Sorabji’s fourth objection against my dating of Plato’ Phaedrus: ‘There is a right way of teaching Rhetoric according to the Phaedrus, but it must be combined with Psychology. I had previously accepted the view (Jaeger’s?) that Aristotle put this into practice in his Rhetoric, of which Book II is in large part a psychological study. Both his Rhetoric and (on this view) Plato Phaedrus would then come later than the unqualified denunciation of Rhetoric in the Gorgias. Does Diogenes Laertius’s different order make equally good sense?’
If Sorabji is right about Aristotle’s Rhetoric, what relevance could it have concerning the dating of the Phaedrus? If the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue and Plato found his outline of rhetoric to be wrong, could not Aristotle have gone back to it to develop a viable theory of rhetoric? But what if one supposed that Plato wrote the Phaedrus in his old age and wanted to see it ‘put into practice’, as Sorabji suggests? Concerning the late dating of the Phaedrus, let me quote C. J. Rowe’s ‘Introduction’ to his edition of the dialogue: ‘The Phaedrus is certainly later than the Republic and other middle dialogues like the Phaedo and the Symposium; certainly later than the Timaeus; possibly or probably later than the Parmenides, the Theaetetus, the Sophist and the Statesman; and probably earlier than the Philebus. Some of the evidence for these suggestions will be found implied in various parts of the commentary; their net result would be to place the Phaedrus rather later than is commonly assumed, and relatively near the end of Plato’s life.’ (C. J. Rowe, Plato: Phaedrus, Aris & Philips Classical Texts, Oxbow Books, Oxford 1986, second edition 1988, p. 14)
Instead of looking for and confronting Rowe’s evidence, let me suspend judgement concerning the dating of the Phaedrus as such, and inquire whether Aristotle’s Rhetoric can help us to ascertain the relative dating of Plato’s two dialogues devoted to rhetoric, the Phaedrus and the Gorgias.
Aristotle opens his Rhetoric by stating that ‘Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic’ (Hê rêtorikê estin antistrophos tê̢ dialektikê̢). On the empty left page of my Oxford text I wrote down Grimaldi’s note: ‘This appears to be an opening reply to the criticism of rhetoric in the Gorgias of Plato where it is argued that rhetoric does not submit to reason (465a).’
In Gorgias 464e2-465a6 Socrates says: ‘Well then, I call it [i.e. rhetoric] flattery (kolakeian men ou͒n auto kalô), and I say this sort of thing is shameful (kai aischron phêmi ei͒nai to toioûton), because it guesses at the pleasant (hoti toû hêdeos stochazetai) without the best (aneu toû beltistou). And I say it is not a craft (technên de autên ou phêmi ei͒nai), but a knack (all’ empeirian), because it has no rational account (hoti ouk echei logon oudena) by which it applies (hô̢ prospherei) the things it applies (ha prospherei), to say what they are by nature (hopoi’ atta tên phusin estin), so that it cannot say what is the explanation of each thing (hôste tên aitian hekastou mê echein eipein); and I don’t call anything a craft (egô de technên ou kalô) which is unreasoning (ho an ê̢ alogon pragma).’ (Tr. T. Irwin)
Grimaldi goes on to say: ‘Indeed the reply is made more direct by the echoing of certain Platonic phrases in the first two chapters: e.g. rhetoric is the counterpart not of cookery (antistrophos opsopoias, Gorgias 465d), but of dialectic, as we are told here [i.e. in the opening sentence of Aristotle’s Rhetoric], nor is a part of flattery (morion kolakeias, Gorg. 466a) but a morion ti tês dialektikês kai homoia (56a30-31, ‘it is a part of dialectic and similar to it’) In fact those who have written on the art have provided us with only a part of it, autês morion (54a13). At 56a27 not only is Aristotle’s use of hupoduetai [“slip into the guise of”] a reminiscence on this word in Gorg. 464c-d, but Aristotle goes on to offer an explanation (56a25-30) why rhetoric does legitimately “slip into the guise of” politikê. Plato in his attack at 463e-466a would deny such legitimacy.’
