Plato presents us with three pictures of Pericles; the differences between these pictures can be illuminated by the dating of the dialogues in which they are found. I date the Phaedrus in 405 (see my three posts on ‘Plato’s Phaedrus in the light of the dating of his Charmides’, December 28 and 30, 2017, and January 7, 2018). Plato wrote the Phaedrus in the days when his desire to engage in politics was most acute, conceiving it in the atmosphere of patriotic fervour that brought about the last great victory to the Athenian fleet in the battle of Arginousae; in those days Pericles stood in the memory of the Athenians as the symbol of Athens at the summit of their greatness. Correspondingly, the picture of him in the Phaedrus is that of a most accomplished, most persuasive orator.
The Meno I date in 402/401. For this dating see the 10th Chapter of The Lost Plato (on my website) entitled ‘Plato versus Anytus’, from which I quote: ‘In 401, two years before Socrates died, Meno took part in the ill-fated attempt of Cyrus the yonger to dethrone the Persian king Artaxerxes … and after Cyrus fell he became instrumental in the capture of the Greek commanders by the Persians (Xenophon, Anabasis II.iii.-vi.). In the Meno, Socrates in his closing words exhorts Meno to persuade Anytus, Meno’s host, of all that of which he himself has been persuaded by Socrates in their discussion (su de tauta haper autos pepeisai peithe kai ton xenon tonde Anuton), so that he might become more gentle (hina pra̢oteros ê̢): ‘if you succeed in persuading him, you will benefit the Athenians (hôs ean peisê̢s touton, estin hoti kai Athênaious onêseis, 100b7-c2). If Plato wrote the Meno after the death of Socrates, as is currently believed, both he himself and his readers were bound to think of Anytus first and foremost as the principal accuser of Socrates, and the Meno as the scoundrel (hôs ponêros, Xen. An. II.vi.29). I cannot see how Plato could have written the Meno in these circumstances. This is why I date the dialogue prior to Meno’s involvement in Cyrus’ military expedition.’
The Meno thus falls into the period in which Plato was recovering from his great disappointment with the reign of the Thirty, and his desire to do politics began to rekindle. The political aspirations of the victorious democrats – victorious in their fight against the Thirty, but still completely dependent on the goodwill of Sparta – could not match those in the atmosphere of which Plato wrote the Phaedrus. Pericles’ picture is correspondingly diminished. In the Meno Socrates presents Pericles as a great statesman side by side with Themistocles, Aristides, and Thucydides, but he refrains from attributing to them true political virtue, for neither of them could teach their political excellence to others, not even to their sons.
In the Gorgias, Plato’s rejection of rhetoric, which culminates in his negative picture of Pericles, indicates that the dialogue was written at the time when Plato realised that there was no place for him in the politics of Athens. In his autobiographic remarks in the Seventh Letter Plato proceeds from the days in which he vacillated between despair and hope concerning his engagement in the Athenian politics straight into the days when he conceived the state in which the philosophers become rulers, to which he devoted the Republic (see Seventh Letter 325b5-326b4). The Gorgias nevertheless indicates that there must have been a time in which Plato had given up on any hope of becoming engaged in the politics of Athens, but had not yet come to the realization that ‘the classes of mankind will have no cessation from evils (kakôn oun ou lêxein ta anthrôpina genê) until either the class of those who are right and true philosophers attains political supremacy (prin an ê to tôn philosophountôn orthôs ge kai alêthôs genos eis archas elthê̢ tas politikas), or else the class of those who hold power in the State (ê to tôn dunasteuontôn en tais polesin) becomes, by some dispensation of Heaven, really philosophic (ek tinos moiras theias ontôs philosophêsê̢). This was the view I held (Tautên dê tên dianoian echôn) when I came to Italy and Sicily (eis Italian te kai Sikelian êlthon), at the time of my first arrival (hote prôton aphikomên).’ (Seventh Letter 326a7-b6, tr. R. G. Bury) This view became the cornerstone of Plato’s ideal state in the Republic (473c11-e5). I view the Gorgias as written close to Plato’s leaving Athens for his first journey to Sicily.
The currently accepted dating of these dialogues is very different: first comes the Gorgias, then the Meno, then the Phaedrus. The question is, how can Platonic scholars accommodate Plato’s different pictures of Pericles in these dialogues with the dating they assign to them.
