[ASSIGNED READING BEGINS]
But first of all, let us view the affections and actions
of the soul divine and human, and try to ascertain the truth about
them. The beginning of our proof is as follows:-
The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever
in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved by
another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live. Only the self-moving,
never leaving self, never ceases to move, and is the fountain and
beginning of motion to all that moves besides. Now, the beginning is
unbegotten, for that which is begotten has a beginning; but the
beginning is begotten of nothing, for if it were begotten of
something, then the begotten would not come from a beginning. But if
unbegotten, it must also be indestructible; for if beginning were
destroyed, there could be no beginning out of anything, nor anything
out of a beginning; and all things must have a beginning. And
therefore the self-moving is the beginning of motion; and this can
neither be destroyed nor begotten, else the whole heavens and all
creation would collapse and stand still, and never again have motion
or birth. But if the self-moving is proved to be immortal, he who
affirms that self-motion is the very idea and essence of the soul will
not be put to confusion. For the body which is moved from without is
soulless; but that which is moved from within has a soul, for such
is the nature of the soul. But if this be true, must not the soul be
the self-moving, and therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal?
Enough of the soul's immortality.
Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of
large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in a
figure. And let the figure be composite-a pair of winged horses and
a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods
are all of them noble and of noble descent, but those of other races
are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of
them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of
ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal
of trouble to him. I will endeavour to explain to you in what way
the mortal differs from the immortal creature. The soul in her
totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere, and traverses the
whole heaven in divers forms appearing--when perfect and fully
winged she soars upward, and orders the whole world; whereas the
imperfect soul, losing her wings and drooping in her flight at last
settles on the solid ground-there, finding a home, she receives an
earthly frame which appears to be self-moved, but is really moved by
her power; and this composition of soul and body is called a living
and mortal creature. For immortal no such union can be reasonably
believed to be; although fancy, not having seen nor surely known the
nature of God, may imagine an immortal creature having both a body and
also a soul which are united throughout all time. Let that, however,
be as God wills, and be spoken of acceptably to him. And now let us
ask the reason why the soul loses her wings!
The wing is the corporeal element which is most akin to the
divine, and which by nature tends to soar aloft and carry that which
gravitates downwards into the upper region, which is the habitation of
the gods. The divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the like; and by
these the wing of the soul is nourished, and grows apace; but when fed
upon evil and foulness and the opposite of good, wastes and falls
away. Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the reins of a winged chariot,
leads the way in heaven, ordering all and taking care of all; and
there follows him the array of gods and demigods, marshalled in eleven
bands; Hestia alone abides at home in the house of heaven; of the rest
they who are reckoned among the princely twelve march in their
appointed order. They see many blessed sights in the inner heaven, and
there are many ways to and fro, along which the blessed gods are
passing, every one doing his own work; he may follow who will and can,
for jealousy has no place in the celestial choir. But when they go
to banquet and festival, then they move up the steep to the top of the
vault of heaven. The chariots of the gods in even poise, obeying the
rein, glide rapidly; but the others labour, for the vicious steed goes
heavily, weighing down the charioteer to the earth when his steed
has not been thoroughly trained:-and this is the hour of agony and
extremest conflict for the soul. For the immortals, when they are at
the end of their course, go forth and stand upon the outside of
heaven, and the revolution of the spheres carries them round, and they
behold the things beyond. But of the heaven which is above the
heavens, what earthly poet ever did or ever will sing worthily? It
is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when
truth is my theme. There abides the very being with which true
knowledge is concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible
essence, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine
intelligence, being nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the
intelligence of every soul which is capable of receiving the food
proper to it, rejoices at beholding reality, and once more gazing upon
truth, is replenished and made glad, until the revolution of the
worlds brings her round again to the same place. In the revolution she
beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in the
form of generation or of relation, which men call existence, but
knowledge absolute in existence absolute; and beholding the other true
existences in like manner, and feasting upon them, she passes down
into the interior of the heavens and returns home; and there the
charioteer putting up his horses at the stall, gives them ambrosia
to eat and nectar to drink.
Such is the life of the gods; but of other souls, that which follows
God best and is likest to him lifts the head of the charioteer into
the outer world, and is carried round in the revolution, troubled
indeed by the steeds, and with difficulty beholding true being;
while another only rises and falls, and sees, and again fails to see
by reason of the unruliness of the steeds. The rest of the souls are
also longing after the upper world and they all follow, but not
being strong enough they are carried round below the surface,
plunging, treading on one another, each striving to be first; and
there is confusion and perspiration and the extremity of effort; and
many of them are lamed or have their wings broken through the
ill-driving of the charioteers; and all of them after a fruitless
toil, not having attained to the mysteries of true being, go away, and
feed upon opinion. The reason why the souls exhibit this exceeding
eagerness to behold the plain of truth is that pasturage is found
there, which is suited to the highest part of the soul; and the wing
on which the soul soars is nourished with this. And there is a law
of Destiny, that the soul which attains any vision of truth in company
with a god is preserved from harm until the next period, and if
attaining always is always unharmed. But when she is unable to follow,
and fails to behold the truth, and through some ill-hap sinks
beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice, and her wings
fall from her and she drops to the ground, then the law ordains that
this soul shall at her first birth pass, not into any other animal,
but only into man; and the soul which has seen most of truth shall
come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and
loving nature; that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be
some righteous king or warrior chief; the soul which is of the third
class shall be a politician, or economist, or trader; the fourth shall
be lover of gymnastic toils, or a physician; the fifth shall lead
the life of a prophet or hierophant; to the sixth the character of
poet or some other imitative artist will be assigned; to the seventh
the life of an artisan or husbandman; to the eighth that of a
sophist or demagogue; to the ninth that of a tyrant-all these are
states of probation, in which he who does righteously improves, and he
who does unrighteously, improves, and he who does unrighteously,
deteriorates his lot.
Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each one can
return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot grow her
wings in less; only the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true,
or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may acquire
wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years; he is
distinguished from the ordinary good man who gains wings in three
thousand years:-and they who choose this life three times in
succession have wings given them, and go away at the end of three
thousand years. But the others receive judgment when they have
completed their first life, and after the judgment they go, some of
them to the houses of correction which are under the earth, and are
punished; others to some place in heaven whither they are lightly
borne by justice, and there they live in a manner worthy of the life
which they led here when in the form of men. And at the end of the
first thousand years the good souls and also the evil souls both
come to draw lots and choose their second life, and they may take
any which they please. The soul of a man may pass into the life of a
beast, or from the beast return again into the man. But the soul which
has never seen the truth will not pass into the human form. For a
man must have intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed
from the many particulars of sense to one conception of reason;-this
is the recollection of those things which our soul once saw while
following God-when regardless of that which we now call being she
raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind of
the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always,
according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to
those things in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He
is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated
into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he
forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem
him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired.
Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind of
madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of
earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he
would like to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering
and looking upward and careless of the world below; and he is
therefore thought to be mad. And I have shown this of all inspirations
to be the noblest and highest and the offspring of the highest to
him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves the beautiful is
called a lover because he partakes of it. For, as has been already
said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being;
this was the condition of her passing into the form of man. But all
souls do not easily recall the things of the other world; they may
have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been
unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts
turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they
may have lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw. Few
only retain an adequate remembrance of them; and they, when they
behold here any image of that other world, are rapt in amazement;
but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do
not clearly perceive. For there is no light of justice or temperance
or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the
earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly; and there
are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and
these only with difficulty. There was a time when with the rest of the
happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness-we philosophers
following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and
then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery
which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our
state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come,
when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and
simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining impure light,
pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we
carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in
his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have passed
But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in
company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here
too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense.
