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Phaedo by Plato

Part 3 out of 3

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a fish who puts his head out of the water and sees this world, he would see
a world beyond; and, if the nature of man could sustain the sight, he would
acknowledge that this other world was the place of the true heaven and the
true light and the true earth. For our earth, and the stones, and the
entire region which surrounds us, are spoilt and corroded, as in the sea
all things are corroded by the brine, neither is there any noble or perfect
growth, but caverns only, and sand, and an endless slough of mud: and even
the shore is not to be compared to the fairer sights of this world. And
still less is this our world to be compared with the other. Of that upper
earth which is under the heaven, I can tell you a charming tale, Simmias,
which is well worth hearing.

And we, Socrates, replied Simmias, shall be charmed to listen to you.

The tale, my friend, he said, is as follows:--In the first place, the
earth, when looked at from above, is in appearance streaked like one of
those balls which have leather coverings in twelve pieces, and is decked
with various colours, of which the colours used by painters on earth are in
a manner samples. But there the whole earth is made up of them, and they
are brighter far and clearer than ours; there is a purple of wonderful
lustre, also the radiance of gold, and the white which is in the earth is
whiter than any chalk or snow. Of these and other colours the earth is
made up, and they are more in number and fairer than the eye of man has
ever seen; the very hollows (of which I was speaking) filled with air and
water have a colour of their own, and are seen like light gleaming amid the
diversity of the other colours, so that the whole presents a single and
continuous appearance of variety in unity. And in this fair region
everything that grows--trees, and flowers, and fruits--are in a like degree
fairer than any here; and there are hills, having stones in them in a like
degree smoother, and more transparent, and fairer in colour than our
highly-valued emeralds and sardonyxes and jaspers, and other gems, which
are but minute fragments of them: for there all the stones are like our
precious stones, and fairer still (compare Republic). The reason is, that
they are pure, and not, like our precious stones, infected or corroded by
the corrupt briny elements which coagulate among us, and which breed
foulness and disease both in earth and stones, as well as in animals and
plants. They are the jewels of the upper earth, which also shines with
gold and silver and the like, and they are set in the light of day and are
large and abundant and in all places, making the earth a sight to gladden
the beholder's eye. And there are animals and men, some in a middle
region, others dwelling about the air as we dwell about the sea; others in
islands which the air flows round, near the continent: and in a word, the
air is used by them as the water and the sea are by us, and the ether is to
them what the air is to us. Moreover, the temperament of their seasons is
such that they have no disease, and live much longer than we do, and have
sight and hearing and smell, and all the other senses, in far greater
perfection, in the same proportion that air is purer than water or the
ether than air. Also they have temples and sacred places in which the gods
really dwell, and they hear their voices and receive their answers, and are
conscious of them and hold converse with them, and they see the sun, moon,
and stars as they truly are, and their other blessedness is of a piece with

Such is the nature of the whole earth, and of the things which are around
the earth; and there are divers regions in the hollows on the face of the
globe everywhere, some of them deeper and more extended than that which we
inhabit, others deeper but with a narrower opening than ours, and some are
shallower and also wider. All have numerous perforations, and there are
passages broad and narrow in the interior of the earth, connecting them
with one another; and there flows out of and into them, as into basins, a
vast tide of water, and huge subterranean streams of perennial rivers, and
springs hot and cold, and a great fire, and great rivers of fire, and
streams of liquid mud, thin or thick (like the rivers of mud in Sicily, and
the lava streams which follow them), and the regions about which they
happen to flow are filled up with them. And there is a swinging or see-saw
in the interior of the earth which moves all this up and down, and is due
to the following cause:--There is a chasm which is the vastest of them all,
and pierces right through the whole earth; this is that chasm which Homer
describes in the words,--

