I am dating the Parmenides in 366/5, the year after Plato returned from his second journey to Sicily, and the Symposium in 364/3 B.C., after the sailing season passed, in which he sent Dionysius the Second Letter.
In the Symposium Aristodemus opened his narration ‘by saying (ephê gar) that he met Socrates fresh from the bath (hoi Sôkratê entuchein leloumenon te) and sandalled (kai tas blautas hupodedemenon); and as the sight of the sandals was unusual (ha ekeinos oligakis epoiei), he asked him (kai eresthai auton) whither he was going (hopoi ioi) that he had been converted into such a beau (houtô kalos gegenêmenos).’ Socrates replied: ‘To a banquet (Epi deipnon) at Agathon’s (eis Agathônos), whose invitation to his sacrifice of victory I refused yesterday (chthes gar auton diephugon tois epinikiois), fearing a crowd (phobêtheis ton ochlon), but promising that I would come today instead (hômologêsa d’eis têmeron paresesthai); and so I have put on my finery (tauta de ekallôpisamên), because he is such a fine man (hina kalos para kalon iô).’ (174a3-9, translations from the Symp. are Jowett’s)
On the proposed dating of the dialogue, Plato alludes here to his Second Letter in which he wrote to Dionysius that ‘no treatise by Plato exists (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos ouden) or will exist (oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates (Sôkratous estin) become fair and young (kalou kai neou gegonotos, 314c2-4, tr. Bury)’. While in Aristodemus’ introductory words he alludes to ‘Socrates become fair’ (kalou gegonotos), in Socrates’ speech on Eros he alludes to ‘Socrates become young’ (Sôkratous neou gegonotos). For Socrates opens his speech with the words ‘I will rehearse a tale of love (ton de logon ton peri tou Erôtos) which I heard from Diotima of Mantinea (hon pot’ êkousa gunaikos Mantinikês Diotimas), a woman wise in this and many other kinds of knowledge (hê tauta te sophê ên kai alla polla) … She was my instructress in the art of love (hê dê kai eme ta erôtika edidaxen), and I shall try to repeat to you what she said to me (hon oun ekeinê elege logon peirasomai humin dielthein).’ (201d1-6) In Plato’s Parmenides we are presented with ‘Socrates who was very young at that time’ (Sôkratê de einai tote sphodra neon, 127c4-5), and in the Symposium he appears to present us with Socrates even younger.
The passage in the Parmenides, which makes me surmise that in the Symposium Plato present us with an even younger Socrates, is the following. Ending his criticism of young Socrates’ theory of Forms (‘characters’ – eidê, ‘characteristics’ – ideai in R. E. Allens’s rendering), Parmenides tells him: ‘If in light of all the present difficulties and others like them, Socrates, one will not allow that there are characters of things that are (ei ge tis dê, ô Sôkrates, au mê easei eidê tôn ontôn einai, eis panta ta nundê kai alla toiauta apoblepsas), and refuses to distinguish as something a character of each single thing (mêde ti horieitai eidos henos hekastou), he will not even have anything to which to turn his mind (oude hopoi trepsei tên dianoian hexei), since he will not allow that there is a characteristic, ever the same, of each of the things that are (mê eôn idean tôn ontôn hekastou tên autên einai); and so he will utterly destroy the power and significance of thought and discourse (kai houtôs tên tou dialegesthai dunamin pantapasi diaphtherei). I think you are only too aware of that sort of consequence (tou toioutou men oun moi dokeis kai mallon ê̢sthêsthai).’ – Socrates: ‘True (Alêthê legeis).’ – Parmenides: ‘What will you do about philosophy, then (Ti oun poiêseis philosophias peri;)? Which way will you turn (pê̢ trepsê̢) while these things are unknown (agnooumenôn toutôn;)?’ – Socrates: ‘For the moment, at least, I am not really sure I see (Ou panu moi dokô kathoran en ge tô̢ paronti).’ – Parmenides: ‘No, because you undertake to mark off something beautiful and just and good and each one of the characters too soon, before being properly trained (Prô̢ gar, prin gumnasthênai, horizesthai epicheireis kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon kai hen hekaston tôn eidôn). I realized that yesterday (enenoêsa gar kai prô̢ên), when I heard you (sou akouôn) discussing here with Aristotle (dialegomenou enthade Aristotelei tô̢de). Believe me, your impulse toward argument is noble and indeed divine (kalê men oun kai theia, eu isthi, hê hormê hên horma̢s epi tous logous). But train yourself more thoroughly while you are still young; drag yourself through what is generally regarded as useless, and condemned by the multitude as idle talk (helkuson de sauton kai gumnasai mallon dia tês dokousês achrêstou einai kai kaloumenês hupo tôn pollôn adoleschias, heôs eti neos ei). Otherwise (ei de mê), the truth will escape you (se diapheuxetai hê alêtheia).’ (135b5-d6, tr. R. E. Allen)
The Aristotle, in discussion with whom the young Socrates undertook to define something beautiful and just and good (kalon te ti kai dikaion kai agathon) and each one of the Forms (kai hen hekaston tôn eidôn), became one of the Thirty Tyrants (ton tôn trriakonta genomenon), as Plato remarks in the Parmenides (127d2-3).
