Monday, May 29, 2017

2 Eros in Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium and Socrates in his Charmides – with a digression on his Philebus

Diotima ended her description of the parentage and birth of Eros with a description of him as a philosopher, ‘a mean between ignorance and knowledge’ (sophias te kai amathias en mesô̢ estin, 203e5, translations from the Symposium are Jowett’s). Socrates asked: ‘But who then (tines oun), Diotima (ô Diotima), are the lovers of wisdom (hoi philosophountes), if they are neither the wise (ei mête hoi sophoi) nor the foolish (mête hoi amatheis)?’ – Diotima: ‘A child may answer that question (Dêlon dê kai paidi); they are those who are in a mean between the two (hoti hoi metaxu toutôn amphoterôn); Love is one of them (hôn an eiê kai ho Erôs). For wisdom is a most beautiful thing (estin gar tôn kallistôn hê sophia), and Love is of the beautiful (Erôs d’ estin erôs peri to kalon); and therefore Love is also a philosopher or lover of wisdom (hôste anankaion Erôta philosophon einai), and being a lover of wisdom (philosophon de onta) is in a mean between the wise (metaxu einai sophou) and the ignorant (kai amathous, 204a8-b7).’

In my preceding post, I focussed attention on Diotima’s succinct characterization of Eros’ activities: to de porizomenon aei hupekrei: ‘what is gained always flows away’. Presuming that this characteristic of Eros corresponds to Plato’s picture of Socrates in his dialogues, I chose the Charmides as a test case, and found that the Charmides confirmed this hypothesis. It could be objected against it that Socrates in the Charmides never really ‘gains’ anything, for his attempts at defining sôphrosunê are undermined by his doubts. One could say that what he is gaining escapes him as he is gaining it. But this corresponds precisely to Diotima’s depiction of the world in which Eros – a philosopher – operates: ‘Nay, even in the life of the same individual there is succession and not absolute uniformity: a man is called the same, and yet in the interval between youth and age, during which every animal is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a continual process of loss and reparation (epei kai en hô̢ hen hekaston tôn zô̢ôn zên kaleitai kai einai to auto, hoion ek paidariou ho autos legetai heôs an presbutês genêtai, houtos mentoi oudepote ta auta echôn en hautô̢ homôs ho autos kaleitai, alla neos aei genomenos, ta de apollus) – hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body are always changing (kai kata tas trichas kai sarka kai osta kai haima kai sumpan to sôma). Which is true not only of the body (kai mê hoti kata to sôma), but also of the soul (alla kai kata tên psuchên), whose habits (hoi tropoi), tempers (ta êthê), opinions (doxai), desires (epithumiai), pleasures (hêdonai), pains (lupai), fears (phoboi), never remain the same in any one of us (toutôn hekasta oudepote ta auta parestin hekastô̢), but are always coming (alla ta men gignetai ‘but some are generated’) and going (ta de apollutai ‘some perish’). What is still more surprising (polu de toutôn atopôteron eti), it is equally true of science (hoti kai hai epistêmai); not only do some of the sciences come to life in our minds (mê hoti hai men gignontai), and others die away (hai de apolluntai hêmin), so that we are never the same in regard of them either (kai oudepote hoi autoi esmen oude kata tas epistêmas): but the same fate happens to each of them individually (alla kai mia hekastê tôn epistêmôn t’auton paschei). For what is implied in the word “recollection”, but the departure of knowledge (ho gar kaleitai meletan hôs exiousês esti tês epistêmês), which is ever being forgotten (lêthê gar epistêmês exodos), and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears to be the same although in reality new (meletê de palin kainên empoiousa anti tês apiousês mnêmên sô̢zei tên epistêmên, hôste tên autên dokein einai), according to that law by which all mortal things are preserved  (toutô̢ gar tô̢ tropô̢ pan to thnêton sô̢zetai), not absolutely the same (ou tô̢ pantapasin to auto aei einai hôsper to theion), but by substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and similar existence behind (alla tô̢ to apion kai palaioumenon heteron neon enkataleipein hoion auto ên).’ (207d4-208b2)

Here I must interrupt my looking at the Charmides in so far as it is reflected in Diotima’s speech in the Symposium. For at last I have found what I didn’t hope to find. I refer to Jowett’s ‘translation’ of Plato’s meletê as ‘recollection’. For meletê means ‘practice’, ‘exercise’, ‘rehearsal’, not ‘recollection’. Thus Plato’s brother Adeimantos says in the Parmenides that their half-brother Antiphon ‘diligently rehearsed (diemeletêsen) the arguments’ exchanged between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides (126c6-7). Jowett’s ‘recollection’ as a substitution for meletê is neither innocuous nor innocent. Presumably, Jowett dated the Phaedrus after the Symposium, the Symposium after the Meno, or at least in proximity to each other, as Plato’s middle dialogues. To find the Symposium without any reference to the theory of recollection must be very embarrassing to any expert on Plato, who dates these dialogues in that way, and thinks about it.

When I came to Oxford in 1980 I became a Member of the Oxford University Philosophy Society. The first talk I attended was by Myles Burnyeat, on the theory of recollection in Plato’s dialogues. As far as I remember, Myles maintained that there are for dialogues in which the theory can be found, the Meno, Symposium, Phaedo, and Phaedrus (I name these dialogues in the sequence in which, presumably, Burnyeat views them). I did not contest Burnyeat’s view on the Symposium, although I could not recollect any theory of recollection in this dialogue. But I suggested Philebus, in which Socrates refers to ‘recollection’, which is very different from the ‘recollection of Forms’, which we find in the Phaedrus and the Phaedo, or of ‘mathematic and other truths’, which we find in the Meno, but ‘recollection’ of ‘bodily replenishment’. The ‘recollection’ in the Philebus has nevertheless one thing in common with the recollection in those three dialogues: it points to the pre-existence of the soul. Since I was deeply struck by the Philebus passage, and I took with me to the talk the second volume of the Oxford edition of Plato, I found the passage, raised my hand in the discussion that foolowed Burnyeat’s talk, was given the word, read the relevant passage in Greek, and then rendered it in English. I’ll never forget the occasion, for my contribution was received with a ‘dead silence’. Kathy Wilkes was livid (we lived at in the same house in Bainton Rd, my wife, our two children, I, and Kathy): ‘Quote a text in English, or in Greek, if you must, but never in Greek and then in English!’

Let me end this post by giving the relevant Philebus passage – of which I quoted on the given occasion only the lines 35a6-9, presented in bold.

