Friday, June 23, 2017

4 Plato’s Charmides in the light of its dating, with reference to his Apology, Phaedrus and Seventh Letter, and to Xenophon’s Memorabilia

I ended my preceding post with the words ‘If I were to view the Charmides as written after the death of Socrates, I could not see it otherwise than as an attempt to make Socrates responsible for the crimes of his former companions,’ clearly implying that it is out of the question. But why is it out of the question? If Plato realised that because of his influence on Critias and Charmides in their early days Socrates was partly responsible for their misuse of power during the rule of the Thirty Tyrants, it was only right to give expression to this side of his activities, it might be argued. In my view, Plato’s Apology and his Seventh Letter preclude such possibility.

To make this point, I must return to the closing exchange between Socrates and Charmides. Socrates says to Charmides: ‘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: ‘I won’t resist you then (Ou toinun enantiôsomai).’

In the Apology Socrates imagines that the Jury might let him go if he gave up philosophy, to which he would have to reply: ‘While I have life and strength (heôs an empneô kai hoios te ô) I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy (ou mê pausômai philosophein, 29d4-5).’ He then goes on to say: ‘I can give you convincing evidence of what I say (Megala d’ egôge humin tekmêria parexomai toutôn), not words only (ou logous), but what you value far more (all’ ho humeis timate) – actions (erga). Let me relate to you a passage of my own life (akousate dê moi ta sumbebêkota) which will prove to you (hina eidête) that to no man should I wrongly yield (hoti oud’ an heni hupeikathoimi para to dikaion) from fear of death (deisas thanaton), and that I should in fact be willing to perish for not yielding (mê hupeikôn de alla k’an apoloimên) (32a4-8) … when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power (epeidê de oligarchia egeneto), they sent for me and four others into the rotunda (hoi triakonta au metapempsamenoi me pempton auton eis tên tholon), and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis (prosetaxan agagein ek Salaminos Leonta ton Salaminion), as they wanted to put him to death (hina apothanoi). This was a specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving (hoia dê kai allois ekeinoi pollois polla prosetatton) with the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes (boulomenoi hôs pleistous anaplêsai aitiôn); and then I showed again, not in word only but in deed (tote men oun egô ou logô̢ all’ ergô̢ au enedeixamên), that, if I may be allowed to use such an expression, I care not a straw for death (hoti emoi thanatou men melei, ei mê agroikoteron ên eipein, oud’ hotioun), and that my great and only care is lest I should do an unrighteous and unholy thing (tou de mêden adikon mêd’ anosion ergazesthai, toutou de to pan melei). For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me (eme gar ekeinê hê archê ouk exeplêxen, houtôs ischura ousa) into doing wrong (hôste adikon ti ergasasthai); and when we came out of the rotunda (all’ epeidê ek tês tholou exêlthomen) the other four (hoi men tettares) went to Salamis (ô̢chonto eis Salamina) and fetched Leon (kai êgagon Leonta), but I went quietly home (egô de ô̢chomên apiôn oikade). For which I might have lost my life (kai isôs an dia tauta apethanon), had not the power of the Thirty (ei mê hê archê) shortly afterwards come to an end (dia tacheôn kateluthê).’ (32c4-d8, tr. B. Jowett)

In his old age, in the Seventh Letter Plato points to this incident as the decisive reason after which, he says, ‘I became indignant (eduscherana te) and I withdrew myself (kai emauton epanêgagon) from the evils of those days (apo tôn tote kakôn, 325a4-5)’.

