The most telling reasons for dating the Charmides in 404, before the aristocratic regime deteriorated into tyranny, can be derived from its closing scene. It begins with Socrates berating himself for his inability to investigate sôphrosunê properly: ‘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).’ (175a9-b2, tr. D. Watt)
Socrates then recapitulates the main points of the investigation, only to return to berating himself; turning to Charmides he says: ‘I’m not annoyed so much for myself (to men oun emon kai hêtton aganaktô) as for you, Charmides (huper de sou, ô Charmidê, panu aganaktô), because you, who have such good looks (ei su toioutos ôn tên idean) and are in addition sôphronestatos [D. Watt ‘very self-controlled’] of soul (kai pros toutô̢ tên psuchên sôphronestatos), will not profit from that sôphrosunê [D. W. ‘self-control’] (mêden onêsê̢ apo tautês tês sôphrosunês), and because despite its presence in you, it won’t bring you any benefit at all in life (mêde ti s’ ôphelêsei en tô̢ biô̢ parousa, 175d5-e2, tr. D. Watt)!
Making haste to reach the closing part of the closing scene, I skipped Socrates’ recapitulation of the investigation. But what Socrates has just now said to Charmides compels me to return to it, for only against its background Socrates’ ‘tears’ on Charmides’ behalf can be properly assessed:
‘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). And yet (kaitoi) we have conceded many points (polla sunkechôrêkamen) which did not follow (ou sumbainonth’ hêmin) from our argument (en tô̢ logô̢). We conceded that there was a knowledge of knowledge (kai gar epistêmên epistêmês einai sunechôrêsamen), although the argument denied it (ouk eôntos tou logou) and claimed there wasn’t (oude phaskontos einai). We conceded that this knowledge knew the products of the other knowledges too (kai tautê̢ au tê̢ epistêmê̢ kai ta tôn allôn epistêmôn erga gignôskein sunechôrêsamen) although the argument denied this as well (oude touto eôntos tou logou), just to have the sôphrôn [D.W. ’self-controlled man’] in possession of the knowledge (hina dê hêmin genoito ho sôphrôn epistêmôn) that he knows (ho te oiden) what he knows (ho ti oiden) and that he does not know what he does not know (kai hôn mê oiden hoti ouk oiden). We made that terribly generous concession (touto men dê kai pantapasi megaloprepôs sunechôrêsamen) without even considering (oud’ episkepsamenoi) the impossibility (to adunaton einai) of a man knowing in some sort of way what he does not know at all (ha tis mê oiden mêdamôs, tauta eidenai hamôs ge pôs); for we allowed that he knows what he does not know (ho ti gar ouk oiden, phêsin auta eidenai hê hêmetera homologia), and yet (kaitoi) I think (hôs egô̢mai) nothing would seem stranger than that (oudenos hotou alogôteron tout’ an phaneiê). All the same (all’ homôs), although the investigation has found us so very good-natured (houtôs hêmôn euêthikôn tuchousa hê zêtêsis) and compliant (kai ou sklêrôn), it has still been no more able to discover the truth (ouden ti mallon heurein dunatai tên alêtheian), but has made such sport of it (alla tosouton kategelasen autês) as to demonstrate to us quite brutally the uselessness of sôphrosunê [D.W. ’self-control’] as we defined it in those fictions we agreed on for so long (hôste ho hêmeis palai sunomologountes kai sumplattontes etithemetha sôphrosunên einai, touto hêmin panu hubristikôs anôpheles on apephaine).’ (175b2-d5, tr. D. Watt)
In view of the outcome of his investigation into sôphrosunê, Socrates is not entitled to say to Charmides that he is sôphronestatos [D. Watt ‘very self-controlled’]; the investigation into sôphrosunê began with the question whether Charmides has sôphrosunê or not, and this question hasn’t been settled. It could not be settled, since Socrates failed to discover what sôphrosunê is. Even less ground Socrates has for bewailing that Charmides will not profit from sôphrosunê with which he is endowed.
Socrates goes on complaining in the same vein, but then he corrects himself; again, neither his complaining nor his self-correction has any foundation in the foregoing research: ‘I’m even more annoyed (eti de mallon aganaktô) about the charm (huper tês epô̢dês) I learned from the Thracian (hên para tou Thra̢kos emathon) – that I went on taking great pains to learn the charm for a thing which is worth nothing (ei mêdenos axiou pragmatos ousan autên meta pollês spoudês emanthanon). In fact, I really don’t think that this is the case at all (taut’ oun panu men ouk oiomai houtôs echein), but that I’m an awful investigator (alla eme phaulon einai zêtêtên) – because I do think that sôphrosunê [D.W. ‘self-control’] is a great good (epei tên ge sôphrosunên mega ti agathon einai), and that if you do possess it (kai eiper ge echeis auto), you are fortunate (makarion einai se). See (all’ hora) whether you do possess it (ei echeis te) and have no need of the charm (kai mêden deê̢ tês epô̢dês) – because if you do possess it (ei gar echeis), I’d advise you instead (mallon an egôge soi sumbouleusaimi) to consider me a fool (eme men lêron hêgeisthai einai), incapable of investigating anything in a reasoned argument (kai adunaton logô̢ hotioun zêtein), and yourself (seauton de) the happier the sôphronesteros [D.W. ‘the more self-controlled’] you are (hosô̢per sôphronesteros ei, tosoutô̢ einai kai eudaimonesteron).’