Socrates: ‘Memory may, I think, be rightly described as the preservation of sensation (Sôtêrian oun aisthêseôs tên mnêmên legôn orthôs an tis legoi kata tên emên doxan)?’ – Protarchus: ‘Right (Orthôs gar oun).’ – Soc. ‘But do we not distinguish recollection from memory (Mnêmês de anamnêsin ou diapherousan legomen;)? – Prot. ‘I think so (Isôs).’ – Soc. ‘And when the soul recovers by her own unaided power some feeling which she previously experienced in company with the body (Hotan ha meta tou sômatos epaschen poth’ hê psuchê, taut’ aneu tou sômatos autê en heautê̢ hoti malista analambanê̢), is not this what we call recollecting (tote anamimnê̢skesthai pou legomen. ê gar;)?’ – Prot. ‘Certainly (Panu men oun).’ – Soc. ‘And again when she receives by herself alone the lost memory of some sensation or knowledge (Kai mên kai hotan apolesasa mnêmên eit’ aisthêseôs eit’ au mathêmatos authis tautên anapolêsê̢ palin autê en heautê̢), the recovery in all such cases is termed recollection (kai tauta sumpanta anamnêseis pou legomen)? – Prot. ‘Very true (Orthôs legeis).’ (34a10-c3) … Soc. ‘Do we mean anything when we say “a man thirsts” (Dipsê̢ ge pou legomen hekastote ti’ – the Greek dipsê̢ means simply ‘thirsts’)? – Prot. ‘Yes (Pôs d’ ou;).’ – Soc. ‘We mean to say that “he is empty” (Touto de g’ esti kenoutai; ‘And this is “gets emptied”?’)?’ – Prot. ‘Of course (Ti mên;)’ – Soc. ‘And is not thirst desire (Ar’ oun to dipsos estin epithumia;)?’ – Prot. ‘Yes (Nai), of drink (pômatos ge).’ – Soc. ‘Would you say of drink or replenishment of drink (Pômatos ê plêrôseôs pômatos;)?’ – Prot. ‘I should say, of replenishment with drink (Oimai men plêrôseôs).’ – Soc. ‘Then he who is empty desires, as would appear, the opposite of what he experiences (Ho kenoumenos ‘who is getting empty’ hêmôn ara, hôs eoiken, epithumei tôn enantiôn ê hôn paschei); for he is empty (kenoumenos gar ‘for he is getting empty’) and desires to be full (erâ̢ plêrousthai ‘desires to get full’? – Prot. ‘Certainly so (Saphestata ge).’ Soc. ‘But how can a man who is empty for the first time, attain either by perception or memory to an apprehension of replenishment (Ti oun; ho to prôton kenoumenos ‘who is getting empty for the first time’ estin hopothen eit’ aisthêsei plêrôseôs ephaptoit’ an eite mnêmê̢), of which he has no present or past experience (toutou ho mêt’ en tô̢ nun chronô̢ paschei mêt’ en tô̢ prosthen pôpote epathen; 35a6-9)?’ – Prot. ’Impossible (Kai pôs;).’ – Soc. ‘And yet he who desires (Alla mên ho ge epithumôn), surely desires something (tinos epithumei, phamen)? – Prot. ‘Of course (Pôs gar ou;).’ – Soc. ‘He does not desire that which he experiences (Ouk ara ho ge paschei, toutou epithumei), for he experiences thirst (dipsê̢ gar), and thirst is emptiness (touto de kenôsis); but he desires (ho d’ epithumei) replenishment (plêrôseôs)?’ – Prot. ‘True (Nai).’ – Soc. ‘Then there must be something in the thirsty man which in some way apprehends replenishment (Plêrôseôs g’ ara pê̢ ti tôn tou dipsôntos an ephaptoito)? – Prot. ‘There must (Anankaion).’ – Soc. ‘And that cannot be the body (To men dê sôma adunaton), for the body is supposed to be emptied (kenoutai gar pou)?’ – Prot. ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Soc. ‘The only remaining alternative is that the soul apprehends the replenishment (Tên psuchên ara tês plêrôseôs ephaptesthai loipon) by the help of memory (tê̢ mnêmê̢); as is obvious (dêlon hoti), for what other way can there be (tô̢ gar an et’ allô̢ ephapsaito;)?’ – Prot. ‘I cannot imagine any other (Schedon oudeni).’ – Soc. ‘But do you see the consequence (Manthanomen oun ho sumbebêch’ hêmin ek toutôn tôn logôn;)?’ – Prot. ‘What is it (To poion;)?’ – Soc. ‘That there is no such thing as desire of the body (Sômatos epithumian ou phêsin hêmin houtos ho logos gignesthai). – Prot. ‘Why so (Pôs;)?’ – Soc. ‘Why, because the argument shows that the endeavour of every animal is to the reverse of his bodily state (Hoti tois ekeinou pathêmasin enantion aei pantos zô̢ou mênuei tên epicheirêsin).’ – Prot. ‘Yes (Kai mala).’ – Soc. ‘And the impulse (Hê d’ hormê ge) which leads him to the opposite (epi t’ounantion agousa) of what he is experiencing (ê ta pathêmata ‘of what the body suffers’) proves (dêloi pou) that he has a memory (mnêmên ousan) of the opposite state (tôn tois pathêmasin enantiôn). – Prot. ‘True (Panu ge).’ – Soc. ‘And the argument, having proved that memory is the power by which we are attracted towards the object of desire (Tên ara epagousan epi ta epithumoumena apodeixas mnêmên ho logos), proves also that the impulses and the desires and the moving principle of the whole animal have their origin in the soul (psuchês sumpasan tên te hormên kai epithumian kai tên archên tou zô̢ou pantos apephênen).’ (34e9-35d3, translations are Jowett’s)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

1 Eros in Diotima’s speech in Plato's Symposium and Socrates in his Charmides

Diotima concludes her description of the provenance and nature of Eros with the following picture: ‘He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal (kai oute hôs athanatos pephuke oute hôs thnêtos), but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at another moment in the same day (alla tote men tês autês hêmeras thallei te kai zê̢, hotan euporêsê̢, tote de apothnê̢skei), and again alive (palin de anabiôsketai) by reason of his father’s nature (dia tên tou patros phusin). But that which is always flowing in (to de porizomenon) is always flowing out (aei hupekrei), and so he is never in want (hôste oute aporei Erôs pote) and never in wealth (oute ploutei); and further, he is a mean between ignorance and knowledge (sophias te au kai amathias en mesô̢ estin). The truth of the matter is this (echei gar hôde): No god is a philosopher (theôn oudeis philosophei) or seeker after wisdom (oud’ epithumei sophos genesthai), for he is wise already (esti gar); nor does any man who is wise (oud’ ei tis allos sophos) seek after wisdom (ou philosophei). Neither do the ignorant seek after wisdom (oud’ au hoi amatheis philosophousin oud’ epithumousi sophoi genesthai); for herein is the evil of ignorance (auto gar touto esti chalepon amathia), that he who is neither a man of honour (to mê onta kalon k’agathon) nor wise (mêde phronimon) is nevertheless satisfied with himself (dokein hautô̢ einai hikanon): there is no desire when there is no feeling of want (oukoun epithumei ho mê oiomenos endeês einai hou an mê oiêtai epideisthai).’ (Pl. Symp. 203d8-204a7, tr. Jowett)

In ‘From Plato’s Symposium to Aristophanes’ Birds’, posted on May 13, I related Diotima’s story of the provenance and the nature of Eros – lines 203b1-d8 – to Aristophanes’ comedy; the Ancient commentators saw the link, and when Plato wrote that part of Diotima’s speech, he had in front of his eyes the caricatures of Socrates in the comedy, apart from Socrates in his own dialogues. But the concluding part, lines 203d8-204a7 quoted above, has no parallel in the comic caricatures of Socrates; only the picture of Socrates in Plato’s dialogues provides the reference point to which it can be meaningfully related.

Unfortunately, Jowett’s ‘that which is always flowing in is always flowing out’ for Plato’s to de porizomenon aei hupekrei seriously misrepresents the text. As if Jowett had in front of his mind the passage in Plato’s Gorgias, where Callicles maintains that ‘living pleasantly is in this (en toutô̢ estin to hêdeôs zên) – in having as much as possible flowing in (en tô̢ hôs pleiston epirrein). – Socrates: ‘But if the inflow is large, mustn’t the outflow be large too (Oukoun anankê g’, an polu epirreê̢, polu kai to apion einai), and mustn’t there be big holes for the outflow (kai megal’ atta ta trêmata einai tais ekroais;)?’ – Callicles: ‘Of course (Panu men oun).’ – Soc. ‘Then you speak of some torrent-bird’s life (Charadriou tina au su bion legeis).’ (Pl. Gorg. 494b1-6, tr. T. Irwin). On the margin of my Oxford text I noted a scholiast’s remark: Charadrios, ornis tis, hos hama tô̢ esthiein ekkrinei ‘Charadrios is a bird that at the same time eats and secrets.’ – Viewed in the light of Jowett’s translation, the concluding part of Diotima’s picture of the provenance of Eros can be seen as related to comic caricatures of Socrates. But Plato’s to de porizomenon does not mean ‘that which is always flowing in’; porizesthai means ‘furnish oneself with’, ‘procure’, ‘acquire’. It refers to Socrates’ strenuous searching for truth, for knowledge, where at the point when we think it is in his reach, he subjects his ‘find’ to doubting, thus ending in not-knowing. On reflection, a good example can be found in Plato’s Charmides.

The Charmides is narrated by Socrates to a noble (ô gennada, 155d3) friend (ô hetaire, 153b8, ô phile, 155c5). It begins with Socrates’ pronounced interest in philosophy, which gets him involved in an erotic scene, which he transforms into pursuit of philosophy, involving his interlocutors in search of sôphrosunê.

Sôphrosunê is commonly translated as ‘self-control’ or ‘temperance’, and it was commonly understood by the Greeks as such. Plato’s Socrates had no settled view of it. Thus in the Phaedrus he says: ‘When judgment guides us rationally towards what is best (doxês men oun epi to ariston logô̢ agousês), and has the mastery (kai kratousês), that mastery is called temperance (tô̢ kratei sôphrosunê onoma, 237e2-3, tr. Hackforth)’. In the Cratylus he derives the meaning of sôphrosunê from its etymology, defining it as the salvation of wisdom (sôphrosunê sôtêria phronêseôs, 411e4-412a1). In the Symposium Agathon says: ‘Temperance is the acknowledged ruler of the pleasures and desires (einai gar homologeitai sôphrosunê to kratein hêdonôn kai epithumiôn, 196c4-5, tr. Jowett). In the Phaedo Socrates says: ‘And then temperance too (Oukoun kai hê sôphrosunê), even what most people name “temperance” (hên kai hoi polloi onomazousi sôphrosunên) – not being excited over one’s desires (to peri tas epithumias mê eptoêsthai), but being scornful of them (all’ oligôrôs echein) and well-ordered (kai kosmiôs) – belongs, doesn’t it, only to those who utterly scorn the body (ar’ ou toutois monois prosêkei, tois malista tou sômatos oligôrousin te) and live in love of wisdom (kai en philosophiâ̢ zôsin; 68c8-12, tr. D. Gallop)?’ In the Republic Socrates says that ‘Temperance is the ordering or controlling of certain pleasures and desires (Kosmos pou tis hê sôphrosunê estin kai hêdonôn tinôn kai epithumiôn enkrateia, 430e6-7, tr. Jowett), and ‘the same opinion (hê autê doxa) present (enesti) in the rulers (tois te archousi) and the ruled (kai archomenois) as to the question (peri tou) who are to rule (houstinas dei archein, 431d9-e1)’. In the Alcibiades Socrates defines sôphrosunê as ‘knowing oneself’ (sôphrosunê esti to heauton gignôskein, 131b4).