Xenophon tells a following story: ‘When the Thirty (epei gar hoi triakonta) were putting to death many citizens of the highest respectability (pollous men tôn politôn kai ou tous cheiristous apekteinon) and were encouraging many in crime (pollous de proetreponto adikein), Socrates had remarked (eipe pou ho Sôkratês): “It seems strange enough to me (hoti thaumaston hoi dokoiê einai) that a herdsman (ei tis genomenos boôn agelês nomeus) who lets his cattle decrease and go to the bad (kai tous bous elattous te kai cheirous poiôn) should not admit that he is a poor cowherd (mê homologoiê kakos boukolos einai); but stranger still (eti de thaumastoteron) that a statesman (ei tis prostatês genomenos poleôs) when he causes the citizens to decrease (kai poiôn tous politas elattous te) and go to the bad (kai cheirous), should feel no shame (mê aischunetai) nor think himself a poor statesman (mêd’ oietai kakos einai prostatês tês poleôs).” This remark was reported to Critias and Charicles, who sent for Socrates (apangelthentos de autois toutou, kalesante ho te Kritias kai ho Chariklês ton Sôkratê), showed him the law (ton te nomon edeiknutên autô̢) and forbade him to hold conversation with the young (kai tois neois apeipetên mê dialegesthai) (Memorabilia I.ii.32-33) … “Well then,” said Socrates (Kai ho Sôkratês), “that there may be no question raised about my obedience (Hina toinun, ephê, mê amphibolon ê̢, hôs allo ti poiô ê ta proêgoreumena), please fix the age limit below which a man is to be accounted young (horisate moi, mechri posôn etôn dei nomizein neous einai tous anthrôpous).” “So long,” replied Charicles (Kai ho Chariklês, Hosouper, eipe, chronou), “as he is not permitted to sit in the Council (bouleuein ouk exestin), because as yet he lacks wisdom (hôs oupô phronimois ousi). You shall not converse (mêde su dialegou) with anyone who is under thirty (neôterois triakonta etôn).” (Memorabilia I.ii.35, tr. E. C. Marchant)

It is worth noting that the order prohibited Socrates to discuss philosophy with Plato who was in his twenties. The law was presumably formulated by Critias to enable him to ‘free’ Plato from Socrates’ influence. Plato says that when the Thirty took power ‘they invited me at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial’ (kai dê kai parekaloun euthus hôs epi prosêkonta pragmata me, 324d2-3), instead, he says, ‘consequently (hôste), I gave my mind to them very diligently (autois sphodra proseichon ton noun), to see what they would do (ti praxoien, 324d6, tr. Bury)’. What he says about his ‘withdrawal from the evils of those days’ nevertheless suggests that he became involved, although he did not join them in their administrative practices. On my dating, he was writing the Charmides. The dialogue can be read as his formulating the conditions under which he wanted to become actively involved: You accept Socrates as the moral and spiritual guide, Socrates will accept your authority as political leaders.

Concerning Critias’ motivation in formulating the law forbidding the teaching of rhetoric Xenophon says the following: ‘Nevertheless (All’), although Socrates was himself free from vice (ei kai mêden autos ponêron poiôn), if he saw and approved of base conduct in them [in Critias and Alcibiades] (ekeinous phaula prattontas epê̢nei), he would be open to censure (dikaiôs an epitimô̢to). Well, when he found that Critias loved Euthydemus (Kritian men toinun aisthanomenos erônta Euthudêmou) and wanted to lead him astray (kai peirônta chrêsthai kathaper hoi pros t’aphrodisia tôn sômatôn apolauontes ‘and tried to use him as those do who erotically enjoy the bodies’), he tried to restrain him (apetrepe) by saying (phaskôn) that it was mean (aneleutheron te einai) and unbecoming in a gentleman (kai ou prepon andri kalô̢ k’agathô̢) to sue like a beggar to the object of his affection, whose good opinion he coveted (ton erômenon, hô̢ bouletai pollou axios phainesthai, prosaitein hôsper tous ptôchous), stooping to ask a favour that it was wrong to grant (hiketeuonta kai deomenon prosdounai kai tauta mêdenos agathou ‘begging and asking to be given what was nothing good’). As Critias paid no heed whatever to this protest (Kritiou tois toioutois ouch hupakouontos oude apotrepomenou), Socrates, it is said, exclaimed in the presence of Euthydemus and many others (legetai ton Sôkratên allôn te pollôn parontôn kai tou Euthudêmou, eipein) “Critias seems to have the feelings of a pig (hoti huikon autô̢ dokoiê paschein ho Kritias): he can no more keep away from Euthydemus than pigs can help rubbing themselves against the stones (epithumôn Euthudêmô̢ prosknêsthai hôsper ta hudia tois lithois ‘desiring to rub against Euthydemus as pigs rub against the stones’),” Now Critias bore a grudge against Socrates for this (ex hôn dê kai emisei ton Sôkratên ho Critias); and when he was one of the Thirty and was drafting laws with Charicles (hôste kai hote tôn triakonta ôn nomothetês meta Charikleous egeneto), he bore it in mind (apemnêmoneusen autô̢). He inserted a clause (kai en tois logois egrapse) which made it illegal “to teach the art of words” (logôn technên mê didaskein).’

