I ended my previous post by observing that the inseparability of politics from rhetoric dominates Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric in the Phaedrus, and that this aspect of the dialogue reflects the political life in the Athenian democracy. Let me now point to the passage that prompted me to make this observation in the first place; I skipped it in my preceding post.
When Socrates ended his second discourse on love, Phaedrus said: ‘For some time I have been amazed at how much finer you managed to make your speech than the one before (ton logon de sou palai thaumasas echô, hosô̢ kalliô tou proterou apêrgasô); so that I’m afraid (hôste oknô) Lysias will appear wretched to me in comparison (mê moi ho Lusias tapeinos phanê̢), if he really does consent to put up another in competition with it (ean ara kai ethelêsê̢ pros auton allon antiparateinai). Indeed, just recently one of the politicians (kai gar tis auton enanchos tôn politikôn) was abusing him with this very charge (tout’ auto loidorôn ôneidize), and throughout all his abuse kept calling him a “speech-writer” (kai dia pasês tês loidorias ekalei logographon); so perhaps we shall find him refraining from writing out of concern for his reputation (tach’ oun an hupo philotimias epischoi hêmin an tou graphein).’ – Socrates: ‘An absurd idea, young man (Geloion g’, ô neania, to dogma legeis); you much mistakes your friend (kai tou hetairou suchnon diamartaneis), if you think him so frightened of mere noise (ei auton houtôs hêgê̢ tina psophodea). But perhaps you really think that the man who was abusing him meant what he said (isôs de kai ton loidoroumenon autô̢ oiei oneidizonta legein ha elegen).’ – Phaedrus: ‘He seemed to (Ephaineto gar); and I think you know yourself (kai sunoistha pou kai autos) that the men with the most power and dignity (hoti hoi megiston dunamenoi te kai semnotatoi) in our cities (en tais polesin) are ashamed (aischunontai) to write speeches (logous te graphein) and leave compositions of theirs behind them (kai kataleipein sungrammata heautôn), for fear of what posterity will think of them (doxan phoboumenoi tou epeita chronou) – they’re afraid they’ll be called sophists (mê sophistai kalôntai).’ – S.: ‘You’re missing the point (lanthanei se) that the politicians who have the highest opinion of themselves (hoti hoi megiston phronountes tôn politikôn) are most in love with speech-writing (malista erôsi logographias te) and with leaving compositions behind them (kai kataleipseôs sungrammatôn), to judge at any rate from the fact that whenever they write a speech (hoi ge kai epeidan tina graphôsi logon), they are so pleased with those who commend it (houtôs agapôsi tous epainetas) that they add in at the beginning the names of those (hôste prosparagraphousi prôtous) who commend them on each occasion (hoi an hekastachou epainôsin autous).’ – P.: ‘What do you mean by that (Pôs legeis touto;)? I don’t understand (ou gar manthanô).’ – S.: ‘You don’t understand (Ou manthaneis) that at the beginning (hoti en archê̢) of a politician’s composition (andros politikou sungrammatos) the commender’s name is written first (prôtos ho epainetês gegraptai)?’ – P.: ‘How so (Pôs;)?’ – S.: ‘The writer says perhaps “it was resolved by the council”, or “by the people”, or both (“Edoxe” pou phêsin “tê̢ boulê̢” ê “tô̢ dêmô̢” ê amphoterois), and “so-and-so said” (kai “hos kai hos eipen”), referring to his own dear self with great pomposity and self-eulogy (ton hauton dê legôn mala semnôs kai enkômiazôn ho sungrapheus); then he proceeds with what he has to say (epeita legei dê meta touto), demonstrating his own wisdom to those commending him (epideiknumenos tois epainetais tên heautou sophian), sometimes making a very long composition of it (eniote panu makron poiêsamenos sungramma); or does such a thing seem to you to differ from a written speech (ê soi allo ti phainetai to toiouton ê logos sungegrammenas;)?’ – P.: ‘Not to me (Ouk emoige).’ – S.: ‘So if it stays written down (Oukoun ean men houtos emmenê̢), the author leaves the theatre delighted (gegêthôs aperchetai ek tou theatrou ho poiêtês); but if it is rubbed out (ean de exaleiphthê̢) and he loses his chance of being a speech-writer (kai amoiros genêtai logographias te) and of being recognized as a writer (kai tou axios einai sungraphein), he and his friends go into morning (penthei autos te kai hoi hetairoi).” – P.: ‘Quite right (Kai mala ‘And very much so’).’ – S.: ‘Clearly (Dêlon ge), not because they despise the profession (hoti ouch hôs huperphronountes tou epitêdeumatos), but because they regard it with admiration (all’ hôs tethaumakotes).’ – P.: ‘Yes indeed (Panu men oun).’ – S.: ‘Well then (Ti de;) – when he becomes an orator or king capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius (hotan hikanos genêtai rêtôr ê basileus, hôste labôn tên Lukourgou ê Solônos ê Dareiou dunamin), and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (athanatos genesthai logographos en polei), doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive (ar’ ouk isotheon hêgeitai autos te hauton eti zôn), and don’t those who come later (kai hoi epeita gignomenoi) think the same of him (t’auta tauta peri autou nomizousi), when they observe his compositions (theômenoi autou ta sungrammata;)?’ – P.: ‘Indeed so (Kai mala).’ – S.: ‘So do you think that anyone of that kind (Oiei tina oun tôn toioutôn), whoever he is and however ill-disposed towards Lysias (hostis kai hopôstioun dusnous Lysia̢), reproaches him on this account (oneideizein auto touto) – that he is a writer (hoti sungraphei)?’ – P.: ‘It is not very likely (Oukoun eikos ge), from what you say (ex hôn su legeis); if he did, it seems he would be reproaching what he himself desires (kai gar tê̢ heautou epithumia̢, hôs eoiken, oneidizoi).’ – S.: ‘This much (Touto men), then (ara), is clear to everyone (panti dêlon), that in itself, at least, writing speeches is not something shameful (hoti ouk aischron auto ge to graphein logous).’ (257c1-258d2, tr. C. J. Rowe)
R. Hackforth devotes to this passage the section XVII in his translation of the Phaedrus under the title ‘Preliminary consideration of speech-writing’: ‘The main purpose of this section is to pave the way for an examination of rhetoric in its most general sense, a sense indeed which goes considerably beyond that commonly recognized, namely any form of address, spoken or written, on any subject, in which a man seeks to commend his proposals or opinions to his audience. The statesman drafting a law is, argues Socrates, engaged in essentially the same business as the epideictic orator to whom Phaedrus had been listening; the one is ‘showing off (epideiknumenos, 258a7) his wisdom to his fellow-citizens in Council or Assembly just as the other to his circle of admirers; the successful political speaker becomes through his “compositions” (sungrammata), namely his measures permanently inscribed in the statute-book, an immortal speech-writer’ (p. 115)
I cannot agree with Hackforth that ‘the main purpose of this section is to pave the way for an examination of rhetoric’. The main purpose of this passage, as I read it, is to defend writing as an activity that does not stand in the way of one’s political ambitions, against those who were engaged in politics and on that account looked down upon writing as an activity that stigmatized one as a Sophist. For this is how Phaedrus introduced the matter, claiming that ‘just recently one of the politicians was abusing Lysias with this very charge,’ expressing a fear, that Lysias might therefore refrain from further writing ‘out of concern for his reputation’.
Rowe’s ‘out of concern for his reputation’ stands for Plato’s hupo philotimias (Hackforth translated similarly: ‘to preserve his reputation’). But this is wrong. Philotimia means, as the word itself suggests, ‘love of honour’ or ‘love of distinction’, or ‘ambition’ as LSJ suggests. In the given context Lysias’ philotimia was to become a politician. Since this was Plato’s own ambition, I cannot help thinking that in this passage Plato defends his writing of the Phaedrus.
Think of what Plato says in his Seventh Letter about his own ambition in those days – i.e. in 405-404 when on the dating I propose he wrote the dialogue: ‘In the days of my youth my experience was the same as that of many others. I thought that as soon as I should become my own master I would immediately enter into public life. But as it happened, I found, that the following changes occurred in the political situation. In the government then existing, reviled as it was by many, a revolution took place … and Thirty were established as responsible rulers of all … they invited me at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial … I imagined that they would administer the State by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way, and consequently I gave my mind to them very diligently, to see what they would do.’ (SL 324b8-d6, tr. R. G. Bury) In other words, when the Thirty took over, he hesitated to join them, waiting ‘to see what they would do ‘Clearly, Plato’s political ambitions were most acute prior to the revolution in which the Thirty took power.