The Thirty ruled Athens after its defeat in the Peloponnesian war from April to December 404 B. C. Xenophon says in his Hellenica that the Thirty ‘put many people to death out of personal enmity (pollous men echthras heneka apekteinon), and many also for the sake of securing their property (pollous de chrêmatôn, II. iii. 21) … for the sake of their private gain (hoi idiôn kerdeôn heneka) have killed in eight months more Athenians almost (oligou dein pleious apektonasin Athênaiôn en oktô mêsin), than all the Peloponnesians in ten years of war (ê pantes Peloponnêsioi deka etê polemountes, II. iv. 21).’ He informs us that Pythodorus was elected archon at Athens in 404, but because ‘Pythodorus was chosen during the time of oligarchy, the Athenians do not use his name to mark the year, but call it “the archonless year” (Puthodôrou d’ en Athênais archontos, hon Athênaioi, hoti en oligarchia̢ hê̢rethê, ouk onomazousin, all’ anarchian ton eniauton kalousin, II. iii. 1, tr. C. L. Brownson).’
The Pythodorus in the Parmenides is named as ‘a certain Pythodorus’ (Puthodôros tis, 126b9), and thus it certainly is not the Pythodorus that was the archon elected during the reign of the Thirty, but his very name, combined with ‘Aristotle who became one of the Thirty’, must have reminded Plato’s readers of the year of Pythodorus’s ‘reign’ called by the Athenians anarchia. The more so, since the year of Plato’s absence from the Academy, the year he spent in Syracuse at Dion’s and Dionysius’ bidding, must have appeared both to Plato and to the Members of his Academy as the year of anarchy, during which his theory of Forms got under a sustained attack, in which the young Aristotle presumably took part. We may conjecture that the 17 years old Aristotle came to Plato’s Academy in 367 prior to Plato’s departure from Athens, and that Plato was left with an impression of a very bright and attentive student, the picture he evoked in the Parmenides in that of Aristotle, the youngest of the company (ho neôtatos, 137b6)’ attentively following Parmenides’ exposition of a philosophic exercise, dutifully answering his questions with ‘No’ (Pôs gar an;), ‘Why’ (Ti dê;), ‘Yes’ (Nai), ‘Of course’ (Panu ge), ‘Necessarily’ (Anankê), ‘True’ (Alêthê) and such like (Aristotle’s answers to Parmenides’ first six questions; the English ‘equivalents’ are Allen’s). During the year of Plato’s absence, the young Aristotle appears to have shown, from Plato’s point of view, his ‘destructive’ and ‘anarchic’ potential.
(Aristotle’s critical remarks on the Forms chime with Parmenides’ criticism of the Forms in the Parmenides. For this see ‘A note on the 3rd book of Aristotle’s Metaphysics’, posted on October 16, 2014 on my blog, and ‘1-4 Arguments against the Forms in Plato’s Parmenides and Aristotle’s critical remarks on the Forms’, posted on Sept. 22, 2015 – October 3, 2015.)
Parmenides’ words to Socrates – ‘I think you are only too aware of that sort of consequence … you undertake to mark off something beautiful and just and good and each one of the Forms too soon, before being properly trained. I realized that yesterday, when I heard you discussing here with Aristotle’ (135c8-d2) – indicate that when he met the young Socrates, the latter was already involved in his philosophic pursuits, in which we find him involved in Plato’s dialogues beginning with the Phaedrus and ending with the Philebus. In the Symposium Plato presents us with Socrates’ fictional recollection of his initiation into philosophy viewed as ‘erotic’ art, erotic in the sense given to the word by Diotima in her discussion with Socrates.
