I am dating the Symposium in 364/3 B.C., after the sailing season passed, in which Plato sent Dionysius the Second Letter. If we want to see the Symposium in the light of its dating, we must pay due attention to the Second Letter.
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). Now I must expound it to you in a riddling way (phrasteon dê soi di’ ainigmôn) … 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). (312d5-e3, translations from the Second Letter are Bury’s)
Bury says in his ‘Prefatory Note’: ‘What is here said of “the King of All” is closely parallel to the description given of the Idea of Good in Republic 509 B, D, 517 C; so it is natural to equate the First Principle and the first grade of Being with the idea of Good.’ (Plato in LCL, vol. IX, pp. 400-401)
The parallel between “the King of All” and the Idea of Good in the Republic, if properly followed, provides the major key to the riddling way, in which Plato ‘explains’ to Dionysius “the First” in the Second Letter. Plato wants Dionysius to understand what he wants to tell him, not to remain puzzled. If we want to understand the reference to the Republic as a pointer to the unravelling of the riddle, we must begin at the point in which Plato introduces the Idea of Good.
In the sixth Book Socrates tells Adeimantus: ‘You may remember (Mnêmoneueis men pou) that we divided the soul into three parts (hoti tritta eidê psuchês diastêsamenoi); and, by relating them to each other, distinguished the several natures of justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom (sunebibazomen dikaiosunês te peri kai sôphrosunês kai andreias kai sophias ho hekaston eiê, 504a4-6; tr. from the Republic are Jowett’s)?’
On the margin of my Oxford text I wrote (presumably Stallbaum’s) remark: Respicitur ad Libr. IV. P. 427 E sqq. Ubi virtutum singularum rationibus in civitate exploratis inde a p. 441 E etiam exquirebant, quid essent eaedem in uno homine, ‘Refers to Book IV, where having explored the virtues in the State, from p. 441 E they furthermore explored what these were in a single man.’
Socrates: ‘We were saying (Elegomen), if I am not mistaken (pou), that he who wanted to see them in their perfect beauty (hoti hôs men dunaton ên kallista auta katidein) must take a longer and more circuitous way (allê makrotera eiê periodos), at the end of which they would appear (hên perielthonti kataphanê gignoito); but that we could add on a popular exposition of them on a level with the discussion which had preceded (tôn mentoi emprosthen proeirêmenôn hepomenas apodeixeis hoion t’ eiê prosapsai, 504b1-4).’ … The guardian of the State and its laws (phulaki poleôs te kai nomôn, 504c7) … must be required to take the longer circuit (tên makroteran periiteon), and toil in learning (manthanonti ponêteon, 504c9-d1) … of the virtues we must behold not the outline merely, as at present (autôn toutôn ouch hupographên dei hôsper nun theasasthai) – nothing short of the most finished picture should satisfy us (alla tên teleôtatên apergasian mê parienai, 504d6-8).’
Adam notes that these lines provide ‘as clear a proof as we could wish that Justice and the other virtues, as described in Book IV, are not the transcendental auta kath’ hauta eidê [‘Forms themselves in themselves’). They are only a hupographê or ‘adumbratio’ of the Ideas … hôsper nun [‘as at present’] admits moreover that the Rulers of Books III and IV had only “correct opinion” and not “knowledge”: it was their duty to accept and carry out the precepts of Plato, the founder of the city.’
The “finished picture” is based on the greatest knowledge (to megiston mathêma, 504e4-5): ‘you have often been told that the Idea of good is the highest knowledge (epei hoti ge hê tou agathou idea megiston mathêma pollakis akêkoas, 505a2-3) … without this knowledge (aneu de tautês [sc. tês tou agathou ideas]), no other knowledge or possession will profit us at all (ei hoti malista t’alla epistaimetha, oisth’ hoti ouden hêmin ophelos, 505a6-7) … is it not evident (tode ou phaneron) that many are content to do or to have, or to seem to be, what is just and beautiful without the reality (hôs dikaia men kai kala polloi an helointo ta dokounta, k’an ei mê eiê, homôs tauta kai prattein kai kektêsthai kai dokein); but no one is satisfied with the appearance of the good (agatha de oudeni eti arkei ta dokounta ktasthai) – the reality is what they seek (alla ta onta zêtousin); in the case of the good, appearance is despised by everyone (tên de doxan entautha êdê pas atimazei; 505a5-9) … Of this then, which every soul of man pursues and makes the end of all his actions (Ho dê diôkei men hapasa psuchê kai toutou heneka panta prattei), having a presentiment that there is such an end (apomanteuomenê ti einai), and yet hesitating because neither knowing the nature (aporousa de kai ouk echousa labein hikanôs ti pot’ estin) nor having the same assurance of this (oude pistei chrêsasthai monimô̢) as of other things (hoia̢ kai peri t’alla), and therefore (dia touto de) losing whatever good there is in other things (apotunchanei kai tôn allôn ei ti ophelos ên) – of a principle such and so great as this (peri dê to toiouton kai tosouton) ought the best men in our State, to whom everything is entrusted, to be in darkness of ignorance (houtô phômen dein eskotôsthai kai ekeinous tous beltistous en tê̢ polei, hois panta encheiroumen;)?’ (505d11-506a2)
But when Adeimantus asks Socrates ‘tell me whether you conceive this supreme principle of the good to be knowledge (poteron epistêmên to agathon phê̢s einai) or pleasure (ê hêdonên), or different from either (ê allo ti para tauta),’ Socrates pleads ignorance: ‘has anyone a right to say positively what he does not know (dokei soi dikaion einai peri hôn an tis mê oiden legein hôs eidota; 506c2-3)?’ But Glaucon intercedes: ‘I must implore you not to turn away just as you are reaching the goal (Mê pros Dios hôs epi telei ôn apostê̢s, 506d2-3).’ – Socrates: ‘Let us not at present ask what is the actual nature of the good (auto men ti pot’ esti t’agathon easômen to nun einai), for to reach what is now in my thoughts would be an effort too great for me (pleon gar moi phainetai ê kata tên parousan hormên ephikesthai tou ge dokountos emoi ta nun, 506d8-e3).’
