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Phaedrus by Plato, translated by B. Jowett.

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This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher


by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


The Phaedrus is closely connected with the Symposium, and may be regarded
either as introducing or following it. The two Dialogues together contain
the whole philosophy of Plato on the nature of love, which in the Republic
and in the later writings of Plato is only introduced playfully or as a
figure of speech. But in the Phaedrus and Symposium love and philosophy
join hands, and one is an aspect of the other. The spiritual and emotional
part is elevated into the ideal, to which in the Symposium mankind are
described as looking forward, and which in the Phaedrus, as well as in the
Phaedo, they are seeking to recover from a former state of existence.
Whether the subject of the Dialogue is love or rhetoric, or the union of
the two, or the relation of philosophy to love and to art in general, and
to the human soul, will be hereafter considered. And perhaps we may arrive
at some conclusion such as the following--that the dialogue is not strictly
confined to a single subject, but passes from one to another with the
natural freedom of conversation.

Phaedrus has been spending the morning with Lysias, the celebrated
rhetorician, and is going to refresh himself by taking a walk outside the
wall, when he is met by Socrates, who professes that he will not leave him
until he has delivered up the speech with which Lysias has regaled him, and
which he is carrying about in his mind, or more probably in a book hidden
under his cloak, and is intending to study as he walks. The imputation is
not denied, and the two agree to direct their steps out of the public way
along the stream of the Ilissus towards a plane-tree which is seen in the
distance. There, lying down amidst pleasant sounds and scents, they will
read the speech of Lysias. The country is a novelty to Socrates, who never
goes out of the town; and hence he is full of admiration for the beauties
of nature, which he seems to be drinking in for the first time.

As they are on their way, Phaedrus asks the opinion of Socrates respecting
the local tradition of Boreas and Oreithyia. Socrates, after a satirical
allusion to the 'rationalizers' of his day, replies that he has no time for
these 'nice' interpretations of mythology, and he pities anyone who has.
When you once begin there is no end of them, and they spring from an
uncritical philosophy after all. 'The proper study of mankind is man;' and
he is a far more complex and wonderful being than the serpent Typho.
Socrates as yet does not know himself; and why should he care to know about
unearthly monsters? Engaged in such conversation, they arrive at the
plane-tree; when they have found a convenient resting-place, Phaedrus pulls
out the speech and reads:--

The speech consists of a foolish paradox which is to the effect that the
non-lover ought to be accepted rather than the lover--because he is more
rational, more agreeable, more enduring, less suspicious, less hurtful,
less boastful, less engrossing, and because there are more of them, and for
a great many other reasons which are equally unmeaning. Phaedrus is
captivated with the beauty of the periods, and wants to make Socrates say
that nothing was or ever could be written better. Socrates does not think
much of the matter, but then he has only attended to the form, and in that
he has detected several repetitions and other marks of haste. He cannot
agree with Phaedrus in the extreme value which he sets upon this
performance, because he is afraid of doing injustice to Anacreon and Sappho
and other great writers, and is almost inclined to think that he himself,
or rather some power residing within him, could make a speech better than
that of Lysias on the same theme, and also different from his, if he may be
allowed the use of a few commonplaces which all speakers must equally

Phaedrus is delighted at the prospect of having another speech, and
promises that he will set up a golden statue of Socrates at Delphi, if he
keeps his word. Some raillery ensues, and at length Socrates, conquered by
the threat that he shall never again hear a speech of Lysias unless he
fulfils his promise, veils his face and begins.

First, invoking the Muses and assuming ironically the person of the non-
lover (who is a lover all the same), he will enquire into the nature and
power of love. For this is a necessary preliminary to the other question--
How is the non-lover to be distinguished from the lover? In all of us
there are two principles--a better and a worse--reason and desire, which
are generally at war with one another; and the victory of the rational is
called temperance, and the victory of the irrational intemperance or
excess. The latter takes many forms and has many bad names--gluttony,
drunkenness, and the like. But of all the irrational desires or excesses
the greatest is that which is led away by desires of a kindred nature to
the enjoyment of personal beauty. And this is the master power of love.

Here Socrates fancies that he detects in himself an unusual flow of
eloquence--this newly-found gift he can only attribute to the inspiration
of the place, which appears to be dedicated to the nymphs. Starting again
from the philosophical basis which has been laid down, he proceeds to show
how many advantages the non-lover has over the lover. The one encourages
softness and effeminacy and exclusiveness; he cannot endure any superiority
in his beloved; he will train him in luxury, he will keep him out of
society, he will deprive him of parents, friends, money, knowledge, and of
every other good, that he may have him all to himself. Then again his ways
are not ways of pleasantness; he is mighty disagreeable; 'crabbed age and
youth cannot live together.' At every hour of the night and day he is
intruding upon him; there is the same old withered face and the remainder
to match--and he is always repeating, in season or out of season, the
praises or dispraises of his beloved, which are bad enough when he is
sober, and published all over the world when he is drunk. At length his
love ceases; he is converted into an enemy, and the spectacle may be seen
of the lover running away from the beloved, who pursues him with vain
reproaches, and demands his reward which the other refuses to pay. Too
late the beloved learns, after all his pains and disagreeables, that 'As
wolves love lambs so lovers love their loves.' (Compare Char.) Here is
the end; the 'other' or 'non-lover' part of the speech had better be
understood, for if in the censure of the lover Socrates has broken out in
verse, what will he not do in his praise of the non-lover? He has said his
say and is preparing to go away.

Phaedrus begs him to remain, at any rate until the heat of noon has passed;
he would like to have a little more conversation before they go. Socrates,
who has risen, recognizes the oracular sign which forbids him to depart
until he has done penance. His conscious has been awakened, and like
Stesichorus when he had reviled the lovely Helen he will sing a palinode
for having blasphemed the majesty of love. His palinode takes the form of
a myth.

Socrates begins his tale with a glorification of madness, which he divides
into four kinds: first, there is the art of divination or prophecy--this,
in a vein similar to that pervading the Cratylus and Io, he connects with
madness by an etymological explanation (mantike, manike--compare
oionoistike, oionistike, ''tis all one reckoning, save the phrase is a
little variations'); secondly, there is the art of purification by
mysteries; thirdly, poetry or the inspiration of the Muses (compare Ion),
without which no man can enter their temple. All this shows that madness
is one of heaven's blessings, and may sometimes be a great deal better than
sense. There is also a fourth kind of madness--that of love--which cannot
be explained without enquiring into the nature of the soul.

All soul is immortal, for she is the source of all motion both in herself
and in others. Her form may be described in a figure as a composite nature
made up of a charioteer and a pair of winged steeds. The steeds of the
gods are immortal, but ours are one mortal and the other immortal. The
immortal soul soars upwards into the heavens, but the mortal drops her
plumes and settles upon the earth.

Now the use of the wing is to rise and carry the downward element into the
upper world--there to behold beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the other things
of God by which the soul is nourished. On a certain day Zeus the lord of
heaven goes forth in a winged chariot; and an array of gods and demi-gods
and of human souls in their train, follows him. There are glorious and
blessed sights in the interior of heaven, and he who will may freely behold
them. The great vision of all is seen at the feast of the gods, when they
ascend the heights of the empyrean--all but Hestia, who is left at home to
keep house. The chariots of the gods glide readily upwards and stand upon
the outside; the revolution of the spheres carries them round, and they
have a vision of the world beyond. But the others labour in vain; for the
mortal steed, if he has not been properly trained, keeps them down and
sinks them towards the earth. Of the world which is beyond the heavens,
who can tell? There is an essence formless, colourless, intangible,
perceived by the mind only, dwelling in the region of true knowledge. The
divine mind in her revolution enjoys this fair prospect, and beholds
justice, temperance, and knowledge in their everlasting essence. When
fulfilled with the sight of them she returns home, and the charioteer puts
up the horses in their stable, and gives them ambrosia to eat and nectar to
drink. This is the life of the gods; the human soul tries to reach the
same heights, but hardly succeeds; and sometimes the head of the charioteer
rises above, and sometimes sinks below, the fair vision, and he is at last
obliged, after much contention, to turn away and leave the plain of truth.
But if the soul has followed in the train of her god and once beheld truth
she is preserved from harm, and is carried round in the next revolution of
the spheres; and if always following, and always seeing the truth, is then
for ever unharmed. If, however, she drops her wings and falls to the
earth, then she takes the form of man, and the soul which has seen most of
the truth passes into a philosopher or lover; that which has seen truth in
the second degree, into a king or warrior; the third, into a householder or
money-maker; the fourth, into a gymnast; the fifth, into a prophet or
mystic; the sixth, into a poet or imitator; the seventh, into a husbandman
or craftsman; the eighth, into a sophist or demagogue; the ninth, into a
tyrant. All these are states of probation, wherein he who lives
righteously is improved, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates.
After death comes the judgment; the bad depart to houses of correction
under the earth, the good to places of joy in heaven. When a thousand
years have elapsed the souls meet together and choose the lives which they
will lead for another period of existence. The soul which three times in
succession has chosen the life of a philosopher or of a lover who is not
without philosophy receives her wings at the close of the third millennium;
the remainder have to complete a cycle of ten thousand years before their
wings are restored to them. Each time there is full liberty of choice.
The soul of a man may descend into a beast, and return again into the form
of man. But the form of man will only be taken by the soul which has once
seen truth and acquired some conception of the universal:--this is the
recollection of the knowledge which she attained when in the company of the
Gods. And men in general recall only with difficulty the things of another
world, but the mind of the philosopher has a better remembrance of them.
For when he beholds the visible beauty of earth his enraptured soul passes
in thought to those glorious sights of justice and wisdom and temperance
and truth which she once gazed upon in heaven. Then she celebrated holy
mysteries and beheld blessed apparitions shining in pure light, herself
pure, and not as yet entombed in the body. And still, like a bird eager to
quit its cage, she flutters and looks upwards, and is therefore deemed mad.
Such a recollection of past days she receives through sight, the keenest of
our senses, because beauty, alone of the ideas, has any representation on
earth: wisdom is invisible to mortal eyes. But the corrupted nature,
blindly excited by this vision of beauty, rushes on to enjoy, and would
fain wallow like a brute beast in sensual pleasures. Whereas the true
mystic, who has seen the many sights of bliss, when he beholds a god-like
form or face is amazed with delight, and if he were not afraid of being
thought mad he would fall down and worship. Then the stiffened wing begins
to relax and grow again; desire which has been imprisoned pours over the
soul of the lover; the germ of the wing unfolds, and stings, and pangs of
birth, like the cutting of teeth, are everywhere felt. (Compare Symp.)
Father and mother, and goods and laws and proprieties are nothing to him;
his beloved is his physician, who can alone cure his pain. An apocryphal
sacred writer says that the power which thus works in him is by mortals
called love, but the immortals call him dove, or the winged one, in order
to represent the force of his wings--such at any rate is his nature. Now
the characters of lovers depend upon the god whom they followed in the
other world; and they choose their loves in this world accordingly. The
followers of Ares are fierce and violent; those of Zeus seek out some
philosophical and imperial nature; the attendants of Here find a royal
love; and in like manner the followers of every god seek a love who is like
their god; and to him they communicate the nature which they have received
from their god. The manner in which they take their love is as follows:--

I told you about the charioteer and his two steeds, the one a noble animal
who is guided by word and admonition only, the other an ill-looking villain
who will hardly yield to blow or spur. Together all three, who are a
figure of the soul, approach the vision of love. And now a fierce conflict
begins. The ill-conditioned steed rushes on to enjoy, but the charioteer,
who beholds the beloved with awe, falls back in adoration, and forces both
the steeds on their haunches; again the evil steed rushes forwards and
pulls shamelessly. The conflict grows more and more severe; and at last
the charioteer, throwing himself backwards, forces the bit out of the
clenched teeth of the brute, and pulling harder than ever at the reins,
covers his tongue and jaws with blood, and forces him to rest his legs and
haunches with pain upon the ground. When this has happened several times,
the villain is tamed and humbled, and from that time forward the soul of
the lover follows the beloved in modesty and holy fear. And now their
bliss is consummated; the same image of love dwells in the breast of
either, and if they have self-control, they pass their lives in the
greatest happiness which is attainable by man--they continue masters of
themselves, and conquer in one of the three heavenly victories. But if
they choose the lower life of ambition they may still have a happy destiny,
though inferior, because they have not the approval of the whole soul. At
last they leave the body and proceed on their pilgrim's progress, and those
who have once begun can never go back. When the time comes they receive
their wings and fly away, and the lovers have the same wings.

