In the Phaedrus Plato asserts that philosophy provides the key to good life (256a7-b3); in the light of this assertion he refers to Polemarchus as a man who has been turned to philosophy (257b3-4). Polemarchus was executed by the Thirty Tyrants, in 404 B.C. In view of the Solonian dictum that one’s life cannot be seen as a good life until one can see that it ended well, those who date the dialogue after Polemarchus’ death face the question: what did Plato see in Polemarchus that prompted him to disregard it in his case. The answer to this question must be sought in the Republic. I can see the Republic – in its relation to the Phaedrus – as Plato’s retraction of his Phaedran presentation of Polemarchus.
Socrates: ‘We went with Polemarchus to his house (Êimen oun oikade eis tou Polemarchou); and there we found his brothers Lysias and Euthydemus (kai Lusian te autothi katelabomen kai Euthudȇmon, tous tou Polemarchou adelphous) … There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus (ȇn d’ endon kai ho patȇr ho tou Polemarchou Kephalos), whom I had not seen for a long time, and he now seemed a very old man (kai mala presbutȇs moi edoxen einai, dia chronou gar kai heȏrakȇ auton). He was seated on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head (kathȇsto de estephanȏmenos epi tinos proskephalaiou te kai diphrou) for he had been sacrificing in the court (tethukȏs gar etunchanen en tȇi aulȇi – this and all the following translations from the Republic in this post are Jowett’s).’
Cephalus welcomes Socrates as an old friend, with a reproach: ‘You don’t come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought (Ȏ Sȏkrates, ou de thamizeis hȇmin katabainȏn eis ton Peiraia. chrȇn mentoi.): if I were still able to go and see you, I would not ask you to come to me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city (ei men gar egȏ eti en dunamei ȇ tou raidiȏs poreuesthai pros to astu, ouden an se edei deuro ienai, all’ hȇmeis para se ȇimen), and therefore you should come oftener to the Piraeus (nun de se chrȇ puknoteron deuro ienai). For let me tell you (hȏs eu isthi), that the more the pleasures of the body fade away (hoti emoige hoson hai allai hai kata to sȏma hȇdonai apomarainontai), the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation (tosouton auxontai hai peri tous logous epithumiai te kai hȇdonai). Do not then deny my request (Mȇ oun allȏs poiei), but make our house your resort and keep company with these young men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us (alla toisde te tois neaniskois sunisthi kai deuro par’ hȇmas phoita hȏs para philous te kai panu oikeious).’
W. R. M. Lamb writes in the ‘General Introduction’ to his edition of Lysias: ‘The opening pages of Plato’s Republic give us a pleasant glimpse of Cephalus in extreme old age: he is in full possession of his faculties, and his cheerfulness, good sense and love of intelligent discussion evoke the warm admiration of Socrates.’ (The Loeb Classical Library edition of Lysias, Harvard University Press, 1976, p. ix.) Cephalus’ ‘the more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the pleasure and charm of conversation’ seem to fully justify Lamb’s characterization of Cephalus as a man who loves intelligent discourse. But although Cephalus is very voluble when giving his self-portrait, when Socrates opens a discussion concerning justice, Cephalus leaves the company.
Socrates: ‘There is nothing which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with aged men (Kai mȇn, ȏ Kephale, chairȏ ge dialegomenos tois sphodra presbutais); for I regard them as travellers who have gone the journey which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire (dokei gar moi chrȇnai par’ autȏn punthanesthai, hȏsper tina hodon proelȇluthotȏn hȇn kai hȇmas isȏs deȇsei poreuesthai) whether the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult (poia tis estin, tracheia kai chalepȇ, ȇ raidia kai euporos). And this is a question which I should especially like to ask you (kai dȇ kai sou hȇdeȏs an puthoimȇn hoti soi phainetai touto), who have arrived at that time which the poets call the “threshold of old age” (epeidȇ entautha ȇdȇ ei tȇs hȇlikias ho dȇ “epi gȇraos oudȏi” phasin einai hoi poiȇtai) – Is life harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it (poteron chalepon tou biou, ȇ pȏs su auto exangelleis;)?’