Charmides replied: ‘But heavens (Alla ma Di’), Socrates, I don’t know (egôge, ô Sôkrates, ouk oida) whether I possess it (out’ eit’ echô) or whether I don’t (out’ ei mê echô). How can I know it (pôs gar an eideiên), when, on your own admission, not even you and Critias are able to discover what on earth it is (ho ge mêd’ humeis hoioi te este exeurein hoti pot’ estin, hôs phê̢s su;)? Still, I don’t really believe you at all (egô mentoi ou panu soi peithomai), Socrates, and I really do think I need the charm (kai emauton, ô Sôkrates, panu oimai deisthai tês epô̢dês); and as far as I am concerned (kai to g’ emon), there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be charmed by you every day (ouden kôluei epa̢desthai hupo sou hosai hêmerai), until you say I’ve had enough (heôs an phê̢s su hikanôs echein).’
At this point Critias steps in: ‘All right (Eien). But (all’), Charmides (ô Charmidê), by doing that (ên dra̢s touto), you’ll prove to me (emoig’ estai touto tekmêrion) that you sôphroneis [D.W. ‘are self-controlled’] (hoti sôphroneis) – if you turn yourself over to Socrates for charming (ên epa̢dein parechê̢s Sôkratei), and don’t disappoint him (kai mê apoleipê̢ toutou) in anything either great (mête mega) or small (mête smikron).’
Charmides tells Critias: ‘Rest assured that I will follow him (Hôs akolouthêsontos) and won’t disappoint him (kai mê apoleipsomenou). I’d be behaving terribly (deina gar an poioiên) if I didn’t obey you (ei mê peithoimên soi), my guardian (tô̢ epitropô̢), and didn’t do (kai mê poioiên) what you tell me (ha keleueis).’ – Critias: ‘I’m telling you (Alla mên keleuô egôge).’ – Charmides: ‘Well then, I’ll do it (Poiêsô toinun), starting today (apo tautêsi tês hêmeras arxamenos).’
At this point Socrates found his word, addressing Critias and Charmides: ‘What are you two plotting to do (Houtoi, ti bouleuesthon poiein;)?’ – Charmides: ‘Nothing (Ouden), we’ve done our plotting (alla bebouleumetha).’ – Socrates, addressing Charmides: ‘Are you going to resort to the use of force (Biasê̢ ara), without even giving me a preliminary hearing (kai oud’ anakrisin moi dôseis)?’ – Charmides: ‘I certainly am (Hôs biasomenou), since Critias here orders me to (epeidêper hode ge epitattei) – which is why you should plot what you’ll do (pros tauta su au bouleuou hoti poiêseis).’ – Socrates says to Charmides: ‘But there’s no time left for plotting (All’ oudemia leipetai boulê). Once you’re intent on doing something (soi gar epicheirounti prattein hotioun) and are resorting to the use of force (kai biazomenô̢), no man alive will be able to resist you (oudeis hoios t’ estai enantiousthai anthrôpôn).’ – Charmides: ‘Well then (Mê toinun), don’t you resist me either (mêde su enantiou).’ – Socrates closes the dialogue by answering Charmides: ‘I won’t (Ou toinun enantiôsomai, ‘I won’t resist you then’).’ (175e2-176d5, tr. D. Watt)
In the Seventh Letter Plato speaks about his beginnings: ‘In the days of my youth (Neos egô pote ôn) my experience was the same as that of many others (pollois dê t’auton epathon). I thought (ô̢êthên) as soon as I should become my own master (ei thatton emautou genoimên kurios) I would immediately enter public life (epi ta koina tês poleôs euthus ienai). And it so happened that I was confronted with the following changes in the political situation of my own city (kai moi tuchai tines tôn tês poleôs pragmatôn toiaide parepeson). In the government then existing, reviled as it was by many, a revolution took place (Hupo pollôn tês tote politeias loidoroumenês metabolê gignetai) (324b8-c3) … And Thirty were established as rulers with plenipotentiary powers over all (triakonta de pantôn katestêsan autokratores). Some of these (toutôn de tines) were relatives [notably Charmides and Critias] (oikeioi te ontes) and acquaintances of mine (kai gnôrimoi etunchanon emoi), and they at once invited me to share in their doings, as something to which I had a claim (kai dê kai parekaloun euthus hôs epi prosêkonta pragmata me). The effect on me was not surprising in the case of a young man (kai egô thaumaston ouden epathon hupo neotêtos). I considered (ô̢êthên) that they (gar autous) would, of course, so manage the State as to bring men out of bad way of life into a good one (ek tinos adikou biou epi dikaion tropon agontas dioikêsein dê tên polin). (324c6-d5)
During this hopeful initial period of the aristocratic revolution, in my view, Plato wrote and published the Charmides.