In the Phaedrus, after surveying the inventions of notable rhetoricians and sophists – Thrasymachus, Theodorus, Evenus, Tisias, Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, Protagoras – who believed to have established rhetoric as a technê (‘scientific discipline’ /Rowe/, ‘true art’ /Hackforth/, ‘craft’ /Irwin/), Socrates refers to Eryximachus and Acumenus, representatives of medicine, a true scientific discipline, then to Sophocles and Euripides, writers of tragedies and thus representatives of a true art, so as to establish with their help that the inventions of rhetoricians are mere preliminaries to rhetoric that might be rightly called a science or true art. Finally Socrates brings in Adrastus (a mythical king extolled by Tyrtaeus, a Spartan poet, for his ‘honey-sweet tongue’ glôssan Adrêstou meligêrun) and Pericles so that they can give their opinion on this matter.
Socrates says to Phaedrus: ‘And if “mellifluous Adrastus”, or shall we say Pericles, were to hear of those admirable artifices that we were referring to just now – the Brachylogies and Imageries and all the rest of them, which we enumerated and deemed it necessary to examine in clear light – are we to suppose that they would address those who practice and teach this sort of thing, under the name of the art of rhetoric, with the severity you and I displayed, and in rude, coarse language (Ti de ton meligêrun Adraston oiometha ê kai Periklea, ei akouseian hôn nundê hêmeis diê̢men tôn pankalôn technêmatôn - brachulogiôn te kai eikonologiôn kai hosa alla dielthontes hup augas ephamen einai skeptea – poteron chalepôs an autous, hôsper egô te kai su, hup’ agroikias rêma ti eipein apaideuton eis tous tauta gegraphotas te kai didaskontas hôs rêtorikên technên)? Or would they, in their ampler wisdom (ê hate hêmôn ontas sophôterous), actually reproach us and say (k’an nô̢n epiplêxai eipontas: “Phaedrus and Socrates (Ô Phaidre te kai Sôkrates), you ought not to get angry (ou chrê chalepainein), but to make allowances (alla sungignôskein) for such people (ei tines); it is because they are ignorant of dialectic (mê epistamenoi dialegesthai) that they are incapable of properly defining rhetoric (adunatoi egenonto horisasthai ti pot’ estin rêtorikê), and that in turn leads them to imagine that by possessing themselves of the requisite antecedent learning they have discovered the art itself (ek de toutou tou pathous ta pro tês technês anankaia mathêmata echontes rêtorikên ô̢êthêsan hêurêkeani). And so they teach these antecedents to their pupils (kai tauta dê didaskontes allous), and believe that that constitutes a complete instruction in rhetoric (hêgountai sphisin teleôs rêtorikên dedidachthai); they don’t bother about employing the various artifices in such a way that they will be effective (to de hekasta toutôn pithanôs legein te), or about organising a work as a whole (kai to holon sunistasthai): that is for the pupils to see for themselves when they come to make speeches (ouden ergon on, autous dein par’ heautôn tous mathêtas sphôn porizesthai en tois logois).” – Phaedrus: ‘Well yes (Alla mên), Socrates (ô Sôkrates): I dare say that does more or less describe what the teachers and writers in question regard as the art of rhetoric (kinduneuei ge toiouton ti einai to tês technês hên houtoi hoi andres hôs rêtorikên didaskousin te kai graphousin); personally I think what you say is true (kai emoige dokeis alêthê eirêkenai). But now (alla dê) by what means and from what source can one attain the art of the true rhetorician, the real master of persuasion (tên tou tô̢ onti rêtorikou te kai pithanou technên pôs kai pothen an tis dunaito porisasthai). (269a5-d1)?’