There is a profound difference between the presentation of the young Socrates in the Parmenides and the still younger one in the Symposium. In the Parmenides Plato insists on the veracity of the encounter between Socrates, Zeno, and Parmenides. Cephalus, the narrator, tells Adeimantus, Plato’s elder brother, that he and his friends came to Athens from Clazomenae in search for Antiphon (Adeimantus’, Plato’s, and Glaucon’s half-brother): ‘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).’ – Aadeimantus: ‘No difficulty here (All’ ou chalepon). When Antiphon was young (meirakion gar ôn) he used to rehearse them diligently (autous eu mala diemeletêsen).’ (126b8-c7, tr. Allen)
In the Symposium, Socrates welcomes Eros as the proposed theme for encomia: ‘I profess to know nothing but matters of love’ (ouden allo phêmi epistasthai ê ta erôtika, 177d7-8) … I will rehearse a tale of love (ton de logonton peri tou Erôtos) which I once heard (hon pot’ êkousa) from Diotima of Mantinea (gunaikos Mantinikês Diotimas), a woman wise in this (hê tauta sophê ên, 201d1-3) … and I shall try to repeat to you what she said to me (hon oun ekeinê elege logon, peirasomai humin dielthein, 201d5-6).’ Diotima in her speech refers to Aristophanes’ speech given by him at the symposium.
Aristophanes had narrated: ‘In the first place (dei de prôton), let me treat of the nature of man (humas mathein tên anthrôpinên phusin) and what has happened to it (kai ta pathêmata autês). The original human nature (hê gar palai hêmôn phusis) was not like the present (ouch hautê ên hêper nun), but different (all’ alloia). The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number (prôton men gar tria ên ta genê ta tôn anthrôpôn, ouch hôsper nun duo); there was man, woman (arren kai thêlu), and the union of the two, of which the name survives but nothing else (alla kai triton prosên koinon on amphoterôn toutôn, hou nun onoma loipon, auto de êphanistai). Once it was a distinct kind, with a bodily shape and name of its own, constituted by the union of the male and female (androgunon gar hen tote men ên kai eidos kai onoma ex amphoterôn koinon tou te arrenos kai thêleos): but now only the word “androgynous” is preserved, and that as a term of reproach (nun de ouk estin all’ ê en oneidei onoma keimenon). In the second place (epeita), the primeval man was round (holon ên hekastou tou anthrôpou to eidos strongulon), his back and sides forming a circle (nôton kai pleuras kuklô̢ echon); and he had four hands (cheiras de tettaras eiche) and the same number of feet (kai skelê ta isa tais chersin), one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike (kai prosôpa du’ ep’ aucheni kukloterei, homoia pantê̢’ kephalên ep’ amphoterois tois prosôpois keimenois mian); also four ears (kai ôta tettara), two privy members (kai aidoia duo), and the remainder to correspond (kai t’alla panta hôs apo toutôn an tis eikaseien) (189d5-190a4) … Terrible was their might (ên oun tên ischun deina) and strength (kai tên rômên), and the thoughts of their hearts were great (kai ta phronêmata megala eichon), and they made an attack upon the gods (epecheirêsan de tois theois, 190b5-6) … Zeus (Zeus) said (ephê): “Methinks (Dokô moi) I have a plan (echein mêchanên) which will enfeeble their strength (hôs an eien te anthrôpoi kai pausainto tês akolastias asthenesteroi genomenoi, 190c6-d1)” … He cut men in two (etemne tous anthrôpous dicha, 190d7) … he bade Apollo give the face and half of the neck a turn (ton Apollô ekeleuen to te prosôpon metastrephein kai to tou auchenos hêmisu) in order that man might contemplate the section of himself: he would thus learn a lesson of humility (pros tên tomên, hina theômenoi tên hautôn tmêsin kosmiôteros eiê ho anthrôpos) (190e2-5) … After the division the two parts of man (epeidê oun hê phusis dicha etmêthê), each desiring his other half (pothoun hekaston to hêmisu to hautou), came together (sunê̢ei), and throwing their arms about one another (kai periballontes tas cheiras), entwined in mutual embraces (kai sumplekomenoi allêlois), longing to grow into one (epithumountes sumphunai), they began to die from hunger (apethnê̢skon hupo limou) and self-neglect (kai tês allês argias), because they did not like to do anything apart (dia to mêden ethelein chôris allêlôn poiein, 191a5-b1) … Zeus in