Rowe dates the Phaedrus late, ‘certainly later than the Republic and other middle dialogues like the Phaedo and the Symposium; certainly later than the Timaeus; possibly or probably later than the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist and the Statesman; and probably earlier than the Philebus’. (Plato Phaedrus, with translation and commentary by C. J. Rowe, 2nd ed., p. 14.) In ‘The argument and structure of Plato’s Phaedrus’ (Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, 1986, pp. 106-125) he says at point (1) that those who regard the Phaedrus as belonging with the middle dialogues ‘rely on the close resemblance between some of the main ideas contained in Socrates’ speech and those of the Republic, the Symposium, and the Phaedo: including, most notably, the idea of separated Forms and that of learning as recollection. What has not been sufficiently recognised is that these ideas appear in the Phaedrus exclusively in the framework of a muthos. If no muthos is to be taken as literally true, the result will be to throw immediate doubt on their status.’ (p. 120-121). In support of his argument he quotes Socrates’ reference to his second speech, the Palinode, as a muthos (265c1): ‘a playful hymn in the form of a story’ (muthikon tina humnon). (p. 116)
Concerning Rowe’s point (1) I must ask: does Plato want to ‘throw immediate doubt’ on the Republic when he speaks of the State in which philosophers are to be rulers as a muthos? At Republic 501e2-5 he says that ‘until philosophers bear rule, States and individuals have no rest from evil, nor will this our imaginary State ever be realized (oude hȇ politeia hȇn muthologoumen logȏi ergȏi telos lȇpsetai)?’ (Tr. B. Jowett) Rowe’s ‘playful hymn in the form of a story’ has nothing in common with Jowett’s ‘our imaginary State’; we must go to the original in order to see the connection. In the Phaedrus Socrates views his Palinode as a muthos, in the Republic he views his whole narrative as a muthos. The reader might object that I twisted Socrates’ words in the Republic by emphasizing mutho while deemphasizing logoumen logȏi ‘narrate by logos’. But if in the light of this objection we return to the Phaedrus, the connection will be intensified, for in it, as in the Republic, Socrates combines the notion of muthos with the conception of logos: ‘mixing together a not wholly implausible speech (logon), we sang a playful hymn in the form of a story (muthikon, 265b8-c1)’.
At point (2) Rowe says that in the Phaedrus ‘Socrates argues that skilfully constructed logoi will be based on the procedures of collection and division (264e-266c, 277b-c). If, as I suggest, Plato has in mind his own works as models, this will connect the Phaedrus especially with the Sophist and the Politicus. (p. 121) He found this connection outlined in ‘the short but excellent introduction to Thompson’s edition of the Phaedrus, published in 1868’: ‘The key point of Thompson’s interpretation is that Socrates’ second speech is to be understood as an example of the kind of oratory which is described in the Politicus: “that part of oratory which persuades people of what is right, and so helps to guide behaviour in cities in partnership with the art of kingship”, and which “persuades the mass of people, the crowd, through muthologia rather than teaching” … This rhetoric, as understood by the Politicus and the Phaedrus, “was to be the handmaid at once of Philosophy and Political, or what in the ancient view was the same thing, of Ethical Science”.’ (pp. 107-8)
Thompson’s and Rowe’s interpretation corresponds to Plato’s view of rhetoric in the Politicus (i.e. the Statesman). The Stranger asks: ‘To what science do we assign the power of persuading a multitude by pleasing tale and not by teaching?’ – The younger Socrates answers: ‘That power, I think, must clearly be assigned to rhetoric.’ – Stranger: ‘And to what science do we give the power of determining whether we are to employ persuasion or force towards any one, or to refrain altogether?’ – Y. Socrates: ‘To that science which governs the arts of speech and persuasion.’ – Stranger: ‘Which, if I am not mistaken, will be politics.’ – Y. Socrates: ‘Very good.’ – Stranger: ‘Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics, being a different species, yet ministering to it.’ (304c10-e2, tr. B. Jowett)