In response, Socrates points out that ‘Pericles became the most finished exponent of rhetoric there has ever been’ (ho Periklês pantôn teleôtatos eis tên rêtorikên genesthai, 269e1-2), for ‘All the great arts (Pasai hosai megalai tôn technôn) need supplementing by a study of Nature: your artist must cultivate garrulity and high-flown speculation (prosdeontai adoleschias kai meteôrologias phuseôs peri); from that source alone can come the mental elevation and thoroughly finished execution of which you are thinking (to gar hupsêlonoun touto kai pantê̢ telesiourgon eoiken enteuthen pothen eisienai); and that is what Pericles acquired to supplement his inborn capacity (ho kai Periklês pros tô̢ euphuês einai ektêsato). He came across the right sort of man, I fancy, in Anaxagorass (prospesôn gar oimai toioutô̢ onti Anaxagora̢), and by enriching himself with high speculation (meteôrologias emplêstheis) and coming to recognise the nature of wisdom and folly (kai epi phusin nou te kai anoias aphikomenos) – on which topics of course Anaxagoras was always discoursing (hôn dê peri ton polun logon epoieito Anaxagoras) – he drew from that source and applied to the art of rhetoric what was suitable into (enteuthen heilkusen epi tên tôn logôn technên to prosphoron autê̢).’ (269e4-270a8, translation R. Hackforth)
Hackforth notes: ‘The question sometimes raised, whether Plato is here reversing (or mitigating) the averse judgment passed on Pericles in the Gorgias, is misplaced, for he was there regarded as a bad statesman whereas here it is merely his oratorical excellence, which neither Socrates nor Plato would deny, that is affirmed.’ (Plato’s Phaedrus, translation and commentary R. Hackforth, Cambridge University Press, 1972, p. 149)
But Hackforth’s explanation won’t do, for in the Phaedrus Plato introduces Pericles side by side with Adrastus, a mythical king, thus closely connecting political power of Pericles to his rhetorical skills; the close association of politics, of statesmanship, with rhetoric comes to the fore as soon as Plato begins to discuss rhetoric in the dialogue. The discussion begins with Phaedrus’ complaint that ‘just recently one of the politicians (kai gar tis auton enanchos tôn politikôn) was abusing Lysias (loidorôn ôneidize), and throughout all his abuse kept calling him a “speech-writer” (kai dia pasês tês loidorias ekalei logographon, 257c4-7). But Socrates argues ‘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, 257e2-6) … 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”) … 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; 258a4-9)? … 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; 258b10-c5)? … 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, 258d1-2).’ (Translation C. J. Rowe)
While the association of politics with rhetoric is simply immanent to Plato’s thinking in the Phaedrus, just as it pervaded all political activities within the framework of the Athenian democracy, in the Gorgias, in which Plato disassociates himself from the political life in Athens, it becomes profoundly transformed. In the Gorgias Plato defines rhetoric as ‘an image of a part of politics’ (politikês moriou eidôlon, 463d2). When Gorgias asks Socrates: ‘tell me how you say rhetoric is an image of a part of politics (emoi d’ eipe pôs legeis politikês moriou eidôlon einai tên rêtorikên, 463e3-4), Socrates explains that he views politics as a technê that takes care of the soul, and that it consists of two closely related parts, legislation (nomothetikên) and justice (dikaiosunên, 464b), to which correspond two eidôla ‘images’ of them: sophistic (sophistikê) is an eidôlon of legislation (nomothetikê), rhetoric (rêtorikê) is an eidôlon of justice (dikaiosunê, 465c). And just as the real things, legislation and justice, ‘share with one another (epikoinônousi allêlais), in so far as they are about the same thing (hate peri to auto ousai, 464c1)’, for they both take care of the soul (epi tê̢ psuchê̢, 464b4), so their eidôla are mixed with one another: ‘since they are so close to each other, sophists and rhetors are mixed up in the same area and about the same thing (hate d’ engus ontôn phurontai en tô̢ autô̢ kai peri t’auta sophistai kai rêtores), so that they don’t know what to make of themselves (kai ouk echousin hoti chrêsontai oute autoi heautois), and other people don’t know what to make of them (oute hoi alloi anthrôpoi toutois, 465c4-7, tr. T. Irwin).
C. J. Rowe remarks on Plato’s image of Pericles in the Phaedrus: ‘Both Hackforth and de Vries find genuine praise of Pericles’ eloquence here, despite the scathing criticism of him as a statesman in the Gorgias (515 b ff.). Guthrie (vol. IV, 432) rightly replies that “to Plato the two [i.e. oratory and statesmanship] cannot be separated”.’
