Let me return to Plato’s reflections on his intercourse (sunousia ‘being together’, 310e1) with Dionysius in 367-366 B.C. as he presents them in the Second Letter. In my preceding post I ended my reference to it with the paragraph with which I shall now begin: ‘In our case, then – if God so grant – it still remains possible (touto oun hêmin eti, sun theô̢ eipein, exestin) to put right whatever has been amiss in word or deed during our intercourse in the past (ei ti ara mê kalôs pepraktai kata tên emprosthen sunousian, epanorthousthai kai ergô̢ kai logô̢). For I maintain that, as regards the true philosophy (peri gar philosophian phêmi egô tên alêthinên), men will think and speak well of it if we ourselves are upright (doxan esesthai kai logon hêmôn men ontôn epieikôn beltiô), and ill if we are base (phaulôn de, t’ounantion). And in truth we could do nothing more pious than to give attention to this matter (kaitoi peri toutou hêmeis epimeloumenoi ouden an eusebesteron prattoimen), nothing more impious than to disregard it (oud’ amelountes asebesteron).’ (311d6-e2; translations from the Letters are Bury’s)
Plato goes on to say: ‘How this result should be brought about (Hôs dê dei gignesthai), and what is the just course to pursue (kai to dikaion hê̢ echei), I will now explain (egô phrasô). I came to Sicily (êlthon egô eis Sikelian) with the reputation (doxan echôn) of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy (polu tôn en philosophia̢ diapherein); and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse (boulomenos de elthôn eis Surakousas), to gain your testimony as well (summartura labein se), in order that I might get philosophy held in honour (hina dê moi timô̢to hê philosophia) even by the multitude (kai para tô̢ plêthei). In this, however, I was disappointed (touto d’ ouk euages moi apebê).’ (311e4-312a3)
Arguing against the authenticity of the Second Letter, Bury asks: ‘Can we imagine the real Plato saying that his object in visiting Syracuse was “to make philosophy honoured by the multitude”?’ (Plato in LCL, vol. IX, p. 399) In the note on the quoted words he says: ‘A most un-Platonic sentiment: contrast Republic 493 E ff.’ (Bury, op. cit. p. 408) In fact, Second Letter 311e4-312a3 is in full harmony with the Republic, if we view Republic 493e ff. in its broader context. In Republic 493e Socrates asks ‘whether the world will ever be induced to believe in the existence of absolute beauty rather than of the many beautiful, or of the absolute in each kind rather than of the many in each kind’ (auto to kalon alla mê ta polla kala, ê auto ti hekaston kai mê ta polla hekasta, esth’ hopôs plêthos anexetai ê hêgêsetai einai;). Adeimantus replies: ‘Certainly not (Hêkista ge).’ – Socrates: ‘Then the world cannot possibly be a philosopher (Philosophon men ara, ên d’ egô, plêthos adunaton einai)? – Adeimantus: ‘Impossible (Adunaton).’ – Socrates: ‘And therefore philosophers must inevitably fall under the censure of the world (Kai tous philosophountas ara anankê psegesthai hup’ autôn)? – Adeimantus: ‘They must (Anankê).’ (493e2-494a7, tr. B. Jowett)
In this passage in Republic VI Socrates reaffirms in discussion with Adeimantus what he established in Republic V in discussion with Glaucon, Adeimantus’ younger brother, i.e. that the many can never see the Forms, only true philosophers can do so. Socrates then explains the reasons why philosophy happened to be in disrepute. It is because people unworthy of it ‘take a leap out of their trades into philosophy’ (ek tôn technôn ekpêdôsin eis philosophian, 495d3). He then goes on to say that ‘if philosophy ever finds in the State that perfection (ei de lêpsetai tên aristên politeian) which she herself is (hôsper kai auto ariston estin), then will be seen (tote dêlôsei) that she is truly divine (hoti touto men tô̢ onti theion ên, 497b7-c2).’ Socrates thus reaches the point in his discussion with Adeimantus with which he initiated the discussion of the ideal State in discussion with Glaucon in Republic V: ‘Neither States nor individuals will ever attain perfection (oute polis oute politeia oude g’ anêr homoiôs mê pote genêtai teleios) until the small class of philosophers whom we termed useless but not corrupt (prin an tois philosophois toutois tois oligois kai ou ponêrois, achrêstois de nun keklêmenois) are in consequence of some chance compelled (anankê tis peribalê̢), whether they will or not (eite boulontai eite mê), to undertake the care of the state (poleôs epimelêthênai), and until a like necessity be laid on the state to obey them (kai tê̢ polei katêkoô̢ genesthai); or until kings, or if not kings, the sons of kings or princes, are divinely inspired with a true love of true philosophy (ê tôn nun en dunasteiais ê basileiais ontôn huesin ê autois ek tinos theias epipnoias alêthous philosophias alêthinos erôs empesê̢, 499b3-c2, cf. Rep. V, 473c11-e5).’ Adeimantos agrees, so Socrates asks: ‘But do you want to say that this is not the opinion of the multitude (Tois de pollois hoti ouk au dokei, ereis;)?’ – Adeimantus: ‘I should imagine not (Isôs).’ – Socrates: ‘O my friend (Ô makarie), do not attack the multitude (mê panu houtô tôn pollôn katêgorei): they will change their minds (alloian toi doxan hexousin), if, not in an aggressive spirit, but gently and with the view of soothing them (ean autois mê philonikôn alla paramuthoumenos) and removing their dislike of overeducation (kai apoluomenos tên tês philomatheias diabolên), you show them your philosophers as they really are (endeiknuê̢ hous legeis tous philosophous) and describe as you were just now doing (kai diorizê̢ hôsper arti) their character and profession (tên te phusin autôn kai tên epitêdeusin), and then mankind will see that he of whom you are speaking is not as they supposed (hina mê hêgôntai se legein hous autoi oiontai).’ (499d8-500a2, tr. Jowett)
When Plato says to Dionysius in his Second Letter ’I came to Sicily with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy; and I desired, on my arrival in Syracuse, to gain your testimony as well, in order that I might get philosophy held in honour even by the multitude,’ his words are in perfect harmony with what he says about the true philosophy and the true philosopher in the Republic. For Plato went to Sicily in the hope of transforming Dionysius into a philosopher-king.
In the Second Letter Plato goes on to consider the reasons for his disappointment: ‘The reason I give for this is not that which is commonly given (to d’ aition ou legô hoper an polloi eipoien); rather it was because (all’ hoti) you showed (ephainou) that you did not fully trust me (ou panu emoi pisteuein su) but wished rather to get rid of me somehow (all’ eme men pôs apopempsasthai ethelein) and invite others to my place (heterous de metapempsasthai); and owing, as I believe, to your distrust of me, you showed yourself inquisitive as to what my business was (kai zêtein to pragma ti to emon estin, apistôn, hôs emoi dokei, 312a3-6).’
František Novotný in his Latin Commentary suggests that the reason commonly given for Plato’s disappointment was that ‘Dionysius was not a suitable person for grasping Plato’s philosophy, the opinion which Dionysius himself later feared; see Seventh Letter 336b ff.’: Dionysium non esse idoneum Platonis philosophiae capessendae; quam opinionem postea Dionysius ipse metuebat, v. 7, 338esq.’ (Franciscus Novotný, Platonis epistulae commentariis illustratae, Spisy Filozofické fakulty Masarykovy university v Brně / Opera Facultatis philosophicae universitatis Masarykianae Brunensis.)
The reason Plato himself gave was Dionysius’ lack of trust, his inquisitiveness concerning Plato’s motifs for coming to Syracuse. Plato does not delve into Dionysius’ mistrust of him, but it is clear that if he was to have any success in transforming Dionysius into a philosopher-king, he had to gain his trust. If we are to understand what he does about it in the Second Letter, and then in the Symposium, we must get to the roots of Dionysius’ distrust.