In the Charmides sôphrosunê is the subject of investigation; this is why I refrain from translating it, as well as the related adjective sôphrôn (‘self-controlled’, ‘temperate’). I nevertheless ‘translate’ in square brackets the adverb sôphronôs [‘wisely’], and the verb forms sôphronein (infinitive), sôphronei (the 3rd person singular), sôphronousin (the 3rd person plural) I ‘translate’ in brackets as [‘think wisely’], for it is essential to view sôphronein as an activity, as the verb suggests.

Socrates says that in the evening of the preceding day he returned from the camp at Potidaea: ‘Having been away a long time (hoion de dia chronou aphigmenos), I gladly went (hasmenôs ê̢a) to engage in my usual pursuits (epi tas sunêtheis diatribas, 153a2-3).’ He went to the wrestling-school of Taureas, where he found a number of friends. They all wanted to know what happened at Potidea, for they just learnt that there was a great battle in which many Athenians died: ‘When we had enough of those things (Epeidê de tôn toioutôn hikanôs eichomen), I, in my turn, asked them about the things here (authis egô autous anêrôtôn ta tê̢de), about philosophy (peri philosophias), in what state was it at present (hopôs echoi ta nun), and about the young (peri te tôn neôn), if any among them (ei tines en autois) became pre-eminent for wisdom or beauty or both (diapherontes ê sophia̢ ê kallei ê amphoterois engegonotes eien, 153d2-5).’ Chaerephon and Critias, friends of Socrates of old, were both full of praise of young Charmides.

As Charmides entered the wrestling-school, Socrates narrates, ‘Chaerephon called to me and said (kai ho Chairephôn kalesas me): “What do you think of our young man (Ti soi phainetai ho neaniskos), Socrates (ô Sôkrates;)? Hasn’t he got a lovely face (ouk euprosôpos;)?” “Extraordinarily so (Huperphuôs),” I said (ên d’ egô). “But this young man (Houtos mentoi),” he said (ephê), “if he wanted to strip (ei etheloi apodunai), you would think nothing of his face (doxei soi aprosôpos einai), so beautiful is the form of his body (houtôs to eidos pankalos estin).” To this they all agreed with Chaerephon (Sunephasan oun kai hoi alloi t’auta tauta tô̢ Chairephônti), and I (k’agô): “By Heracles (Hêrakleis),” I said (ephên), “how irresistible (hôs amachon) you make the man (legete ton andra), if he happens to have one more thing in addition (ei eti autô̢ hen dê monon tunchanei proson), a small one (smikron ti).” “What (Ti;)?” said (ephê) Critias (ho Kritias). “If his soul (Ei tên psuchên), I said (ên d’ egô), happens to be of good nature (tunchanei eu pephukôs).” “But (All’),” he said (ephê), “he is very beautiful and good in this respect too (panu kalos kai agathos estin kai tauta).” “Then why (Ti oun),” I said (ephên), “don’t we strip naked this itself of him (ouk apedusamen autou auto touto), and look at it (kai etheasametha) before his body-form (proteron tou eidous)? He is surely of such an age (pantôs gar pou têlikoutos ôn) that he already wants to engage in discussion (hôs êdê ethelei dialegesthai).” “And very much so (Kai panu ge), said Critias (ephê ho Critias), for he is a philosopher, you know (epei toi kai estin philosophos, 154c8-155a1).’

Socrates asked Critias to call Charmides: ‘”You’re quite right (Alla kalôs legeis),” Critias said (ephê). “We’ll call him (kai kaloumen auton).” With that he turned to his attendant (Kai hama pros ton akolouthon). “Boy (Pai),” he said (ephê), “call Charmides (kalei Charmidên). Tell him (eipôn) I want to have him see a doctor (hoti boulomai auton iatrô̢ sustêsai) about the complaint (peri tês astheneias) he spoke to me of the day before yesterday (hês prô̢ên pros me elegen hoti asthenoi).” Critias then turned and said to me (Pros oun eme ho Critias), “You see, he said recently he’d been having headaches (Enanchos toi ephê barunesthai ti tên kephalên) when he got up in the morning (heôthen anistamenos). Now what’s to stop you pretending (alla ti se kôluei prospoiêsasthai) to him (pros auton) that you know some remedy for a headache (epistasthai ti kephalês pharmakon)?” “Nothing (Ouden),” I said (ên d’ egô). Just let him come (monon elthetô).” “He’ll be here (All’ hêxei),” he replied (ephê).’

‘Which is just what happened (Ho oun kai egeneto). He came (hêke gar), and he caused a great deal of laughter (kai epoiêse gelôta polun): each of us (hekastos gar hêmôn) who were sitting down (tôn kathêmenôn) tried to make room for him by pushing his neighbour away in a frantic attempt to have the boy sit next to him (sunchôrôn ton plêsion eôthei spoudê̢, hina par hautô̢ kathezoito), until we forced the man sitting at one end of the row to stand up (heôs tôn ep’ eschatô̢ kathêmenôn ton men anestêsamen) and tipped the man at the other off sideways (ton de plagion katebalomen). In the event Charmides came and sat between me and Critias (ho de elthôn metaxu emou te kai tou Kritiou ekathezeto). Well, by then (entautha mentoi), my friend (ô phile), I was in difficulties (egô êdê êporoun), and the self-assurance I’d felt earlier that I’d talk to him quite easily had been knocked out of me (kai mou hê prosthen thrasutês exekekopto, hên eichon egô hôs panu ra̢diôs autô̢ dialexomenos). When (epeidê de) Critias told him I was the man who knew the remedy (phrasantos tou Kritiou hoti egô eiên ho to pharmakon epistamenos), he gave me a look (aneblepsen te moi tois ophthalmois) that is impossible to describe (amêchanon ti hoion) and made ready to ask me something (kai anêgeto hôs erôtêsôn). Everyone in the wrestling-school (kai hoi en tê̢ palaistra̢ hapantes) swarmed all around us (perierreon hêmas kuklô̢ komidê̢). That was the moment (tote dê), my noble friend (ô gennada), when I saw what was inside his cloak (eidon te ta entos tou himatiou). I was on fire (kai ephlegomên), I lost my head (kai ouket’ en emautou ên), and I considered (kai enomisa) Cydias to be the wisest man (sophôtaton einai ton Kudian) in matters of love (ta erôtika). When speaking of a handsome boy, he said (hos eipen epi kalou legôn paidos), by way of advice to someone (allô̢ hupotithemenos), “Take care (eulabeisthai) not to go as a fawn into a presence of a lion (mê katenanta leontos nebron elthonta) and be snatched as a portion of meat (moiran haireisthai kreôn).” I felt (autos gar moi edokoun) I’d been caught by just such a creature (hupo tou toioutou thremmatos healôkenai). All the same (homôs de), when Charmides asked me (autou erôtêsantos) whether I knew (ei epistaimên) the remedy for his headaches (to tês kephalês pharmakon), I somehow managed to answer (mogis pôs apekrinamên) that I did (hoti epistaimên).’ (155a8-e3; these lines are translated by Donald Watt.)

Socrates said that the head could be cured only if the soul were cured first. He claimed to have a leaf that would cure Charmides’ headaches if he submitted to a charm (epô̢dê, 155e5 and passim) that instils sôphrosunê in the soul.

Critias said that Charmides excelled in sôphrosunê, upon which Socrates turned to Charmides: ‘Tell me yourself (autos oun moi eipe) whether you agree with him (poteron homologies tô̢de) and say (kai phê̢s) that you already sufficiently participate in sôphrosunê (hikanôs êdê sôphrosunês metechein), or whether you are deficient in it (ê endeês einai, 158c2-4).’ – Charmides: ‘If I say I’m not sôphrôn (ean men gar mê phô einai sôphrôn), that would be strange to say such things against oneself (hama men atopon auton kath’ heautou toiauta legein), and at the same time I should show Critias here to be a liar (hama de kai Kritian tonde pseudê epideixô), and many others too (kai allous pollous), who think I am sôphrôn (hois dokô sôphrôn), as he maintains (hôs ho toutou logos). But if I say I am (ean d’ au phô) and praise myself (kai emauton epainô), it will perhaps appear obnoxious (isôs epachthes phaneitai). So I don’t have (hôste ouk echô) what I might answer you (hoti soi apokrinômai, 158d1-6).’