This is true only concerning the Phaedrus. In the Gorgias Plato views politics as a technê, a true thing, separating from it rhetoric as an eidôlon of one of its parts. In the late Statesman – see ‘Plato’s Statesman, the date of its composition’ posted on my blog on March 8, 2017 – Plato views rhetoric again as a technê, ‘separating it from the political science’ (politikês epistêmês apochôrizein) as one of the arts that can be exercised only at the politician’s command. The Stranger from Sicily (Plato’s main spokesman in the Sophist and the Statesman) elucidates the task of separating the two with an easier task: ‘The illustration of music may assist in exhibiting him (dia de mousikês auton epicheirêteon dêlôsai, 304a6-7)’, i.e. in exhibiting the Statesman ‘alone and unalloyed’ (gumnon kai monon, 304a3). He asks the Younger Socrates (the Stranger’s interlocutor in the Statesman; Socrates we know from Plato’s earlier dialogues stands in the background and attentively follows the Stranger’s exposition of the science of politics): ‘There is such a thing as learning music (Mousikês esti pou tis hêmin mathêsis) or handicraft of any kind (kai holôs tôn peri cheirotechnias epistêmôn;)?’ The Younger Socrates replies: ‘There is’ (Estin). – Stranger: ‘And is there any higher art or science, having power to decide which of these arts are and are not to be learned (Ti de; to d’ au toutôn hêntinoun eite dei manthanein hêmas eite mê, potera phêsomen epistêmên kai tautên einai tina peri auta tauta) – what do you say (ê pôs;)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘I should answer that there is (Houtôs, einai phêsomen).’ – Str.: ‘And do we acknowledge this science to be different from the others (Oukoun heteran homologêsomen ekeinôn einai tautên;)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘Yes (Nai).’ – Str.: ‘And ought the other sciences to be superior to this, or no single science to any other (Potera de autôn oudemian archein dein allên allês, ê ekeinas tautês)? Or ought this science (ê tautên dein) to be the overseer and governor of all the others (epitropeuousan archein sumpasôn tôn allôn;)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘The latter (Tautên ekeinôn).’ Str.: ‘You mean to say that the science which judges whether we ought to learn or not, must be superior to the science which is learned or which teaches (Tên ei dei manthanein ê mê tês manthanomenês kai didaskousês ara su ge apophainê̢ dein hêmin archein)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘Far superior (Sphodra ge).’ (304a6-c6)
Having thus illustrated the procedure, the Stranger proceeds: ‘And the science which determines whether we ought to persuade or not (Kai tên ei dei peithein ê mê), must be superior to the science which is able to persuade (tês dunamenês peithein;)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘Of course (Pôs d’ ou;).’ – Str.: ‘Very good (Eien); and to what science do we assign the power of persuading (tini to peistikon oun apodôsomen eistêmê̢) a multitude (plêthous te kai ochlou) by a pleasing tale (dia muthologias) and not by teaching (alla mê dia didachês;)?’ – Y.Soc.: ‘That power, I think, must clearly be assigned to rhetoric (Phaneron oimai kai touto rêtorikê̢ doteon on).’ – Str. ‘And to what science do we give the power of determining whether we are to employ persuasion or force towards anyone, or to refrain altogether (To d’ eite dia peithous eite dia tinos bias dei prattein pros tinas hotioun ê kai to parapan hêsuchian echein, tout’ au poia̢ prosthêsomen epistêmê̢;)? – Y.Socr. ‘To that science which governs the arts of speech and persuasion (Tê̢ tês peistikês archousê̢ kai lektikês).’ – Str.: ‘Which, if I am not mistaken (Eiê d’ an ouk allê tis, hôs oimai), will be politics (plên hê tou politikou dunamis)?’ – Y.Soc. ‘Very good (Kallist’ eirêkas – ‘You’ve said it best’).’ – Str.: ‘Rhetoric seems to be quickly distinguished from politics (Kai touto men eoike tachu kechôristhai politikês to rêtorikon), being a different species (hôs heteron eidos on), yet ministering to it (hupêretoun mên tautê̢).’ – Y.Soc. ‘Yes (Nai).’ (304c1-e2, tr. B. Jowett)
In the Statesman Plato treats rhetoric as an eidos, not a mere eidôlon as in the Gorgias, but what a different eidos from rhetoric outlined in the Phaedrus. Rhetoric in the Statesman is strictly subservient to politics, the rhetorician is told by the statesman what to say, when to say it, and to whom to say it; in the Phaedrus it is the rhetorician/politician, whose rhetoric is founded on dialectic, who decides all these things. This is why the two, the rhetorician and politician, are inseparable in the Phaedrus.