Adam notes on the last part of the sentence: ‘ta nun [‘now ‘] should be taken with ephikesthai [‘to reach’]’. Jowett took ta nun with tou ge dokountos emoi ‘what is in my thoughts’. On Adam’s view Socrates says ‘for to reach now what is in my thoughts’. Adam says: ‘If we take it with dokountos, we must suppose that Socrates intends to suggest that his view of the matter may change. He is hardly likely to have made such a suggestion, even ironically.’
Adam notes further: ‘The emphasis on to nun einai [‘at present’] and ta nun [‘now’] seems to hint that a description of the agathon [‘the good’], as it is in itself, may be expected on some future occasion. But there is no dialogue in which the Idea of Good is so clearly described as in the Republic, and it is not without reason that every historian of Philosophy regards this passage as the locus classicus on the subject.’ What Adam appears to be missing is Plato’s ‘problem’ with the spoken and the written word. Plato in his dialogues makes Socrates ‘speak’, and yet he is well aware that he is just writing; Plato can in the Republic present Socrates as indicating that he is going to ’speak’ on the real nature of the Good, but Plato cannot present him actually ‘speaking’ about it.
Plato’s Second Letter chimes well with this passage, and can be seen as a commentary on it: ‘I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects (ouden pôpot’ egô peri toutôn gegrapha), and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos ouden oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates become fair and young (Sôkratous estin kalou kai neou gegonotos, 314c2-4).’
If Dionysius wants to become a philosopher-king, he must summon Plato to return to Syracuse.
Although Bury correctly identifies the First, the King of All of the Second Letter, with the Good of the Republic, those who have no Greek must simply rely on his word, for he translates Plato’s ekeino at 312e2 – the neuter demonstrative pronoun ‘it’ – with masculine ‘he’ in agreement with King of All. But Plato’s ekeino points to the Good, in line with the ‘riddling way’ in which he expounds the matter.
Plato in the Second Letter goes on to say: ‘About these (i.e. the King of All/the Good and all things fair of which it is the cause), 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), 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).’ (312e4-313a6)
The poion ti question is elucidated in the Meno. Meno opens the dialogue with a question: ‘Can you tell me (Echeis moi eipein), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), whether virtue can be taught (ara didakton hê aretê; 70a1)?’ In his reply, Socrates says: ‘I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian whether virtue was natural or acquired (ei g’oun tina etheleis houtôs eresthai tôn enthade), he would laugh in your face (oudeis hostis ou gelasetai), and (kai) say (erei): “Stranger (Ô xene), you have far too good an opinion of me (kinduneuô soi dokein makarios tis einai), if you think that I can answer your question (aretên g’oun eite didakton eith’ hotô̢ tropô̢ paragignetai eidenai). For I literally do not know what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not (egô de tosouton deô eite didakton eite mê didakton eidenai, hôst’ oude auto hoti pot’ esti to parapan aretê tunchanô eidôs)” … And I myself (egô oun kai autos) … confess with shame (emauton katamemphomai) that I know literally nothing about virtue (hôs ouk eidôs peri aretês to parapan); and when I do not know the “quid” of anything (ho de mê oida ti estin) how can I know the “quale” (pôs an hopoion ge ti eideiên;)? How (ê dokei soi hoion te einai), if I knew nothing at all of Meno (hostis Menôna mê gignôskei to parapan hostis estin), could I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich and noble, or the reverse of rich and noble (touton eidenai eite kalos eite plousios eite kai gennaios estin, eite kai t’anantia toutôn;)?’ (71a1-b7; Jowett’s translation is very loose, but it renders Socrates’ thoughts tolerably well.)
Of what travail (ôdis) does Plato speak at Second Letter 313a5? Is it the travail of the human soul striving to learn the truth about the First (the King of All, the Good) and the things fair of which it is the cause? If it were, then it could be overcome only by attaining the truth, yet Plato views delivering oneself of it as a precondition for attaining the truth. Can we solve this riddle?
Plato goes on to say: ‘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 a discovery of your own (kai einai son heurêma); and I made answer (kai egô eipon) that if it was plain to you that this was so (hoti touto ei phainoito soi houtôs echein), you would have saved me from a long discourse (pollôn an eiês logôn eme apolelukôs).’ (313a6-b1)
Bury notes: ‘This phrase echoes Theaetet. 188c.’ Bury’s reference to Theaetet. 188c is incorrect; Plato’s ‘if it was plain to you that this was so you would have saved me from a long discourse’ recalls Theaetet. 185e5-8: ‘You’ve done me a favour (eu epoiêsas me): you’ve let me off a very long argument (mala suchnou logou apallaxas), if you think (ei phainetai soi) there are some things which the soul itself considers by itself (ta men autê di hautên psuchê episkopein), and some (ta de) by means of the capacities of the body (dia tôn tou sômatos dunameôn). That was (touto gar ên) what I thought myself (ho kai autô̢ moi edokei), but I wanted (eboulomên de) you to think too (kai soi doxai).’
