shipwreck, I lifted up my voice, and earnestly entreated andJowett1892: 293 called upon the strangers to save me and the youth from the whirlpool of the argument; they were our Castor and Pollux, I said, and they should be serious, and show us in sober earnest what that knowledge was which would enable us to pass the rest of our lives in happiness.


And did Euthydemus show you this knowledge?


Yes, indeed; he proceeded in a lofty strain to the following effect: Would you rather, Socrates, said he, that I should show you this knowledge about which you have been doubting, or shall I prove that you already have it?

What, I said, are you blessed with such a power as this?

Indeed I am.

Edition: current; Page: [231]

Then I would much rather that you should prove me to have such a knowledge; at my time of life that will be more agreeable than having to learn.

Then tell me, he said, do you know anything?

Socrates admits that he knows something and does not know other things.

Yes, I said, I know many things, but not anything of much importance.

That will do, he said: And would you admit that anything is what it is, and at the same time is not what it is?

Certainly not.

And did you not say that you knew something?

I did.

If you know, you are knowing.

Certainly, of the knowledge which I have.

That makes no difference;—and must you not, if you are knowing, know all things?

Certainly not, I said, for there are many other things which I do not know.

And if you do not know, you are not knowing.

Yes, friend, of that which I do not know.

But if so, he knows and does not know at the same time.

Still you are not knowing, and you said just now that you were knowing; and therefore you are and are not at the same time, and in reference to the same things.

A pretty clatter, as men say, Euthydemus, this of yours! and will you explain how I possess that knowledge for which we were seeking? Do you mean to say that the same thing cannot be and also not be; and therefore, since I know one thing, that I know all, for I cannot be knowing and not knowing at the same time, and if I know all things, then I must have the knowledge for which we are seeking—May I assume this to be your ingenious notion?

Out of your own mouth, Socrates, you are convicted, he said.

Well, but, Euthydemus, I said, has that never happened to you? for if I am only in the same case with you and our beloved Dionysodorus, I cannot complain. Tell me, then, you two, do you not know some things, and not know others?

Certainly not, Socrates, said Dionysodorus.

What do you mean, I said; do you know nothing?

Nay, he replied, we do know something.

Edition: current; Page: [232]

Then, I said, you know all things, if you know anything?Jowett1892: 294

Yes, all things, he said; and that is as true of you as of us.

But this is impossible; and therefore if he knows, he knows all things.

O, indeed, I said, what a wonderful thing, and what a great blessing! And do all other men know all things or nothing?

Certainly, he replied; they cannot know some things, and not know others, and be at the same time knowing and not knowing.

Then what is the inference? I said.

They all know all things, he replied, if they know one thing.

O heavens, Dionysodorus, I said, I see now that you are in earnest; hardly have I got you to that point. And do you really and truly know all things, including carpentering and leather–cutting?

Certainly, he said.

And do you know stitching?

Yes, by the gods, we do, and cobbling, too.

And do you know things such as the numbers of the stars and of the sand?

Certainly; did you think we should say No to that?

Ctesippus requires a proof of their universal knowledge. They shall tell him the number of one another’s teeth, and he will count them.

By Zeus, said Ctesippus, interrupting, I only wish that you would give me some proof which would enable me to know whether you speak truly.

What proof shall I give you? he said.

Will you tell me how many teeth Euthydemus has? and Euthydemus shall tell how many teeth you have.

Will you not take our word that we know all things?

Certainly not, said Ctesippus: you must further tell us this one thing, and then we shall know that you are speaking the truth; if you tell us the number, and we count them, and you are found to be right, we will believe the rest. They fancied that Ctesippus was making game of them, and they refused, and they would only say, in answer to each of his questions, that they knew all things. For at last Ctesippus began to throw off all restraint; no question in fact was too bad for him; he would ask them if they knew the foulest things, and they, like wild boars, came rushing on his blows, and fearlessly replied that they did. At last, Crito, I too was carried Edition: current; Page: [233] away by my incredulity, and asked Euthydemus whether Dionysodorus could dance.

Certainly, he replied.

And can he vault among swords, and turn upon a wheel, at his age? has he got to such a height of skill as that?

He can do anything, he said.

And did you always know this?

Always, he said.

When you were children, and at your birth?

Jowett1892: 295They both said that they did.

This we could not believe. And Euthydemus said: You are incredulous, Socrates.

Yes, I said, and I might well be incredulous, if I did not know you to be wise men.

But if you will answer, he said, I will make you confess to similar marvels.

Socrates would like to be self–convicted of wisdom.

Well, I said, there is nothing that I should like better than to be self–convicted of this, for if I am really a wise man, which I never knew before, and you will prove to me that I know and have always known all things, nothing in life would be a greater gain to me.

Answer then, he said.

Ask, I said, and I will answer.

Do you know something, Socrates, or nothing?

Something, I said.

And do you know with what you know, or with something else?

With what I know; and I suppose that you mean with my soul?

Are you not ashamed, Socrates, of asking a question when you are asked one?

Well, I said; but then what am I to do? for I will do whatever you bid; when I do not know what you are asking, you tell me to answer nevertheless, and not to ask again.

Why, you surely have some notion of my meaning, he said.

Yes, I replied.

Well, then, answer according to your notion of my meaning.

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Yes, I said; but if the question which you ask in one sense is understood and answered by me in another, will that please you—if I answer what is not to the point?

That will please me very well; but will not please you equally well, as I imagine.

I certainly will not answer unless I understand you, I said.

You will not answer, he said, according to your view of the meaning, because you will be prating, and are an ancient.

Socrates will not quarrel with the two Sophists; for he desires to become their pupil.

Now I saw that he was getting angry with me for drawing distinctions, when he wanted to catch me in his springes of words. And I remembered that Connus was always angry with me when I opposed him, and then he neglected me, because he thought that I was stupid; and as I was intending to go to Euthydemus as a pupil, I reflected that I had better let him have his way, as he might think me a blockhead, and refuse to take me. So I said: You are a far better dialectician than myself, Euthydemus, for I have never made a profession of the art, and therefore do as you say; ask your questions once more, and I will answer.

Answer then, he said, again, whether you know what you know with something, or with nothing.

Yes, I said; I know with my soul.

The man will answer more than the question; for I did notJowett1892: 296 ask you, he said, with what you know, but whether you know with something.

Again I replied, Through ignorance I have answered too much, but I hope that you will forgive me. And now I will answer simply that I always know what I know with something.

And is that something, he rejoined, always the same, or sometimes one thing, and sometimes another thing?

Always, I replied, when I know, I know with this.

Will you not cease adding to your answers?

My fear is that this word ‘always’ may get us into trouble.

You, perhaps, but certainly not us. And now answer: Do you always know with this?

Always; since I am required to withdraw the words ‘when I know.’

You always know with this, or, always knowing, do you Edition: current; Page: [235] know some things with this, and some things with something else, or do you know all things with this?

All that I know, I replied, I know with this.

There again, Socrates, he said, the addition is superfluous.

Socrates is compelled to admit that he always knows all things with the same thing.

Well, then, I said, I will take away the words ‘that I know.’

Nay, take nothing away; I desire no favours of you; but let me ask: Would you be able to know all things, if you did not know all things?

Quite impossible.

And now, he said, you may add on whatever you like, for you confess that you know all things.

I suppose that is true, I said, if my qualification implied in the words ‘that I know’ is not allowed to stand; and so I do know all things.

And have you not admitted that you always know all things with that which you know, whether you make the addition of ‘when you know them’ or not? for you have acknowledged that you have always and at once known all things, that is to say, when you were a child, and at your birth, and when you were growing up, and before you were born, and before the heaven and earth existed, you knew all things, if you always know them; and I swear that you shall always continue to know all things, if I am of the mind to make you.

But I hope that you will be of that mind, reverend Euthydemus, I said, if you are really speaking the truth, and yet I a little doubt your power to make good your words unless you have the help of your brother Dionysodorus; then you may do it. Tell me now, both of you, for although in the main I cannot doubt that I really do know all things, when I am told so by men of your prodigious wisdom—how can I say that I know such things, Euthydemus, as that the good are unjust; come, do I know that or not?

Certainly, you know that.

What do I know?

That the good are not unjust.

But he does not know that the good are unjust; therefore.

Jowett1892: 297 Quite true, I said; and that I have always known; but the question is, where did I learn that the good are unjust?

Nowhere, said Dionysodorus.

Then, I said, I do not know this.

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You are ruining the argument, said Euthydemus to Dionysodorus; he will be proved not to know, and then after all he will be knowing and not knowing at the same time.

Dionysodorus blushed.

there are some things which he does not know.

I turned to the other, and said, What do you think, Euthydemus? Does not your omniscient brother appear to you to have made a mistake?

What, replied Dionysodorus in a moment; am I the brother of Euthydemus?

Dionysodorus reproved by his brother Sophist.

Thereupon I said, Please not to interrupt, my good friend, or prevent Euthydemus from proving to me that I know the good to be unjust; such a lesson you might at least allow me to learn.

You are running away, Socrates, said Dionysodorus, and refusing to answer.

Socrates cannot fight against the pair any more than Heracles against the Hydra.

No wonder, I said, for I am not a match for one of you, and a fortiori I must run away from two. I am no Heracles; and even Heracles could not fight against the Hydra, who was a she–Sophist, and had the wit to shoot up many new heads when one of them was cut off; especially when he saw a second monster of a sea–crab, who was also a Sophist, and appeared to have newly arrived from a sea–voyage, bearing down upon him from the left, opening his mouth and biting. When the monster was growing troublesome he called Iolaus, his nephew, to his help, who ably succoured him; but if my Iolaus, who is my brother Patrocles [the statuary], were to come, he would only make a bad business worse.

And now that you have delivered yourself of this strain, said Dionysodorus, will you inform me whether Iolaus was the nephew of Heracles any more than he is yours?

I suppose that I had best answer you, Dionysodorus, I said, for you will insist on asking—that I pretty well know—out of envy, in order to prevent me from learning the wisdom of Euthydemus.

Then answer me, he said.

Disputes about the words nephew, brother, or father, as they are taken in an absolute or in a relative sense.

Well then, I said, I can only reply that Iolaus was not my nephew at all, but the nephew of Heracles; and his father was not my brother Patrocles, but Iphicles, who has a name rather like his, and was the brother of Heracles.

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And is Patrocles, he said, your brother?

Yes, I said, he is my half–brother, the son of my mother, but not of my father.

Then he is and is not your brother.

Not by the same father, my good man, I said, for Chaeredemus was his father, and mine was Sophroniscus.

And was Sophroniscus a father, and Chaeredemus also?

Yes, I said; the former was my father, and the latter his.

Jowett1892: 298Then, he said, Chaeredemus is not a father.

He is not my father, I said.

But can a father be other than a father? or are you the same as a stone?

I certainly do not think that I am a stone, I said, though I am afraid that you may prove me to be one.

Are you not other than a stone?

I am.

And being other than a stone, you are not a stone; and being other than gold, you are not gold?

Very true.

And so Chaeredemus, he said, being other than a father, is not a father?

I suppose that he is not a father, I replied.

For if, said Euthydemus, taking up the argument, Chaeredemus is a father, then Sophroniscus, being other than a father, is not a father; and you, Socrates, are without a father.

Ctesippus, here taking up the argument, said: And is not your father in the same case, for he is other than my father?

Assuredly not, said Euthydemus.

Then he is the same?

He is the same.

The father of Euthydemus is declared to be the father of all, and not only of all men, but of all animals.

I cannot say that I like the connection; but is he only my father, Euthydemus, or is he the father of all other men?

Of all other men, he replied. Do you suppose the same person to be a father and not a father?

Certainly, I did so imagine, said Ctesippus.

And do you suppose that gold is not gold, or that a man is not a man?

They are not ‘in pari materia,’ Euthydemus, said Ctesippus, Edition: current; Page: [238] and you had better take care, for it is monstrous to suppose that your father is the father of all.

But he is, he replied.

What, of men only, said Ctesippus, or of horses and of all other animals?

Of all, he said.

And your mother, too, is the mother of all?

Yes, our mother too.

Yes; and your mother has a progeny of sea–urchins then?

Yes; and yours, he said.

And gudgeons and puppies and pigs are your brothers?

And yours too.

And your papa is a dog?

And so is yours, he said.

Proceeding in the same line of argument, Dionysodorus declares that a dog who has puppies is a father, and that he who beats his dog beats his own father.

If you will answer my questions, said Dionysodorus, I will soon extract the same admissions from you, Ctesippus. You say that you have a dog.

Yes, a villain of a one, said Ctesippus.

And he has puppies?

Yes, and they are very like himself.

And the dog is the father of them?

Yes, he said, I certainly saw him and the mother of the puppies come together.

And is he not yours?

To be sure he is.

Then he is a father, and he is yours; ergo, he is your father, and the puppies are your brothers.

Let me ask you one little question more, said Dionysodorus, quickly interposing, in order that Ctesippus might not get in his word: You beat this dog?

Ctesippus said, laughing, Indeed I do; and I only wish that I could beat you instead of him.

Then you beat your father, he said.Jowett1892: 299

I should have far more reason to beat yours, said Ctesippus; what could he have been thinking of when he begat such wise sons? much good has this father of you and your brethren the puppies got out of this wisdom of yours.

But neither he nor you, Ctesippus, have any need of much good.

And have you no need, Euthydemus? he said.

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Neither I nor any other man; for tell me now, Ctesippus, if you think it good or evil for a man who is sick to drink medicine when he wants it; or to go to war armed rather than unarmed.

Good, I say. And yet I know that I am going to be caught in one of your charming puzzles.

When a thing is good, you cannot have too much of it.

That, he replied, you will discover, if you answer; since you admit medicine to be good for a man to drink, when wanted, must it not be good for him to drink as much as possible; when he takes his medicine, a cartload of hellebore will not be too much for him?

Ctesippus said: Quite so, Euthydemus, that is to say, if he who drinks is as big as the statue of Delphi.

And seeing that in war to have arms is a good thing, he ought to have as many spears and shields as possible?

Very true, said Ctesippus; and do you think, Euthydemus, that he ought to have one shield only, and one spear?

I do.

And would you arm Geryon and Briareus in that way? Considering that you and your companion fight in armour, I thought that you would have known better. . . . Here Euthydemus held his peace, but Dionysodorus returned to the previous answer of Ctesippus and said:—

Do you not think that the possession of gold is a good thing?

Yes, said Ctesippus, and the more the better.

And to have money everywhere and always is a good?

Certainly, a great good, he said.

And you admit gold to be a good?

Certainly, he replied.

And ought not a man then to have gold everywhere and always, and as much as possible in himself, and may he not be deemed the happiest of men who has three talents of gold in his belly, and a talent in his pate, and a stater of gold in either eye?

Yes, Euthydemus, said Ctesippus; and the Scythians reckon those who have gold in their own skulls to be the happiest and bravest of men (that is only another instance of your manner of speaking about the dog and father), and what is still more extraordinary, they drink out of their own skulls Edition: current; Page: [240] gilt, and see the inside of them, and hold their own head in their hands.

And do the Scythians and others see that which has theJowett1892: 300 quality of vision, or that which has not? said Euthydemus.

That which has the quality of vision clearly.

You see that which has the quality of vision; you see our garments; therefore they have the quality of vision.

And1 you also see that which has the quality of vision? he said.

Yes, I do.

Then do you see our garments?


Then our garments have the quality of vision.

They can see to any extent, said Ctesippus.

What can they see?

Nothing; but you, my sweet man, may perhaps imagine that they do not see; and certainly, Euthydemus, you do seem to me to have been caught napping when you were not asleep, and that if it be possible to speak and say nothing—you are doing so.

And may there not be a silence of the speaker? said Dionysodorus.

Impossible, said Ctesippus.

Or a speaking of the silent?

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That is still more impossible, he said.

But when you speak of stones, wood, iron bars, do you not speak of the silent?

A similar double entendre.

Not when I pass a smithy; for then the iron bars make a tremendous noise and outcry if they are touched: so that here your wisdom is strangely mistaken; please, however, to tell me how you can be silent when speaking (I thought that Ctesippus was put upon his mettle because Cleinias was present).

When you are silent, said Euthydemus, is there not a silence of all things?

Yes, he said.

The speaker may be silent or may speak, or both.

But if speaking things are included in all things, then the speaking are silent.

What, said Ctesippus; then all things are not silent?

Certainly not, said Euthydemus.

Then, my good friend, do they all speak?

Yes; those which speak.

Nay, said Ctesippus, but the question which I ask is whether all things are silent or speak?

Neither and both, said Dionysodorus, quickly interposing; I am sure that you will be ‘non–plussed’ at that answer.

Here Ctesippus, as his manner was, burst into a roar of laughter; he said, That brother of yours, Euthydemus, has got into a dilemma; all is over with him. This delighted Cleinias, whose laughter made Ctesippus ten times as uproarious; but I cannot help thinking that the rogue must have picked up this answer from them; for there has been no wisdom like theirs in our time. Why do you laugh, Cleinias, I said, at such solemn and beautiful things?

Why, Socrates, said Dionysodorus, did you ever see a beautiful thing?

Yes, Dionysodorus, I replied, I have seen many.

The Sophist lightly touches upon the doctrine of ideas.

Jowett1892: 301 Were they other than the beautiful, or the same as the beautiful?

Now I was in a great quandary at having to answer this question, and I thought that I was rightly served for having opened my mouth at all: I said however, They are not the same as absolute beauty, but they have beauty present with each of them.

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And are you an ox because an ox is present with you, or are you Dionysodorus, because Dionysodorus is present with you?

God forbid, I replied.

But how, he said, by reason of one thing being present with another, will one thing be another?

Is that your difficulty? I said. For I was beginning to imitate their skill, on which my heart was set.

Of course, he replied, I and all the world are in a difficulty about the non–existent.

What do you mean, Dionysodorus? I said. Is not the honourable honourable and the base base?

That, he said, is as I please.

And do you please?

Yes, he said.

Fresh quibbles.

And you will admit that the same is the same, and the other other; for surely the other is not the same; I should imagine that even a child will hardly deny the other to be other. But I think, Dionysodorus, that you must have intentionally missed the last question; for in general you and your brother seem to me to be good workmen in your own department, and to do the dialectician’s business excellently well.

What, said he, is the business of a good workman? tell me, in the first place, whose business is hammering?

The smith’s.

And whose the making of pots?

The potter’s.

And who has to kill and skin and mince and boil and roast?

The cook, I said.

And if a man does his business he does rightly?


And the business of the cook is to cut up and skin; you have admitted that?

Yes, I have admitted that, but you must not be too hard upon me.

Then if some one were to kill, mince, boil, roast the cook, he would do his business, and if he were to hammer the smith, and make a pot of the potter, he would do their business.

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Poseidon, I said, this is the crown of wisdom; can I ever hope to have such wisdom of my own?

And would you be able, Socrates, to recognize this wisdom when it has become your own?

Certainly, I said, if you will allow me.

What, he said, do you think that you know what is your own?

Yes, I do, subject to your correction; for you are the bottom, and Euthydemus is the top, of all my wisdom.

That which is your own you can give away or sell; e. g. the ox or sheep which you sacrifice.

Is not that which you would deem your own, he said, that which you have in your own power, and which you are ableJowett1892: 302 to use as you would desire, for example, an ox or a sheep—would you not think that which you could sell and give and sacrifice to any god whom you pleased, to be your own, and that which you could not give or sell or sacrifice you would think not to be in your own power?

Yes, I said (for I was certain that something good would come out of the questions, which I was impatient to hear); yes, such things, and such things only are mine.

Yes, he said, and you would mean by animals living beings?

Yes, I said.

You agree then, that those animals only are yours with which you have the power to do all these things which I was just naming?

I agree.

Then, after a pause, in which he seemed to be lost in the contemplation of something great, he said: Tell me, Socrates, have you an ancestral Zeus? Here, anticipating the final move, like a person caught in a net, who gives a desperate twist that he may get away, I said: No, Dionysodorus, I have not.

What a miserable man you must be then, he said; you are not an Athenian at all if you have no ancestral gods or temples, or any other mark of gentility.

Nay, Dionysodorus, I said, do not be rough; good words, if you please; in the way of religion I have altars and temples, domestic and ancestral, and all that other Athenians have.

And have not other Athenians, he said, an ancestral Zeus?

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That name, I said, is not to be found among the Ionians, whether colonists or citizens of Athens; an ancestral Apollo there is, who is the father of Ion, and a family Zeus, and a Zeus guardian of the phratry, and an Athene guardian of the phratry. But the name of ancestral Zeus is unknown to us.

No matter, said Dionysodorus, for you admit that you have Apollo, Zeus, and Athene.

Certainly, I said.

And they are your gods, he said.

Yes, I said, my lords and ancestors.

At any rate they are yours, he said, did you not admit that?

I did, I said; what is going to happen to me?

And are not these gods animals? for you admit that all things which have life are animals; and have not these gods life?