Socrates concludes:--

These are the blessings of love, and thus have I made my recantation in
finer language than before: I did so in order to please Phaedrus. If I
said what was wrong at first, please to attribute my error to Lysias, who
ought to study philosophy instead of rhetoric, and then he will not mislead
his disciple Phaedrus.

Phaedrus is afraid that he will lose conceit of Lysias, and that Lysias
will be out of conceit with himself, and leave off making speeches, for the
politicians have been deriding him. Socrates is of opinion that there is
small danger of this; the politicians are themselves the great rhetoricians
of the age, who desire to attain immortality by the authorship of laws.
And therefore there is nothing with which they can reproach Lysias in being
a writer; but there may be disgrace in being a bad one.

And what is good or bad writing or speaking? While the sun is hot in the
sky above us, let us ask that question: since by rational conversation man
lives, and not by the indulgence of bodily pleasures. And the grasshoppers
who are chirruping around may carry our words to the Muses, who are their
patronesses; for the grasshoppers were human beings themselves in a world
before the Muses, and when the Muses came they died of hunger for the love
of song. And they carry to them in heaven the report of those who honour
them on earth.

The first rule of good speaking is to know and speak the truth; as a
Spartan proverb says, 'true art is truth'; whereas rhetoric is an art of
enchantment, which makes things appear good and evil, like and unlike, as
the speaker pleases. Its use is not confined, as people commonly suppose,
to arguments in the law courts and speeches in the assembly; it is rather a
part of the art of disputation, under which are included both the rules of
Gorgias and the eristic of Zeno. But it is not wholly devoid of truth.
Superior knowledge enables us to deceive another by the help of
resemblances, and to escape from such a deception when employed against
ourselves. We see therefore that even in rhetoric an element of truth is
required. For if we do not know the truth, we can neither make the gradual
departures from truth by which men are most easily deceived, nor guard
ourselves against deception.

Socrates then proposes that they shall use the two speeches as
illustrations of the art of rhetoric; first distinguishing between the
debatable and undisputed class of subjects. In the debatable class there
ought to be a definition of all disputed matters. But there was no such
definition in the speech of Lysias; nor is there any order or connection in
his words any more than in a nursery rhyme. With this he compares the
regular divisions of the other speech, which was his own (and yet not his
own, for the local deities must have inspired him). Although only a
playful composition, it will be found to embody two principles: first, that
of synthesis or the comprehension of parts in a whole; secondly, analysis,
or the resolution of the whole into parts. These are the processes of
division and generalization which are so dear to the dialectician, that
king of men. They are effected by dialectic, and not by rhetoric, of which
the remains are but scanty after order and arrangement have been
subtracted. There is nothing left but a heap of 'ologies' and other
technical terms invented by Polus, Theodorus, Evenus, Tisias, Gorgias, and
others, who have rules for everything, and who teach how to be short or
long at pleasure. Prodicus showed his good sense when he said that there
was a better thing than either to be short or long, which was to be of
convenient length.

Still, notwithstanding the absurdities of Polus and others, rhetoric has
great power in public assemblies. This power, however, is not given by any
technical rules, but is the gift of genius. The real art is always being
confused by rhetoricians with the preliminaries of the art. The perfection
of oratory is like the perfection of anything else; natural power must be
aided by art. But the art is not that which is taught in the schools of
rhetoric; it is nearer akin to philosophy. Pericles, for instance, who was
the most accomplished of all speakers, derived his eloquence not from
rhetoric but from the philosophy of nature which he learnt of Anaxagoras.
True rhetoric is like medicine, and the rhetorician has to consider the
natures of men's souls as the physician considers the natures of their
bodies. Such and such persons are to be affected in this way, such and
such others in that; and he must know the times and the seasons for saying
this or that. This is not an easy task, and this, if there be such an art,
is the art of rhetoric.

I know that there are some professors of the art who maintain probability
to be stronger than truth. But we maintain that probability is engendered
by likeness of the truth which can only be attained by the knowledge of it,
and that the aim of the good man should not be to please or persuade his
fellow-servants, but to please his good masters who are the gods. Rhetoric
has a fair beginning in this.

Enough of the art of speaking; let us now proceed to consider the true use
of writing. There is an old Egyptian tale of Theuth, the inventor of
writing, showing his invention to the god Thamus, who told him that he
would only spoil men's memories and take away their understandings. From
this tale, of which young Athens will probably make fun, may be gathered
the lesson that writing is inferior to speech. For it is like a picture,
which can give no answer to a question, and has only a deceitful likeness
of a living creature. It has no power of adaptation, but uses the same
words for all. It is not a legitimate son of knowledge, but a bastard, and
when an attack is made upon this bastard neither parent nor anyone else is
there to defend it. The husbandman will not seriously incline to sow his
seed in such a hot-bed or garden of Adonis; he will rather sow in the
natural soil of the human soul which has depth of earth; and he will
anticipate the inner growth of the mind, by writing only, if at all, as a
remedy against old age. The natural process will be far nobler, and will
bring forth fruit in the minds of others as well as in his own.

The conclusion of the whole matter is just this,--that until a man knows
the truth, and the manner of adapting the truth to the natures of other
men, he cannot be a good orator; also, that the living is better than the
written word, and that the principles of justice and truth when delivered
by word of mouth are the legitimate offspring of a man's own bosom, and
their lawful descendants take up their abode in others. Such an orator as
he is who is possessed of them, you and I would fain become. And to all
composers in the world, poets, orators, legislators, we hereby announce
that if their compositions are based upon these principles, then they are
not only poets, orators, legislators, but philosophers. All others are
mere flatterers and putters together of words. This is the message which
Phaedrus undertakes to carry to Lysias from the local deities, and Socrates
himself will carry a similar message to his favourite Isocrates, whose
future distinction as a great rhetorician he prophesies. The heat of the
day has passed, and after offering up a prayer to Pan and the nymphs,
Socrates and Phaedrus depart.

There are two principal controversies which have been raised about the
Phaedrus; the first relates to the subject, the second to the date of the

There seems to be a notion that the work of a great artist like Plato
cannot fail in unity, and that the unity of a dialogue requires a single
subject. But the conception of unity really applies in very different
degrees and ways to different kinds of art; to a statue, for example, far
more than to any kind of literary composition, and to some species of
literature far more than to others. Nor does the dialogue appear to be a
style of composition in which the requirement of unity is most stringent;
nor should the idea of unity derived from one sort of art be hastily
transferred to another. The double titles of several of the Platonic
Dialogues are a further proof that the severer rule was not observed by
Plato. The Republic is divided between the search after justice and the
construction of the ideal state; the Parmenides between the criticism of
the Platonic ideas and of the Eleatic one or being; the Gorgias between the
art of speaking and the nature of the good; the Sophist between the
detection of the Sophist and the correlation of ideas. The Theaetetus, the
Politicus, and the Philebus have also digressions which are but remotely
connected with the main subject.

Thus the comparison of Plato's other writings, as well as the reason of the
thing, lead us to the conclusion that we must not expect to find one idea
pervading a whole work, but one, two, or more, as the invention of the
writer may suggest, or his fancy wander. If each dialogue were confined to
the development of a single idea, this would appear on the face of the
dialogue, nor could any controversy be raised as to whether the Phaedrus
treated of love or rhetoric. But the truth is that Plato subjects himself
to no rule of this sort. Like every great artist he gives unity of form to
the different and apparently distracting topics which he brings together.
He works freely and is not to be supposed to have arranged every part of
the dialogue before he begins to write. He fastens or weaves together the
frame of his discourse loosely and imperfectly, and which is the warp and
which is the woof cannot always be determined.

The subjects of the Phaedrus (exclusive of the short introductory passage
about mythology which is suggested by the local tradition) are first the
false or conventional art of rhetoric; secondly, love or the inspiration of
beauty and knowledge, which is described as madness; thirdly, dialectic or
the art of composition and division; fourthly, the true rhetoric, which is
based upon dialectic, and is neither the art of persuasion nor knowledge of
the truth alone, but the art of persuasion founded on knowledge of truth
and knowledge of character; fifthly, the superiority of the spoken over the
written word. The continuous thread which appears and reappears throughout
is rhetoric; this is the ground into which the rest of the Dialogue is
worked, in parts embroidered with fine words which are not in Socrates'
manner, as he says, 'in order to please Phaedrus.' The speech of Lysias
which has thrown Phaedrus into an ecstacy is adduced as an example of the
false rhetoric; the first speech of Socrates, though an improvement,
partakes of the same character; his second speech, which is full of that
higher element said to have been learned of Anaxagoras by Pericles, and
which in the midst of poetry does not forget order, is an illustration of
the higher or true rhetoric. This higher rhetoric is based upon dialectic,
and dialectic is a sort of inspiration akin to love (compare Symp.); in
these two aspects of philosophy the technicalities of rhetoric are
absorbed. And so the example becomes also the deeper theme of discourse.
The true knowledge of things in heaven and earth is based upon enthusiasm
or love of the ideas going before us and ever present to us in this world
and in another; and the true order of speech or writing proceeds
accordingly. Love, again, has three degrees: first, of interested love
corresponding to the conventionalities of rhetoric; secondly, of
disinterested or mad love, fixed on objects of sense, and answering,
perhaps, to poetry; thirdly, of disinterested love directed towards the
unseen, answering to dialectic or the science of the ideas. Lastly, the
art of rhetoric in the lower sense is found to rest on a knowledge of the
natures and characters of men, which Socrates at the commencement of the
Dialogue has described as his own peculiar study.

Thus amid discord a harmony begins to appear; there are many links of
connection which are not visible at first sight. At the same time the
Phaedrus, although one of the most beautiful of the Platonic Dialogues, is
also more irregular than any other. For insight into the world, for
sustained irony, for depth of thought, there is no Dialogue superior, or
perhaps equal to it. Nevertheless the form of the work has tended to
obscure some of Plato's higher aims.

The first speech is composed 'in that balanced style in which the wise love
to talk' (Symp.). The characteristics of rhetoric are insipidity,
mannerism, and monotonous parallelism of clauses. There is more rhythm
than reason; the creative power of imagination is wanting.

''Tis Greece, but living Greece no more.'

Plato has seized by anticipation the spirit which hung over Greek
literature for a thousand years afterwards. Yet doubtless there were some
who, like Phaedrus, felt a delight in the harmonious cadence and the
pedantic reasoning of the rhetoricians newly imported from Sicily, which
had ceased to be awakened in them by really great works, such as the odes
of Anacreon or Sappho or the orations of Pericles. That the first speech
was really written by Lysias is improbable. Like the poem of Solon, or the
story of Thamus and Theuth, or the funeral oration of Aspasia (if genuine),
or the pretence of Socrates in the Cratylus that his knowledge of philology
is derived from Euthyphro, the invention is really due to the imagination
of Plato, and may be compared to the parodies of the Sophists in the
Protagoras. Numerous fictions of this sort occur in the Dialogues, and the
gravity of Plato has sometimes imposed upon his commentators. The
introduction of a considerable writing of another would seem not to be in
keeping with a great work of art, and has no parallel elsewhere.