In contrast, in the Phaedrus the rhetoric and politics are in unity. In response to Phaedrus’ statement that ‘one of our politicians was railing at Lysias and reproaching him on the score of writing speeches, constantly calling him a speech-writer’ Socrates replied: ‘An absurd idea, young man … the proudest of politicians have the strongest desire to write speeches and bequeath compositions; why, whenever they write a speech, they are so pleased to have admirers that they put in a special clause at the beginning with the names of the persons who admire the speech in question.’ – Phaedrus: ‘What do you mean? I don’t understand.’ – Socrates: ‘You don’t understand that when a politician begins a composition the first thing he writes is the name of his admirer. – Ph.: ’Is it?’ – S.: ‘Yes, he says may be “Resolved by the Council” or “by the People” or both: and then “Proposed by so-and-so” – a pompous self-advertisement on the part of the author; after which he proceeds with what he has to say, showing off his own wisdom to his admirers, sometimes in a very lengthy composition; or does such a thing seem to you to differ from a written speech?’ – Ph.: ‘Not to me.’ – S.: ‘Then if the speech holds its ground, the author leaves the ground rejoicing; but if it is blotted out, and he loses his status as a recognised speech-writer, he goes into mourning, and his friends with him.’ – Ph.: ‘Quite so.’ – S.: ‘Which clearly implies that their attitude to the profession is not one of disdain, but of admiration.’ – Ph. ‘To be sure.’ – S.: ‘Well then – when he becomes an orator or king (rȇtȏr ȇ basileus) capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon, or a Darius, and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city, doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive, and don’t those who come later think the same of him, when they observe his compositions?’ – P.: ‘Indeed so.’ (257c8-258c6)
At point (3) Rowe says: ‘The Phaedrus rejects the conception of gods as a combination of soul and body (246c-d): such a conception of them is present in the Timaeus (38e, 41a-b), but – pace Cornford – absent from Laws 10.’
To answer Rowes point (3), let me begin by contrasting Phaedrus 246c-d with the related Timaeus passages.
In Phaedrus 246c-d Socrates explains how it is that some living creatures are called mortal and some immortal: ’All soul has the care of all that is soulless, and ranges about the whole universe, coming now to be in one form, now in another. Now when it is perfectly winged, it travels above the earth and governs the whole cosmos; but the one that has lost its wings is swept along until it lays hold of something solid, where it settles down, taking on an earthy body, which seems to move itself because of the power of the soul, and the whole is called a living creature, soul and body fixed together, and acquires the name “mortal”; immortal it is not, on the basis of any argument which has been reasoned through, but because we have not seen or adequately conceived a god we imagine a kind of immortal living creature which has both a soul and body, combined for all time.’ (246b5-d2, tr. Rowe)
In Timaeus 38e Plato says: ‘Now, when each of the stars which were necessary to the creation of time had come to its proper orbit, and they had become living creatures having bodies fastened by ensouled chains, and learnt their appointed task …’
In 41a-b Plato says: ‘Now, when all of them, both those who visibly appear in their revolutions as well as those other gods who are of a more retiring nature (kai hosoi phainontai kath’ hoson an ethelȏsin theoi ‘and those gods who appear whenever they wish’), had come into being, the creator of the universe addressed them in these words: “Gods, who are my works, and of whom I am the artificer and father, my creations are indissoluble, if so I will. All that is bound may be undone, but only an evil being would wish to undo that which is harmonious and happy. Wherefore, since ye are but creatures, ye are not altogether immortal and indissoluble, but ye shall certainly not be dissolved, nor be liable to the fate of death, having in my will a greater and mightier bond than those with which ye were bound at the time of your birth.” (Timaeus 41a-b, tr. B. Jowett)
When Row argues at (3) that ‘The Phaedrus rejects the conception of gods as a combination of soul and body (246c-d): such a conception of them is present in the Timaeus (38e, 41a-b),’ he takes Phaedrus 34c-d as a rejection of Timaeus 38e, 41a-b. But how can the argument in the Phaedrus – that the conception of gods as immortal living beings composed of body and soul has not been reasoned through by any argument – refer to the stars, the divine beings whose creation was seen by Plato as necessary to create time (38b-39e)? In the Timaeus Plato employs all his knowledge of astronomy to reason through the necessary creation of the stars as divine beings composed of body and soul.
