Strepsiades’ assumption that Socrates was teaching for money was wrong, as I have shown in the 6th entry on ‘Socrates in Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon’. But what about his assumption that Socrates was teaching the art of speaking, which enables a man to win any court case, both when one is in the right and when one is in the wrong? Strepsiades makes it abundantly clear to Socrates that this is what he wants from him ‘I want to learn to speak. I am oppressed by unbearable debts. My goods are going to be seized for debt (239-241) … Teach me the other of your systems of arguments, the one that enables a person to escape repaying his debts (244-245).’ Socrates does not promise to teach him forensic rhetoric – instead, he asks him, whether he wants to discuss his matters with the Clouds, Socrates’ deity (257-258) – but he allows him to persist in his belief that forensic rhetoric is what he would be taught by him. This theme is central to Aristophanes’ caricature of Socrates in the Clouds. Is there anything in Plato and Xenophon that might enable us to view it as a caricature of Socrates?
In the light of this question, let me examine Plato’s Phaedrus. Socrates: ‘The subject we proposed for inquiry just now (hoper nun prouthemetha skepsasthai) was the nature of good and bad speaking and writing (ton logon hopȇi kalȏs echei legein te kai graphein kai hopȇi mȇ): so we are to inquire into that (skepteon). – Phaedrus: ‘Plainly (Dȇlon).’ – Socrates: ‘Then (Ar’ oun) does not a good and successful discourse presuppose (ouch huparchein dei tois eu ge kai kalȏs rȇthȇsomenois) a knowledge in the mind of the speaker (tȇn tou legontos dianoian eiduian) of the truth (to alȇthes) about this subject (hȏn an peri legein mellȇi)?’ – Phaedrus: ‘As to that, dear Socrates, what I have heard (Houtȏsi peri autȏn akȇkoa, ȏ phile Sȏkrates) is that the intending orator is under no necessity (ouk einai anankȇn tȏi mellonti rȇtori esesthai) of understanding what is truly just (ta tȏi onti dikaia manthanein), but only what is likely to be thought just by the body of men who are to give judgment (alla ta doxant’ an plȇthei hoiper dikasousin); nor need to know what is truly good (oude ta ontȏs agatha) or noble (ȇ kala), but what will be thought so (all’ hosa doxei); since it is on the latter, not the former, that persuasion depends (ek gar toutȏn einai to peithein all’ ouk ek tȇs alȇtheias).’ – Socrates: ‘Not to be lightly rejected, Phaedrus, is any word (Outoi apoblȇton epos einai dei, ȏ Phaidre) of the wise (ho an eipȏsi hoi sophoi); perhaps they are right: one has to see (alla skopein mȇ ti legȏsi). And in particular this present assertion must not be dismissed (kai dȇ kai to nun lechthen ouk apheteon).’ (259e1-7, tr. R. Hackforth)
Socrates: ‘Must not the art of rhetoric, taken as a whole, be (Ar’ oun ou to men holon hȇ rȇtorikȇ an eiȇ technȇ) a kind of influencing of the mind by means of words (psuchagȏgia tis dia logȏn), not only in courts of law (ou monon en dikastȇriois) and other public gatherings (kai hosoi alloi dȇmosioi sullogoi), but in private places also (alla kai en tois idiois)?’ (261a7-9, tr. Hackforth)
Hackforth notes on Socrates’ definition of rhetoric as ‘a kind of influencing of the mind by means of words’ (psuchagȏgia): ‘The word psuchagȏgein, as we have seen, is used by Isocrates, ad Nicoclem II, par. 49, where it has the depreciatory sense of “allure”. It is quite possible that the use of the corresponding noun was suggested to Plato by this passage, though his use of it is not depreciatory but neutral.’ – Hackforth’s ‘as we have seen’ refers to the ‘Introduction’ to his ‘Translation and Commentary’, where in Ch. I. ‘Date of composition’ he notes that Nicocles, for whom Isocrates wrote the speech, ‘succeeded his father Euagoras in 374 B.C. and the oration is believed to be not more than a few years later in date,’ and says: ‘I will therefore give as my guess 370 B.C.’ (pp. 5-7)
I suggest that both Plato in the Phaedrus and Isocrates in ad Nicoclem refer to Aristophanes’ Birds, where ‘psychagogizes Socrates’ (psuchagȏgei Sȏkratȇs, 1555).