In the second speech Socrates is exhibited as beating the rhetoricians at
their own weapons; he 'an unpractised man and they masters of the art.'
True to his character, he must, however, profess that the speech which he
makes is not his own, for he knows nothing of himself. (Compare Symp.)
Regarded as a rhetorical exercise, the superiority of his speech seems to
consist chiefly in a better arrangement of the topics; he begins with a
definition of love, and he gives weight to his words by going back to
general maxims; a lesser merit is the greater liveliness of Socrates, which
hurries him into verse and relieves the monotony of the style.

But Plato had doubtless a higher purpose than to exhibit Socrates as the
rival or superior of the Athenian rhetoricians. Even in the speech of
Lysias there is a germ of truth, and this is further developed in the
parallel oration of Socrates. First, passionate love is overthrown by the
sophistical or interested, and then both yield to that higher view of love
which is afterwards revealed to us. The extreme of commonplace is
contrasted with the most ideal and imaginative of speculations. Socrates,
half in jest and to satisfy his own wild humour, takes the disguise of
Lysias, but he is also in profound earnest and in a deeper vein of irony
than usual. Having improvised his own speech, which is based upon the
model of the preceding, he condemns them both. Yet the condemnation is not
to be taken seriously, for he is evidently trying to express an aspect of
the truth. To understand him, we must make abstraction of morality and of
the Greek manner of regarding the relation of the sexes. In this, as in
his other discussions about love, what Plato says of the loves of men must
be transferred to the loves of women before we can attach any serious
meaning to his words. Had he lived in our times he would have made the
transposition himself. But seeing in his own age the impossibility of
woman being the intellectual helpmate or friend of man (except in the rare
instances of a Diotima or an Aspasia), seeing that, even as to personal
beauty, her place was taken by young mankind instead of womankind, he tries
to work out the problem of love without regard to the distinctions of
nature. And full of the evils which he recognized as flowing from the
spurious form of love, he proceeds with a deep meaning, though partly in
joke, to show that the 'non-lover's' love is better than the 'lover's.'

We may raise the same question in another form: Is marriage preferable
with or without love? 'Among ourselves,' as we may say, a little parodying
the words of Pausanias in the Symposium, 'there would be one answer to this
question: the practice and feeling of some foreign countries appears to be
more doubtful.' Suppose a modern Socrates, in defiance of the received
notions of society and the sentimental literature of the day, alone against
all the writers and readers of novels, to suggest this enquiry, would not
the younger 'part of the world be ready to take off its coat and run at him
might and main?' (Republic.) Yet, if like Peisthetaerus in Aristophanes,
he could persuade the 'birds' to hear him, retiring a little behind a
rampart, not of pots and dishes, but of unreadable books, he might have
something to say for himself. Might he not argue, 'that a rational being
should not follow the dictates of passion in the most important act of his
or her life'? Who would willingly enter into a contract at first sight,
almost without thought, against the advice and opinion of his friends, at a
time when he acknowledges that he is not in his right mind? And yet they
are praised by the authors of romances, who reject the warnings of their
friends or parents, rather than those who listen to them in such matters.
Two inexperienced persons, ignorant of the world and of one another, how
can they be said to choose?--they draw lots, whence also the saying,
'marriage is a lottery.' Then he would describe their way of life after
marriage; how they monopolize one another's affections to the exclusion of
friends and relations: how they pass their days in unmeaning fondness or
trivial conversation; how the inferior of the two drags the other down to
his or her level; how the cares of a family 'breed meanness in their
souls.' In the fulfilment of military or public duties, they are not
helpers but hinderers of one another: they cannot undertake any noble
enterprise, such as makes the names of men and women famous, from domestic
considerations. Too late their eyes are opened; they were taken unawares
and desire to part company. Better, he would say, a 'little love at the
beginning,' for heaven might have increased it; but now their foolish
fondness has changed into mutual dislike. In the days of their honeymoon
they never understood that they must provide against offences, that they
must have interests, that they must learn the art of living as well as
loving. Our misogamist will not appeal to Anacreon or Sappho for a
confirmation of his view, but to the universal experience of mankind. How
much nobler, in conclusion, he will say, is friendship, which does not
receive unmeaning praises from novelists and poets, is not exacting or
exclusive, is not impaired by familiarity, is much less expensive, is not
so likely to take offence, seldom changes, and may be dissolved from time
to time without the assistance of the courts. Besides, he will remark that
there is a much greater choice of friends than of wives--you may have more
of them and they will be far more improving to your mind. They will not
keep you dawdling at home, or dancing attendance upon them; or withdraw you
from the great world and stirring scenes of life and action which would
make a man of you.

In such a manner, turning the seamy side outwards, a modern Socrates might
describe the evils of married and domestic life. They are evils which
mankind in general have agreed to conceal, partly because they are
compensated by greater goods. Socrates or Archilochus would soon have to
sing a palinode for the injustice done to lovely Helen, or some misfortune
worse than blindness might be fall them. Then they would take up their
parable again and say:--that there were two loves, a higher and a lower,
holy and unholy, a love of the mind and a love of the body.

'Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds.


Love's not time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.'

But this true love of the mind cannot exist between two souls, until they
are purified from the grossness of earthly passion: they must pass through
a time of trial and conflict first; in the language of religion they must
be converted or born again. Then they would see the world transformed into
a scene of heavenly beauty; a divine idea would accompany them in all their
thoughts and actions. Something too of the recollections of childhood
might float about them still; they might regain that old simplicity which
had been theirs in other days at their first entrance on life. And
although their love of one another was ever present to them, they would
acknowledge also a higher love of duty and of God, which united them. And
their happiness would depend upon their preserving in them this principle--
not losing the ideals of justice and holiness and truth, but renewing them
at the fountain of light. When they have attained to this exalted state,
let them marry (something too may be conceded to the animal nature of man):
or live together in holy and innocent friendship. The poet might describe
in eloquent words the nature of such a union; how after many struggles the
true love was found: how the two passed their lives together in the
service of God and man; how their characters were reflected upon one
another, and seemed to grow more like year by year; how they read in one
another's eyes the thoughts, wishes, actions of the other; how they saw
each other in God; how in a figure they grew wings like doves, and were
'ready to fly away together and be at rest.' And lastly, he might tell
how, after a time at no long intervals, first one and then the other fell
asleep, and 'appeared to the unwise' to die, but were reunited in another
state of being, in which they saw justice and holiness and truth, not
according to the imperfect copies of them which are found in this world,
but justice absolute in existence absolute, and so of the rest. And they
would hold converse not only with each other, but with blessed souls
everywhere; and would be employed in the service of God, every soul
fulfilling his own nature and character, and would see into the wonders of
earth and heaven, and trace the works of creation to their author.

So, partly in jest but also 'with a certain degree of seriousness,' we may
appropriate to ourselves the words of Plato. The use of such a parody,
though very imperfect, is to transfer his thoughts to our sphere of
religion and feeling, to bring him nearer to us and us to him. Like the
Scriptures, Plato admits of endless applications, if we allow for the
difference of times and manners; and we lose the better half of him when we
regard his Dialogues merely as literary compositions. Any ancient work
which is worth reading has a practical and speculative as well as a
literary interest. And in Plato, more than in any other Greek writer, the
local and transitory is inextricably blended with what is spiritual and
eternal. Socrates is necessarily ironical; for he has to withdraw from the
received opinions and beliefs of mankind. We cannot separate the
transitory from the permanent; nor can we translate the language of irony
into that of plain reflection and common sense. But we can imagine the
mind of Socrates in another age and country; and we can interpret him by
analogy with reference to the errors and prejudices which prevail among
ourselves. To return to the Phaedrus:--

Both speeches are strongly condemned by Socrates as sinful and blasphemous
towards the god Love, and as worthy only of some haunt of sailors to which
good manners were unknown. The meaning of this and other wild language to
the same effect, which is introduced by way of contrast to the formality of
the two speeches (Socrates has a sense of relief when he has escaped from
the trammels of rhetoric), seems to be that the two speeches proceed upon
the supposition that love is and ought to be interested, and that no such
thing as a real or disinterested passion, which would be at the same time
lasting, could be conceived. 'But did I call this "love"? O God, forgive
my blasphemy. This is not love. Rather it is the love of the world. But
there is another kingdom of love, a kingdom not of this world, divine,
eternal. And this other love I will now show you in a mystery.'

Then follows the famous myth, which is a sort of parable, and like other
parables ought not to receive too minute an interpretation. In all such
allegories there is a great deal which is merely ornamental, and the
interpreter has to separate the important from the unimportant. Socrates
himself has given the right clue when, in using his own discourse
afterwards as the text for his examination of rhetoric, he characterizes it
as a 'partly true and tolerably credible mythus,' in which amid poetical
figures, order and arrangement were not forgotten.

The soul is described in magnificent language as the self-moved and the
source of motion in all other things. This is the philosophical theme or
proem of the whole. But ideas must be given through something, and under
the pretext that to realize the true nature of the soul would be not only
tedious but impossible, we at once pass on to describe the souls of gods as
well as men under the figure of two winged steeds and a charioteer. No
connection is traced between the soul as the great motive power and the
triple soul which is thus imaged. There is no difficulty in seeing that
the charioteer represents the reason, or that the black horse is the symbol
of the sensual or concupiscent element of human nature. The white horse
also represents rational impulse, but the description, 'a lover of honour
and modesty and temperance, and a follower of true glory,' though similar,
does not at once recall the 'spirit' (thumos) of the Republic. The two
steeds really correspond in a figure more nearly to the appetitive and
moral or semi-rational soul of Aristotle. And thus, for the first time
perhaps in the history of philosophy, we have represented to us the
threefold division of psychology. The image of the charioteer and the
steeds has been compared with a similar image which occurs in the verses of
Parmenides; but it is important to remark that the horses of Parmenides
have no allegorical meaning, and that the poet is only describing his own
approach in a chariot to the regions of light and the house of the goddess
of truth.

The triple soul has had a previous existence, in which following in the
train of some god, from whom she derived her character, she beheld
partially and imperfectly the vision of absolute truth. All her after
existence, passed in many forms of men and animals, is spent in regaining
this. The stages of the conflict are many and various; and she is sorely
let and hindered by the animal desires of the inferior or concupiscent
steed. Again and again she beholds the flashing beauty of the beloved.
But before that vision can be finally enjoyed the animal desires must be

The moral or spiritual element in man is represented by the immortal steed
which, like thumos in the Republic, always sides with the reason. Both are
dragged out of their course by the furious impulses of desire. In the end
something is conceded to the desires, after they have been finally humbled
and overpowered. And yet the way of philosophy, or perfect love of the
unseen, is total abstinence from bodily delights. 'But all men cannot
receive this saying': in the lower life of ambition they may be taken off
their guard and stoop to folly unawares, and then, although they do not
attain to the highest bliss, yet if they have once conquered they may be
happy enough.

The language of the Meno and the Phaedo as well as of the Phaedrus seems to
show that at one time of his life Plato was quite serious in maintaining a
former state of existence. His mission was to realize the abstract; in
that, all good and truth, all the hopes of this and another life seemed to
centre. To him abstractions, as we call them, were another kind of
knowledge--an inner and unseen world, which seemed to exist far more truly
than the fleeting objects of sense which were without him. When we are
once able to imagine the intense power which abstract ideas exercised over
the mind of Plato, we see that there was no more difficulty to him in
realizing the eternal existence of them and of the human minds which were
associated with them, in the past and future than in the present. The
difficulty was not how they could exist, but how they could fail to exist.
In the attempt to regain this 'saving' knowledge of the ideas, the sense
was found to be as great an enemy as the desires; and hence two things
which to us seem quite distinct are inextricably blended in the
representation of Plato.