Furthermore, there is a passage in the Timaeus in which Plato appears to refer directly to Phaedrus 246c-d, when he says that the gods ‘who appear whenever they wish’, i.e. the gods of Greek mythology, are conceived ‘without any probable or necessary proofs’ as immortal beings composed of body and soul. But while in Phaedrus 246c-d Plato pays only a perfunctory lip service to the established religion – ‘but let this, and our account of it, be as is pleasing to god’ (246d2-3) – in the Timaeus he is much more circumspect: ‘To know or tell the origin of the other divinities is beyond us, and we must accept the tradition of the men of old time who affirm themselves to be the offspring of the gods – that is what they say – and they must surely have known their own ancestors. How can we doubt the word of the children of the gods? Although they give no probable or certain proofs (kaiper aneu te eikotȏn kai anankaiȏn apodixeȏn legousin, 40e1-2), still, as they declare that they are speaking of what took place in their own family, we must conform to custom and believe them. In this manner, then, according to them, the genealogy of these gods is to be received and set forth. Oceanus and Thetys were the children of Earth and Heaven, and from these sprang Phorkys and Cronos and Rhea, and all that generation; and from Cronos and Rhea sprang Zeus and Hera, and all those who are said to be their brethren, and others who were the children of these.’ (Timaeus 40d6-41a3, tr. B. Jowett)
In answer to Rowe’s contention in point (3) that the conception of god’s as a combination of soul and boy ‘is absent from Laws 10’ I shall quote the relevant arguments of the Athenian Stranger, marking Cleinias’ responses by three dots.
Athenian: ‘If, in principle, soul drives round the sun, moon, and the other heavenly bodies, does it not impel each individually?’ … ‘Let’s take a single example: our results will then obviously apply to all the other heavenly bodies … the sun. Everyone can see its body, but no one can see its soul – not that you could see the soul of any other creature, living or dying. Nevertheless, there are good grounds for believing that we are in fact held in the embrace of some such thing though it is totally below the level of our bodily senses, and is perceptible by reason alone. So by reason and understanding let’s get hold of a new point about the soul. … If soul drives the sun, we shan’t go far wrong if we say that it operates in one of three ways. … Either (a) the soul resides within this visible spherical body and carries it wherever it goes, just as our soul takes us around from one place to another, or (b) it acquires its own body of fire or air of some kind, as certain people maintain, and impels the sun by the external contact of body with body, or (c) it is entirely separate from body, but guides the sun along its path by virtue of possessing some other prodigious and wonderful powers. … Now, just wait a minute. Whether we find that it is by stationing itself in the sun and driving it like a chariot, or moving it from outside, or by some other means, that this soul provides us all with light, every single one of us is bound to regard it as a god. Isn’t that right? … Now consider all the stars and the moon and the years and months and all the seasons: what can we do but repeat the same story? A soul or souls – and perfectly virtuous souls at that – have been shown to be the cause of all these phenomena, and whether it is by their living presence in the bodies (eite en sȏmasin enousai, 899b7) that they direct all the heavens, or by some other means, we shall insist that these souls are gods.’ (898d3-899b8)
In Laws 10 Plato leaves undecided the question whether the souls of the sun and all the other heavenly bodies direct all the heavens (kosmousi panta ouranon, 899b8) ‘by their living presence in the bodies, or by some other means’. Pace Rowe, the possibility that the souls of the gods are in the heavenly bodies is not ‘absent from Laws 10’.
What remains to be discussed is Rowe’s point (4): ‘Other clear connections with Laws 10, as has long been noticed, are to be found in the arguments for immortality (245c-246a)’.