For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses; though not by
that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if
there had been a visible image of her, and the other ideas, if they
had visible counterparts, would be equally lovely. But this is the
privilege of beauty, that being the loveliest she is also the most
palpable to sight. Now he who is not newly initiated or who has become
corrupted, does not easily rise out of this world to the sight of true
beauty in the other; he looks only at her earthly namesake, and
instead of being awed at the sight of her, he is given over to
pleasure, and like a brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget; he
consorts with wantonness, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing
pleasure in violation of nature. But he whose initiation is recent,
and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world,
is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is
the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through
him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face
of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not
afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to
his beloved as to the image of a god; then while he gazes on him there
is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and
perspiration; for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through
the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts
out of which the wing grew, and which had been hitherto closed and
rigid, and had prevented the wing from shooting forth, are melted, and
as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wings begins
to swell and grow from the root upwards; and the growth extends
under the whole soul-for once the whole was winged.
During this process the whole soul is all in a state of ebullition
and effervescence,-which may be compared to the irritation and
uneasiness in the gums at the time of cutting teeth,-bubbles up, and
has a feeling of uneasiness and tickling; but when in like manner
the soul is beginning to grow wings, the beauty of the beloved meets
her eye and she receives the sensible warm motion of particles which
flow towards her, therefore called emotion (imeros), and is
refreshed and warmed by them, and then she ceases from her pain with
joy. But when she is parted from her beloved and her moisture fails,
then the orifices of the passage out of which the wing shoots dry up
and close, and intercept the germ of the wing; which, being shut up
with the emotion, throbbing as with the pulsations of an artery,
pricks the aperture which is nearest, until at length the entire
soul is pierced and maddened and pained, and at the recollection of
beauty is again delighted. And from both of them together the soul
is oppressed at the strangeness of her condition, and is in a great
strait and excitement, and in her madness can neither sleep by night
nor abide in her place by day. And wherever she thinks that she will
behold the beautiful one, thither in her desire she runs. And when she
has seen him, and bathed herself in the waters of beauty, her
constraint is loosened, and she is refreshed, and has no more pangs
and pains; and this is the sweetest of all pleasures at the time,
and is the reason why the soul of the lover will never forsake his
beautiful one, whom he esteems above all; he has forgotten mother
and brethren and companions, and he thinks nothing of the neglect
and loss of his property; the rules and proprieties of life, on
which he formerly prided himself, he now despises, and is ready to
sleep like a servant, wherever he is allowed, as near as he can to his
desired one, who is the object of his worship, and the physician who
can alone assuage the greatness of his pain. And this state, my dear
imaginary youth to whom I am talking, is by men called love, and among
the gods has a name at which you, in your simplicity, may be
inclined to mock; there are two lines in the apocryphal writings of
Homer in which the name occurs. One of them is rather outrageous,
and not altogether metrical. They are as follows:
Mortals call him fluttering love,
But the immortals call him winged one,
Because the growing of wings is a necessity to him.
You may believe this, but not unless you like. At any rate the loves
of lovers and their causes are such as I have described.
Now the lover who is taken to be the attendant of Zeus is better
able to bear the winged god, and can endure a heavier burden; but
the attendants and companions of Ares, when under the influence of
love, if they fancy that they have been at all wronged, are ready to
kill and put an end to themselves and their beloved. And he who
follows in the train of any other god, while he is unspoiled and the
impression lasts, honours and imitates him, as far as he is able;
and after the manner of his god he behaves in his intercourse with his
beloved and with the rest of the world during the first period of
his earthly existence. Every one chooses his love from the ranks of
beauty according to his character, and this he makes his god, and
fashions and adorns as a sort of image which he is to fall down and
worship. The followers of Zeus desire that their beloved should have a
soul like him; and therefore they seek out some one of a philosophical
and imperial nature, and when they have found him and loved him,
they do all they can to confirm such a nature in him, and if they have
no experience of such a disposition hitherto, they learn of any one
who can teach them, and themselves follow in the same way. And they
have the less difficulty in finding the nature of their own god in
themselves, because they have been compelled to gaze intensely on him;
their recollection clings to him, and they become possessed of him,
and receive from him their character and disposition, so far as man
can participate in God. The qualities of their god they attribute to
the beloved, wherefore they love him all the more, and if, like the
Bacchic Nymphs, they draw inspiration from Zeus, they pour out their
own fountain upon him, wanting to make him as like as possible to
their own god. But those who are the followers of Here seek a royal
love, and when they have found him they do just the same with him; and
in like manner the followers of Apollo, and of every other god walking
in the ways of their god, seek a love who is to be made like him
whom they serve, and when they have found him, they themselves imitate
their god, and persuade their love to do the same, and educate him
into the manner and nature of the god as far as they each can; for
no feelings of envy or jealousy are entertained by them towards
their beloved, but they do their utmost to create in him the
greatest likeness of themselves and of the god whom they honour.
Thus fair and blissful to the beloved is the desire of the inspired
lover, and the initiation of which I speak into the mysteries of
true love, if he be captured by the lover and their purpose is
effected. Now the beloved is taken captive in the following manner:-
As I said at the beginning of this tale, I divided each soul into
three-two horses and a charioteer; and one of the horses was good
and the other bad: the division may remain, but I have not yet
explained in what the goodness or badness of either consists, and to
that I will proceed. The right-hand horse is upright and cleanly made;
he has a lofty neck and an aquiline nose; his colour is white, and his
eyes dark; he is a lover of honour and modesty and temperance, and the
follower of true glory; he needs no touch of the whip, but is guided
by word and admonition only. The other is a crooked lumbering
animal, put together anyhow; he has a short thick neck; he is
flat-faced and of a dark colour, with grey eyes and blood-red
complexion; the mate of insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf,
hardly yielding to whip and spur. Now when the charioteer beholds
the vision of love, and has his whole soul warmed through sense, and
is full of the prickings and ticklings of desire, the obedient
steed, then as always under the government of shame, refrains from
leaping on the beloved; but the other, heedless of the pricks and of
the blows of the whip, plunges and runs away, giving all manner of
trouble to his companion and the charioteer, whom he forces to
approach the beloved and to remember the joys of love. They at first
indignantly oppose him and will not be urged on to do terrible and
unlawful deeds; but at last, when he persists in plaguing them, they
yield and agree to do as he bids them.