They have life, I said.

Then are they not animals?

They are animals, I said.

Gods are animals; and if it is admitted that animals may be sold, then the gods may be sold.

And you admitted that of animals those are yours which you could give away or sell or offer in sacrifice, as you pleased?

I did admit that, Euthydemus, and I have no way of escape.

Well then, said he, if you admit that Zeus and the otherJowett1892: 303 gods are yours, can you sell them or give them away or do what you will with them, as you would with other animals?

At this I was quite struck dumb, Crito, and lay prostrate. Ctesippus came to the rescue.

Bravo, Heracles, brave words, said he.

Bravo Heracles, or is Heracles a Bravo? said Dionysodorus.

Poseidon, said Ctesippus, what awful distinctions. I will have no more of them; the pair are invincible.

Then, my dear Crito, there was universal applause of the speakers and their words, and what with laughing and clapping of hands and rejoicings the two men were quite overpowered; for hitherto their partisans only had cheered at each successive hit, but now the whole company shouted with delight until the columns of the Lyceum returned the Edition: current; Page: [245] sound, seeming to sympathize in their joy. To such a pitch was I affected myself, that I made a speech, in which I acknowledged that I had never seen the like of their wisdom; I was their devoted servant, and fell to praising and admiring of them. What marvellous dexterity of wit, I said, enabled you to acquire this great perfection in such a short time? There is much, indeed, to admire in your words, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, but there is nothing that I admire more than your magnanimous disregard of any opinion—whether of the many, or of the grave and reverend seigniors—you regard only those who are like yourselves. And I do verily believe that there are few who are like you, and who would approve of such arguments; the majority of mankind are so ignorant of their value, that they would be more ashamed of employing them in the refutation of others than of being refuted by them. I must further express my approval of your kind and public–spirited denial of all differences, whether of good and evil, white or black, or any other; the result of which is that, as you say, every mouth is sewn up, not excepting your own, which graciously follows the example of others; and thus all ground of offence is taken away. But what appears to me to be more than all is, that this art and invention of yours has been so admirably contrived by you, that in a very short time it can be imparted to any one.Jowett1892: 304 I observed that Ctesippus learned to imitate you in no time. Now this quickness of attainment is an excellent thing; but at the same time I would advise you not to have any more public entertainments; there is a danger that men may undervalue an art which they have so easy an opportunity of acquiring; the exhibition would be best of all, if the discussion were confined to your two selves; but if there must be an audience, let him only be present who is willing to pay a handsome fee;—you should be careful of this;—and if you are wise, you will also bid your disciples discourse with no man but you and themselves. For only what is rare is valuable; and ‘water,’ which, as Pindar says, is the ‘best of all things,’ is also the cheapest. And now I have only to request that you will receive Cleinias and me among your pupils.

Such was the discussion, Crito; and after a few more Edition: current; Page: [246] words had passed between us we went away. I hope that you will come to them with me, since they say that they are able to teach any one who will give them money; no age or want of capacity is an impediment. And I must repeat one thing which they said, for your especial benefit,—that the learning of their art did not at all interfere with the business of money–making.

Crito remonstrates with Socrates on the impropriety of entering into discussion with such men as the two Sophists; and confirms his opinion by that of an Athenian pleader.

Truly, Socrates, though I am curious and ready to learn, yet I fear that I am not like–minded with Euthydemus, but one of the other sort, who, as you were saying, would rather be refuted by such arguments than use them in refutation of others. And though I may appear ridiculous in venturing to advise you, I think that you may as well hear what was said to me by a man of very considerable pretensions—he was a professor of legal oratory—who came away from you while I was walking up and down. ‘Crito,’ said he to me, ‘are you giving no attention to these wise men?’ ‘No, indeed,’ I said to him; ‘I could not get within hearing of them—there was such a crowd.’ ‘You would have heard something worth hearing if you had.’ ‘What was that?’ I said. ‘You would have heard the greatest masters of the art of rhetoric discoursing.’ ‘And what did you think of them?’ I said. ‘What did I think of them?’ he said:—‘theirs was the sort of discourse which anybody might hear from men who were playing the fool, and making much ado about nothing.’ That was the expression which he used. ‘Surely,’ I said, ‘philosophy is a charming thing.’ ‘Charming!’ he said; ‘what simplicity! philosophy isJowett1892: 305 nought; and I think that if you had been present you would have been ashamed of your friend—his conduct was so very strange in placing himself at the mercy of men who care not what they say, and fasten upon every word. And these, as I was telling you, are supposed to be the most eminent professors of their time. But the truth is, Crito, that the study itself and the men themselves are utterly mean and ridiculous.’ Now censure of the pursuit, Socrates, whether coming from him or from others, appears to me to be undeserved; but as to the impropriety of holding a public discussion with such men, there, I confess that, in my opinion, he was in the right.

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O Crito, they are marvellous men; but what was I going to say? First of all let me know;—What manner of man was he who came up to you and censured philosophy; was he an orator who himself practises in the courts, or an instructor of orators, who makes the speeches with which they do battle?


He was certainly not an orator, and I doubt whether he had ever been into court; but they say that he knows the business, and is a clever man, and composes wonderful speeches.

Socrates in return disparages Crito’s informant. He belongs to a hybrid class, who are a cross between philosophers and politicians, and inferior to either.

Now I understand, Crito; he is one of an amphibious class, whom I was on the point of mentioning—one of those whom Prodicus describes as on the border–ground between philosophers and statesmen—they think that they are the wisest of all men, and that they are generally esteemed the wisest; nothing but the rivalry of the philosophers stands in their way; and they are of the opinion that if they can prove the philosophers to be good for nothing, no one will dispute their title to the palm of wisdom, for that they are themselves really the wisest, although they are apt to be mauled by Euthydemus and his friends, when they get hold of them in conversation. This opinion which they entertain of their own wisdom is very natural; for they have a certain amount of philosophy, and a certain amount of political wisdom; there is reason in what they say, for they argue that they have just enough of both, and so they keep out of the way of all risks and conflicts and reap the fruits of their wisdom.


What do you say of them, Socrates? There is certainly something specious in that notion of theirs.


Yes, Crito, there is more speciousness than truth;Jowett1892: 306 they cannot be made to understand the nature of intermediates. For all persons or things, which are intermediate between two other things, and participate in both of them—if one of these two things is good and the other evil, are better than the one and worse than the other; but if they are in a mean between two good things which do not tend to the same end, they fall short of either of their component elements in the attainment of their ends. Only in the case when the two component elements which do not tend to the same end are Edition: current; Page: [248] evil is the participant better than either. Now, if philosophy and political action are both good, but tend to different ends, and they participate in both, and are in a mean between them, then they are talking nonsense, for they are worse than either; or, if the one be good and the other evil, they are better than the one and worse than the other; only on the supposition that they are both evil could there be any truth in what they say. I do not think that they will admit that their two pursuits are either wholly or partly evil; but the truth is, that these philosopher–politicians who aim at both fall short of both in the attainment of their respective ends, and are really third, although they would like to stand first. There is no need, however, to be angry at this ambition of theirs—which may be forgiven; for every man ought to be loved who says and manfully pursues and works out anything which is at all like wisdom: at the same time we shall do well to see them as they really are.

Crito wants to educate one of his sons, but the teachers of philosophy are such strange beings that he cannot trust him to them.

I have often told you, Socrates, that I am in a constant difficulty about my two sons. What am I to do with them? There is no hurry about the younger one, who is only a child; but the other, Critobulus, is getting on, and needs some one who will improve him. I cannot help thinking, when I hear you talk, that there is a sort of madness in many of our anxieties about our children:—in the first place, about marrying a wife of good family to be the mother of them, and then about heaping up money for them—and yet taking no care about their education. But then again, when I contemplate any of those who pretend to educate others, I am amazed. To me, if I am to confess the truth, they all seemJowett1892: 307 to be such outrageous beings: so that I do not know how I can advise the youth to study philosophy.


Dear Crito, do you not know that in every profession the inferior sort are numerous and good for nothing, and the good are few and beyond all price: for example, are not gymnastic and rhetoric and money–making and the art of the general, noble arts?


Certainly they are, in my judgment.


Well, and do you not see that in each of these arts the many are ridiculous performers?


Yes, indeed, that is very true.

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And will you on this account shun all these pursuits yourself and refuse to allow them to your son?


That would not be reasonable, Socrates.

Let him think, not of the goodness or badness of the teachers, but of the truth of philosophy.

Do you then be reasonable, Crito, and do not mind whether the teachers of philosophy are good or bad, but think only of philosophy herself. Try and examine her well and truly, and if she be evil seek to turn away all men from her, and not your sons only; but if she be what I believe that she is, then follow her and serve her, you and your house, as the saying is, and be of good cheer.

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Cratylus. Introduction.

The Cratylus has always been a source of perplexity to the student of Plato. While in fancy and humour, and perfection of style and metaphysical originality, this dialogue may be ranked with the best of the Platonic writings, there has been an uncertainty about the motive of the piece, which interpreters have hitherto not succeeded in dispelling. We need not suppose that Plato used words in order to conceal his thoughts, or that he would have been unintelligible to an educated contemporary. In the Phaedrus and Euthydemus we also find a difficulty in determining the precise aim of the author. Plato wrote satires in the form of dialogues, and his meaning, like that of other satirical writers, has often slept in the ear of posterity. Two causes may be assigned for this obscurity: 1st, the subtlety and allusiveness of this species of composition; 2nd, the difficulty of reproducing a state of life and literature which has passed away. A satire is unmeaning unless we can place ourselves back among the persons and thoughts of the age in which it was written. Had the treatise of Antisthenes upon words, or the speculations of Cratylus, or some other Heracleitean of the fourth century b.c., on the nature of language been preserved to us; or if we had lived at the time, and been ‘rich enough to attend the fifty–drachma course of Prodicus,’ we should have understood Plato better, and many points which are now attributed to the extravagance of Socrates’ humour would have been found, like the allusions of Aristophanes in the Clouds, to have gone home to the sophists and grammarians of the day.

For the age was very busy with philological speculation; and many questions were beginning to be asked about language which were parallel to other questions about justice, virtue, knowledge, and were illustrated in a similar manner by the analogy of the Edition: current; Page: [254] arts. Was there a correctness in words, and were they given by nature or convention? In the presocratic philosophy mankind had been striving to attain an expression of their ideas; and now they were beginning to ask themselves whether the expression might not be distinguished from the idea? They were also seeking to distinguish the parts of speech and to enquire into the relation of subject and predicate. Grammar and logic were moving about somewhere in the depths of the human soul, but they were not yet awakened into consciousness and had not found names for themselves, or terms by which they might be expressed. Of these beginnings of the study of language we know little, and there necessarily arises an obscurity when the surroundings of such a work as the Cratylus are taken away. Moreover, in this, as in most of the dialogues of Plato, allowance has to be made for the character of Socrates. For the theory of language can only be propounded by him in a manner which is consistent with his own profession of ignorance. Hence his ridicule of the new school of etymology is interspersed with many declarations, ‘that he knows nothing,’ ‘that he has learned from Euthyphro,’ and the like. Even the truest things which he says are depreciated by himself. He professes to be guessing, but the guesses of Plato are better than all the other theories of the ancients respecting language put together.

The dialogue hardly derives any light from Plato’s other writings, and still less from Scholiasts and Neoplatonist writers. Socrates must be interpreted from himself, and on first reading we certainly have a difficulty in understanding his drift, or his relation to the two other interlocutors in the dialogue. Does he agree with Cratylus or with Hermogenes, and is he serious in those fanciful etymologies, extending over more than half the dialogue, which he seems so greatly to relish? Or is he serious in part only; and can we separate his jest from his earnest?—Sunt bona, sunt quaedam mediocria, sunt mala plura. Most of them are ridiculously bad, and yet among them are found, as if by accident, principles of philology which are unsurpassed in any ancient writer, and even in advance of any philologer of the last century. May we suppose that Plato, like Lucian, has been amusing his fancy by writing a comedy in the form of a prose dialogue? And what is the final result of the enquiry? Is Plato an upholder of the conventional Edition: current; Page: [255] theory of language, which he acknowledges to be imperfect? or does he mean to imply that a perfect language can only be based on his own theory of ideas? Or if this latter explanation is refuted by his silence, then in what relation does his account of language stand to the rest of his philosophy? Or may we be so bold as to deny the connexion between them? [For the allusion to the ideas at the end of the dialogue (439 C) is merely intended to show that we must not put words in the place of things or realities, which is a thesis strongly insisted on by Plato in many other passages] . . . These are some of the first thoughts which arise in the mind of the reader of the Cratylus. And the consideration of them may form a convenient introduction to the general subject of the dialogue.

We must not expect all the parts of a dialogue of Plato to tend equally to some clearly–defined end. His idea of literary art is not the absolute proportion of the whole, such as we appear to find in a Greek temple or statue; nor should his works be tried by any such standard. They have often the beauty of poetry, but they have also the freedom of conversation. ‘Words are more plastic than wax’ (Rep. 588 D), and may be moulded into any form. He wanders on from one topic to another, careless of the unity of his work, not fearing any ‘judge, or spectator, who may recall him to the point’ (Theat. 173 C), ‘whither the argument blows we follow’ (Rep. 394 D). To have determined beforehand, as in a modern didactic treatise, the nature and limits of the subject, would have been fatal to the spirit of enquiry or discovery, which is the soul of the dialogue. . . . These remarks are applicable to nearly all the works of Plato, but to the Cratylus and Phaedrus more than any others. See Phaedrus, Introduction, sub init.

There is another aspect under which some of the dialogues of Plato may be more truly viewed:—they are dramatic sketches of an argument. We have found that in the Lysis, Charmides, Laches, Protagoras, Meno, we arrived at no conclusion—the different sides of the argument were personified in the different speakers; but the victory was not distinctly attributed to any of them, nor the truth wholly the property of any. And in the Cratylus we have no reason to assume that Socrates is either wholly right or wholly wrong, or that Plato, though he evidently inclines to him, had any other aim than that of personifying, in Edition: current; Page: [256] the characters of Hermogenes, Socrates, and Cratylus, the three theories of language which are respectively maintained by them.

The two subordinate persons of the dialogue, Hermogenes and Cratylus, are at the opposite poles of the argument. But after a while the disciple of the Sophist and the follower of Heracleitus are found to be not so far removed from one another as at first sight appeared; and both show an inclination to accept the third view which Socrates interposes between them. First, Hermogenes, the poor brother of the rich Callias, expounds the doctrine that names are conventional; like the names of slaves, they may be given and altered at pleasure. This is one of those principles which, whether applied to society or language, explains everything and nothing. For in all things there is an element of convention; but the admission of this does not help us to understand the rational ground or basis in human nature on which the convention proceeds. Socrates first of all intimates to Hermogenes that his view of language is only a part of a sophistical whole, and ultimately tends to abolish the distinction between truth and falsehood. Hermogenes is very ready to throw aside the sophistical tenet, and listens with a sort of half admiration, half belief, to the speculations of Socrates.

Cratylus is of opinion that a name is either a true name or not a name at all. He is unable to conceive of degrees of imitation; a word is either the perfect expression of a thing, or a mere inarticulate sound (a fallacy which is still prevalent among theorizers about the origin of language). He is at once a philosopher and a sophist; for while wanting to rest language on an immutable basis, he would deny the possibility of falsehood. He is inclined to derive all truth from language, and in language he sees reflected the philosophy of Heracleitus. His views are not like those of Hermogenes, hastily taken up, but are said to be the result of mature consideration, although he is described as still a young man. With a tenacity characteristic of the Heracleitean philosophers, he clings to the doctrine of the flux. (Cp. Theaet. 180.) Of the real Cratylus we know nothing, except that he is recorded by Aristotle to have been the friend or teacher of Plato; nor have we any proof that he resembled the likeness of him in Plato any more than the Critias of Plato is like the real Critias, or the Euthyphro Edition: current; Page: [257] in this dialogue like the other Euthyphro, the diviner, in the dialogue which is called after him.

Between these two extremes, which have both of them a sophistical character, the view of Socrates is introduced, which is in a manner the union of the two. Language is conventional and also natural, and the true conventional–natural is the rational. It is a work not of chance, but of art; the dialectician is the artificer of words, and the legislator gives authority to them. They are the expressions or imitations in sound of things. In a sense, Cratylus is right in saying that things have by nature names (p. 390); for nature is not opposed either to art or to law. But vocal imitation, like any other copy, may be imperfectly executed; and in this way an element of chance or convention enters in. There is much which is accidental or exceptional in language. Some words have had their original meaning so obscured, that they require to be helped out by convention. But still the true name is that which has a natural meaning. Thus nature, art, chance, all combine in the formation of language. And the three views respectively propounded by Hermogenes, Socrates, Cratylus, may be described as the conventional, the artificial or rational, and the natural. The view of Socrates is the meeting–point of the other two, just as conceptualism is the meeting–point of nominalism and realism.

We can hardly say that Plato was aware of the truth, that ‘languages are not made, but grow.’ But still, when he says that ‘the legislator made language with the dialectician standing on his right hand,’ we need not infer from this that he conceived words, like coins, to be issued from the mint of the State. The creator of laws and of social life is naturally regarded as the creator of language, according to Hellenic notions, and the philosopher is his natural adviser. We are not to suppose that the legislator is performing any extraordinary function; he is merely the Eponymus of the State, who prescribes rules for the dialectician and for all other artists. According to a truly Platonic mode of approaching the subject, language, like virtue in the Republic, is examined by the analogy of the arts. Words are works of art which may be equally made in different materials, and are well made when they have a meaning. Of the process which he thus describes, Plato had probably no very definite notion. But he means to express Edition: current; Page: [258] generally that language is the product of intelligence, and that languages belong to States and not to individuals.

A better conception of language could not have been formed in Plato’s age, than that which he attributes to Socrates. Yet many persons have thought that the mind of Plato is more truly seen in the vague realism of Cratylus. This misconception has probably arisen from two causes: first, the desire to bring Plato’s theory of language into accordance with the received doctrine of the Platonic ideas; secondly, the impression created by Socrates himself, that he is not in earnest, and is only indulging the fancy of the hour.

1. We shall have occasion to show more at length, in the Introduction to future dialogues, that the so–called Platonic ideas are only a semi–mythical form, in which he attempts to realize abstractions, and that they are replaced in his later writings by a rational theory of psychology. (See Introductions to the Meno and the Sophist.) And in the Cratylus he gives a general account of the nature and origin of language, in which Adam Smith, Rousseau, and other writers of the last century, would have substantially agreed. At the end of the dialogue, he speaks as in the Symposium and Republic of absolute beauty and good; but he never supposed that they were capable of being embodied in words. Of the names of the ideas, he would have said, as he says of the names of the Gods, that we know nothing. Even the realism of Cratylus is not based upon the ideas of Plato, but upon the flux of Heracleitus. Here, as in the Sophist and Politicus, Plato expressly draws attention to the want of agreement in words and things. Hence we are led to infer, that the view of Socrates is not the less Plato’s own, because not based upon the ideas; 2nd, that Plato’s theory of language is not inconsistent with the rest of his philosophy.

2. We do not deny that Socrates is partly in jest and partly in earnest. He is discoursing in a high–flown vein, which may be compared to the ‘dithyrambics of the Phaedrus.’ They are mysteries of which he is speaking, and he professes a kind of ludicrous fear of his imaginary wisdom. When he is arguing out of Homer, about the names of Hector’s son, or when he describes himself as inspired or maddened by Euthyphro, with whom he has been sitting from the early dawn (cp. Phaedrus and Lysias; Edition: current; Page: [259] Phaedr.) and expresses his intention of yielding to the illusion to–day, and to–morrow he will go to a priest and be purified, we easily see that his words are not to be taken seriously. In this part of the dialogue his dread of committing impiety, the pretended derivation of his wisdom from another, the extravagance of some of his etymologies, and, in general, the manner in which the fun, fast and furious, vires acquirit eundo, remind us strongly of the Phaedrus. The jest is a long one, extending over more than half the dialogue. But then, we remember that the Euthydemus is a still longer jest, in which the irony is preserved to the very end. There he is parodying the ingenious follies of early logic; in the Cratylus he is ridiculing the fancies of a new school of sophists and grammarians. The fallacies of the Euthydemus are still retained at the end of our logic books; and the etymologies of the Cratylus have also found their way into later writers. Some of these are not much worse than the conjectures of Hemsterhuis, and other critics of the last century; but this does not prove that they are serious. For Plato is in advance of his age in his conception of language, as much as he is in his conception of mythology. (Cp. Phaedrus sub initio.)