It appears that it was in the light of the Theaetetus that Plato wanted Dionysius to understand his reference to ‘the travail’ (ôdis) which the question ‘of quality’ (poion ti) creates in the soul. In it Socrates asked Theaetetus: ‘Try (peirô) to find a single formula that applies to the many kinds of knowledge (tas pollas epistêmas heni logô̢ perilabein).’ – Theaetetus: ‘I assure you (all’ eu isthi), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), I have often set myself to study that problem (pollakis dê auto epecheirêsa skepsasthai), when I heard (akouôn) reports of the questions you ask (tas para sou apopheromenas erôtêseis). But I cannot persuade myself (alla gar out’ autos dunamai peisai emauton) that I can give any satisfactory solution (hôs hikanôs ti legô) or that anyone has ever stated in my hearing the sort of answer you require (out allou akousai legontos houtôs hôs su diakeleuê̢). And yet I cannot get the question out of my mind (ou men dê au oud’ apallagênai tou melein).’ – Soc. ‘My dear Theaetetus, that is because your mind is not empty or barren. You are suffering the pains of travail (Ôdineis gar, ô phile Theaitête, dia to mê kenos all’ enkumôn einai).’ (148d6-e7, tr. F. M. Cornford)
Guided by Socrates, Theaetetus suggests several definitions of knowledge, all of which are found to be faulty. At the end of the dialogue Socrates asks: ‘Well now, are we still pregnant (Ê oun eti kuoumen ti) and in the pains of travail (kai ôdinomen) with anything about knowledge (peri epistêmês), or have we given birth to everything (ê panta ektetokamen;)? – Theaet. ‘Indeed we have (Kai nai ma Di’); and for my part I have already, thanks to you, given utterance to more than I had in me (egôge pleiô ê hosa eichon en emautô̢ dia se eirêka). – Soc. ‘All of which (Oukoun tauta men panta) our midwife’s skill (hê maieutikê hêmin technê) pronounces to be mere wind-eggs (anemiaia phêsi gegenêsthai) and not worth rearing (kai ouk axia trophês;)? – Theaet. ‘Undoubtedly (Pantapasi men oun).’ (210b4-9)
Viewed in the light of the Theaetetus, the question of quality (poion ti) in the Second Letter, which Plato declares to be ‘the question that is the cause of everything that goes wrong’ (to erôtêma ho pantôn aition estin kakôn, 313a4), is the cause of the pain of travail connected with false pregnancies; ‘and unless a man delivers himself from this pain (hên ei mê tis exairethêsetai), he will never really attain the truth (tês alêtheias ontôs ou mê pote tuchê̢, 313a5-6)’.
In the Second Letter Plato went on to say: ‘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, most of the trouble I had (alla hê pollê moi pragmateia) was about this very problem (peri tout’ eiê). So then, after you had either, as is probable, got the true solution from someone else [Dion? before Plato came to Syracuse Dion had enthused Dionysius with his ideas; cf. Seventh Letter 327c] (su de isôs men akousas tou), or had possibly (tacha d’ an) by Heaven’s favour (theia̢ moira̢) hit on it yourself (kata touth’ hôrmêsas), you fancied you had a firm grip on the proofs of it (epeita autou tas apodeixeis hôs echôn), and so you omitted to make them fast (bebaiôs ou katedêsas); thus your view of the truth sways now this way (all’ a̢ttei soi tote men houtô), 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).’ (313b3-c1)
The old demonstrative pronoun to, which Bury translates ‘the true object’, is to prôton, ‘the First’, the truth about which Dionysius in the garden under the laurels declared to have himself discovered, but later found, to his dismay, that Plato ‘had not sufficiently demonstrated’ (ouch hikanôs apodedeichthai, 312d6) it to him.
Bury notes on 313b3-c1: ‘There are echoes here of Meno 97 E ff., 100 A, and Theaet. 151 A ff.’ The references are valuable, but the term 'echoes’ is quite misleading, in line with Bury’s athetization of the Second Letter. Plato alludes to these passages as pointers that can help Dionysius to at least partly unravel the ‘riddling way’ (di’ ainigmôn) in which he gestures towards ‘the First’, his crowning philosophical achievement: ‘most of the trouble I had (hê pollê moi pragmateia) was about this very problem (peri tout’ eiê, 313b4)’.
Plato in the Second Letter embraces his whole philosophic career ‘in a riddling way’ as he prepares to give up on his writing so as to fully concentrate on the task of educating Dionysius in philosophy. His ‘riddling’ references to the Theaetetus and the Meno form an essential part of his life in philosophy, which he wants to share with Dionysius, connected as his life has become with his first stay with him, but most importantly with his planned return to Syracuse. Let us see the references, beginning with the Theaetetus.
In Theaetetus 151 A ff. Socrates speaks to Theaetetus about his maieutic art: ‘There’s another experience which people who associate with me have in common with women in childbirth (paschousi de dê hoi emoi sungignomenoi kai touto t’auton tais tiktousais): they feel pain (ôdinousi gar), and they’re full of difficulties (kai aporias empimplantai), night and day (nuktas te kai hêmeras), far more so than the women (polu mallon ê ‘keinai). And my art can bring on that pain, and end it (tautên de tên ôdina egeirein te kai apopauein hê emê technê dunatai). (151a5-b1) … I suspect you (hupopteuô se) are suffering pain – as indeed you think yourself (hôsper kai autos oiei, ôdinein) – because you’re pregnant with something inside you (ti kuounta endon). So put yourself in my hands (prospherou oun pros me), bearing in mind that I’m a midwife’s son (hôs pros maias huon) and an expert in midwifery myself (kai auton maieutikon), and do your best to answer whatever I ask you as well as you can (kai ha an erôtô prothumou hopôs hoios t’ ei houtôs apokrinasthai). And if (kai ean ara), when I inspect the things you say (skopoumenos ti hôn an legê̢s), I take one of them to be an imitation (hêgêsômai eidôlon), not something true (kai mê alêthes), and so ease it out (eita hupexairômai) and throw it away (kai apoballô), you mustn’t be angry with me (mê agriaine), as women in their first childbirth (hôsper hai prôtotokoi) would be about their children (peri ta paidia).’ (151b7-c5, tr. John McDowell)
Before evoking the Meno references, let me recall the relevant passage from the Second Letter. Plato tells Dionysius: ‘after you had either, as is probable, got the true solution from someone else, or had possibly by Heaven’s favour (theia̢ moira̢) hit on it yourself, you fancied you had a firm grip on the proofs of it, and so you omitted to make them fast (bebaiôs ou katedêsas); thus your view of the truth sways now this way, now that, round about the apparent object; whereas the true object is wholly different.’ (313b3-c1)