Plato does not say on what grounds his ‘connexions and acquaintances’ (oikeioi te kai gnôrimoi, 324d1-2) thought that his joining them ‘would be congenial’ (prosêkonta pragmata, 324d3), i.e. something with which he was concerned, something appropriate for him. In fact he does not say anything about any of his writings in the Seventh Letter, but on the proposed dating of the Phaedrus Plato not only succeeded in it to defend writing as something that does not stand in the way of one’s political ambitions, but in writing it he showed himself worthy of participating in the government that aimed at ‘administering the State by leading it out of an unjust way of life into a just way’, which the Thirty initially, under the leadership of Theramenes, aimed at.
But this was short-lived. For when Critias took over the Thirty, rhetoric ceased to have any function in the affairs of Athens, and he did all he could to prevent rhetoric from playing any role in politics in the future. Xenophon informs us that ‘when he was one of the Thirty (hote tôn triakonta ôn) and was drafting laws with Charicles (nomothetês meta Charikleous egeneto) he inserted a clause (kai en tois nomois egrapse) which made it illegal “to teach the art of words” (logôn technên mê didaskein).’ (Memorabilia, I.ii.31. Marchant’s ‘the art of words’ stands for Xenophon’s logôn technên, which Hackforth translates in the Phaedrus as ‘the art of speech’ and Rowe as ‘the science of speaking’.) Xenophon further informs us that Critias and Charicles used this law to forbid Socrates ‘to hold any converse whatever with the young (tois neois holôs mê dialegesthai)’ When Socrates asked them ‘to fix the age limit below which a man is to be counted young (horisate moi mechri posôn etôn dei nomizein neous einai tous anthrôpous)’, Charicles replied ‘So long as he is not permitted to sit in the Council (Hosouper chronou bouleuein ouk exesti), because as yet he lacks wisdom (hôs oupô phronimois ousi). You shall not converse with anyone who is under thirty (mêde su dialegou neôterois triakonta etôn).’ (Mem. I.ii.35, tr. E. C. Marchant) Critias and Charicles thus in fact forbade Socrates to converse with Plato, who was at the time in his mid-twenties. Undoubtedly, Critias and Charicles had every reason to be unhappy about Plato’s Phaedrus with its project of philosophic rhetoric viewed as the basis for beneficial politics – in democracy.
Incidentally, I believe that the ancient tradition according to which there was ‘something immature’ in the Phaedrus – ‘that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue (logos de prôton grapsai ton Phaidron), and that indeed the subject has about it something adolescent’ (kai gar echein meirakiôdes ti to problêma, Diog. Laert. III. 38) – goes back to this incident. In my view, Socrates used its being well known to distance himself from the Phaedrus in his defence speech: ‘It certainly would not be suitable (oude gar an dêpou prepoi) for my age (tê̢de tê̢ hêlikia̢) to be appearing before you fabricating speeches like an adolescent (hôsper meirakiô̢ plattonti logous eis humas eisienai, Plato, Apology, 17c4-5)’.
It was just as important for Socrates to distance himself in his Defence from the Phaedrus as ‘an adolescent fabrication’, for in it, in ‘his’ second speech on love, ‘he’ did introduce the Forms as new deities – ‘to which a god’s nearness makes him truly god’ (pros hoisper theos ôn theios estin, 249c6) … ‘the driver’s memory (hê tou hêniochou mnêmê) goes back to that form of Beauty (pros tên tou kallous phusin ênechthê), and he sees her once again (kai palin eiden autên) enthroned by the side of Temperance upon her holy seat (meta sôphrosunês en hagnô̢ basthrô̢ bebôsan, 254b5-7, tr. Hackforth) – and thus was liable to the charge of impiety if he was holding and propagating the view ‘he’ pronounced in that speech, as it was essential for Plato to do so in the Apology after Socrates had been found guilty of impiety and sentenced to death, for as a writer of the Phaedrus he could not be charged with impiety thanks to the general amnesty issued by the democrats after their victory over the Thirty.
But let me now turn to the main purpose of this post: pointing to those aspects in the given passage that prompted me to observe that the inseparability of politics from rhetoric dominates Plato’s thoughts on rhetoric in the Phaedrus, thus reflecting the political life in the Athenian democracy.