Cephalus: ‘I will tell you (Egȏ soi, nȇ ton Dia erȏ), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), what my own feeling is (hoion ge moi phainetai). Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says (pollakis gar sunerchometha tines eis t’auton paraplȇsian hȇlikian echontes, diasȏizontes tȇn palaian paroimian); and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is (hoi oun pleistoi hȇmȏn olophurontai suniontes) – “I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away (tas en tȇi neotȇti hȇdonas pothountes kai anamimnȇiskomenoi peri te t’aphrodisia kai peri potous te kai euȏchias kai all’ atta ha tȏn toioutȏn echetai): there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life” (kai aganaktousin hȏs megalȏn tinȏn apesterȇmenoi kai tote men eu zȏntes, nun de oude zȏntes). Some complain of the slights which are put upon an old man by his relations (enioi de kai tas tȏn oikeiȏn propȇlakiseis tou gȇrȏs odurontai), and this sets them going upon a recital of evils, of which old age is the cause (kai epi toutȏi dȇ to gȇras humnousin hosȏn kakȏn sphisin aition). But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame that which is not really in fault (emoi de dokousin, ȏ Sȏkrates, houtoi ou to aition aitiasthai). For if old age were the cause (ei gar ȇn tout’ aition), I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they do (k’an egȏ ta auta tauta epeponthȇ, heneka ge gȇrȏs, kai hoi alloi pantes hosoi entautha ȇlthon hȇlikias). But this is not my own experience, not that of others whom I have known (nun d’ egȏge ȇdȇ entetuchȇka ouch houtȏs echousin kai allois). How well I remember the old age poet Sophocles (kai dȇ kai Sophoklei pote tȏi poiȇtȇi paregenomȇn), when in answer to the question (erȏtȏmenȏi hupo tinos), How does love suit with age, Sophocles – are you still the man you were? “Peace”, he replied, “most gladly have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master (“Pȏs,” ephȇ, “ȏ Sophokleis, echeis pros t’aphrodisia; eti hoios t’ ei gunaiki sungignesthai”; kai hos, “Euphȇmei,” ephȇ, “ȏ anthrȏpe, hasmenestata mentoi auto apephugon, hȏsper luttȏnta tina kai agrion despotȇn apodras.”).” His words seem as good to me now as at the time when he uttered them (eu oun moi kai tote edoxen ekeinos eipein, kai nun ouch hȇtton). For certainly old age has a great sense of calm, and freedom from the things he mentions (pantapasi gar tȏn ge toioutȏn en tȏi gȇrai pollȇ eirȇnȇ gignetai kai eleutheria); when the passions diminish and relax their hold (epeidan hai epithumiai pausȏntai katateinousai kai chalasȏsin), then, as Sophocles says (pantapasin to tou Sophokleous gignetai), we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but of many (despotȏn panu pollȏn esti kai mainomenȏn apȇllachthai). The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets and also the complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause (alla kai toutȏn peri kai tȏn pros tous oikeious mia tis aitia estin), which is not old age (ou to gȇras, ȏ Sȏkrates), but men’s characters and tempers (all’ ho tropos tȏn anthrȏpȏn); for he who is of a calm and happy nature (an men gar kosmioi kai eukolio ȏsin) will hardly feel the pressure of age (kai to gȇras metriȏs estin epiponon), but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally a burden (ei de mȇ, kai gȇras, ȏ Sȏkrates, kai neotȇs chalepȇ tȏi toioutȏi sumbainei.’
