In the last chapter of the Memorabilia Xenophon writes: ‘I shall repeat what Hermogenes, son of Hipponicus, told me about him (Lexȏ de kai ha Hermogenous tou Hipponikous ȇkousa peri autou). “When Meletus had actually formulated his indictment,” he said (ephȇ gar, ȇdȇ Melȇtou gegrammenou auton tȇn graphȇn), “Socrates talked freely in my presence, but made no reference to the case (autos akouȏn autou panta mallon ȇ peri tȇs dikȇs dialegomenou). I told him (legein autȏi) that he ought to be thinking (hȏs chrȇ skopein) about his defence (ho ti apologȇsetai). His first remark was (ton de to men prȏton eipein), ‘Don’t you think that I have been preparing for it all my life (Ou gar dokȏ soi touto meletȏn diabebiȏkenai)?’ And when I asked him (epei de auton ȇreto) how (hopȏs), he said (eipein auton) that he had been constantly occupied (hoti ouden allo poiȏn diagegenȇtai) in the consideration of right and wrong (ȇ diaskopȏn men ta te diakaia kai ta adika), and in doing what was right (prattȏn de ta dikaia) and avoiding what was wrong (kai tȏn adikȏn apechomenos), which he regarded (hȇnper nomizoi) as the best preparation for the defence (kallistȇn meletȇn apologias einai).’ (IV.viii.4, tr. E. C. Marchant)
Marchant’s “Socrates talked freely in my presence, but made no reference to the case” stands for autos akouȏn autou panta mallon ȇ peri tȇs dikȇs dialegomenou, which is much more accurately rendered by O. J. Todd in Xenophon’s Apology (2), where Hermogenes’ report is presented with minor changes: ‘Hermogenes (Hermogenȇs), the son of Hipponicus (ho Hipponikou) … stated that (ekeinos gar ephȇ) on seeing Socrates discussing any and every subject rather than the trial (horȏn auton peri pantȏn mallon dialegomenon ȇ peri tȇs dikȇs), he had said (eipein): “Socrates, ought you not be giving some thought to what defence you are going to make (Ouk echrȇn mentoi skopein, ȏ Sȏkrates, kai ho ti apologȇsȇi)?” That Socrates had at first replied (ton de to men prȏton apokrinasthai), “Why, do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in preparing to defend myself (Ou gar dokȏ soi apologeisthai meletȏn diabebiȏkenai)?” Then when he asked (epei d’ autos eresthai) “How so (Pȏs)?” he had said “Because all my life I have been guiltless of wrong doing (Hoti ouden adikon diagegenȇmai poiȏn); and that I consider the finest preparation for a defence (hȇnper nomizȏ meletȇn einai kallistȇn apologias).”
Hermogenes’ testimony that Socrates was in his presence ‘discussing any and every subject rather than the trial’ points directly to Socrates’ discussion with Hermogenes and Cratylus on the correctness of names in Plato’s Cratylus, which is dramatically staged after his Euthyphro. Socrates’ ‘discussing any and every subject rather than the trial’ is equally true of the Theaetetus, which is dramatically set just before the Euthyphro; so let me see these three dialogues in its light.
On his way to the office of the King Archon Socrates met his friend Theodorus, a teacher of geometry from Cyrene. The words with which he addressed him gain on significance if we are aware that he was going to face the charge of corrupting the youth of Athens: ‘If I cared more about the people in Cyrene (Ei men tȏn en Kurȇnȇi mallon ekȇdomȇn), Theodorus (ȏ Theodȏre), I’d be asking you about its affairs and its people (ta ekei an se kai peri ekeinȏn anȇrȏtȏn) – whether any of the young men there are taking an interest in geometry or in any other way of cultivating wisdom (ei tines autothi peri geȏmetrian ȇ tina allȇn philosophian eisi tȏn neȏn epimeleian poioumenoi). But as things are (nun de), I’m less fond of them than I am of the Athenians (hȇtton gar ekeinous ȇ tousde philȏ), and so I’m keener (kai mallon epithumȏ) to know (eidenai) which of our young men (tines hȇmin tȏn neȏn) are thought likely to turn well (epidoxoi genesthai epieikeis). So I keep a look-out for that myself (tauta dȇ autos te skopȏ), as far as I can (kath’ hoson dunamai), and I ask other people about it too (kai tous allous erȏtȏ) – anyone with whom I see that the young men like to associate (hois an horȏ tous neous ethelontas sungignesthai). Now you have quite large numbers who come to you (soi dȇ ouk oligistoi plȇsiazousi), and justly so (kai dikaiȏs), because you deserve it for several reasons (axios gar ta te alla), and in particular for your geometry (kai geȏmetrias heneka). So if you’ve come across anyone worth talking about (ei dȇ oun tini enetuches axiȏi logou), I’d be glad to hear it (hȇdeȏs an puthoimȇn).’ (143d1-e3, tr. John McDowell; all the subsequent translations from the Theaetetus will be his.)