And now they are at the spot and behold the flashing beauty of the
beloved; which when the charioteer sees, his memory is carried to
the true beauty, whom he beholds in company with Modesty like an image
placed upon a holy pedestal. He sees her, but he is afraid and falls
backwards in adoration, and by his fall is compelled to pull back
the reins with such violence as to bring both the steeds on their
haunches, the one willing and unresisting, the unruly one very
unwilling; and when they have gone back a little, the one is
overcome with shame and wonder, and his whole soul is bathed in
perspiration; the other, when the pain is over which the bridle and
the fall had given him, having with difficulty taken breath, is full
of wrath and reproaches, which he heaps upon the charioteer and his
fellow-steed, for want of courage and manhood, declaring that they
have been false to their agreement and guilty of desertion. Again they
refuse, and again he urges them on, and will scarce yield to their
prayer that he would wait until another time. When the appointed
hour comes, they make as if they had forgotten, and he reminds them,
fighting and neighing and dragging them on, until at length he, on the
same thoughts intent, forces them to draw near again. And when they
are near he stoops his head and puts up his tail, and takes the bit in
his teeth. and pulls shamelessly. Then the charioteer is. worse off
than ever; he falls back like a racer at the barrier, and with a still
more violent wrench drags the bit out of the teeth of the wild steed
and covers his abusive tongue and-jaws with blood, and forces his legs
and haunches to the ground and punishes him sorely. And when this
has happened several times and the villain has ceased from his
wanton way, he is tamed and humbled, and follows the will of the
charioteer, and when he sees the beautiful one he is ready to die of
fear. And from that time forward the soul of the lover follows the
beloved in modesty and holy fear.
And so the beloved who, like a god, has received every true and
loyal service from his lover, not in pretence but in reality, being
also himself of a nature friendly to his admirer, if in former days he
has blushed to own his passion and turned away his lover, because
his youthful companions or others slanderously told him that he
would be disgraced, now as years advance, at the appointed age and
time, is led to receive him into communion. For fate which has
ordained that there shall be no friendship among the evil has also
ordained that there shall ever be friendship among the good. And the
beloved when he has received him into communion and intimacy, is quite
amazed at the good-will of the lover; he recognises that the
inspired friend is worth all other friends or kinsmen; they have
nothing of friendship in them worthy to be compared with his. And when
his feeling continues and he is nearer to him and embraces him, in
gymnastic exercises and at other times of meeting, then the fountain
of that stream, which Zeus when he was in love with Ganymede named
Desire, overflows upon the lover, and some enters into his soul, and
some when he is filled flows out again; and as a breeze or an echo
rebounds from the smooth rocks and returns whence it came, so does the
stream of beauty, passing through the eyes which are the windows of
the soul, come back to the beautiful one; there arriving and
quickening the passages of the wings, watering. them and inclining
them to grow, and filling the soul of the beloved also with love.
And thus he loves, but he knows not what; he does not understand and
cannot explain his own state; he appears to have caught the
infection of blindness from another; the lover is his mirror in whom
he is beholding himself, but he is not aware of this. When he is
with the lover, both cease from their pain, but when he is away then
he longs as he is longed for, and has love's image, love for love
(Anteros) lodging in his breast, which he calls and believes to be not
love but friendship only, and his desire is as the desire of the
other, but weaker; he wants to see him, touch him, kiss him, embrace
him, and probably not long afterwards his desire is accomplished. When
they meet, the wanton steed of the lover has a word to say to the
charioteer; he would like to have a little pleasure in return for many
pains, but the wanton steed of the beloved says not a word, for he
is bursting with passion which he understands not;-he throws his
arms round the lover and embraces him as his dearest friend; and, when
they are side by side, he is not in it state in which he can refuse
the lover anything, if he ask him; although his fellow-steed and the
charioteer oppose him with the arguments of shame and reason.
After this their happiness depends upon their self-control; if the
better elements of the mind which lead to order and philosophy
prevail, then they pass their life here in happiness and
harmony-masters of themselves and orderly-enslaving the vicious and
emancipating the virtuous elements of the soul; and when the end
comes, they are light and winged for flight, having conquered in one
of the three heavenly or truly Olympian victories; nor can human
discipline or divine inspiration confer any greater blessing on man
than this. If, on the other hand, they leave philosophy and lead the
lower life of ambition, then probably, after wine or in some other
careless hour, the two wanton animals take the two souls when off
their guard and bring them together, and they accomplish that desire
of their hearts which to the many is bliss; and this having once
enjoyed they continue to enjoy, yet rarely because they have not the
approval of the whole soul. They too are dear, but not so dear to
one another as the others, either at the time of their love or
afterwards. They consider that they have given and taken from each
other the most sacred pledges, and they may not break them and fall
into enmity. At last they pass out of the body, unwinged, but eager to
soar, and thus obtain no mean reward of love and madness. For those
who have once begun the heavenward pilgrimage may not go down again to
darkness and the journey beneath the earth, but they live in light
always; happy companions in their pilgrimage, and when the time
comes at which they receive their wings they have the same plumage
because of their love.
Thus great are the heavenly blessings which the friendship of a
lover will confer upon you, my youth. Whereas the attachment of the
non-lover, which is alloyed with a worldly prudence and has worldly
and niggardly ways of doling out benefits, will breed in your soul
those vulgar qualities which the populace applaud, will send you
bowling round the earth during a period of nine thousand years, and
leave, you a fool in the world below.
And thus, dear Eros, I have made and paid my recantation, as well
and as fairly as I could; more especially in the matter of the
poetical figures which I was compelled to use, because Phaedrus
would have them. And now forgive the past and accept the present,
and be gracious and merciful to me, and do not in thine anger
deprive me of sight, or take from me the art of love which thou hast
given me, but grant that I may be yet more esteemed in the eyes of the
fair. And if Phaedrus or I myself said anything rude in our first
speeches, blame Lysias, who is the father of the brat, and let us have
no more of his progeny; bid him study philosophy, like his brother
Polemarchus; and then his lover Phaedrus will no longer halt between
two opinions, but will dedicate himself wholly to love and to
[END of assigned reading]
Phaedr. I join in the prayer, Socrates, and say with you, if this be
for my good, may your words come to pass. But why did you make your
second oration so much finer than the first? I wonder why. And I begin
to be afraid that I shall lose conceit of Lysias, and that he will
appear tame in comparison, even if he be willing to put another as
fine and as long as yours into the field, which I doubt. For quite
lately one of your politicians was abusing him on this very account;
and called him a "speech writer" again and again. So that a feeling of
pride may probably induce him to give up writing speeches.
Soc. What a very amusing notion! But I think, my young man, that you
are much mistaken in your friend if you imagine that he is
frightened at a little noise; and possibly, you think that his
assailant was in earnest?
Phaedr. I thought, Socrates, that he was. And you are aware that the
greatest and most influential statesmen are ashamed of writing
speeches and leaving them in a written form, lest they should be
called Sophists by posterity.
Soc. You seem to be unconscious, Phaedrus, that the "sweet elbow" of
the proverb is really the long arm of the Nile. And you appear to be
equally unaware of the fact that this sweet elbow of theirs is also
a long arm. For there is nothing of which our great politicians are so
fond as of writing speeches and bequeathing them to posterity. And
they add their admirers' names at the top of the writing, out of
gratitude to them.
Phaedr. What do you mean? I do not understand.
Soc. Why, do you not know that when a politician writes, he begins
with the names of his approvers?
Phaedr. How so?
Soc. Why, he begins in this manner: "Be it enacted by the senate,
the people, or both, on the motion of a certain person," who is our
author; and so putting on a serious face, he proceeds to display his
own wisdom to his admirers in what is often a long and tedious
composition. Now what is that sort of thing but a regular piece of
Soc. And if the law is finally approved, then the author leaves
the theatre in high delight; but if the law is rejected and he is done
out of his speech-making, and not thought good enough to write, then
he and his party are in mourning.