Plato says in the Seventh Letter that during his first visit to Sicily the young Dion was inflamed with his belief that ‘by true philosophy one is enabled to see all forms of justice both political and individual (ek tautês esti ta te politika dikaia kai ta tôn idiôtôn panta katidein, VII, 326a6-7). Wherefore the classes of mankind will have no cessation from evils (kakôn oun ou lêxein ta anthrôpina genê) until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers (prin an ê to tôn philosophountôn orthôs kai alêthôs genos) attains political supremacy (eis archas elthê̢ tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the States (ê to tôn dunasteuontonôn en tais polesin) becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic (ek tinos moiras theias ontôs philosophêsê̢, 326a7-b4).’ After the death of Dionysius I (in 367 B.C.) Dion ‘came to the belief (dienoêthê) that this belief, which he himself had acquired through right instruction, would not always be confined to himself (mê monon en hautô̢ pot’ an genesthai tautên tên dianoian, hên autos hupo tôn orthôn logôn eschen); and in fact he saw it being implanted in others also (engignomenên de autên kai en allois horôn katenoei) – not in many, it is true (pollois men ou), but yet implanted in some (gignomenên d’ oun en tisin); and of these he thought that Dionysius (with Heaven’s help) might become one (hôn kai Dionusion hêgêsato hena genesthai tach’ an sullambanontôn tôn theôn), and that, if he did become a man of this mind (genomenou d’ au tou toioutou), both his own life (ton te autou bion) and that of all the rest of Syracusans (kai ton tôn allôn Surakousiôn) would, in consequence, be a life of immeasurable felicity (amêchanon an makariotêti sumbênai genomenon). Moreover (pros dê toutois), Dion considered that I ought, by all means, to come to Syracuse with all speed (ô̢êthê dein ek pantos tropou eis Surakousas hoti tachista elthein eme) to be his partner in this task (koinônon toutôn).’ (327b6-d1)
Obviously, after the death of Dionysius I Dion began to spread the idea of ‘philosopher-rulers’ among the few whom he believed to be fit and ready for such a role. Who may have been those few whom he saw having this idea implanted in them? Plato says that Dion ‘spoke of his own nephews and connexions (legôn tous te hautou adelphidous kai tous oikeious, 328a3)’. Plutarch says in his Dion that Dion’s enemies spread the rumours that the Athenians intended ‘by means of one sophist (di’ henos sophistou) to overthrow the tyranny of Dionysius (kataluousi tên Dionusiou turannida) by persuading him (sumpeisantes auton) … to seek in Academic philosophy for a mysterious good (en Akadêmeia̢ to siôpômenon agathon zêtein), and make geometry his guide to happiness (kai dia geômetrias eudaimona genesthai), surrendering the happiness that was based on dominion and wealth and luxury (tên en archê̢ kai chrêmasi kai truphais eudaimonian) to Dion (Diôni) and Dion’s nephews (kai tois Diônos adelphidois proemenon, XIV, 2-3, tr. B. Perrin).’
Dionysius had every reason for being distrustful of Plato even after he had expelled Dion, for in the very heart of Plato’s Republic is the postulate of unity between philosophy and political power, which means ‘that those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other (tôn de nun poreuomenôn chôris eph’ hekateron hai pollai phuseis) are compelled to stand aside (ex anankês apokleisthôsin, 473d3-5, tr. Jowett)’. It is this postulate that Plato endeavours to revise in the Second Letter by viewing his and Dionysius’ intercourse in the light of the historical and mythical examples of associations between great rulers and wise men, and in the Symposium, in which he outlines the road to philosophy in the guise of the wise Diotima, a consummate philosopher with no political aspirations. Plato thus indicates that he intends to return to Sicily as Dionysius’ trusted advisor, not as a co-ruler.