Theodorus: ‘Yes (Kai mȇn), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), there is a boy I’ve come across among your compatriots: it’ll be worth my saying and your hearing, what he’s like (emoi te eipein kai soi akousai panu axion hoiȏi humin tȏn politȏn meirakiȏi entetuchȇka, 143e4-6) … I’ve never yet seen anyone with such extraordinary natural gifts (oudena pȏ ȇisthomȇn houtȏ thaumastȏs eu pephukota 144a2-3) … his name is Theaetetus’ (Theaitȇtos to onoma, d1).’ – Socrates: ‘Do ask him to come and sit here with me’ (kai moi keleue auton enthade parakathizesthai, d5-6).
Socrates asks Theaetetus: ‘What if Theodorus praised the mind of either of us for virtue and wisdom (ti d’ ei poterou tȇn psuchȇn epainoi pros aretȇn te kai sophian)? Wouldn’t it be worth while (ar’ ouk an axion) for one of us, when he heard that (tȏi men akousanti), to do his best to inspect the one who’d been praised (prothumeisthai anaskepsasthai ton epainethenta), and for the other to do his best to show himself off (tȏi de prothumȏs heauton epideiknunai)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Definitely (Panu men oun), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates).’ – Socrates: ‘Well then, Theaetetus, now is the time (Hȏra toinun, ȏ phile Theaitȇte) for you to show yourself off (soi men epideiknunai), and for me to look on (emoi ge skopeisthai); because you can be sure (hȏs eu isthi) that (hoti), though Theodorus has praised a great many people to me, foreigners as well as Athenians (Theodȏros pollous dȇ pros me epainesas xenous te kai astous), he has never yet praised anyone as he did you just now (oudena pȏ epȇinesen hȏs se nundȇ).’ (145b1-9)
Theaetetus attempts to ward off being examined – ‘but are you sure he wasn’t joking (all’ hora mȇ paizȏn elegen)?’ – but in the end gives in. Socrates: ‘Tell me, then (Lege dȇ moi): you learn some geometry from Theodorus (manthaneis pou para Theodȏrou geȏmetrias atta)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Yes (Egȏge).’ – ‘And some astronomy (Kai tȏn peri astronomian te), harmonics (kai harmonias), and calculation (kai logismous)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Well, I do my best to, at any rate (Prothumounai ge dȇ).’ – Socrates: ‘Yes, so do I (Kai gar egȏ, ȏ pai) – from him (para te toutou) and from anyone else (kai par allȏn) whom I take to have some grasp of those subjects (hous an oiȏmai ti toutȏn epaiein). All the same (all’ homȏs), although I do reasonably well with them in general (ta men alla echȏ peri auta metriȏs), there’s a small point that I have difficulty with (mikron de ti aporȏ), which you and our friends here must help me to look into (ho meta sou te kai tȏnde skepteon) (145c7- d7) … Well now, the point that I have difficulty with, and can’t find an adequate grasp of in myself, is just this (Tout’ auto toinun estin ho aporȏ kai ou dunamai labein hikanȏs par’ emautȏi): what, exactly, knowledge really is (epistȇmȇ hoti pote tunchanei on). So can we put it into words (ar’ oun dȇ echomen legein auto)? What do you all say (ti phate)?’ (145e8-146a1).