Phaedr. Very true.
Soc. So far are they from despising, or rather so highly do they
value the practice of writing.
Phaedr. No doubt.
Soc. And when the king or orator has the power, as Lycurgus or Solon
or Darius had, of attaining an immortality or authorship in a state,
is he not thought by posterity, when they see his compositions, and
does he not think himself, while he is yet alive, to be a god?
Phaedr. Very true.
Soc. Then do you think that any one of this class, however
ill-disposed, would reproach Lysias with being an author?
Phaedr. Not upon your view; for according to you he would be casting
a slur upon his own favourite pursuit.
Soc. Any one may see that there is no disgrace in the mere fact of
Phaedr. Certainly not.
Soc. The disgrace begins when a man writes not well, but badly.
Soc. And what is well and what is badly-need we ask Lysias, or any
other poet or orator, who ever wrote or will write either a
political or any other work, in metre or out of metre, poet or prose
writer, to teach us this?
Phaedr. Need we? For what should a man live if not for the pleasures
of discourse? Surely not for the sake of bodily pleasures, which
almost always have previous pain as a condition of them, and therefore
are rightly called slavish.
Soc. There is time enough. And I believe that the grasshoppers
chirruping after their manner in the heat of the sun over our heads
are talking to one another and looking down at us. What would they say
if they saw that we, like the many, are not conversing, but slumbering
at mid-day, lulled by their voices, too indolent to think? Would
they not have a right to laugh at us? They might imagine that we
were slaves, who, coming to rest at a place of resort of theirs,
like sheep lie asleep at noon around the well. But if they see us
discoursing, and like Odysseus sailing past them, deaf to their
siren voices, they may perhaps, out of respect, give us of the gifts
which they receive from the gods that they may impart them to men.
Phaedr. What gifts do you mean? I never heard of any.
Soc. A lover of music like yourself ought surely to have heard the
story of the grasshoppers, who are said to have been human beings in
an age before the Muses. And when the Muses came and song appeared
they were ravished with delight; and singing always, never thought
of eating and drinking, until at last in their forgetfulness they
died. And now they live again in the grasshoppers; and this is the
return which the Muses make to them-they neither hunger, nor thirst,
but from the hour of their birth are always singing, and never
eating or drinking; and when they die they go and inform the Muses
in heaven who honours them on earth. They win the love of
Terpsichore for the dancers by their report of them; of Erato for
the lovers, and of the other Muses for those who do them honour,
according to the several ways of honouring them of Calliope the eldest
Muse and of Urania who is next to her, for the philosophers, of
whose music the grasshoppers make report to them; for these are the
Muses who are chiefly concerned with heaven and thought, divine as
well as human, and they have the sweetest utterance. For many reasons,
then, we ought always to talk and not to sleep at mid-day.
Phaedr. Let us talk.
Soc. Shall we discuss the rules of writing and speech as we were
Phaedr. Very good.
Soc. In good speaking should not the mind of the speaker know the
truth of the matter about which he is going to speak?
Phaedr. And yet, Socrates, I have heard that he who would be an
orator has nothing to do with true justice, but only with that which
is likely to be approved by the many who sit in judgment; nor with the
truly good or honourable, but only with opinion about them, and that
from opinion comes persuasion, and not from the truth.
Soc. The words of the wise are not to be set aside; for there is
probably something in them; and therefore the meaning of this saying
is not hastily to be dismissed.
Phaedr. Very true.
Soc. Let us put the matter thus:-Suppose that I persuaded you to buy
a horse and go to the wars. Neither of us knew what a horse was
like, but I knew that you believed a horse to be of tame animals the
one which has the longest ears.
Phaedr. That would be ridiculous.
Soc. There is something more ridiculous coming:-Suppose, further,
that in sober earnest I, having persuaded you of this, went and
composed a speech in honour of an ass, whom I entitled a horse
beginning: "A noble animal and a most useful possession, especially in
war, and you may get on his back and fight, and he will carry
baggage or anything."
Phaedr. How ridiculous!
Soc. Ridiculous! Yes; but is not even a ridiculous friend better
than a cunning enemy?
Soc. And when the orator instead of putting an ass in the place of a
horse puts good for evil being himself as ignorant of their true
nature as the city on which he imposes is ignorant; and having studied
the notions of the multitude, falsely persuades them not about "the
shadow of an ass," which he confounds with a horse, but about good
which he confounds with evily-what will be the harvest which
rhetoric will be likely to gather after the sowing of that seed?
Phaedr. The reverse of good.
Soc. But perhaps rhetoric has been getting too roughly handled by
us, and she might answer: What amazing nonsense you are talking! As if
I forced any man to learn to speak in ignorance of the truth! Whatever
my advice may be worth, I should have told him to arrive at the
truth first, and then come to me. At the same time I boldly assert
that mere knowledge of the truth will not give you the art of
Phaedr. There is reason in the lady's defence of herself.
Soc. Quite true; if only the other arguments which remain to be
brought up bear her witness that she is an art at all. But I seem to
hear them arraying themselves on the opposite side, declaring that she
speaks falsely, and that rhetoric is a mere routine and trick, not
an art. Lo! a Spartan appears, and says that there never is nor ever
will be a real art of speaking which is divorced from the truth.
Phaedr. And what are these arguments, Socrates? Bring them out
that we may examine them.
Soc. Come out, fair children, and convince Phaedrus, who is the
father of similar beauties, that he will never be able to speak
about anything as he ought to speak unless he have a knowledge of
philosophy. And let Phaedrus answer you.
Phaedr. Put the question.
Soc. Is not rhetoric, taken generally, a universal art of enchanting
the mind by arguments; which is practised not only in courts and
public assemblies, but in private houses also, having to do with all
matters, great as well as small, good and bad alike, and is in all
equally right, and equally to be esteemed-that is what you have heard?
Phaedr. Nay, not exactly that; I should say rather that I have heard
the art confined to speaking and writing in lawsuits, and to
speaking in public assemblies-not extended farther.
Soc. Then I suppose that you have only heard of the rhetoric of
Nestor and Odysseus, which they composed in their leisure hours when
at Troy, and never of the rhetoric of Palamedes?
Phaedr. No more than of Nestor and Odysseus, unless Gorgias is
your Nestor, and Thrasymachus or Theodorus your Odysseus.
Soc. Perhaps that is my meaning. But let us leave them. And do you
tell me, instead, what are plaintiff and defendant doing in a law
court-are they not contending?
Phaedr. Exactly so.
Soc. About the just and unjust-that is the matter in dispute?
Soc. And a professor of the art will make the same thing appear to
the same persons to be at one time just, at another time, if he is
so inclined, to be unjust?
Soc. And when he speaks in the assembly, he will make the same
things seem good to the city at one time, and at another time the
reverse of good?
Phaedr. That is true.
Soc. Have we not heard of the Eleatic Palamedes (Zeno), who has an
art of speaking by which he makes the same things appear to his
hearers like and unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion?
Phaedr. Very true.
Soc. The art of disputation, then, is not confined to the courts and
the assembly, but is one and the same in every use of language; this
is the art, if there be such an art, which is able to find a
likeness of everything to which a likeness can be found, and draws
into the light of day the likenesses and disguises which are used by
Phaedr. How do you mean?