I must take issue with the claim that ‘Aristotle goes on to offer an explanation (56a25-30) why rhetoric does legitimately “slip into the guise of” politikê’. For Aristotle in the given passage indorses Plato’s view, expressed in the Gorgias, that ‘rhetoric illegitimately “slips into the guise of” politics. To make this point clear, let me quote Aristotle’s words in their context:
‘Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word (tôn de dia toû logou porizomenôn pisteôn) there are three kinds (tria eidê estin). The first kind (hai men) depends on the personal character of the speaker (gar eisin en tô̢ êthei toû legontos); the second (hai de) on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind (en tô̢ ton akroatên diatheînai pôs); the third (hai de) on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself (en autô̢ tô̢ logô̢ dia toû deiknunai ê phainesthai deiknunai).’ (1356a1-5) … There are, then, these three means of perfecting persuasion (epei d’ hai pisteis dia toutôn eisi). The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, (phaneron hoti tautas esti labeîn) be able to reason logically (toû sullogisasthai dunamenou), to understand human character (kai toû theôrêsai peri ta êthê) and goodness in their various forms (kai peri tas aretas), and to understand the emotions (kai triton toû peri ta pathê) – that is to name them (ti te hekaston esti tôn pathôn) and describe them (kai poîon ti), to know their causes (kai ek poiôn gignetai) and the way in which they are excited (kai pôs). It thus appears (hôste sumbainei) that rhetoric is an offshoot of dialectic (tên rêtorikên hoîon paraphues ti tês dialektikês ei͒nai) and also of ethical studies (kai tês peri ta êthê pragmateias). Ethical studies may fairly be called political (hên dikaion esti prosagoreuein politikên); and for this reason (dio kai) rhetoric masquerades as political science (hupoduetai hupo to schêma to tês politikês hê rêtorikê), and the professors of it as political experts (kai hoi antipoioumenoi tautês) – sometimes from want of education (ta men di’ apaideusian), sometimes from ostentation (ta de di’ alazoneian), sometimes owing to other human failings (ta de kai di’ allas aitias anthrôpikas). As a matter of fact, it is a branch of dialectic (esti gar morion ti tês dialektikês) and similar to it (kai homoiôma), as we said at the outset (kathaper kai archomenoi eipomen). Neither rhetoric nor dialectic is the scientific study of any one separate subject (peri oudenos gar hôrismenou oudetera autôn estin epistêmê pôs echei): both are faculties for providing arguments (alla dunameis tines toû porisai logous).’ (1356a20-33, tr. W. Rhys Roberts)
Roberts overinterprets when he says that ‘rhetoric masquerades as politics (hupoduetai hupo to schêma to tês politikês hê rêtorikê) sometimes owing to other human failings’. Aristotle’s ta de kai di’ allas aitias anthrôpikas simply means ‘and sometimes because of other human reasons’, and he overinterprets when he translates kai hoi antipoioumenoi tautês – ‘those exerting themselves about it’ or ‘those laying claim to it’ – as ‘the professors of it as political experts’.
And here I can’t but abandon my suspension of judgement concerning the dating of the Phaedrus, have recourse to Diogenes Laertius’ ‘There is a story that the Phaedrus was his [Plato’s] first dialogue’ (logos de prôton grapsai auton ton Phaidron, III.38), and on its basis see Aristotle’s remark with reference to Plato’s Seventh Letter: ‘In the days of my youth (Neos pote egô ôn) my experience was the same as that of many others (polloîs dê t’auton epathon). I thought (ô̢êthên) that as soon as I should become my own master (ei thâtton emautoû genoimên kurios) I would immediately enter into public life (epi ta koina tês poleôs euthus ienai). The existing constitution being generally condemned (hupo pollôn gar tês tote politeias loidoroumenês), a revolution took place (metabolê gignetai), and fifty-one men came to the front as rulers of the revolutionary government (kai tês metabolês heis kai pentêkonta tines andres proustêsan archontes) … and they at once invited me to join their administration, as something to which I had a claim (kai dê kai parekaloun euthus hôs epi prosêkonta pragmata me).’ (324b8-d3; I’ve used Bury’s and Harward’s translations.) Several months before the aristocratic revolution took place the Athens suffered a naval blockade and siege by land, the aristocratic revolution was on the cards, and the best thing Plato could do, eager as he was to enter a political career, was to prepare himself for it by studying rhetoric; Plato being Plato, he attempted to transform it from a mere ‘knack’ (Irwin’s expression) into science, at least in outline, conflating rhetoric and politics.
