In Aristophanes’ Clouds, oppressed by his debts and unwilling to pay them, Strepsiades sends his son to Socrates’ House-of-thinking (phrontistȇrion, 94) to learn the ‘just’/the ‘stronger’ and the ‘unjust’/the ‘weaker’ argument, in the hope that with the help of his son’s newly acquired oratory he would win any court proceedings raised against him. The day of reckoning is approaching, the creditors are determined to take him to court. He knocks on the door of Socrates’ House-of-thinking, and asks Socrates: ‘tell me whether my son has learnt the argument you newly brought in’ (kai moi ton huion ei memathȇke ton logon ekeinon eiph’ hon artiȏs eisȇgages, 1148-9). – Socrates: ‘He has learnt it (memathȇken) so that you would win any lawsuit’ (hȏst’ apophugois an hȇntin’ an boulȇi dikȇn, 1151). Happy, he takes his son home and spurns his creditors. The chorus of Clouds predicts that on that very day (tȇmeron, 1307) he will pay dearly for his wrongdoings.
As soon as the chorus ends the song, Strepsiades runs on the stage: ‘Ahh Ahh (iou iou), Oh neighbours (ȏ geitones), and relatives (kai xungeneis), and fellow-commoners (kai dȇmotai), come to my help, defend me as fast as you can against the blows I’m getting (amunathete moi tuptomenȏi pasȇ technȇi); poor me (oimoi kakodaimȏn), my head (tȇs kepahlȇs), and my jaw (kai tȇs gnathou).’ Turning to his son: ‘You scoundrel (ȏ miare), you beat your father (tupteis ton patera)?’ – Pheidippides: ‘Yes, I do, my father (phȇm’ ȏ pater)’ – Strepsiades: ‘You see, he admits that he is beating me (horath’ homologounth’ hoti me tuptei).’ – Phe. ‘Very much so (kai mala).’
In the ensuing discussion Pheidippides defends his right to chastise his father, and his mother. (1327-1446)
Xenophon writes in his Memorabilia: ‘“But (Alla),” said his accuser, “Socrates (Sȏkratȇs g’, ephȇ ho katȇgoros) taught sons to treat their fathers with contempt (tous pateras propȇlakizein edidaske): he persuaded them that he made his companions wiser than their fathers (peithȏn men tous sunontas heautȏi sophȏterous poiein tȏn paterȏn, I.ii.49, tr. E. C. Marchant)”
Plato’s Euthyphro opens with Euthyphro addressing Socrates: ‘What can have happened (ti neȏteron), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), to bring you away from the Lyceum (hoti su tas en Lukeiȏi katalipȏn diatribas)? And what are you doing in the Porch of the King Archon (enthade nun diatribeis peri tȇn tou basileȏs stoan)? Surely you cannot be concerned in a suit before the King, like myself (ou gar pou kai soi ge dikȇ tis ousa tunchanei pros ton basilea hȏsper emoi)?’ – Socrates: ‘Not in a suit, Euthyphro; prosecution is the word which the Athenians use (Outoi dȇ Athȇnaioi ge, ȏ Euthuphrȏn, dikȇn autȇn kalousin alla graphȇn).’ – Euthyphro: ‘What (ti phȇis)! I suppose that someone has been prosecuting you (graphȇn se tis, hȏs eoike, gegraptai), for I cannot believe that you are a prosecutor of another (ou gar ekeino ge katagnȏsomai, hȏs su heteron).’ (2a1-b2, translations are Jowett’s.) As can be seen, Euthyphro knows a lot about Socrates; he knows that he normally spends his time in Lyceum, a gymnasium, in discussions with his friends, – for this is what the word diatribai means concerning Socrates; he cannot believe that Socrates would prosecute another.