Phaedrus refers to a politician that reproached Lysias with his being a ‘speech-writer when he contemplates asking Lysias to write a speech competing with Socrates’ second speech on love. Socrates’ second speech is thus – ‘incidentally’ – affected by the same charge.
Socrates vehemently rebuts the charge by pointing to activities that characterised political life in Athenian democracy: ‘the politicians who have the highest opinion of themselves are most in love with speech-writing and with leaving compositions behind them … whenever they write a speech, they are so pleased with those who commend it that they add in at the beginning the names of those who commend them on each occasion … The writer says perhaps “it was resolved by the council”, or “by the people”, or both, and “so-and-so said” … then he proceeds with what he has to say … sometimes making a very long composition of it … So if it stays written down, the author leaves the theatre delighted; but if it is rubbed out and he loses his chance of being a speech-writer and of being recognized as a writer, he and his friends go into morning.’
When Plato’s Socrates goes on to enlarge the picture including in it ‘Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius’, Plato’s mind is still focused on the unnamed politician that spoke abusively about the art of writing, as if it relegated the writer into the rank of Sophists, thus standing in the way of fulfilling his ambition of becoming a politician. Socrates contemplates the self-same politician – to whom Lysias had referred in the first place – when he says: ‘Well then– when he becomes an orator or king capable of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius, and achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (en polei), doesn’t he think himself equal to the gods even while he is alive, and don’t those who come later think the same of him, when they observe his compositions?’ In speaking of him thus, Socrates does not think of him as a politician who ‘becomes an orator’, as if the two were distinct professions; he thinks of him all the time as an orator, but now he imagines him as capable, through his oratorical skills, of acquiring the power of a Lycurgus, a Solon or a Darius.
Particularly telling is Plato’s imagining how the unnamed politician would prize his achieving immortality as a speech-writer in a city (en polei), after referring to Darius as an example. Although he spoke of Darius, the king of Persia, his eyes were fixed on the city of Athens.
Concerning Plato’s mentioning of Darius, Hackforth and Rowe refer to Plato’s Seventh Letter 332b. The Seventh Letter was written when Plato was in his late seventies; viewed simply as such it might chime with their late dating of the Phaedrus. But if we follow the reference, we will find little affinity between the mentioning of Darius in the Phaedrus and in the Seventh Letter.
To make sense of the reference, we must begin at 331e, where Plato speaks of Dionysius the elder ‘who had recovered many great cities which had been laid waste by the barbarians (hos paralabôn Sikelias pollas kai megalas poleis hupo tôn barbarôn peporthêmenas), was unable (ouch hoios t’ ên), when he settled them (katoikisas), to establish in each a loyal government composed of true comrades (politeias en hekastais katastêsasthai pistas hetairôn andrôn, 331e2-5)’ and then compares him with Darius ‘who trusted men who neither were his brothers (hos ouk adelphois pisteusas) nor reared up by himself (oud’ huph’ hautou trapheisi) but merely colleagues (koinônous de monon) who had helped him to crush the Mede and the Eunuch (tês tou Mêdou te kai eunouchou cheirôseôs); and he divided amongst them seven provinces, each greater than the whole Sicily (dieneime te merê meizô hekasta Sikelias pasês hepta); and these colleagues he found loyal (kai pistois echrêsato tois koinônois), neither did they make any attack either on himself or on one another (kai ouk epitithemenois oute autô̢ oute allêlois). And thus he left an example (edeixen te paradeigma) of the character which should belong to the good lawgiver and king (hoion chrê ton nomothetên kai basilea ton agathon gignesthai); for by the laws he framed (nomous gar kataskeuasas) he has preserved the empire of the Persians even until this day (eti kai nun diasesôken tên Persôn archên).’ (332a6-b6, tr. R. G. Bury)
The lesson that Socrates draws in the Phaedrus from imagining the unnamed politician obtaining the power of ‘a Darius’ is as follows: ‘So do you think that anyone of that kind, whoever he is and however ill-disposed towards Lysias, reproaches him on this account – that he is a writer?’ – Phaedrus answers: ‘It is not very likely, from what you say; if he did, it seems he would be reproaching what he himself desires.’ – Socrates: ‘This much, then, is clear to everyone, that in itself, at least, writing speeches is not something shameful.’