Xenophon explains: ‘It was a calculated insult to Socrates (epêreazôn ekeinô̢), whom he saw no means of attacking (kai ouk echôn hopê̢ epilaboito), except by imputing him the practice constantly attributed to philosophers (alla to koinê̢ tois philosophois hupo tôn pollôn epitimômenon epipherôn autô̢), and so making him unpopular (kai diaballôn pros tous pollous).’ He adds: ‘For I myself never heard Socrates indulge in the practice, nor knew of anyone who professed to have heard him do so.’ (Memorabilia I.ii.29-31, tr. E. C. Marchant)

Xenophon’s explanation doesn’t make much sense, especially since Critias himself had philosophic ambitions (See fragments in Diels and Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol.II, 88 ‘Kritias’), but the story itself, which he gives, makes sense when we see it against the background of Plato’s Phaedrus. What Socrates wanted to achieve in Critias’ relationship to Euthydemus, and failed, this the philosopher achieves in the relation to his beloved in the Phaedran Palinode, Plato’s ode on Love.

In the Phaedrus Socrates proves the immortality of the soul (245c5-246a2), and then he says: ‘As to the soul’s nature (peri de tês ideas autês) there is this that must be said (hôde lekteon): what manner of thing it is (hoion men esti) … a god alone could tell (theias einai diêgêseôs); but what it resembles (hô̢ de eoiken), that a man might tell (anthrôpinês) … Let it be likened to the union of powers in a team of winged steeds and their winged charioteer (eoiketô dê sumphutô̢ dunamei hupopterou zeugous te kai hêniochou) … it is a pair of steeds that the charioteer controls (hêmôn ho archôn sunôridos hêniochei); moreover (eita) one of them is noble and good (tôn hippôn ho men autô̢ kalos te kai agathos), and of good stock (kai ek tôn toioutôn), while the other has the opposite character, and his stock is opposite (ho d’ ex enantiôn kai enantios). Hence the task of our charioteer is difficult and troublesome (chalepê dê kai duskolos ex anankês hê peri hêmas hêniochêsis)’ (246a2-b3) … The natural property of a wing is (Pephuken hê pterou dunamis) to raise that which is heavy and carry it aloft (to embrithes agein anô meteorizousa) to the region where the gods dwell (hê̢ to tôn theôn genos oikei, 246d6-7) … and the divine (to de theion) is beautiful (kalon), wise (sophon), good (agathon), and everything of that kind (kai pan hoti toiouton, 246d8-e1) … within the heavens (entos ouranou) … each god is doing his own work (prattôn hekastos autôn to hautou), and with them are all such as will (hepetai de ho aei ethelôn) and can follow them (kai dunamenos, 247a5-7) … But when (hotan de dê) they go to their feasting and to banquet (pros daita kai epi thoinên iôsin), then they travel to the summit of the arch of heaven (akran epi tên hupouranion hapsida poreuontai pros anantes), and easy is that ascent for the chariots of gods (hê̢ dê ta men theôn ochêmata râ̢diôs poreuetai), but for the others it is hard (ta de alla mogis); the steed that partakes of wickedness weighs them down, pulling them towards the earth with his weight (brithei gar ho tês kakês hippos metechôn, epi tên gên repôn te kai barunôn), if the driver has not educated him well (hô̢ mê kalôs ên tethrammenos tôn hêniochôn). Here (entha dê) the harshest toil and struggle awaits the soul (ponos te kai agôn eschatos psuchê̢ prokeitai, 247a8-b6) … for the souls that are called immortal (hai men gar athanatoi kaloumenai) … stand upon the back of the heaven (hestêsan epi tô̢ tou ouranou nôtô̢), and as they stand there (stasas de autas) the revolving heaven carries them around (periagei hê periphora), and they look upon the regions outside the heaven (hai dê theôrousi ta exô tou ouranou, 247b6-c2) … It is there that true Being dwells, without colour or shape, that cannot be touched; reason alone, the soul’s pilot, can behold it, and all true knowledge is knowledge thereof (hê gar achrômatos te kai aschêmatistos kai anaphês ousia ontôs ousa, psuchês kubernêtê̢ monô̢ theatê nô̢, peri hês to tês alêthinês epistêmês genos, touton echei ton topon). Now even as the mind of a god is nourished by reason and knowledge (hat’ oun theou dianoia nô̢ te kai epistêmê̢ akêratô̢ trephomenê), so also is it with every soul (kai hapasês psuchês) that has a care (hosê̢ an melê̢) to receive her proper food (to prosêkon dexasthai); wherefore when at last she has beheld Being (idousa dia chronou to on) she is well content (agapa̢ te), and contemplating truth (kai theôrousa t’alêthê) she is nourished (trephetai te) and prospers (kai eupathei), until the heaven’s revolution brings her back the full circle (heôs an kuklô̢ hê periphora eis t’auton perienenkê̢, 247c6-d5) … And this is the life of gods (Kai houtos men theôn bios), but the other souls (hai de allai psuchai, 248a1) … Whatsoever soul (hêtis an psuchê) follows in the train of a god (theô̢ sunopados genomenê), and catches sight of some of the true things (katidê̢ ti tôn alêthôn), shall be kept from sorrow until a new revolution shall begin (mechri te tês heterâs periodou einai apêmona, 248c3-4) … But when she is unable to follow (hotan dê adunatêsasa epispesthai), and sees none of it (mê idê̢I, 248c5-6) … sheds her wings (pterorruêsê̢ te) and falls to the earth (kai epi tên gên pesê̢); then it is the law (tote nomos) that in her first birth she shall not be planted in any animal nature (tautên mê phuteusai eis mêdemian thêreion phusin en tê̢ prôtê̢ genesei), but the one that saw the most of Being (alla tên men pleista idousan) shall be planted in a seed of a man (eis gonên andros) who shall become (genêsomenou) a philosopher (philosophou, 248c8-d3).’