In the Second Letter Plato went on to say: ‘And now I will tell you what it is right to do after this (ho dê meta tauta dikaion esti poiein, akoue), that so I may reply also (hina kai soi apokrinômai) to your question (ho su erôta̢s) how you and I ought to behave to each other (pôs chrê echein eme kai se pros allêlous). If you altogether despise philosophy (ei men holôs philosophias katapephronêkas), leave it alone (ean chairein). If, again, you have been taught by someone else (ei de par’ heterou akêkoas) or have yourself invented better doctrines than mine (ê autos beltiona hêurêkas tôn par’ emoi), hold them in honour (ekeina tima). But if you are contented with my doctrines (ei d’ ara ta par’ hêmôn soi areskei), then you should hold me also in special honour (timêteon kai eme malista). So now (nun oun), just as at the beginning (hôsper kai ex archês), do you lead the way (su kathêgou) and I will follow (hepsomai d’ egô). If I am honoured by you (timômenos gar hupo sou), I will honour you (timêsô se); but if I am not honoured (mê timômenos de) I will keep to myself (hêsuchian hexô). Moreover (eti de), if you honour me (su men eme timôn) and take the lead in so doing (kai toutou kathêgoumenos), you will be thought to be honouring philosophy (philosophian doxeis timan); and the very fact (kai auto touto) that you have studied other systems as well (hoti dieskopeis kai allous) will gain you the credit, in the eyes of the many (pros pollôn eudoxian soi oisei), of being a philosopher yourself (hôs philosophô̢ onti).’ (312b2-c4)
Plato wishes to rewind the clock: ‘When Plato came to Sicily (Platôn eis Sikelian aphikomenos), in the first instances (peri men tas prôtas apantêseis) he met with astonishing friendliness and honour (thaumastês etunchane philophrosunês kai timês).’ (Plutarch, Dion XIII, 1, tr. Perrin). Trying to start their intercourse anew, he plays on Dionysius’ ‘extraordinary love of glory’ (philotimos te thaumastôs, VII, 338d7), and in the Symposium he attempts to cultivate Dionysius’ infatuation with him, which the latter displayed during their intercourse.
The participants in the Symposium accept Phaedrus’ suggestion to make speeches in praise of Eros. Phaedrus begins, and he crowns his encomium by praising Achilles’ attachment to his lover Patroclus. In doing so he rejects Aeschylus’ view that Patroclus was Achilles’ beloved, Achilles his lover, maintaining that Achilles ‘was much younger, as Homer says’ (neôteros polu, hôs phêsin Homêros, 180a7). Phaedrus’ ‘much younger’ in fact points to Plato-Dionysius relationship, for in Homer Menoetius says to Patroclus: ‘My son (teknon emon), Achilles is of nobler birth than you (geneê̢ men huperteros estin Achilleus), but you are older than him (presbuteros de su essi), yet he is much stronger than you (biê̢ d’ ho ge pollon ameinôn, Il. XI, 786-7). Homer says that Patroclus is older, not ‘much older’.
Pausanias says in the next speech: ‘There remains, then, only one road of honourable attachment which our custom allows the beloved to follow (mia dê leipetai tô̢ hêmeterô̢ nomô̢ hodos, ei mellei kalôs charieisthai erastê̢ paidika); for it is our rule (esti gar hêmin nomos) that as any menial service which the lover does to him (hôsper epi tois erastais ên douleuein ethelonta hêntinoun douleian paidikois) is not to be accounted flattery (mê kolakeian einai) or a reproach to himself (mêde eponeidiston), so the beloved has one way only of voluntary service (houtô dê kai allê mia monê douleia hekousios leipetai) which is not open to reproach (ouk eponeidistos), and this is the service directed to virtue (hautê d’ estin hê peri tên aretên).’ (184b5-c3, tr. Jowett)
In the Second Letter Plato tells Dionysius: ‘according to Archedemus’ report you say (phê̢s gar dê kata ton ekeinou logon) that you have not had a sufficient demonstration (ouch hikanôs apodedeichthai soi) of the doctrine concerning the nature of the First (peri tês tou prôtou phuseôs) … the matter stands thus (hôde gar echei): Related to the King of All are all things (peri ton pantôn basilea pant’ esti), and for his sake they are (kai ekeinou heneka panta), and of all things fair he is the cause (kai ekeino aition hapantôn tôn kalôn) … About these, then, the human soul strives to learn (hê oun anthrôpinê psuchê peri auta oregetai mathein poi’ atta estin), looking to the things that are akin to itself (blepousa eis ta hautês sungenê), whereof none is fully perfect (hôn ouden hikanôs echei). But as to the King (to dê