Having dismissed as misplaced the question whether Plato is in the Phaedrus reversing (or mitigating) the averse judgment passed on Pericles in the Gorgias, Hackforth remarks: ‘Nevertheless I do not think that Plato would have written as he does here if he had not in fact revised his opinion of Pericles; but the revision occurs not here but in the Meno.’ (Plato’s Phaedrus, translation and commentary R. Hackforth, Cambridge University Press, 1972, p. 149, note 3)
Plato begins to revise his picture of Pericles in the Meno, but not on the way from the Gorgias to the Phaedrus, but on the way from the Phaedrus to the Gorgias. Pericles figures in the Meno as one of the great statesmen of Athens concerning whom Socrates asks in his discussion with Anytus whether they could teach their political virtue, their statesmanship, to others: ‘There is Pericles, again (ei de boulei, Periklea), magnificent in his wisdom (houtôs megaloprepôs sophon andra); and he, as you are aware, had two sons (oisth’ hoti duo huieis ethrepse), Paralus and Xanthippus (Paralon kai Xanthippon).’ – Anytus: ‘I know (Egôge).’ – Socrates: And you know, also, that he taught them to be unrivalled horsemen (Toutous mentoi, hôs oistha kai su, hippeas men edidaxen oudenos cheirous Athênaiôn), and had them trained in music and gymnastics and all sorts of arts (kai mousikên kai agônian kai t’alla epaideusen hosa technês echetai) – in these respects they were on a level with the best (oudenos cheirous) – and had he no wish to make good men of them (agathous de ara andras ouk ebouleto poiêsai;)? Nay, he must have wished it (dokô men, ebouleto). But virtue, as I suspect, could not be taught (all mê ouk ê̢ didakton).’ (94a7-b8)
Unteachable, the statesmanship of these great men could not be viewed as science (epistêmê). Consequently, Socrates classifies their statesmanship as based on ‘true opinion’ (doxa alêthês, 97b11), not on science, and says to Meno: ‘Then of two good and useful things (Duoin ara ontoin agathoin kai ôphelimoin), one, which is knowledge, has been set aside, and cannot be our guide in political life (to men heteron apolelutai, kai ouk an eiê en politikê̢ praxei epistêmê hêgemôn, 99b1-3) … And therefore not by any wisdom (Ouk ara sophia̢ tini), and not because they were wise (oude sophoi ontes), did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern states (hoi toioutoi andres hêgounto tais polesin, hoi amphi Themistoklea te kai hous arti Anutos hode elegen, 99b5-7) … the only alternative which remains is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion (eudoxia̢ de to loipon hê̢ hoi politikoi andres chrômenoi tas poleis orthousin), which is in politics what divination is in religion (ouden diapherontôs echontes pros to phronein ê hoi chrêsmô̢doi te kai hoi theomanteis); for diviners and also prophets say many things truly (kai gar houtoi enthousiôntes legousin men alêthê kai polla), but they know not what they say (isasi de ouden hôn legousin, 99b11-c5) … unless there may be supposed to be among statesmen some one (ei mê tis eiê toioutos tôn politikôn andrôn) who is capable of educating statesmen (hoios kai allon poiêsai politikon). And if there be such a one (ei de eiê), he may be said to be among the living (schedon an ti houtos legoito toioutos en tois zôsin) what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead (hoion ephê Homêros en tois tethneôsin Teiresian einai, legôn peri autou, hoti), “he alone has understanding (“oios pepnutai” tôn en Ha̢dou); but the rest are flitting shades (toi de skiai aissousi)”; and he and his virtue in like manner will be a reality among shadows (t’auton an kai enthade ho toioutos hôsper para skias alêthes an pragma eiê pros aretên).’ (100a1-7; translation of the passages from the Meno B. Jowett)
The political virtue of Pericles viewed in the Meno as a mere shadow (skia) of the real thing anticipates the picture of his political and rhetorical skills in the Gorgias as a mere ‘image’ (eidôlon, 463d2) of justice, which as a part of politics takes care of the soul (464b). Socrates says in the Gorgias that ‘the Athenians were corrupted by Pericles’ (diaphtharênai par’ ekeinou), that ‘he has made them (pepoiêkenai Athênaious) idle (argous) and cowardly (kai deilous), and encouraged them in the love of talk and money (kai lalous kai philargurous), for he was the first to give the people pay (eis misthophorian prôton katastêsanta, 515e4-7)’. – As Aristotle informs us in the Politics,’ Pericles ‘instituted the payment for the juries’ (ta de dikastêria misthophora katestêse Periklês, 1274a8-9, tr. B. Jowett)