Thus far we may believe that Plato was serious in his conception of the
soul as a motive power, in his reminiscence of a former state of being, in
his elevation of the reason over sense and passion, and perhaps in his
doctrine of transmigration. Was he equally serious in the rest? For
example, are we to attribute his tripartite division of the soul to the
gods? Or is this merely assigned to them by way of parallelism with men?
The latter is the more probable; for the horses of the gods are both white,
i.e. their every impulse is in harmony with reason; their dualism, on the
other hand, only carries out the figure of the chariot. Is he serious,
again, in regarding love as 'a madness'? That seems to arise out of the
antithesis to the former conception of love. At the same time he appears
to intimate here, as in the Ion, Apology, Meno, and elsewhere, that there
is a faculty in man, whether to be termed in modern language genius, or
inspiration, or imagination, or idealism, or communion with God, which
cannot be reduced to rule and measure. Perhaps, too, he is ironically
repeating the common language of mankind about philosophy, and is turning
their jest into a sort of earnest. (Compare Phaedo, Symp.) Or is he
serious in holding that each soul bears the character of a god? He may
have had no other account to give of the differences of human characters to
which he afterwards refers. Or, again, in his absurd derivation of mantike
and oionistike and imeros (compare Cratylus)? It is characteristic of the
irony of Socrates to mix up sense and nonsense in such a way that no exact
line can be drawn between them. And allegory helps to increase this sort
of confusion.

As is often the case in the parables and prophecies of Scripture, the
meaning is allowed to break through the figure, and the details are not
always consistent. When the charioteers and their steeds stand upon the
dome of heaven they behold the intangible invisible essences which are not
objects of sight. This is because the force of language can no further go.
Nor can we dwell much on the circumstance, that at the completion of ten
thousand years all are to return to the place from whence they came;
because he represents their return as dependent on their own good conduct
in the successive stages of existence. Nor again can we attribute anything
to the accidental inference which would also follow, that even a tyrant may
live righteously in the condition of life to which fate has called him ('he
aiblins might, I dinna ken'). But to suppose this would be at variance
with Plato himself and with Greek notions generally. He is much more
serious in distinguishing men from animals by their recognition of the
universal which they have known in a former state, and in denying that this
gift of reason can ever be obliterated or lost. In the language of some
modern theologians he might be said to maintain the 'final perseverance' of
those who have entered on their pilgrim's progress. Other intimations of a
'metaphysic' or 'theology' of the future may also be discerned in him: (1)
The moderate predestinarianism which here, as in the Republic, acknowledges
the element of chance in human life, and yet asserts the freedom and
responsibility of man; (2) The recognition of a moral as well as an
intellectual principle in man under the image of an immortal steed; (3) The
notion that the divine nature exists by the contemplation of ideas of
virtue and justice--or, in other words, the assertion of the essentially
moral nature of God; (4) Again, there is the hint that human life is a life
of aspiration only, and that the true ideal is not to be found in art; (5)
There occurs the first trace of the distinction between necessary and
contingent matter; (6) The conception of the soul itself as the motive
power and reason of the universe.

The conception of the philosopher, or the philosopher and lover in one, as
a sort of madman, may be compared with the Republic and Theaetetus, in both
of which the philosopher is regarded as a stranger and monster upon the
earth. The whole myth, like the other myths of Plato, describes in a
figure things which are beyond the range of human faculties, or
inaccessible to the knowledge of the age. That philosophy should be
represented as the inspiration of love is a conception that has already
become familiar to us in the Symposium, and is the expression partly of
Plato's enthusiasm for the idea, and is also an indication of the real
power exercised by the passion of friendship over the mind of the Greek.
The master in the art of love knew that there was a mystery in these
feelings and their associations, and especially in the contrast of the
sensible and permanent which is afforded by them; and he sought to explain
this, as he explained universal ideas, by a reference to a former state of
existence. The capriciousness of love is also derived by him from an
attachment to some god in a former world. The singular remark that the
beloved is more affected than the lover at the final consummation of their
love, seems likewise to hint at a psychological truth.

It is difficult to exhaust the meanings of a work like the Phaedrus, which
indicates so much more than it expresses; and is full of inconsistencies
and ambiguities which were not perceived by Plato himself. For example,
when he is speaking of the soul does he mean the human or the divine soul?
and are they both equally self-moving and constructed on the same threefold
principle? We should certainly be disposed to reply that the self-motive
is to be attributed to God only; and on the other hand that the appetitive
and passionate elements have no place in His nature. So we should infer
from the reason of the thing, but there is no indication in Plato's own
writings that this was his meaning. Or, again, when he explains the
different characters of men by referring them back to the nature of the God
whom they served in a former state of existence, we are inclined to ask
whether he is serious: Is he not rather using a mythological figure, here
as elsewhere, to draw a veil over things which are beyond the limits of
mortal knowledge? Once more, in speaking of beauty is he really thinking
of some external form such as might have been expressed in the works of
Phidias or Praxiteles; and not rather of an imaginary beauty, of a sort
which extinguishes rather than stimulates vulgar love,--a heavenly beauty
like that which flashed from time to time before the eyes of Dante or
Bunyan? Surely the latter. But it would be idle to reconcile all the
details of the passage: it is a picture, not a system, and a picture which
is for the greater part an allegory, and an allegory which allows the
meaning to come through. The image of the charioteer and his steeds is
placed side by side with the absolute forms of justice, temperance, and the
like, which are abstract ideas only, and which are seen with the eye of the
soul in her heavenly journey. The first impression of such a passage, in
which no attempt is made to separate the substance from the form, is far
truer than an elaborate philosophical analysis.

It is too often forgotten that the whole of the second discourse of
Socrates is only an allegory, or figure of speech. For this reason, it is
unnecessary to enquire whether the love of which Plato speaks is the love
of men or of women. It is really a general idea which includes both, and
in which the sensual element, though not wholly eradicated, is reduced to
order and measure. We must not attribute a meaning to every fanciful
detail. Nor is there any need to call up revolting associations, which as
a matter of good taste should be banished, and which were far enough away
from the mind of Plato. These and similar passages should be interpreted
by the Laws. Nor is there anything in the Symposium, or in the Charmides,
in reality inconsistent with the sterner rule which Plato lays down in the
Laws. At the same time it is not to be denied that love and philosophy are
described by Socrates in figures of speech which would not be used in
Christian times; or that nameless vices were prevalent at Athens and in
other Greek cities; or that friendships between men were a more sacred tie,
and had a more important social and educational influence than among
ourselves. (See note on Symposium.)

In the Phaedrus, as well as in the Symposium, there are two kinds of love,
a lower and a higher, the one answering to the natural wants of the animal,
the other rising above them and contemplating with religious awe the forms
of justice, temperance, holiness, yet finding them also 'too dazzling
bright for mortal eye,' and shrinking from them in amazement. The
opposition between these two kinds of love may be compared to the
opposition between the flesh and the spirit in the Epistles of St. Paul.
It would be unmeaning to suppose that Plato, in describing the spiritual
combat, in which the rational soul is finally victor and master of both the
steeds, condescends to allow any indulgence of unnatural lusts.

Two other thoughts about love are suggested by this passage. First of all,
love is represented here, as in the Symposium, as one of the great powers
of nature, which takes many forms and two principal ones, having a
predominant influence over the lives of men. And these two, though
opposed, are not absolutely separated the one from the other. Plato, with
his great knowledge of human nature, was well aware how easily one is
transformed into the other, or how soon the noble but fleeting aspiration
may return into the nature of the animal, while the lower instinct which is
latent always remains. The intermediate sentimentalism, which has
exercised so great an influence on the literature of modern Europe, had no
place in the classical times of Hellas; the higher love, of which Plato
speaks, is the subject, not of poetry or fiction, but of philosophy.

Secondly, there seems to be indicated a natural yearning of the human mind
that the great ideas of justice, temperance, wisdom, should be expressed in
some form of visible beauty, like the absolute purity and goodness which
Christian art has sought to realize in the person of the Madonna. But
although human nature has often attempted to represent outwardly what can
be only 'spiritually discerned,' men feel that in pictures and images,
whether painted or carved, or described in words only, we have not the
substance but the shadow of the truth which is in heaven. There is no
reason to suppose that in the fairest works of Greek art, Plato ever
conceived himself to behold an image, however faint, of ideal truths. 'Not
in that way was wisdom seen.'

We may now pass on to the second part of the Dialogue, which is a criticism
on the first. Rhetoric is assailed on various grounds: first, as desiring
to persuade, without a knowledge of the truth; and secondly, as ignoring
the distinction between certain and probable matter. The three speeches
are then passed in review: the first of them has no definition of the
nature of love, and no order in the topics (being in these respects far
inferior to the second); while the third of them is found (though a fancy
of the hour) to be framed upon real dialectical principles. But dialectic
is not rhetoric; nothing on that subject is to be found in the endless
treatises of rhetoric, however prolific in hard names. When Plato has
sufficiently put them to the test of ridicule he touches, as with the point
of a needle, the real error, which is the confusion of preliminary
knowledge with creative power. No attainments will provide the speaker
with genius; and the sort of attainments which can alone be of any value
are the higher philosophy and the power of psychological analysis, which is
given by dialectic, but not by the rules of the rhetoricians.

In this latter portion of the Dialogue there are many texts which may help
us to speak and to think. The names dialectic and rhetoric are passing out
of use; we hardly examine seriously into their nature and limits, and
probably the arts both of speaking and of conversation have been unduly
neglected by us. But the mind of Socrates pierces through the differences
of times and countries into the essential nature of man; and his words
apply equally to the modern world and to the Athenians of old. Would he
not have asked of us, or rather is he not asking of us, Whether we have
ceased to prefer appearances to reality? Let us take a survey of the
professions to which he refers and try them by his standard. Is not all
literature passing into criticism, just as Athenian literature in the age
of Plato was degenerating into sophistry and rhetoric? We can discourse
and write about poems and paintings, but we seem to have lost the gift of
creating them. Can we wonder that few of them 'come sweetly from nature,'
while ten thousand reviewers (mala murioi) are engaged in dissecting them?
Young men, like Phaedrus, are enamoured of their own literary clique and
have but a feeble sympathy with the master-minds of former ages. They
recognize 'a POETICAL necessity in the writings of their favourite author,
even when he boldly wrote off just what came in his head.' They are
beginning to think that Art is enough, just at the time when Art is about
to disappear from the world. And would not a great painter, such as
Michael Angelo, or a great poet, such as Shakespeare, returning to earth,
'courteously rebuke' us--would he not say that we are putting 'in the place
of Art the preliminaries of Art,' confusing Art the expression of mind and
truth with Art the composition of colours and forms; and perhaps he might
more severely chastise some of us for trying to invent 'a new shudder'
instead of bringing to the birth living and healthy creations? These he
would regard as the signs of an age wanting in original power.