Socrates: ‘I listened in admiration (Kai egȏ agastheis autou eipontos tauta), and wanting to draw him out, that he might go on (boulomenos eti legein auton ekinoun) – Yes, Cepahlus, I said (kai eipon: Ȏ Kephale); but I rather suspect that people in general are not convinced by you when you speak thus (oimai sou tous pollous, hotan tauta legȇis, ouk apodechesthai); they think that old age sits lightly upon you (all’ hȇgeisthai se raidiȏs to gȇras pherein), not because of your happy disposition (ou dia ton tropon), but because you are rich (alla dia to pollȇn ousian kektȇsthai), and wealth, it is often said, brings many consolations (tois gar plousiois polla paramuthia phasin einai).’
Cephalus: ‘You are right (Alȇthȇ legeis), they are not convinced (ou gar apodechontai); and there is something in what they say (kai legousi men ti), not, however, so much as they imagine (ou mentoi ge hoson oiontai). I might answer them as Themistocles answered (alla to tou Themistokleous eu echei) the Seriphian who was abusing him (hos tȏi Seriphiȏi loidoroumenȏi) and saying that he was famous, not for his own merits but because he was an Athenian (kai legonti hoti ou di’ hauton alla dia tȇn polin eudokimoi): “If you had been a native of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous (apekrinato hoti out’ an autos Seriphios ȏn onomastos egeneto out’ ekeinos Athȇnaios).” And to those who are not rich (kai tois dȇ mȇ plousiois) and are impatient of old age (chalepȏs de to gȇras pherousi), the same reply may be made (eu echei ho autos logos); for to the good old man age cannot be a light burden (hoti out’ an ho epieikȇs panu ti raidiȏs gȇras meta penias enenkoi), nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself (outh’ ho mȇ epieikȇs ploutȇsas eukolos pot’ an heautȏi genoito).’
Socrates: ‘May I ask (Poteron dȇ), Cephalus (ȏ Kephale), whether your fortune was for the most part inherited or acquired by you (hȏn kektȇsai ta pleiȏ parelabes ȇ epektȇsȏ;)?’
Cepahlus: ‘Acquired! Socrates; do you want to know how much I acquired (Poi epektȇsamȇn, ȏ Sȏkrates)? In the art of making money I have been midway between my father and grandfather (mesos tis gegona chrȇmatistȇs tou te pappou kai tou patros): for my grandfather (ho men gar pappos te), whose name I bare (kai homȏnumos emoi), doubled and trebled the value of his patrimony, that which he inherited being much what I possess now (schedon ti hosȇn egȏ nun ousian kektȇmai paralabȏn pollakis tosautȇn epoiȇsen); but my father Lysanias (Lusanias de ho patȇr) reduced the property below what it is at present (eti elattȏ autȇn epoiȇse tȇs nun ousȇs): and I shall be satisfied (egȏ de agapȏ) if I leave to these my sons not less (ean mȇ elattȏ katalipȏ toutoisin) but a little more than I received (alla brachei ge tini pleiȏ ȇ parelabon).’
This self-characterization of Cephalus ought to be compared with Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes (19): ‘They – [the Thirty, having confiscated Polemarchus’ property] – had seven hundred shields of ours, they had all that silver and gold, with copper, jewellery, furniture and women’s apparel beyond what they had ever expected to get; also a hundred and twenty slaves, of whom they took the ablest, delivering the rest to the treasury.’
Lysias was the first man Socrates saw on entering Polemarchus’ house (Rep. 328b4).
There was a point in Cephalus’ narrative when Socrates ‘listened in admiration’ to him (329d7). When Plato wrote the Phaedrus, he himself saw Polemarchus, Cephalus’ heir ‘in all his things’ (Republic 331d8), as a man turned to philosophy (Phaedrus 257b3-4), whose days on earth were blessed (Phaedrus 256a7-b3).