Socrates therefore proposed to examine him: ‘For it is clear (dêlon gar) that if sôphrosunê is present in you (hoti ei soi parestin sôphrosunê), you have some opinion about it (echeis ti peri autês doxazein). For surely it must, being in you (anankê gar enousan autên), if it is in you (eiper enestin), provide some perception (aisthêsin tina parechein), from which (ex hês) you would have an opinion about it (doxa an tis soi peri autês eiê), what sôphrosunê is, and what kind of a thing it is (hoti estin kai hopoion ti hê sôphrosunê, 158e7-159a3) … In order to find out (hina toinun topasômen) whether it is in you (eite soi enestin) or not (eite mê), tell me (eipe), what you say sôphrosunê is (ti phê̢s einai sôphrosunên) in your opinion (kata tên sên doxan, 159a9-10).

Charmides answered that it is ‘a sort of calmness’ (hêsuchiôtês tis, 159b5). Socrates found the answer wanting, for ‘sôphrosunê is one of those things that are kala (‘beautiful’, ‘admirable’)’ (tôn kalôn mentoi hê sôphrosunê estin, 159c1), yet the unfolding discussion shows that ‘things done quickly are just as kala (‘beautiful’, ‘admirable’) as things done calmly’ (kala de ouch hêtton ta tachea tôn hêsuchiôn pephantai, 160d2-3).

Socrates: ‘So again (Palin toinun), Charmides (ô Charmnidê), concentrating your mind more (mallon prosechôn ton noun) and looking into yourself (kai eis seauton emblepsas), taking thought of what kind of man sôphrosunê makes you by being present in you (ennoêsas hopoion tina se poiei hê sôphrosunê parousa), and what kind of thing it is (kai poia tis ousa) that it makes you such a man (toiouton apergazoito an), bringing all this together in your account (panta tauta sullogisamenos), say well (eipe eu) and manly (kai andreiôs), what it appears to you to be (ti soi phainetai einai).’ – Charmides: ‘I think then (Dokei toinun moi) that sôphrosunê makes a man feel shame and be easily ashamed (aischunesthai poiein hê sôphrosunê kai aischuntêlon ton anthrôpon), and that it is the same as the sense of shame (kai einai hoper aidôs hê sôphrosunê).’ (160d5-e5)

Socrates points out that sôphrosunê is not only kalon (‘beautiful’, ‘admirable’), but agathon (‘good’) as well: ‘Don’t you trust that Homer is right (Homêrô̢ ou pisteueis kalôs legein) when he says that (legonti hoti) “sense of shame (aidôs) is not good (ouk agathê) for a needy man (kechrêmenô̢ andri pareinai)”?’ Charmides agrees with Homer. Socrates: ‘And sôphrosunê is a good (Sôphrosunê de ge agathon) since it makes good those (eiper agathous poiei) in whom it is present (hois an parê̢) … So sôphrosunê can’t be a sense of shame (Ouk ara sôphrosunê an eiê aidôs), since it is agathon [‘a good’] (eiper to men agathon tunchanei on), but a sense of shame (aidôs de) is no more good (ouden mallon agathon) than bad (ê kai kakon, 161a8-b2).

Having failed to find a satisfactory definition of sôphrosunê by self-reflection, Charmides tells Socrates, in Jowett’s translation: ‘I have just remembered that I heard from someone, “Temperance is doing your own business.” Please consider whether he was right who affirmed that.’ – in Watt’s translation: ‘I’ve just remembered I heard from someone once: that self-control might be doing one’s own job. Give me your considered opinion. Was the man who said that right?’

Jowett’s ‘doing your own business’ and Watt’s ‘doing one’s own job’ for ta hautou prattein – ‘doing one’s own things’, ‘doing what is one’s own’ – turns Socrates’ questioning, which follows, into irrelevant quibbles. Let me give Socrates’ first query as an example. Socrates: ‘I should be surprised if we actually discover what it means (all’ ei kai heurêsomen auto hopê̢ echei, thaumazoim’ an), for it looks like a riddle (ainigmati gar tini eoiken) … for he presumably did not mean what his words pronounced (Hoti ou dêpou hê̢ ta rêmata ephthenxato tautê̢ kai enoei) when he said (legôn) that sôphrosunê is doing one’s own things (sôphrosunên einai to ta hautou prattein). Or do you think that the schoolmaster does nothing (ê su ouden hêgê̢ prattein ton grammatistên) when he writes (hotan graphê̢) or reads (ê anagignôskê̢)? … Then do you think (Dokei oun soi) that it’s only his own name that the schoolmaster writes (to hautou onoma monon graphein ho grammatistês) and reads (kai anagignôskein), or teaches you boys (ê humas tous paidas didaskein), or didn’t you write your enemies’ names just as much as your own and your friends’ names (ê ouden hêtton ta tôn echthrôn egraphete ê ta humetera kai ta tôn philôn onomata;)?’ (161c8-d9)

In Greek, once you accept that ‘writing’ and ‘reading’ are activities designated as prattein, then ‘writing your own name’ is a perfect example of to hautou prattein ‘doing one’s own thing’.

Critias, when he took over, attempted to save the definition by drawing a difference between ‘making’ (poiein) and ‘doing’ (prattein), defining ta hautou prattein as ‘doing good things’ (tên tôn agathôn praxin, 162e-163e). Socrates said to him: ‘I have no objection to your giving names any signification which you please (all egô soi tithesthai men tôn onomatôn didômi hopê̢ an boulê̢ hekaston), just make it clear (dêlou de monon) to what you apply (eph’ hoti an pherê̢s) whichever name you use (t’ounoma hoti an legê̢s). Now then (nun oun), begin again (palin ex archês), and define it plainer (saphesteron horisai). Is it doing good things (ara tên tôn agathôn praxin), or making (ê poiêsin) or whatever you want to call it (ê hopôs su boulei onomazein), which you are saying sôphrosunê is (tautên legeis su sôphrosunên einai)? – Critias: ‘I am’ (Egôge). – Soc. ‘So it is not the man who does bad things that sôphronei [‘thinks wisely’] (Ouk ara sôphronei ho ta kaka prattôn), but the one who does good things (all’ ho t’agatha;)? – Crit. ‘But you don’t think it to be so (Soi de ouch houtô dokei;)? – Soc. ‘Leave it (Ea); for let us not investigate what I think, just yet (mê gar pô to emoi dokoun skopômen), but what you’re saying now (all’ ho su legeis nun).’ – Crit. ‘Well then (Alla mentoi); I say that the man who does not make good things, but bad ones, does not sôphronei [‘think wisely’] (egôge ton mê agatha alla kaka poiounta ou phêmi sôphronein), whereas the one that does good things (ton de agatha), but not bad ones (alla mê kaka), sôphronei ‘thinks wisely’] (sôphronein). For I plainly define sôphrosunê as the doing of good things (tên gar tôn agathôn praxin sôphrosunên einai saphôs soi diorizomai).’ – Soc. ‘And perhaps nothing stands in the way of your being right (Kai ouden ge se isôs kôluei alêthê legein); I nevertheless marvel at this (tode ge mentoi thaumazô), that you think that men who sôphronousi [‘who think wisely’] (ei sôphronountas anthrôpous hêgê̢ su) do not know that they sôphronousi [‘that they think wisely’] (agnoein hoti sôphronousin).’ (163d5-164a3)

It is very difficult to express the last section, in which the verb sôphronein plays a significant role, in English. Thus Benjamin Jowett translates Socrates’ last words ‘but I am surprised that you think temperate men to be ignorant of their own temperance’; Donald Watt ‘However, I am surprised that you believe that men who are self-controlled do not know that they are self-controlled.’ But if we are to understand Socrates’ subsequent refutation of Critias’ thesis, we must understand the verb sôphronein in its function as a verb, i.e. expressing an activity. That’s why I translate it in square brackets as ‘thinking wisely’.