When the fervour of his etymological enthusiasm has abated, Socrates ends, as he has begun, with a rational explanation of language. Still he preserves his ‘know nothing’ disguise, and himself declares his first notions about names to be reckless and ridiculous. Having explained compound words by resolving them into their original elements, he now proceeds to analyse simple words into the letters of which they are composed. The Socrates who ‘knows nothing,’ here passes into the teacher, the dialectician, the arranger of species. There is nothing in this part of the dialogue which is either weak or extravagant. Plato is a supporter of the Onomatopoetic theory of language; that is to say, he supposes words to be formed by the imitation of ideas in sounds; he also recognises the effect of time, the influence of foreign languages, the desire of euphony, to be formative principles; and he admits a certain element of chance. But he gives no intimation in all this that he is preparing the way for the construction of an ideal language, or that he has any Eleatic speculation to oppose to the Heracleiteanism of Cratylus.

The theory of language which is propounded in the Cratylus is Edition: current; Page: [260] in accordance with the later phase of the philosophy of Plato, and would have been regarded by him as in the main true. The dialogue is also a satire on the philological fancies of the day. Socrates in pursuit of his vocation as a detector of false knowledge, lights by accident on the truth. He is guessing, he is dreaming; he has heard, as he says in the Phaedrus, from another: no one is more surprised than himself at his own discoveries. And yet some of his best remarks, as for example his view of the derivation of Greek words from other languages, or of the permutations of letters, or again, his observation that in speaking of the Gods we are only speaking of our names of them, occur among these flights of humour.

We can imagine a character having a profound insight into the nature of men and things, and yet hardly dwelling upon them seriously; blending inextricably sense and nonsense; sometimes enveloping in a blaze of jests the most serious matters, and then again allowing the truth to peer through; enjoying the flow of his own humour, and puzzling mankind by an ironical exaggeration of their absurdities. Such were Aristophanes and Rabelais; such, in a different style, were Sterne, Jean Paul, Hamann,—writers who sometimes become unintelligible through the extravagance of their fancies. Such is the character which Plato intends to depict in some of his dialogues as the Silenus Socrates; and through this medium we have to receive our theory of language.

There remains a difficulty which seems to demand a more exact answer: In what relation does the satirical or etymological portion of the dialogue stand to the serious? Granting all that can be said about the provoking irony of Socrates, about the parody of Euthyphro, or Prodicus, or Antisthenes, how does the long catalogue of etymologies furnish any answer to the question of Hermogenes, which is evidently the main thesis of the dialogue: What is the truth, or correctness, or principle of names?

After illustrating the nature of correctness by the analogy of the arts, and then, as in the Republic, ironically appealing to the authority of the Homeric poems, Socrates shows that the truth or correctness of names can only be ascertained by an appeal to etymology. The truth of names is to be found in the analysis of their elements. But why does he admit etymologies which are Edition: current; Page: [261] absurd, based on Heracleitean fancies, fourfold interpretations of words, impossible unions and separations of syllables and letters?

1. The answer to this difficulty has been already anticipated in part: Socrates is not a dogmatic teacher, and therefore he puts on this wild and fanciful disguise, in order that the truth may be permitted to appear: 2. as Benfey remarks, an erroneous example may illustrate a principle of language as well as a true one: 3. many of these etymologies, as, for example, that of δίκαιον, are indicated, by the manner in which Socrates speaks of them, to have been current in his own age: 4. the philosophy of language had not made such progress as would have justified Plato in propounding real derivations. Like his master Socrates, he saw through the hollowness of the incipient sciences of the day, and tries to move in a circle apart from them, laying down the conditions under which they are to be pursued, but, as in the Timaeus, cautious and tentative, when he is speaking of actual phenomena. To have made etymologies seriously, would have seemed to him like the interpretation of the myths in the Phaedrus, the task ‘of a not very fortunate individual, who had a great deal of time on his hands.’ (See p. 169.) The irony of Socrates places him above and beyond the errors of his contemporaries.

The Cratylus is full of humour and satirical touches: the inspiration which comes from Euthyphro, and his prancing steeds, the light admixture of quotations from Homer, and the spurious dialectic which is applied to them; the jest about the fifty–drachma course of Prodicus, which is declared on the best authority, viz. his own, to be a complete education in grammar and rhetoric; the double explanation of the name Hermogenes, either as ‘not being in luck,’ or ‘being no speaker;’ the dearly–bought wisdom of Callias, the Lacedaemonian whose name was ‘Rush,’ and, above all, the pleasure which Socrates expresses in his own dangerous discoveries, which ‘to–morrow he will purge away,’ are truly humorous. While delivering a lecture on the philosophy of language, Socrates is also satirizing the endless fertility of the human mind in spinning arguments out of nothing, and employing the most trifling and fanciful analogies in support of a theory. Etymology in ancient as in modern times was a favourite recreation; and Socrates makes merry at the expense of the etymologists. The simplicity of Hermogenes, who is ready to believe Edition: current; Page: [262] anything that he is told, heightens the effect. (See especially 392 E; 395 A; 397 D.) Socrates in his genial and ironical mood hits right and left at his adversaries: Οὐρανὸς is so called ἀπὸ τον̂ ὁρâν τὰ ἄνω, which, as some philosophers say, is the way to have a pure mind; the sophists are by a fanciful explanation converted into heroes; ‘the givers of names were like some philosophers who fancy that the earth goes round because their heads are always going round.’ There is a great deal of ‘mischief’ lurking in the following: ‘I found myself in greater perplexity about justice than I was before I began to learn;’ ‘The ῥ in κάτοπτρον must be the addition of some one who cares nothing about truth, but thinks only of putting the mouth into shape;’ ‘Tales and falsehoods have generally to do with the Tragic and goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them.’ Several philosophers and sophists are mentioned by name: first, Protagoras and Euthydemus are assailed; then the interpreters of Homer, οἱ παλαιοὶ Ὁμηρικοὶ (cp. Arist. Met. xiii. 6. 7) and the Orphic poets are alluded to by the way; then he discovers a hive of wisdom in the philosophy of Heracleitus;—the doctrine of the flux is contained in the word οὐσία ( = ὠσία the pushing principle), an anticipation of Anaxagoras is found in ψυχὴ and σελήνη. Again, he ridicules the arbitrary methods of pulling out and putting in letters which were in vogue among the philologers of his time; or slightly scoffs at contemporary religious beliefs. Lastly, he is impatient of hearing from the half–converted Cratylus the doctrine that falsehood can neither be spoken, nor uttered, nor addressed; a piece of sophistry attributed to Gorgias, which reappears in the Sophist (261 C). And he proceeds to demolish, with no less delight than he had set up, the Heracleitean theory of language.

In the latter part of the dialogue Socrates becomes more serious, though he does not lay aside but rather aggravates his banter of the Heracleiteans, whom here, as in the Theaetetus, he delights to ridicule. What was the origin of this enmity we can hardly determine:—was it due to the natural dislike which may be supposed to exist between the ‘patrons of the flux’ and the ‘friends of the ideas’ (Soph. 248 A)? or is it to be attributed to the indignation which Plato felt at having wasted his time upon ‘Cratylus and the doctrines of Heracleitus’ in the days of his youth? Socrates, touching on some of the characteristic difficulties of Edition: current; Page: [263] early Greek philosophy, endeavours to show Cratylus that imitation may be partial or imperfect, that a knowledge of things is higher than a knowledge of names, and that there can be no knowledge if all things are in a state of transition. But Cratylus, who does not easily apprehend the argument from common sense, remains unconvinced, and on the whole inclines to his former opinion. Some profound philosophical remarks are scattered up and down, admitting of an application not only to language but to knowledge generally; such as the assertion that ‘consistency is no test of truth’ (436 D, foll.): or again, ‘If we are over–precise about words, truth will say “too late” to us as to the belated traveller in Ægina’ (433 E).

The place of the dialogue in the series cannot be determined with certainty. The style and subject, and the treatment of the character of Socrates, have a close resemblance to the earlier dialogues, especially to the Phaedrus and Euthydemus. The manner in which the ideas are spoken of at the end of the dialogue, also indicates a comparatively early date. The imaginative element is still in full vigour; the Socrates of the Cratylus is the Socrates of the Apology and Symposium, not yet Platonized; and he describes, as in the Theaetetus, the philosophy of Heracleitus by ‘unsavoury’ similes—he cannot believe that the world is like ‘a leaky vessel,’ or ‘a man who has a running at the nose’; he attributes the flux of the world to the swimming in some folks’ heads. On the other hand, the relation of thought to language is omitted here, but is treated of in the Sophist. These grounds are not sufficient to enable us to arrive at a precise conclusion. But we shall not be far wrong in placing the Cratylus about the middle, or at any rate in the first half, of the series.


Jowett1892: 383Cratylus, the Heracleitean philosopher, and Hermogenes, the brother of Callias, have been arguing about names; the former maintaining that they are natural, the latter that they are conventional. Cratylus affirms that his own is a true name, but will not allow that the name of Hermogenes is equally true. HermogenesJowett1892: 384 asks Socrates to explain to him what Cratylus means; or, far rather, he would like to know, What Socrates himself thinks about the truth or correctness of names? Socrates replies, that Edition: current; Page: [264] hard is knowledge, and the nature of names is a considerable part of knowledge: he has never been to hear the fifty–drachma course of Prodicus; and having only attended the single–drachma course, he is not competent to give an opinion on such matters. When Cratylus denies that Hermogenes is a true name, he supposes him to mean that he is not a true son of Hermes, because he is never in luck. But he would like to have an open council and to hear both sides.

Hermogenes is of opinion that there is no principle in names; they may be changed, as we change the names of slaves, whenever we please, and the altered name is as good as the original one.

You mean to say, for instance, rejoins Socrates, that if I agreeJowett1892: 385 to call a man a horse, then a man will be rightly called a horse by me, and a man by the rest of the world? But, surely, there is in words a true and a false, as there are true and false propositions. If a whole proposition be true or false, then the parts of a proposition may be true or false, and the least parts as well as the greatest; and the least parts are names, and therefore names may be true or false. Would Hermogenes maintain that anybody may give a name to anything, and as many names as he pleases; and would all these names be always true at the time of giving them? Hermogenes replies that this is the only way in which he can conceive that names are correct; and he appeals to the practice of different nations, and of the different Hellenic tribes, in confirmation of his view. Socrates asks, whether the things differ as the words which represent them differ:—Are we to maintain withJowett1892: 386 Protagoras, that what appears is? Hermogenes has always been puzzled about this, but acknowledges, when he is pressed by Socrates, that there are a few very good men in the world, and a great many very bad; and the very good are the wise, and the very bad are the foolish; and this is not mere appearance but reality. Nor is he disposed to say with Euthydemus, that all things equally and always belong to all men; in that case, again, there would be no distinction between bad and good men. But then, the only remaining possibility is, that all things have their several distinct natures, and are independent of our notions about them. And not only things, but actions, have distinct natures, and are done by different processes. There is a natural way ofJowett1892: 387 Edition: current; Page: [265] cutting or burning, and a natural instrument with which men cut or burn, and any other way will fail;—this is true of all actions. And speaking is a kind of action, and naming is a kind of speaking, and we must name according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument. We cut with a knife, we pierce with an awl,Jowett1892: 388 we weave with a shuttle, we name with a name. And as a shuttle separates the warp from the woof, so a name distinguishes the natures of things. The weaver will use the shuttle well,—that is, like a weaver; and the teacher will use the name well,—that is, like a teacher. The shuttle will be made by the carpenter; the awl by the smith or skilled person. But who makes a name? Does not the law give names, and does not the teacher receiveJowett1892: 389 them from the legislator? He is the skilled person who makes them, and of all skilled workmen he is the rarest. But how does the carpenter make or repair the shuttle, and to what will he look? Will he not look at the ideal which he has in his mind? And as the different kinds of work differ, so ought the instruments which make them to differ. The several kinds of shuttles ought to answer in material and form to the several kinds of webs. And theJowett1892: 390 legislator ought to know the different materials and forms of which names are made in Hellas and other countries. But who is to be the judge of the proper form? The judge of shuttles is the weaver who uses them; the judge of lyres is the player of the lyre; the judge of ships is the pilot. And will not the judge who is able to direct the legislator in his work of naming, be he who knows how to use the names—he who can ask and answer questions—in short, the dialectician? The pilot directs the carpenter how to make the rudder, and the dialectician directs the legislator how he is to impose names; for to express the ideal forms of things in syllables and letters is not the easy task, Hermogenes, which you imagine.

Jowett1892: 391‘I should be more readily persuaded, if you would show me this natural correctness of names.’

Indeed I cannot; but I see that you have advanced; for you now admit that there is a correctness of names, and that not every one can give a name. But what is the nature of this correctness or truth, you must learn from the Sophists, of whom your brother Callias has bought his reputation for wisdom rather dearly; and since they require to be paid, you, having no money, had better Edition: current; Page: [266] learn from him at second–hand. ‘Well, but I have just given up Protagoras, and I should be inconsistent in going to learn of him.’ Then if you reject him you may learn of the poets, and in particular of Homer, who distinguishes the names given by Gods and men to the same things, as in the verse about the river God who fought with Hephaestus, ‘whom the Gods call Xanthus, and menJowett1892: 392 call Scamander;’ or in the lines in which he mentions the bird which the Gods call ‘Chalcis,’ and men ‘Cymindis;’ or the hill which men call ‘Batieia,’ and the Gods ‘Myrinna’s Tomb.’ Here is an important lesson; for the Gods must of course be right in their use of names. And this is not the only truth about philology which may be learnt from Homer. Does he not say that Hector’s son had two names—

  • ‘Hector called him Scamandrius, but the others Astyanax’?

Now, if the men called him Astyanax, is it not probable that the other name was conferred by the women? And which are more likely to be right—the wiser or the less wise, the men or the women? Homer evidently agreed with the men: and of the name given by them he offers an explanation;—the boy was called Astyanax (‘king of the city’), because his father saved the city. The names Astyanax and Hector, moreover, are really the same,—the one means a king, and the other is ‘aJowett1892: 393 holder or possessor.’ For as the lion’s whelp may be called a lion, or the horse’s foal a foal, so the son of a king may be called a king. But if the horse had produced a calf, then that would be called a calf. Whether the syllables of a name are the same or not makes no difference, provided the meaning is retained. For example; the names of letters, whether vowels or consonants, do not correspond to their sounds, with the exception of ε, υ, ο, ω. The name Beta has three letters added to the sound—and yet this does not alter the sense of the word, or prevent the whole name having the value which the legislator intended. And the sameJowett1892: 394 may be said of a king and the son of a king, who like other animals resemble each other in the course of nature; the words by which they are signified may be disguised, and yet amid differences of sound the etymologist may recognise the same notion, just as the physician recognises the power of the same drugs under different disguises of colour and smell. Hector and Edition: current; Page: [267] Astyanax have only one letter alike, but they have the same meaning; and Agis (leader) is altogether different in sound from Polemarchus (chief in war), or Eupolemus (good warrior); but the two words present the same idea of leader or general, like the words Iatrocles and Acesimbrotus, which equally denote a physician. The son succeeds the father as the foal succeeds the horse; but when, out of the course of nature, a prodigy occurs, and the offspring no longer resembles the parent, then the names noJowett1892: 395 longer agree. This may be illustrated by the case of Agamemnon and his son Orestes, of whom the former has a name significant of his patience at the siege of Troy; while the name of the latter indicates his savage, man–of–the–mountain nature. Atreus again, for his murder of Chrysippus, and his cruelty to Thyestes, is rightly named Atreus, which, to the eye of the etymologist, is ἀτηρὸς (destructive), ἀτειρὴς (stubborn), ἄτρεστος (fearless); and Pelops is ὁ τὰ πέλας ὁρŵν (he who sees what is near only), because in his eagerness to win Hippodamia, he was unconscious of the remoter consequences which the murder of Myrtilus would entail upon his race. The name Tantalus, if slightly changed, offers two etymologies; either ἀπὸ τη̂ς τον̂ λίθου ταλαντείας, or ἀπὸ τον̂ ταλάντατον εἶναι, signifying at once the hanging of the stone over his head in the world below, and the misery which he brought upon his country.Jowett1892: 396 And the name of his father, Zeus, Διὸς, Ζηνὸς, has an excellent meaning, though hard to be understood, because really a sentence which is divided into two parts (Ζεὺς, Διός). For he, being the lord and king of all, is the author of our being, and in him all live: this is implied in the double form, Διὸς, Ζηνὸς, which being put together and interpreted is δι’ ὃν ζη̣̂ πάντα. There may, at first sight, appear to be some irreverence in calling him the son of Cronos, who is a proverb for stupidity; but the meaning is that Zeus himself is the son of a mighty intellect; ἀρόνος, quasi κόρος, not in the sense of a youth, but quasi τὸ καθαρὸν καὶ ἀκήρατον τον̂ νον̂—the pure and garnished mind, which in turn is begotten of Uranus, who is so called ἀπὸ τον̂ ὁρâν τὰ ἄνω, from looking upwards; which, as philosophers say, is the way to have a pure mind. The earlier portion of Hesiod’s genealogy has escaped my memory, or I would try more conclusions of the same sort. ‘You talk like an oracle.’ I caught the infection from Euthyphro, who gave me a long lecture which began at dawn, and has not only entered into my Edition: current; Page: [268] ears, but filled my soul, and my intention is to yield to the inspiration to–day; and to–morrow I will be exorcised by some priestJowett1892: 397 or sophist. ‘Go on; I am anxious to hear the rest.’ Now that we have a general notion, how shall we proceed? What names will afford the most crucial test of natural fitness? Those of heroes and ordinary men are often deceptive, because they are patronymics or expressions of a wish; let us try gods and demi–gods. Gods are so called, ἀπὸ τον̂ θεîν, from the verb ‘to run;’ because the sun, moon, and stars run about the heaven; and they being the original gods of the Hellenes, as they still are of the Barbarians, their name is given to all Gods. The demons are the golden race of Hesiod, and by golden he means not literally golden, but good; and they are called demons, quasi δαήμονες, which in old Attic was used for δαίμονες—good men areJowett1892: 398 well said to become δαίμονες when they die, because they are knowing. Ἥρως is the same word as ἄρως: ‘the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair;’ or perhaps they were a species of sophists or rhetoricians, and so called ἀπὸ τον̂ ἐρωτâν, or εέρειν, from their habit of spinning questions; for εἴρειν is equivalent to λέγειν. I get all this from Euthyphro; and now a new and ingenious idea comes into my mind, and, if I am not careful, I shall be wiser than I ought to be by to–morrow’s dawn. My idea is, that we may put in and pull out letters at pleasure and alter the accents (as, for example, Δillegible ϕίλος may be turned into Δίϕιλος), and we may make words into sentences and sentences into words.Jowett1892: 399 The name ἄνθρωπος is a case in point, for a letter has been omitted and the accent changed; the original meaning being ὁ ἀναθρŵν ἃ ὄπωπεν—he who looks up at what he sees. Ψυχὴ may be thought to be the reviving, or refreshing, or animating principle—ἡ ἀναψύχουσα τὸ σŵμα; but I am afraid that Euthyphro and his disciples will scorn this derivation, and I must find another: shall we identify the soul with the ‘ordering mind’ of Anaxagoras, and say that ψυχὴ, quasi ϕυσέχη = ἣ ϕύσιν ἄχει or ὀχεî?—this might easilyJowett1892: 400 be refined into ψυχὴ. ‘That is a more artistic etymology.’