Turning from literature and the arts to law and politics, again we fall
under the lash of Socrates. For do we not often make 'the worse appear the
better cause;' and do not 'both parties sometimes agree to tell lies'? Is
not pleading 'an art of speaking unconnected with the truth'? There is
another text of Socrates which must not be forgotten in relation to this
subject. In the endless maze of English law is there any 'dividing the
whole into parts or reuniting the parts into a whole'--any semblance of an
organized being 'having hands and feet and other members'? Instead of a
system there is the Chaos of Anaxagoras (omou panta chremata) and no Mind
or Order. Then again in the noble art of politics, who thinks of first
principles and of true ideas? We avowedly follow not the truth but the
will of the many (compare Republic). Is not legislation too a sort of
literary effort, and might not statesmanship be described as the 'art of
enchanting' the house? While there are some politicians who have no
knowledge of the truth, but only of what is likely to be approved by 'the
many who sit in judgment,' there are others who can give no form to their
ideal, neither having learned 'the art of persuasion,' nor having any
insight into the 'characters of men.' Once more, has not medical science
become a professional routine, which many 'practise without being able to
say who were their instructors'--the application of a few drugs taken from
a book instead of a life-long study of the natures and constitutions of
human beings? Do we see as clearly as Hippocrates 'that the nature of the
body can only be understood as a whole'? (Compare Charm.) And are not
they held to be the wisest physicians who have the greatest distrust of
their art? What would Socrates think of our newspapers, of our theology?
Perhaps he would be afraid to speak of them;--the one vox populi, the other
vox Dei, he might hesitate to attack them; or he might trace a fanciful
connexion between them, and ask doubtfully, whether they are not equally
inspired? He would remark that we are always searching for a belief and
deploring our unbelief, seeming to prefer popular opinions unverified and
contradictory to unpopular truths which are assured to us by the most
certain proofs: that our preachers are in the habit of praising God
'without regard to truth and falsehood, attributing to Him every species of
greatness and glory, saying that He is all this and the cause of all that,
in order that we may exhibit Him as the fairest and best of all' (Symp.)
without any consideration of His real nature and character or of the laws
by which He governs the world--seeking for a 'private judgment' and not for
the truth or 'God's judgment.' What would he say of the Church, which we
praise in like manner, 'meaning ourselves,' without regard to history or
experience? Might he not ask, whether we 'care more for the truth of
religion, or for the speaker and the country from which the truth comes'?
or, whether the 'select wise' are not 'the many' after all? (Symp.) So we
may fill up the sketch of Socrates, lest, as Phaedrus says, the argument
should be too 'abstract and barren of illustrations.' (Compare Symp.,
Apol., Euthyphro.)

He next proceeds with enthusiasm to define the royal art of dialectic as
the power of dividing a whole into parts, and of uniting the parts in a
whole, and which may also be regarded (compare Soph.) as the process of the
mind talking with herself. The latter view has probably led Plato to the
paradox that speech is superior to writing, in which he may seem also to be
doing an injustice to himself. For the two cannot be fairly compared in
the manner which Plato suggests. The contrast of the living and dead word,
and the example of Socrates, which he has represented in the form of the
Dialogue, seem to have misled him. For speech and writing have really
different functions; the one is more transitory, more diffuse, more elastic
and capable of adaptation to moods and times; the other is more permanent,
more concentrated, and is uttered not to this or that person or audience,
but to all the world. In the Politicus the paradox is carried further; the
mind or will of the king is preferred to the written law; he is supposed to
be the Law personified, the ideal made Life.

Yet in both these statements there is also contained a truth; they may be
compared with one another, and also with the other famous paradox, that
'knowledge cannot be taught.' Socrates means to say, that what is truly
written is written in the soul, just as what is truly taught grows up in
the soul from within and is not forced upon it from without. When planted
in a congenial soil the little seed becomes a tree, and 'the birds of the
air build their nests in the branches.' There is an echo of this in the
prayer at the end of the Dialogue, 'Give me beauty in the inward soul, and
may the inward and outward man be at one.' We may further compare the
words of St. Paul, 'Written not on tables of stone, but on fleshly tables
of the heart;' and again, 'Ye are my epistles known and read of all men.'
There may be a use in writing as a preservative against the forgetfulness
of old age, but to live is higher far, to be ourselves the book, or the
epistle, the truth embodied in a person, the Word made flesh. Something
like this we may believe to have passed before Plato's mind when he
affirmed that speech was superior to writing. So in other ages, weary of
literature and criticism, of making many books, of writing articles in
reviews, some have desired to live more closely in communion with their
fellow-men, to speak heart to heart, to speak and act only, and not to
write, following the example of Socrates and of Christ...

Some other touches of inimitable grace and art and of the deepest wisdom
may be also noted; such as the prayer or 'collect' which has just been
cited, 'Give me beauty,' etc.; or 'the great name which belongs to God
alone;' or 'the saying of wiser men than ourselves that a man of sense
should try to please not his fellow-servants, but his good and noble
masters,' like St. Paul again; or the description of the 'heavenly

The chief criteria for determining the date of the Dialogue are (1) the
ages of Lysias and Isocrates; (2) the character of the work.

Lysias was born in the year 458; Isocrates in the year 436, about seven
years before the birth of Plato. The first of the two great rhetoricians
is described as in the zenith of his fame; the second is still young and
full of promise. Now it is argued that this must have been written in the
youth of Isocrates, when the promise was not yet fulfilled. And thus we
should have to assign the Dialogue to a year not later than 406, when
Isocrates was thirty and Plato twenty-three years of age, and while
Socrates himself was still alive.

Those who argue in this way seem not to reflect how easily Plato can
'invent Egyptians or anything else,' and how careless he is of historical
truth or probability. Who would suspect that the wise Critias, the
virtuous Charmides, had ended their lives among the thirty tyrants? Who
would imagine that Lysias, who is here assailed by Socrates, is the son of
his old friend Cephalus? Or that Isocrates himself is the enemy of Plato
and his school? No arguments can be drawn from the appropriateness or
inappropriateness of the characters of Plato. (Else, perhaps, it might be
further argued that, judging from their extant remains, insipid rhetoric is
far more characteristic of Isocrates than of Lysias.) But Plato makes use
of names which have often hardly any connection with the historical
characters to whom they belong. In this instance the comparative favour
shown to Isocrates may possibly be accounted for by the circumstance of his
belonging to the aristocratical, as Lysias to the democratical party.

Few persons will be inclined to suppose, in the superficial manner of some
ancient critics, that a dialogue which treats of love must necessarily have
been written in youth. As little weight can be attached to the argument
that Plato must have visited Egypt before he wrote the story of Theuth and
Thamus. For there is no real proof that he ever went to Egypt; and even if
he did, he might have known or invented Egyptian traditions before he went
there. The late date of the Phaedrus will have to be established by other
arguments than these: the maturity of the thought, the perfection of the
style, the insight, the relation to the other Platonic Dialogues, seem to
contradict the notion that it could have been the work of a youth of twenty
or twenty-three years of age. The cosmological notion of the mind as the
primum mobile, and the admission of impulse into the immortal nature, also
afford grounds for assigning a later date. (Compare Tim., Soph., Laws.)
Add to this that the picture of Socrates, though in some lesser
particulars,--e.g. his going without sandals, his habit of remaining within
the walls, his emphatic declaration that his study is human nature,--an
exact resemblance, is in the main the Platonic and not the real Socrates.
Can we suppose 'the young man to have told such lies' about his master
while he was still alive? Moreover, when two Dialogues are so closely
connected as the Phaedrus and Symposium, there is great improbability in
supposing that one of them was written at least twenty years after the
other. The conclusion seems to be, that the Dialogue was written at some
comparatively late but unknown period of Plato's life, after he had
deserted the purely Socratic point of view, but before he had entered on
the more abstract speculations of the Sophist or the Philebus. Taking into
account the divisions of the soul, the doctrine of transmigration, the
contemplative nature of the philosophic life, and the character of the
style, we shall not be far wrong in placing the Phaedrus in the
neighbourhood of the Republic; remarking only that allowance must be made
for the poetical element in the Phaedrus, which, while falling short of the
Republic in definite philosophic results, seems to have glimpses of a truth

Two short passages, which are unconnected with the main subject of the
Dialogue, may seem to merit a more particular notice: (1) the locus
classicus about mythology; (2) the tale of the grasshoppers.

The first passage is remarkable as showing that Plato was entirely free
from what may be termed the Euhemerism of his age. For there were
Euhemerists in Hellas long before Euhemerus. Early philosophers, like
Anaxagoras and Metrodorus, had found in Homer and mythology hidden
meanings. Plato, with a truer instinct, rejects these attractive
interpretations; he regards the inventor of them as 'unfortunate;' and they
draw a man off from the knowledge of himself. There is a latent criticism,
and also a poetical sense in Plato, which enable him to discard them, and
yet in another way to make use of poetry and mythology as a vehicle of
thought and feeling. What would he have said of the discovery of Christian
doctrines in these old Greek legends? While acknowledging that such
interpretations are 'very nice,' would he not have remarked that they are
found in all sacred literatures? They cannot be tested by any criterion of
truth, or used to establish any truth; they add nothing to the sum of human
knowledge; they are--what we please, and if employed as 'peacemakers'
between the new and old are liable to serious misconstruction, as he
elsewhere remarks (Republic). And therefore he would have 'bid Farewell to
them; the study of them would take up too much of his time; and he has not
as yet learned the true nature of religion.' The 'sophistical' interest of
Phaedrus, the little touch about the two versions of the story, the
ironical manner in which these explanations are set aside--'the common
opinion about them is enough for me'--the allusion to the serpent Typho may
be noted in passing; also the general agreement between the tone of this
speech and the remark of Socrates which follows afterwards, 'I am a
diviner, but a poor one.'

The tale of the grasshoppers is naturally suggested by the surrounding
scene. They are also the representatives of the Athenians as children of
the soil. Under the image of the lively chirruping grasshoppers who inform
the Muses in heaven about those who honour them on earth, Plato intends to
represent an Athenian audience (tettigessin eoikotes). The story is
introduced, apparently, to mark a change of subject, and also, like several
other allusions which occur in the course of the Dialogue, in order to
preserve the scene in the recollection of the reader.


No one can duly appreciate the dialogues of Plato, especially the Phaedrus,
Symposium, and portions of the Republic, who has not a sympathy with
mysticism. To the uninitiated, as he would himself have acknowledged, they
will appear to be the dreams of a poet who is disguised as a philosopher.
There is a twofold difficulty in apprehending this aspect of the Platonic
writings. First, we do not immediately realize that under the marble
exterior of Greek literature was concealed a soul thrilling with spiritual
emotion. Secondly, the forms or figures which the Platonic philosophy
assumes, are not like the images of the prophet Isaiah, or of the
Apocalypse, familiar to us in the days of our youth. By mysticism we mean,
not the extravagance of an erring fancy, but the concentration of reason in
feeling, the enthusiastic love of the good, the true, the one, the sense of
the infinity of knowledge and of the marvel of the human faculties. When
feeding upon such thoughts the 'wing of the soul' is renewed and gains
strength; she is raised above 'the manikins of earth' and their opinions,
waiting in wonder to know, and working with reverence to find out what God
in this or in another life may reveal to her.