basileôs peri) and the objects I have mentioned (kai hôn eipon, i.e. ‘things fair’ of which, the King of All, that is the Good, is the cause), they are of quite different quality (ouden estin toiouton). In the next place the soul inquires (to dê meta touto hê psuchê phêsi) – “Well then, what quality have they (alla poion ti mên;)?” But the cause of all mischief, O son of Dionysius and Doris, lies in this very question (tout’ estin, ô pai Dionusiou kai Dôridos, to erôtêma ho pantôn aition estin kakôn), or rather in the travail which this question creates in the soul (mallon de hê peri toutou ôdis en tê̢ psuchê̢ engignomenê); and unless a man delivers himself from this (hên ei mê tis exairethêsetai) he will never really attain the truth (tês alêtheias ontôs ou mê pote tuchê̢).’ (312d5-313a6)
Novotný in his commentary explains: qaestio animi interrogantis quale (poion ti) non quid sit illud primum (op. cit.) – ‘the question of the soul asking “of what quality” instead of “what is” this First’.
This whole section of the Second Letter opened with Plato’s deliberations on Dionysius’ complaint that he did not provide him with a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of the First. So Plato explained it to him ‘in a riddling way (di’ ainigmôn), in order that, should the tablet come to any harm “in folds of ocean or of earth” (hin’ an ti hê deltos ê pontou ê gês en ptuchais pathê̢), he that readeth may not understand (ho anagnous mê gnô̢, 312d7-e1).’ Then he reprimanded him for having been not only inattentive to what he was telling him about the First, but for having claimed to have invented it himself: ‘You, however (su de), declared to me in the garden, under the laurels, that you had formed this notion yourself (touto pros eme en tô̢ kêpô̢ hupo tais daphnais autos ephêstha ennenoêkenai) and that it was discovery of your own (kai einai son heurêma); and I made answer (kai egô eipon) that if it was plain to you that it was so (hoti touto ei phainoito soi houtôs echein), you would have saved me from a long discourse (pollôn an eiês logôn eme apolelukôs). I said, however, that I had never met with any other person who had made this discovery (ou mên allô̢ ge pot’ ephên entetuchêkenai touth’ hêurêkoti); on the contrary (alla) most of the trouble I had (hê pollê moi pragmateia) was about this very problem (peri tout’ eiê) … thus your view of the truth sways now this way (all’ a̢ttei soi tote men houtôs), now that (tote de allôs), round about the apparent object (peri to phantazomenon); whereas the true object is wholly different (to de ouden esti toiouton, Novotný explains that to [a demonstrative pronoun] stands for ‘the thing itself, the Form’, toiouton stands for ‘such as the thing imagined’: Enuntiati subiectum to = res ipsa per se, idea, eiusque cognitio; toiouton scilicet hoion to phantazomenon). Nor are you alone in this experience (kai touto ou soi monô̢ gegonen); on the contrary, there has never yet been anyone, I assure you, who has not suffered the same confusion at the beginning, when he first learnt this doctrine from me (all’ eu isthi mêdena pôpote mou to prôton akousanta echein allôs pôs ê houtôs kat’ archas); and they all overcome it with difficulty, one man having more trouble and another less (kai ho men pleiô echôn pragmata, ho de elattô, mogis apallattontai), but scarcely a single one escapes with but little (schedon de oudeis oliga).’ (313a6-c5)
At this point, Plato says: ‘So now that this has occurred (toutôn dê gegonotôn), and things are in this state (kai echontôn houtô), we have pretty well found an answer, as I think, to the question (schedon kata tên emên doxan heurêkamen ho su epestilas) how we ought to behave to each other (hopôs dei pros allêlous hêmas echein, 313c5-7).’ Bury in his translation makes out of Plato’ single subject toutôn two subjects, ‘this’ and ‘things’. This obscures Plato’s thought. ‘So now that these things happened and are in this state (toutôn dê gegonotôn kai echontôn houtô)’ refers to everything Plato said from the moment he evoked Dionysius’ question (ho su epestilas ‘what you sent’) at 312b2-4 (ho su erôta̢s ‘what you ask’, 312b3). Bury’s ‘we have pretty well found an answer, as I think’ well reproduces Plato’s contrast between kata tên emên doxan (‘as I think’) and heurêkamen (‘we have found’); for Plato feels entitled to unite Dionysius with himself in the plural ‘we’. So what is the answer ‘they’ have found, and what is the ground for Plato’s speaking in the plural ‘we’?