pity (eleêsas de ho Zeus) invented a new plan (allên mêchanên porizetai): he turned the parts of generation round to the front (kai metatithêsin autôn ta aidoia eis to prosthen), for this had not always been their position, and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another (teôs gar kai tauta ektos eichon, kai egennôn kai etikton ouk eis allêlous all’ eis gên, hôsper hoi tettiges - metethêke te oun houtô autôn eis to prosthen kai dia toutôn tên genesin en allêlois epoiêsen, 191b5-c3) … So ancient is the desire for one another which is implanted in us (esti dê oun ek tosou ho erôs emphutos allêlôn tois anthrôpois), reuniting our original nature (kai tês archaias phuseôs sunagôgeus), seeking to make one of two (kai epicheirôn poiêsai hen ek duoin), and to heal the state of man (kai iasthai tên phusin tên anthrôpinên, 191c8-d3) … Men who are a section of that double nature (hosoi men oun tôn andrôn tou koinou tmêma eisin) which was once called androgynous (ho dê tote androgunon ekaleito) are lovers of women (philogunaikes te eisi, 191d6-7) … The women who are a section of the woman (hosai de tôn gunaikôn gunaikos tmêma eisin) do not care for men (ou panu hautai tois andrasi ton noun prosechousin), but have female attachments (alla mallon pros tas gunaikas tetrammenai eisi, 191e2-5) … But they who are a section of the male (hosoi de arrenos tmêma eisi) follow the male (ta arrena diôkousi, ‘chase the male’, 191e6). (Jowett’s translation of these passages is mostly very loose, but he gets the meaning right.)
Socrates narrates that Diotima told him: ‘And you hear people say that lovers are seeking for their other half.’
Jowett’s ‘And you hear people say’ for Plato’s Kai legetai men ge tis logos obfuscates Diotima’s reference to Aristophanes’ story. Let me try to translate Diotima’s words as close to the original as I can make it: ‘And there is some story being said (Kai legetai men ge tis logos) that those who are seeking the other half of themselves (hôs hoi an to hêmisu heautôn zêtôsin), these love (houtoi erôsin), but my story says that the eros [desire, love] is neither of the half nor of the whole (ho d’ emos logos oute hêmiseos phêsin einai ton erôta oute holou), unless it happens somehow (ean mê tunchanê̢ ge pou), my friend (ô hetaire), to be a good (agathon on, 205d10-e3).
Now back to the narrator, and to Jowett’s translation: ‘When Socrates had done speaking (Eipontos de tauta tou Sôkratous), the company applauded (tous men epainein), and Aristophanes was beginning to say something (ton de Aristophanê legein ti epicheirein) in answer to the allusion which Socrates had made to his own speech (hoti emnêsthê autou legôn ho Sôkratês peri tou logou), when suddenly (kai exaiphnês) there was a great nocking at the door of the house (tên auleion thuran krouomenên polun psophon paraschein), as of revellers (hôs kômastôn), and the sound of a flute-girl was heard (kai aulêtridos phônên akouein, 212c4-8).’
The only purpose of Aristophanes’ attempted intervention is to make it clear that Diotima’s speech was – dramatically – Socrates’ ad hoc invention, and that he in his speech alluded to Aristophanes’ ad hoc speech.
Let me and with a reflection on Plato’s Second Letter proclamation that ‘no treatise by Plato exists (oud’ estin sungramma Platônos ouden) or will exist (oud’ estai), but those which now bear his name (ta de nun legomena) belong to a Socrates (Sôkratous estin) become fair and young (kalou kai neou gegonotos, 314c2-4, tr. Bury)’. The Second Letter was preceded by two dialogues, the Phaedo and the Parmenides. When Plato wrote the Second Letter he believed that these two dialogues were to be his last; from then on, he was to devote himself fully to the education of Dionysius, using the ‘living spoken word that has soul’ (logon zônta kai empsuchon), not the written word, its pale imitation (hou ho gegrammenos eidôlon an ti legoito dikaiôs, Phaedrus 276a8-9). He formulated his Second Letter proclamation so as to exclude from it these last two dialogues: the Phaedo can’t be viewed as a dialogue belonging to a Socrates become young, and the Parmenides simply can’t be viewed as ‘a Socrates’s dialogue’.
In the Symposium Plato alludes to the Second Letter proclamation, yet he wrote it so that it can’t be seen as a “Socrates’s” (Sôkratous) dialogue.