Soc. Let me put the matter thus: When will there be more chance of
deception-when the difference is large or small?
Phaedr. When the difference is small.
Soc. And you will be less likely to be discovered in passing by
degrees into the other extreme than when you go all at once?
Phaedr. Of course.
Soc. He, then, who would. deceive others, and not be deceived,
must exactly know the real likenesses and differences of things?
Phaedr. He must.
Soc. And if he is ignorant of the true nature of any subject, how
can he detect the greater or less degree of likeness in other things
to that of which by the hypothesis he is ignorant?
Phaedr. He cannot.
Soc. And when men are deceived and their notions are at variance
with realities, it is clear that the error slips in through
Phaedr. Yes, that is the way.
Soc. Then he who would be a master of the art must understand the
real nature of everything; or he will never know either how to make
the gradual departure from truth into the opposite of truth which is
effected by the help of resemblances, or how to avoid it?
Phaedr. He will not.
Soc. He then, who being ignorant of the truth aims at appearances,
will only attain an art of rhetoric which is ridiculous and is not
an art at all?
Phaedr. That may be expected.
Soc. Shall I propose that we look for examples of art and want of
art, according to our notion of them, in the speech of Lysias which
you have in your hand, and in my own speech?
Phaedr. Nothing could be better; and indeed I think that our
previous argument has been too abstract and-wanting in illustrations.
Soc. Yes; and the two speeches happen to afford a very good
example of the way in which the speaker who knows the truth may,
without any serious purpose, steal away the hearts of his hearers.
This piece of good-fortune I attribute to the local deities; and
perhaps, the prophets of the Muses who are singing over our heads
may have imparted their inspiration to me. For I do not imagine that I
have any rhetorical art of my own.
Phaedr. Granted; if you will only please to get on.
Soc. Suppose that you read me the first words of Lysias' speech.
Phaedr. "You know how matters stand with me, and how, as I conceive,
they might be arranged for our common interest; and I maintain that
I ought not to fail in my suit, because I am not your lover. For
Soc. Enough:-Now, shall I point out the rhetorical error of those
Soc. Every one is aware that about some things we are agreed,
whereas about other things we differ.
Phaedr. I think that I understand you; but will you explain
Soc. When any one speaks of iron and silver, is not the same thing
present in the minds of all?
Soc. But when any one speaks of justice and goodness we part company
and are at odds with one another and with ourselves?
Soc. Then in some things we agree, but not in others?
Phaedr. That is true.
Soc. In which are we more likely to be deceived, and in which has
rhetoric the greater power?
Phaedr. Clearly, in the uncertain class.
Soc. Then the rhetorician ought to make a regular division, and
acquire a distinct notion of both classes, as well of that in which
the many err, as of that in which they do not err?
Phaedr. He who made such a distinction would have an excellent
Soc. Yes; and in the next place he must have a keen eye for the
observation of particulars in speaking, and not make a mistake about
the class to which they are to be referred.
Soc. Now to which class does love belong-to the debatable or to
the undisputed class?
Phaedr. To the debatable, clearly; for if not, do you think that
love would have allowed you to say as you did, that he is an evil both
to the lover and the beloved, and also the greatest possible good?
Soc. Capital. But will you tell me whether I defined love at the
beginning of my speech? for, having been in an ecstasy, I cannot
Phaedr. Yes, indeed; that you did, and no mistake.
Soc. Then I perceive that the Nymphs of Achelous and Pan the son
of Hermes, who inspired me, were far better rhetoricians than Lysias
the son of Cephalus. Alas! how inferior to them he is! But perhaps I
am mistaken; and Lysias at the commencement of his lover's speech
did insist on our supposing love to be something or other which he
fancied him to be, and according to this model he fashioned and framed
the remainder of his discourse. Suppose we read his beginning over
Phaedr. If you please; but you will not find what you want.
Soc, Read, that I may have his exact words.
Phaedr. "You know how matters stand with and how, as I conceive,
they might be arranged for our common interest; and I maintain I ought
not to fail in my suit because I am not your lover, for lovers
repent of the kindnesses which they have shown, when their love is
Soc. Here he appears to have done just the reverse of what he ought;
for he has begun at the end, and is swimming on his back through the
flood to the place of starting. His address to the fair youth begins
where the lover would have ended. Am I not right, sweet Phaedrus?
Phaedr. Yes, indeed, Socrates; he does begin at the end.
Soc. Then as to the other topics-are they not thrown down anyhow? Is
there any principle in them? Why should the next topic follow next
in order, or any other topic? I cannot help fancying in my ignorance
that he wrote off boldly just what came into his head, but I dare
say that you would recognize a rhetorical necessity in the
succession of the several parts of the composition?
Phaedr. You have too good an opinion of me if you think that I
have any such insight into his principles of composition.
Soc. At any rate, you will allow that every discourse ought to be
a living creature, having a body of its own and a head and feet; there
should be a middle, beginning, and end, adapted to one another and
to the whole?
Soc. Can this be said of the discourse of Lysias? See whether you
can find any more connexion in his words than in the epitaph which
is said by some to have been inscribed on the grave of Midas the
Phaedr. What is there remarkable in the epitaph?
Soc. It is as follows:-
I am a maiden of bronze and lie on the tomb of Midas;
So long as water flows and tall trees grow,
So long here on this spot by his sad tomb abiding,
I shall declare to passers-by that Midas sleeps below.
Now in this rhyme whether a line comes first or comes last, as you
will perceive, makes no difference.
Phaedr. You are making fun of that oration of ours.
Soc. Well, I will say no more about your friend's speech lest I
should give offence to you; although I think that it might furnish
many other examples of what a man ought rather to avoid. But I will
proceed to the other speech, which, as I think, is also suggestive
to students of rhetoric.
Phaedr. In what way?
Soc. The two speeches, as you may remember, were unlike-I the one
argued that the lover and the other that the non-lover ought to be
Phaedr. And right manfully.
Soc. You should rather say "madly"; and madness was the argument
of them, for, as I said, "love is a madness."
Soc. And of madness there were two kinds; one produced by human
infirmity, the other was a divine release of the soul from the yoke of
custom and convention.
Soc. The divine madness was subdivided into four kinds, prophetic,
initiatory, poetic, erotic, having four gods presiding over them;
the first was the inspiration of Apollo, the second that of
Dionysus, the third that of the Muses, the fourth that of Aphrodite
and Eros. In the description of the last kind of madness, which was
also said to be the best, we spoke of the affection of love in a
figure, into which we introduced a tolerably credible and possibly
true though partly erring myth, which was also a hymn in honour of
Love, who is your lord and also mine, Phaedrus, and the guardian of
fair children, and to him we sung the hymn in measured and solemn
Phaedr. I know that I had great pleasure in listening to you.
Soc. Let us take this instance and note how the transition was
made from blame to praise.
Phaedr. What do you mean?
Soc. I mean to say that the composition was mostly playful. Yet in
these chance fancies of the hour were involved two principles of which
we should be too glad to have a clearer description if art could
give us one.
Phaedr. What are they?
Soc. First, the comprehension of scattered particulars in one
idea; as in our definition of love, which whether true or false
certainly gave clearness and consistency to the discourse, the speaker
should define his several notions and so make his meaning clear.