Critias denies thinking ‘that men who sôphronousi [‘who think wisely’] do not know that they sôphronousi [‘that they think wisely’]: ‘But I do not think so (All’ ouch hêgoumai). – Soc. ‘Weren’t you saying a short while ago (Ouk oligon proteron elegeto hupo sou) that nothing prevents craftsmen (hoti tous dêmiourgous ouden kôluei), who are making other people’s things (kai au ta tôn allôn prattontas), from sôphronein [‘from thinking wisely’] (sôphronein)? -Crit. ‘I was (Elegeto gar). But what of it (alla ti touto;)?’ (164a5-8)

Before proceeding to Socrates’ answering Critias’ ‘But what of it’, let us revert to the exchange between the two, which took place ‘a short while ago’. Critias took over from Charmides, and Socrates turned to him: ‘Tell me (Kai moi lege), do you also agree with what I was now asking (ê kai ha nundê elegon sunchôreis), that all craftsmen make something (tous dêmiourgous pantas poiein ti;)?’ – Crit. ‘I do (Egôge).’ – Soc. ‘Well then (Ê oun), do you think they make only their own things (dokousi soi ta heautôn monon poiein) or other people’s things too (ê kai ta tôn allôn)?’ – Crit. ‘Other people’s things too (Kai ta tôn allôn).’ – Soc. ‘Sôphronousin [‘do they think wisely’] then (Sôphronousin oun), when they are not doing only their own things (ou ta heautôn monon prattontes;)? – Crit. ‘For what prevents it (Ti gar kôluei;)?’ – Soc. ‘Nothing as far as I am concerned (Ouden eme ge); but see (all’ hora) whether it does not prevent that man (mê ekeinon kôluei) who assumes (hos hupothemenos) that sôphrosunê is doing one’s own things (sôphrosunên einai to ta heautou prattein) and then maintains that nothing prevents (epeita ouden phêsi kôluein) even those who do other people’s things sôphronein [to think wisely’] (kai tous ta tôn allôn prattontas sôphronein).’ Crit. ‘For I presumably agreed to this (Egô gar pou touth’ hômologêka), that those who do other people’s things sôphronousin (hôs hoi ta tôn allôn prattontes sôphronousin), had I agreed that those who make (ei tous poiountas hômologêka).’ – Soc. ‘Tell me (Eipe moi), don’t you call “making” and “doing” the same thing (ou t’auton kaleis to poiein kai to prattein)?’ – Crit. ‘I don’t (Ou mentoi).’ (162e7-163b3)

By making a distinction between “making” and “doing” Critias attempted to avoid being refuted, with little success. To give the refutation in full, let me start again.

Critias: ‘I plainly define sôphrosunê as the doing of good things (tên gar tôn agathôn praxin sôphrosunên einai saphôs soi diorizomai).’ – Soc. ‘And perhaps nothing stands in the way of your being right (Kai ouden ge se isôs kôluei alêthê legein); I nevertheless marvel at this (tode ge mentoi thaumazô), that you think that men who sôphronousi [‘who think wisely’] (ei sôphronountas anthrôpous hêgê̢ su) do not know that they sôphronousi [‘that they think wisely’] (agnoein hoti sôphronousin).’ – Crit. ‘But I do not think so (All’ ouch hêgoumai). – Soc. ‘Weren’t you saying a short while ago (Ouk oligon proteron elegeto hupo sou) that nothing prevents craftsmen (hoti tous dêmiourgous ouden kôluei), who are doing other people’s things (kai au ta tôn allôn prattontas), from sôphronein [‘from thinking wisely’] (sôphronein)? -Crit. ‘I was (Elegeto gar). But what of it (alla ti touto;)?’– Soc. ‘Nothing (Ouden); but tell me (alla lege) whether you think that a doctor (ei dokei tis soi iatros), when making someone healthy (hugia tina poiôn), does what is beneficial both to himself (ôphelima kai heautô̢ poiein) and to the man (kai ekeinô̢) he is curing (hon iô̢to)?’ – Crit. ‘I do (Emoige).’ … Soc. ‘Then must a doctor know (ê oun kai gignôskein anankê tô̢ iatrô̢) when his curing is beneficial (hotan te ôphelimôs iatai) and when it’s not (kai hotan mê;)? Must every craftsman know (kai hekastô̢ tôn dêmiourgôn) when he’s likely to profit (hotan te mellê̢ onêsesthai) from whatever work he does (apo tou ergou hou an prattê̢) and when he’s not (kai hotan mê;)?’ – Crit. ‘Perhaps not (Isôs ou).’ – Soc. ‘So sometimes (Eniote ara) having done something beneficial (ôphelimôs praxas) or harmful (ê blaberôs), the doctor (ho iatros) does not know himself (ou gignôskei heauton), which he has done (hôs epraxen). And yet (kaitoi), having done what is beneficial (ôphelimôs praxas), he has done it sôphronôs [‘wisely’]. Or wasn’t this what you said (ê ouch houtôs eleges;)?’ – Crit. ‘Yes, it was (Egôge).’ -Soc. ‘Then (Oukoun), as it seems (hôs dokei), sometimes (eniote) having done what is beneficial (ôphelimôs praxas), he is doing sôphronôs [‘wisely’] (prattei men sôphronôs) and sôphronei [‘thinks wisely’] (kai sôphronei), but he does not know himself that he sôphronei [‘thinks wisely’] (agnoei d’ heauton hoti sôphronei).’ (163e10-164c6)

When Critias realizes that by re-defining sôphrosunê as ‘the doing of good things’ (tên gar tôn agathôn praxin), he appears to be losing the self-reflexivity implied in ‘doing one’s own things’ (ta hautou prattein) – the re-defined sôphrosunê appears to involve ‘not knowing oneself that one sôphronei’ – he is ready to abandon it: ‘But this (Alla touto men), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), can never happen (ouk an pote genoito). But if you think that something I said in my previous admissions (all’ ei ti su oiei ek tôn emprosthen hup’ emou hômologêmenôn) necessarily leads to this (eis touto anankaion einai sumbainein), I would rather withdraw something from those admissions (ekeinôn an ti egôge mallon anatheiên), and I would not be ashamed (kai ouk an aischuntheiên) to admit that what I said was not right (mê ouchi orthôs phanai eirêkenai), rather than ever agree (mallon ê pote sunchôrêsaim’ an) that a man, who does not know himself (agnoounta auton heauton anthrôpon), sôphronei [‘thinks wisely’] (sôphronein). For I dare say that sôphrosunê is this itself (schedon gar ti egôge auto touto phêmi einai sôphrosunên), “to know oneself” (to gignôskein heauton), and I agree with him (kai sumpheromai tô̢) who dedicated such an inscription at Delphi (en Delphois anathenti to toiouton gramma, 164c7-d5) … now I want to prove it to you (nun d’ ethelô toutou soi didonai logon), if you do not agree with me (ei mê homologies), that sôphrosunê is knowing oneself (sôphrosunên einai to gignôskein auton heauton).’ – Socrates: ‘But (All’), Critias (ô Kritia), you talk to me as if I am maintaining I know what I am asking about (su men hôs phaskontos emou eidenai peri hôn erôtô prospherê̢ pros me), and as if I’ll agree with you, if I really want to (kai ean dê boulômai, homologêsontos soi). But it’s not like that (to d’ ouch houtôs echei). For in fact I am investigating each proposition together with you (alla zêtô meta sou aei to protithemenon) because I do not know myself (dia to mê autos eidenai). So, when I’ve considered it (skepsamenos oun), I will say whether I agree with you or not. But wait (all’ episches) until I’ve considered it (heôs an skepsômai). – Crit. ‘Consider it, then (Skopei dê).’ – Soc. ‘And I am considering (Kai gar skopô). For if sôphrosunê is indeed knowing something (ei gar dê gignôskein ge ti estin hê sôphrosunê), it is clear (dêlon) that (hoti) it will be a knowledge (epistêmê tis an eiê), and of something (kai tinos). – Crit. ‘It is (Estin), of oneself (heautou ge).’ (165b3-c7)

Socrates: ‘Well then, tell me, (lege toinun) what do you say about sôphrosunê (peri tês sôphrosunês pôs legeis;).’ – Critias: ‘Well, I say (legô toinun) that it alone (hoti monê) of the knowledges (tôn allôn epistêmôn) is the knowledge both of itself and of the other knowledges (autê te heautês estin kai tôn allôn epistêmôn epistêmê).’ – Soc. ‘Would it be a knowledge of ignorance too (Oukoun kai anepistêmosunês epistêmê an eiê), if it is of knowledge (eiper kai epistêmês)?’ – Crit. ‘Certainly (Panu ge).’ – Soc. ‘So the sôphrôn (Ho ara sôphrôn [Watt’s ‘self-controlled man’, Jowett’s ‘wise or temperate man’] alone (monos) will know himself (autos te heauton gnôsetai) and be able to examine (kai hoios te estai exetasai) both what he knows and what he doesn’t know (ti te tunchanei eidôs kai ti mê), and he will be capable of investigating other people in the same way (kai tous allous hôsautôs dunatos estai episkopein), what any of them knows (ti tis oiden) and thinks he knows (kai oietai), if he does know (eiper oiden); and, again, what he thinks he knows (kai ti au oietei men eidenai), but does not (oiden d’ ou). No one else will be able to do that (tôn de allôn oudeis). And sôphronein [‘to think wisely’] is this (kai estin dê touto to sôphronein te), and sôphrosunê (kai sôphrosunê), and the knowing oneself (kai to heauton auton gignôskein): to know (to eidenai) what one knows (ha te oiden) and what one doesn’t know (kai ha mê oiden). Is this what you’re saying (ara tauta estin ha legeis:)? – Crit. ‘Yes (Egôge).’ (166e4-167a8)