To Euthyphro’s question, who is the accuser, and what is the accusation, Socrates answers: ‘A young man who is little known, Euthyphro; and I hardly know him: his name is Meletus (Oud’ autos panu ti gignȏskȏ, ȏ Euthyphrȏn, ton andra, neos gar tis moi phainetai kai agnȏs, onomazousi mentoi auton Melȇton, 2b7-9) … he is going to accuse me of corrupting his generation (hȏs diaphtheirontos tous hȇlikiȏtas autou erchetai katȇgorȇsȏn mou, 2c6-7) … Of all our political men he is the only one who seems to me to begin in the right way (kai phainetai moi tȏn politikȏn monos archesthai orthȏs), with the cultivation of virtue in youth (orthȏs gar esti tȏn neȏn prȏton epimelȇthȇnai hopȏs esontai hoti aristoi); like a good husbandman (hȏsper geȏrgon agathon tȏn neȏn phutȏn eikos prȏton epimelȇthȇnai, meta de touto kai tȏn allȏn), he makes the young shoots his first care, and clears away us whom he accuses of destroying them (kai dȇ kai Melȇtos isȏs prȏton men hȇmas ekkathairei tous tȏn neȏn tas blastas diaphteirontas, hȏs phȇsin). This is only the first step; afterwards he will assuredly attend to the elder branches (epeita meta touto dȇlon hoti tȏn presbuterȏn epimelȇtheis); and if he goes on as he has begun, he will be a very great public benefactor (pleistȏn kai megistȏn agathȏn aitios tȇi polei genȇsetai, hȏs ge to eikos sumbȇnai ek toiautȇs archȇs arxamenȏi).’ – Euthyphro: ‘I hope that he may (Bouloimȇn an – Jowett’s ‘I hope that he may’ is a misinterpretation; Euthyphro says: ‘I should wish it were so’); but I rather fear, Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates, all’ orrȏdȏ), that the opposite will turn out to be the truth (mȇ tounantion genȇtai). My opinion is that in attacking you he is simply aiming a blow at the heart of the state (atechnȏs gar moi dokei aph’ hestias archesthai kakourgein tȇn polin, epicheirȏn adikein se).’ (2c8-3a8) – As can be seen, Euthyphro has a very high opinion of Socrates.
Having told Euthyphro about Meletus’ accusation, Socrates asks: ‘And what is your suit, Euthyphro (Estin de dȇ soi, ȏ Euthyphrȏn, tis hȇ dikȇ)? Are you the pursuer or the defendant (pheugeis autȇn ȇ diȏkeis)?’ – Euthyphro: ‘I am the pursuer (Diȏkȏ).’ – Soc. ‘Of whom (Tina)?’ – Euth. ‘When I tell you, you will perceive another reason why I am thought mad (Hon diȏkȏn au dokȏ mainesthai).’ (3e7-4a1)
Euthyphro’s au i.e. ‘again’, which Jowett renders ‘you will perceive another reason’, refers to 2c2, where he says that the many (hoi polloi) laugh at him and think him a madman (katagelȏsin hȏs mainomenou). His entry containing those words shows that he views himself and Socrates as kindred spirits: ‘I understand (Manthanȏ), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates); he means to attack you about the familiar sign which occasionally, as you say, comes to you (hoti dȇ su to daimonion phȇis sautȏi hekastote gignestai). He thinks that you are a neologian (hȏs oun kainotomountos sou peri ta theia), and he is going to have you up before the court for this (gegraptai tautȇn tȇn graphȇn, kai hȏs diabalȏn dȇ erchetai eis to dikastȇrion). He knows (eidȏs) that such a charge is readily received by the world, (hoti eudiabola ta toiauta pros tous pollous) as I myself know too well; for when I speak in the assembly about divine things (kai emou gar toi, hotan ti legȏ en tȇi ekklȇsiai peri tȏn theiȏn), and foretell the future to them (prolegȏn autois ta mellonta), they laugh at me and think me a madman (katagelȏsin hȏs mainomenou). Yet every word that I say is true (kaitoi ouden hoti ouk alȇthes eirȇka hȏn proeipon). But they are jealous of us all (all’ homȏs phthonousin hȇmin pasi tois toioutois); and we must be brave and go at them (all’ ouden autȏn chrȇ phrontizein, all’ homose ienai).’ (2b5-c5)