When Socrates characterizes his inability to satisfactorily grasp what knowledge is as a minor difficulty, he speaks with his usual self-deprecating irony, but when Theaetetus gets into difficulty answering the question concerning it, Socrates corrects himself: ‘And what about knowledge (Alla tȇn epistȇmȇn)? Do you think it’s a small matter to seek it out, as I was saying just now (hȏsper nundȇ egȏ elegon, smikron ti oiei einai exeurein) – not one of those tasks which are arduous in every way (kai ou tȏn pantȇi akrȏn)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Good heavens, no: I think it’s really one of the most arduous tasks (Nȇ ton Di’ egȏge kai mala ge tȏn akrotatȏn).’ (148c6-d2)
To encourage Theaetetus in his search, Socrates explains to him his maieutic art: ‘I watch over minds in childbirth (tas psuchas tiktousas episkopein) … and the greatest thing in my art is this (megiston de tout’ eni tȇi hȇmeterai technȇi): to be able to test (basanizein dunaton einai), by every means (panti tropȏi), whether it’s an imitation (poteron eidȏlon) and falsehood (kai pseudos) that the young man’s intellect is giving birth to (apotiktei hȇ tou neou dianoia), or something genuine (ȇ gonimon te) and true (kai alȇthes, 150b8-9).
When Theaetetus’ attempt to define knowledge as ‘correct judgement accompanied by knowledge of differences’ proved to be untenable, Socrates asked him: ‘Well now (Ê oun), are we still pregnant (eti kuoumen ti) and in labour (kai ȏdinoumen, ȏ phile) with anything about knowledge (peri epistȇmȇs), or have we given birth to everything (ȇ panta ektetokamen)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Yes, indeed, Socrates; actually you’ve got me to say more than I had in me (Kai nai ma Di’ egȏge pleiȏ ȇ hosa eichon en emautȏi dia se eirȇka).’ – Socrates: ‘And my art of midwifery tells us that they’re all results of false pregnancies (Oukoun tauta men panta hȇ maieutikȇ hȇmin technȇ anemiaia phȇsi gegenȇsthai) and not worth bringing up (kai ouk axia trophȇs)?’ – Theaetetus: ‘Yes, definitely (Pantapasi men oun).’ – Socrates: ‘Well then, if you try, later on, to conceive anything else (Ean toinun allȏn meta tauta enkumȏn epicheirȇis gignesthai, ȏ Theaitȇte), and do so (eante gignȇi), what you’re pregnant with will be the better (beltionȏn esȇi plȇrȇs) for our present investigation (dia tȇn nun exetasin). And if you stay barren (eante kenos ȇis), you’ll be less burdensome (hȇtton esȇi barus) to those who associate with you (tois sunousi), and gentler (kai hȇmerȏteros), because you’ll have the sense not to think you know things which in fact you don’t know (sȏphronȏs ouk oiomenos eidenai ha mȇ oistha). That much my art can do (tosouton gar monon hȇ emȇ technȇ dunatai), but no more (pleon de ouden), and I don’t know any of the things which others know, all the great and admirable men there are and have been (oude ti oida hȏn hoi alloi, hosoi megaloi kai thaumasioi andres eisi te kai gegonasin); but this gift of midwifery (tȇn maieian tautȇn) my mother and I received from God (egȏ te kai hȇ mȇtȇr ek theou elachomen), she with women (hȇ men tȏn gunaikȏn), and I with young (egȏ de tȏn neȏn te) and noble men (kai gennaiȏn) and all who are beautiful (kai hosoi kaloi). Well, now I must go to the King’s Porch (nun men oun apantȇteon moi eis tȇn tou basileȏs stoan) to face the charge Meletus (epi tȇn Melȇtou graphȇn) has brought against me (hȇn me gegraptai). But let’s meet here again, Theodorus, in the morning (heȏthen de, ȏ Theodȏre, deuro palin apantȏmen). (210b4-d4)
Having thus practiced his defence in discussion with Theodorus and Theaetetus, Socrates can go to the King’s Porch well satisfied with his progress on that day.
Xenophon in the last chapter of his Memorabilia quotes some more words of Socrates, reported to him by Hermogenes, which are to the point: ‘Don’t you see (ouk oistha) that to this day (hoti mechri toude tou chronou) I never would acknowledge that any man had lived a better or a pleasanter life than I (egȏ oudeni anthrȏpȏn hupheimȇn an oute beltion outh’ hȇdion emou bebiȏkenai)? For they live best, I think (arista men gar oimai zȇn), who strive best (tous arista epimelomenous) to become as good as possible (tou hȏs beltistous gignesthai): and the pleasantest life is theirs who are conscious (hȇdista de tous malista aisthanomenous) that they are growing in goodness (hoti beltious gignontai). And to this day that has been my experience (ha egȏ mechri toude tou chronou ȇisthanomȇn emautȏi sumbainonta) (IV.viii.6-7) … I wronged no man at any time (egȏ ȇdikȇsa men oudena pȏpote anthrȏpȏn), nor corrupted any man (oude cheirȏ epoiȇsa), but strove ever to make my companions better (beltious de poiein epeirȏmȇn aei tous emoi sunontas, 10).’