Phaedr. What is the other principle, Socrates?
Soc. The second principle is that of division into species according
to the natural formation, where the joint is, not breaking any part as
a bad carver might. Just as our two discourses, alike assumed, first
of all, a single form of unreason; and then, as the body which from
being one becomes double and may be divided into a left side and right
side, each having parts right and left of the same name-after this
manner the speaker proceeded to divide the parts of the left side
and did not desist until he found in them an evil or left-handed
love which he justly reviled; and the other discourse leading us to
the madness which lay on the right side, found another love, also
having the same name, but divine, which the speaker held up before
us and applauded and affirmed to be the author of the greatest
Phaedr. Most true.
Soc. I am myself a great lover of these processes of division and
generalization; they help me to speak and to think. And if I find
any man who is able to see "a One and Many" in nature, him I follow,
and "walk in his footsteps as if he were a god." And those who have
this art, I have hitherto been in the habit of calling
dialecticians; but God knows whether the name is right or not. And I
should like to know what name you would give to your or to Lysias'
disciples, and whether this may not be that famous art of rhetoric
which Thrasymachus and others teach and practise? Skilful speakers
they are, and impart their skill to any who is willing to make kings
of them and to bring gifts to them.
Phaedr. Yes, they are royal men; but their art is not the same
with the art of those whom you call, and rightly, in my opinion,
dialecticians:-Still we are in the dark about rhetoric.
Soc. What do you mean? The remains of it, if there be anything
remaining which can be brought under rules of art, must be a fine
thing; and, at any rate, is not to be despised by you and me. But
how much is left?
Phaedr. There is a great deal surely to be found in books of
Soc. Yes; thank you for reminding me:-There is the exordium, showing
how the speech should begin, if I remember rightly; that is what you
mean-the niceties of the art?
Soc. Then follows the statement of facts, and upon that witnesses;
thirdly, proofs; fourthly, probabilities are to come; the great
Byzantian word-maker also speaks, if I am not mistaken, of
confirmation and further confirmation.
Phaedr. You mean the excellent Theodorus.
Soc. Yes; and he tells how refutation or further refutation is to be
managed, whether in accusation or defence. I ought also to mention the
illustrious Parian, Evenus, who first invented insinuations and
indirect praises; and also indirect censures, which according to
some he put into verse to help the memory. But shall I "to dumb
forgetfulness consign" Tisias and Gorgias, who are not ignorant that
probability is superior to truth, and who by: force of argument make
the little appear great and the great little, disguise the new in
old fashions and the old in new fashions, and have discovered forms
for everything, either short or going on to infinity. I remember
Prodicus laughing when I told him of this; he said that he had himself
discovered the true rule of art, which was to be neither long nor
short, but of a convenient length.
Phaedr. Well done, Prodicus!
Soc. Then there is Hippias the Elean stranger, who probably agrees
Soc. And there is also Polus, who has treasuries of diplasiology,
and gnomology, and eikonology, and who teaches in them the names of
which Licymnius made him a present; they were to give a polish.
Phaedr. Had not Protagoras something of the same sort?
Soc. Yes, rules of correct diction and many other fine precepts; for
the "sorrows of a poor old man," or any other pathetic case, no one is
better than the Chalcedonian giant; he can put a whole company of
people into a passion and out of one again by his mighty magic, and is
first-rate at inventing or disposing of any sort of calumny on any
grounds or none. All of them agree in asserting that a speech should
end in a recapitulation, though they do not all agree to use the
Phaedr. You mean that there should be a summing up of the
arguments in order to remind the hearers of them.
Soc. I have now said all that I have to say of the art of
rhetoric: have you anything to add?
Phaedr. Not much; nothing very important.
Soc. Leave the unimportant and let us bring the really important
question into the light of day, which is: What power has this art of
rhetoric, and when?
Phaedr. A very great power in public meetings.
Soc. It has. But I should like to know whether you have the same
feeling as I have about the rhetoricians? To me there seem to be a
great many holes in their web.
Phaedr. Give an example.
Soc. I will. Suppose a person to come to your friend Eryximachus, or
to his father Acumenus, and to say to him: "I know how to apply
drugs which shall have either a heating or a cooling effect, and I can
give a vomit and also a purge, and all that sort of thing; and knowing
all this, as I do, I claim to be a physician and to make physicians by
imparting this knowledge to others,"-what do you suppose that they
Phaedr. They would be sure to ask him whether he knew "to whom" he
would give his medicines, and "when," and "how much."
Soc. And suppose that he were to reply: "No; I know nothing of all
that; I expect the patient who consults me to be able to do these
things for himself"?
Phaedr. They would say in reply that he is a madman or pedant who
fancies that he is a physician because he has read something in a
book, or has stumbled on a prescription or two, although he has no
real understanding of the art of medicine.
Soc. And suppose a person were to come to Sophocles or Euripides and
say that he knows how to make a very long speech about a small matter,
and a short speech about a great matter, and also a sorrowful
speech, or a terrible, or threatening speech, or any other kind of
speech, and in teaching this fancies that he is teaching the art of
Phaedr. They too would surely laugh at him if he fancies that
tragedy is anything but the arranging of these elements in a manner
which will be suitable to one another and to the whole.
Soc. But I do not suppose that they would be rude or abusive to him:
Would they not treat him as a musician would a man who thinks that
he is a harmonist because he knows how to pitch the highest and lowest
notes; happening to meet such an one he would not say to him savagely,
"Fool, you are mad!" But like a musician, in a gentle and harmonious
tone of voice, he would answer: "My good friend, he who would be a
harmonist must certainly know this, and yet he may understand
nothing of harmony if he has not got beyond your stage of knowledge,
for you only know the preliminaries of harmony and not harmony
Phaedr. Very true.
Soc. And will not Sophocles say to the display of the would-be
tragedian, that this is not tragedy but the preliminaries of
tragedy? and will not Acumenus say the same of medicine to the
Phaedr. Quite true.
Soc. And if Adrastus the mellifluous or Pericles heard of these
wonderful arts, brachylogies and eikonologies and all the hard names
which we have been endeavouring to draw into the light of day, what
would they say? Instead of losing temper and applying
uncomplimentary epithets, as you and I have been doing, to the authors
of such an imaginary art, their superior wisdom would rather censure
us, as well as them. "Have a little patience, Phaedrus and Socrates,
they would say; you should not be in such a passion with those who
from some want of dialectical skill are unable to define the nature of
rhetoric, and consequently suppose that they have found the art in the
preliminary conditions of it, and when these have been taught by
them to others, fancy that the whole art of rhetoric has been taught
by them; but as to using the several instruments of the art
effectively, or making the composition a whole,-an application of it
such as this is they regard as an easy thing which their disciples may
make for themselves."
Phaedr. I quite admit, Socrates, that the art of rhetoric which
these men teach and of which they write is such as you
describe-there I agree with you. But I still want to know where and
how the true art of rhetoric and persuasion is to be acquired.
Soc. The perfection which is required of the finished orator is,
or rather must be, like the perfection of anything else; partly
given by nature, but may also be assisted by art. If you have the
natural power and add to it knowledge and practice, you will be a
distinguished speaker; if you fall short in either of these, you
will be to that extent defective. But the art, as far as there is an
art, of rhetoric does not lie in the direction of Lysias or
Phaedr. In what direction then?
