In the Phaedrus, the Palinode culminates in Socrates’ assertion that ‘if the victory be won by the higher elements of mind guiding them [the lover and his beloved] into the ordered rule of the philosophic life (ean men dȇ oun eis tetagmenȇn te diaitan kai philosophian nikȇsȇi ta beltiȏ tȇs dianoias agagonta), their days on earth will be blessed with happiness and concord (makarion kai homonoȇtikon ton enthade bion diagousin, 256a7-b1).’ Shortly afterwards he prays to Eros: ‘If anything that Phaedrus and I said earlier sounded discordant to thy ear (en tȏi prosthen ei ti logȏi soi apȇches eipomen Phaidros te kai egȏ), set it down to Lysias, the only begetter of that discourse (Lusian ton tou logou patera aitiȏmenos)’ – the discourse in which Lysias argued that a lovely boy should give his favours to a non-lover rather than a lover, the discourse that occasioned the whole dialogue – ‘and staying him from discourses after this fashion (paue tȏn toioutȏn logȏn) turn him towards the love of wisdom, even as his brother Polemarchus has been turned (epi philosophian de, hȏsper h’adelphos autou Polemarchos tetraptai, trepson). Then will his loving disciple here (hina kai ho erastȇs hode autou) present no longer halt between two opinions (mȇketi epamphoterizȇi), as now he does (kathaper nun), but live for Love in singleness of purpose with the aid of philosophic discourse (all’ haplȏs pros Erȏta meta philosophȏn logȏn ton bion poiȇtai, 257b1-6, tr. Hackforth).’
Polemarchus ended his life in the hands of the Thirty Tyrants. The relevance of it for the dating of the dialogue appears to have escaped modern interpreters of Plato, for the ancients believed that one’s life could not have been blessed with happiness if it ended badly. It indicates that Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the death of Polemarchus.
This ancient belief is brought to light in the story about Croesus, Solon, and Cyrus in Herodotus: ‘In the course of time (chronou de epigenomenou) Croesus subdued all the peoples west of the river Halys (kai katestrammenȏn schedon pantȏn tȏn entos Haluos potamou oikȇmenȏn … pantas hup’ heȏutȏi eiche katestrammenos ho Kroisos) (I. 28) … When all these nations had been added to the Lydian empire (katestrammenȏn de toutȏn kai prosepiktȏmenou Kroisou Ludoisi), and Sardis was at the height of her wealth and prosperity, all the great Greek teachers of that epoch, one after another, paid visits to the capital (apikneontai es Sardis akmazousas ploutȏi alloi te hoi pantes ek tȇs Hellados sophistai, hȏs hekastos autȏn apikneeto). Much the most distinguished of them was Solon the Athenian (kai dȇ kai Solȏn anȇr Athȇnaios), the man who at the request of his countrymen had made a code of laws for Athens (hos Athȇnaioisi nomous keleusasi poiȇsas). He was on his travels at the time (apedȇmȇse), intending to be away ten years (etea deka), in order to avoid the necessity of repealing any of the laws he had made. That, at any rate, was the real reason of his absence, though he gave it out that what he wanted was just to see the world (kata theȏriȇs prophasin ekplȏsas, hina dȇ mȇ tina tȏn nomȏn anankasthȇi lusai tȏn etheto) (I. 29)
Croesus entertained him hospitably in the palace, and three or four days after his arrival (apikomenos exeinizeto en toisi basilȇioisi hupo tou Kroisou, hȇmerȇi tritȇi ȇ tetartȇi) instructed some of his servants to take him on a tour of the royal treasuries and point out the richness and magnificence of everything (keleusantos Kroisou ton Solȏna therapontes periȇgon kata tous thȇsaurous kai epedeiknusan panta eonta megala te kai olbia). When Solon had made as thorough an inspection as opportunity allowed, Croesus said (theȇsamenon min ta panta kai skepsamenon, hȏs hoi kata kairon ȇn, eireto ho Kroisos tade – correctly: ’After Solon had seen and inspected it all, when Croesus saw it as opportune, he asked’): ‘Well, my Athenian friend (Xeine Athȇnaie), I have heard a great deal about your wisdom (par’ hȇmeas gar peri seo logos apiktai pollos kai sophiȇs heneken tȇs sȇs), and how widely you have travelled in the pursuit of knowledge (kai planȇs, hȏs philosopheȏn gȇn pollȇn theȏriȇs heineken epelȇluthas). I cannot resist my desire to ask you a question (nun ȏn himeros epeiresthai moi epȇlthe se): who is the happiest man you have ever seen (ei tina ȇdȇ pantȏn eides olbiȏtaton)?’ The point of the question was that Croesus supposed himself to be the happiest of men (ho men elpizȏn einai anthrȏpȏn olbiȏtatos tauta epeirȏta). Solon, however, refused to flatter (Solȏn de ouden hopothȏpeusas), and answered in strict accordance with his view of the truth (alla tȏi eonti chrȇsamenos legei). ‘An Athenian,’ he said, ‘called Tellus’ (ȏ basileu, Tellon Athȇnaion). Croesus was taken aback (apothȏmasas Kroisos to lechthen). ‘And what,’ he asked sharply, ‘is your reason for this choice? (eireto epistrepheȏs. Koiȇi dȇ krineis Tellon einai olbiȏtaton;)’
‘There are two reasons,’ said Solon (ho de eipe), ‘first, his city was prosperous (Tellȏi touto men tȇs polios eu hȇkousȇs), and he had fine sons (paides ȇsan kaloi te k’agathoi), and lived to see children born to each of them (kai sphi eide hapasi tekna ekgenomena), and all these children surviving (kai panta parameinanta): secondly, he had wealth enough (touto de tou biou eu hȇkonti) by our standards (hȏs ta par’ hȇmin): and he had a glorious death (teleutȇ tou biou lamprotatȇ epegeneto). In a battle with the neighbouring town of Eleusis (genomenȇs gar Athȇnaioisi machȇs pros tous astugeitonas en Eleusini), he fought for his countrymen (boȇthȇsas), routed the enemy (kai tropȇn poiȇsas tȏn polemiȏn), and died like a soldier (apethane kallista ‘he died most splendidly’); and the Athenians paid him the high honour of a public funeral on the spot where he fell (kai min Athȇnaioi dȇmosiȇi ethapsan autou tȇi per epese kai etimȇsan megalȏs).’ All these details about the happiness of Tellus, Solon doubtless intended as a moral lesson for the king (hȏs de ta kata ton Tellon proetrepsato ho Solȏn ton Kroison eipas polla te kai olbia); Croesus, however, thinking he would at least be awarded second prise, asked who was the next happiest person whom Solon had seen (epeirȏta tina deuteron met’ ekeinon idoi, dokeȏn panchu deutereia gȏn oisesthai). ‘Two men of Argos’ was the reply, Cleobis and Biton (ho de eipe, Kleobin te kai Bitȏna, toutois gar eousi genos Argeioisi).’ (I. 30-31)
Croesus was vexed with Solon for giving the second prize for happiness to the two young Argives, and snapped out (Solȏn men dȇ eudaimoniȇs deutereia eneme toutoisi, Kroisos de sperchtheis eipe): ‘That’s all very well, my Athenian friend (Ȏ xeine Athȇnaie); but what of my own happiness? Is it so utterly contemptible (hȇ d’ hȇmeterȇ eudaimoniȇ houtȏ toi aperriptai es to mȇden) that you won’t even compare me with mere common folk like those you have mentioned (hȏste oude idiȏteȏn andrȏn axious hȇmeas epoiȇsas)?’ ‘My lord,’ replied Solon (ho de eipe, Ȏ Kroise), ‘I know God is envious of human prosperity (epistamenon me to theion pan eon phthoneron te) and likes to trouble us (kai tarachȏdes); and you ask me (epeirȏtais) about the lot of men (anthrȏpeiȏn pragmatȏn peri) (I. 32, 1) … You are very rich (emoi de su kai plouteein mega phaineai) and you rule numerous people (kai basileus pollȏn einai anthrȏpȏn); but the question you asked me (ekeino de to eireo me) I will not answer (ou kȏ se egȏ legȏ), until I know you have died happily (prin teleutȇsanta kalȏs ton aiȏna puthȏmai). (I. 32, 5) … After Solon’s departure (Meta de Solȏna oichomenon) nemesis fell upon Croesus, presumably because God was angry with him (elabe ek theou nemesis megalȇ Kroison, hȏs eikasai) for supposing himself the happiest of men (hoti enomise heȏuton einai anthrȏpȏn hapantȏn olbiȏtaton, I. 34, 1).’