Marchant’s and Todd’s ‘preparing’ for meletȏn in what Socrates said to Hermogenes ‘do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in preparing to defend myself (ou gar dokȏ soi apologeisthai meletȏn diabebiȏkenai)?’ and their ‘preparation’ for meletȇn in ‘the best preparation for the defence (kallistȇn meletȇn apologias einai)’ is deficient on two accounts.
Firstly, the verb meletaȏ means ‘take thought’, ‘care for’, ‘attend to’, ‘study’, ‘pursue’, ‘practice’; the noun meletȇ means ‘care’, ‘attention’, ‘practice’, ‘exercise’: Socrates was his whole life practicing, exercising his defence, not preparing for it. Socrates’ way of life, his life-long investigation and examination of right and wrong (diaskopȏn men ta te diakaia kai ta adika), his doing what was right (prattȏn de ta dikaia) and avoiding what was wrong (kai tȏn adikȏn apechomenos), was his best defence in action (kallistȇn meletȇn apologias einai). This aspect of Socrates’ ‘lifelong defence in action’ is best understood within the context of Socrates’ eschatological myth in Gorgias 523a-527a.
Secondly, Socrates’ ironical allusion to Meletus is lost, which comes to the fore when Socrates speaks of Meletus in the Euthyphro: ‘He says he knows (ekeinos gar, hȏs phȇsi, oide) how the youth are corrupted (tina tropon hoi neoi diaphtheirontai) and who are their corruptors (kai tines hoi diaphtheirontes autous). I fancy that he must be a wise man (kai kinduneuei sophos tis einai), and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man (kai tȇn emȇn amathian katidȏn), he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his generation (hȏs diaphtheirontos tous hȇlikiȏtas autou, erchetai katȇgorȇsȏn mou). And of this our mother the state is to be the judge (hȏsper pros mȇtera pros tȇn polin). 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), he makes the young shoots his first care (tȏn neȏn phutȏn eikos prȏton epimelȇthȇnai, meta touto kai tȏn allȏn), and clears away us whom he accuses of destroying them (kai dȇ kai Melȇtos isȏs prȏton men hȇmas ekkathairei tous tȏn neȏn tas blastas diaphtheirontas, hȏs phȇsi). 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 great public benefactor (pleistȏn kai megistȏn agathȏn aitios tȇi polei genȇsetai, hȏs ge to eikos ek toiautȇs archȇs arxamenȏi).’ (2c3-d5, tr. Jowett)
Jowett’s ‘and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man’ for Socrates’ kai tȇn emȇn amathian katidȏn – ‘and having descried my ignorance’ – loses the connection with the Theaetetus, which can be viewed as Socrates’ reflection on his amathia, his ignorance: he does not even know what knowledge is, he can’t find and grasp any in himself (Theaet. 145e).
