In Aristophanes’ Frogs, instead of Euripides, Dionysus brings out from Hades Aeschylus, for only he can save the city in its time of peril. Pluto, the Lord of the underworld invites Dionysus to a parting festivity and the Chorus sings in praise of Aeschylus:
‘Blest the man (Makarios g’ anêr) who possesses (echôn) a keen intelligent mind (xunesin êkribômenên). This full often we find (para de polloisi mathein). He, the bard of renown (hode gar eu phronein dokêsas 'of renown for his good/right thinking'), now to earth reascends (palin apeisi oikad’ au), goes, a joy to his town (ep’ agathô̢ men tois politais 'to bring good/benefit to the citizens'), goes, a joy to his friends (ep’ agathô̢ de tois heautou xungenesi kai philoisi 'to bring good ...'), just because he possesses a keen intelligent mind (dia to sunetos einai).
Right it is and befitting (Charien oun), not (mê), by Socrates sitting, idle talk to pursue (Sôkratei parakathêmenon lalein), stripping tragedy-art of all things noble and true (apobalonta mousikên, ta te megista tês tragô̢ dikês technês). Surely the mind to school fine-drawn quibbles to seek, fine-set phrases to speak (to d’epi semnoisi logoisi kai skariphêsmoisi lêrôn diatribên argon poieisthai), is but the part of a fool (paraphronountos andros).’ (1482-99, tr. B. B. Rogers)
Rogers leaves untranslated apobalonta mousikên, which means ‘having thrown away mousikê’. Chorus’ Charien oun mê Sôkratei parakathêmenon lalein apobalonta mousikên means ‘It is gratifying not to chat sitting by Socrates, having thrown away mousikê’. The circumstancial participial clause apobalonta mousikên indicates the condition under which ‘to chat sitting by Socrates’ had been taking place.
In pointing to Rogers’ omission, I have left untranslated mousikê, for with reference to Socrates it is misleading to translate it as ‘art’. In the Phaedo Socrates says: ‘Often in my past life the same dream had visited me (pollakis moi phoitôn to auto enupnion en tô̢ proelthonti biô̢), now in one guise, now in another (allot’ en allê opsei phainomenon), but always saying the same thing (to auto de legon): “Socrates (Ô Sôkrates),” it said (ephê), “make art (mousikên poiei) and practise it (kai ergazou).” Now in earlier times I used to assume that the dream was urging and telling me to do exactly what I was doing (kai egô en ge tô̢ prosthen chronô̢ hoper epratton touto hupelambanon auto moi parakeleuesthai te kai epikeleuein) (60e4-61a1) … to make art (mousikên poiein), since philosophy is a very high artform (hôs philosophias men ousês megistês mousikês ‘since philosophy is the greatest mousikê‘), and that was what I was making (emou de touto prattontos). But now that the trial was over (nun d’ epeidê hê te dikê egeneto) and the festival of the god was preventing my death (kai hê te tou theou heortê diekôlue me apothnê̢skein), I thought that in case it was art in the popular sense that the dream was commanding me to make, I ought not to disobey it (edoxe chrênai, ei ara pollakis moi prostattoi to enupnion tautên tên dêmôdê mousikên poiein, mê apeithênai autô̢), but should make it (alla poiein); as it was safer (asphalesteron gar einai) not to go off (mê apienai) before I’d fulfilled a sacred duty (prin aphosiôsasthai), by making verses (poiêsanta poiêmata) and thus obeying the dream (pithomenon tô̢ enupniô̢).’ (61a3-b1, translation D. Gallop)
If we view the Phaedrus as Plato’s first dialog written prior to the Charmides, as proposed, we can’t help seeing it as Plato’s response to Aristophanes’ invective, with which the chorus in the Frogs assails Socrates and his friends. In my preceding post I quoted Rogers as saying that the Frogs was greatly admired: ‘the victorious poet was crowned in the full theatre with the usual wreath of Bacchic ivy. But it achieved a far higher success than this. It enjoyed the, apparently, unique distinction of being acted a second time, as we should say, by request; and at this second representation the poet was again crowned, not now with mere leaves of ivy, but a wreath made from Athene’s sacred olive, an honour reserved for citizens who were deemed to have rendered important services to Athene’s city.’
Plato was in his early (if born in 427 B. C.) or mid-twenties (if born in 429 B. C.) when the Frogs were staged. How could he have left Aristophanes’ invective unanswered?