In Meno 97 E ff. Socrates says: ‘While the true opinions abide with us (hai doxai hai alêtheis, hoson men an chronon paramenôsin) they are beautiful (kalon to chrêma) and truthful (kai pant’ agatha ergazontai, ‘and everything they produce is good’) , but they run away (alla drapeteouousin) out of the human soul (ek tês psuchês tou anthrôpou), and do not remain long (polun de chronon ouk ethelousin paramenein), and therefore (hôste) they are not of much value (ou pollou axiai eisin) until they are fastened by the tie of the cause (heôs an tis autas dêsê̢ aitias logismô̢) … But when they are bound (epeidan de dethôsin), in the first place, they have the nature of knowledge (prôton men epistêmai gignontai, ‘firstly, they become knowledge’); and in the second place, they are abiding (epeita monimoi). And this is why (kai dia tauta dê) knowledge is more honourable and excellent than true opinion (timiôteron epistêmê orthês doxês estin), because fastened by a chain (kai diapherei desmô̢ epistêmê orthês doxês).’ (Meno 97e6-98a8, tr. Jowett)
At 100 A Socrates says: ‘To sum up our enquiry – the result seems to be, if we are at all right in our view (ei de nun hêmeis en panti tô̢ logô̢ toutô̢ kalôs ezêtêsamen te kai elegomen), that virtue is neither natural nor acquired (aretê an eiê oute phusei oute didakton), but an instinct given by God to the virtuous (alla theiâ̢ moira̢ paragignomenê). Nor is the instinct accompanied by reason (aneu nou hois an paragignêtai), unless there may be supposed to be among statesmen some one (ei mê tis eiê toioutos tôn politikôn andrôn) who is capable of educating statesmen (hoios kai allon poiêsai politikon). And if there be such a one (ei d’ eiê), he may be said to be among the living (schedon an ti houtos legoito toioutos en tois zôsin) what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead (hoion ephê Homêros en tois tethneôsin ton Teiresian einai), “he alone has understanding (oios pepnutai); but the rest are fleeting shades (toi de skiai aissousi)”; and he and his virtue in like manner will be a reality among shadows (t’auton an kai enthade ho toioutos hôsper para skias alêthes an pragma eiê pros aretên).’ (99e4-100a7, tr. B. Jowett)
In the closing words Socrates says: ‘Then on this argument (Ek men toinun toutou tou logismou), Meno (ô Menôn), it is by the gift of God (theia̢ moirâ̢), it appears to us (hêmin phainetai), that virtue comes (paragignomenê hê aretê) to those to whom it comes (hois an paragignêtai). But we shall know the clarity about it (to de saphes peri autou eisometha) then (tote), when (hotan) before (prin) asking how virtue comes to men (hotô̢ tropô̢ tois anthrôpois paragignetai aretê), prior to it (proteron) we endeavour (epicheirêsômen) this in itself (auto kath’ hauto) to investigate (zêtein): what is virtue (ti pot’ estin aretê).’ (100b2-6; I have found Jowett’s translation of this passage too far removed from the original, and so I attempted to give a translation that corresponds to the original as closely as possible.)
In this closing passage Socrates evokes the essential philosophic problem with which he opened the discussion in the Meno: ‘when I do not know the “quid” of anything (ho de mê oida ti estin) how can I know the “quale” (pôs an hopoion ge ti eideiên;)?’. The reference thus bears on the crucial poion ti question (‘what quality’), to which Plato in the Second Letter points as ‘the cause of all mischief’ (ho pantôn aition estin kakôn, 313a4).
The Second Letter with its enigmatic ‘explanation’ of the First, with its allusions to the Republic, to the Theaetetus, and to the Meno, points to an intensive communication and lasting association with Plato as the only viable way of acquiring adequate insight into the First, and thus becoming a philosopher-king.
Concerning Dionysius’ difficulties with the First, Plato says in the Second Letter: ‘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 d’ elattô, mogis apallattontai), but scarcely a single one of them escapes with but a little (schedon de oudeis oliga, 313c1-5) … 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 and listened to frequently for many years (pollakis de legomena kai aei akouomena kai polla etê) that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold (mogis hôsper chrusos ekkathairetai), with prolonged labour (meta pollês pragmateias). 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 appear to them now the most credible (hoi nun arti sphisi phasin ta men tote apistotata doxanta einai nun pistotata kai enargestata phainesthai), and what they then held most credible (ha de tote pistotata) now appears the opposite (nun t’ounantion).’ (314a2-b5)
Plato thinks of an association with Dionysius that is to last to the end of his days.
Plato sent Dionysius the Second Letter expecting to be summoned to Syracuse, but the sailing season passed without his leaving Athens. Stuck in Athens, still hoping that the royal summons would eventually arrive, he had to do his best to facilitate this outcome by the only means he had at his disposal, his writing another dialogue. And if he were never to return to Syracuse, which he had to envisage as a possibility, it was to be a masterpiece that would fully substantiate his Second Letter self-portrait. He wrote the Symposium, the crowning part of which is Diotima’s description of an assent to the Beauty itself:
‘For he who would proceed aright in this matter (dei gar, ephê, ton orthôs ionta epi touto to pragma) should begin in youth (archesthai men neon onta) to visit beautiful forms (ienai epi ta kala sômata ‘to visit beautiful bodies’); and first (kai prôton men), if he be guided by his instructor aright (ean orthôs hêgeitai ho hêgoumenos), to love one such form only (henos auton sômatos eran, ‘to love one body’) – out of that he should create fair thoughts (kai entautha gennan logous kalous ‘and here he should give birth to beautiful words’); and soon he will of himself perceive (epeita de auton katanoêsai) that the beauty of one form (hoti to kallos to epi hotô̢oun sômati, ‘that the beauty of one body’) is akin to the beauty of another (tô̢ epi heterô̢ sômati adelphon esti, ‘is akin to the beauty of another body’); and then if beauty of form in general is his pursuit (kai ei dei diôkein to ep’ eidei kalon), how foolish would he be (pollê anoia) not to recognize that the beauty in every form is one and the same (mê ouch hen te kai t’auton hêgeisthai to epi pasin tois sômasin kallos, ‘not to recognize that the beauty in all bodies is one and the same’)! And when he perceives this (touto d’ ennoêsanta) he will abate his violent love of the one (henos de to sphodra touto chalasai), which he will despise (kataphronêsanta) and deem a small thing (kai smikron hêgêsamenon), and will become a lover of all beautiful forms (katastênai pantôn tôn kalôn sômatôn erastên ‘he will become a lover of all beautiful bodies’).’ (210a4-b6, translations from the Symposium are Jowett’s; where necessary I give my translation in quotation marks, following the Greek text.)