One of the main purposes of Plato in the Phaedrus is to satirize Rhetoric,
or rather the Professors of Rhetoric who swarmed at Athens in the fourth
century before Christ. As in the opening of the Dialogue he ridicules the
interpreters of mythology; as in the Protagoras he mocks at the Sophists;
as in the Euthydemus he makes fun of the word-splitting Eristics; as in the
Cratylus he ridicules the fancies of Etymologers; as in the Meno and
Gorgias and some other dialogues he makes reflections and casts sly
imputation upon the higher classes at Athens; so in the Phaedrus, chiefly
in the latter part, he aims his shafts at the rhetoricians. The profession
of rhetoric was the greatest and most popular in Athens, necessary 'to a
man's salvation,' or at any rate to his attainment of wealth or power; but
Plato finds nothing wholesome or genuine in the purpose of it. It is a
veritable 'sham,' having no relation to fact, or to truth of any kind. It
is antipathetic to him not only as a philosopher, but also as a great
writer. He cannot abide the tricks of the rhetoricians, or the pedantries
and mannerisms which they introduce into speech and writing. He sees
clearly how far removed they are from the ways of simplicity and truth, and
how ignorant of the very elements of the art which they are professing to
teach. The thing which is most necessary of all, the knowledge of human
nature, is hardly if at all considered by them. The true rules of
composition, which are very few, are not to be found in their voluminous
systems. Their pretentiousness, their omniscience, their large fortunes,
their impatience of argument, their indifference to first principles, their
stupidity, their progresses through Hellas accompanied by a troop of their
disciples--these things were very distasteful to Plato, who esteemed genius
far above art, and was quite sensible of the interval which separated them
(Phaedrus). It is the interval which separates Sophists and rhetoricians
from ancient famous men and women such as Homer and Hesiod, Anacreon and
Sappho, Aeschylus and Sophocles; and the Platonic Socrates is afraid that,
if he approves the former, he will be disowned by the latter. The spirit
of rhetoric was soon to overspread all Hellas; and Plato with prophetic
insight may have seen, from afar, the great literary waste or dead level,
or interminable marsh, in which Greek literature was soon to disappear. A
similar vision of the decline of the Greek drama and of the contrast of the
old literature and the new was present to the mind of Aristophanes after
the death of the three great tragedians (Frogs). After about a hundred, or
at most two hundred years if we exclude Homer, the genius of Hellas had
ceased to flower or blossom. The dreary waste which follows, beginning
with the Alexandrian writers and even before them in the platitudes of
Isocrates and his school, spreads over much more than a thousand years.
And from this decline the Greek language and literature, unlike the Latin,
which has come to life in new forms and been developed into the great
European languages, never recovered.

This monotony of literature, without merit, without genius and without
character, is a phenomenon which deserves more attention than it has
hitherto received; it is a phenomenon unique in the literary history of the
world. How could there have been so much cultivation, so much diligence in
writing, and so little mind or real creative power? Why did a thousand
years invent nothing better than Sibylline books, Orphic poems, Byzantine
imitations of classical histories, Christian reproductions of Greek plays,
novels like the silly and obscene romances of Longus and Heliodorus,
innumerable forged epistles, a great many epigrams, biographies of the
meanest and most meagre description, a sham philosophy which was the
bastard progeny of the union between Hellas and the East? Only in
Plutarch, in Lucian, in Longinus, in the Roman emperors Marcus Aurelius and
Julian, in some of the Christian fathers are there any traces of good sense
or originality, or any power of arousing the interest of later ages. And
when new books ceased to be written, why did hosts of grammarians and
interpreters flock in, who never attain to any sound notion either of
grammar or interpretation? Why did the physical sciences never arrive at
any true knowledge or make any real progress? Why did poetry droop and
languish? Why did history degenerate into fable? Why did words lose their
power of expression? Why were ages of external greatness and magnificence
attended by all the signs of decay in the human mind which are possible?

To these questions many answers may be given, which if not the true causes,
are at least to be reckoned among the symptoms of the decline. There is
the want of method in physical science, the want of criticism in history,
the want of simplicity or delicacy in poetry, the want of political
freedom, which is the true atmosphere of public speaking, in oratory. The
ways of life were luxurious and commonplace. Philosophy had become
extravagant, eclectic, abstract, devoid of any real content. At length it
ceased to exist. It had spread words like plaster over the whole field of
knowledge. It had grown ascetic on one side, mystical on the other.
Neither of these tendencies was favourable to literature. There was no
sense of beauty either in language or in art. The Greek world became
vacant, barbaric, oriental. No one had anything new to say, or any
conviction of truth. The age had no remembrance of the past, no power of
understanding what other ages thought and felt. The Catholic faith had
degenerated into dogma and controversy. For more than a thousand years not
a single writer of first-rate, or even of second-rate, reputation has a
place in the innumerable rolls of Greek literature.

If we seek to go deeper, we can still only describe the outward nature of
the clouds or darkness which were spread over the heavens during so many
ages without relief or light. We may say that this, like several other
long periods in the history of the human race, was destitute, or deprived
of the moral qualities which are the root of literary excellence. It had
no life or aspiration, no national or political force, no desire for
consistency, no love of knowledge for its own sake. It did not attempt to
pierce the mists which surrounded it. It did not propose to itself to go
forward and scale the heights of knowledge, but to go backwards and seek at
the beginning what can only be found towards the end. It was lost in doubt
and ignorance. It rested upon tradition and authority. It had none of the
higher play of fancy which creates poetry; and where there is no true
poetry, neither can there be any good prose. It had no great characters,
and therefore it had no great writers. It was incapable of distinguishing
between words and things. It was so hopelessly below the ancient standard
of classical Greek art and literature that it had no power of understanding
or of valuing them. It is doubtful whether any Greek author was justly
appreciated in antiquity except by his own contemporaries; and this neglect
of the great authors of the past led to the disappearance of the larger
part of them, while the Greek fathers were mostly preserved. There is no
reason to suppose that, in the century before the taking of Constantinople,
much more was in existence than the scholars of the Renaissance carried
away with them to Italy.

The character of Greek literature sank lower as time went on. It consisted
more and more of compilations, of scholia, of extracts, of commentaries,
forgeries, imitations. The commentator or interpreter had no conception of
his author as a whole, and very little of the context of any passage which
he was explaining. The least things were preferred by him to the greatest.
The question of a reading, or a grammatical form, or an accent, or the uses
of a word, took the place of the aim or subject of the book. He had no
sense of the beauties of an author, and very little light is thrown by him
on real difficulties. He interprets past ages by his own. The greatest
classical writers are the least appreciated by him. This seems to be the
reason why so many of them have perished, why the lyric poets have almost
wholly disappeared; why, out of the eighty or ninety tragedies of Aeschylus
and Sophocles, only seven of each had been preserved.

Such an age of sciolism and scholasticism may possibly once more get the
better of the literary world. There are those who prophesy that the signs
of such a day are again appearing among us, and that at the end of the
present century no writer of the first class will be still alive. They
think that the Muse of Literature may transfer herself to other countries
less dried up or worn out than our own. They seem to see the withering
effect of criticism on original genius. No one can doubt that such a decay
or decline of literature and of art seriously affects the manners and
character of a nation. It takes away half the joys and refinements of
life; it increases its dulness and grossness. Hence it becomes a matter of
great interest to consider how, if at all, such a degeneracy may be
averted. Is there any elixir which can restore life and youth to the
literature of a nation, or at any rate which can prevent it becoming
unmanned and enfeebled?

First there is the progress of education. It is possible, and even
probable, that the extension of the means of knowledge over a wider area
and to persons living under new conditions may lead to many new
combinations of thought and language. But, as yet, experience does not
favour the realization of such a hope or promise. It may be truly answered
that at present the training of teachers and the methods of education are
very imperfect, and therefore that we cannot judge of the future by the
present. When more of our youth are trained in the best literatures, and
in the best parts of them, their minds may be expected to have a larger
growth. They will have more interests, more thoughts, more material for
conversation; they will have a higher standard and begin to think for
themselves. The number of persons who will have the opportunity of
receiving the highest education through the cheap press, and by the help of
high schools and colleges, may increase tenfold. It is likely that in
every thousand persons there is at least one who is far above the average
in natural capacity, but the seed which is in him dies for want of
cultivation. It has never had any stimulus to grow, or any field in which
to blossom and produce fruit. Here is a great reservoir or treasure-house
of human intelligence out of which new waters may flow and cover the earth.
If at any time the great men of the world should die out, and originality
or genius appear to suffer a partial eclipse, there is a boundless hope in
the multitude of intelligences for future generations. They may bring
gifts to men such as the world has never received before. They may begin
at a higher point and yet take with them all the results of the past. The
co-operation of many may have effects not less striking, though different
in character from those which the creative genius of a single man, such as
Bacon or Newton, formerly produced. There is also great hope to be
derived, not merely from the extension of education over a wider area, but
from the continuance of it during many generations. Educated parents will
have children fit to receive education; and these again will grow up under
circumstances far more favourable to the growth of intelligence than any
which have hitherto existed in our own or in former ages.

Even if we were to suppose no more men of genius to be produced, the great
writers of ancient or of modern times will remain to furnish abundant
materials of education to the coming generation. Now that every nation
holds communication with every other, we may truly say in a fuller sense
than formerly that 'the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the
suns.' They will not be 'cribbed, cabined, and confined' within a province
or an island. The East will provide elements of culture to the West as
well as the West to the East. The religions and literatures of the world
will be open books, which he who wills may read. The human race may not be
always ground down by bodily toil, but may have greater leisure for the
improvement of the mind. The increasing sense of the greatness and
infinity of nature will tend to awaken in men larger and more liberal
thoughts. The love of mankind may be the source of a greater development
of literature than nationality has ever been. There may be a greater
freedom from prejudice and party; we may better understand the whereabouts
of truth, and therefore there may be more success and fewer failures in the
search for it. Lastly, in the coming ages we shall carry with us the
recollection of the past, in which are necessarily contained many seeds of
revival and renaissance in the future. So far is the world from becoming
exhausted, so groundless is the fear that literature will ever die out.




Translated by Benjamin Jowett

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Phaedrus.

SCENE: Under a plane-tree, by the banks of the Ilissus.

SOCRATES: My dear Phaedrus, whence come you, and whither are you going?

PHAEDRUS: I come from Lysias the son of Cephalus, and I am going to take a
walk outside the wall, for I have been sitting with him the whole morning;
and our common friend Acumenus tells me that it is much more refreshing to
walk in the open air than to be shut up in a cloister.

SOCRATES: There he is right. Lysias then, I suppose, was in the town?

PHAEDRUS: Yes, he was staying with Epicrates, here at the house of
Morychus; that house which is near the temple of Olympian Zeus.

SOCRATES: And how did he entertain you? Can I be wrong in supposing that
Lysias gave you a feast of discourse?

PHAEDRUS: You shall hear, if you can spare time to accompany me.

SOCRATES: And should I not deem the conversation of you and Lysias 'a
thing of higher import,' as I may say in the words of Pindar, 'than any

PHAEDRUS: Will you go on?

SOCRATES: And will you go on with the narration?

PHAEDRUS: My tale, Socrates, is one of your sort, for love was the theme
which occupied us--love after a fashion: Lysias has been writing about a
fair youth who was being tempted, but not by a lover; and this was the
point: he ingeniously proved that the non-lover should be accepted rather
than the lover.

SOCRATES: O that is noble of him! I wish that he would say the poor man
rather than the rich, and the old man rather than the young one;--then he
would meet the case of me and of many a man; his words would be quite
refreshing, and he would be a public benefactor. For my part, I do so long
to hear his speech, that if you walk all the way to Megara, and when you
have reached the wall come back, as Herodicus recommends, without going in,
I will keep you company.

PHAEDRUS: What do you mean, my good Socrates? How can you imagine that my
unpractised memory can do justice to an elaborate work, which the greatest
rhetorician of the age spent a long time in composing. Indeed, I cannot; I
would give a great deal if I could.

SOCRATES: I believe that I know Phaedrus about as well as I know myself,
and I am very sure that the speech of Lysias was repeated to him, not once
only, but again and again;--he insisted on hearing it many times over and
Lysias was very willing to gratify him; at last, when nothing else would
do, he got hold of the book, and looked at what he most wanted to see,--
this occupied him during the whole morning;--and then when he was tired
with sitting, he went out to take a walk, not until, by the dog, as I
believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire discourse, unless it was
unusually long, and he went to a place outside the wall that he might
practise his lesson. There he saw a certain lover of discourse who had a
similar weakness;--he saw and rejoiced; now thought he, 'I shall have a
partner in my revels.' And he invited him to come and walk with him. But
when the lover of discourse begged that he would repeat the tale, he gave
himself airs and said, 'No I cannot,' as if he were indisposed; although,
if the hearer had refused, he would sooner or later have been compelled by
him to listen whether he would or no. Therefore, Phaedrus, bid him do at
once what he will soon do whether bidden or not.