The reference Rowe gives at point (4) is to Plato’s proof of the immortality of the soul, which is as follows:
‘All soul is immortal. For that which is always in movement is immortal; that which moves something else and is moved by something else, in ceasing from movement, ceases from living. Only that which moves itself (to hauto kinoun), because it does not abandon itself, never stops moving. It is also source and first principle of movement (archȇ kinȇseȏs) for the other things which move. A first principle is something which does not come into being (Archȇ de agenȇton). For all that comes into being must come into being from a first principle, but a first principle itself cannot come into being from anything at all; for if a first principle came into being from anything, it would not do so from a first principle. Since it does not come into being (agenȇton estin), it must also be something which does not perish. For if a first principle is destroyed, neither will it ever come into being from anything nor anything else from it, given that all things must come into being from a first principle. It is in this way, then, that that which moves itself is first principle of movement (kinȇseȏs men archȇ to auto hauto kinoun). It is not possible for this either to be destroyed or to come into being (touto de out’ apollusthai oute gignesthai dunaton), or else the whole universe and the whole of that which comes to be might collapse [‘would collapse’, Hackforth] together and come to a halt, and never again have a source from which things will come to be moved. And since that which is moved by itself has been shown to be immortal (athanatou de pephasmenou tou huph’ heautou kinoumenou), it will incur no shame to say that this is the essence and the definition of soul. For all body which has its source of motion outside itself is soulless, whereas that which has it within itself and from itself is ensoled, this being the nature of soul; and if this is so – that that which moves itself is nothing other than soul (mȇ allo ti einai to auto heauto kinoun ȇ psuchȇn), soul will be necessarily something which never comes into being nor dies (ex anankȇs agenȇton te kai athanaton psuchȇ an eiȇ).’ (245b7-246a2, translation C.J. Rowe)
In Laws X the Athenian Stranger defines the soul as ‘motion capable of moving itself’ (tȇn dunamenȇn autȇn hautȇn kinein kinȇsin, 896a1-2). In the Phaedrus Plato defined the soul as ‘that which moves itself‘ (to auto heauto kinoun, 245e7-8). The connection between the two is obvious. This similarity forms the basis for dating the Phaedrus late with reference to Laws 10 by Rowe and others. But there is a difference between the two. In the Phaedrus Plato emphasises again and again that the soul ‘does not come into being’, it is agenȇton (245d1, d3, 246a1), it is not possible for it to come into being (touto de oute gignesthai dunaton, 245d7-8). But in Laws 10 he speaks about its birth (autȇs peri geneseȏs 892a4): ‘it was born before all bodies’ (sȏmatȏn emprosthen pantȏn genomenȇ 892a5).
Presumably, the creation of the soul in the Timaeus provided the basis for Plato’s revision of the Phaedran soul in Laws X.
Let me go through the relevant passages in Laws X. At 892a8-b1 Plato days that ‘all things related to the soul will necessarily have been created before (protera an eiȇ gegonota) things related to the body, since soul itself is older than body.’ He goes on to say that those who deny the existence of the gods, ‘when they use the word “nature”, they mean the process by which the first things came into being. But if it can be shown that the soul came first, not fire or air, and that it was one of the first things created (psuchȇ d’ en prȏtois gegenȇmenȇ), it will be quite correct to say that soul is pre-eminently by nature. This is true, provided you can demonstrate that soul is older than body, but not otherwise.’ (892c2-7)
In the Timaeus Plato demonstrated that God created the soul of the universe before its body: ‘Now God did not make the soul after the body, although we are speaking of them in this order; for when he put them together he would never have allowed that the elder should be ruled by the younger … he made the soul in origin (genesei) and excellence prior (proteran) to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject.’ (34b10-c5, tr. B. Jowett)
In Laws 10 he maintains that it can be shown that ‘the motion (kinȇsis) that moves both itself and other things’ (tȇn te hautȇn te kinousan kai heteron, 894c4-5) ‘is the first by birth (prȏton genesei te estin) as well as in power’ (894d10)’, and that it can be shown that it is archȇ, the first principle of motion: ‘When that which moves itself by itself (auto hauto kinȇsan) effects an alteration in something, and that in turn in something else, so that motion is transmitted to thousands upon thousands of things, will there be any other initial principle of the entire sequence of their movements than the change that moves itself by itself (plȇn hȇ tȇs autȇs hautȇn kinȇsasȇs metabolȇ;)? Now let’s put the point in a different way. Suppose the whole universe were somehow to coalesce and come to a standstill, which of the motions we have enumerated would inevitably be the first to arise (prȏtȇn genesthai) in it? The one that moves itself by itself (tȇn autȇn heautȇn kinȇsan), surely, because no antecedent impulse can ever be transmitted from something else in a situation where no antecedent impulse exists. The first principle of all motions (archȇn ara kinȇseȏn pasȏn), which is the first born among things that stand still (kai prȏtȇn en te hestȏsi genomenȇn), and is the first among things that move, is the motion that moves itself by itself (tȇn hautȇn kinousan); we shall say that it is necessarily the oldest (presbutatȇn) and most potent of all changes.’ (894e4-895b6)
In Laws 10 Plato views ’the motion that moves itself by itself’ (tȇn hautȇn kinousan kinȇsin) as archȇ, the first principle of motion and change, just as he viewed motion ‘that moves itself’ (to hauto kinoun) as archȇ in the Phaedrus. But the notion of archȇ is different. In the Phaedrus the archȇ is agenȇton, it ’does not come into being’, whereas in Laws 10 it is the first principle (archȇ) that came into being (genomenȇ). To this difference corresponds the different outcome of the thought experiments, in which all that moves came to a standstill. In the Phaedrus if ‘the whole universe, the whole of that which comes to be, would collapse into immobility, and never find another source of motion to bring it back into being (tr. Hackforth)’; in Laws 10, if all came to standstill, it would be the motion that moves itself, which of necessity would be the first to come into being.