Soc. I conceive Pericles to have been the most accomplished of
Phaedr. What of that?
Soc. All the great arts require discussion and high speculation
about the truths of nature; hence come loftiness of thought and
completeness of execution. And this, as I conceive, was the quality
which, in addition to his natural gifts, Pericles acquired from his
intercourse with Anaxagoras whom he happened to know. He was thus
imbued with the higher philosophy, and attained the knowledge of
Mind and the negative of Mind, which were favourite themes of
Anaxagoras, and applied what suited his purpose to the art of
Soc. Rhetoric is like medicine.
Phaedr. How so?
Soc. Why, because medicine has to define the nature of the body
and rhetoric of the soul-if we would proceed, not empirically but
scientifically, in the one case to impart health and strength by
giving medicine and food in the other to implant the conviction or
virtue which you desire, by the right application of words and
Phaedr. There, Socrates, I suspect that you are right.
Soc. And do you think that you can know the nature of the soul
intelligently without knowing the nature of the whole?
Phaedr. Hippocrates the Asclepiad says that the nature even of the
body can only be understood as a whole.
Soc. Yes, friend, and he was right:-still, we ought not to be
content with the name of Hippocrates, but to examine and see whether
his argument agrees with his conception of nature.
Phaedr. I agree.
Soc. Then consider what truth as well as Hippocrates says about this
or about any other nature. Ought we not to consider first whether that
which we wish to learn and to teach is a simple or multiform thing,
and if simple, then to enquire what power it has of acting or being
acted upon in relation to other things, and if multiform, then to
number the forms; and see first in the case of one of them, and then
in. case of all of them, what is that power of acting or being acted
upon which makes each and all of them to be what they are?
Phaedr. You may very likely be right, Socrates.
Soc. The method which proceeds without analysis is like the
groping of a blind man. Yet, surely, he who is an artist ought not
to admit of a comparison with the blind, or deaf. The rhetorician, who
teaches his pupil to speak scientifically, will particularly set forth
the nature of that being to which he addresses his speeches; and this,
I conceive, to be the soul.
Soc. His whole effort is directed to the soul; for in that he
seeks to produce conviction.
Soc. Then clearly, Thrasymachus or any one else who teaches rhetoric
in earnest will give an exact description of the nature of the soul;
which will enable us to see whether she be single and same, or, like
the body, multiform. That is what we should call showing the nature of
Soc. He will explain, secondly, the mode in which she acts or is
Soc. Thirdly, having classified men and speeches, and their kinds
and affections, and adapted them to one another, he will tell the
reasons of his arrangement, and show why one soul is persuaded by a
particular form of argument, and another not.
Phaedr. You have hit upon a very good way.
Soc. Yes, that is the true and only way in which any subject can
be set forth or treated by rules of art, whether in speaking or
writing. But the writers of the present day, at whose feet you have
sat, craftily, conceal the nature of the soul which they know quite
well. Nor, until they adopt our method of reading and writing, can
we admit that they write by rules of art?
Phaedr. What is our method?
Soc. I cannot give you the exact details; but I should like to
tell you generally, as far as is in my power, how a man ought to
proceed according to rules of art.
Phaedr. Let me hear.
Soc. Oratory is the art of enchanting the soul, and therefore he who
would be an orator has to learn the differences of human souls-they
are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences
between man and man. Having proceeded thus far in his analysis, he
will next divide speeches into their different classes:-"Such and such
persons," he will say, are affected by this or that kind of speech
in this or that way," and he will tell you why. The pupil must have
a good theoretical notion of them first, and then he must have
experience of them in actual life, and be able to follow them with all
his senses about him, or he will never get beyond the precepts of
his masters. But when he understands what persons are persuaded by
what arguments, and sees the person about whom he was speaking in
the abstract actually before him, and knows that it is he, and can say
to himself, "This is the man or this is the character who ought to
have a certain argument applied to him in order to convince him of a
certain opinion"; -he who knows all this, and knows also when he
should speak and when he should refrain, and when he should use
pithy sayings, pathetic appeals, sensational effects, and all the
other modes of speech which he has learned;-when, I say, he knows
the times and seasons of all these things, then, and not till then, he
is a perfect master of his art; but if he fail in any of these points,
whether in speaking or teaching or writing them, and yet declares that
he speaks by rules of art, he who says "I don't believe you" has the
better of him. Well, the teacher will say, is this, and Socrates, your
account of the so-called art of rhetoric, or am I to look for another?
Phaedr. He must take this, Socrates for there is no possibility of
another, and yet the creation of such an art is not easy.
Soc. Very true; and therefore let us consider this matter in every
light, and see whether we cannot find a shorter and easier road; there
is no use in taking a long rough round-about way if there be a shorter
and easier one. And I wish that you would try and remember whether you
have heard from Lysias or any one else anything which might be of
service to us.
Phaedr. If trying would avail, then I might; but at the moment I can
think of nothing.
Soc. Suppose I tell you something which somebody who knows told me.
Soc. May not "the wolf," as the proverb says, claim a hearing"?
Phaedr. Do you say what can be said for him.
Soc. He will argue that is no use in putting a solemn face on
these matters, or in going round and round, until you arrive at
first principles; for, as I said at first, when the question is of
justice and good, or is a question in which men are concerned who
are just and good, either by nature or habit, he who would be a
skilful rhetorician has; no need of truth-for that in courts of law
men literally care nothing about truth, but only about conviction: and
this is based on probability, to which who would be a skilful orator
should therefore give his whole attention. And they say also that
there are cases in which the actual facts, if they are improbable,
ought to be withheld, and only the probabilities should be told either
in accusation or defence, and that always in speaking, the orator
should keep probability in view, and say good-bye to the truth. And
the observance, of this principle throughout a speech furnishes the
Phaedr. That is what the professors of rhetoric do actually say,
Socrates. I have not forgotten that we have quite briefly touched upon
this matter already; with them the point is all-important.
Soc. I dare say that you are familiar with Tisias. Does he not
define probability to be that which the many think?
Phaedr. Certainly, he does.
Soc. I believe that he has a clever and ingenious case of this
sort:-He supposes a feeble and valiant man to have assaulted a
strong and cowardly one, and to have robbed him of his coat or of
something or other; he is brought into court, and then Tisias says
that both parties should tell lies: the coward should say that he
was assaulted by more men than one; the other should prove that they
were alone, and should argue thus: "How could a weak man like me
have assaulted a strong man like him?" The complainant will not like
to confess his own cowardice, and will therefore invent some other lie
which his adversary will thus gain an opportunity of refuting. And
there are other devices of the same kind which have a place in the
system. Am I not right, Phaedrus?
Soc. Bless me, what a wonderfully mysterious art is this which
Tisias or some other gentleman, in whatever name or country he
rejoices, has discovered. Shall we say a word to him or not?
Phaedr. What shall we say to him?