Jowett bowdlerized Plato. His translation does not allow the reader to appreciate Plato’s notions of ‘body’ (sôma), the ‘beauty on this or that body’ (to kallos to epi hotô̢oun sômati), and ‘the beauty of form’ (to ep’ eidei kalon). The reader thus misses the import of Plato’s assertion that if the young man ‘be guided by his instructor aright (ean orthôs hêgeitai ho hêgoumenos), to love one such body only (henos auton sômatos eran) – out of that he should create fair thoughts (kai entautha gennan logous kalous, ‘and here he should give birth to beautiful words’, 210a6-8)’. In the light of this thought Plato wants the love of the beauty in bodies to be understood.
Diotima goes on to say: ‘In the next stage (meta de tauta) he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honourable than the beauty of the outward form (to en tai psuchais kallos timiôteron hêgêsetai tou en tô̢ sômati, ‘he will consider that the beauty in the souls is more honourable than the beauty in the body’). So that if a virtuous soul have but a little comeliness (hôste kai ean epieikês ôn tên psuchên ti k’an smikron anthos echê̢, ‘so that if a man with a virtuous soul have but a little comeliness’), he will be content (exarkein autô̢) to love (kai eran) and tend him (kai kêdesthai), and will search out and bring to the birth thoughts (kai tiktein logous toioutous kai zêtein) which may improve the young (hoitines poiêsousi beltious tous neous), until he is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws (hina anankasthê̢ au theasasthai to en tois epitêdeumasi kai tois nomois kalon), and to understand (kai tout’ idein, ‘and to see’) that the beauty of them all is of one family (hoti pan auto hautô̢ sungenes estin, ‘that all beauty is akin to itself’), and that personal beauty is a trifle (hina to peri to sôma kalon smikron ti hêgêsetai einai, ‘so that he considers the beauty of the body as something of little significance’); and after laws and institutions (meta de ta epitêdeumata) he will go on to the sciences (epi tas epistêmas agagein, ‘he will lead him to the sciences’), that he may see their beauty (hina idê̢ au epistêmôn kallos). (210 be6-c7).
Jowett translates the last two phrases as if the subject in both were the same. But, as the German commentator Schöne notes on epi tas epistêmas agagein (‘he will lead him to the sciences’): Wechsel des Subjektes. Subjekt is hier wieder der ideale Fűhrer, ie. ‘change of the subject, the subject is here again the ideal guide’. (I copied Schöne’s note in the margin of my Oxford text without a reference.)
These passages in Diotima’s speech can be viewed to advantage in the light of the Letter XIII, which Plato wrote to Dionysius shortly after his arrival to Athens after his first stay with him: ‘Once when you were feasting the Locrian youths (tous Lokrous poth’ hestiôn neaniskous) and were seated at a distance from me (porrô katakeimenos ap’ emou), you got up and came over to me (anestês par’ eme) and in a friendly spirit (kai philophronoumenos) made some remark which I thought excellent (eipes eu ti rêma echon, hôs emoi te edokei), as also did my neighbour at the table (kai tô̢ parakeimenô̢), who was one of the beautiful youths (ên d’ houtos tôn kalôn tis). And he then said (hos tote eipen) – “No doubt, Dionysius, you find Plato of great benefit as regards philosophy (Ê pou polla, ô Dionusie, eis sophian ôphelei hupo Platônos).”’ (Letter XIII, 360a4-b3, tr. Bury)
Diotima goes on: ‘being not like servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty (kai blepôn pros polu êdê to kalon mêketi to par’ heni, hôsper oiketês, agapôn paidariou kallos ê anthrôpou tinos ê epitêdeumatos henos, douleuôn phaulos ê̢ kai smikrologos, all’ epi to polu pelagos tetrammenos tou kalou kai theôrôn [sc. kai theôrôn auto]), he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom (pollous kai kalous logous kai megaloprepeis tiktê̢ kai dianoêmata en philosophia̢ aphthonô̢); until on that shore he grows and waxes strong (heôs an entautha rôstheis kai auxêtheis), and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science (katidê̢ tina epistêmên mian toiautên), which is the science of beauty everywhere (hê esti kalou toioude). (210c7-e1;
Jowett’s ‘which is the science of beauty everywhere’ is misleading. The demonstrative pronouns toiautê, qualifying the science, and toionde, qualifying the beauty (in singular), are forward looking. Diotima does not speak about ‘the science of beauty everywhere’, but about the science that is truly epistêmê, exempt from any change, fixed as it is on the beauty itself, about which she is going to speak:
‘Please to give me your very best attention (peirô de moi, ephê, ton noun prosechein hôs hoion te malista). He who has been introduced thus far in the things of love (hos gar an mechri entautha pros ta erôtika paidagôgêthê̢), and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession (theômenos ephexês te kai orthôs ta kala), when he comes toward the end (pros telos êdê iôn tôn erôtikôn) will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (exaiphnês katopsetai ti thaumaston tên phusin kalon) – and this (touto ekeino), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), is the final cause of all our former toils (hou dê heneken kai hoi emprosthen pantes ponoi êsan) – a nature which in the first place is everlasting (prôton men aei on), not growing (kai oute gignomenon) and decaying (oute apollumenon), or waxing (oute auxanomenon) and waning (oute phthinon); secondly (epeita), not fair in one point of view (ou tê̢ men kalon) and foul in another (tê̢ d’ aischron), or at one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul (oude tote men, tote de ou, oude pros men to kalon, pros de to aischron, oud’ entha men kalon, entha de aischron), as if fair to some (hôs tisi men on kalon) and foul to others (tisi de aischron), or in the likeness of a face (oud’ au phantasthêsetai autô̢ to kalon hoion prosôpon ti) or hands (oude cheires) or any other part of bodily frame (oude allo ouden hôn sôma metechei), or in any form of speech (oude tis logos) or knowledge (oude tis epistêmê), or existing in any other being (oude pou on en heterô̢ tini), as for example (hoion), in an animal (en zôô̢), or in heaven, or in earth (ê en gê̢ ê en ouranô̢), or in any other place (ê en tô̢ allô̢); but beauty absolute (all’ auto kath’ hauto), separate (meth’ hautou), simple (monoeides), and everlasting (aei on), which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things (ta de alla panta kala ekeinou metechonta tropon tina toiouton, hoion gignomenôn te tôn allôn kai apollumenôn mêden ekeino mête ti pleon mête elatton gignesthai mête paschein mêden).’ (210e1-211b5)
Jowett’s translation of the part of the sentence marked ‘bold’ is misleading. Having pointed to’ beauty in itself’ (kalon auto kath’ hauto), Diotima says that ‘all the other instances of beauty (ta de alla panta kala) participate in it in some such way as this (ekeinou metechonta tropon tina toiouton): the other instances of beauty are coming into being and are perishing (hoion gignomenôn te tôn allôn kai apollumenôn), the beauty itself neither increases nor diminishes (ekeino mête ti pleon mête elatton gignesthai) nor suffers anything (mête paschein mêden, 211b2-5)’. Jowett’s ‘beauty absolute … is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things’ makes of the ‘beauty absolute’ the passive subject of the action of ‘imparting’, which is expressly excluded by Plato’s ‘nor suffers anything’ (mête paschein mêden).