After ψυχὴ follows σŵμα; this, by a slight permutation, may be either = (1) the ‘grave’ of the soul, or (2) may mean ‘that by which the soul signifies (σημαίνει) her wishes.’ But more probably, the word is Orphic, and simply denotes that the body is the place of ward in which the soul suffers the penalty of sin,—ἐν ω̣̂̔ σώζεται. Edition: current; Page: [269] ‘I should like to hear some more explanations of the names of the Gods, like that excellent one of Zeus.’ The truest names of the Gods are those which they give themselves; but these are unknown to us. Less true are those by which we propitiate them, as men say in prayers, ‘May he graciously receive any name by which I call him.’ And to avoid offence, I should like to let themJowett1892: 401 know beforehand that we are not presuming to enquire about them, but only about the names which they usually bear. Let us begin with Hestia. What did he mean who gave the name Hestia? ‘That is a very difficult question.’ O, my dear Hermogenes, I believe that there was a power of philosophy and talk among the first inventors of names, both in our own and in other languages; for even in foreign words a principle is discernible. Hestia is the same with ἐσία, which is an old form of οὐσία, and means the first principle of things: this agrees with the fact that to Hestia the first sacrifices are offered. There is also another reading—ὠσία, which implies that ‘pushing’ (ὠθον̂ν) is the firstJowett1892: 402 principle of all things. And here I seem to discover a delicate allusion to the flux of Heracleitus—that antediluvian philosopher who cannot walk twice in the same stream; and this flux of his may accomplish yet greater marvels. For the names Cronos and Rhea cannot have been accidental; the giver of them must have known something about the doctrine of Heracleitus. Moreover, there is a remarkable coincidence in the words of Hesiod, when he speaks of Oceanus, ‘the origin of Gods;’ and in the verse of Orpheus, in which he describes Oceanus espousing his sister Tethys. Tethys is nothing more than the name of a spring—τὸ διαττώμενον καὶ ἠθούμενον. Poseidon is ποσίδεσμος, the chain of the feet, because you cannot walk on the sea—the ε is inserted by way of ornament; or perhaps the name may have been originallyJowett1892: 403 πολλείδων, meaning, that the God knew many things (πολλὰ εἰδώς): he may also be the shaker, ἀπὸ τον̂ σείειν,—in this case, π and δ have been added. Pluto is connected with πλον̂τος, because wealth comes out of the earth; or the word may be a euphemism for Hades, which is usually derived ἀπὸ τον̂ ἀειδον̂ς, because the God is concerned with the invisible. But the name Hades was really given him from his knowing (εἰδέναι) all good things. Men in general are foolishly afraid of him, and talk with horror of the world below from which no one may return. The reason why his Edition: current; Page: [270] subjects never wish to come back, even if they could, is that the God enchains them by the strongest of spells, namely by the desire of virtue, which they hope to obtain by constant association with him. He is the perfect and accomplished Sophist and the great benefactor of the other world; for he has much more than he wants there, and hence he is called Pluto or the rich. He willJowett1892: 404 have nothing to do with the souls of men while in the body, because he cannot work his will with them so long as they are confused and entangled by fleshly lusts. Demeter is the mother and giver of food—ἡ διδον̂σα μήτηρ τη̂ς ἐδωδη̂ς. Here is ἐρατή τις, or perhaps the legislator may have been thinking of the weather, and has merely transposed the letters of the word ἀήρ. Pherephatta, that word of awe, is ϕερεπάϕα, which is only an euphonious contraction of ἡ τον̂ ϕερομένου ἐϕαπτομένη,—all things are in motion, and she in her wisdom moves with them, and the wise God Hades consorts with her—there is nothing very terrible in this, any more than in her other appellation Persephone, which is also significant of her wisdom (σοϕή). Apollo is another name, which is supposed to have some dreadful meaning, but is susceptible of at least four perfectly innocent explanations. First, he is theJowett1892: 405 purifier or purger or absolver (ἀπολούων); secondly, he is the true diviner, Ἁπλŵς, as he is called in the Thessalian dialect (ἁπλŵς = ἁπλον̂ς, sincere); thirdly, he is the archer (ἀεὶ βάλλων), always shooting; or again, supposing α to mean ἃμα or ὃμου, Apollo becomes equivalent to ἃμα πολŵν, which points to both his musical and his heavenly attributes; for there is a ‘moving together’ alike in music and in the harmony of the spheres. The second λ is inserted in order to avoid the ill–omened sound of destruction. The Muses are so called—ἀπὸ τον̂ μŵσθαι. The gentle Leto orJowett1892: 406 Letho is named from her willingness (ἐθελήμων), or because she is ready to forgive and forget (λήθη). Artemis is so called from her healthy well–balanced nature, διὰ τὸ ἀρτεμὲς, or as ἀρετη̂ς ἵστωρ; or as a lover of virginity, ἄροτον μισήσασα. One of these explanations is probably true,—perhaps all of them. Dionysus is ἁ διδοὺς τὸν οἶνον, and οɩ̓̂νος is quasi οἰόνους because wine makes those think (οἴεσθαι) that they have a mind (νον̂ς) who have none. The established derivation of Ἀϕροδίτη διὰ τὴν τον̂ ἀϕρον̂ γένεσιν may be accepted on the authority of Hesiod. Edition: current; Page: [271]Jowett1892: 407 Pallas is derived from armed dances—ὐπὸ τον̂ πάλλειν τὰ ὅπλα. For Athene we must turn to the allegorical interpreters of Homer, who make the name equivalent to θεονόη, or possibly the word was originally ἠθονόη and signified moral intelligence (ἐν ἦθει νόησις). Hephaestus, again, is the lord of light—ὁ τον̂ ϕάεος ἵστωρ. This is a good notion; and, to prevent any other getting into our heads, let us go on to Ares. He is the manly one (ἄρρην), or the unchangeable one (ἄρρατος). Enough of the Gods; for, by the Gods, I am afraid of them; but if you suggest other words, you will see how the horses of Euthyphro prance. ‘Only one more God; tell me about my godfather Hermes.’ He is ἑρμηνεὺς, the messenger or cheater or thief or bargainer; or ὁ εἴρειν μὠμενος, that is, εἰρέμηςJowett1892: 408 or ἕρμης — the speaker or contriver of speeches. ‘Well said Cratylus, then, that I am no son of Hermes.’ Pan, as the son of Hermes, is speech or the brother of speech, and is called Pan because speech indicates everything—ὁ πâν μηνύων. He has two forms, a true and a false; and is in the upper part smooth, and in the lower part shaggy. He is the goat of Tragedy, in which there are plenty of falsehoods.

‘Will you go on to the elements—sun, moon, stars, earth, aether, air, fire, water, seasons, years?’ Very good: and whichJowett1892: 409 shall I take first? Let us begin with ἥλιος, or the sun. The Doric form ἃλιος helps us to see that he is so called because at his rising he gathers (ἁλίζει) men together, or because he rolls about (εἱλεî) the earth, or because he variegates (αἱολεî = ποικίλλει) the earth. Selene is an anticipation of Anaxagoras, being a contraction of σελαενονεοάεια, the light (σέλας) which is ever old and new, and which, as Anaxagoras says, is borrowed from the sun; the name was harmonized into σελαναία, a form which is still in use. ‘That is a true dithyrambic name.’ Μεîς is so called ἀπὸ τον̂ μειον̂σθαι, from suffering diminution, and ἄστρον is from ἀστραπὴ (lightning), which is an improvement of ἀναστρωπὴ, that which turns the eyes inside out. ‘How do you explain πν̂ρ and ὕδωρ?’ I suspect thatJowett1892: 410 πν̂ρ, which, like ὕδωρ and κύων, is found in Phrygian, is a foreign word; for the Hellenes have borrowed much from the barbarians, and I always resort to this theory of a foreign origin when I am at a loss. Ἀὴρ may be explained, ὅτι αἴρει τὰ ἀπὸ τη̂ς γη̂ς; or, ὅτι ἀεὶ ῥεî; or, ἃτι πνεν̂μα ἐξ αὐτον̂ γίνεται (compare the poetic word ἀη̂ται). So αἰθὴρ quasi ἀειθεὴρ ὅτι ἀεὶ θεî περὶ τὸν ἀέρα: γη̂, γαîα quasi γεννήτειρα Edition: current; Page: [272] (compare the Homeric form γεγάασι); ὦρα, or, according to the old Attic form, ὅρα, is derived ἀπὸ τον̂ όρίζειν, because it divides the year; ἐνιαυτὸς and ἄτος are the same thought—ὁ ἐν ἑαυτω̣̂ ἐτάζων, cut into two parts, ἐν ἑαυτω̣̂ and ἐτάζων, like δἰ δν ζη̣̂ into Διὸς and Ζηνός.

‘You make surprising progress.’ True; I am run away with, and am not even yet at my utmost speed. ‘I should like very much to hear your account of the virtues. What principle ofJowett1892: 411 correctness is there in those charming words, wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest?’ To explain all that will be a serious business; still, as I have put on the lion’s skin, appearances must be maintained. My opinion is, that primitive men were like some modern philosophers, who, by always going round in their search after the nature of things, become dizzy; and this phenomenon, which was really in themselves, they imagined to take place in the external world. You have no doubt remarked, that the doctrine of the universal flux, or generation of things, is indicated in names. ‘No, I never did.’ Φρόνησις is only ϕορâς καὶ ῥον̂ νόησις, or perhaps ϕορâς ὄνησις, and in any case is connected with ϕέρεσθαι; γνώμη is γονη̂ς σκέψις καὶ νώμησις; νόησις is νέου or γιγνομένου ἕσις; the word νέος implies that creation is always going on—the original form was νεόεσις; σωϕροσύνη is σωτηρία ϕρονήσεως; ἐπιστήμη is ἡ ἑπομένη τοîς πράγμασιν—the faculty whichJowett1892: 412 keeps close, neither anticipating nor lagging behind; σύνεσις is equivalent to συνιέναι, συμπορεύεσθαι τὴν ψυχὴν, and is a kind of conclusion—συλλογισμός τις, akin therefore in idea to ἐπιστήμη; σοϕία is very difficult, and has a foreign look—the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things, and may be illustrated by the poetical ἐσύθη and the Lacedaemonian proper name Σον̂ς, or Rush; ἀγαθὸν is τὸ ἀγαστὸν ἐν τη̣̂ ταχύτητι,—for all things are in motion, and some are swifter than others: δικαιοσύνη is clearly ἡ τον̂ δικαίου σύνεσις. The word δίκαιον is more troublesome, and appears to mean the subtle penetrating power which, as the lovers of motion say, preserves all things, and is the cause of all things, quasi διαϊὸν going through—the letter κ being inserted for the sake of euphony. This is a great mystery which has been confided toJowett1892: 413 me; but when I ask for an explanation I am thought obtrusive, and another derivation is proposed to me. Justice is said to be ὁ καίων, or the sun; and when I joyfully repeat this beautiful notion, Edition: current; Page: [273] I am answered, ‘What, is there no justice when the sun is down?’ And when I entreat my questioner to tell me his own opinion, he replies, that justice is fire in the abstract, or heat in the abstract; which is not very intelligible. Others laugh at such notions, and say with Anaxagoras, that justice is the ordering mind. ‘I think that some one must have told you this.’ And not the rest? Let me proceed then, in the hope of proving to you myJowett1892: 414 originality. Ἀνδρεία is quasi ἀνρεία quasi ἡ ἄνω ῥοὴ, the stream which flows upwards, and is opposed to injustice, which clearly hinders the principle of penetration; ἄρρην and ἀνὴρ have a similar derivation; γυνὴ is the same as γονή; θη̂λυ is derived ἀπὸ τη̂ς θηλη̂ς, because the teat makes things flourish (τεθηλέναι), and the word θάλλειν itself implies increase of youth, which is swift and sudden ever (θεîν and ἅλλεσθαι). I am getting over the ground fast: but much has still to be explained. There is τέχνη, for instance. This, by an aphaeresis of τ and an epenthesis of ο in two places, may be identified with ἐχονόη, and signifies ‘that which has mind.’

‘A very poor etymology.’ Yes; but you must remember that all language is in process of change; letters are taken in and put out for the sake of euphony, and time is also a great alterer of words. For example, what business has the letter ρ in the word κάτοπτρον, or the letter σ in the word σϕίγξ? The additions are often such that it is impossible to make out the original word; and yet, if you may put in and pull out, as you like, any name is equally good for any object. The fact is, that great dictators of literature like yourself should observe the rules of moderation. ‘I will do my best.’ But do not be too much of a precisian, orJowett1892: 415 you will paralyze me. If you will let me add μηχανὴ, ἀπὸ τον̂ μήκους, which means πολὺ, and ἄνειν, I shall be at the summit of my powers, from which elevation I will examine the two words κακία and ἀρετή. The first is easily explained in accordance with what has preceded; for all things being in a flux, κακία is τὸ κακŵς ἰόν. This derivation is illustrated by the word δειλία, which ought to have come after ἀνδρεία, and may be regarded as ὁ λίαν δεσμὸς τη̂ς ψυχη̂ς, just as ἀπορία signifies an impediment to motion (from α not, and πορεύεσθαι to go), and ἀρετὴ is εὐπορία, which is the opposite of this—the everflowing (ἀεὶ ῥέουσα or ἀειρειτὴ), or the eligible, quasi αἱρετή. You will think that I am inventing, but I say that if Edition: current; Page: [274] κακία is right, then ἀρετὴ is also right. But what is κακόν? That isJowett1892: 416 a very obscure word, to which I can only apply my old notion and declare that κακὸν is a foreign word. Next, let us proceed to καλὸν, αἰσχρόν. The latter is doubtless contracted from ἀεισχορον̂ν, quasi ἀεὸ ἴσχον ῥον̂ν. The inventor of words being a patron of the flux, was a great enemy to stagnation. Καλὸν is τὸ καλον̂ν τὰ πράγματα—this is mind (νον̂ς or διάνοια); which is also the principle of beauty; and which doing the works of beauty, is therefore rightly called the beautiful. The meaning of συμϕέρον is explainedJowett1892: 417 by previous examples;—like ἐπιστήμη, signifying that the soul moves in harmony with the world (σύμϕορα, συμϕέροντα). Κέρδος is τὸ πâσι κεραννύμενον—that which mingles with all things: λυσιτελον̂ν is equivalent to τὸ τη̂ς ϕορâς λύον τὸ τέλος, and is not to be taken in the vulgar sense of gainful, but rather in that of swift, being the principle which makes motion immortal and unceasing; ὠϕέλιμον is ἀπὸ τον̂ ὀϕέλλειν—that which gives increase: this word, which is Homeric, is of foreign origin. Βλαβερὸν is τὸ βλάπτον or βουλόμενον ἰπτειν τον̂ ῥον̂—that which injures or seeks to bind the stream. The proper word would be βουλαπτερον̂ν, but this is too much of a mouthful—like a prelude on the flute in honour of Athene. TheJowett1892: 418 word ζημιŵδες is difficult; great changes, as I was saying, have been made in words, and even a small change will alter their meaning very much. The word δέον is one of these disguised words. You know that according to the old pronunciation, which is especially affected by the women, who are great conservatives, ι and δ were used where we should now use η and ζ: for example, what we now call ἡμέρα was formerly called ἱμέρα; and this shows the meaning of the word to have been ‘the desired one coming after night,’ and not, as is often supposed, ‘that which makes things gentle’ (ἥμερα). So again, ζυγὸν is δυογὸν, quasi δέσις δυεîν εἰς ἀγωγὴν—the binding of two together for the purpose of drawing. Δέον,Jowett1892: 419 as ordinarily written, has an evil sense, signifying the chain (δεσμὸς) or hindrance of motion; but in its ancient form διὸν is expressive of good, quasi διιόν, that which penetrates or goes through all. Ζημιώδης is really δημιώδης, and means that which binds motion (δον̂ντι τὸ ἰόν): ἡδονὴ is ἡ πρὸς τὴν ὄνησιν τείνουσα πρâξις—the δ is an insertion: λύπη is derived ἀπὸ τη̂ς διαλύσεως τον̂ σώματος: ἀνία is from α and ἰέναι, to go: ἀλγηδὼν is a foreign word, and is so called ἀπὸ τον̂ ἀλγεινον̂: ὀδυνὴ is ἀπὸ τη̂ς ἐνδύσεως τη̂ς λύπης: Edition: current; Page: [275] ἀχθηδὶν is in its very sound a burden: χαρὰ expresses the flow of soul: τέρψις is ἀπὸ τον̂ τερπνον̂, and τερπνὸν is properly ἔρπνον, because the sensation of pleasure is likened to a breath (πνοή) which creeps (ἔρπει) through the soul: εὐϕροσύνη is named from ϕέρεσθαι, because the soul moves in harmony with nature: ἐπιθυμία is ἡ ἐπὶ τὸν θυμὸν ἴουσα δύναμις: θυμὸς is ἀπὸ τη̂ς θύσεως τη̂ςJowett1892: 420 ψυχη̂ς: ἴμερος—ὅτι ἱέμενος ῥεî ἡ ψυχή: πόθος, the desire which is in another place, ἄλλοθί που: ἔρως was anciently ἔσρος, and so called because it flows into (ἐσρεî) the soul from without: δόξα is ἡ δίωξις τον̂ εἰδέναι, or expresses the shooting from a bow (τόξον). The latter etymology is confirmed by the words βούλεσθαι, βουλή, ἀβουλία, which all have to do with shooting (βολή): and similarly οἴησις is nothing but the movement (οɩ̓̂σις) of the soul towards essence. ‘Εκούσιον is τὸ εɩ̓̂κον—the yielding—ἀνάγκη is ἡ ἄν’ ἄγκη ἰον̂σα, the passage through ravines which impede motion: ἀληθεία is θείαJowett1892: 421 ἄλη, divine motion. ψεν̂δος is the opposite of this, implying the principle of constraint and forced repose, which is expressed under the figure of sleep, τὸ εν̂̔δον; the ψ is an addition. Ὅνομα, a name, affirms the real existence of that which is sought after—ὄν ον̂̔ μάσμα ἔστιν. Ὅν and οὐσία are only ἰὸν with an ι broken off; and οὐκ ὂν is οὐκ ίόν. ‘And what are ίὸν, ῥέον, δον̂ν?’ One way of explaining them has been already suggested—they may be of foreign origin; and possibly this is the true answer. But mere antiquity may often prevent our recognizing words, after all the complications which they have undergone; and we must remember that however far we carry back our analysis some ultimate elements or roots will remain which can be no further analyzed. For example; the word ἀγαθὸς was supposed by us toJowett1892: 422 be a compound of ἀγαστὸς and θόος, and probably θόος may be further resolvable. But if we take a word of which no further resolution seems attainable, we may fairly conclude that we have reached one of these original elements, and the truth of such a word must be tested by some new method. Will you help me in the search?

All names, whether primary or secondary, are intended to show the nature of things; and the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance from the primary. But then, how do the primary names indicate anything? And let me ask another question,—If we had no faculty of speech, how should we communicate Edition: current; Page: [276] with one another? Should we not use signs, like the deaf and dumb? The elevation of our hands would mean lightness — heaviness would be expressed by letting them drop.Jowett1892: 423 The running of any animal would be described by a similar movement of our own frames. The body can only express anything by imitation; and the tongue or mouth can imitate as well as the rest of the body. But this imitation of the tongue or voice is not yet a name, because people may imitate sheep or goats without naming them. What, then, is a name? In the first place, a name is not a musical, or, secondly, a pictorial imitation, but an imitation of that kind which expresses the nature of a thing; and is the invention not of a musician, or of a painter, butJowett1892: 424 of a namer.

And now, I think that we may consider the names about which you were asking. The way to analyze them will be by going back to the letters, or primary elements of which they are composed. First, we separate the alphabet into classes of letters, distinguishing the consonants, mutes, vowels, and semivowels; and when we have learnt them singly, we shall learn to know them in their various combinations of two or more letters; just as the painter knows how to use either a single colour, or a combination of colours. And like the painter, we may apply letters toJowett1892: 425 the expression of objects, and form them into syllables; and these again into words, until the picture or figure—that is, language—is completed. Not that I am literally speaking of ourselves, but I mean to say that this was the way in which the ancients framed language. And this leads me to consider whether the primary as well as the secondary elements are rightly given. I may remark, as I was saying about the Gods, that we can only attain to conjecture of them. But still we insist that ours is the true and only method of discovery; otherwise we must have recourse, like the tragic poets, to a Deus ex machinâ, and say that God gave the first names, and therefore they are right; or that the barbarians are older than we are, and that we learnt of them; or that antiquity has cast a veil over the truth. Yet all these are not reasons; theyJowett1892: 426 are only ingenious excuses for having no reasons.

