Monday, August 22, 2016

The dramatic dating of the Cratylus

Debra Nails dates the Cratylus ≤422 B.C.: ‘The dramatic date is before the death of Hipponicus (422/1) [the father of Hermogenes] as discussed at Cratylus and Hermogenes s. vv., including references to the several modern contributions to the question. Attempts to set the dialogue nearer Euthyphro (e.g. Burnet’s), taking the conversation represented in Euthyphro to be the very one mentioned in Cratylus (396d), have foundered.’ (Debra Nails, The People of Plato, Hackett Publishing Company, 2002, pp. 312-313)

If Nails’ dramatic dating is correct, the dramatic dating I proposed in my preceding post, after the Euthyphro, is wrong. So let me follow the reasons she gives for her dating.

Nails says, s.v. Cratylus, the following: ‘Allen argued … citing Cratylus 429d and 440d for a large age difference between Socrates and his interlocutors – that Cratylus was no older than Plato in 399, the dramatic date assigned by Burnet … Guthrie goes too far (missing 391c) when he says the Cratylus “contains no indication of when the conversation was supposed to have taken place”, which is not true (see Hermogenes s.v.). Taylor (1956) also opposed Allan by reducing the presumed age gap between Socrates and Cratylus, pointing out the mention of a previous conversation with Euthyphro s.v. (Cra. 396d; this has grown into a large prosopographical controversy on its own). Taylor concluded that Socrates was in his forties in the Cratylus, thus that the dialogue is set in the 420s, a view I find plausible.’ (Nails, 105-6)

Cratylus 429d contains the following discussion. Socrates: ‘Does your statement amount to this, that it is altogether impossible to speak falsely (Ara hoti pseudȇ legein to parapan ouk esti, ara touto soi dunatai ho logos)? For there are many who say this, my dear Cratylus, and there have been many in the past (suchnoi gar tines hoi legontes, ȏ phile Kratule, kai nun kai palai).’ – Cratylus: ‘Why, Socrates, how can a man say that which is not? – say something and yet say nothing (Pȏs gar an, ȏ Sȏkrates, legȏn ge tis touto ho legei, mȇ to on legoi)? For is not falsehood saying the thing which is not (ȇ ou touto estin to pseudȇ legein, to mȇ ta onta legein)?’ – Socrates: ‘Your argument, friend, is too subtle for a man of my age (Kompsoteros men ho logos ȇ kat’ eme kai kata tȇn emȇn hȇlikian).’ (429d1-8, tr. Jowett)

Pace Nails and Taylor, I must agree with Allen. Socrates’ words ‘Your argument, friend, is too subtle for a man of my age’ don’t sound like words spoken by Socrates in his forties.

To make sense of the reference to Cratylus 440d, Socrates’ words must be taken within the framework of his last great entry: ‘Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is any knowing at all (All’ oude gnȏsin einai phanai eikos, ȏ Kratule), if everything is in a state of transition (ei metapiptei panta chrȇmata) and there is nothing abiding (kai mȇden menei). For if this power of knowing does not vary and lose its identity (ei men gar auto touto, hȇ gnȏsis, tou gnȏsis einai mȇ metapiptei), then knowing may continue always to abide and exist (menoi te an aei hȇ gnȏsis kai eiȇ gnȏsis). But if the very nature of knowing is liable to change (ei de kai auto to eidos metapiptei tȇs gnȏseȏs), then it will be transformed into something other than knowing (hama t’an metapiptoi eis allo eidos gnȏseȏs), and knowing will thereby cease to exist (kai ouk an eiȇ gnȏsis); and if the transition is always going on (ei de aei meatpiptei), there will always be no knowing (aei ouk an eiȇ gnȏsis), and, according to this view (kai ek toutou tou logou), there will be no one to know and nothing to be known (oute to gnȏsomenon oute to gnȏsthȇsomenon an eiȇ). But if that which knows and that which is known exist ever (ei de esti men aei to gignȏskon, esti de to gignȏskomenon), and the beautiful exists (esti de to kalon) and the good exists (esti de to agathon), and every other thing also exists (esti de hen hekaston tȏn ontȏn), then I do not think they can resemble (ou moi phainetai tauta homoia onta) a process of flux, as we were just now proposing (ha nun hȇmeis legomen, roȇi ouden oude phorai). Whether there is this eternal nature of things (tout’ oun poteron pote houtȏs echei), or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say (ȇ ekeinȏs hȏs hoi peri Hȇrakleiton te legousin kai alloi polloi), is a question hard to determine (mȇ ou raidion ȇi episkepsasthai); and no man of sense (oude panu noun echontos anthrȏpou) will like to put himself or the education of his mind in the power of names (epitrepsanta onomasin hauton kai tȇn hautou psuchȇn therapeuein): neither will he so far trust names or the givers of names  (pepisteukota ekeinois kai tois themenois auta) as to be confident in any knowledge (diischurizesthai hȏs ti eidota, i.e. ‘affirm with confidents as if he knew’; Jowett misinterprets) which condemns himself and other existence to an unhealthy state of unreality (kai hautou te kai tȏn ontȏn katagignȏskein hȏs ouden hugies oudenos, i.e. ‘condemning himself and other existence to an unhealthy state of unreality’; the subject is the man who ‘affirms with confidents as if he knew’, not Jowett’s mistaken ‘knowledge’); he will not believe that all things leak like a pot (alla panta hȏsper keramia rei), or that the whole external world is afflicted with rheum and catarrh (kai atechnȏs hȏsper hoi katarrȏi nosountes anthrȏpoi houtȏs oiesthai kai ta pragmata diakeisthai, hupo reumatos kai katarrou panta chrȇmata echesthai). This may be true, Cratylus (isȏs men oun dȇ, ȏ Kratule, houtȏs echei), but is also very likely to be untrue (isȏs de kai ou); and therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine (skopeisthai oun chrȇ andreiȏs te kai eu, kai mȇ raidiȏs apodechesthai); for you are young and of an age to learn (eti gar neos ei kai hȇlikian echeis). And when you have found the truth (skepsamenon de, ean heurȇis), come and share it with me (metadidonai kai emoi).’ (440a6-d6, tr. Jowett)