Socrates in the Phaedrus points out that the Athenian politicians loved nothing more than having their rhetorical pieces accepted and inscribed as Resolutions of the Council or the Assembly (258a-b), and goes on to ask: ‘When an orator (hotan hikanos genêtai rêtôr), or a king (ê basileus), succeeds in acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius (hôste labôn tên Lukourgou ê Solônos ê Dareiou dunamin), and so winning immortality among his people as a speech-writer (athanatos genesthai logographos en polei), doesn’t he deem himself a peer of the gods (a͒r’ ouk isotheon hêgeîtai autos te hauton) while still living (eti zôn), and do not people of later ages hold the same opinion of him (kai hoi epeita gignomenoi t’auta taûta peri autoû nomizousi) when they contemplate his writings (theômenoi autoû ta sungrammata;)?’ (258b10-c5) And so he says: ‘Then the conclusion is obvious (Toûto men ara panti dêlon), that there is nothing shameful (hoti ouk aischron) in the mere writing of speeches (auto ge to graphein logous, 258d1-2) … But in speaking and writing shamefully and badly, instead of as one should, that is where shame comes in, I take it (All’ ekeîno oi͒mai aischron êdê, to mê kalôs legein te kai graphein all’ aischrôs te kai kakôs, 258d4-5).’ (Tr. Hackforth)
Let us now look at the passage in the Gorgias to which Aristotle refers in the first two chapters of his Rhetoric, as Grimaldi points out: ‘What I call rhetoric (ho d’ egô kalô tên rêtorikên) is a part of something (pragmatos tinos esti morion) not at all fine (oudenos tôn kalôn, 463a2-4) … I think it is a practice (Dokêi toinun moi ei͒nai ti epitêdeuma), not of a craftsman (technikon men ou), but of a guessing, brave soul (psuchês de stochastikês kai andreias), naturally clever at approaching people (kai phusei deinês prosomileîn toîs anthrôpois); and I call the sum of it flattery (kalô de autoû egô to kephalaion kolakeian, 463a6-b1) … I say there is this sort of thing both for the body and for the soul (To toioûton legô kai en sômati ei͒nai kai en psuchê̢). It makes the body or the soul appear to be in good condition (ho poieî men dokeîn eu͒ echein to sôma kai tên psuchên), but it’s still not in better condition (echei de ouden mâllon, 464a7-b1) … For these two things (duoîn ontoin toîn pragmatoin) I say there are two crafts (duo legô technas); the one set over the soul (tên men epi tê̢ psuchê̢) I call the political craft (politikên kalô); I can’t off hand find a single name for the single craft set over the body (tên de epi sômati mian men houtôs onomasai ouk echô), but still body-care is one craft (miâs de ousês tês toû sômatos therapeias), and I say there are two parts of it (duo moria legô), the gymnastic (tên men gumnastikên) and the medical crafts (tên de iatrikên). The part of politics (tês de politikês) corresponding to gymnastics (anti men tês gumnasikês) is legislation (tên nomothetikên), and the part corresponding to medicine (antistrophon de tê̢ iatrikê̢) is justice (tên dikaiosunên). Each member of these pairs – medicine and gymnastics, justice and legislation, shares with the other, in so far as they are both about the same thing (epikoinônousi men dê allêlais, hate peri to auto ou͒sai, hekaterai toutôn, hê te iatrikê tê̢ gumnastikê̢ kai hê dikaiosunê tê̢ nomothetikê̢); but still they differ to some extent from each other (homôs de diapherousin ti allêlôn). Here are four crafts (tettarôn dê toutôn ousôn), taking care of either body or soul, aiming at the best (kai aei pros to beltiston therapeuousôn tôn men to sôma, tôn de tên psuchên). Flattery noticed them (hê kolakeutikê aisthomenê) – I don’t say it knew (ou gnoûsa legô), but it guessed (alla stochasamenê) – and divided itself into four (tetracha heautên dianeimasa) impersonating each of these parts (hupodusa hupo hekaston tôn moriôn), and pretends to be (prospoieîtai ei͒nai) what it impersonates (toûto hoper hupedu); it does not care a bit for the best (kai toû men beltistou ouden phrontizei), but lures and deceives foolishness with what is pleasantest at the moment (tô̢ de aei hêdistô̢ thêreuetai tên anoian kai exapatâ̢), making itself seem to be worth most (hôste dokeî pleistou axia ei͒nai). Cookery impersonates medicine (hupo men ou͒n tên iatrikên hê opsopoiikê hupodeduken), then, and pretends to