Socrates: ‘That was why I asked you the question, because I see that you have no excessive love for money (Hou toi heneka ȇromȇn, hoti moi edoxas ou sphodra agapan ta chrȇmata), which is a characteristic rather of those who have inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them (touto de poiousin hȏs to polu hoi an mȇ autoi ktȇsȏntai); the makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of their own (hoi de ktȇsamenoi diplȇi ȇ hoi alloi aspazontai auta), resembling the affection of authors for their own poems, or of parents for their children (hȏsper gar hoi poȇtai ta hautȏn poiȇmata kai hoi pateres tous paidas agapȏsin, tautȇi de kai hoi chrȇmatisamenoi peri ta chrȇmata spoudazousin hȏs ergon heautȏn), besides that natural love of it for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men (kai kata tȇn chreian hȇiper hoi alloi). And hence they are very bad company (chalepoi oun kai sungenesthai eisin), for they insist on measuring the value of things in terms of wealth (ouden ethelontes epainein all’ ȇ ton plouton).’
Cephalus: ‘That is true (Alȇthȇ legeis).’
Socrates: ‘Yes, that is very true (Panu men oun), but may I ask another question (alla moi eti tosonde eipe)? – What do you consider to be the greatest blessing which you have reaped from your wealth (ti megiston oiei agathon apolelaukenai tou pollȇn ousian kektȇsthai)?’
Cephalus: ‘One of which I could not expect easily to convince others (Ho isȏs ouk an pollous peisaimi legȏn). For let me tell you (eu gar isthi), Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates), that when a man begins to think that his last hour is near (epeidan tis engus ȇi tou oiesthai teleutȇsein), fears and cares enter into his mind (eiserchetai autȏi deos kai phrontis) which he never had before (peri hȏn emprosthen ouk eisȇiei); the tales of the world below (hoi te gar legomenoi muthoi peri tȏn en Haidou) and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds done here (hȏs ton enthade adikȇsanta dei ekei didonai dikȇn) were once a laughing-matter to him (katagelȏmenoi teȏs), but now he is tormented with the thought that they may be true (tote dȇ strephousin autou tȇn psuchȇn mȇ alȇtheis ȏsin): either from the weakness of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place, and has a clearer view of these things, suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider any wrongs which he may have done to others (kai autos – ȇtoi hupo tȇs tou gȇrȏs astheneias ȇ kai hȏsper ȇdȇ enguterȏ ȏn tȏn ekei mallon ti kathorai auta – hupopsias d’oun kai deimatos mestos gignetai kai analogizetai ȇdȇ kai skopei ei tina ti ȇdikȇsen). And when he finds (ho men oun heuriskȏn) that the sum of his transgressions is great (heautou en tȏi biȏi polla adikȇmata) he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear (kai ek tȏn hupnȏn, hȏsper hoi paides, thama egeiromenos deimainei), and he is filled with dark forebodings (kai zȇi meta kakȇs elpidos). But to him who has no injustice on his conscience (tȏi de mȇden heautȏi adikon suneidoti), sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is the kind nurse of his age (hȇdeia elpis aei paresti kai agathȇ gȇrotrophos, hȏs kai Pindaros legei):
“Hope”, he says, “cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and holiness, and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey; – hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.” (charientȏs gar toi, ȏ Sȏkrates, tout’ ekeinos eipen, hoti hos an dikaiȏs kai hosiȏs ton bion diagagȇi, “glukeia hoi kardian atalloisa gȇrotrophos sunaorei elpis ha malista thnatȏn polustrophon gnȏman kubernai”.)
How admirable are his words (eu oun legei thaumastȏs hȏs sphodra)! And the great blessing of riches, I do not say to every man, but to a good and upright man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or defraud others, even without intention; and that when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men. Now to his peace of mind the possession of wealth greatly contributes (pros dȇ tout’ egȏge tithȇmi tȇn tȏn chrȇmatȏn ktȇsin pleistou axian einai, ou ti panti andri alla tȏi epieikei kai kosmiȏi. to gar mȇde akonta tina exapatȇsai ȇ pseusasthai, mȇd’ au opheilonta ȇ theȏi thusias tinas ȇ anthrȏpȏi chrȇmata epeita ekeise apienai dediota, mega meros eis touto hȇ tȏn chrȇmatȏn ktȇsis sumballetai). It has, perhaps, many other advantages (echei de kai allas chreias pollas – there is no justification in the Greek text for Jowett’s ‘perhaps’); but still, setting one thing against another (all’ hen ge anth’ henos), to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest (ouk elachiston egȏge theiȇn an eis touto andri noun echonti, ȏ Sȏkrates, plouton chrȇsimȏtaton einai).’