After pointing out that rhetoric operates ‘not only in courts of law and other public gatherings, but in private places also’, Socrates continued: ‘And must it not be the same art that is concerned with great issues and small (hȇ autȇ smikrȏn te kai megalȏn peri), its right employment commanding no more respect (kai ouden entimoteron to ge orthon) when dealing with important matters than with unimportant (peri spoudaia ȇ peri phaula gignomenon)? Is that what you have been told about it (ȇ pȏs su tauta akȇkoas)?’ - Phaedrus: ‘No indeed (Ou ma ton Di’), not exactly that (ou pantapasi houtȏs): it is principally, I should say, to lawsuits that an art of speaking and writing is applied (alla malista men pȏs peri tas dikas legetai te kai graphetai technȇi) – and of course to public harangues also (legetai de kai peri dȇmȇgorias). I know of no wider application (epi pleon de ouk akȇkoa).’ (261a9-b5, tr. Hackforth)
Phaedrus’ ‘I have not heard of any wider application’ (epi pleon de ouk akȇkoa, 261b5) suggests that the definition of rhetoric as psuchagȏgia is Socrates’ own definition.
Socrates: ‘What is it that the contending parties in lawcourts do (en tois dikastȇriois hoi antidikoi ti drȏsin)? Do they not in fact contend with words (ouk antilegousi mentoi), or how else should we put it (ȇ ti phȇsomen)? … About what is just (Peri tou dikaiou te) and unjust (kai adikou)? … And he who possesses the art of doing this (Oukoun ho technȇi touto drȏn) can make the same thing appear (poiȇsei phanȇnai to auto) to the same people (tois autois) now just (tote men dikaion), now unjust, at will (hotan de boulȇtai, adikon)? … And in public harangues (kai en dȇmȇgoriai), no doubt (dȇ), he can make the same things seem to the community (tȇi polei dokein ta auta) now good (tote men agatha), and now the reverse of good (tote d’ au t’anantia)? … Then can we fail to see that the Palamedes of Elea has an art of speaking (Ton oun Eleatikon Palamȇdȇn legonta ouk ismen technȇi), such that he can make the same things appear to his audience (hȏste phainesthai tois akouousi ta auta) like (homoia) and unlike (kai anomia), or one (kai hen) and many (kai polla), or again at rest (menonta te au) and in motion (kai pheromena)?’ (261c4-d8, tr. Hackforth)
Hackforth notes on ‘the Palamedes of Elea’: ‘i.e. Zeno, whose method of argument was to show that an opponent’s thesis led to two contradictory consequences. For the contradictory pairs here mentioned cf. Parm. 127e6, 129b5, and 129e1; and see F. M. Cornford, Plato and Parmenides, pp. 57-59.’
I don’t have Cornford’s Plato and Parmenides, but I have little doubt that he takes the reference as the indicator that the Phaedrus was written after the Parmenides, believing both to be late dialogues. In the ‘Introduction’ to his Plato’s Theory of Knowledge Cornford writes: ‘The Parmenides describes a meeting imagined as taking place about 450 B.C. between Socrates, who was then about twenty, and the Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and Zeno. To suppose that anything remotely resembling the conversation in this dialogue could have occurred at that date would make nonsense of the whole history of philosophy in the fifth and fourth centuries; and I believe, with M. Diès, that the meeting itself is a literary fiction, not a fact in the biography of Socrates.’ (Cornford, p. 1)
In ‘Plato’s defence of the Forms in the Parmenides’ (on my website) I have shown the inextricable difficulties and warped images of Parmenides, Plato and Socrates in which the interpreters of the Parmenides have got implicated because of their view that ‘the meeting itself is a literary fiction’. In his reference to ‘the Palamedes of Elea’ Plato in the Phaedrus refers to the discussion between Socrates and Zeno that took place at that meeting.