I will freely impart to you my own notions, though they are somewhat crude:—The letter ρ appears to me to be the general instrument which the legislator has employed to express all motion Edition: current; Page: [277] or κίνησις. (I ought to explain that κίνησις is just ἴεσις (going), for the letter η was unknown to the ancients; and the root, κίειν, is a foreign form of ἰέναι: of κίνησις or εɩ̓̂σις, the opposite is στâσις). This use of ρ is evident in the words tremble, break, crush, crumble, and the like; the imposer of names perceived that theJowett1892: 427 tongue is most agitated in the pronunciation of this letter, just as he used ι to express the subtle power which penetrates through all things. The letters ϕ, ψ, σ, ζ, which require a great deal of wind, are employed in the imitation of such notions as shivering, seething, shaking, and in general of what is windy. The letters δ and τ convey the idea of binding and rest in a place: the λ denotes smoothness, as in the words slip, sleek, sleep, and the like. But when the slipping tongue is detained by the heavier sound of γ, then arises the notion of a glutinous clammy nature: ν is sounded from within, and has a notion of inwardness: α is the expression of size; η of length; ο of roundness, and therefore there is plenty of ο in the word γόγγυλον. That is my view, Hermogenes, of the correctness of names; and I should like to hear what Cratylus would say. ‘But, Socrates, as I was telling you, Cratylus mystifies me; I should like to ask him, in your presence, what he means by the fitness of names?’ To this appeal, Cratylus replies ‘that heJowett1892: 428 cannot explain so important a subject all in a moment.’ ‘No, but you may “add little to little,” as Hesiod says.’ Socrates here interposes his own request, that Cratylus will give some account of his theory. Hermogenes and himself are mere sciolists, but Cratylus has reflected on these matters, and has had teachers. Cratylus replies in the words of Achilles: “‘Illustrious Ajax, you have spoken in all things much to my mind,” whether Euthyphro, or some Muse inhabiting your own breast, was the inspirer.’ Socrates replies, that he is afraid of being self–deceived, and therefore he must ‘look fore and aft,’ as Homer remarks. Does not Cratylus agree with him that names teach us the nature of things? ‘Yes.’ And naming is an art, and the artists are legislators,Jowett1892: 429 and like artists in general, some of them are better and some of them are worse than others, and give better or worse laws, and make better or worse names. Cratylus cannot admit that one name is better than another; they are either true names, or they are not names at all; and when he is asked about the name of Hermogenes, who is acknowledged to have no luck in Edition: current; Page: [278] him, he affirms this to be the name of somebody else. Socrates supposes him to mean that falsehood is impossible, to which his own answer would be, that there has never been a lack of liars. Cratylus presses him with the old sophistical argument, that falsehood is saying that which is not, and therefore saying nothing;—you cannot utter the word which is not. Socrates complains that this argument is too subtle for an old man to understand: Suppose a person addressing Cratylus were to say, Hail, Athenian Stranger, Hermogenes! would these words be true or false? ‘I should say that they would be mere unmeaningJowett1892: 430 sounds, like the hammering of a brass pot.’ But you would acknowledge that names, as well as pictures, are imitations, and also that pictures may give a right or wrong representation of a man or woman:—why may not names then equally give a representation true and right or false and wrong? Cratylus admits that pictures may give a true or false representation, but denies that names can. Socrates argues, that he may go up to a man and say ‘this is your picture,’ and again, he may go and say to him ‘this is your name’—in the one case appealing to his sense ofJowett1892: 431 sight, and in the other to his sense of hearing;—may he not? ‘Yes.’ Then you will admit that there is a right or a wrong assignment of names, and if of names, then of verbs and nouns; and if of verbs and nouns, then of the sentences which are made up of them; and comparing nouns to pictures, you may give them all the appropriate sounds, or only some of them. And as he who gives all the colours makes a good picture, and he who gives only some of them, a bad or imperfect one, but still a picture; so he who gives all the sounds makes a good name, and he who gives only some of them, a bad or imperfect one, but a name still. The artist of names, that is, the legislator, may be a good or he may be a bad artist. ‘Yes, Socrates, but the cases are not parallel; for if you subtract or misplace a letter, the name ceases to be a name.’Jowett1892: 432 Socrates admits that the number 10, if an unit is subtracted, would cease to be 10, but denies that names are of this purely quantitative nature. Suppose that there are two objects—Cratylus and the image of Cratylus; and let us imagine that some God makes them perfectly alike, both in their outward form and in their inner nature and qualities: then there will be two Cratyluses, and not merely Cratylus and the image of Cratylus. But an image Edition: current; Page: [279] in fact always falls short in some degree of the original, and if images are not exact counterparts, why should names be? If they were, they would be the doubles of their originals, and indistinguishable from them; and how ridiculous would this be! Cratylus admits the truth of Socrates’ remark. But then Socrates rejoins,Jowett1892: 433 he should have the courage to acknowledge that letters may be wrongly inserted in a noun, or a noun in a sentence; and yet the noun or the sentence may retain a meaning. Better to admit this, that we may not be punished like the traveller in Egina who goes about at night, and that Truth herself may not say to us, ‘Too late.’ And, errors excepted, we may still affirm that a name to be correct must have proper letters, which bear a resemblance to the thingJowett1892: 434 signified. I must remind you of what Hermogenes and I were saying about the letter ῥ, which was held to be expressive of motion and hardness, as λ is of smoothness;—and this you will admit to be their natural meaning. But then, why do the Eretrians call that σκληρότηρ which we call σκληρότης? We can understand one another, although the letter ῥ is not equivalent to the letter ς: why is this? You reply, because the two letters are sufficiently alike for the purpose of expressing motion. Well, then, there is the letter λ; what business has this in a word meaning hardness? ‘Why, Socrates, I retort upon you, that we put in and pull out letters at pleasure.’ And the explanation of this is custom orJowett1892: 435 agreement: we have made a convention that the ρ shall mean ς and a convention may indicate by the unlike as well as by the like. How could there be names for all the numbers unless you allow that convention is used? Imitation is a poor thing, and has to be supplemented by convention, which is another poor thing; although I agree with you in thinking that the most perfect form of language is found only where there is a perfect correspondence of sound and meaning. But let me ask you what is the use and force of names? ‘The use of names, Socrates, is to inform, and he who knows names knows things.’ Do you meanJowett1892: 436 that the discovery of names is the same as the discovery of things? ‘Yes.’ But do you not see that there is a degree of deception about names? He who first gave names, gave them according to his conception, and that may have been erroneous. ‘But then, why, Socrates, is language so consistent? all words have the same laws.’ Mere consistency is no test of truth. In Edition: current; Page: [280] geometrical problems, for example, there may be a flaw at the beginning, and yet the conclusion may follow consistently. And, therefore, a wise man will take especial care of first principles. But are words really consistent; are there not as many terms of praise which signify rest as which signify motion? There isJowett1892: 437 ἐπιστήμη, which is connected with στάσις, as μνήμη is with μένω. Βέβαιον, again, is the expression of station and position; ἱστορία is clearly descriptive of the stopping (ἱστάναι) of the stream; πιστὸν indicates the cessation of motion; and there are many words having a bad sense, which are connected with ideas of motion, such as συμϕορὰ, ἁμαρτία, &c.: ἀμαθία, again, might be explained, as ἡ ἄμα θεω̣̂ ἰόντος πορεία, and ἀκολασία as ἡ ἀκολουθία τοîς πράγμασιν. Thus the bad names are framed on the same principle as the good, and other examples might be given, which would favour a theory of rest rather than of motion. ‘Yes; but the greater number of words express motion.’ Are we to count them, Cratylus; and is correctness of names to be determined by the voice of a majority?

Here is another point: we were saying that the legislator givesJowett1892: 438 names; and therefore we must suppose that he knows the things which he names: but how can he have learnt things from names before there were any names? ‘I believe, Socrates, that some power more than human first gave things their names, and that these were necessarily true names.’ Then how came the giver of names to contradict himself, and to make some names expressive of rest, and others of motion? ‘I do not suppose that he did make them both.’ Then which did he make—those which are expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion? . . . But if some names are true and others false, we can only decide between them, not by counting words, but by appealing to things. And, if so, we must allow that things may be known without names;Jowett1892: 439 for names, as we have several times admitted, are the images of things; and the higher knowledge is of things, and is not to be derived from names; and though I do not doubt that the inventors of language gave names, under the idea that all things are in a state of motion and flux, I believe that they were mistaken; and that having fallen into a whirlpool themselves, they are trying to drag us after them. For is there not a true beauty and a true good, which is always beautiful and always good? Can the thing Edition: current; Page: [281] beauty be vanishing away from us while the words are yet in ourJowett1892: 440 mouths? And they could not be known by any one if they are always passing away—for if they are always passing away, the observer has no opportunity of observing their state. Whether the doctrine of the flux or of the eternal nature be the truer, is hard to determine. But no man of sense will put himself, or the education of his mind, in the power of names: he will not condemn himself to be an unreal thing, nor will he believe that everything is in a flux like the water in a leaky vessel, or that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This doctrine may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would have you reflect while you are young, and find out the truth, and when you know come and tell me. ‘I have thought, Socrates, and after a good deal of thinking I incline to Heracleitus.’ Then another day, my friend, you shall give me a lesson. ‘Very good, Socrates, and I hope that you will continue to study these things yourself.’


We may now consider (I) how far Plato in the Cratylus has discovered the true principles of language, and then (II) proceed to compare modern speculations respecting the origin and nature of language with the anticipations of his genius.

I. (1) Plato is aware that language is not the work of chance; nor does he deny that there is a natural fitness in names. He only insists that this natural fitness shall be intelligibly explained. But he has no idea that language is a natural organism. He would have heard with surprise that languages are the common work of whole nations in a primitive or semi–barbarous age. How, he would probably have argued, could men devoid of art have contrived a structure of such complexity? No answer could have been given to this question, either in ancient or in modern times, until the nature of primitive antiquity had been thoroughly studied, and the instincts of man had been shown to exist in greater force, when his state approaches more nearly to that of children or animals. The philosophers of the last century, after their manner, would have vainly endeavoured to trace the process by which proper names were converted into common, and would Edition: current; Page: [282] have shown how the last effort of abstraction invented prepositions and auxiliaries. The theologian would have proved that language must have had a divine origin, because in childhood, while the organs are pliable, the intelligence is wanting, and when the intelligence is able to frame conceptions, the organs are no longer able to express them. Or, as others have said: Man is man because he has the gift of speech; and he could not have invented that which he is. But this would have been an ‘argument too subtle’ for Socrates (429 D), who rejects the theological account of the origin of language ‘as an excuse for not giving a reason,’ which he compares to the introduction of the ‘Deus ex machinâ’ by the tragic poets when they have to solve a difficulty; thus anticipating many modern controversies in which the primary agency of the Divine Being is confused with the secondary cause; and God is assumed to have worked a miracle in order to fill up a lacuna in human knowledge. (Cp. Timaeus, p. 46.)

Neither is Plato wrong in supposing that an element of design and art enters into language. The creative power abating is supplemented by a mechanical process. ‘Languages are not made but grow,’ but they are made as well as grow; bursting into life like a plant or a flower, they are also capable of being trained and improved and engrafted upon one another. The change in them is effected in earlier ages by musical and euphonic improvements, at a later stage by the influence of grammar and logic, and by the poetical and literary use of words. They develope rapidly in childhood, and when they are full grown and set they may still put forth intellectual powers, like the mind in the body, or rather we may say that the nobler use of language only begins when the frame–work is complete. The savage or primitive man, in whom the natural instinct is strongest, is also the greatest improver of the forms of language. He is the poet or maker of words, as in civilized ages the dialectician is the definer or distinguisher of them. The latter calls the second world of abstract terms into existence, as the former has created the picture sounds which represent natural objects or processes. Poetry and philosophy—these two, are the two great formative principles of language, when they have passed their first stage, of which, as of the first invention of the arts in general, we only entertain conjecture. And mythology is a link between them, connecting Edition: current; Page: [283] the visible and invisible, until at length the sensuous exterior falls away, and the severance of the inner and outer world, of the idea and the object of sense, becomes complete. At a later period, logic and grammar, sister arts, preserve and enlarge the decaying instinct of language, by rule and method, which they gather from analysis and observation.

(2) There is no trace in any of Plato’s writings that he was acquainted with any language but Greek. Yet he has conceived very truly the relation of Greek to foreign languages, which he is led to consider, because he finds that many Greek words are incapable of explanation. Allowing a good deal for accident, and also for the fancies of the conditores linguae Graecae, there is an element of which he is unable to give an account. These unintelligible words he supposes to be of foreign origin, and to have been derived from a time when the Greeks were either barbarians, or in close relations to the barbarians. Socrates is aware that this principle is liable to great abuse; and, like the ‘Deus ex machinâ,’ explains nothing. Hence he excuses himself for the employment of such a device, and remarks that in foreign words there is still a principle of correctness, which applies equally both to Greeks and barbarians.

(3) But the greater number of primary words do not admit of derivation from foreign languages; they must be resolved into the letters out of which they are composed, and therefore the letters must have a meaning. The framers of language were aware of this; they observed that α was adapted to express size; η length; ο roundness; ν inwardness; ῥ rush or roar; λ liquidity; γλ the detention of the liquid or slippery element; δ and τ binding; ϕ, ψ, σ, ξ, wind and cold, and so on. Plato’s analysis of the letters of the alphabet shows a wonderful insight into the nature of language. He does not expressly distinguish between mere imitation and the symbolical use of sound to express thought, but he recognises in the examples which he gives both modes of imitation. Gesture is the mode which a deaf and dumb person would take of indicating his meaning. And language is the gesture of the tongue; in the use of the letter ῥ, to express a rushing or roaring, or of ο to express roundness, there is a direct imitation; while in the use of the letter α to express size, or of η to express length, the imitation is symbolical. The use of analogous or similar sounds, Edition: current; Page: [284] in order to express similar or analogous ideas, seems to have escaped him.

In passing from the gesture of the body to the movement of the tongue, Plato makes a great step in the physiology of language. He was probably the first who said that ‘language is imitative sound,’ which is the greatest and deepest truth of philology; although he is not aware of the laws of euphony and association by which imitation must be regulated. He was probably also the first who made a distinction between simple and compound words, a truth second only in importance to that which has just been mentioned. His great insight in one direction curiously contrasts with his blindness in another; for he appears to be wholly unaware (cp. his derivation of ἀγαθὸς from ἀγαστὸς and θοὸς) of the difference between the root and termination. But we must recollect that he was necessarily more ignorant than any schoolboy of Greek grammar, and had no table of the inflexions of verbs and nouns before his eyes, which might have suggested to him the distinction.

(4) Plato distinctly affirms that language is not truth, or ‘philosophie une langue bien faite.’ At first, Socrates has delighted himself with discovering the flux of Heracleitus in language. But he is covertly satirising the pretence of that or any other age to find philosophy in words; and he afterwards corrects any erroneous inference which might be gathered from his experiment. For he finds as many, or almost as many, words expressive of rest, as he had previously found expressive of motion. And even if this had been otherwise, who would learn of words when he might learn of things? There is a great controversy and high argument between Heracleiteans and Eleatics, but no man of sense would commit his soul in such enquiries to the imposers of names. . . In this and other passages Plato shows that he is as completely emancipated from the influence of ‘Idols of the tribe’ as Bacon himself.

The lesson which may be gathered from words is not metaphysical or moral, but historical. They teach us the affinity of races, they tell us something about the association of ideas, they occasionally preserve the memory of a disused custom; but we cannot safely argue from them about right and wrong, matter and mind, freedom and necessity, or the other problems of moral and Edition: current; Page: [285] metaphysical philosophy. For the use of words on such subjects may often be metaphorical, accidental, derived from other languages, and may have no relation to the contemporary state of thought and feeling. Nor in any case is the invention of them the result of philosophical reflection; they have been commonly transferred from matter to mind, and their meaning is the very reverse of their etymology. Because there is or is not a name for a thing, we cannot argue that the thing has or has not an actual existence; or that the antitheses, parallels, conjugates, correlatives of language have anything corresponding to them in nature. There are too many words as well as too few; and they generalize the objects or ideas which they represent. The greatest lesson which the philosophical analysis of language teaches us is, that we should be above language, making words our servants, and not allowing them to be our masters.

Plato does not add the further observation, that the etymological meaning of words is in process of being lost. If at first framed on a principle of intelligibility, they would gradually cease to be intelligible, like those of a foreign language. He is willing to admit that they are subject to many changes, and put on many disguises. He acknowledges that the ‘poor creature’ imitation is supplemented by another ‘poor creature,’—convention. But he does not see that ‘habit and repute,’ and their relation to other words, are always exercising an influence over them. Words appear to be isolated, but they are really the parts of an organism which is always being reproduced. They are refined by civilization, harmonized by poetry, emphasized by literature, technically applied in philosophy and art; they are used as symbols on the border–ground of human knowledge; they receive a fresh impress from individual genius, and come with a new force and association to every lively–minded person. They are fixed by the simultaneous utterance of millions, and yet are always imperceptibly changing;—not the inventors of language, but writing and speaking, and particularly great writers, or works which pass into the hearts of nations, Homer, Shakespear, Dante, the German or English Bible, Kant and Hegel, are the makers of them in later ages. They carry with them the faded recollection of their own past history; the use of a word in a striking and familiar passage gives a complexion to its use everywhere else, and the new use of Edition: current; Page: [286] an old and familiar phrase has also a peculiar power over us. But these and other subtleties of language escaped the observation of Plato. He is not aware that the languages of the world are organic structures, and that every word in them is related to every other; nor does he conceive of language as the joint work of the speaker and the hearer, requiring in man a faculty not only of expressing his thoughts but of understanding those of others.

On the other hand, he cannot be justly charged with a desire to frame language on artificial principles. Philosophers have sometimes dreamed of a technical or scientific language, in words which should have fixed meanings, and stand in the same relation to one another as the substances which they denote. But there is no more trace of this in Plato than there is of a language corresponding to the ideas; nor, indeed, could the want of such a language be felt until the sciences were far more developed. Those who would extend the use of technical phraseology beyond the limits of science or of custom, seem to forget that freedom and suggestiveness and the play of association are essential characteristics of language. The great master has shown how he regarded pedantic distinctions of words or attempts to confine their meaning in the satire on Prodicus in the Protagoras.

(5) In addition to these anticipations of the general principles of philology, we may note also a few curious observations on words and sounds. ‘The Eretrians say σκληρότης for σκληρότηρ;’ ‘the Thessalians call Apollo ‘Απλŵς;’ ‘the Phrygians have the words πν̂ρ, ὓδωρ, κύνες slightly changed;’ ‘there is an old Homeric word ἐμήσατο, meaning “he contrived”;’ ‘our forefathers, and especially the women, who are most conservative of the ancient language, loved the letters ι and δ; but now ι is changed into η and ε, and δ into ζ; this is supposed to increase the grandeur of the sound.’ Plato was very willing to use inductive arguments, so far as they were within his reach; but he would also have assigned a large influence to chance. Nor indeed is induction applicable to philology in the same degree as to most of the physical sciences. For after we have pushed our researches to the furthest point, in language as in all the other creations of the human mind, there will always remain an element of exception or accident or free–will, which cannot be eliminated.

The question, ‘whether falsehood is impossible,’ which Socrates Edition: current; Page: [287] characteristically sets aside as too subtle for an old man (429 D; cp. Euthyd. 284), could only have arisen in an age of imperfect consciousness, which had not yet learned to distinguish words from things. Socrates replies in effect that words have an independent existence; thus anticipating the solution of the mediaeval controversy of Nominalism and Realism. He is aware too that languages exist in various degrees of perfection (435), and that the analysis of them can only be carried to a certain point (422). ‘If we could always, or almost always, use likenesses, which are the appropriate expressions, that would be the most perfect state of language’ (439 D). These words suggest a question of deeper interest than the origin of language; viz. what is the ideal of language, how far by any correction of their usages existing languages might become clearer and more expressive than they are, more poetical, and also more logical; or whether they are now finally fixed and have received their last impress from time and authority.

On the whole, the Cratylus seems to contain deeper truths about language than any other ancient writing. But feeling the uncertain ground upon which he is walking, and partly in order to preserve the character of Socrates, Plato envelopes the whole subject in a robe of fancy, and allows his principles to drop out as if by accident.

II. What is the result of recent speculations about the origin and nature of language? Like other modern metaphysical enquiries, they end at last in a statement of facts. But, in order to state or understand the facts, a metaphysical insight seems to be required. There are more things in language than the human mind easily conceives. And many fallacies have to be dispelled, as well as observations made. The true spirit of philosophy or metaphysics can alone charm away metaphysical illusions, which are always reappearing, formerly in the fancies of neoplatonist writers, now in the disguise of experience and common sense. An analogy, a figure of speech, an intelligible theory, a superficial observation of the individual, have often been mistaken for a true account of the origin of language.

Speaking is one of the simplest natural operations, and also the most complex. Nothing would seem to be easier or more trivial than a few words uttered by a child in any language. Yet into Edition: current; Page: [288] the formation of those words have entered causes which the human mind is not capable of calculating. They are a drop or two of the great stream or ocean of speech which has been flowing in all ages. They have been transmitted from one language to another; like the child himself, they go back to the beginnings of the human race. How they originated, who can tell? Nevertheless we can imagine a stage of human society in which the circle of men’s minds was narrower and their sympathies and instincts stronger; in which their organs of speech were more flexible, and the sense of hearing finer and more discerning; in which they lived more in company, and after the manner of children were more given to express their feelings; in which ‘they moved all together,’ like a herd of wild animals, ‘when they moved at all.’ Among them, as in every society, a particular person would be more sensitive and intelligent than the rest. Suddenly, on some occasion of interest (at the approach of a wild beast, shall we say?), he first, they following him, utter a cry which resounds through the forest. The cry is almost or quite involuntary, and may be an imitation of the roar of the animal. Thus far we have not speech, but only the inarticulate expression of feeling or emotion in no respect differing from the cries of animals; for they too call to one another and are answered. But now suppose that some one at a distance not only hears the sound, but apprehends the meaning: or we may imagine that the cry is repeated to a member of the society who had been absent; the others act the scene over again when he returns home in the evening. And so the cry becomes a word. The hearer in turn gives back the word to the speaker, who is now aware that he has acquired a new power. Many thousand times he exercises this power; like a child learning to talk, he repeats the same cry again, and again he is answered; he tries experiments with a like result, and the speaker and the hearer rejoice together in their newly–discovered faculty. At first there would be few such cries, and little danger of mistaking or confusing them. For the mind of primitive man had a narrow range of perceptions and feelings; his senses were microscopic; twenty or thirty sounds or gestures would be enough for him, nor would he have any difficulty in finding them. Naturally he broke out into speech—like the young infant he laughed and babbled; Edition: current; Page: [289] but not until there were hearers as well as speakers did language begin. Not the interjection or the vocal imitation of the object, but the interjection or the vocal imitation of the object understood, is the first rudiment of human speech.