After an intervening inquiry, Socrates presented Critias with the following picture: ‘If indeed (ei men gar), as we were supposing at first (ho ex archês hupetithemetha), the sôphrôn would know (ê̢dei ho sôphrôn) what he knew and what he did not know (ha te ê̢dei kai ha mê ê̢dei), that he knows the former (ta men hoti oiden) and that he does not know the latter (ta d’ hoti ouk oiden), and would be able to recognize another man in the same state (kai allon t’auton touto peponthota episkepsasthai hoios t’ ên), it would be of a great advantage to us to be sôphrones [nom. pl. of sôphrôn ‘to be wise’] (megalôsti an hêmin ôphelimon ên sôphrosin einai); for we would live our life without making mistakes (anamartêtoi gar an ton bion diezômen), both we, who would be having the sôphrosunê (autoi te hoi tên sôphrosunên echontes), and all those who would be governed by us (kai hoi alloi pantes hosoi huph’ hêmôn êrchonto). For neither should we (oute gar an autoi) attempt to do what we did not know (epecheiroumen prattein ha mê êpistametha), but finding those who know (all’ exeuriskontes tous epistamenous) we would give it over to them (ekeinois an paredidometha), nor should we allow others (oute tois allois epetrepomen), whom we governed (hôn êrchomen), to do anything else than that which they would do well (allo ti prattein ê hoti prattontes orthôs emellon prattein), and this would be (touto d’ ên an) of which they had knowledge (hou epistêmên eichon); and thus a house under the rule of sôphrosunê (kai houtô dê hupo sôphrosunês oikia te oikoumenê) would be beautifully ordered (emellen kalôs oikeisthai), and a state administered (polis te politeuomenê), and everything else that sôphrosunê governed (kai allo pan hou sôphrosunê archoi); for with error eliminated (hamartias gar exê̢rêmenês), and rightness in charge (orthotêtos de hêgoumenês), men, who are in this state, must do nobly and well in all their doings (en pasê̢ praxei kalôs kai eu prattein anankaion tous houtô diakeimenous), and those who do well (tous de eu prattontas) must have happiness (tous de eu prattontas eudaimonas einai). Was it not thus (ar’ ouch houtôs), Critias (ô Kritia), that we spoke of sôphrosunê (elegomen peri sôphrosunês), when we were saying (legontes) what a great good (hoson agathon) would be to know (eiê to eidenai) what one knows (ha te oiden tis) and what one does not know (kai ha mê oiden;)?’ – Crit. ‘Very true (Panu men oun, houtôs).’ (171d2-172a6)

From this point on Socrates involves Critias in questioning that ends in not-knowing: ‘Do you see (Hora̢s oun), Critias (ô Kritia), how all this time I had good reason to be apprehensive (hôs egô palai eikotôs ededoikê), and was quite right (kai dikaiôs) to accuse myself (emauton ê̢tiômên) of not conducting a worthwhile inquiry into sôphrosunê (hoti ouden chrêston peri sôphrosunês skopô;)? Something that is agreed to be the most admirable of all things wouldn’t have seemed to us to be of no benefit (ou gar an pou to ge kalliston pantôn homologeitai einai, touto hêmin anôpheles ephanê), if I had been any use at making a proper investigation (ei ti emou ophelos ên pros to kalôs zêtein). For as it is now, we have been utterly defeated (nun de pantachê̢ gar hêttômetha), and are unable to discover (kai ou dunametha heurein) to which actual thing (eph’ hotô̢ pote tôn ontôn) the lawgiver (ho nomothetês) gave this name (touto t’ounoma etheto), the sôphrosunê (tên sôphrosunên).’ (175a9-b4)

Diotima’s depiction of Eros in the Symposium thus chimes with Plato’s presentation of Socrates in the Charmides.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I can return to my Platonic studies: my back dated Pension Credit has arrived

This morning I went to my Bank. I gave the clerk behind the counter the following letter:

Dear Lloyds Bank,

I am sorry I am such a useless customer. I am very grateful for all the assistance I have received from the Bank clerks at the local branch in Dursley. I do believe you are entitled to be informed about my financial situation and about my immediate prospects. I applied for Pension Credit at the beginning of March. I still have not received it, although I am entitled to it. If I do not receive it by Wednesday, Wednesday will be the first day of my living without any food. For details of my contacts with the Pension Service I enclose the ‘Letter to a friend interested in Plato’, which I wrote on Saturday.

Would you consider contacting the Pension Service and ask them about my Pension Credit claim? In my view, as a concerned Bank, you are fully entitled to do so. The Pension Credit General Enquiries can be contacted by phone on: 0345 606 0265, or: 0345 606 0285.

I hope all shall be settled by Wednesday and I can become one of your normal customers.

Julius Tomin

The lady read the letter, looked at my bank account, and said: ‘This morning arrived quite a lot of money on your account.’

The back dated Pension Credit has arrived. I can pay my debts, the water bill, the electricity bill, the Barclaycard bill, and return to Plato.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A letter to a friend interested in Plato

Dear friend,

After my today's shopping at Sainsburys – reduced price broccoli, milk, reduced price blackberries, and yogurt – I am left with £1.49 on my current bank account, the only bank account I have. I have got £3.95 in my wallet, and £3.00 on my nectar card, which is all I have. This means, if I am very economical, with the food I have I can survive until Wednesday. If no miracle intervenes, on Wednesday morning I shall stop eating. I shall be drinking water, so I can last for quite a while, but I don’t think I shall do much more work on Plato. And yet, I feel I have so much more to learn, and so much more to say about him.

I did a number of hunger-strikes in the past, but I have never stopped eating simply because I had no money to buy my food. I do not relish the prospect. I hope you will agree with me that if it happens, Platonic Studies will be impoverished

I should like to ask you a favour. Would you contact the Department for Work and Pensions and ask them why I am not receiving the Pension Credit for which I applied at the beginning of March? When I applied, by telephone, I was told that my claim would be backdated to November 2016. Then they asked me for my passport and some other documents, which I sent them and they then duly returned. Then I got a letter from the DWP dated April 12, which says 'Having carefully considered your application we have decided that you do have right to Pension Credit. The decision is made on the grounds that you have obtained the right of permanent residence in the UK.' Then on Monday April 27 I received a phone call telling me that on Thursday April 27 I shall be visited by a DWP visitor 'as we need information about your personal/household circumstances, income and savings. This will help us make sure that you are getting the right amount of money.' I was not pleased with the call: 'When I applied for the Pension Credit at the beginning of March, I had an almost two-hour conversation with your officer, explaining to her all the income I have: £112.12 British State Pension every four weeks and £484.97 Czech Pension every three months, that is four times a year. The next British State Pension and the next Czech Pension I expect in June,' I said. Then on Thursday 27 the lady came, she was very nice. She received from me 14 months of bank statements from my Lloyds Bank. She said apologetically: 'We just could not believe that you live on so little money.'

I was determined to leave the place where I live - a sheltered housing, a flat owned by Doina, my ex-wife, where I don't pay rent, but pay monthly £185.10 Service Charges (for services that are of no interest to me), and £220.00 monthly Counsel Tax. I intended to cycle to Oxford on April 30, become homeless, and ask for counsel housing at Oxford, sleeping rough in front of Balliol in the meantime. The lady told me: 'Do not cycle to Oxford, you will pay no Council Tax, and I shall do my best to help with those Service Charges.' She took some documents, and said she would arrange sending me my basic Pension Credit as soon as possible. On May 3, I got back the documents accompanied by one sentence on a scrap of paper: 'Documents returned with thanks.' Since then, I have heard nothing more from the DWP.