PHAEDRUS: I see that you will not let me off until I speak in some fashion
or other; verily therefore my best plan is to speak as I best can.

SOCRATES: A very true remark, that of yours.

PHAEDRUS: I will do as I say; but believe me, Socrates, I did not learn
the very words--O no; nevertheless I have a general notion of what he said,
and will give you a summary of the points in which the lover differed from
the non-lover. Let me begin at the beginning.

SOCRATES: Yes, my sweet one; but you must first of all show what you have
in your left hand under your cloak, for that roll, as I suspect, is the
actual discourse. Now, much as I love you, I would not have you suppose
that I am going to have your memory exercised at my expense, if you have
Lysias himself here.

PHAEDRUS: Enough; I see that I have no hope of practising my art upon you.
But if I am to read, where would you please to sit?

SOCRATES: Let us turn aside and go by the Ilissus; we will sit down at
some quiet spot.

PHAEDRUS: I am fortunate in not having my sandals, and as you never have
any, I think that we may go along the brook and cool our feet in the water;
this will be the easiest way, and at midday and in the summer is far from
being unpleasant.

SOCRATES: Lead on, and look out for a place in which we can sit down.

PHAEDRUS: Do you see the tallest plane-tree in the distance?


PHAEDRUS: There are shade and gentle breezes, and grass on which we may
either sit or lie down.

SOCRATES: Move forward.

PHAEDRUS: I should like to know, Socrates, whether the place is not
somewhere here at which Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia from
the banks of the Ilissus?

SOCRATES: Such is the tradition.

PHAEDRUS: And is this the exact spot? The little stream is delightfully
clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be maidens playing near.

SOCRATES: I believe that the spot is not exactly here, but about a quarter
of a mile lower down, where you cross to the temple of Artemis, and there
is, I think, some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.

PHAEDRUS: I have never noticed it; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates,
do you believe this tale?

SOCRATES: The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like
them, I too doubted. I might have a rational explanation that Orithyia was
playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the
neighbouring rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to
have been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about
the locality; according to another version of the story she was taken from
Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these
allegories are very nice, but he is not to be envied who has to invent
them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has
once begun, he must go on and rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire.
Gorgons and winged steeds flow in apace, and numberless other inconceivable
and portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would fain
reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of
crude philosophy will take up a great deal of time. Now I have no leisure
for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the
Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my
concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous.
And therefore I bid farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for
me. For, as I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself:
am I a monster more complicated and swollen with passion than the serpent
Typho, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom Nature has
given a diviner and lowlier destiny? But let me ask you, friend: have we
not reached the plane-tree to which you were conducting us?

PHAEDRUS: Yes, this is the tree.

SOCRATES: By Here, a fair resting-place, full of summer sounds and scents.
Here is this lofty and spreading plane-tree, and the agnus castus high and
clustering, in the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance; and the
stream which flows beneath the plane-tree is deliciously cold to the feet.
Judging from the ornaments and images, this must be a spot sacred to
Achelous and the Nymphs. How delightful is the breeze:--so very sweet; and
there is a sound in the air shrill and summerlike which makes answer to the
chorus of the cicadae. But the greatest charm of all is the grass, like a
pillow gently sloping to the head. My dear Phaedrus, you have been an
admirable guide.

PHAEDRUS: What an incomprehensible being you are, Socrates: when you are
in the country, as you say, you really are like some stranger who is led
about by a guide. Do you ever cross the border? I rather think that you
never venture even outside the gates.

SOCRATES: Very true, my good friend; and I hope that you will excuse me
when you hear the reason, which is, that I am a lover of knowledge, and the
men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the
country. Though I do indeed believe that you have found a spell with which
to draw me out of the city into the country, like a hungry cow before whom
a bough or a bunch of fruit is waved. For only hold up before me in like
manner a book, and you may lead me all round Attica, and over the wide
world. And now having arrived, I intend to lie down, and do you choose any
posture in which you can read best. Begin.

PHAEDRUS: Listen. You know how matters stand with me; and how, as I
conceive, this affair may be arranged for the advantage of both of us. And
I maintain that I ought not to fail in my suit, because I am not your
lover: for lovers repent of the kindnesses which they have shown when
their passion ceases, but to the non-lovers who are free and not under any
compulsion, no time of repentance ever comes; for they confer their
benefits according to the measure of their ability, in the way which is
most conducive to their own interest. Then again, lovers consider how by
reason of their love they have neglected their own concerns and rendered
service to others: and when to these benefits conferred they add on the
troubles which they have endured, they think that they have long ago made
to the beloved a very ample return. But the non-lover has no such
tormenting recollections; he has never neglected his affairs or quarrelled
with his relations; he has no troubles to add up or excuses to invent; and
being well rid of all these evils, why should he not freely do what will
gratify the beloved? If you say that the lover is more to be esteemed,
because his love is thought to be greater; for he is willing to say and do
what is hateful to other men, in order to please his beloved;--that, if
true, is only a proof that he will prefer any future love to his present,
and will injure his old love at the pleasure of the new. And how, in a
matter of such infinite importance, can a man be right in trusting himself
to one who is afflicted with a malady which no experienced person would
attempt to cure, for the patient himself admits that he is not in his right
mind, and acknowledges that he is wrong in his mind, but says that he is
unable to control himself? And if he came to his right mind, would he ever
imagine that the desires were good which he conceived when in his wrong
mind? Once more, there are many more non-lovers than lovers; and if you
choose the best of the lovers, you will not have many to choose from; but
if from the non-lovers, the choice will be larger, and you will be far more
likely to find among them a person who is worthy of your friendship. If
public opinion be your dread, and you would avoid reproach, in all
probability the lover, who is always thinking that other men are as emulous
of him as he is of them, will boast to some one of his successes, and make
a show of them openly in the pride of his heart;--he wants others to know
that his labour has not been lost; but the non-lover is more his own
master, and is desirous of solid good, and not of the opinion of mankind.
Again, the lover may be generally noted or seen following the beloved (this
is his regular occupation), and whenever they are observed to exchange two
words they are supposed to meet about some affair of love either past or in
contemplation; but when non-lovers meet, no one asks the reason why,
because people know that talking to another is natural, whether friendship
or mere pleasure be the motive. Once more, if you fear the fickleness of
friendship, consider that in any other case a quarrel might be a mutual
calamity; but now, when you have given up what is most precious to you, you
will be the greater loser, and therefore, you will have more reason in
being afraid of the lover, for his vexations are many, and he is always
fancying that every one is leagued against him. Wherefore also he debars
his beloved from society; he will not have you intimate with the wealthy,
lest they should exceed him in wealth, or with men of education, lest they
should be his superiors in understanding; and he is equally afraid of
anybody's influence who has any other advantage over himself. If he can
persuade you to break with them, you are left without a friend in the
world; or if, out of a regard to your own interest, you have more sense
than to comply with his desire, you will have to quarrel with him. But
those who are non-lovers, and whose success in love is the reward of their
merit, will not be jealous of the companions of their beloved, and will
rather hate those who refuse to be his associates, thinking that their
favourite is slighted by the latter and benefited by the former; for more
love than hatred may be expected to come to him out of his friendship with
others. Many lovers too have loved the person of a youth before they knew
his character or his belongings; so that when their passion has passed
away, there is no knowing whether they will continue to be his friends;
whereas, in the case of non-lovers who were always friends, the friendship
is not lessened by the favours granted; but the recollection of these
remains with them, and is an earnest of good things to come.

Further, I say that you are likely to be improved by me, whereas the lover
will spoil you. For they praise your words and actions in a wrong way;
partly, because they are afraid of offending you, and also, their judgment
is weakened by passion. Such are the feats which love exhibits; he makes
things painful to the disappointed which give no pain to others; he compels
the successful lover to praise what ought not to give him pleasure, and
therefore the beloved is to be pitied rather than envied. But if you
listen to me, in the first place, I, in my intercourse with you, shall not
merely regard present enjoyment, but also future advantage, being not
mastered by love, but my own master; nor for small causes taking violent
dislikes, but even when the cause is great, slowly laying up little wrath--
unintentional offences I shall forgive, and intentional ones I shall try to
prevent; and these are the marks of a friendship which will last.

Do you think that a lover only can be a firm friend? reflect:--if this were
true, we should set small value on sons, or fathers, or mothers; nor should
we ever have loyal friends, for our love of them arises not from passion,
but from other associations. Further, if we ought to shower favours on
those who are the most eager suitors,--on that principle, we ought always
to do good, not to the most virtuous, but to the most needy; for they are
the persons who will be most relieved, and will therefore be the most
grateful; and when you make a feast you should invite not your friend, but
the beggar and the empty soul; for they will love you, and attend you, and
come about your doors, and will be the best pleased, and the most grateful,
and will invoke many a blessing on your head. Yet surely you ought not to
be granting favours to those who besiege you with prayer, but to those who
are best able to reward you; nor to the lover only, but to those who are
worthy of love; nor to those who will enjoy the bloom of your youth, but to
those who will share their possessions with you in age; nor to those who,
having succeeded, will glory in their success to others, but to those who
will be modest and tell no tales; nor to those who care about you for a
moment only, but to those who will continue your friends through life; nor
to those who, when their passion is over, will pick a quarrel with you, but
rather to those who, when the charm of youth has left you, will show their
own virtue. Remember what I have said; and consider yet this further
point: friends admonish the lover under the idea that his way of life is
bad, but no one of his kindred ever yet censured the non-lover, or thought
that he was ill-advised about his own interests.

'Perhaps you will ask me whether I propose that you should indulge every
non-lover. To which I reply that not even the lover would advise you to
indulge all lovers, for the indiscriminate favour is less esteemed by the
rational recipient, and less easily hidden by him who would escape the
censure of the world. Now love ought to be for the advantage of both
parties, and for the injury of neither.

'I believe that I have said enough; but if there is anything more which you
desire or which in your opinion needs to be supplied, ask and I will

Now, Socrates, what do you think? Is not the discourse excellent, more
especially in the matter of the language?

SOCRATES: Yes, quite admirable; the effect on me was ravishing. And this
I owe to you, Phaedrus, for I observed you while reading to be in an
ecstasy, and thinking that you are more experienced in these matters than I
am, I followed your example, and, like you, my divine darling, I became
inspired with a phrenzy.

PHAEDRUS: Indeed, you are pleased to be merry.

SOCRATES: Do you mean that I am not in earnest?

PHAEDRUS: Now don't talk in that way, Socrates, but let me have your real
opinion; I adjure you, by Zeus, the god of friendship, to tell me whether
you think that any Hellene could have said more or spoken better on the
same subject.

SOCRATES: Well, but are you and I expected to praise the sentiments of the
author, or only the clearness, and roundness, and finish, and tournure of
the language? As to the first I willingly submit to your better judgment,
for I am not worthy to form an opinion, having only attended to the
rhetorical manner; and I was doubting whether this could have been defended
even by Lysias himself; I thought, though I speak under correction, that he
repeated himself two or three times, either from want of words or from want
of pains; and also, he appeared to me ostentatiously to exult in showing
how well he could say the same thing in two or three ways.

PHAEDRUS: Nonsense, Socrates; what you call repetition was the especial
merit of the speech; for he omitted no topic of which the subject rightly
allowed, and I do not think that any one could have spoken better or more

SOCRATES: There I cannot go along with you. Ancient sages, men and women,
who have spoken and written of these things, would rise up in judgment
against me, if out of complaisance I assented to you.