Socrates’ daily activity of ‘practicing defence’ (meletȏn apologian, Xen. Ap. 3) in the Euthyphro is focussed on Meletus’ indictment and the forthcoming trial. The dialogue begins with 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)? 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)?’ And it ends with Euthyphro’s hasting away and Socrates’s ‘Alas! My friend, and will you leave me in despair (Hoia poieis, ȏ hetaire, ap’ elpidos me katabalȏn megalȇs aperchȇi hȇn eichon)? I was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety and impiety (hȏs para sou mathȏn ta te hosia kai mȇ); and then I might have cleared myself of Meletus and his indictment (kai tȇs pros Melȇton graphȇs apallaxomai). I would have told him that I had been enlightened by Euthyphro (endeixamenos ekeinȏi hoti sophos ȇdȇ par’ Euthuphronos ta theia gegona), and had given up rash innovations and speculations in which I indulged only through ignorance (kai hoti ouk eti hup’ agnoias autoschediazȏ oude kainotomȏ peri auta), and that now I am about to lead a better life (kai dȇ kai ton allon bion hoti ameinon biȏsoimȇn.’ (15e5-16a4, tr. Jowett)
Face to face with Socrates’ defence in the Euthyphro, Meletus had no case. If Socrates did anything wrong, if he had any wrong notions about piety, holiness, and religious duty, it was through his ignorance, which he would like to overcome by being properly instructed. There was nevertheless one point Socrates made in his discussion with Euthyphro, which required clarification. When Euthyphro told Socrates that he was prosecuting his father for murder, referring to Zeus as his example, the best and the most righteous of the gods, who bound his father Cronus for wickedly devouring his sons, and said that Cronus castrated his father Uranus for similar misdeeds, Socrates said: ‘May not this be the reason, Euthyphro (Ara ge, ȏ Euthuphron, tout’ estin), why I am charged with impiety (houneka tȇn graphȇn pheugȏ) – that I cannot away with these stories about the gods (hoti ta toiauta epeidan tis peri tȏn theȏn legȇi, duscherȏs pȏs apodechomai)? That, I suppose is where people think I go wrong (dio dȇ, hȏs eoike, phȇsei tis me examartanein).’ (6a6-9, tr. Jowett)
It is on this basis that Socrates queries Euthyphro’s conviction that in prosecuting his father he is doing his religious duty. And it is on this basis that Socrates succeeds where Euthyphro’s father, his relatives and friends all failed. They all tried to dissuade him from prosecuting his father (4d, 6a); only Socrates with his questioning undermined Euthyphro’s self-satisfied certainty that he was doing the right thing: instead of going to the King Archon he hastened away (15e3-4).
Nevertheless, Socrates’ negative attitude to such stories about the gods, as those that inspired Euthyphro to his intended action, needed further clarification and reinforcement. Euthyphro’s case in itself showed that those stories were no innocuous fables; they influenced people’s thoughts and actions. In the Cratylus,’ Cratylus’ and Hermogenes’ interest in names – their natural correctness championed by Cratylus, and arbitrariness championed by Hermogenes – provided Socrates with an excellent opportunity for deepening his defence concerning this point. Discussing the names given to gods, Socrates could show that he did not reject the gods people believed in, and he could point to the ways of thinking about them, which might elevate people instead of debasing them.
Socrates: ‘The name of Zeus has also an excellent meaning (phainetai de kai tȏi Dii pankalȏs to onoma keisthai), although hard to be understood (esti de ou raidion katanoȇsai), because really like a sentence (atechnȏs gar estin hoion logos to tou Dios onoma), which is divided into two parts (dielontes de auto dichȇi), for some call him Zena, and use the one half, and others who use the other half call him Dia (hoi men tȏi heterȏi merei, hoi de tȏi heterȏi chrȏmetha, hoi men gar “Zȇna,” hoi de Dia kalousin); the two together signify the nature of the God (suntithemena d’ eis hen dȇloi tȇn phusin tou theou), and the business of a name, as we were saying, is to express the nature (ho dȇ prosȇkein phamen onomati hoiȏi te einai apergazesthai). For there is none who is more the author of life to us and to all (ou gar estin hȇmin kai tois allois pasin hostis estin aitios mallon tou zȇn), than the lord and king of all (ȇ ho archȏn te kai basileus tȏn pantȏn). Wherefore we are right in calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning the God through whom all creatures always have life (sumbainei oun orthȏs onomazesthai houtos ho theos einai, di’ hon zȇn aei pasi tois zȏsin huparchei, dieilȇptai de dicha, hȏsper legȏ, hen on to onoma, tȏi “Dii” kai tȏi “Zȇni”). There is an irreverence, at first sight, in calling him son of Cronos (who is a proverb of stupidity) (touton de Kronou huon hubristikon men an tis doxeien einai akousanti exaiphnȇs), and we might rather expect Zeus to be the child of a mighty intellect (eulogon de megalȇs tinos dianoias ekgonon einai ton Dia). Which is the fact; for this is the meaning of his father’s name: Kronos quasi Koros, not in the sense of a youth, but signifying the pure and garnished mind (koron gar sȇmainei ou paida, alla to katharon kai akȇraton tou nou). He, as we are informed by tradition, was begotten by Uranus (esti de houtos Ouranou huos, hȏs logos) rightly so called from looking upwards (hȇ de au es to anȏ opsis kalȏs echei touto to onoma kaleisthai, “ourania”, horȏsa ta anȏ); which, as astronomers tell us, is to have a pure mind (hothen dȇ kai phasin, ȏ Hermogenes, ton katharon noun paragignesthai hoi meteȏrologoi), and the name of Uranus is therefore correct (kai tȏi Ouranȏi orthȏs to onoma keisthai).’ (396a2-c3, tr. Jowett)
Socrates is himself amazed at the wisdom (tȇs sophias) that suddenly (exaiphnȇs) fell to him (hȇ emoi prospeptȏken), he knows not from where (ouk oid’ hopothen, 396c6-d1). But when Hermogenes expresses his amazement – ‘You seem to me to be prophesizing like those in ecstasy, possessed by a god (atechnȏs ge moi dokeis hȏsper hoi enthousiȏntes exaiphnȇs chrȇsmȏidein, d2-3)’ – Socrates realizes where it all came from: ‘Yes, Hermogenes, and I believe that the wisdom fell to me from Euthyphro of the Prospaltian deme (Kai aitiȏmai ge, ȏ Hermogenes, malista autȇn apo Euthuphronos tou Prospaltiou prospeptȏkenai moi), for I was with him since dawn and had a long session with him; he talked and I listened (heȏthen gar polla autȏi sunȇ kai pareichon ta ȏta), and enchanted as he was, his marvellous wisdom not only filled my ears (kinduneuei oun enthousiȏn ou monon ta ȏta mou emplȇsai tȇs daimonias sophias), but affected my soul (alla kai tȇs psuchȇs epeilȇphthai).’ (d4-8)
The ‘marvellous wisdom’ (daimonia sophia) which Euthyphro displayed during their long morning session must have affected Socrates deeply, for he was determined to use it: ‘I think that we must do this (dokei oun moi chrȇnai houtȏsi hȇmas poiȇsai) – to use it today and finish the investigation of names (to men tȇmeron einai chrȇsasthai autȇi kai ta loipa peri tȏn onomatȏn episkepsasthai); but tomorrow (aurion de), if you agree (an kai humin sundokȇi), we will conjure it away (apodiopompȇsometha te autȇn), and purify ourselves (kai katharoumetha), if we can find some priest or sophist who is skilled in purifications of this sort (exeurontes hostis ta toiauta deinos kathairein, eite tȏn hiereȏn tis eite tȏn sophistȏn).’ (395d3-397e1)
In fact, Socrates does not wait for any purification by some external agents, he specifies the conditions in which it will be safe to ‘use Euthyphro’s wisdom’. When Hermogenes asks, whether Socrates could find more explanations of the names of the gods, the latter replies: ‘Yes, indeed (Nai ma Dia hȇmeis ge), Hermogenes (ȏ Hermogenes); and there is one excellent principle which, as men of sense (eiper ge noun echoimen, hena men ton kalliston tropon), we must acknowledge, – that of the gods we know nothing (hoti peri theȏn ouden ismen), either of their natures or of the names which they give themselves (oute peri autȏn oute peri tȏn onomatȏn, hatta pote heautous kalousin); but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves, whatever they may be, are true (dȇlon gar hoti ekeinoi ge t’alȇthȇ kalousi). And this is the best of all principles; and the next best (deuteros d’ au tropos orthotȇtos) is to say, as is customary in prayers (hȏsper en tais euchais nomos estin hȇmin euchesthai), that we will call them by any sort or kind of names or patronymic in which they rejoice (hoitines te kai hopothen chairousin onomazomenoi, tauta kai hȇmas autous kalein), because we do not know of any other (hȏs allo mȇden eidotas). That custom is, in my opinion, a good one (kalȏs gar dȇ emoige dokei nenomisthai). Let us, then, if you please, in the first place announce to them that we are not inquiring about them (ei oun boulei, skopȏmen hȏsper proeipontes tois theois hoti peri autȏn ouden hȇmeis skepsometha); we do not presume that we are able to do so (ou gar axioumen hoioi t’ an einai skopein); but we are inquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these names (alla peri tȏn anthrȏpȏn, hȇn pote tina doxan echontes etithento autois ta onomata), – in this there can be small blame (touto gar anemesȇton).’ (400d6-401a5, tr. Jowett)
In the Theaetetus, the Euthyphro, and the Cratylus Plato enacted three important stages in the defence of which Socrates spoke to Hermogenes.