Socrates: ‘Well said indeed (Pankalȏs legeis), Cephalus (ȏ Kephale); but as concerning justice, what is it (touto d’ auto, tȇn dikaiosunȇn – Jowett appears to have decided that Plato needs improving, putting Socrates’ ‘what is’ question where none can be found in the text)? To speak the truth and to pay your debts – no more than this? (potera tȇn alȇtheian auto phȇsomen einai haplȏs houtȏs kai to apodidonai an tis ti para tou labȇi – haplȏs houtȏs ‘simply like this’, i.e. without any further qualification.) May not these very actions be sometimes justly (ȇ kai auta tauta estin eniote men dikaiȏs), and sometimes unjustly performed (eniote de adikȏs poiein)? Suppose that a friend when in his right mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth to the one who is in his condition (hoion toionde legȏ, pas an pou eipoi, ei tis laboi para philou andros sȏphronountos hopla, ei maneis apaitoi, hoti oute chrȇ ta toiauta apodidonai, oute dikaios an eiȇ ho apodidous, oud’ au pros ton houtȏs echonta panta ethelȏn t’alȇthȇ legein).’
Cepahlus: ‘You are quite right (Orthȏs legeis).’
Socrates: ‘But then, I said, speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition of justice (Ouk ara houtos horos estin dikaiosunȇs, alȇthȇ te legein kai ha an labȇi tis apodidonai – Jowett’s addition of ‘correct’ does not improve what Socrates is saying: ‘This then is not a definition of justice: to speak truth and to give back what one receives’.). – “Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed”, said Polemarchus interposing (Panu men oun, ephȇ, ȏ Sȏkrates, hupolabȏn ho Polemarchos, eiper ge ti chrȇ Simȏnidȇi peithesthai – Polemarchus’ Panu men oun does not mean ‘quite correct’. In answer to Socrates’ ‘This then is not a definition of justice’ it means ‘Yes it is [the definition of justice]’). – “I fear,” said Cephalus, “that I must go now, for I have to look after the sacrifices, and I hand now over the argument to the company (Kai mentoi, ephȇ ho Kephalos, kai paradidȏmi humin ton logon, dei gar me ȇdȇ tȏn hierȏn epimelȇthȇnai – there is no “I fear” in Cephalus’ Kai mentoi; he welcomes Polemarchus’ interposition: ‘And indeed, I hand the argument over to you, for I must …’).” – Polemarchus, then, is your heir? I said (Oukoun, ephȇ, egȏ, ho Polemarchos, tȏn ge sȏn klȇronomos; – Jowett’s I said, i.e. his ascription of these words to Socrates, is wrong. It is Polemarchus who turns to his father with the words: ‘Am I not the heir of the things that are yours?’. – “To be sure (Panu ge)”, he answered, and went away laughing to the sacrifices (ȇ d’ hos gelasas, kai hama ȇiei pros ta hiera).’ (328b4-331d9)
Cephalus and his family were metoikoi, alien residents in Athens. In the Laws Plato stipulates that any resident-alien having been found to possess more property than that which was allowed to the third-class citizens had to leave the city within thirty days, and if he did not, his property was to be confiscated and he himself sentenced to death (915b-c). E. B. England says in his commentary ad loc. that Plato ‘apparently disapproved of the generous treatment accorded to metoikoi by the Athenians. In this his relatives Critias [the leader of the Thirty Tyrants] and Charmides would have agreed with him.’ (The Laws of Plato, Manchester at the University Press, 1921, vol. II, p. 515)