Jowett’s ‘for you are young and of an age to learn’, which stands for Socrates’ eti gar neos ei kai hȇlikian echeis is misleading, for Socrates speaks of ‘investigating courageously and well’ skopeisthai oun chrȇ andreiȏs te kai eu, for which, Socrates implies, he himself does not have ‘time of life’ (hȇlikian) left.

How could Taylor possibly have deduced from these two passages, Cratylus 429d and 440d, that Socrates was in his forties when in the Cratylus, defies my understanding.

So let me turn to what Nails has to say s.v. Hermogenes: ‘In Plato, Hermogenes is an able interlocutor (Cra.) and is one of those present at Socrates’ death (Phd.). Hermogenes’ statement on naming beginning, “when we give names to our domestic slaves” (Cra. 384d) does not sound like the words of an impoverished man who depends on “charity from his friends” (pace APF [J. K. Davies, Athenian Propertied Families 600-300 B.C.], citing Xenophon). The Hermogenes of Xenophon is hardly recognizable as the same man, for Xenophon makes something of a fetish of Hermogenes’ poverty and superstition – which is quite absent from Plato’s dialogues. Hipponicus II (who died 422/1) is still alive when Socrates addresses Hermogenes at Cratylus 391c: “since you haven’t yet come into any money of your own” (epeidȇ de ouk enkratȇs ei tȏn patrȏiȏn), implying that Hermogenes had some just expectation of inheriting from his father.’ (Nails 162-3)

At Cra. 384d Hermogenes says: ‘any name which you give, in my opinion (emoi gar dokei hoti an tis tȏi thȇtai onoma), is the right one (touto einai to orthon), and if you change that and give another (kai an authis ge heteron metathȇtai ekeino de mȇketi kalȇi), the new name is as correct as the old (ouden hȇtton to husteron orthȏs echein tou proterou) – we frequently change the names of our slaves (hȏsper tois oiketais hȇmeis metatithemetha), and the newly imposed name is as good as the old (ouden hȇtton tout’ einai orthon to metatethen tou proteron keimenou) .’ (384d2-6, tr. Jowett)

Hermogenes speaks in general – ‘any name which you give ‘ (hoti an tis tȏi thȇtai onoma), and in the plural – ‘we frequently change the names of our slaves’ (tois oiketais hȇmeis metatithemetha). Debra Nails appears to think that when Hermogenes speaks ‘of our slaves’, he refers to slaves he owned. Since he speaks in plural, are we to infer that both Kratylos and Socrates owned slaves? If so, it would only mean that we would have to view Hermogenes’ ownership of slaves as compatible with his being viewed both by Cratylus and by Socrates as a poor man. For Cratylus maintained: ‘If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that would not be your name’ (Oukoun soi ge onoma Hermogenȇs, oude an pantes kalȏsi anthrȏpoi, 383b), and Socrates explained: ‘When Cratylus declares that your name is not really Hermogenes (hoti de ou phȇsi soi Hermogenȇ onoma einai tȇi alȇtheiai), I suspect that he is only making fun of you (hȏsper hupopteuȏ auton skȏptein); he means to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking for a fortune and never in luck (oietai gar isȏs se chrȇmatȏn ephiemenon ktȇseȏs apotunchanein hekastoteI, 384c3-6).’

Perhaps it was Jowett’s ‘because you are always looking for a fortune’ that made Nails think that Hermogenes was ‘looking for’ inheriting something from his father, the point she makes with reference to Crat. 391c. But the Greek original does not imply anything of the sort; it suggests that Hermogenes was involved in many ventures, trying to get rich, but always failed.

In fact, as I now look at Crat. 391c, I begin to suspect that it was Jowett’s translation of this passage that misled Debra Nails. So let me give Socrates words in their context: ‘The true way [of inquiry into the correctness of a name (autou hȇ orthotȇs), 390b5] is to have the assistance of those who know (Orthotatȇ men tȇs skepseȏs, ȏ hetaire, meta tȏn epistamenȏn) and you must pay them well both in money and in thanks (chrȇmata ekeinois telounta kai charitas katatithemenon); these are the sophists (eisi de houtoi hoi sophistai), of whom your brother, Callias, has – rather dearly – bought the reputation of wisdom (hoisper kai ho adelphos sou Kallias polla telesas chrȇmata sophos dokei einai). But you have not yet come into your inheritance (epeidȇ de ouk enkratȇs ei tȏn patrȏiȏn), and therefore you had better go to him, and beg and entreat him (liparein chrȇ ton adelphon kai deisthai autou) to tell you what he has learnt from Protagoras about the fitness of names (didaxai se tȇn orthotȇta peri tȏn toioutȏn hȇn emathen para Prȏtagorou).’

Jowett’s ‘But you have not yet come into your inheritance’ is wrong; Socrates’ epeidȇ de ouk enkratȇs ei tȏn patrȏiȏn means ‘since you are not in possession of the patrimony’. Pace Nails, these words do not imply that Hermogenes’ father is still alive. Socrates speaks with sharp irony, and if his words imply anything, then it is that by the time the dialogue is dramatically staged Callias managed to squander the patrimony on the sophists.

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