Please, would you phone on Monday the Pension Credit General Enquiries: 0345 606 0265, or: 0345 606 0285; simply to ask, what do they intend to do about my Pension Credit, why am I not receiving it? I think that everybody interested in Platonic Studies is entitled to make such a phone call.
Many thanks in advance


From Plato’s Symposium to Aristophanes’ Birds

Socrates asked Diotima ‘What is Love (Ti oun an eiê ho erôs; Symposium 202d8)?’ She answered: ‘He is a great spirit (Daimôn megas), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal (kai gar pan to daimonion metaxu esti theou te kai thnêtou, 202d13-e1).’ – Socrates: ‘And who was his father and his mother (Patros te tinos esti kai thnêtou;)? – Diotima: ‘The tale will take time (Makroteron men diêgêsasthai); nevertheless (homôs de) I will tell you (soi erô). On the day when Aphrodite was born (hote gar egeneto hê Aphroditê) there was a feast of all the gods (hêstiônto hoi theoi hoi te alloi), among them the god Poros or Plenty, who is the son of Metis or Sagacity (kai ho tês Mêtidos huos Poros). When the feast was over (epeidê de edeipnêsan), Penia or Poverty, as the manner is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg (prosaitêsousa hoion dê euôchias ousês aphiketo hê Penia, kai ên peri tas thuras). Now Plenty (ho oun Poros), who was the worse for nectar (methustheis tou nektaros) – there was no wine in those days (oinos gar oupô ên) – went into the garden of Zeus (eis ton tou Zênos kêpon eiselthôn) and fell into a heavy sleep (bebarêmenos heuden); and Poverty considering that for her there was no plenty, plotted to have a child by him (hê oun Penia epibouleuousa dia tên hautês aporian paidion poiêsasthai ek tou Porou), and accordingly she lay down at his side (kataklinetai te par autô̢) and conceived Love (kai ekuêse ton Erôta), who partly because he is naturally a lover of the beautiful, and because Aphrodite is herself beautiful, and also because he was begotten during her birthday feast, is her follower and attendant (dio dê kai tês Aphroditês akolouthos kai therapôn gegonen ho Erôs, gennêtheis en tois ekeinês genethliois, kai hama phusei erastês ôn peri to kalon kai tês Aphroditês kalês ousês). And as his parentage is (hate oun Porou kai Penias huos ôn), so also are his fortunes (ho Erôs en toiautê̢ tuchê̢ kathestêken). In the first place (prôton men) he is always poor (penês aei esti), and anything but tender and fair (kai pollou dei hapalos te kai kalos), as the many imagine him (hoion hoi polloi oiontai); and he is rough (alla sklêros) and squalid (kai auchmêros), and has no shoes (kai anupodêtos), nor a house to dwell in (kai aoikos); on the bare earth (chamaipetês ôn kai astrôtos) exposed he lies under the open heaven, in the streets, or at the door of houses, taking his rest (epi thurais kai en hodois hupaitrios koimômenos); and like his mother he is always in distress (tên tês mêtros phusin echôn, aei endeia̢ sunoikos). Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles (kata de au ton patera), he is always plotting against the fair (epiboulos esti tois kalois) and good (kai tois agathois); he is bold (andreios ôn), enterprising (kai itês), strong (kai suntonos), a mighty hunter (thêreutês deinos), always waving some intrigue or other (aei tinas plekôn mêchanas), keen in the pursuit of wisdom (kai phronêseôs epithumêtês), fertile in resources (kai porimos); a philosopher at all times (philosophôn dia pantos tou biou, 203b1-d7, tr. Jowett).’

On the margin of my Oxford text I wrote (some thirty five years ago; a note taken from Bury’s edition of the Symposium?): ‘The properties of Eros are as observed Max. Tyr. diss. XXIV.4. p. 461 atechnôs hoia eis auton Sôkratên eskôpton en Dionysiois hoi kômô̢doi (‘just in what way the writers of comedies scoffed at Socrates at Dionysia’).

I read Aristophanes’ Clouds not long ago, and so it was easy to find some relevant passages:

Strepsiades points to the house of Socrates: ‘That is the Thoughtery of wise souls (psuchôn sophôn tout’ esti phrontistêrion, 94). – Pheidippides, his son: ‘Bah! the wretches! (aiboi ponêroi g’) I know them (oida); you mean those quacks with pale faces, those barefoot fellows (tous alazonas tous ôchriôntas tous anupodêtous legeis), such as that miserable Socrates and Chaerephon (hôn ho kakodaimôn Sôkrates kai Chairephôn)?

Strepsiades enters Socrates’ Thoughtery calling on Socrates suspended in a basket up above the ground. Socrates: ‘Mortal, what do you want with me (ti me kaleis ôphêmere)?’ – Strepsiades: ‘First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you (prôton men ho ti dra̢s antibolô kateipe moi).’ – Soc. ‘I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun (aerobatô kai periphronô to hêlion, 223-225).’

Soc. ‘Do you really wish to know the truth of celestial matters (boulei ta theia pragmat’ eidenai saphôs hatt’ estin orthôs;) ....and to converse with the clouds, who are our genii (kai xungenesthai tais Nephelaisin es logous, tais hêmeteraisi daimosi; 250-253)?

The Leader of the Chorus, of the Clouds, says to Socrates: ‘But, Socrates, begin the lessons you want to teach this old man (all’ encheirei ton presbutên ho ti per melleis prodidaskein); rouse his mind (kai diakinei ton noun autou), try the strength of his intelligence (kai tês gnômês apopeirô).’ – Socrates to Strepsiades: ‘Come (age dê), tell me (kateipe moi su) the kind of mind you have (ton sautou tropon); it's important that I know this, that I may order my batteries against you in the right fashion (hin’ auton eidôn hostis esti mêchanas êdê ‘pi toutois pros se kainas prospherô, 476-480). (I have used the translation available at the Internet Classics Archive.)

There is one essential characteristic of Socrates, prominent in the depicting of the Eros in Diotima’s tale, the caricature of which is missing in the Clouds: Socrates’ philosophic ignorance. The reason is, I believe, that when Aristophanes wrote the Clouds this characteristic was not prominent. It came to the fore only after Chaerephon went to Delphi and asked the oracle ‘whether there is anybody wiser than I’ (ei tis emou eiê sophôteros, Plato, Apology 21a6) When ‘the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser’ (aneilen oun hê Puthia mêdena sophôteron einai, 216-7), Socrates reacted to it by rigorous self-reflection, which resulted in his ‘I neither know nor think that I know’ (hôsper oun ouk oida, oude oiomai, 21d5). This character comes to the fore in the Birds, as I remembered; I had to re-read it.

The Birds were staged in 314, not long after the commencement of the Sicilian war.

Two Athenians, Pisthetairos and Euelpides, can’t stand any more their living in Athens; they go in search of Tereus, an ancient Thracian king changed into a hoopoe, and with his help and that of the other birds they build a Cuckoo-City-in-the-Clouds (Nephelokokkugia, 819). When the Nephelokokkugia is built, Iris, the messenger of the Gods, manages to get through the gate. Pisthetairos interrogates her: ‘By which gate (kata poias pulas) did you pass through the wall (eisêlthes eis to teichos), wretched female (ô miarôtatê;)?’ – Iris: ‘I don't know (ouk oida), O Zeus (ma Di’), by which gate (kata poias pulas).’ – Pisthetairos: ‘Have you heard how she ironizes (êkousas autês hoion eirôneuetai; 1210-11)?

Pisthetairos: ‘Ah! and so you slipped into this city on the sly (k’apeita dêth’ houtô siôpê̢ diapetei dia tês poleôs) and into these realms of air-land that don't belong to you (tês allotrias kai tou chaous;).’ – Iris: ‘And what other roads (poia̢ gar allê̢) can the gods travel (chrê petesthai tous theous;)? – Pisthetairos: ‘I don’t know, by Zeus (ouk oida ma Di’ egôge), for not this way (tê̢de men gar ou, 1217-20).’

To see the Socratic link, it is important to realize that Socrates’ ‘I don’t know’ was perceived as irony, and that Socrates identified Iris (the rainbow, linking the human and the divine sphere) with philosophy (see Plato, Theaet. 155d).

A Herald returns from the earth and reports to Pisthetairos: ‘Oh you, who have founded so illustrious a city in the air (ô kleinotatên aitherion oikisas polin), you know not (ouk oisth’) in what esteem men hold you (hosên timên par’ anthrôpois pherei) and how many lovers of this place you have (hosous t’ erastas têsde tês chôras echeis). For before you built this city (prin men gar oikisai se tênde tên polin), all men had a mania for Sparta (elakônomanoun hapantes anthrôpoi tote); they used to wear long hair (ekomôn), were fasting (epeinôn), went dirty (errupôn), they Socratized (esôkratoun).’ (1277-1282)

Note the similarity between the concept of the ‘lover’ that Aristophanes uses here and the concept of the ‘lover’ developed by Socrates in the Symposium. Men on the earth love Pisthetairos’ City in the Clouds as something higher than what Socrates offered them. In the Clouds Aristophanes presents Socrates with his thoughts high in the air; in the Birds Pisthetairos trumps him; he builds the city in the air.