After a while the word gathers associations, and has an independent existence. The imitation of the lion’s roar calls up the fears and hopes of the chase, which are excited by his appearance. In the moment of hearing the sound, without any appreciable interval, these and other latent experiences wake up in the mind of the hearer. Not only does he receive an impression, but he brings previous knowledge to bear upon that impression. Necessarily the pictorial image becomes less vivid, while the association of the nature and habits of the animal is more distinctly perceived. The picture passes into a symbol, for there would be too many of them and they would crowd the mind; the vocal imitation, too, is always in process of being lost and being renewed, just as the picture is brought back again in the description of the poet. Words now can be used more freely because there are more of them. What was once an involuntary expression becomes voluntary. Not only can men utter a cry or call, but they can communicate and converse; they can not only use words, but they can even play with them. The word is separated both from the object and from the mind; and slowly nations and individuals attain to a fuller consciousness of themselves.

Parallel with this mental process the articulation of sounds is gradually becoming perfected. The finer sense detects the differences of them, and begins, first to agglomerate, then to distinguish them. Times, persons, places, relations of all kinds, are expressed by modifications of them. The earliest parts of speech, as we may call them by anticipation, like the first utterances of children, probably partook of the nature of interjections and nouns; then came verbs; at length the whole sentence appeared, and rhythm and metre followed. Each stage in the progress of language was accompanied by some corresponding stage in the mind and civilization of man. In time, when the family became a nation, the wild growth of dialects passed into a language. Then arose poetry and literature. We can hardly realize to ourselves how much with each improvement of language the powers of the human mind were enlarged; how the inner Edition: current; Page: [290] world took the place of the outer; how the pictorial or symbolical or analogical word was refined into a notion; how language, fair and large and free, was at last complete.

So we may imagine the speech of man to have begun as with the cries of animals, or the stammering lips of children, and to have attained by degrees the perfection of Homer and Plato. Yet we are far from saying that this or any other theory of language is proved by facts. It is not difficult to form an hypothesis which by a series of imaginary transitions will bridge over the chasm which separates man from the animals. Differences of kind may often be thus resolved into differences of degree. But we must not assume that we have in this way discovered the true account of them. Through what struggles the harmonious use of the organs of speech was acquired; to what extent the conditions of human life were different; how far the genius of individuals may have contributed to the discovery of this as of the other arts, we cannot say: Only we seem to see that language is as much the creation of the ear as of the tongue, and the expression of a movement stirring the hearts not of one man only but of many, ‘as the trees of the wood are stirred by the wind.’ The theory is consistent or not inconsistent with our own mental experience, and throws some degree of light upon a dark corner of the human mind.

In the later analysis of language, we trace the opposite and contrasted elements of the individual and nation, of the past and present, of the inward and outward, of the subject and object, of the national and relational, of the root or unchanging part of the word and of the changing inflexion, if such a distinction be admitted, of the vowel and the consonant, of quantity and accent, of speech and writing, of poetry and prose. We observe also the reciprocal influence of sounds and conceptions on each other, like the connexion of body and mind; and further remark that although the names of objects were originally proper names, as the grammarian or logician might call them, yet at a later stage they become universal notions, which combine into particulars and individuals, and are taken out of the first rude agglomeration of sounds that they may be replaced in a higher and more logical order. We see that in the simplest sentences are contained grammar and logic—the parts of speech, the Eleatic philosophy Edition: current; Page: [291] and the Kantian categories. So complex is language, and so expressive not only of the meanest wants of man, but of his highest thoughts; so various are the aspects in which it is regarded by us. Then again, when we follow the history of languages, we observe that they are always slowly moving, half dead, half alive, half solid, half fluid; the breath of a moment, yet like the air, continuous in all ages and countries,—like the glacier, too, containing within them a trickling stream which deposits débris of the rocks over which it passes. There were happy moments, as we may conjecture, in the lives of nations, at which they came to the birth—as in the golden age of literature, the man and the time seem to conspire; the eloquence of the bard or chief, as in later times the creations of the great writer who is the expression of his age, became impressed on the minds of their countrymen, perhaps in the hour of some crisis of national development—a migration, a conquest, or the like. The picture of the word which was beginning to be lost, is now revived; the sound again echoes to the sense; men find themselves capable not only of expressing more feelings, and describing more objects, but of expressing and describing them better. The world before the flood, that is to say, the world of ten, twenty, a hundred thousand years ago, has passed away and left no sign. But the best conception that we can form of it, though imperfect and uncertain, is gained from the analogy of causes still in action, some powerful and sudden, others working slowly in the course of infinite ages. Something too may be allowed to ‘the persistency of the strongest,’ to ‘the survival of the fittest,’ in this as in the other realms of nature.

These are some of the reflections which the modern philosophy of language suggests to us about the powers of the human mind and the forces and influences by which the efforts of men to utter articulate sounds were inspired. Yet in making these and similar generalizations we may note also dangers to which we are exposed. (1) There is the confusion of ideas with facts—of mere possibilities, and generalities, and modes of conception with actual and definite knowledge. The words ‘evolution,’ ‘birth,’ ‘law,’ ‘development,’ ‘instinct,’ ‘implicit,’ ‘explicit,’ and the like, have a false clearness or comprehensiveness, which adds nothing to our knowledge. The metaphor of a flower or a tree, or some other work of nature or art, is often in like manner only a Edition: current; Page: [292] pleasing picture. (2) There is the fallacy of resolving the languages which we know into their parts, and then imagining that we can discover the nature of language by reconstructing them. (3) There is the danger of identifying language, not with thoughts but with ideas. (4) There is the error of supposing that the analysis of grammar and logic has always existed, or that their distinctions were familiar to Socrates and Plato. (5) There is the fallacy of exaggerating, and also of diminishing the interval which separates articulate from inarticulate language—the cries of animals from the speech of man—the instinct of animals from the reason of man. (6) There is the danger which besets all enquiries into the early history of man—of interpreting the past by the present, and of substituting the definite and intelligible for the true but dim outline which is the horizon of human knowledge.

The greatest light is thrown upon the nature of language by analogy. We have the analogy of the cries of animals, of the songs of birds (‘man, like the nightingale, is a singing bird, but is ever binding up thoughts with musical notes’), of music, of children learning to speak, of barbarous nations in which the linguistic instinct is still undecayed, of ourselves learning to think and speak a new language, of the deaf and dumb who have words without sounds, of the various disorders of speech; and we have the after–growth of mythology, which, like language, is an unconscious creation of the human mind. We can observe the social and collective instincts of animals; and may remark how, when domesticated, they have the power of understanding but not of speaking, while on the other hand, some birds which are comparatively devoid of intelligence, make a nearer approach to articulate speech. We may note how in the animals there is a want of that sympathy with one another which appears to be the soul of language. We can compare the use of speech with other mental and bodily operations; for speech too is a kind of gesture, and in the child or savage accompanied with gesture. We may observe that the child learns to speak, as he learns to walk or to eat, by a natural impulse; yet in either case not without a power of imitation which is also natural to him—he is taught to read, but he breaks forth spontaneously in speech. We can trace the impulse to bind together the world in ideas beginning in the first efforts to speak and culminating in philosophy. But there Edition: current; Page: [293] remains an element which cannot be explained, or even adequately described. We can understand how man creates or constructs consciously and by design; and see, if we do not understand, how nature, by a law, calls into being an organized structure. But the intermediate organism which stands between man and nature, which is the work of mind yet unconscious, and in which mind and matter seem to meet, and mind unperceived to herself is really limited by all other minds, is neither understood nor seen by us, and is with reluctance admitted to be a fact.

Language is an aspect of man, of nature, and of nations, the transfiguration of the world in thought, the meeting–point of the physical and mental sciences, and also the mirror in which they are reflected, present at every moment to the individual, and yet having a sort of eternal or universal nature. When we analyze our own mental processes, we find words everywhere in every degree of clearness and consistency, fading away in dreams and more like pictures, rapidly succeeding one another in our waking thoughts, attaining a greater distinctness and consecutiveness in speech, and a greater still in writing, taking the place of one another when we try to become emancipated from their influence. For in all processes of the mind which are conscious we are talking to ourselves; the attempt to think without words is a mere illusion,—they are always reappearing when we fix our thoughts. And speech is not a separate faculty, but the expression of all our faculties, to which all our other powers of expression, signs, looks, gestures, lend their aid, of which the instrument is not the tongue only, but more than half the human frame.

The minds of men are sometimes carried on to think of their lives and of their actions as links in a chain of causes and effects going back to the beginning of time. A few have seemed to lose the sense of their own individuality in the universal cause or nature. In like manner we might think of the words which we daily use, as derived from the first speech of man, and of all the languages in the world, as the expressions or varieties of a single force or life of language of which the thoughts of men are the accident. Such a conception enables us to grasp the power and wonder of languages, and is very natural to the scientific philologist. For he, like the metaphysician, believes in the reality of Edition: current; Page: [294] that which absorbs his own mind. Nor do we deny the enormous influence which language has exercised over thought. Fixed words, like fixed ideas, have often governed the world. But in such representations we attribute to language too much the nature of a cause, and too little of an effect,—too much of an absolute, too little of a relative character,—too much of an ideal, too little of a matter–of–fact existence.

Or again, we may frame a single abstract notion of language of which all existent languages may be supposed to be the perversion. But we must not conceive that this logical figment had ever a real existence, or is anything more than an effort of the mind to give unity to infinitely various phenomena. There is no abstract language ‘in rerum natura,’ any more than there is an abstract tree, but only languages in various stages of growth, maturity, and decay. Nor do other logical distinctions or even grammatical exactly correspond to the facts of language; for they too are attempts to give unity and regularity to a subject which is partly irregular.

We find, however, that there are distinctions of another kind by which this vast field of language admits of being mapped out. There is the distinction between biliteral and triliteral roots, and the various inflexions which accompany them; between the mere mechanical cohesion of sounds or words, and the ‘chemical’ combination of them into a new word; there is the distinction between languages which have had a free and full development of their organisms, and languages which have been stunted in their growth,—lamed in their hands or feet, and never able to acquire afterwards the powers in which they are deficient; there is the distinction between synthetical languages like Greek and Latin, which have retained their inflexions, and analytical languages like English or French, which have lost them. Innumerable as are the languages and dialects of mankind, there are comparatively few classes to which they can be referred.

Another road through this chaos is provided by the physiology of speech. The organs of language are the same in all mankind, and are only capable of uttering a certain number of sounds. Every man has tongue, teeth, lips, palate, throat, mouth, which he may close or open, and adapt in various ways; making, first, vowels and consonants; and secondly, other classes of letters. Edition: current; Page: [295] The elements of all speech, like the elements of the musical scale, are few and simple, though admitting of infinite gradations and combinations. Whatever slight differences exist in the use or formation of these organs, owing to climate or the sense of euphony or other causes, they are as nothing compared with their agreement. Here then is a real basis of unity in the study of philology, unlike that imaginary abstract unity of which we were just now speaking.

Whether we regard language from the psychological, or historical, or physiological point of view, the materials of our knowledge are inexhaustible. The comparisons of children learning to speak, of barbarous nations, of musical notes, of the cries of animals, of the song of birds, increase our insight into the nature of human speech. Many observations which would otherwise have escaped us are suggested by them. But they do not explain why, in man and in man only, the speaker met with a response from the hearer, and the half articulate sound gradually developed into Sanscrit and Greek. They hardly enable us to approach any nearer the secret of the origin of language, which, like some of the other great secrets of nature,—the origin of birth and death, or of animal life,—remains inviolable. That problem is indissolubly bound up with the origin of man; and if we ever know more of the one, we may expect to know more of the other1.

It is more than sixteen years since the preceding remarks were written, which with a few alterations have now been reprinted. During the interval the progress of philology has been very great. More languages have been compared; the inner structure of language has been laid bare; the relations of sounds have been more accurately discriminated; the manner in which dialects affect or are affected by the literary or principal form of a language is better understood. Many merely verbal questions have been eliminated; the remains of the old traditional methods have died away. The study has passed from the metaphysical into an Edition: current; Page: [296] historical stage. Grammar is no longer confused with language, nor the anatomy of words and sentences with their life and use. Figures of speech, by which the vagueness of theories is often concealed, have been stripped off; and we see language more as it truly was. The immensity of the subject is gradually revealed to us, and the reign of law becomes apparent. Yet the law is but partially seen; the traces of it are often lost in the distance. For languages have a natural but not a perfect growth; like other creations of nature into which the will of man enters, they are full of what we term accident and irregularity. And the difficulties of the subject become not less, but greater, as we proceed—it is one of those studies in which we seem to know less as we know more; partly because we are no longer satisfied with the vague and superficial ideas of it which prevailed fifty years ago; partly also because the remains of the languages with which we are acquainted always were, and if they are still living, are, in a state of transition; and thirdly, because there are lacunae in our knowledge of them which can never be filled up. Not a tenth, not a hundredth part of them has been preserved. Yet the materials at our disposal are far greater than any individual can use. Such are a few of the general reflections which the present state of philology calls up.

(1) Language seems to be composite, but into its first elements the philologer has never been able to penetrate. However far he goes back, he never arrives at the beginning; or rather, as in Geology or in Astronomy, there is no beginning. He is too apt to suppose that by breaking up the existing forms of language into their parts he will arrive at a previous stage of it, but he is merely analyzing what never existed, or is never known to have existed, except in a composite form. He may divide nouns and verbs into roots and inflexions, but he has no evidence which will show that the ω of τύπτω or the μ of τίθημι, though analogous to ἐγώ, με, either became pronouns or were generated out of pronouns. To say that ‘pronouns, like ripe fruit, dropped out of verbs,’ is a misleading figure of speech. Although all languages have some common principles, there is no primitive form or forms of language known to us, or to be reasonably imagined, from which they are all descended. No inference can be drawn from language, either for or against the unity of the human race. Nor is there any proof Edition: current; Page: [297] that words were ever used without any relation to each other. Whatever may be the meaning of a sentence or a word when applied to primitive language, it is probable that the sentence is more akin to the original form than the word, and that the later stage of language is the result rather of analysis than of synthesis, or possibly is a combination of the two. Nor, again, are we sure that the original process of learning to speak was the same in different places or among different races of men. It may have been slower with some, quicker with others. Some tribes may have used shorter, others longer words or cries: they may have been more or less inclined to agglutinate or to decompose them: they may have modified them by the use of prefixes, suffixes, infixes; by the lengthening and strengthening of vowels or by the shortening and weakening of them, by the condensation or rarefaction of consonants. But who gave to language these primeval laws; or why one race has triliteral, another biliteral roots; or why in some members of a group of languages b becomes p, or d, t, or ch, k; or why two languages resemble one another in certain parts of their structure and differ in others; or why in one language there is a greater development of vowels, in another of consonants, and the like—are questions of which we only ‘entertain conjecture.’ We must remember the length of time that has elapsed since man first walked upon the earth, and that in this vast but unknown period every variety of language may have been in process of formation and decay, many times over1. It can hardly be supposed that any traces of an original Edition: current; Page: [298] language still survive, any more than of the first huts or buildings which were constructed by man. Nor are we at all certain of the relation, if any, in which the greater families of languages stand to each other. The influence of individuals must always have been a disturbing element. Like great writers in later times, there may have been many a barbaric genius who taught the men of his tribe to sing or speak, showing them by example how to continue or divide their words, charming their souls with rhythm and accent and intonation, finding in familiar objects the expression of their confused fancies—to whom the whole of language might in truth be said to be a figure of speech. One person may have introduced a new custom into the formation or pronunciation of a word; he may have been imitated by others, and the custom, or form, or accent, or quantity, or rhyme which he introduced in a single word may have become the type on which many other words or inflexions of words were framed, and may have quickly ran through a whole language. For like the other gifts which nature has bestowed upon man, that of speech has been conveyed to him through the medium, not of the many, but of the few, who were his ‘law–givers’—‘the legislator with the dialectician standing on his right hand,’ in Plato’s striking image, who formed the manners of men and gave them customs, whose voice and look and behaviour, whose gesticulations and other peculiarities were instinctively imitated by them,—the ‘king of men’ who was their priest, almost their God. . . . But these are conjectures only: so little do we know of the origin of language that the real scholar is indisposed to touch the subject at all.

(2) There are other errors besides the figment of a primitive or original language which it is time to leave behind us. We no longer divide languages into synthetical and analytical, or suppose similarity of structure to be the safe or only guide to the affinities Edition: current; Page: [299] of them. We do not confuse the parts of speech with the categories of Logic. Nor do we conceive languages any more than civilizations to be in a state of dissolution; they do not easily pass away, but are far more tenacious of life than the tribes by whom they are spoken. ‘Where two or three are gathered together,’ they survive. As in the human frame, as in the state, there is a principle of renovation as well as of decay which is at work in all of them. Neither do we suppose them to be invented by the wit of man. With few exceptions, e.g. technical words or words newly imported from a foreign language, and the like, in which art has imitated nature, ‘words are not made but grow.’ Nor do we attribute to them a supernatural origin. The law which regulates them is like the law which governs the circulation of the blood, or the rising of the sap in trees; the action of it is uniform, but the result, which appears in the superficial forms of men and animals or in the leaves of trees, is an endless profusion and variety. The laws of vegetation are invariable, but no two plants, no two leaves of the forest are precisely the same. The laws of language are invariable, but no two languages are alike, no two words have exactly the same meaning. No two sounds are exactly of the same quality, or give precisely the same impression.

It would be well if there were a similar consensus about some other points which appear to be still in dispute. Is language conscious or unconscious? In speaking or writing have we present to our minds the meaning or the sound or the construction of the words which we are using?—No more than the separate drops of water with which we quench our thirst are present: the whole draught may be conscious, but not the minute particles of which it is made up: So the whole sentence may be conscious, but the several words, syllables, letters are not thought of separately when we are uttering them. Like other natural operations, the process of speech, when most perfect, is least observed by us. We do not pause at each mouthful to dwell upon the taste of it: nor has the speaker time to ask himself the comparative merits of different modes of expression while he is uttering them. There are many things in the use of language which may be observed from without, but which cannot be explained from within. Consciousness carries us Edition: current; Page: [300] but a little way in the investigation of the mind; it is not the faculty of internal observation, but only the dim light which makes such observation possible. What is supposed to be our consciousness of language is really only the analysis of it, and this analysis admits of innumerable degrees. But would it not be better if this term, which is so misleading, and yet has played so great a part in mental science, were either banished or used only with the distinct meaning of ‘attention to our own minds,’ such as is called forth, not by familiar mental processes, but by the interruption of them? Now in this sense we may truly say that we are not conscious of ordinary speech, though we are commonly roused to attention by the misuse or mispronunciation of a word. Still less, even in schools and academies, do we ever attempt to invent new words or to alter the meaning of old ones, except in the case, mentioned above, of technical or borrowed words which are artificially made or imported because a need of them is felt. Neither in our own nor in any other age has the conscious effort of reflection in man contributed in an appreciable degree to the formation of language. ‘Which of us by taking thought’ can make new words or constructions? Reflection is the least of the causes by which language is affected, and is likely to have the least power, when the linguistic instinct is greatest, as in young children and in the infancy of nations.

A kindred error is the separation of the phonetic from the mental element of language; they are really inseparable—no definite line can be drawn between them, any more than in any other common act of mind and body. It is true that within certain limits we possess the power of varying sounds by opening and closing the mouth, by touching the palate or the teeth with the tongue, by lengthening or shortening the vocal instrument, by greater or less stress, by a higher or lower pitch of the voice, and we can substitute one note or accent for another. But behind the organs of speech and their action there remains the informing mind, which sets them in motion and works together with them. And behind the great structure of human speech and the lesser varieties of language which arise out of the many degrees and kinds of human intercourse, there is also the unknown or over–ruling law of God or nature which gives order to it in its infinite greatness, and variety in its infinitesimal minuteness—both Edition: current; Page: [301] equally inscrutable to us. We need no longer discuss whether philology is to be classed with the Natural or the Mental sciences, if we frankly recognize that, like all the sciences which are concerned with man, it has a double aspect,—inward and outward; and that the inward can only be known through the outward. Neither need we raise the question whether the laws of language, like the other laws of human action, admit of exceptions. The answer in all cases is the same—that the laws of nature are uniform, though the consistency or continuity of them is not always perceptible to us. The superficial appearances of language, as of nature, are irregular, but we do not therefore deny their deeper uniformity. The comparison of the growth of language in the individual and in the nation cannot be wholly discarded, for nations are made up of individuals. But in this, as in the other political sciences, we must distinguish between collective and individual actions or processes, and not attribute to the one what belongs to the other. Again, when we speak of the heredity or paternity of a language, we must remember that the parents are alive as well as the children, and that all the preceding generations survive (after a manner) in the latest form of it. And when, for the purposes of comparison, we form into groups the roots or terminations of words, we should not forget how casual is the manner in which their resemblances have arisen—they were not first written down by a grammarian in the paradigms of a grammar and learned out of a book, but were due to many chance attractions of sound or of meaning, or of both combined. So many cautions have to be borne in mind, and so many first thoughts to be dismissed, before we can proceed safely in the path of philological enquiry. It might be well sometimes to lay aside figures of speech, such as the ‘root’ and the ‘branches,’ the ‘stem,’ the ‘strata’ of Geology, the ‘compounds’ of Chemistry, ‘the ripe fruit of pronouns dropping from verbs’ (see above), and the like, which are always interesting, but are apt to be delusive. Yet such figures of speech are far nearer the truth than the theories which attribute the invention and improvement of language to the conscious action of the human mind. . . Lastly, it is doubted by recent philologians whether climate can be supposed to have exercised any influence worth speaking of on a language: such Edition: current; Page: [302] a view is said to be unproven: it had better therefore not be silently assumed.