Xenophon writes in the Memorabilia that when Socrates ‘found that Critias loved Euthydemus and wanted to lead him astray, he tried to restrain him by saying that it was mean and unbecoming in a gentleman to sue like a beggar to the object of his affection, whose good opinion he coveted, stooping to ask a favour that it was wrong to grant. As Critias paid no heed whatever to this protest, Socrates, it is said, exclaimed in the presence of Euthydemus and many others, “Critias seems to have a feeling of a pig: he can no more keep away from Euthydemus than pigs can help rubbing themselves against stones.” Now Critias bore a grudge against Socrates for this; and when he was one of the Thirty and was drafting laws with Charicles, he bore it in mind. He inserted a clause which made it illegal “to teach the art of words” (logȏn technȇn [i.e. the rhetoric] mȇ didaskein). It was a calculated insult to Socrates, whom he saw no means of attacking, except by imputing to him the practice constantly attributed to philosophers, and so making him unpopular … When the Thirty were putting to death many citizens of the highest respectability and were encouraging many in crime, Socrates had remarked: “It seems strange enough to me that a herdsman who lets his cattle decrease and go to the bad should not admit that he is a poor cowherd; but stranger still that a statesman when he causes the citizens to decrease and go to the bad, should feel no shame or think himself a poor statesman.” This remark was reported to Critias and Charicles, who sent for Socrates, showed him the law and forbade him to hold conversation with the young. “May I question you,” asked Socrates, “in case I do not understand any point in your orders?” “You may,” said they. “Well now,” said he, “I am ready to obey the laws. But lest I unwittingly transgress through ignorance, I want clear directions from you. Do you think that the art of words (poteron tȇn tȏn logȏn technȇn) from which you bid me abstain is associated with sound or unsound reasoning (sun tois orthȏs legomenois einai nomizontes ȇ sun tois mȇ orthȏs apechesthai keleuete autȇs)? For if with sound (ei men gar sun tois orthȏs), then clearly I must abstain from sound reasoning (dȇlon hoti aphekteon an eiȇ tou orthȏs legein): but if with unsound (ei de sun tois mȇ orthȏs), then clearly I must try to reason soundly (dȇlon hoti peirateon orthȏs legein).” “Since you are ignorant, Socrates,” said Charicles in an angry tone, “we put our order into language easier to understand. You may not hold any converse whatever with the young.” “Well then,” said Socrates, “that there may be no question raised about my obedience, please fix the age limit below which a man is to be accounted young.” “So long,” replied Charicles, “as he is not permitted to sit in the Council, because he as yet lacks wisdom. You shall not converse with anyone who is under thirty.” “Suppose I want to buy something, am I not even then to ask the price if the seller is under thirty?” “O yes,” answered Charicles, you may in such cases. But the fact is, Socrates, you are in the habit of asking questions to which you know the answer: so that is what you are not to do.” “Am I to give no answer, then, if a young man asks me something that I know? – for instance, ‘Where does Charicles live?’ or ‘Where is Critias?’” “O yes,” answered Charicles, “you may, in such cases.” “But you see, Socrates,” explained Critias, “you will have to avoid your favourite topic – the cobblers, builders and metal workers; for it is already worn to rags by you in my opinion.” “Then must I keep off the subjects of which these supply illustrations, Justice, Holiness, and so forth?” “Indeed yes,” said Charicles, “and cowherds too: else you may find the cattle decrease (ei de mȇ, phulattou, hopȏs mȇ kai su elattous tous bous poiȇsȇis).” Thus the truth was out: the remark about the cattle had been repeated to them: and it was this that made them angry with him.’ (I.ii.29-38, tr. E. C. Marchant)
When Critias, with Socrates in mind, ‘inserted a clause in the laws (en tois nomois egrapse) that the art of rhetoric must not be taught (logȏn technȇn mȇ didaskein), thus abusively threatening him’ (epȇreazȏn ekeinȏi), he was thinking of the art of rhetoric as Socrates defined it in Plato’s Phaedrus; so did Socrates when he asked him and Charicles whether they bid him abstain from the art of speaking associated with sound or unsound reasoning; and so did the three of them referring to Socrates’ usual discussions ‘about the cobblers, builders and metal workers’ as ‘the subjects of which these supply illustrations, Justice, Holiness, and so forth’.