know the best foods for the body (kai prospoieîtai ta beltista sitia tô̢ sômati eidenai); and so if a doctor or a cook had to compete among children (hôst’ ei deoi en paisi diagônizesthai opsopoion te kai iatron), or among men as foolish as children (ê en andrasin houtô anoêtois hôsper hoi paides), to decide which of them understands about worthy and base food (poteros epaïei peri tôn chrêstôn sitiôn kai ponêrôn), the doctor (ho iatros) or (ê) the cook (ho opsopoios), then the doctor would die of starvation (limô̢ an apothaneîn ton iatron). Well then, I call it flattery (kolakeian men ou͒n auto kalô), and I say this sort of thing is shameful (kai aischron phêmi ei͒nai to toioûton), because it guesses at the pleasant (hoti toû hêdeos stochazetai) without the best (aneu toû beltistou). And I say it is not a craft (technên de autên ou phêmi ei͒nai), but a knack (all’ empeirian), because it has no rational account (hoti ouk echei logon oudena) by which it applies (hô̢ prospherei) the things it applies (ha prospherei), to say what they are by nature (hopoi’ atta tên phusin estin), so that it cannot say what is the explanation of each thing (hôste tên aitian hekastou mê echein eipein); and I don’t call anything a craft (egô de technên ou kalô) which is unreasoning (ho an ê̢ alogon pragma). (464b3-465a6, tr. T. Irwin).
In the Gorgias Plato distanced himself from the Phaedrus, in which the rhetoric he proposed had aspects of flattery intrinsic to its functioning in Athenian politics. Socrates in the Phaedrus ends his fictional disputation with Tisias as follows: ‘Unless the aspirant to oratory can on the one hand list the various natures amongst his prospective audiences (ean mê tis tôn te akousomenôn tas phuseis diarithmêsêtai), and on the other divide things into their individual kinds (kai kat’ eidê te diaireîsthai ta onta) and embrace each individual thing under a single form (kai mia̢ idea̢ dunatos e̢͒ kath’ hen hekaston perilambanein), he will never attain such success (ou pot’ estai technikos logôn peri) as is within the grasp of mankind (kath’ hoson dunaton anthrôpô̢). Yet he will assuredly never acquire such competence (taûta de ou mê pote ktêsêtai) without considerable diligence (aneu pollês pragmateias), which the wise man should exert not for the sake of speaking to and dealing with his fellow-men (hên ouch heneka tou legein kai prattein pros anthrôpous deî diaponeîsthai ton sôphrona), but that he may be able to speak what is pleasing to the gods (alla toû theoîs kecharismena men legein dunasthai), and in all his dealings to do their pleasure (kecharismenôs de prattein to pân) to the best of his ability (eis dunamin). For you see, Tisias, what we are told by those wiser than ourselves is true, that a man of sense ought never to study the gratification of his fellow-slaves (ou gar dê ara, ô Teisia, phasin hoi sophôterpoi hêmôn, homodoulois deî charizesthai meletân ton noûn echonta), save as a minor consideration (hoti mê parergon), but that of his most excellent masters (alla despotais agathois kai ex agathôn). So don’t be surprised that we have to make a long detour (hôst’ ei makra hê periodos, mê thaumasê̢s): it is because the goal is glorious (megalôn gar heneka periiteon), though not the goal you think of (ouch hôn su dokeîs) [Hackforth notes: ‘The goal you think of’ is to homodoulois (= tô̢ plêthei) charizesthai ‘to gratify the fellow-slaves, i.e. the many’]. Not but what those lesser objects also, if you would have them, can best be attained (so our argument assures us) as a consequence of the greater (estai mên, hôs ho logos phêsin, ean tis ethelê̢, kai taûta kallista ex ekeinôn gignomena).’ (273d8-274a5, tr. Hackforth)
Note that Plato is quite sure – ‘so our argument assures us’ – that those lesser objects (success in ‘speaking to and dealing with his fellow-men’, i.e. success in politics) will best be attained by the great effort involved in becoming able to please the gods. Plato’s Seventh Letter leaves only a short period in Plato’s life in which he could have been assured of his forthcoming success in politics by virtue of his own arguments: his early days, before the succession of disappointments prevented him from getting engaged in politics, beginning with the disastrous denouement of the aristocratic revolution of 404.