After narrating Croesus’ subsequent unhappy military campaign against Cyrus, Herodotus goes on to say: ‘Sardis was captured by the Persians (Hoi de Persai tas te dȇ Sardis eschon) and Croesus taken prisoner (kai auton Kroison ezȏgrȇsan, I. 86,1) … The Persians brought their prisoner into the presence of the king (labontes de auton hoi Persai ȇgagon para Kuron), and Cyrus chained Croesus and placed him with fourteen Lydian boys on a great pyre that he had built (ho de sunnȇsas purȇn megalȇn anebibase ep’ autȇn ton Kroison te en pedȇisi dedemenon kai dis hepta Ludȏn par’ auton paidas, I. 86, 2) … and Croesus, for all his misery, as he stood on the pyre, remembered with what divine truth Solon had declared (tȏi de Kroisȏi hesteȏti epi tȇs purȇs eselthein, kaiper en kakȏi eonti tosoutȏi, to tou Solȏnos, hȏs hoi eiȇ sun theȏi eirȇmenon) that no man could be happy until he was dead (to mȇdena einai tȏn zȏontȏn olbion). Till then Croesus had not uttered a sound; but when he remembered, he sighed bitterly and three times, in anguish of spirit, pronounced Solon’s name (hȏs de ara min prosstȇnai touto, aneneikamenon te kai anastenaxanta ek pollȇs hȇsuchiȇs es tris onomasai “Solȏn”). Cyrus heard the name (kai ton Kuron akousanta) and told his interpreters (keleusai tous hermȇneas) to ask who Solon was (epeiresthai ton Kroison tina touton epikaleoito) … he was forced to speak (hȏs ȇnankazeto). “He was a man,” he said, “who ought to have talked with every king in the world, I would give a fortune to have had it so” (eipein: Ton an egȏ pasi turannoisi proetimȇsa megalȏn chrȇmatȏn es logous elthein) (I. 86, 3-4) … He then related how Solon the Athenian once came to Sardis (elege dȇ hȏs ȇlthe archȇn ho Solȏn eȏn Athȇnaios, I. 86, 5) … The interpreters told Cyrus what Croesus had said, and the story touched him (kai ton Kroison akousanta tȏn hermȇneȏn ta Kroisos eipe, metagnonta te kai ennȏsanta). He himself was a mortal man (hoti kai autos anthrȏpos eȏn), and was burning alive another who had once been as prosperous as he (allon anthrȏpon, genomenon heȏoutou eudaimoniȇi ouk elassȏ, zȏnta puri didoiȇ). The thought of that (pros te toutoisi), and the fear of retribution (deisanta tȇn tisin), and the realization of the instability of human things (kai epilexamenon hȏs ouden eiȇ tȏn en anthrȏpoisi asphaleȏs echon), made him change his mind
[‘made him change his mind’ translates ‘metagnonta’; the translator transformed one sentence of Herodotus into three English sentences]
and give orders that the flames should at once be put out (keleuein sbennunai tȇn tachistȇn to kaiomenon pur), and Croesus and the boys brought down from the pyre (kai katabibazein Kroison te kai tous meta Kroisou).’ (I. 86, 6, translation Aubrey de Sélincourt, revised by A. R. Burn)
W. W. How and J. Wells in their Commentary on Herodotus note that ‘the truth’ of Herodotus’ story on Solon and Croesus ‘is now universally given up, on chronological grounds … Solon’s legislation is put in 594 B. C. (or perhaps in 591, Ath. Pol. 14. 1), while Croesus came to the throne in 560 (or later); hence the Athenian’s travels belong to the generation before Croesus.’ (vol. I, pp. 66-67, Oxford University Press, 1912, in paperback 1989.)
Plato testifies to the popularity of the story when he says in his Second Letter: ‘People delight in talking about these things and listening to others speak about them (hoi anthrȏpoi chairousi peri toutȏn dialegomenoi kai allȏn akouontes) … on Croesus also and Solon as wise men with Cyrus as potentate (kai Kroison au kai Solȏna hȏs sophous kai Kuron hȏs dunastȇn, 310e7-311a7)’. But does this not relegate the story to ‘a piece of popular philosophy’ (How and Wells, p. 67) with which Plato had nothing in common?
In Book VII of his Laws Plato says that ‘citizens who are departed (tȏn politȏn hoposoi telos echoien tou biou) and have done good and energetic deeds, either with their souls or with their bodies (kata sȏmata ȇ kata psuchas erga exeirgasmenoi kala kai epipona), and have been obedient to the laws (kai tois nomois eupeitheis gegonotes), should receive eulogies (enkȏmiȏn autous tunchanein); this will be very fitting (prepon an eiȇ).’
My emphasis on ‘who are departed’ is not fortuitous. Plato goes on to say: ‘But to honour with hymns and panegyrics those who are still alive (Tous ge mȇn eti zȏntas enkȏmiois te kai humnois timan) is not safe (ouk asphales); a man should run his course, and make a fair ending, and then we will praise him (prin an hapanta tis ton bion diadramȏn, telos epistȇsȇtai kalon). (801e6-802a3, tr. Jowett)