Diogenes Laertius in his ‘Life of Plato’ says that when Plato (III.6) ‘was about to compete for the prize with a tragedy (mellôn agônieisthai tragôdia̢), he listened to Socrates in front of the theatre of Dionysus (pro tou Dionusiakou theatrou Sôkratous akousas), and then consigned his poems to the flames (katephlexe ta poiêmata), with the words (eipôn) “Come hither, O fire-god (Hêphaiste, promol’ hôde), Plato has now need of thee (Platôn nun ti seio chatizei)” From that time onward (tounteuthen dê), having reached his twentieth year (gegonôs eikosi etê), he was the pupil of Socrates (diêkouse Sôkratous III.5-6).’ R. D. Hicks in his edition of Diogenes notes that ‘Aelian (V.H. ii. 30) has pro tôn Dionusiôn “before the festival of Dionysius”’ instead of Diogenes’ “in front of the theatre of Dionysus”. These two variations do not exclude each other, for it could have happened “in front of the theatre of Dionysus” in the time “before the festival of Dionysius”. The festival of Dionysus took place in Lenaea, the month corresponding to our January-February. One can well imagine that people made a fire in front of the theatre to keep warm, and Plato threw his tragedies into the flames. I believe that Aristophanes’ ‘having thrown away mousikê’ (apobalonta mousikên) authenticates Diogenes’/Aelian’s story.
To properly understand this event, we must go to Aristotle’s explanation of how Plato conceived the Forms. For he says that before his philosophic encounter with Socrates Plato adhered to Heraclitean doctrines according to which ‘the whole sensible world is always in a state of flux (hôs hapantôn tôn aisthêtôn aei reontôn) and there is no knowledge about it (kai epistêmês peri autôn ouk ousês, 987a33-4).’ [The term epistêmê for ‘knowledge’ is here of fundamental importance, for it involves the minds’ ‘standing at’ (epi-histêmi) the object that does not change.] When Plato then encountered Socrates ‘who as the first brought his mind to stand-still on definitions (peri horismôn epistêsantos prôtou tên dianoian), having accepted him (ekeinon apodexamenos), because of it (dia to toiouton) he assumed (hupelaben) that this concerned different entities (hôs peri heterôn touto gignomenon) and not the things perceived by senses (kai ou tôn aisthêtôn, 987b3-6) … and these entities he called Forms (ta men toiauta tôn ontôn ideas prosêgoreuse, 987b7-8).’ – Plato conceived the Forms under the impact of his first philosophic encounter with Socrates.
Chorus of the Frogs accused Socrates and ‘those sitting by him’ (Sôkratei parakathêmenous, 1491-2) of ‘engaging in idle amusement’ (diatribên argon poieisthai, 1498). Plato in the Phaedrus answers this invective at the turning point of the dialogue, when Socrates and Phaedrus decide to discuss the art of writing with reference to the three speeches on love presented in the first part (Lysias’ speech read by Phaedrus, and two speeches presented by Socrates).
Socrates: ‘Then what is the nature (Tis oun ho tropos) of good writing and bad (tou kalôs te kai mê graphein;)? Is it incumbent on us (deometha ti), Phaedrus (ô Phaidre), to examine Lysias on this point (Lusian te peri toutôn exetasai), and all such as have written or mean to write anything at all (kai allon hostis pôpote ti gegraphen ê grapsei), whether in the field of public affairs (eite politikon sungramma) or private (eite idiôtikon), whether in the verse of the poet (en metrô̢ hôs poiêtês) or the plain speech of prose (ê aneu metrou hôs idiôtês;)?’ – Phaedrus: ‘Is it incumbent (Erôta̢s ei deometha;)! Why, life itself would hardly be worth living save for pleasures like this (tinos men oun heneka k’an tis hôs eipein zô̢ê, all’ ê tôn toioutôn hêdonôn heneka;): certainly not for those pleasures that involve previous pain (ou gar pou ekeinôn ge hôn prolupêthênai dei ê mêde hêsthênai), as do almost all concerned with the body (ho dê oligou pasai hai peri to sôma hêdonai echousi), which for that reason are rightly called slavish (dio kai dikaiôs andrapodôdeis keklêntai).’ – Socrates: ‘Well, I suppose we can spare the time (Scholê men dê, hôs eoike); and I think too that the cicadas overhead, singing after their wont in the hot sun (kai hama moi dokousin hôs en tô̢ pnigei huper kephalês hêmôn hoi tettiges a̢dontes) and conversing with one another (kai allêlois dialegomenoi), don’t fail to observe us as well (kathoran kai hêmas). So if they were to see us two (ei oun idoien kai nô) behaving like ordinary folk (kathaper tous pollous) at midday (en mesêmbria̢), not conversing (mê dialegomenous) but dozing (alla nustazontas) lazy-minded under their spell (kai kêloumenous huph’ hautôn di argian tês dianoias), they would very properly have the laugh of us (dikaiôs an katagelô̢en), taking us for a pair of slaves that had invaded their retreat (hêgoumenoi andrapod’ atta sphisin elthonta eis to katagôgion) like sheep (hôsper probatia), to have their midday sleep beside the spring (mesêmbriazonta peri tên krênên heudein). If however they see us conversing (ean de horôsi dialegomenous) and steering clear of their bewitching siren-song (kai parapleontas sphas hôsper Seirênas akêlêtous), they might feel respect for us and grant us that boon which heaven permits them to confer upon mortals (ho geras para theôn echousin anthrôpois didonai, tach’ an doien agasthentes).’ – Phaedrus: ‘Oh, what is that (Echousi de dê ti touto;)? I don’t think I have heard of it (anêkoos gar, hôs eoike, tunchanô ôn).’ (258d7-259b4)
Before I give Socrates’ answer, I think it proper to remark that the chorus of the cicadas in the Phaedrus functions as a counterpart to the chorus of the Frogs in the Frogs. Plato wants his Phaedrus to be seen as a response to Aristophanes’ play. In the preceding post I reproduced the introductory scene of the Phaedrus in which Socrates admires ‘the shrill summery music (therinon te kai liguron hupêchei) of the cicada-choir (tô̢ tôn tettigôn chorô̢, 230c2-3)’.
I’ve proposed to see Socrates’ emphasis on the importance of engaging one’s mind and keeping it active in earnest discussion and investigation, quoted above, as an answer to Aristophanes’ invective that he and his followers engaged in ‘idle amusement’. Socrates’ answer to Phaedrus’ question concerning the story about the cicadas confirms the conjecture. For Aristophanes’ invective against Socrates and his friends for their addiction to ‘idle amusement’ was to give substance to their ‘having thrown away mousikê’. Socrates in his myth of the cicadas presents philosophy as the greatest mousikê. Those who have conversations ‘sitting by him’ are not ‘idly amusing themselves’. Far from ‘throwing away mousikê they are practicing the greatest mousikê.
Socrates: ‘Surely it is unbecoming in a devotee of the Muses (Ou men dê prepei ge philomouson andra) not to have heard of a thing like that (tôn toioutôn anêkoon einai)! The story is (legetai d’) that once upon a time these creatures were men (hôs pot’ êsan houtoi anthrôpoi) – men of an age before there were any Muses (tôn prin Mousas gegonenai): and that when the latter came into the world (genomenôn de Mousôn), and music made its appearance (kai phaneisê̢s ô̢dês), some of the people of those days were so thrilled (houtôs ara tines tôn tote exeplagêsan) with pleasure (huph’ hêdonês) that they went on singing (hôste a̢dontes), and quite forgot to eat (êmelêsan sitôn te) and drink (kai potôn) until they actually died without noticing it (kai elathon teleutêsantes hautous). From them (ex hôn) in due course sprang the race of cicadas (to tettigôn genos met’ ekeino phuetai), to which the Muses have granted the boon (geras touto para Mousôn labon) of needing no sustenance right from their birth (mêden trophês deisthai genomenon), but singing from the very first, without food or drink (all’ asiton te kai apoton euthus a̢dein), until the day of their death (heôs an teleutêsê̢): after which they go and report to the Muses (kai meta tauta elthon para Mousas apangellein) how they severally are paid honour amongst mankind, and by whom (tis tina autôn tima̢ tôn enthade). So for those whom they report as having honoured Terpsichore in the dance they win that Muse’s favour (Terpsichora̢ men oun tous en tois chorois tetimêkotas autên apangellontes poiousi prosphilesterous); for those that have worshipped in the rites of love the favour of Erato (tê̢ de Eratoi tous en tois erôtikois); and so with all the others (kai tais allais houtôs), according to the nature of the worship paid to each (kata to eidos hekastês timês). To the eldest (Tê̢ de presbutatê̢), Calliope (Kalliopê̢), and to her next sister (kai tê̢ met’ autên) Urania (Ourania̢), they tell of those who live a life of philosophy and so do honour to the music of those twain (tous en philosophia̢ diagontas te kai timôntas tên ekeinôn mousikên angellousin) whose theme is the heavens and all the story of gods and men (hai dê malista tôn Mousôn peri te ouranon kai logous ousai theious te kai anthrôpinous), and whose song is the noblest of them all (hiasin kallistên phônên).’ (259b5-d7, passages from the Phaedrus are translated by R. Hackforth)