Plato solves in these lines the problem of participation in Forms of things subjected to generation and corruption. This brings the Symposium into close contact with the Parmenides, in which the concept of participation was subjected to criticism. On the dating I have proposed, Plato wrote the Parmenides in 366/5, after coming to Athens just for a year, as he thought, intending to return to Syracuse in the next sailing season.
From the Parmenides we learn that the young Socrates’ theory of Forms, the theory with which he attempted to challenge Zeno’s defence of Parmenides’ ‘All is one’ thesis, was sharply criticised by Parmenides. In the dialogue Parmenides raises arguments against Socrates’ theory of participation without any attempt at solving them, and yet he avers that ‘if someone (ei ge tis dê) will not allow Forms of things to be (mê easei eidê tôn ontôn einai), in view of all these and other such difficulties (eis panta ta nundê kai panta ta toiauta apoblepsas), he will not even have whether to turn his mind (oude hopoi trepsei tên dianoian hexei), since he will not allow a Form of each thing to be ever the same (mê eôn idean tôn ontôn hekastou tên autên aei einai), and so he will utterly destroy the power of discourse (kai houtôs tên tou dialegesthai dunamin pantapasi diaphtherei, 135b5-c2)’. Parmenides’ criticism left Socrates in a situation in which he could not affirm the Forms, for he could not solve Parmenides’ objections, and could not reject them, for he was well aware that by rejecting the Forms he would destroy the power of philosophic discourse. With the words ‘Of this sort of consequence (tou toioutou men oun), you seem to me (moi dokeis) to be well aware (kai mallon ê̢sthêsthai, 135c2-3) Parmenides voices Socrates’ response to his criticism.
There are reasons to believe that during Plato’s stay in Syracuse in 367/6, the stay which was to be permanent, the theory of Forms was subjected to criticism within the Academy. To try to fortify his disciples against any conceivable criticism by counterarguments was not only pointless, but the very attempt to do so would bring Plato’s theory of Forms down to the level of the young Socrates’ theory of Forms. Socrates did not see the Forms, he deduced them from the many sensible things around him, as Parmenides in the dialogue ascertained: ‘I think that you came to think (oimai se oiesthai) that each Form is one (hen hekaston eidos einai) from the following (ek tou toioude); when many things appear to you to be large (hotan poll’ atta megala soi doxê̢ einai), there seems to be one Form perhaps (mia tis isôs dokei idea einai) which is the same as you look on all of them (hê autê einai epi panta idonti), whence you believe that the large is one (hothen hen to mega hêgê̢ einai)’. – Socrates: ‘What you say is true (Alêthê legeis, 132a1-5).
The Forms thus deduced were an easy target of criticism, such as: All large things must participate either in the Form of largeness as a whole, and then the Form of largeness would be outside of itself, and would be as multiple as are the large things participating in it, or each of the large things participates in a part of the Form of largeness, and thus the Form of largeness were to be divisible (Parm. 131a-c).
Unlike Socrates, Plato, saw the Forms, and for those who could see them, the Forms were unassailable by arguments. This is the message of the Parmenides supplemented by the Symposium, message directed at Members of Plato’s academy as well as at Dionysius, who became surrounded by sophists inimical to Plato’s theory of Forms.
Another difficulty Parmenides formulates as follows: ‘Rest then assured (Eu toinun isthi) that you so to speak not yet even begin to grasp how great the difficulty is (hoti hôs epos eipein oudepô haptê̢ autês hosê estin hê aporia), if you’re going to posit one Form each of things which are, ever defining it as a separate entity (ei hen eidos hekaston tôn ontôn aei ti aphorizomenos thêseis).’ – Socrates: ‘How come (Pôs dê)?’ – Parmenides: ‘There are many other difficulties (Polla men kai alla), but the greatest is this (megiston de tode): If someone should say that the Forms cannot be known (Ei tis phaiê mêde prosêkein auta gignôskesthai) if they are such as we maintain they must be (onta toiauta hoia phamen dein einai ta eidê), to a man saying this (tô̢ tauta legonti) one could not show (ouk an echoi tis endeixasthai) that he is saying a falsity (hoti pseudetai), unless he, who denied their knowability, happened to be a man of great experience (ei mê pollôn men tuchoi empeiros ôn ho amphisbêtôn) and natural ability (kai mê aphuês), willing to follow a man who would show him the Forms in the course of a lengthy undertaking, beginning from afar (etheloi de panu polla kai porrôthen pragmateuomenou tou endeiknumenou hepesthai). (133a11-b9)
The ‘lengthy undertaking’ that Plato had in mind when he gave these words into the mouth of Parmenides was the Republic. In it Plato presents the theory of Forms that is immune against any arguments that can be raised against the Forms, for any such arguments are based on reflections concerning the many things accessible to us by our senses, which are ‘located’ in the sphere between being, the Forms, and utter non-being, and therefore irrelevant.