Soc. ‘Why (Ti de), has the fugitive wings (petomenon tina diȏkeis)?’ – Euth. ‘Nay, he is not very volatile at his time of life (Pollou ge dei petesthai, hos ge tunchanei ȏn eu mala presbutȇs).’ – Soc. ‘Who is he (Tis houtos)?’ – Euth. ‘My father (Ho emos patȇr).’ – Soc. ‘My dear Sir! Your own father (Ho sos, ȏ beltiste)?’ – Euth. ‘Yes (Panu men oun).’ – Soc. ‘And of what is he accused (Estin de ti to enklȇma kai tinos hȇ dikȇ)?’ – Euth. ‘Of murder (Phonou), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates).’ – Soc. Good heavens (Hȇrakleis)! How little, Euthyphro, does the common heard know of the nature of right and truth (ȇ pou, ȏ Ethuphrȏn, agnoeitai hupo tȏn pollȏn hopȇi pote orthȏs echei)! A man must be an extraordinary man, and have made great strides in wisdom, before he could have seen his way to bring such an action (ou gar oimai ge tou epituchontos auto praxai alla porrȏ pou ȇdȇ sophias elaunontos).’ – Euth. ‘Indeed, Socrates, he must (Porrȏ mentoi nȇ Dia, ȏ Sȏkrates).’ – Soc. ‘I suppose that the man whom your father murdered was one of your family (Estin de dȇ tȏn oikeiȏn tis ho tethneȏs hupo tou sou patros) – clearly he was (ȇ dȇla dȇ); for if he had been a stranger you would never have thought of prosecuting him (ou gar an pou huper ge allotriou epexȇistha phonou autȏi).’ – Euth. ‘I am amused (Geloion, i.e. ‘Ridiculous’), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), at your making a distinction between one who is a member of the family and one who is not (ei oiei ti diapherein eite allotrios eite oikeios ho tethneȏs); for surely the pollution is the same in either case, if you knowingly associate with the murderer when you ought to clear yourself and him by proceeding against him. The real question is whether the murdered man has been justly slain. If justly, then your duty is to let the matter alone; but if unjustly, then proceed against the murderer, if, that is to say, he lives under the same roof with you and eats at the same table (all’ ou touto monon dein phulattein, eite en dikȇi ekteinen ho kteinas eite mȇ, kai ei men en dikȇi, ean, ei de mȇ, epexienai, eanper ho kteinas sunestios soi kai homotrapezos ȇi: ison gar to miasma gignetai ean sunȇis tȏi toioutȏi suneidȏs kai mȇ aphosiois seauton te kai ekeinon tȇi dikȇi epexiȏn).’ (4a2-c3)
Euthyphro goes on to explain the case in detail: ‘In fact (epei), the man who is dead was a poor dependent of mine (ho ge apothanȏn pelatȇs tis ȇn emos) who worked for us as a field labourer on our farm in Naxos (kai hȏs egeȏrgoumen en tȇi Naxȏi, ethȇteuen ekei par hȇmin), and one day in a fit of drunken passion he got into a quarrel with one of our domestic servants (paroinȇsas oun kai orgistheis tȏn oiketȏn tini tȏn hȇmeterȏn) and slew him (aposphattei auton). My father bound him hand and foot (ho oun patȇr sundȇsas tous podas kai tas cheiras autou) and threw him into a ditch (katabalȏn eis taphron tina), and then he sent to Athens to ask an expositor of religious law (pempei deuro andra peusomenon tou exȇgȇtou) what he should do with him (hoti chreiȇ poiein). Meanwhile he never attended to him and took no care about him (en de toutȏi tȏi chronȏi tou dedemenou ȏligȏrei te kai ȇmelei), for he regarded him as a murderer (hȏs androphonou); and thought that no great harm would be done (kai ouden on pragma) even if he did die (ei kai apothanoi). Now this was just what happened (hoper oun kai epathen). For such was the effect of cold and hunger and chains upon him (hupo gar limou kai rigous kai tȏn desmȏn), that before the messenger returned from the expositor, he was dead (apothnȇiskei prin ton angelon para tou exȇgȇtou aphikesthai).’ (4c3-d5)
Socrates reacted to this explanation with the words: ‘Good heavens, Euthyphro (Su de dȇ pros Dios, ȏ Euthuphrȏn)! And is your knowledge of religion and of things pious and impious so very exact (houtȏsi akribȏs oiei epistasthai peri tȏn theiȏn hopȇi echei, kai tȏn hosiȏn te kai anosiȏn), that (hȏste), supposing the circumstances to be (toutȏn houtȏ prachthentȏn) as you state them (hȏs su legeis), you are not afraid (ou phobȇi) lest you too may be doing an impious thing in bringing an action against your father (dikazomenos tȏi patri hopȏs mȇ au su anosion pragma tunchanȇs prattȏn)?’ – Euth. ‘The best of Euthyphro, that which distinguishes him, Socrates, from the common herd, is his exact knowledge of all such matters. What should I be good for without it (Ouden gar an mou ophelos eiȇ, ȏ Sȏkrates, oude tȏi an diapheroi Euthuphrȏn tȏn pollȏn anthrȏpȏn, ei mȇ ta toiauta panta akribȏs eideiȇn)?’