‘Natural selection’ and the ‘survival of the fittest’ have been applied in the field of philology, as well as in the other sciences which are concerned with animal and vegetable life. And a Darwinian school of philologists has sprung up, who are sometimes accused of putting words in the place of things. It seems to be true, that whether applied to language or to other branches of knowledge, the Darwinian theory, unless very precisely defined, hardly escapes from being a truism. If by ‘the natural selection’ of words or meanings of words or by the ‘persistence and survival of the fittest’ the maintainer of the theory intends to affirm nothing more than this—that the word ‘fittest to survive’ survives, he adds not much to the knowledge of language. But if he means that the word or the meaning of the word or some portion of the word which comes into use or drops out of use is selected or rejected on the ground of economy or parsimony or ease to the speaker or clearness or euphony or expressiveness, or greater or less demand for it, or anything of this sort, he is affirming a proposition which has several senses, and in none of these senses can be asserted to be uniformly true. For the laws of language are precarious, and can only act uniformly when there is such frequency of intercourse among neighbours as is sufficient to enforce them. And there are many reasons why a man should prefer his own way of speaking to that of others, unless by so doing he becomes unintelligible. The struggle for existence among words is not of that fierce and irresistible kind in which birds, beasts and fishes devour one another, but of a milder sort, allowing one usage to be substituted for another, not by force, but by the persuasion, or rather by the prevailing habit, of a majority. The favourite figure, in this, as in some other uses of it, has tended rather to obscure than explain the subject to which it has been applied. Nor in any case can the struggle for existence be deemed to be the sole or principal cause of changes in language, but only one among many, and one of which we cannot easily measure the importance. There is a further objection which may be urged equally against all applications of the Darwinian theory. As in animal life and likewise in vegetable, so in languages, the process of change is Edition: current; Page: [303] said to be insensible: sounds, like animals, are supposed to pass into one another by imperceptible gradation. But in both cases the newly–created forms soon become fixed; there are few if any vestiges of the intermediate links, and so the better half of the evidence of the change is wanting.

(3) Among the incumbrances or illusions of language may be reckoned many of the rules and traditions of grammar, whether ancient grammar or the corrections of it which modern philology has introduced. Grammar, like law, delights in definition: human speech, like human action, though very far from being a mere chaos, is indefinite, admits of degrees, and is always in a state of change or transition. Grammar gives an erroneous conception of language: for it reduces to a system that which is not a system. Its figures of speech, pleonasms, ellipses, anacolutha, πρὸς τὸ σημαινόμενον, and the like have no reality; they do not either make curious expressions more intelligible or show the way in which they have arisen; they are chiefly designed to bring an earlier use of language into conformity with the later. Often they seem intended only to remind us that great poets like Aeschylus or Sophocles or Pindar or a great prose writer like Thucydides are guilty of taking unwarrantable liberties with grammatical rules; it appears never to have occurred to the inventors of them that these real ‘conditores linguae Graecae’ lived in an age before grammar, when ‘Greece also was living Greece.’ It is the anatomy, not the physiology of language, which grammar seeks to describe: into the idiom and higher life of words it does not enter. The ordinary Greek grammar gives a complete paradigm of the verb, without suggesting that the double or treble forms of Perfects, Aorists, etc. are hardly ever contemporaneous. It distinguishes Moods and Tenses, without observing how much of the nature of the one passes into the other. It makes three Voices, Active, Passive, and Middle, but takes no notice of the precarious existence and uncertain character of the last of the three. Language is a thing of degrees and relations and associations and exceptions: grammar ties it up in fixed rules. Language has many varieties of usage: grammar tries to reduce them to a single one. Grammar divides verbs into regular and irregular: it does not recognize that the irregular, equally with the regular, are subject to law, and Edition: current; Page: [304] that a language which had no exceptions would not be a natural growth: for it could not have been subjected to the influences by which language is ordinarily affected. It is always wanting to describe ancient languages in the terms of a modern one. It has a favourite fiction that one word is put in the place of another; the truth is that no word is ever put for another. It has another fiction, that a word has been omitted: words are omitted because they are no longer needed; and the omission has ceased to be observed. The common explanation of κατά or some other preposition ‘being understood’ in a Greek sentence is another fiction of the same kind, which tends to disguise the fact that under cases were comprehended originally many more relations, and that prepositions are used only to define the meaning of them with greater precision. These instances are sufficient to show the sort of errors which grammar introduces into language. We are not considering the question of its utility to the beginner in the study. Even to him the best grammar is the shortest and that in which he will have least to unlearn. It may be said that the explanations here referred to are already out of date, and that the study of Greek grammar has received a new character from comparative philology. This is true; but it is also true that the traditional grammar has still a great hold on the mind of the student.

Metaphysics are even more troublesome than the figments of grammar, because they wear the appearance of philosophy and there is no test to which they can be subjected. They are useful in so far as they give us an insight into the history of the human mind and the modes of thought which have existed in former ages; or in so far as they furnish wider conceptions of the different branches of knowledge and of their relation to one another: But they are worse than useless when they outrun experience and abstract the mind from the observation of facts, only to envelope it in a mist of words. Some philologers, like Schleicher, have been greatly influenced by the philosophy of Hegel; nearly all of them to a certain extent have fallen under the dominion of physical science. Even Kant himself thought that the first principles of philosophy could be elicited from the analysis of the proposition, in this respect falling short of Plato. Westphal holds that there are three stages of language: Edition: current; Page: [305] (1) in which things were characterized independently, (2) in which they were regarded in relation to human thought, and (3) in relation to one another. But are not such distinctions an anachronism? for they imply a growth of abstract ideas which never existed in early times. Language cannot be explained by Metaphysics; for it is prior to them and much more nearly allied to sense. It is not likely that the meaning of the cases is ultimately resolvable into relations of space and time. Nor can we suppose the conception of cause and effect or of the finite and infinite or of the same and other to be latent in language at a time when in their abstract form they had never entered into the mind of man. . . . If the science of Comparative Philology had possessed ‘enough of Metaphysics to get rid of Metaphysics,’ it would have made far greater progress.

(4) Our knowledge of language is almost confined to languages which are fully developed. They are of several patterns; and these become altered by admixture in various degrees,—they may only borrow a few words from one another and retain their life comparatively unaltered, or they may meet in a struggle for existence until one of the two is overpowered and retires from the field. They attain the full rights and dignity of language when they acquire the use of writing and have a literature of their own; they pass into dialects and grow out of them, in proportion as men are isolated or united by locality or occupation. The common language sometimes reacts upon the dialects and imparts to them also a literary character. The laws of language can be best discerned in the great crises of language, especially in the transitions from ancient to modern forms of them, whether in Europe or Asia. Such changes are the silent notes of the world’s history; they mark periods of unknown length in which war and conquest were running riot over whole continents, times of suffering too great to be endured by the human race, in which the masters became subjects and the subject races masters, in which driven by necessity or impelled by some instinct, tribes or nations left their original homes and but slowly found a resting–place. Language would be the greatest of all historical monuments, if it could only tell us the history of itself.

(5) There are many ways in which we may approach this study. Edition: current; Page: [306] The simplest of all is to observe our own use of language in conversation or in writing, how we put words together, how we construct and connect sentences, what are the rules of accent and rhythm in verse or prose, the formation and composition of words, the laws of euphony and sound, the affinities of letters, the mistakes to which we are ourselves most liable of spelling or pronunciation. We may compare with our own language some other, even when we have only a slight knowledge of it, such as French or German. Even a little Latin will enable us to appreciate the grand difference between ancient and modern European languages. In the child learning to speak we may note the inherent strength of language, which like ‘a mountain river’ is always forcing its way out. We may witness the delight in imitation and repetition, and some of the laws by which sounds pass into one another. We may learn something also from the falterings of old age, the searching for words, and the confusion of them with one another, the forgetfulness of proper names (more commonly than of other words because they are more isolated), aphasia, and the like. There are philological lessons also to be gathered from nicknames, from provincialisms, from the slang of great cities, from the argot of Paris (that language of suffering and crime, so pathetically described by Victor Hugo), from the imperfect articulation of the deaf and dumb, from the jabbering of animals, from the analysis of sounds in relation to the organs of speech. The phonograph affords a visible evidence of the nature and divisions of sound; we may be truly said to know what we can manufacture. Artificial languages, such as that of Bishop Wilkins, are chiefly useful in showing what language is not. The study of any foreign language may be made also a study of Comparative Philology. There are several points, such as the nature of irregular verbs, of indeclinable parts of speech, the influence of euphony, the decay or loss of inflections, the elements of syntax, which may be examined as well in the history of our own language as of any other. A few well–selected questions may lead the student at once into the heart of the mystery: such as, Why are the pronouns and the verb of existence generally more irregular than any other parts of speech? Why is the number of words so small in which the sound is an echo of the sense? Why Edition: current; Page: [307] does the meaning of words depart so widely from their etymology? Why do substantives often differ in meaning from the verbs to which they are related, adverbs from adjectives? Why do words differing in origin coalesce in the same sound though retaining their differences of meaning? Why are some verbs impersonal? Why are there only so many parts of speech, and on what principle are they divided? These are a few crucial questions which give us an insight from different points of view into the true nature of language.

(6) Thus far we have been endeavouring to strip off from language the false appearances in which grammar and philology, or the love of system generally, have clothed it. We have also sought to indicate the sources of our knowledge of it and the spirit in which we should approach it. We may now proceed to consider some of the principles or natural laws which have created or modified it.

i. The first and simplest of all the principles of language, common also to the animals, is imitation. The lion roars, the wolf howls in the solitude of the forest: they are answered by similar cries heard from a distance. The bird, too, mimics the voice of man and makes answer to him. Man tells to man the secret place in which he is hiding himself; he remembers and repeats the sound which he has heard. The love of imitation becomes a passion and an instinct to him. Primitive men learnt to speak from one another, like a child from its mother or nurse. They learnt of course a rudimentary, half–articulate language, the cry or song or speech which was the expression of what we now call human thoughts and feelings. We may still remark how much greater and more natural the exercise of the power is in the use of language than in any other process or action of the human mind.

ii. Imitation provided the first material of language: but it was ‘without form and void.’ During how many years or hundreds or thousands of years the imitative or half–articulate stage continued there is no possibility of determining. But we may reasonably conjecture that there was a time when the vocal utterance of man was intermediate between what we now call language and the cry of a bird or animal. Speech before language was a rudis indigestaque materies, not yet distributed Edition: current; Page: [308] into words and sentences, in which the cry of fear or joy mingled with more definite sounds recognized by custom as the expressions of things or events. It was the principle of analogy which introduced into this ‘indigesta moles’ order and measure. It was Anaxagoras’ ὁμον̂ πάντα χρήματα, εἰτα νον̂ς ἐλθὼν διεκόσμησε: the light of reason lighted up all things and at once began to arrange them. In every sentence, in every word and every termination of a word, this power of forming relations to one another was contained. There was a proportion of sound to sound, of meaning to meaning, of meaning to sound. The cases and numbers of nouns, the persons, tenses, numbers of verbs, were generally on the same or nearly the same pattern and had the same meaning. The sounds by which they were expressed were rough–hewn at first; after a while they grew more refined—the natural laws of euphony began to affect them. The rules of syntax are likewise based upon analogy. Time has an analogy with space, arithmetic with geometry. Not only in musical notes, but in the quantity, quality, accent, rhythm of human speech, trivial or serious, there is a law of proportion. As in things of beauty, as in all nature, in the composition as well as in the motion of all things, there is a similarity of relations by which they are held together.

It would be a mistake to suppose that the analogies of language are always uniform: there may be often a choice between several, and sometimes one and sometimes another will prevail. In Greek there are three declensions of nouns; the forms of cases in one of them may intrude upon another. Similarly verbs in –ω and –μι interchange forms of tenses, and the completed paradigm of the verb is often made up of both. The same nouns may be partly declinable and partly indeclinable, and in some of their cases may have fallen out of use. Here are rules with exceptions; they are not however really exceptions, but contain in themselves indications of other rules. Many of these interruptions or variations of analogy occur in pronouns or in the verb of existence of which the forms were too common and therefore too deeply imbedded in language entirely to drop out. The same verbs in the same meaning may sometimes take one case, sometimes another. The participle may also have the character of an adjective, the adverb either of an adjective or of a preposition. Edition: current; Page: [309] These exceptions are as regular as the rules, but the causes of them are seldom known to us.

Language, like the animal and vegetable worlds, is everywhere intersected by the lines of analogy. Like number from which it seems to be derived, the principle of analogy opens the eyes of men to discern the similarities and differences of things, and their relations to one another. At first these are such as lie on the surface only; after a time they are seen by men to reach farther down into the nature of things. Gradually in language they arrange themselves into a sort of imperfect system; groups of personal and case endings are placed side by side. The fertility of language produces many more than are wanted; and the superfluous ones are utilized by the assignment to them of new meanings. The vacuity and the superfluity are thus partially compensated by each other. It must be remembered that in all the languages which have a literature, certainly in Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, we are not at the beginning but almost at the end of the linguistic process; we have reached a time when the verb and the noun are nearly perfected, though in no language did they completely perfect themselves, because for some unknown reason the motive powers of languages seem to have ceased when they were on the eve of completion: they became fixed or crystallized in an imperfect form either from the influence of writing and literature, or because no further differentiation of them was required for the intelligibility of language. So not without admixture and confusion and displacement and contamination of sounds and the meanings of words, a lower stage of language passes into a higher. Thus far we can see and no further. When we ask the reason why this principle of analogy prevails in all the vast domain of language, there is no answer to the question; or no other answer but this, that there are innumerable ways in which, like number, analogy permeates, not only language, but the whole world, both visible and intellectual. We know from experience that it does not (a) arise from any conscious act of reflection that the accusative of a Latin noun in us should end in um; nor (b) from any necessity of being understood,—much less articulation would suffice for this; nor (c) from greater convenience or expressiveness of particular sounds. Such notions were certainly far enough away Edition: current; Page: [310] from the mind of primitive man. We may speak of a latent instinct, of a survival of the fittest, easiest, most euphonic, most economical of breath, in the case of one of two competing sounds; but these expressions do not add anything to our knowledge. We may try to grasp the infinity of language either under the figure of a limitless plain divided into countries and districts by natural boundaries, or of a vast river eternally flowing whose origin is concealed from us; we may apprehend partially the laws by which speech is regulated: but we do not know, and we seem as if we should never know, any more than in the parallel case of the origin of species, how vocal sounds received life and grew, and in the form of languages came to be distributed over the earth.

iii. Next in order to analogy in the formation of language or even prior to it comes the principle of onomatopea, which is itself a kind of analogy or similarity of sound and meaning. In by far the greater number of words it has become disguised and has disappeared; but in no stage of language is it entirely lost. It belongs chiefly to early language, in which words were few; and its influence grew less and less as time went on. To the ear which had a sense of harmony it became a barbarism which disturbed the flow and equilibrium of discourse; it was an excrescence which had to be cut out, a survival which needed to be got rid of, because it was out of keeping with the rest. It remained for the most part only as a formative principle, which used words and letters not as crude imitations of other natural sounds, but as symbols of ideas which were naturally associated with them. It received in another way a new character; it affected not so much single words, as larger portions of human speech. It regulated the juxtaposition of sounds and the cadence of sentences. it was the music, not of song, but of speech, in prose as well as verse. The old onomatopea of primitive language was refined into an onomatopea of a higher kind, in which it is no longer true to say that a particular sound corresponds to a motion or action of man or beast or movement of nature, but that in all the higher uses of language the sound is the echo of the sense, especially in poetry, in which beauty and expressiveness are given to human thoughts by the harmonious composition of the words, syllables, letters, accents, Edition: current; Page: [311] quantities, rhythms, rhymes, varieties and contrasts of all sorts. The poet with his ‘Break, break, break’ or his ἢ πâσιν νεκύεσσι καταϕθιμένοισιν ἀνάσσειν or his ‘longius ex altoque sinum trahit,’ can produce a far finer music than any crude imitations of things or actions in sound, although a letter or two having this imitative power may be a lesser element of beauty in such passages. The same subtle sensibility, which adapts the word to the thing, adapts the sentence or cadence to the general meaning or spirit of the passage. This is the higher onomatopea which has banished the cruder sort as unworthy to have a place in great languages and literatures.

We can see clearly enough that letters or collocations of letters do by various degrees of strength or weakness, length or shortness, emphasis or pitch, become the natural expressions of the finer parts of human feeling or thought. And not only so, but letters themselves have a significance; as Plato observes that the letter ῥ is expressive of motion, the letters δ and τ of binding and rest, the letter λ of smoothness, ν of inwardness, the letter η of length, the letter ο of roundness. These were often combined so as to form composite notions, as for example in τρόμος (trembling), τραχύς (rugged), θραύειν (crush), κρούειν (strike), θρύπτειν (break), ῥυμβεîν (whirl),—in all which words we notice a parallel composition of sounds in their English equivalents. Plato also remarks, as we remark, that the onomatopoetic principle is far from prevailing uniformly, and further that no explanation of language consistently corresponds with any system of philosophy, however great may be the light which language throws upon the nature of the mind. Both in Greek and English we find groups of words such as string, swing, sling, spring, sting, which are parallel to one another and may be said to derive their vocal effect partly from contrast of letters, but in which it is impossible to assign a precise amount of meaning to each of the expressive and onomatopoetic letters. A few of them are directly imitative, as for example the ω in ᾠον, which represents the round form of the egg by the figure of the mouth: or βροντή (thunder), in which the fulness of the sound of the word corresponds to the thing signified by it; or βόμβος (buzzing), of which the first syllable, as in its English equivalent, has the meaning of a deep sound. We may observe Edition: current; Page: [312] also (as we see in the case of the poor stammerer) that speech has the co–operation of the whole body and may be often assisted or half expressed by gesticulation. A sound or word is not the work of the vocal organs only; nearly the whole of the upper part of the human frame, including head, chest, lungs, have a share in creating it; and it may be accompanied by a movement of the eyes, nose, fingers, hands, feet which contributes to the effect of it.

The principle of onomatopea has fallen into discredit, partly because it has been supposed to imply an actual manufacture of words out of syllables and letters, like a piece of joiner’s work,—a theory of language which is more and more refuted by facts, and more and more going out of fashion with philologians; and partly also because the traces of onomatopea in separate words become almost obliterated in the course of ages. The poet of language cannot put in and pull out letters, as a painter might insert or blot out a shade of colour to give effect to his picture. It would be ridiculous for him to alter any received form of a word in order to render it more expressive of the sense. He can only select, perhaps out of some dialect, the form which is already best adapted to his purpose. The true onomatopea is not a creative, but a formative principle, which in the later stage of the history of language ceases to act upon individual words; but still works through the collocation of them in the sentence or paragraph, and the adaptation of every word, syllable, letter to one another and to the rhythm of the whole passage.

iv. Next, under a distinct head, although not separable from the preceding, may be considered the differentiation of languages, i.e. the manner in which differences of meaning and form have arisen in them. Into their first creation we have ceased to enquire: it is their aftergrowth with which we are now concerned. How did the roots or substantial portions of words become modified or inflected? and how did they receive separate meanings? First we remark that words are attracted by the sounds and senses of other words, so that they form groups of nouns and verbs analogous in sound and sense to one another, each noun or verb putting forth inflexions, generally of two or three patterns, and with exceptions. We do not say that we know Edition: current; Page: [313] how sense became first allied to sound; but we have no difficulty in ascertaining how the sounds and meanings of words were in time parted off or differentiated. (1) The chief causes which regulate the variations of sound are (a) double or differing analogies, which lead sometimes to one form, sometimes to another; (b) euphony, by which is meant chiefly the greater pleasure to the ear and the greater facility to the organs of speech which is given by a new formation or pronunciation of a word; (c) the necessity of finding new expressions for new classes or processes of things. We are told that changes of sound take place by innumerable gradations until a whole tribe or community or society find themselves acquiescing in a new pronunciation or use of language. Yet no one observes the change, or is at all aware that in the course of a lifetime he and his contemporaries have appreciably varied their intonation or use of words. On the other hand, the necessities of language seem to require that the intermediate sounds or meanings of words should quickly become fixed or set and not continue in a state of transition (see above, p. 303). The process of settling down is aided by the organs of speech and by the use of writing and printing. (2) The meaning of words varies because ideas vary or the number of things which is included under them or with which they are associated is increased. A single word is thus made to do duty for many more things than were formerly expressed by it; and it parts into different senses when the classes of things or ideas which are represented by it are themselves different and distinct. A figurative use of a word may easily pass into a new sense: a new meaning caught up by association may become more important than all the rest. The good or neutral sense of a word, such as Jesuit, Puritan, Methodist, Heretic, has been often converted into a bad one by the malevolence of party spirit. Double forms suggest different meanings and are often used to express them; and the form or accent of a word has been not unfrequently altered when there is a difference of meaning. The difference of gender in nouns is utilized for the same reason. New meanings of words push themselves into the vacant spaces of language and retire when they are no longer needed. Language equally abhors vacancy and superfluity. But the remedial measures by which both Edition: current; Page: [314] are eliminated are not due to any conscious action of the human mind; nor is the force exerted by them constraining or necessary.