'Far off, where is the inmost depth beneath the earth;'

and which he in other places, and many other poets, have called Tartarus.
And the see-saw is caused by the streams flowing into and out of this
chasm, and they each have the nature of the soil through which they flow.
And the reason why the streams are always flowing in and out, is that the
watery element has no bed or bottom, but is swinging and surging up and
down, and the surrounding wind and air do the same; they follow the water
up and down, hither and thither, over the earth--just as in the act of
respiration the air is always in process of inhalation and exhalation;--and
the wind swinging with the water in and out produces fearful and
irresistible blasts: when the waters retire with a rush into the lower
parts of the earth, as they are called, they flow through the earth in
those regions, and fill them up like water raised by a pump, and then when
they leave those regions and rush back hither, they again fill the hollows
here, and when these are filled, flow through subterranean channels and
find their way to their several places, forming seas, and lakes, and
rivers, and springs. Thence they again enter the earth, some of them
making a long circuit into many lands, others going to a few places and not
so distant; and again fall into Tartarus, some at a point a good deal lower
than that at which they rose, and others not much lower, but all in some
degree lower than the point from which they came. And some burst forth
again on the opposite side, and some on the same side, and some wind round
the earth with one or many folds like the coils of a serpent, and descend
as far as they can, but always return and fall into the chasm. The rivers
flowing in either direction can descend only to the centre and no further,
for opposite to the rivers is a precipice.

Now these rivers are many, and mighty, and diverse, and there are four
principal ones, of which the greatest and outermost is that called Oceanus,
which flows round the earth in a circle; and in the opposite direction
flows Acheron, which passes under the earth through desert places into the
Acherusian lake: this is the lake to the shores of which the souls of the
many go when they are dead, and after waiting an appointed time, which is
to some a longer and to some a shorter time, they are sent back to be born
again as animals. The third river passes out between the two, and near the
place of outlet pours into a vast region of fire, and forms a lake larger
than the Mediterranean Sea, boiling with water and mud; and proceeding
muddy and turbid, and winding about the earth, comes, among other places,
to the extremities of the Acherusian Lake, but mingles not with the waters
of the lake, and after making many coils about the earth plunges into
Tartarus at a deeper level. This is that Pyriphlegethon, as the stream is
called, which throws up jets of fire in different parts of the earth. The
fourth river goes out on the opposite side, and falls first of all into a
wild and savage region, which is all of a dark-blue colour, like lapis
lazuli; and this is that river which is called the Stygian river, and falls
into and forms the Lake Styx, and after falling into the lake and receiving
strange powers in the waters, passes under the earth, winding round in the
opposite direction, and comes near the Acherusian lake from the opposite
side to Pyriphlegethon. And the water of this river too mingles with no
other, but flows round in a circle and falls into Tartarus over against
Pyriphlegethon; and the name of the river, as the poets say, is Cocytus.

Such is the nature of the other world; and when the dead arrive at the
place to which the genius of each severally guides them, first of all, they
have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously or not.
And those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the river
Acheron, and embarking in any vessels which they may find, are carried in
them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil
deeds, and having suffered the penalty of the wrongs which they have done
to others, they are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds,
each of them according to his deserts. But those who appear to be
incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes--who have committed
many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the
like--such are hurled into Tartarus which is their suitable destiny, and
they never come out. Those again who have committed crimes, which,
although great, are not irremediable--who in a moment of anger, for
example, have done violence to a father or a mother, and have repented for
the remainder of their lives, or, who have taken the life of another under
the like extenuating circumstances--these are plunged into Tartarus, the
pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of
the year the wave casts them forth--mere homicides by way of Cocytus,
parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon--and they are borne to the
Acherusian lake, and there they lift up their voices and call upon the
victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to be
kind to them, and let them come out into the lake. And if they prevail,
then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are
carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers
unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged:
for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges. Those too
who have been pre-eminent for holiness of life are released from this
earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the
purer earth; and of these, such as have duly purified themselves with
philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer
still which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to

Wherefore, Simmias, seeing all these things, what ought not we to do that
we may obtain virtue and wisdom in this life? Fair is the prize, and the
hope great!