And so Socrates asks: ‘And what is piety, and what is impiety?’ (Lege dȇ, ti phȇis einai to hosion kai ti to anosion, 5d6-7)
Socrates prepared this question, which occupies them for the rest of the dialogue, by linking Euthyphro’s case against his father with Meletus’ case against himself: ‘Rare friend! I think that I cannot do better than be your disciple (Ar’ oun moi, ȏ thaumasie Euthuphrȏn, kratiston esti mathȇtȇi sȏi genesthai). Then before the trial with Meletus comes on (kai pro tȇs graphȇs tȇs pros Melȇton) I shall challenge him (auta tauta prokaleisthai auton), and say (legonta) that I have always had a great interest in religious questions (hoti egȏ kai en tȏi emprosthen chronȏi ta theia peri pollou epoioumȇn eidenai), and now (kai nun), as he charges me with rash imaginations and innovations in religion (epeidȇ me ekeinos autoschediazonta phȇsi kai kainotomounta peri tȏn theiȏn examartanein), I have become your disciple (mathȇtȇs dȇ gegona sos). You, Meletus, as I shall say to him, acknowledge Euthyphro to be a great theologian (“kai ei men, ȏ Melȇte,” phaiȇn an, “Euthuphrona homologies sophon einai ta toiauta), and so you ought to approve of me (orthȏs nomizein kai eme hȇgou), and not have me into court (kai mȇ dikazou); otherwise (ei de mȇ) you should begin by indicting him who is my teacher (ekeinȏi tȏi didaskalȏi lache dikȇn proteron ȇ emoi), and who will be the ruin, not of the young, but of the old (hȏs tous presbuterous diaphtheironti); that is to say, of myself whom he instructs, and of his old father whom he admonishes and chastises (eme te kai ton patera, eme men didaskonti, ekeinon de nouthetounti te kai kolazonti”). And if Meletus refuses to listen to me (kai an mȇ moi peithȇtai), but will go on (mȇde aphiȇi tȇs dikȇs), and will not shift his indictment from me to you (ȇ ant’ emou graphȇtai se), I cannot do better than repeat this challenge in the court (auta tauta legein en tȏi dikastȇriȏi ha proukaloumȇn auton).’ – Euth. ‘Yes, indeed, Socrates (Nai ma Dia, ȏ Sȏkrates); and if he attempts to indict me (ei ara eme epicheirȇseie graphesthai) I am mistaken if I do not find a flaw in him (heuroim’ an, hȏs oimai, hopȇi sathros esti); the court will be occupied with him long before it comes to me (kai polu an hȇmin proteron peri ekeinou logos egeneto en tȏi dikastȇriȏi ȇ peri emou).’ (5a3-c3)
In the ‘Pursuit of Philosophy’ I wrote: ‘Unhappy about Euthyphro’s understanding of religious duty were the plain people around him; his friends and relatives tried to dissuade him from prosecuting his father but Euthyphro remained encapsulated in his “superior knowledge” (4d). Only Socrates succeeded in piercing Euthyphro’s conceit. At the end of the dialogue, instead of fulfilling his intention of entering the court to present his indictment, Euthyphro went away in haste. In the Life of Socrates Diogenes Laertius writes: ‘When Euthyphro was about to indict his father for killing a foreigner, Socrates, having discussed with him some points about piety, diverted him from it (II. 29).’ (History of Political Thought, vol. V, No. 3, Winter 1984, p. 531)
Debra Nails s.v. Euthyphro devotes to Diogenes’ testimony a special paragraph: ‘In the later tradition. In Diogenes, the conversation with Socrates diverts Euthyphro from pursuing the indictment of his father.’ (The People of Plato, Hackett Publishing Company, 2002, p. p. 153)
If I understand Debra Nails’s ‘In the later tradition’ correctly, the view that Socrates failed to dissuade Euthyphro from prosecuting his father has remained dominant. Let me give a few examples of its prevalence.