Soc. Let us tell him that, before he appeared, you and I were saying
that the probability of which he speaks was engendered in the minds of
the many by the likeness of the truth, and we had just been
affirming that he who knew the truth would always know best how to
discover the resemblances of the truth. If he has anything else to say
about the art of speaking we should like to hear him; but if not, we
are satisfied with our own view, that unless a man estimates the
various characters of his heaters and is able to divide all things
into classes and to comprehend them under single ideas he will never
be a skilful rhetorician even within the limits of human power. And
this skill he will not attain without a great deal of trouble, which a
good man ought to undergo, not for the sake of speaking and acting
before men, but in order that he may be able to say what is acceptable
to God and always to act acceptably to Him as far as in him lies;
for there is a saying of wiser men than ourselves, that a man of sense
should not try to please his fellow-servants (at least this should not
be his first object) but his good and noble masters; and therefore
if the way is long and circuitous, marvel not at this, for, where
the end is great, there we may take the longer road, but not for
lesser ends such as yours. Truly, the argument may say, Tisias, that
if you do not mind going so far, rhetoric has a fair beginning here.
Phaedr. I think, Socrates, that this is admirable, if only
Soc. But even to fail in an honourable object is honourable.
Soc. Enough appears to have been said by us of a true and false
art of speaking.
Soc. But there is something yet to be said of propriety and
impropriety of writing.
Soc. Do you know how you can speak or act about rhetoric in a manner
which will be acceptable to God?
Phaedr. No, indeed. Do you?
Soc. I have heard a tradition of the ancients, whether true or not
they only know; although if we had found the truth ourselves, do you
think that we should care much about the opinions of men?
Phaedr. Your question needs no answer; but I wish that you would
tell me what you say that you have heard.
Soc. At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old
god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to
him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and
calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his
great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days the god Thamus
was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great
city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god
himself is called by them Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his
inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the
benefit of them; he enumerated them, and Thamus enquired about their
several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved
or disapproved of them. It would take a long time to repeat all that
Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when
they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and
give them better memories; it is a specific both for the memory and for
the wit. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor
of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his
own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the
father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led
to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery
of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners' souls, because they
will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written
characters and not remember of themselves. The specific which you have
discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence, and you give your
disciples not truth, but only the semblance of truth; they will be hearers
of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be
omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company,
having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you can easily invent tales of Egypt, or of
any other country.
Soc. There was a tradition in the temple of Dodona that oaks first
gave prophetic utterances. The men of old, unlike in their
simplicity to young philosophy, deemed that if they heard the truth
even from "oak or rock," it was enough for them; whereas you seem to
consider not whether a thing is or is not true, but who the speaker is
and from what country the tale comes.
Phaedr. I acknowledge the justice of your rebuke; and I think that
the Theban is right in his view about letters.
Soc. He would be a very simple person, and quite a stranger to the
oracles of Thamus or Ammon, who should leave in writing or receive
in writing any art under the idea that the written word would be
intelligible or certain; or who deemed that writing was at all
better than knowledge and recollection of the same matters?
Phaedr. That is most true.
Soc. I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is
unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the
attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a
solemn silence. And the same may be said of speeches. You would
imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything
and put a question to one of them, the speaker always gives one
unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are
tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them,
and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they
are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them; and
they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Phaedr. That again is most true.
Soc. Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than
this, and having far greater power-a son of the same family, but
Phaedr. Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?
Soc. I mean an intelligent word graven in the soul of the learner,
which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be
Phaedr. You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul,
and of which written word is properly no more than an image?
Soc. Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to
ask you a question: Would a husbandman, who is a man of sense, take
the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in
sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden
of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days
appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for
the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows
in fitting soil, and practises husbandry, and is satisfied if in eight
months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?
Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest;
he will do the other, as you say, only in play.
Soc. And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and
honourable has less understanding, than the husbandman, about his
Phaedr. Certainly not.
Soc. Then he will not seriously incline to "write" his thoughts
"in water" with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak
for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?
Phaedr. No, that is not likely.
Soc. No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and
plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will
write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness
of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the
same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while
others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this
will be the pastime in which his days are spent.
Phaedr. A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the
pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can
discourse merrily about justice and the like.
Soc. True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the
dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science
sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and
him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a
seed which others brought up in different soils render immortal,
making the possessors of it happy to the utmost extent of human
Phaedr. Far nobler, certainly.
Soc. And now, Phaedrus, having agreed upon the premises we decide
about the conclusion.
Phaedr. About what conclusion?
Soc. About Lysias, whom we censured, and his art of writing, and his
discourses, and the rhetorical skill or want of skill which was
shown in them-these are the questions which we sought to determine,
and they brought us to this point. And I think that we are now
pretty well informed about the nature of art and its opposite.
Phaedr. Yes, I think with you; but I wish that you would repeat what
Soc. Until a man knows the truth of the several particulars of which
he is writing or speaking, and is able to define them as they are, and
having defined them again to divide them until they can be no longer
divided, and until in like manner he is able to discern the nature
of the soul, and discover the different modes of discourse which are
adapted to different natures, and to arrange and dispose them in
such a way that the simple form of speech may be addressed to the
simpler nature, and the complex and composite to the more complex
nature-until he has accomplished all this, he will be unable to handle
arguments according to rules of art, as far as their nature allows
them to be subjected to art, either for the purpose of teaching or
persuading;-such is the view which is implied in the whole preceding
Phaedr. Yes, that was our view, certainly.
Soc. Secondly, as to the censure which was passed on the speaking or
writing of discourses, and how they might be rightly or wrongly
censured-did not our previous argument show?-
Phaedr. Show what?
Soc. That whether Lysias or any other writer that ever was or will
be, whether private man or statesman, proposes laws and so becomes the
author of a political treatise, fancying that there is any great
certainty and clearness in his performance, the fact of his so writing
is only a disgrace to him, whatever men may say. For not to know the
nature of justice and injustice, and good and evil, and not to be able
to distinguish the dream from the reality, cannot in truth be
otherwise than disgraceful to him, even though he have the applause of
the whole world.
Soc. But he who thinks that in the written word there is necessarily
much which is not serious, and that neither poetry nor prose, spoken
or written, is of any great value, if, like the compositions of the
rhapsodes, they are only recited in order to be believed, and not with
any view to criticism or instruction; and who thinks that even the
best of writings are but a reminiscence of what we know, and that only
in principles of justice and goodness and nobility taught and
communicated orally for the sake of instruction and graven in the
soul, which is the true way of writing, is there clearness and
perfection and seriousness, and that such principles are a man's own
and his legitimate offspring;-being, in the first place, the word
which he finds in his own bosom; secondly, the brethren and
descendants and relations of his others;-and who cares for them and no
others-this is the right sort of man; and you and I, Phaedrus, would
pray that we may become like him.
Phaedr. That is most assuredly my desire and prayer.
Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go
and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we
went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to
other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems,
whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed
writings in the form of political discourses which they would term
laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based
on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when
they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their
writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not
only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name,
befitting the serious pursuit of their life.
Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?
Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which
belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest
and befitting title.
Phaedr. Very suitable.
Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and
compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding
some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker
Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.
Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be
Soc. Who is he?
Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and
how shall we describe him?
Soc. Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to
hazard a prophecy concerning him.
Phaedr. What would you prophesy?
Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations
of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My
impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows
older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in
comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with
rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will
lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy
in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place,
and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and
do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.
Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.
Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local
Phaedr. By all means.
Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give
me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at
one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a
quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and
carry.-Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.
Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in
Soc. Let us go.
WVC Philosophy Home
WVC Home Page
Questions or comments