During Plato’s absence from the Academy it appears that Plato’s disciples and followers began to waver. When Plato was among them, they might have imagined they saw the Forms, but they had only the right opinion concerning them. To stop their wavering, Plato in the Parmenides gives voice to the most trenchant arguments against the Forms, while he makes it clear that he knew of such arguments from his early days. His older brother, Adeimantus, vouches for it that their half-brother Antiphon, learnt the discussion between Socrates and Parmenides by heart. The presence of Adeimantus and Glaucon in the Parmenides binds this dialogue to the Republic. Together, these two dialogues were to protect the theory of Forms in the Academy.
But as the months and then whole years went by with Dionysius reneging on his compact with Plato – Dionysius promised that he would summon Plato and Dion to return to Syracuse – Dionysius, surrounded by sophists, became a man whom Plato had to fortify against detractors. The Parmenides became as important concerning Dionysius as it was concerning Plato's disciples in the Academy. The close link between it and the Republic remained essential, but it became imperative to write a dialogue in which the ‘lengthy undertaking’, in which the road towards the Forms is presented in the Republic, would be presented in a concentrated and more attractive form. In the Republic the reader is introduced to the Forms only in the fifth Book. In the Symposium, in the guise of Diotima, Plato shows in a single speech how a man capable of the assent is guided towards beauty itself. The power that enables the assent is eros.
The Parmenides is formally bound to the Republic by Plato’s brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon who figure in both these dialogues. Plato chose Glaucon to provide the formal link between the Symposium and the Parmenides. In both these dialogues Glaucon figures only in the preamble. In the Parmenides he accompanies Adeimantus to their half-brother Antiphon on whose recollections the narrative is based, in the Symposium the narrator tells his audience that he is well prepared for the narrative, for he rehearsed it recently. Glaucon approached him with the words: ‘I was looking for you, Apollodorus (Apollodôre), only just now (kai mên kai enanchos se ezêtoun), that I might ask you (boulomenos diaputhesthai) about the speeches in praise of love, which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon’s supper (tên Agathônos sunousian kai Sôkratous kai Alkibiadou kai tôn allôn tôn tote en tô̢ sundeipnô̢ paragenomenôn, peri tôn erôtikôn logôn tines êsan, 172a6-b3, tr. Jowett).’
Dramatically, Glaucon in the Symposium is placed in between his presentation in the Parmenides and in the Republic. In the Symposium Apollodorus tells Glaucon that before he became acquainted with Socrates: ‘I was running about the world (peritrechôn hopê̢ tuchoimi), fancying myself to be well employed (kai oiomenos ti poiein ‘thinking I was doing something important’), but I was really a most wretched being (athliôteros ê hotououn), no better than you are now (ouch hêtton ê su nuni). I thought that I ought to do anything (oiomenos dein panta mallon prattein) rather than be a philosopher (ê philosophein, ‘than to do philosophy’, 173a1-3, tr. Jowett).’ Glaucon’s adolescent half-brother Antiphon’s interminable rehearsing of Parmenides’ arguments against ‘the Forms’ did not inspire Glaucon with a desire to do philosophy; he was interested in the speeches at Agathon’s symposium only because he had heard that the speeches were erotic (erôtikoi logoi. 172b2).
To make the Parmenides effective, it was essential to secure the historical veracity of the main event: the young Socrates attempted to challenge Parmenides’ thesis that ‘All is one’ with his theory of Forms, and Parmenides raised against the Forms arguments to which Socrates found no answer. Cephalus, the narrator, said to Adeimantus in the preamble: ‘These gentlemen here are fellow citizens of mine (Hoide politai t’ emoi eisi), much interested in philosophy (mala philosophoi). They’ve heard (akêkoasi te) that your Antiphon (hoti houtos ho Antiphôn) used to associate with a certain Pythodorus, a companion of Zeno’s (Puthodôrô̢ tini Zênônos hetairô̢ polla entetuchêke), and that he can relate from memory the arguments that once were discussed by Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides, having often heard them from Pythodorus (kai tous logous, hous pote Sôkratês kai Zênôn kai Parmenidês dielechthêsan, pollakis akousas tou Puthodôrou apomnêmoneuei).’ – Adeimantus: ‘True (Alêthê legeis, ‘what you say is true’)’. – Cephalus: Well, that’s what we want, to hear those arguments (Toutôn toinun deometha diakousai).’ – Adeimantus: ‘No difficulty there (All’ ou chalepon). When Antiphon was young (meirakion gar ôn) he used to rehearse them diligently (autous eu mala diemeletêsen), though now (epei nun ge), like his grandfather (kata ton pappon te) of the same name (kai homônumon), he spends most of his time on horses (pros hippikê̢ ta polla diatribei).’ (126b8-c8, tr. R. E. Allen)
Cephalus emphasises the philosophical nature of the discussion – his friends are greatly interested in philosophy, that’s why they have come to Athens all the way from Clazomenae (in Asia Minor) to hear Antiphon’s recollection of that discussion – followed by Adeimantus’ intimation ‘though now he spends most of his time on horses’ (pros hippikê̢ ta polla diatribei, 126bc7-8).’ It tells us a similar story about Antiphon as is the one implied in the preamble to the Symposium concerning Glaucon: the arguments against the Forms and the philosophic bravura of Parmenides did not arouse in Antiphon a proper interest in philosophy, and it precluded Glaucon from becoming interested in it, until he heard the speeches on eros that the participants held at Agathon’s symposium. Those speeches, narrated to him by Apollodorus, obviously made a great impression on him. In the Republic Glaucon compelled Socrates to overcome his philosophic ignorance and embark on a philosophic construction of the ideal State; throughout the dialogue he is Socrates’ most attentive discussion partner. Glaucon forms a bond uniting the Republic, the Parmenides, and the Symposium.