In Laws 10 the Athenian then asks: ‘If we ever saw this’ – i.e. the motion moving itself – ‘in something made of earth (genomenȇn en tȏi gȇinȏi ‘that came into being in something made of earth’) or water or fire, alone or in combination, what state we would say it to be in?’ – Cleinias: ‘Don’t you really ask me, whether we shall say it to be alive when it moves itself by itself (hotan auto hauto kinȇi;)?’ – Ath. ‘Yes’. – Cl. ‘To be alive (Zȇn), of course.’ (895c4-10)
Allow me a joke: Cleinias could answer the intentionally obscure question for he happened to have read the Phaedrus and remembered the passage in which the soul that loses its wings ‘is swept along until it lays hold of something solid, where it settles down, taking on an earthy body, which seems to move itself because of the power of the soul, and the whole is called a living creature (zȏion), soul and body fixed together.’ (246c2-5)
The Athenian Stranger then gives Cleinias an elementary lesson in philosophy: ‘Now, hold on a minute, for heaven’s sake. Aren’t you prepared to recognize three elements concerning each thing?’ Cl.: ‘What do you mean?’ – Ath.: ‘The first point is what the object actually is, the second is its definition, and the third is its name. And, in addition, there are two question to be asked about every existing thing.’ – Cl. ‘Two?’ – Ath.: ‘Sometimes we put forward the mere name and want to know the definition, and sometimes we put forward the definition and ask for the name … a number has the name “even” and its definition is “a number divisible into two equal parts” … when we call it “even” and define it as “a number divisible in two”, it’s the same thing we’re talking about.’ (895d1-e8)
After this preparation, the Athenian asks: ‘So what’s the definition of the thing we call soul? Do we have any other than the one we said a moment ago [at 895c4-10]: “the motion capable of moving itself by itself” (tȇn dunamenȇn autȇn hautȇn kinein kinȇsin;)? – Cl.: ‘Do you mean that the motion that moves itself (to heauto kinein) is the definition of the same entity, which we all call by the name soul?’ – Ath.: ‘I do. And if this is true, are we still dissatisfied? Haven’t we got ourselves a satisfactory proof that soul is identical (psuchȇn t’auton on) with the first generation (kai tȇn prȏtȇn genesin) and motion of all past, present and future things and their contraries? When it has been shown to be the cause of all change and motion in everything?’ – Cl.: ’Dissatisfied? No! (Ouk), On the contrary, it has been proved most sufficiently that soul is the oldest of all things (psuchȇ tȏn pantȏn presbutatȇ), the first principle of motion that was generated (genomenȇ ge archȇ kinȇseȏs) … Ath.: ‘So it was equally correct, final and complete statement of the truth, when we said that soul was generated prior to body (psuchȇn men proteran gegonenai sȏmatos), and that body came second and later, soul being the master, and body its natural subject.’ (895e10-896c3)
Let me compare to this ‘final and complete statement of the truth’ in Laws X the concluding statement of the proof of immortality of soul in the Phaedrus: ‘All body which has its source of motion outside itself is soulless, whereas that which has it within itself and from itself is ensoled (empsuchon), this being the nature of soul; and if this is so – that that which moves itself is nothing other than soul, soul will be necessarily something which never comes into being (agenȇton) nor dies.’
The similarity is undeniable, but so is the difference. In Laws X the soul was generated (genomenȇ); it was brought into being prior to body, body came second, in the Phaedrus the soul has never come into being, it was ‘of necessity agenȇton’.