A man of sense ought not to say, nor will I be very confident, that the
description which I have given of the soul and her mansions is exactly
true. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, he
may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that something of the
kind is true. The venture is a glorious one, and he ought to comfort
himself with words like these, which is the reason why I lengthen out the
tale. Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who
having cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him
and working harm rather than good, has sought after the pleasures of
knowledge; and has arrayed the soul, not in some foreign attire, but in her
own proper jewels, temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and
truth--in these adorned she is ready to go on her journey to the world
below, when her hour comes. You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other men,
will depart at some time or other. Me already, as the tragic poet would
say, the voice of fate calls. Soon I must drink the poison; and I think
that I had better repair to the bath first, in order that the women may not
have the trouble of washing my body after I am dead.

When he had done speaking, Crito said: And have you any commands for us,
Socrates--anything to say about your children, or any other matter in which
we can serve you?

Nothing particular, Crito, he replied: only, as I have always told you,
take care of yourselves; that is a service which you may be ever rendering
to me and mine and to all of us, whether you promise to do so or not. But
if you have no thought for yourselves, and care not to walk according to
the rule which I have prescribed for you, not now for the first time,
however much you may profess or promise at the moment, it will be of no

We will do our best, said Crito: And in what way shall we bury you?

In any way that you like; but you must get hold of me, and take care that I
do not run away from you. Then he turned to us, and added with a smile:--I
cannot make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who have been talking
and conducting the argument; he fancies that I am the other Socrates whom
he will soon see, a dead body--and he asks, How shall he bury me? And
though I have spoken many words in the endeavour to show that when I have
drunk the poison I shall leave you and go to the joys of the blessed,--
these words of mine, with which I was comforting you and myself, have had,
as I perceive, no effect upon Crito. And therefore I want you to be surety
for me to him now, as at the trial he was surety to the judges for me: but
let the promise be of another sort; for he was surety for me to the judges
that I would remain, and you must be my surety to him that I shall not
remain, but go away and depart; and then he will suffer less at my death,
and not be grieved when he sees my body being burned or buried. I would
not have him sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the burial, Thus we lay out
Socrates, or, Thus we follow him to the grave or bury him; for false words
are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Be of
good cheer, then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only,
and do with that whatever is usual, and what you think best.

When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into a chamber to bathe;
Crito followed him and told us to wait. So we remained behind, talking and
thinking of the subject of discourse, and also of the greatness of our
sorrow; he was like a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were
about to pass the rest of our lives as orphans. When he had taken the bath
his children were brought to him--(he had two young sons and an elder one);
and the women of his family also came, and he talked to them and gave them
a few directions in the presence of Crito; then he dismissed them and
returned to us.

Now the hour of sunset was near, for a good deal of time had passed while
he was within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his bath,
but not much was said. Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven,
entered and stood by him, saying:--To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the
noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will
not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me, when,
in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison--indeed, I am
sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and
not I, are to blame. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what
must needs be--you know my errand. Then bursting into tears he turned away
and went out.

Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do as
you bid. Then turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I
have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he
would talk to me, and was as good to me as could be, and now see how
generously he sorrows on my account. We must do as he says, Crito; and
therefore let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let
the attendant prepare some.

Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and I know that many
a one has taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made
to him, he has eaten and drunk, and enjoyed the society of his beloved; do
not hurry--there is time enough.

Socrates said: Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in so
acting, for they think that they will be gainers by the delay; but I am
right in not following their example, for I do not think that I should gain
anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should only be ridiculous
in my own eyes for sparing and saving a life which is already forfeit.
Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.

Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and
having been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup
of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in
these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man
answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then
to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he handed the cup
to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear
or change of colour or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes,
Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say
about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The
man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough.
I understand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my
journey from this to the other world--even so--and so be it according to my
prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he
drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our
sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished
the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own
tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept, not for him,
but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend.
Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain
his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who
had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which
made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is
this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that
they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man
should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience. When we heard his
words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked about until,
as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according
to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked
at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked
him if he could feel; and he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and
upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them
himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the
end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his
face, for he had covered himself up, and said--they were his last words--he
said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?
The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no
answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and
the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes
and mouth.

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly
say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest
and justest and best.

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