The symposium in celebration of Agathon’s victory with his first tragedy took place in 416, two years prior to the staging or the Birds. If we compare Aristophanes’ Birds with Plato’s Symposium, we have reason to believe that both Socrates and Aristophanes attended it, and that the symposiasts did amuse themselves by their stories about Eros. In the Birds Eros plays an important role. The chorus, composed of the birds, becomes convinced of their great destiny thanks to Eros: ‘The Immortals did not exist until Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world (proteron d’ ouk ên genos athanatôn, prin Erôs xunemeixen hapanta) … Thus our origin is very much older than that of the dwellers in Olympus (hôde men esmen polu presbutatoi pantôn makarôn). That we are the offspring of Eros (hêmeis d’ hôs esmen Erôtos), this is clear by many proofs (pollois dêlon, 700-704).

When Plato wrote the Symposium, he must have thought that his readers could hardly help thinking of Aristophanes’ comedy. When the drunken Alcibiades joins the symposiasts, in his speech in praise of Socrates he gives a dignified expression to Aristophanes’ ‘they all Socratized’: ‘And you whom I see around me, Phaedrus (kai horôn au Phaidrous) and Agathon (Agathonas) and Eryximachus (Eruximachous) and Pausanias (Pausanias) and Aristodemus (Aristodemous) and Aristophanes (te kai Aristophanas), all of you, and I need not say Socrates himself (Sôkratê de auton ti dei legein), and multitudes of others (kai hosoi alloi), have had experience of the same dionysiac madness and passion of philosophy (pantes gar kekoinôkate tês philosophou manias te kai bakcheias, 218a7-b4, tr. Jowett).’ – It is worth noting that in the original all those named are in the plural, only Socrates is in the singular.


In the Meno Plato gives another response to Aristophanes’s ‘they all Socratized’. Meno asked Socrates whether virtue can be taught, and Socrates said in his reply: ‘I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian whether virtue was natural or acquired (ei goun tina etheleis houtôs eresthai tôn enthade), he would laugh in your face (oudeis hostis ou gelasetai), and say (kai 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 goun eite didakton eith’ hosô̢ 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, hôs oude auto hoti pot’ esti to parapan aretê tunchanô eidôs).” And myself (Egô oun kai autos), Meno (ô Menôn, houtôs echô), living as I do in this region of poverty, am as poor as the rest of the world (sumpenomai tois politais toutou tou pragmatos); and I confess with shame that I know literally nothing about virtue (kai emauton katamemphomai hôs ouk eidôs peri tês aretês to parapan, 71a1-b3, tr. Jowett).’

Friday, May 12, 2017

An appeal to classicists: Let us record Aristophanes’ Birds and make our recording available online

On May 11, after returning from Oxford I wrote to a few Oxford classicists:

Dear Colleague,
Yesterday I spent several hours in the Bodleian with Nan Dunbar's Aristophanes Birds. She gives a metrical analysis of all lyrical passages. Following her guidance, I marked the scanning in my text. I expected that my reading the passages properly scanned would contribute to my enjoyment of them, but the experience far exceeded my expectations.

I should like to find a classicist classicists who would be willing to join me in reading and recording the Birds. The two main characters, Pisthetairos and Euelpides, are old, and Tereus, the hoopoe, is ancient; a task for retired classicists.

I intend to approach British classicists first, but I am ready to go anywhere, if money could be found – perhaps from some EU funds, but that's a secondary question. The most important thing is to find out who – if anybody – might be interested. It doesn't have to be a man or men, and it don't have to be old persons. Anybody interested in the project would be welcome.

If anybody comes to your mind, advise me. please.


Tuesday, May 9, 2017

A letter to the Editor of the Oxford Isis

Dear Editor,

Allow me to inform you about my protest-appeal addressed to Oxford philosophers. Tomorrow I shall arrive at Oxford to spend the afternoon and the evening in front of Balliol with a simple poster: LET US DISCUSS PLATO.

I shall not be eating tomorrow, I shall hold a token one-day hunger-strike against my exclusion from academic circles, to which I belong thanks to my work on Plato, which you can see on my blog and on my website.

Wednesday is a good day for my appeal-protest; I held on Wednesdays my philosophy seminar in Prague in 1977-1980, to which I invited Oxford philosophers. See Roger Scruton’s ‘A Catacomb Culture’ on my website.

Would Isis inform Oxford students about my protest-appeal? I do believe that classics and classical philosophy has a future. The culture that is ever more and more diverse and ever more and more globalized needs to find again and again its roots in the world of the Ancient Greeks. But we can enjoin the Greeks authentically only if we understand Ancient Greek directly, without translating it into English (or German, or French … or Czech). And here is the root of the ‘disagreement’ between me and my Oxford (and Cambridge, and Berkeley, and Heidelberg … and Prague) colleagues. When I learnt Ancient Greek in Prague, I knew that the Ancient Greeks did not translate their Greek in their heads into Hebrew or Scythian or Persian, to understand it; they understood it in Greek. I therefore learnt it so as to understand it without translating it in my head.

When Dr Kathy Wilkes (from St Hilda’s) and then Dr Anthony Kenny, the Master of Balliol, came to Prague to my seminar in 1979/1980, the difference between their and my approach to Ancient Greek became apparent. Having been drilled in translating Ancient Greek into English, and chosen English texts into Ancient Greek, from their tender youth in their public schools onward, they were incapable of understanding Ancient Greek without translating it in their heads. The great advantage my approach gave me became even more apparent after I came to Oxford in 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol, and took part in professor Owen’s (from Kings College Cambridge) Aristotelian seminar in London, three times a term, attended by the best classical philosophers from Oxford, Cambridge, and London Universities, and in Professor Ackrill’s (at Brasenose) Aristotelian seminar at Oxford. Understanding Ancient Greek directly is the only authentic way of approaching the Greek texts, and the only way one can truly enjoy them. It would be great if students interested in culture approached me at Balliol and discussed these matters with me.


Julius Tomin

LET US DISCUSS PLATO (a letter to the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University)

Dear Vice-Chancellor.

Allow me to inform you that tomorrow I shall arrive at Oxford to spend the afternoon and the evening in front of Balliol with a simple poster: LET US DISCUSS PLATO. I shall not be eating tomorrow, I shall hold a token one-day hunger-strike against my exclusion from academic circles, to which I belong thanks to my work on Plato.

On Thursday, I shall resume eating for a few days, until my money runs out. When my money runs out I shall hold a seven-day hunger-strike. I shall inform the Pension Service about my hunger-strike. If by then I do not receive the Pension Credit, for which I applied at the beginning of March, my hunger-strike will simply turn into starvation; one needs money to get food.

Wednesday is a good day for my appeal-protest; I held on Wednesdays my philosophy seminar in Prague in 1977-1980, to which I invited Oxford philosophers. See Roger Scruton’s ‘A Catacomb Culture’ on my website.

What led me to this decision? On April 16, I wrote to the Master of Balliol:

‘Allow me to inform you that from May 2 on, in all likelihood, I shall be spending daily some time in front of Balliol with a poster ‘A HOMELESS PHILOSOPHER APPEALS TO OXFORD PHILOSOPHERS: LET US DISCUSS PLATO’.

I plan to leave Dursley on my bicycle on April 30, arriving at Oxford on May 2. I shall be looking for a place to live in Oxford.

I say in all likelihood, for if my financial situation improves before the end of April, so that I become able to pay the council tax (£211 a month), and the service charges (£185.10 a month) to ‘midland heart’, I shall be happy to stay where I live at present. At the moment, I have £177.51 on my current bank account; this is all I have. I expect to receive the State Pension of £112,12 in May, I receive it every fourth week; in June, I expect the Czech pension of approximately £484.97 (the amount I received in March), which I receive every three months.

At the beginning of March I applied for the State Pension Credit, and yesterday I received a letter informing me that I have the right to it – ‘The decision is made on the grounds that you have obtained the right of permanent residence in the UK … Your Pension Credit application has now been passed on to our processing section who will assess your award and advise you of your entitlement accordingly’ – so it is possible that the Pension Service will step in.’

On April 24 I wrote on my blog: ‘A lady from the Pension Service is going to visit me on Thursday April 27 to examine my financial situation, to see my bank statements. Obviously, the Pension Service will do nothing to solve my financial situation by the end of this month, and so I become homeless, unless some miracle happens.’

The lady from Pension Service came, she told me that I shall be paying no council tax and that she will do everything possible to contribute to the Service Charges, which I have to pay in the sheltered accommodation where I live: ‘Mr Tomin, do not cycle to Oxford!’

It sounded like a miracle, and although I trained diligently for my cycling trip, I was happy to stay and resume my work on Plato.

Almost a fortnight has elapsed; the only thing I received from the Pension Service are the documents the lady took from me: ‘Documents returned with thanks.’

Julius Tomin