D. A. Russell wrote in his brief preface to Jowett’s translation of the dialogue: ‘Euthyphro … has no doubt that what he is doing is hosion, his religious duty, and that not to do it would be anosion, a failure of religious duty. The main content of the dialogue is the destruction of this certainty – though Euthyphro does not admit it, and simply excuses himself at the end (15d) from further discussion.’ (The Dialogues of Plato, 1970, vol. I, p. 35.)
P. T. Geach concluded his article on the Euthuphro with the words: ‘Mr Right-Mind [Euthy-Phron] was not led a-wandering from the straight path’. (‘Plato’s Euthyphro, an Analysis and Commentary’ Monist 50, 1966). Inspired by Geach (as Kenny told me after reading my ‘Pursuit of Philosophy’), Anthony Kenny wrote in The Aristotelian Ethics: ‘The service of the Gods which Euthyphro has in mind includes prayer and service: but it includes also acts of justice such as Euthyphro’s attempt to punish a murderer – the endeavour which gives the whole dialogue its framework … It is certainly not alien to Aristotle’s manner in the Eudemian Ethics to defend the moral opinions of the plain man against the paradoxes of Socrates.’ (Clarendon Press, Oxford 1978, p. 178)
I don’t know how this view started, but Jowett’s translation of Euthyphro’s introductory address to Socrates, and Burnett’s comment on that address, appear to have fostered it, if not occasioned it. J. Burnet writes in the ‘Introductory note’ to his edition of the dialogue: ‘The situation assumed in the Euthyphro is that indicated at the end of the Theaetetus (a much later dialogue), where Socrates says he has an appointment at the Hall of the ‘King’ with reference to a charge brought against him by Meletus (210d1). Socrates has kept this appointment, and is waiting outside till his turn comes, when he is accosted by Euthyphro. As Euthyphro too had a case before the ‘King’, and as, at the end of the dialogue, he suddenly remembers another engagement (15e3), we must suppose that his business here is over for the present, and that he is coming out of the basileȏs stoa when he sees Socrates.’ (Plato, Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito, edited with notes by John Burnet, Oxford University Press, 1924, reprinted 2002, p. 82)
This view harmonizes with Jowett’s translation of Euthyphro’s ‘What can have happened (ti neȏteron), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), to bring you away from the Lyceum (hoti su tas en Lukeiȏi katalipȏn diatribas)? And what are you doing in the Porch of the King Archon (enthade nun diatribeis peri tȇn tou basileȏs stoan)?’ But Euthyphro’s diatribeis ‘spend your time’ implies that Euthyphro observed Socrates standing there and waiting for some time, which suggests that he saw him there as he was walking towards the Hall of the ‘King’. In that case his response to Socrates’ final appeal – ‘Another time (Eis authis toinun), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates); for I am in a hurry (nun gar speudȏ poi), and must go now (kai moi hȏra apienai)’ – shows that he is hurrying away instead of going into the Hall of the ‘King’.
The importance of Euthyphro’s hurrying away instead of going into the Hall of the ‘King’ to indict his father becomes apparent if we view it against the background of Aristophanes’ Clouds and Xenophon’s testimony in the Memorabilia.