Armed with this image of the soul, Socrates depicts the philosopher’s attraction to his beloved, and the ensuing struggles of love:  ‘Now when (hotan d’ oun) the driver (ho hêniochos) beholds the beloved’s eye (idôn to erôtikon omma), and the ensuing sensation suffuses his whole soul with warmth (pasan aisthêsei diathermênas tên psuchên), he begins to experience a tickling or pricking of desire (gargalismou te kai pothou kentrôn hupoplêsthê̢); and the obedient steed (ho men eupeithês tô̢ hêniochô̢ tôn hippôn), constrained now as always by sense of shame (aei te kai tote aidoi biazomenos), restrains himself (heauton katechei) from leaping upon the beloved (mê epipêdan tô̢ erômenô̢); but the other (o de), heeding no more the driver’s goad or whip (oute kentrôn hêniochikôn oute mastigos eti entrpetai), leaps and dashes on (skirtôn de bia̢ pheretai), sorely troubling (kai panta pragmata parechôn) his companion (tô̢ suzugi te) and his driver (kai tô̢ hêniochô̢), and forces them to approach the loved one (anankazei ienai te pros ta paidika) and mention to him (kai mneian poiêsein) the delights of erotic activities (tês tôn aphrodisiôn charitos). For a while the two resist (tô de kat’ archas men antiteineton), indignant (aganaktounte) that he should force them to monstrous and forbidden acts (hôs deina kai paranoma anankazomenô); but at last (teleutônte de), finding no end to their evil plight (hotan mêden ê̢ peras kakou), they follow his lead (poreuesthon agomenô) yielding (eixante) and agreeing (kai homologêsante) to do his bidding (poiêsein to keleuomenon). And now they’ve got quite close to him (kai pros autô̢ t’ egenonto) and beheld the sight of the beloved flashing with light (kai eidon tên opsin tên tôn paidikôn astraptousan). As the charioteer sees him (idontos de tou hêniochou), his memory is carried to the nature of Beauty (hê mnêmê pros tên tou kallous phusin ênechthê), and he sees her again (kai palin eiden autên) enthroned by the side of Sôphrosunê upon her holy pedestal (meta sôphrosunês en hagnô̢ bathrô̢ bebôsan); and in seeing her (idousa de; in Greek, the subject is the memory, hê mnêmê, which is feminine, identified with the charioteer) in awe and reverence he falls upon his back (edeise te kai sephtheisa anepesen huptia), and therewith (kai hama) is compelled (ênankasthê) to pull the reins (eis t’oupisô helkesthai tas hênias) so violently (houtô sphodra) that he brings both steeds down on their haunches (hôst’ epi ta ischua amphô kathisai tô hippô), the one willing (ton men hekonta) for he is not resisting (dia to mê antiteinein), but the wanton (ton de hubristên) sore against his will (mal’ akonta).’ (253e5-354c3) … And so, if the victory be won by the higher elements of mind guiding the lover and the beloved into the ordered rule of the philosophic life (ean men dê oun eis tetagmenên te diaitan kai philosophian nikêsê̢  ta beltiô tês dianoias agagonta), their days on earth will be blessed with happiness and concord (makarion men kai homonoêtikon ton enthade bion diagousin); for the power of evil in the soul has been subjected, and the power of goodness liberated: they have won self-mastery and inward peace (enkrateis hautôn kai kosmioi ontes, doulôsamenoi men hô̢ kakia psuchês enegigneto, eleutherôsantes de hô̢ aretê, 256a7-b3).’ [In translating these passages form the Phaedrus I am much indebted to Hackforth’s and Rowe’s translations.]