(7) We have shown that language, although subject to laws, is far from being of an exact and uniform nature. We may now speak briefly of the faults of language. They may be compared to the faults of Geology, in which different strata cross one another or meet at an angle, or mix with one another either by slow transitions or by violent convulsions, leaving many lacunae which can be no longer filled up, and often becoming so complex that no true explanation of them can be given. So in language there are the cross influences of meaning and sound, of logic and grammar, of differing analogies, of words and the inflexions of words, which often come into conflict with each other. The grammarian, if he were to form new words, would make them all of the same pattern according to what he conceives to be the rule, that is, the more common usage of language. The subtlety of nature goes far beyond art, and it is complicated by irregularity, so that often we can hardly say that there is a right or wrong in the formation of words. For almost any formation which is not at variance with the first principles of language is possible and may be defended.

The imperfection of language is really due to the formation and correlation of words by accident, that is to say, by principles which are unknown to us. Hence we see why Plato, like ourselves unable to comprehend the whole of language, was constrained to ‘supplement the poor creature imitation by another poor creature convention.’ But the poor creature convention in the end proves too much for all the rest: for we do not ask what is the origin of words or whether they are formed according to a correct analogy, but what is the usage of them; and we are compelled to admit with Hermogenes in Plato and with Horace that usage is the ruling principle, ‘quem penes arbitrium est, et jus et norma loquendi.’

(8) There are two ways in which a language may attain permanence or fixity. First, it may have been embodied in poems or hymns or laws, which may be repeated for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years with a religious accuracy, so that to the priests or rhapsodists of a nation the whole or the greater Edition: current; Page: [315] part of a language is literally preserved; secondly, it may be written down and in a written form distributed more or less widely among the whole nation. In either case the language which is familiarly spoken may have grown up wholly or in a great measure independently of them. (1) The first of these processes has been sometimes attended by the result that the sound of the words has been carefully preserved and that the meaning of them has either perished wholly, or is only doubtfully recovered by the efforts of modern philology. The verses have been repeated as a chant or part of a ritual, but they have had no relation to ordinary life or speech. (2) The invention of writing again is commonly attributed to a particular epoch, and we are apt to think that such an inestimable gift would have immediately been diffused over a whole country. But it may have taken a long time to perfect the art of writing, and another long period may have elapsed before it came into common use. Its influence on language has been increased ten, twenty or one hundred fold by the invention of printing.

Before the growth of poetry or the invention of writing, languages were only dialects. So they continued to be in parts of the country in which writing was not used or in which there was no diffusion of literature. In most of the counties of England there is still a provincial style, which has been sometimes made by a great poet the vehicle of his fancies. When a book sinks into the mind of a nation, such as Luther’s Bible or the Authorized English Translation of the Bible, or again great classical works like Shakspere or Milton, not only have new powers of expression been diffused through a whole nation, but a great step towards uniformity has been made. The instinct of language demands regular grammar and correct spelling: these are imprinted deeply on the tablets of a nation’s memory by a common use of classical and popular writers. In our own day we have attained to a point at which nearly every printed book is spelt correctly and written grammatically.

(9) Proceeding further to trace the influence of literature on language we note some other causes which have affected the higher use of it: such as (1) the necessity of clearness and connection; (2) the fear of tautology; (3) the influence of metre, Edition: current; Page: [316] rhythm, rhyme, and of the language of prose and verse upon one another; (4) the power of idiom and quotation; (5) the relativeness of words to one another.

It has been usual to depreciate modern languages when compared with ancient. The latter are regarded as furnishing a type of excellence to which the former cannot attain. But the truth seems to be that modern languages, if through the loss of inflections and genders they lack some power or beauty or expressiveness or precision which is possessed by the ancient, are in many other respects superior to them: the thought is generally clearer, the connection closer, the sentence and paragraph are better distributed. The best modern languages, for example English or French, possess as great a power of self–improvement as the Latin, if not as the Greek. Nor does there seem to be any reason why they should ever decline or decay. It is a popular remark that our great writers are beginning to disappear: it may also be remarked that whenever a great writer appears in the future he will find the English language as perfect and as ready for use as in the days of Shakespere or Milton. There is no reason to suppose that English or French will ever be reduced to the low level of Modern Greek or of Mediaeval Latin. The wide diffusion of great authors would make such a decline impossible. Nor will modern languages be easily broken up by amalgamation with each other. The distance between them is too wide to be spanned, the differences are too great to be overcome, and the use of printing makes it impossible that one of them should ever be lost in another.

The structure of the English language differs greatly from that of either Latin or Greek. In the two latter, especially in Greek, sentences are joined together by connecting particles. They are distributed on the right hand and on the left by μέν, δέ, ἀλλά, καίτοι, καὶ δὴ and the like, or deduced from one another by ἄρα, δή, ον̂̔ν, τοίνυν and the like. In English the majority of sentences are independent and in apposition to one another; they are laid side by side or slightly connected by the copula. But within the sentence the expression of the logical relations of the clauses is closer and more exact: there is less of apposition and participial structure. The sentences thus laid side by side are also constructed into paragraphs; these again are Edition: current; Page: [317] less distinctly marked in Greek and Latin than in English. Generally French, German, and English have an advantage over the classical languages in point of accuracy. The three concords are more accurately observed in English than in either Greek or Latin. On the other hand, the extension of the familiar use of the masculine and feminine gender to objects of sense and abstract ideas as well as to men and animals no doubt lends a nameless grace to style which we have a difficulty in appreciating, and the possible variety in the order of words gives more flexibility and also a kind of dignity to the period. Of the comparative effect of accent and quantity and of the relation between them in ancient and modern languages we are not able to judge.

Another quality in which modern are superior to ancient languages is freedom from tautology. No English style is thought tolerable in which, except for the sake of emphasis, the same words are repeated at short intervals. Of course the length of the interval must depend on the character of the word. Striking words and expressions cannot be allowed to reappear, if at all, except at the distance of a page or more. Pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions may or rather must recur in successive lines. It seems to be a kind of impertinence to the reader and strikes unpleasantly both on the mind and on the ear that the same sounds should be used twice over, when another word or turn of expression would have given a new shade of meaning to the thought and would have added a pleasing variety to the sound. And the mind equally rejects the repetition of the word and the use of a mere synonym for it,—e.g. felicity and happiness. The cultivated mind desires something more, which a skilful writer is easily able to supply out of his treasure–house.

The fear of tautology has doubtless led to the multiplications of words and the meanings of words, and generally to an enlargement of the vocabulary. It is a very early instinct of language; for ancient poetry is almost as free from tautology as the best modern writings. The speech of young children, except in so far as they are compelled to repeat themselves by the fewness of their words, also escapes from it. When they grow up and have ideas which are beyond their powers of Edition: current; Page: [318] expression, especially in writing, tautology begins to appear. In like manner when language is ‘contaminated’ by philosophy it is apt to become awkward, to stammer and repeat itself, to lose its flow and freedom. No philosophical writer with the exception of Plato, who is himself not free from tautology, and perhaps Bacon, has attained to any high degree of literary excellence.

To poetry the form and polish of language is chiefly to be attributed; and the most critical period in the history of language is the transition from verse to prose. At first mankind were contented to express their thoughts in a set form of words having a kind of rhythm; to which regularity was given by accent and quantity. But after a time they demanded a greater degree of freedom, and to those who had all their life been hearing poetry the first introduction of prose had the charm of novelty. The prose romances into which the Homeric Poems were converted, for a while probably gave more delight to the hearers or readers of them than the Poems themselves, and in time the relation of the two was reversed: the poems which had once been a necessity of the human mind became a luxury: they were now superseded by prose, which in all succeeding ages became the natural vehicle of expression to all mankind. Henceforward prose and poetry formed each other. A comparatively slender link between them was also furnished by proverbs. We may trace in poetry how the simple succession of lines, not without monotony, has passed into a complicated period, and how in prose, rhythm and accent and the order of words and the balance of clauses, sometimes not without a slight admixture of rhyme, make up a new kind of harmony, swelling into strains not less majestic than those of Homer, Virgil, or Dante.

One of the most curious and characteristic features of language, affecting both syntax and style, is idiom. The meaning of the word ‘idiom’ is that which is peculiar, that which is familiar, the word or expression which strikes us or comes home to us, which is more readily understood or more easily remembered. It is a quality which really exists in infinite degrees, which we turn into differences of kind by applying the term only to conspicuous and striking examples of words or phrases which have this quality. It often supersedes the laws of language or the rules of grammar, Edition: current; Page: [319] or rather is to be regarded as another law of language which is natural and necessary. The word or phrase which has been repeated many times over is more intelligible and familiar to us than one which is rare, and our familiarity with it more than compensates for incorrectness or inaccuracy in the use of it. Striking expressions also which have moved the hearts of nations or are the precious stones and jewels of great authors partake of the nature of idioms: they are taken out of the sphere of grammar and are exempt from the proprieties of language. Every one knows that we often put words together in a manner which would be intolerable if it were not idiomatic. We cannot argue either about the meaning of words or the use of constructions that because they are used in one connection they will be legitimate in another, unless we allow for this principle. We can bear to have words and sentences used in new senses or in a new order or even a little perverted in meaning when we are quite familiar with them. Quotations are as often applied in a sense which the author did not intend as in that which he did. The parody of the words of Shakspere or of the Bible, which has in it something of the nature of a lie, is far from unpleasing to us. The better known words, even if their meaning be perverted, are more agreeable to us and have a greater power over us. Most of us have experienced a sort of delight and feeling of curiosity when we first came across or when we first used for ourselves a new word or phrase or figure of speech.

There are associations of sound and of sense by which every word is linked to every other. One letter harmonizes with another; every verb or noun derives its meaning, not only from itself, but from the words with which it is associated. Some reflection of them near or distant is embodied in it. In any new use of a word all the existing uses of it have to be considered. Upon these depends the question whether it will bear the proposed extension of meaning or not. According to the famous expression of Luther, ‘Words are living creatures, having hands and feet.’ When they cease to retain this living power of adaptation, when they are only put together like the parts of a piece of furniture, language becomes unpoetical, inexpressive, dead.

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Grammars would lead us to suppose that words have a fixed form and sound. Lexicons assign to each word a definite meaning or meanings. They both tend to obscure the fact that the sentence precedes the word and that all language is relative. (1) It is relative to its own context. Its meaning is modified by what has been said before and after in the same or in some other passage: without comparing the context we are not sure whether it is used in the same sense even in two successive sentences. (2) It is relative to facts, to time, place, and occasion: when they are already known to the hearer or reader, they may be presupposed; there is no need to allude to them further. (3) It is relative to the knowledge of the writer and reader or of the speaker and hearer. Except for the sake of order and consecutiveness nothing ought to be expressed which is already commonly or universally known. A word or two may be sufficient to give an intimation to a friend; a long or elaborate speech or composition is required to explain some new idea to a popular audience or to the ordinary reader or to a young pupil. Grammars and dictionaries are not to be despised; for in teaching we need clearness rather than subtlety. But we must not therefore forget that there is also a higher ideal of language in which all is relative—sounds to sounds, words to words, the parts to the whole—in which besides the lesser context of the book or speech, there is also the larger context of history and circumstances.

The study of Comparative Philology has introduced into the world a new science which more than any other binds up man with nature, and distant ages and countries with one another. It may be said to have thrown a light upon all other sciences and upon the nature of the human mind itself. The true conception of it dispels many errors, not only of metaphysics and theology, but also of natural knowledge. Yet it is far from certain that this newly–found science will continue to progress in the same surprising manner as heretofore; or that even if our materials are largely increased, we shall arrive at much more definite conclusions than at present. Like some other branches of knowledge, it may be approaching a point at which it can no longer be profitably studied. But at any rate it has brought back the philosophy of language from theory to fact; Edition: current; Page: [321] it has passed out of the region of guesses and hypotheses, and has attained the dignity of an Inductive Science. And it is not without practical and political importance. It gives a new interest to distant and subject countries; it brings back the dawning light from one end of the earth to the other. Nations, like individuals, are better understood by us when we know something of their early life; and when they are better understood by us, we feel more kindly towards them. Lastly, we may remember that all knowledge is valuable for its own sake; and we may also hope that a deeper insight into the nature of human speech will give us a greater command of it and enable us to make a nobler use of it1.

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Socrates, Hermogenes, Cratylus.

Cratylus. Hermogenes, Cratylus, Socrates.

Jowett1892: 383Suppose that we make Socrates a party to the argument?


If you please.

Cratylus and Hermogenes have been disputing about names: they refer their dispute to Socrates.

I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers ‘Yes.’ And Socrates? ‘Yes.’ Then every man’s name, as I tell him, is that which he is called. To this he replies—‘If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that would not be your name.’ And when I am anxious to have aJowett1892: 384 further explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell, and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so good, what is your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which I would far sooner hear.

Socrates not having heard the fifty–drachma course of Prodicus, is incompetent to decide.

Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that ‘hard is the knowledge of the good.’ And the knowledge of names is a great part of knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty–drachma course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in Edition: current; Page: [324] grammar and language—these are his own words—and then I should have been at once able to answer your question about the correctness of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the single–drachma course, and therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation of them. When he declares that your name is not really Hermogenes, I suspect that he is only making fun of you;—he means to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking after a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there is a good deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had better leave the question open until we have heard both sides.

There is no correctness in names other than convention, says Hermogenes.

I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old—we frequently change the names of our slaves, and the newly–imposed name is as good as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and habit of the users;—such is my view. But if I am mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any one else.


I dare say that you may be right, Hermogenes: letJowett1892: 385 us see;—Your meaning is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody agrees to call it?


That is my notion.


Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?




Well, now, let me take an instance;—suppose that I call a man a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly called a horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a horse by the world:—that is your meaning?


He would, according to my view.

But how, rejoins Socrates is this doctrine consistent with any distinction between truth and falsehood?

But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there is in words a true and a false?

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And there are true and false propositions?


To be sure.


And a true proposition says that which is, and a false proposition says that which is not?


Yes; what other answer is possible?


Then in a proposition there is a true and false?



If the whole is true, the parts must be true; if propositions, then names.

But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts untrue?


No; the parts are true as well as the whole.


Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or every part?


I should say that every part is true.


Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?


No; that is the smallest.


Then the name is a part of the true proposition?




Yes, and a true part, as you say.




And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?




Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may be true and false?


So we must infer.


And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be the name?




And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody says that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering them?


Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities and countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes from one another.


But would you say, Hermogenes, that the thingsJowett1892: 386 differ as the names differ? and are they relative to individuals, Edition: current; Page: [326] as Protagoras tells us? For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that things are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to you. Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a permanent essence of their own?

Is Protagoras right or wrong in his doctrine that ‘man is the measure’ and that things are as they appear?

There have been times, Socrates, when I have been driven in my perplexity to take refuge with Protagoras; not that I agree with him at all.


What! have you ever been driven to admit that there was no such thing as a bad man?


No, indeed; but I have often had reason to think that there are very bad men, and a good many of them.


Well, and have you ever found any very good ones?


Not many.


Still you have found them?




And would you hold that the very good were the very wise, and the very evil very foolish? Would that be your view?


It would.


But if Protagoras is right, and the truth is that things are as they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of us foolish?



If there is any difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood, he must be wrong, and Euthydemus, who says that all things belong to all, equally wrong.

And if, on the other hand, wisdom and folly are really distinguishable, you will allow, I think, that the assertion of Protagoras can hardly be correct. For if what appears to each man is true to him, one man cannot in reality be wiser than another.


He cannot.


Nor will you be disposed to say with Euthydemus, that all things equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for neither on his view can there be some good and others bad, if virtue and vice are always equally to be attributed to all.


There cannot.


But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent essence: they are not in Edition: current; Page: [327] relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.

Things and actions have their own proper nature, and are made or done by a natural process.

I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.


Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves, or equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also a class of being?


Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.

Jowett1892: 387Soc.

Then the actions also are done according to their proper nature, and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for example, we do not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument; but we cut with the proper instrument only, and according to the natural process of cutting; and the natural process is right and will succeed, but any other will fail and be of no use at all.


I should say that the natural way is the right way.


Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the right way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.




And this holds good of all actions?




And speech is a kind of action?



This principle applied to speech.

And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases? Will not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural way of speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and failure.


I quite agree with you.


And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men speak.


That is true.


And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts, is not naming also a sort of action?




And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had a special nature of their own?



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The several arts have their own proper instruments.

Then the argument would lead us to infer that names ought to be given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument, and not at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with success.


I agree.


But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with something?




And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or pierced with something?




And that which has to be named has to be named with something?




What is that with which we pierce?


An awl.


And with which we weave?Jowett1892: 388


A shuttle.


And with which we name?


A name.


Very good: then a name is an instrument?




Suppose that I ask, ‘What sort of instrument is a shuttle?’ And you answer, ‘A weaving instrument.’




And I ask again, ‘What do we do when we weave?’—The answer is, that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.


Very true.


And may not a similar description be given of an awl, and of instruments in general?


To be sure.


And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names: will you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do when we name?


I cannot say.


Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish things according to their natures?


Certainly we do.


Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of Edition: current; Page: [329] distinguishing natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of the web.




And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?

A name is the instrument which teaches and distinguishes natures.



Then the weaver will use the shuttle well—and well means like a weaver? and the teacher will use the name well—and well means like a teacher?




And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will he be using well?


That of the carpenter.


And is every man a carpenter, or the skilled only?


Only the skilled.

And as the other arts use the work of others, so the teacher uses the work of the legislator, who is the maker of names.

And when the piercer uses the awl, whose work will he be using well?


That of the smith.


And is every man a smith, or only the skilled?


The skilled only.


And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will he be using?


There again I am puzzled.


Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?


Indeed I cannot.


Does not the law seem to you to give us them?


Yes, I suppose so.


Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the work of the legislator?


I agree.


And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?


The skilled only.


Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to giveJowett1892: 389 a name, but only a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all skilled artisans in the world is the rarest.




And how does the legislator make names? and to what does he look? Consider this in the light of the previous instances: to what does the carpenter look in Edition: current; Page: [330] making the shuttle? Does he not look to that which is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?



The carpenter in making the shuttle looks to the idea or natural form of the shuttle, being such as is best adapted to each kind of work.

And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will he make another, looking to the broken one? or will he look to the form according to which he made the other?


To the latter, I should imagine.


Might not that be justly called the true or ideal shuttle?


I think so.


And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture of garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material, ought all of them to have the true form of the shuttle; and whatever is the shuttle best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the form which the maker produces in each case.




And the same holds of other instruments: when a man has discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought to know how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature to their several uses?




And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature to their uses?




For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the several kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.



And so the legislator looks to the true form or expression of things in sounds and syllables, though, like the carpenter, he may work in different materials.

Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also to know how to put the true natural name of each thing into sounds and syllables, and to make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is to be a namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different legislators will not use the same syllables. For neither does every smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same purpose, make them all of the same iron. The Edition: current; Page: [331] form must be the same, but the material may vary, and still the instrument may be equally good of whatever iron made,Jowett1892: 390 whether in Hellas or in a foreign country;—there is no difference.


Very true.


And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian, is not therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he gives the true and proper form of the name in whatever syllables; this or that country makes no matter.


Quite true.

This true form is determined by the user.

But who then is to determine whether the proper form is given to the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used? the carpenter who makes, or the weaver who is to use them?


I should say, he who is to use them, Socrates.


And who uses the work of the lyre–maker? Will not he be the man who knows how to direct what is being done, and who will know also whether the work is being well done or not?




And who is he?


The player of the lyre.


And who will direct the shipwright?


The pilot.


And who will be best able to direct the legislator in his work, and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other country? Will not the user be the man?




And this is he who knows how to ask questions?




And how to answer them?




And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call a dialectician?