Plato goes on to say: ‘For seeing that you are testing my doctrines both by attending the lectures of other teachers (epei gar basanizeis auta sungignomenos te allois) and by examining my teaching side by side with theirs (kai paratheômenos para ta tôn allôn), as well as by itself (kai auta kath’ hauta), then, if the test you make is a true one, not only will these doctrines implant themselves now in your mind (nun soi auta te, ei alêthês hê basanos, prosphusetai), but you also will be devoted both to them and to us (kai oikeios toutois te kai hêmin esê̢, 313c7-d3).
But how can Dionysius properly examine Plato’s teaching by comparing it with that of the sophists around him, let alone examining it by itself, when he proved to be so inattentive to what Plato was saying to him during his stay in Syracuse? Plato suggests: ‘How, then, will this, and all that I have said, be brought to pass (pôs oun auta t’ estai kai panta ha eirêkamen;)? You have done right now in sending Archedemus (ton Archedêmon nun te orthôs epoiêsas pempsas); and in the future also (kai to loipon), after he returns to you (epeidan elthê̢ pros se) and reports my answer (kai apangeilê̢ ta par’ emou), you will probably be beset later on with fresh perplexities (meta tauta isôs allai se aporiai lêpsontai). Then, if you are rightly advised, you will send Archedemus back to me (pempseis oun authis, an orthôs bouleuê̢, par’ eme ton Archedêmon), and he with this cargo will return to you again (ho d’ emporeusamenos hêxei palin). And if you do this twice or thrice (kai touto ean dis ê tris poiêsê̢s), and fully test the doctrines I send you (kai basanisê̢s ta par’ emou pemphthenta hikanôs), I shall be surprised (thaumazoim’ an) if your present difficulties do not assume quite a new aspect (ei mê ta nun aporoumena polu soi dioisei ê nun). Do you, therefore, act so, and with confidence (tharrountes oun poieite houtôs); for there is no merchandise more fair than this or dearer to Heaven which you can ever dispatch or Archedemus transport (ou mên gar pote tês emporias tautês oute su steilê̢s oute Archedêmos emporeusetai kalliô kai theophilesteran).’ (313d3-314a1)
Could Plato have meant this seriously as the way their future relationship was to develop? Especially if by letters he would communicate his teaching to him only in riddles? His next words are: ‘Beware (eulabou), however (mentoi), lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people (mê pote ekpesê̢ tauta eis anthrôpous apaideutous). For there are hardly any doctrines, I believe, which sound more absurd than these to the vulgar (schedon gar, hôs emoi dokei, ouk estin toutôn pros tous pollous katagelastotera akousmata) or, on the other hand, more admirable and inspired to men of fine disposition (oud’ au pros tous euphueis thaumastotera te kai enthousiastikôtera). For it is through being repeated (pollakis de legomena) and listened to frequently (kai aei akouomena) for many years (kai polla etê) that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold (mogis hôsper chrusos ekkathairetai), with prolonged labour (meta pollês pragmateias) (314a1-7) … So, bearing this in mind (pros taut’ oun skopôn), have a care (eulabou) lest one day you should repent (mê pote soi metamelêsê̢) of what has now been divulged improperly (tôn nun anaxiôs ekpesontôn). The greatest safeguard (megistê de phulakê) is to avoid writing (to mê graphein) and to learn by heart (all’ ekmanthanein); for it is not possible (ou gar estin) that what is written down (ta graphenta) should not get divulged (mê ouk ekpesein). For this reason (dia