Explaining the case to Socrates, Euthyphro said: ‘And my father and family are angry with me (tauta dȇ oun kai aganaktei ho te patȇr kai hoi alloi oikeioi) for taking the part of the murderer (hoti egȏ huper tou androphonou) and prosecuting my father (tȏi patri epexerchomai). They say that he did not kill him (oute apokteinanti, hȏs phasi ekeinoi), and that if he did (out’ ei hoti malista apekteinen), the dead man was but a murderer (androphonou ge ontos tou apothanontos), and I ought not take any notice (ou dein phrontizein huper tou toioutou), for that a son is impious who prosecutes a father for murder (anosion gar einai to huon patri phonou epexienai). Which shows, Socrates, how little they know what the gods think about piety and impiety (kakȏs eidotes, ȏ Sȏkrates, to theion hȏs echei tou hosiou te peri kai tou anosiou).’ (4d5-e3)
With all their entreaties and all their arguments, Euthyphro’s father and his other relatives could not dissuade Euthyphro from his intended action. It was only Socrates, himself facing the charges raised against him by Meletus, who with his persistent questioning succeeded in undermining Euthyphro’s self-satisfied certainty. Socrates’ references in the Cratylus to his ‘early morning’ long discussion with Euthyphro indicate that Euthyphro’s ‘another time’ was not just an excuse. It appears that Euthyphro still believed that he could show Socrates that his intended prosecution of his father was his religious duty. Diogenes’ information that Socrates diverted him from it (II. 29) suggests that the case was much talked about at the time. Socrates’ frequent references to his ‘morning discussion’ with Euthyphro in the Cratylus, although clad in irony, indicate that the discussion was momentous. (See ‘Plato’s Cratylus and his Euthyphro’ posted on August 21.)
In Jowett’s rendering, Euthyphro’s last words are ambiguous: ‘Another time (Eis authis toinun), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates); for I am in a hurry (nun gar speudȏ poi), and must go now (kai moi hȏra apienai)’. Thus Geach, Kenny, and presumably others could infer that Euthyphro brushed Socrates aside and went into the Hall of the King to indict his father. But Euthyphro’s words, as they stand in the original, don’t allow such interpretation. His nun gar speudȏ poi mean ‘now I am in a hurry to go somewhere’. Burnett correctly: ‘he suddenly remembers another engagement’ (l.c.).
In Chapter 11 of The Lost Plato (on my website) entitled ‘Socrates in the Euthyphro and the Apology’ I wrote: ‘The dialogue radiates confidence that because of Socrates’ admission of ignorance and his willingness to be taught better there is for him no case to answer and the accusation must fail. I therefore date the Euthyphro prior to Socrates’ trial, in the interval between the institution of proceedings against Socrates and the trial itself.’ In the accompanying note I wrote that Schleiermacher states as indisputable that the Euthyphro was written prior to the death of Socrates: ‘dieses Gespräch unstreitig zwischen der Anklage und der Verurteilung des Sokrates geschrieben ist’ [‘this dialogue was undoubtedly written in between the formal accusation and the judicial condemnation of Socrates’] (Platons Werke, vol. I. 2. 2nd ed. Berlin 1818, p. 53.) Stallbaum says that ‘almost the whole dialogue is pervaded by a bold and untroubled hilarity and charm that is free from any foreboding and suspicion that a catastrophe was forthcoming’ (per totum fere sermonum regnet proterva quaedam aut certe secura hilaritas multusque lepos ab omni tristis alicuius casus praesagitatione vel suspicione alienus). Stallbaum goes on to say that ‘for this reason we believe that when Plato wrote the dialogue, he firmly hoped that Socrates would win the case’ (Quocirca etiam Platonem putamus certissime speravisse futurum esse, ut Socratis causa triumpharet). (Platonis Meno et Euthyphro, recensuit et Prolegomenis atque Commentariis illustravit Godofredus Stallbaum, Gothae 1836, p. 145.)
Aristophanes’ Clouds and Xenophon’s testimony make me convinced that Plato wrote the Euthyphro as his contribution to the successful outcome of the trial and its positive effect on the Athenian political scene. As he intimates in his Seventh Letter, in those days he was driven by the desire to become engaged in politics (heilken de me homȏs hȇ peri to prattein ta koina kai politika epithumia, 325a7-b1).