After delivering the Ode on Love, Socrates discusses with Phaedrus its oratory merits, as well as the merits and demerits of the two previous speeches on Love: Lysias’ speech, in which a non-lover, who is interested only in sex, propositions a beautiful boy, arguing that love is a noxious complication, and Socrates’ rival speech, in which the lover is interested in seducing the boy of his desire as effortlessly as possible, and enjoying his sexual favours as long as he is interested in having sex with him. Such lover is of necessity devoid of reason (hup anankês anoêtos, 241b7), faithless (apistos), peevish (duskolos), jealous (phthoneros), disagreeable (aêdes), harmful to the physical condition (blaberos pros tên tou sômatos hexin), and by far the most harmful to the education of the boy’s soul (polu de blaberôtatos pros tên tês psuchês paideusin, 241c2-5).

Xenophon says that Critias bore a grudge against Socrates ever since the latter berated him for his attempts to seduce Euthydemus, and that that’s the reason why he drafted a law that made it illegal to teach rhetoric (logôn technên ou didaskein), thus abusively threatening Socrates (epêreazôn ekeinô̢, Mem. I. ii. 29-31) Xenophon’s explanation that Critias thus tried to calumniate Socrates ‘imputing to him a practice constantly attributed to philosophers’ (to koinê̢ tois philosophois hupo tôn pollôn epitimômenon epipherôn autô̢) doesn’t make much sense, especially in the light of Xenophon’s own remark: ‘I myself never heard Socrates indulge in the practice, nor knew anyone who professed to have heard him do so (ibid.).’ Xenophon’s narrative nevertheless makes sense when we view it against the background of the Phaedrus.

As I have argued, Plato wrote the Phaedrus in 405/404, during the siege of Athens (‘4 Dating of the Phaedreus’ posted on January 15, 2017). Critias was at that time in exile in Thessaly ‘in company with men who put lawlessness before justice’ (ekei sunên anthrôpois anomiâ̢ mallon ê dikaiosunê̢ chrômenois, Xenophon, Mem. I. ii. 24); Socrates in the Crito speaks of Thessaly as the country ‘in which there is (ekei gar dê) the greatest disorder (pleistê ataxia) and licentiousness (kai akolasia, 53d3-4)’.

Xenophon’s story suggests that Socrates’ attempt to deflect Critias from his erotic propositions to Euthydemus was well known, and the whole affair provides – and provided for Plato and his readers – a good background to Socrates’ two speeches on love in the Phaedrus. Socrates’ subsequent discussion of their oratorical merits turned into an ambitious outline of scientific rhetoric, founded on dialectic, which, as Plato undoubtedly hoped, was to become the main political tool in rebuilding the Athenian society after the war ‘so as to lead men from an unjust way of life into a just way’ (ek tinos adikou biou epi dikaion tropon agontas dioikêsein tên polin, Seventh Letter 324d4-5).

When Critias returned from exile after the final surrender of Athens, he could not have found the Phaedrus a very pleasant read. His drafting a law that forbade teaching rhetoric, aimed as a threat at Socrates, can be seen as his response to Plato’s Phaedrus

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