I have dated the Phaedrus in 405-404, finished soon after the surrender of Athens with which the Peloponnesian War ended (in April 404). The main reasons for this dating are the following:
1. In the Phaedrus Socrates ends the Palinode on love with a prayer to Eros: ‘If anything that Phaedrus and I said earlier sounded discordant to thy ear, set it down to Lysias, the only begetter of that discourse; and staying him from discourses after this fashion turn him towards the love of wisdom, even as his brother Polemarchus has been turned (epi philosophian de, hȏsper hadelphos autou Polemarchos tetraptai, trepson). Then will his lover here (hina kai ho erastȇs hode autou) present no longer halt between two opinions, as now he does, but live for Love in singleness of purpose with the aid of philosophic discourse (all’ haplȏs pros Erȏta meta philosophȏn logȏn ton bion poiȇtai).’ (256b1-6; tr. Hackforth with one exception. He translates ho erastȇs hode autou ‘his loving disciple here’.)
If Lysias turns to philosophy as Polemarchus has been turned to it, Phaedrus can ‘live for Love in singleness of purpose with the aid of philosophic discourse’; this means that they would live in terms specified at 256a7-b1: ‘And so, if victory be won by the higher elements of mind guiding them in ordered rule of the philosophic life, their days on earth will be blessed with happiness and concord.’ (Tr. Hackforth.) I cannot see how Plato could have written this after the Thirty put Polemarchus to death to get his money.
2. In the Phaedran Palinode Plato introduces the Forms as supreme divine beings ‘a god’s nearness whereunto makes him truly divine’ (pros hoisper theos ȏn theios esti, 249c6). What protected Plato from being accused of ‘introducing new divinities’ in the Phaedrus – the crime for which Socrates was sentenced to death five years later – was the amnesty the democrats passed after their victory over the Thirty.
3. In the Seventh Letter Plato says: ‘In my youth I went through the same experience as many other men. I fancied that if, early in life, I became my own master, I should at once embark on a political career … The existing constitution being generally condemned, a revolution took place … thirty were appointed rulers with full powers over public affairs as a whole. Some of these were relatives and acquaintances of mine, and they at once invited me to share in their doings, as something to which I had a claim. The effect on me was not surprising in the case of a young man. I considered that they (ȏiȇthȇn gar autous) would, of course, so manage the State as to bring men out of a bad way of life into a good one (ek tinos adikou biou epi dikaion tropon agontas dioikȇsein tȇn polin).’ (324b8-d5, tr. J. Harward)
Plato must have finished the Phaedrus in the early days of the Thirty, for he wrote one more dialogue, the Charmides, before, as Plato says, ‘in quite a short time they made the former government seem by comparison something precious as gold (SL, 324d7-8, tr. Harward)’; in it he describes the relationship between Critias and Socrates as intellectually demanding, tense, but promising. (See Ch. 5 ‘The Charmides and the Phaedrus’ in The Lost Plato on my website.)
***Let me note that the discussion between Socrates and Charicles – “Well then,” said Socrates, “that there may be no question raised about my obedience, please fix the age limit below which a man is to be accounted young.” “So long,” replied Charicles, “as he is not permitted to sit in the Council, because he as yet lacks wisdom. You shall not converse with anyone who is under thirty.” – implies that the Thirty forbade Socrates to talk to Plato. Charicles’ ‘because he as yet lacks wisdom’ may have contributed to the ancient story that the subject of the Phaedrus has ‘something adolescent about it’ (echein meirakiȏdes ti to problȇma, Diog. Laert. III. 38).