In the Republic Plato draws a sharp dividing line between philotheamones and philosophoi. Socrates says to Glaucon: ‘And this is the distinction which I draw (tautê̢ toinun diairô) between the sight-loving, art-loving, practical class which you have mentioned (chôris men hous nundê eleges philotheamonas te kai philotechnous kai praktikous), and those of whom I am speaking (kai chôris au peri hôn ho logos), and who are alone worthy of the name of philosophers (hous monous an tis orthôs proseipoi philosophous).’ – Glaucon: ‘How do you distinguish them (Pôs legeis)?’ – S.: ‘The lovers of sounds and sights are, as I conceive, fond of fine tones (Hoi men pou philêkooi kai philotheamones tas te kalas phonas aspazontai) and colours (kai chroas) and forms (kai schêmata) and all the artificial products that are made out of them (kai panta ta ek toutôn dêmiourgoumena), but their mind is incapable of seeing or loving absolute beauty (autou de tou kalou adunatos autôn hê dianoia tên phusin idein te kai aspasasthai).’ – G.: ‘The fact is plain (Echei gar oun dê houtôs).’ – S.: ‘Few are they who are able to attain to this ideal beauty and contemplate it (Hoi de dê ep’ auto to kalon dunatoi ienai te kai horan [‘and to see’] kath’ hauto ara ou spanioi an eien;).’ – G.: ‘Very true (Kai mala).’ – S.: ‘And he who (Ho oun), having a sense of beautiful things (kala men pragmata nomizôn), has no sense of absolute beauty (auto de kallos mête nomizôn), or who (mête), if another lead him (an tis hêgêtai) to a knowledge of that beauty (epi tên gnôsin autou), is unable to follow ([mête] dunamenos hepesthai) – of such a one I ask, Is he awake or in a dream only (onar ê hupar dokei soi zên)? Reflect (skopei de): is not the dreamer (to oneirôttein ou tode estin), sleeping (eante en hupnô̢ tis) or waking (eant’ egrêgorôs), one who likens dissimilar tings, who puts the copy in the place of the real object (to homoion tô̢ mê homoion all’ auto hêgêtai einai hô̢ eoiken;)?’ – G.: ‘I should certainly say (Egô g’oun an phaiên) that such a one is dreaming (oneirôttein ton toiouton).’ – S.: ‘But he who, on the contrary (Ti de; ho t’anantia toutôn), recognizes the existence of absolute beauty (hêgoumenos te ti auto kalon) and is able to contemplate (kai dunamenos kathoran, ‘and is able to see’) both the Idea (kai auto) and the objects which participate in it (kai ta ekeinou metechonta), neither putting the objects in the place of the Idea, nor the Idea in the place of the objects (kai oute ta metechonta auto oute auto ta metechonta hêgoumenos) – is he a dreamer, or is he awake (hupar ê onar au kai houtos dokei soi zên;)? – G.: ‘He is wide awake (Kai mala hupar).’ (476a9-d4, tr. Jowett)
The attempt to educate Dionysius compelled Plato to rethink this. In the Symposium he transformed the experiences of the young philotheamôn into steps on which a philosopher can lead him to the Beauty itself, if he has a potential for making the ascent.
There are two more important points in which Plato revised the Republic thanks to his involvement with Dionysius. In the Republic Plato maintains that States will not be well governed unless their rulers become philosophers ‘and the political power and philosophy fall into one (kai touto eis t’auton sumpesê̢, dunamis te politikê kai philosophia) and the great number of natures that now pursue the one at the exclusion of the other (tôn de nun poreuomenôn chôris eph’ hekateron hai pollai phuseis) are of necessity excluded (ex anankês apokleisthôsin, 473d2-5).’ It was this thought that inspired the young Dion during Plato’s first journey to Sicily, and it was in the name of it that Dion after the death of Dionysius I appealed to Plato to come to Syracuse and help him to transform the young Dionysius into a philosopher-king. But it was this idea that made Plato suspect not only in the eyes of Dionysius’ court, but even in the eyes of Dionysius himself; in the Second Letter Plato complains that Dionysius appears to have distrusted him (ephainou ou panu emoi pisteuein su) and showed himself inquisitive as to what his business was (kai zêtein to pragma ti to emon estin, 312a4-6). In the Symposium Plato presents himself in the guise of Diotima as a consummate philosopher with no political ambitions.
In the Republic Plato insists on strict division of labour in accordance with the diversity of human natures: ‘We are not all alike (hêmôn phuetai hekastos ou panu homoios hekastô̢); there are diversities of natures among us (alla diapherôn tên phusin) which are adapted to different occupations (allos ep’ allou ergou praxei)’ says Socrates in Book II, 370a8-b2. In Book III Plato enlarges on this point concerning art; referring to ‘the rule already laid down (kai touto tois emprosthen hepetai) that one man can only do one thing well (hoti heis hekastos hen men an epitêdeuma kalôs epitêdeuoi), and not many (polla d’ ou, 394e2-4, tr. Jowett)’, Socrates maintains that the writers in tragedy cannot succeed in comedy, the same persons cannot succeed in both (395a). At the end of the Symposium Socrates was compelling Agathon (a writer in tragedy) and Aristophanes (a writer in comedy) ‘that the true artist in tragedy was an artist in comedy also (tou autou andros einai kômô̢dian kai tragô̢dian epistasthai poiein, 223d3-5)’.
At the same time, in a humorous way, Plato shows that the Republic forms the basis on which the Symposium stands: ‘To this they were constrained to assent, being drowsy, and not quite following the argument (tauta dê anankazomenous autous kai ou sphodra hepomenous nustazein). And first of all Aristophanes dropped off (kai proteron men katadarthein ton Aristophanê), then, when the day was already dawning, Agathon (êdê de hêmeras genomenês ton Agathôna). Socrates (ton oun Sôkratê), having laid them to sleep (katakoimisant’ ekeinous), rose to depart (anastanta apienai) … At the Lyceum (kai elthonta eis Lukeion) he took a bath (aponipsamenon), and passed the day as usual (hôsper allote tên allên hêmeran diatribein, 223d6-11).’
Plato evokes here the Republic with its tripartite division of the soul: Comedy appeals to bodily desires, epithumiai, Aristophanes was the first to fall asleep; tragedy aims higher, appealing to human passions, thumos, Agathon was the next to fall asleep; philosophy is the activity of intellect, nous, the philosopher stays wide awake. (I am indebted for this insight to Jan Patočka).