tauta) I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects (ouden pôpot’ egô peri toutôn gegrapha), and no treatise of Plato exists (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos) or will exist (oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates (Sôkratous estin) become fair and young (kalou kai neou gegonotos). Fare thee well (errôso), and give me credence (kai peithou); and now, to begin with, read this letter over repeatedly and then burn it up (kai tên epistolên tautên nun prôton pollakis anagnous katakauson).’ (314b5-c6)
The message of this long section, which began at 312b2 with the words ‘And now I will tell you what it is right to do after this (ho dê meta tauta dikaion esti poiein, akoue)’, is simple: ‘Summon me to your court, I will come.’ Why does not Plato say it so? He in fact does say so when he appeals at Dionysius’ sense of honour: ‘So now (nun oun), just as at the beginning (hôsper kai ex archês), do you lead the way (su kathêgou) and I will follow (hepsomai d’ egô, 312b7-8) … If you honour me (su men eme timôn) and take the lead in so doing (kai toutou kathêgoumenos), you will be thought to be honouring philosophy (philosophian doxeis timan, 312c2-3) … But if I honour you (egô de se timôn), while you do not honour me (mê timônta), I shall be deemed to be a man who worships and pursues after wealth (plouton doxô thaumazein te kai diôkein, 312c4-5).’ He could not say ‘Summon me to your court, I will come’; for had he done so, he would be deemed ‘to be a man who worships and pursues after wealth’.
The sailing season passed, but for whatever reason, Dionysius did not summon Plato and Dion to Syracuse, but he did not stop sending Dion the proceeds of his property, and Plato did not stop thinking of returning to Syracuse. During the first year after his ‘temporary’ return to Athens – which he believed to be his last year there – his mind was concentrated on his students; with them in mind he wrote the Phaedo and the Parmenides, thus doing his best for the preservation of his philosophic legacy in the Academy. Plato was presumably thinking of work devoted to this end when he wrote to Dionysius: ‘But listen now to the most remarkable result of all (ho de thaumaston autou gegonen, akouson). Quite a number of men there are who have listened to these doctrines (eisin gar anthrôpoi tauta akêkootes kai pleious) – men capable of learning (dunatoi men mathein) and capable also of holding them in mind (dunatoi de mnêmoneusai) and judging them by all sorts of tests (kai basanisantes pantê̢ pantôs krinai) – and who have been hearers of mine for no less than thirty years and are now quite old (gerontes êdê kai ouk elattô triakonta etôn akêkootes); and these men now declare that the doctrines that they once held to be most incredible (hoi nun arti sphisi phasin ta men tote apistotata doxanta einai) appear to them now the most credible (nun pistotata kai enargestata phainesthai), and what they then held most credible (ha de tote pistotata) now (nun) appears the opposite (t’ounantion).’ (314a7-b5)
This reflection of his had a purpose; it was telling Dionysius quite plainly that their future sunousia ‘being together’ was to be a life-long affair. But the result of his Letter was not what he had expected; the sailing season passed without any summons from Dionysius. So now his task was to write something with the eyes directed towards Dionysius and the task of turning him towards true philosophy. In view of what he knew about Dionysius, the theme of a symposium devoted to encomia on Eros was the obvious choice.
Plutarch wrote in his Dion: ‘In the first conference held between the young Dionysius and his friends (sullogou prôtou tôn philôn genomenou para ton neon Duonusion), Dion discoursed upon the needs of the situation in such a manner (houtô dielechthê peri tôn sumpherontôn pros ton kairon ho Diôn) that his wisdom made all the rest appear children (hôste tous allous hapantas tê̢ men phronêsei paidas apodeixai), and his boldness of speech (tê̢ de parrêsia̢) made them seem mere slaves of tyranny (doulous tês turannidos), who were wont to give their counsels timorously and ignobly to gratify the young man (agennôs kai periphobôs ta polla pros charin tô̢ meirakiô̢ sumbouleuontas). But what amazed them in their fear of the peril that threatened the realm from Carthage (malista de autous exeplêxe ton apo Karchêdonos kindunon epikekramenon tê̢ archê̢ dedoikotas), was Dion’s promise that (huposchomenos), if Dionysius wanted peace (ei men eirênês deoito Dionusios), he would sail at once to Africa (pleusas euthus eis Libuên) and put a stop to the war on the best terms possible (hôs arista diathêsesthai ton polemon); but if war was the king’s desire (ei de polemein prothumoito), he himself would furnish him with fifty swift triremes for the war, and maintain them at his own cost (threpsein autos idiois telesi kai parexein eis ton polemon autô̢ pentêkonta triêreis eu pleousas). Dionysius, then, was greatly astonished at his magnanimity (ho men oun Dionusios huperphuôs tên megalopsuchian ethaumase) and delighted with his ardour (kai tên prothumian êgapêsen); but the other courtiers (hoi de), thinking themselves put out of countenance by Dion’s generosity and humbled by his power (elenchesthai tê̢ lamprotêti kai tapeinousthai tê̢ dunamei tou Diônos oiomenoi), began hostilities forthwith (tautên euthus archên labontes), and said everything they could (oudemias epheidonto phônês) to embitter the young king against him (hê̢ to meirakion exagriainein emellon pros auton), accusing him of stealing into the position of tyrant by means of his power on the sea (hôs huperchomenon dia tês thalattês turannida), and of using his ships to divert the power into the hands of the children of Aristomache (kai perispônta tais nausi tên dunamin eis tous Aristomachês paidas [Aristomache was the second wife of Dionysius I]), who were his nephews and nieces (adelphidous ontas autô̢, Dion VI, 1-2]). But the strongest and most apparent grounds for their envy and hatred of him lay (phanerôtatai de kai megistai tôn eis phthonon kai misos aitiôn hupêrchon) in the difference between his way of life and theirs, and his refusal to mingle with others (hê tou biou diaphora kai to tês diaitês amikton). For from the very outset they obtained converse and intimacy with the tyrant who was young and had been badly reared by means of pleasures and flatteries (hoi men gar, euthus ex archês neou turannou kai tethrammenou phaulôs homilian kai sunêtheian hêdonais kai kolakeiais katalambanontes), and were ever contriving for him sundry amours, idle amusements with wine and women (aei tinas erôtas kai diatribas emêchanônto rembôdeis peri potous kai gunaikas), and other unseemly pastimes (kai paidias heteras aschêmonas) … For it is said that the young king once kept up a drinking bout for ninety consecutive days from its beginning (hêmeras gar, hôs phasin, enenêkonta sunechôs epinen arxamenos), and that during this time his court gave no access or admission to men or matters of consequence (kai tên aulên en tô̢ chronô̢ toutô̢ spoudaiois andrasi kai logois abaton kai aneisodon ousan), but drunkenness and raillery and music and dancing and buffoonery held full sway (methai kai skômmata kai psalmoi kai orchêseis kai bômolochiai kateichon).’ (VI,4-VII,7, tr. B. Perrin)
When Dion temporarily prevailed, and Plato arrived at Syracuse, ‘the modesty that characterized Dionysius’ symposia (aidôs de sumposiôn), the decorum of the courtiers (kai schêmatismos aulês), and the mildness of the tyrant himself (kai pra̢otês autou tou turannou) in all his dealings with the public (peri hekasta tôn chrêmatizomenôn), inspired the citizens with marvellous hopes of his reformation (thaumastas enedôken elpidas metabolês tois politais, Plutarch, Dion XIII, 3, tr. Perrin).’
The Symposium was written to eclipse anything the sophists around Dionysius could offer him; if he was serious about philosophy, as he appeared to be, he had to summon Plato and Dion to his court.