PHAEDRUS: Who are they, and where did you hear anything better than this?

SOCRATES: I am sure that I must have heard; but at this moment I do not
remember from whom; perhaps from Sappho the fair, or Anacreon the wise; or,
possibly, from a prose writer. Why do I say so? Why, because I perceive
that my bosom is full, and that I could make another speech as good as that
of Lysias, and different. Now I am certain that this is not an invention
of my own, who am well aware that I know nothing, and therefore I can only
infer that I have been filled through the ears, like a pitcher, from the
waters of another, though I have actually forgotten in my stupidity who was
my informant.

PHAEDRUS: That is grand:--but never mind where you heard the discourse or
from whom; let that be a mystery not to be divulged even at my earnest
desire. Only, as you say, promise to make another and better oration,
equal in length and entirely new, on the same subject; and I, like the nine
Archons, will promise to set up a golden image at Delphi, not only of
myself, but of you, and as large as life.

SOCRATES: You are a dear golden ass if you suppose me to mean that Lysias
has altogether missed the mark, and that I can make a speech from which all
his arguments are to be excluded. The worst of authors will say something
which is to the point. Who, for example, could speak on this thesis of
yours without praising the discretion of the non-lover and blaming the
indiscretion of the lover? These are the commonplaces of the subject which
must come in (for what else is there to be said?) and must be allowed and
excused; the only merit is in the arrangement of them, for there can be
none in the invention; but when you leave the commonplaces, then there may
be some originality.

PHAEDRUS: I admit that there is reason in what you say, and I too will be
reasonable, and will allow you to start with the premiss that the lover is
more disordered in his wits than the non-lover; if in what remains you make
a longer and better speech than Lysias, and use other arguments, then I say
again, that a statue you shall have of beaten gold, and take your place by
the colossal offerings of the Cypselids at Olympia.

SOCRATES: How profoundly in earnest is the lover, because to tease him I
lay a finger upon his love! And so, Phaedrus, you really imagine that I am
going to improve upon the ingenuity of Lysias?

PHAEDRUS: There I have you as you had me, and you must just speak 'as you
best can.' Do not let us exchange 'tu quoque' as in a farce, or compel me
to say to you as you said to me, 'I know Socrates as well as I know myself,
and he was wanting to speak, but he gave himself airs.' Rather I would
have you consider that from this place we stir not until you have unbosomed
yourself of the speech; for here are we all alone, and I am stronger,
remember, and younger than you:--Wherefore perpend, and do not compel me to
use violence.

SOCRATES: But, my sweet Phaedrus, how ridiculous it would be of me to
compete with Lysias in an extempore speech! He is a master in his art and
I am an untaught man.

PHAEDRUS: You see how matters stand; and therefore let there be no more
pretences; for, indeed, I know the word that is irresistible.

SOCRATES: Then don't say it.

PHAEDRUS: Yes, but I will; and my word shall be an oath. 'I say, or
rather swear'--but what god will be witness of my oath?--'By this plane-
tree I swear, that unless you repeat the discourse here in the face of this
very plane-tree, I will never tell you another; never let you have word of

SOCRATES: Villain! I am conquered; the poor lover of discourse has no
more to say.

PHAEDRUS: Then why are you still at your tricks?

SOCRATES: I am not going to play tricks now that you have taken the oath,
for I cannot allow myself to be starved.

PHAEDRUS: Proceed.

SOCRATES: Shall I tell you what I will do?


SOCRATES: I will veil my face and gallop through the discourse as fast as
I can, for if I see you I shall feel ashamed and not know what to say.

PHAEDRUS: Only go on and you may do anything else which you please.

SOCRATES: Come, O ye Muses, melodious, as ye are called, whether you have
received this name from the character of your strains, or because the
Melians are a musical race, help, O help me in the tale which my good
friend here desires me to rehearse, in order that his friend whom he always
deemed wise may seem to him to be wiser than ever.

Once upon a time there was a fair boy, or, more properly speaking, a youth;
he was very fair and had a great many lovers; and there was one special
cunning one, who had persuaded the youth that he did not love him, but he
really loved him all the same; and one day when he was paying his addresses
to him, he used this very argument--that he ought to accept the non-lover
rather than the lover; his words were as follows:--

'All good counsel begins in the same way; a man should know what he is
advising about, or his counsel will all come to nought. But people imagine
that they know about the nature of things, when they don't know about them,
and, not having come to an understanding at first because they think that
they know, they end, as might be expected, in contradicting one another and
themselves. Now you and I must not be guilty of this fundamental error
which we condemn in others; but as our question is whether the lover or
non-lover is to be preferred, let us first of all agree in defining the
nature and power of love, and then, keeping our eyes upon the definition
and to this appealing, let us further enquire whether love brings advantage
or disadvantage.

'Every one sees that love is a desire, and we know also that non-lovers
desire the beautiful and good. Now in what way is the lover to be
distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us
there are two guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they
will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an acquired
opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in
harmony and then again at war, and sometimes the one, sometimes the other
conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best, the
conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid
of reason, rules in us and drags us to pleasure, that power of misrule is
called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many
forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither
honourable nor creditable, to the bearer of the name. The desire of
eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the
other desires, is called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called
a glutton; the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the possessor of
the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be
as little doubt by what name any other appetite of the same family would be
called;--it will be the name of that which happens to be dominant. And now
I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every
spoken word is in a manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say
further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency of opinion
towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially
of personal beauty, by the desires which are her own kindred--that supreme
desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of passion is
reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love
(erromenos eros).'

And now, dear Phaedrus, I shall pause for an instant to ask whether you do
not think me, as I appear to myself, inspired?

PHAEDRUS: Yes, Socrates, you seem to have a very unusual flow of words.

SOCRATES: Listen to me, then, in silence; for surely the place is holy; so
that you must not wonder, if, as I proceed, I appear to be in a divine
fury, for already I am getting into dithyrambics.

PHAEDRUS: Nothing can be truer.

SOCRATES: The responsibility rests with you. But hear what follows, and
perhaps the fit may be averted; all is in their hands above. I will go on
talking to my youth. Listen:--

Thus, my friend, we have declared and defined the nature of the subject.
Keeping the definition in view, let us now enquire what advantage or
disadvantage is likely to ensue from the lover or the non-lover to him who
accepts their advances.

He who is the victim of his passions and the slave of pleasure will of
course desire to make his beloved as agreeable to himself as possible. Now
to him who has a mind diseased anything is agreeable which is not opposed
to him, but that which is equal or superior is hateful to him, and
therefore the lover will not brook any superiority or equality on the part
of his beloved; he is always employed in reducing him to inferiority. And
the ignorant is the inferior of the wise, the coward of the brave, the slow
of speech of the speaker, the dull of the clever. These, and not these
only, are the mental defects of the beloved;--defects which, when implanted
by nature, are necessarily a delight to the lover, and when not implanted,
he must contrive to implant them in him, if he would not be deprived of his
fleeting joy. And therefore he cannot help being jealous, and will debar
his beloved from the advantages of society which would make a man of him,
and especially from that society which would have given him wisdom, and
thereby he cannot fail to do him great harm. That is to say, in his
excessive fear lest he should come to be despised in his eyes he will be
compelled to banish from him divine philosophy; and there is no greater
injury which he can inflict upon him than this. He will contrive that his
beloved shall be wholly ignorant, and in everything shall look to him; he
is to be the delight of the lover's heart, and a curse to himself. Verily,
a lover is a profitable guardian and associate for him in all that relates
to his mind.

Let us next see how his master, whose law of life is pleasure and not good,
will keep and train the body of his servant. Will he not choose a beloved
who is delicate rather than sturdy and strong? One brought up in shady
bowers and not in the bright sun, a stranger to manly exercises and the
sweat of toil, accustomed only to a soft and luxurious diet, instead of the
hues of health having the colours of paint and ornament, and the rest of a
piece?--such a life as any one can imagine and which I need not detail at
length. But I may sum up all that I have to say in a word, and pass on.
Such a person in war, or in any of the great crises of life, will be the
anxiety of his friends and also of his lover, and certainly not the terror
of his enemies; which nobody can deny.

And now let us tell what advantage or disadvantage the beloved will receive
from the guardianship and society of his lover in the matter of his
property; this is the next point to be considered. The lover will be the
first to see what, indeed, will be sufficiently evident to all men, that he
desires above all things to deprive his beloved of his dearest and best and
holiest possessions, father, mother, kindred, friends, of all whom he
thinks may be hinderers or reprovers of their most sweet converse; he will
even cast a jealous eye upon his gold and silver or other property, because
these make him a less easy prey, and when caught less manageable; hence he
is of necessity displeased at his possession of them and rejoices at their
loss; and he would like him to be wifeless, childless, homeless, as well;
and the longer the better, for the longer he is all this, the longer he
will enjoy him.

There are some sort of animals, such as flatterers, who are dangerous and
mischievous enough, and yet nature has mingled a temporary pleasure and
grace in their composition. You may say that a courtesan is hurtful, and
disapprove of such creatures and their practices, and yet for the time they
are very pleasant. But the lover is not only hurtful to his love; he is
also an extremely disagreeable companion. The old proverb says that 'birds
of a feather flock together'; I suppose that equality of years inclines
them to the same pleasures, and similarity begets friendship; yet you may
have more than enough even of this; and verily constraint is always said to
be grievous. Now the lover is not only unlike his beloved, but he forces
himself upon him. For he is old and his love is young, and neither day nor
night will he leave him if he can help; necessity and the sting of desire
drive him on, and allure him with the pleasure which he receives from
seeing, hearing, touching, perceiving him in every way. And therefore he
is delighted to fasten upon him and to minister to him. But what pleasure
or consolation can the beloved be receiving all this time? Must he not
feel the extremity of disgust when he looks at an old shrivelled face and
the remainder to match, which even in a description is disagreeable, and
quite detestable when he is forced into daily contact with his lover;
moreover he is jealously watched and guarded against everything and
everybody, and has to hear misplaced and exaggerated praises of himself,
and censures equally inappropriate, which are intolerable when the man is
sober, and, besides being intolerable, are published all over the world in
all their indelicacy and wearisomeness when he is drunk.

And not only while his love continues is he mischievous and unpleasant, but
when his love ceases he becomes a perfidious enemy of him on whom he
showered his oaths and prayers and promises, and yet could hardly prevail
upon him to tolerate the tedium of his company even from motives of
interest. The hour of payment arrives, and now he is the servant of
another master; instead of love and infatuation, wisdom and temperance are
his bosom's lords; but the beloved has not discovered the change which has
taken place in him, when he asks for a return and recalls to his
recollection former sayings and doings; he believes himself to be speaking
to the same person, and the other, not having the courage to confess the
truth, and not knowing how to fulfil the oaths and promises which he made
when under the dominion of folly, and having now grown wise and temperate,
does not want to do as he did or to be as he was before. And so he runs
away and is constrained to be a defaulter; the oyster-shell (In allusion to
a game in which two parties fled or pursued according as an oyster-shell
which was thrown into the air fell with the dark or light side uppermost.)
has fallen with the other side uppermost--he changes pursuit into flight,
while the other is compelled to follow him with passion and imprecation,
not knowing that he ought never from the first to have accepted a demented
lover instead of a sensible non-lover; and that in making such a choice he
was giving himself up to a faithless, morose, envious, disagreeable being,
hurtful to his estate, hurtful to his bodily health, and still more hurtful
to the cultivation of his mind, than which there neither is nor ever will
be anything more honoured in the eyes both of gods and men. Consider this,
fair youth, and know that in the friendship of the lover there is no real
kindness; he has an appetite and wants to feed upon you:

'As wolves love lambs so lovers love their loves.'

But I told you so, I am speaking in verse, and therefore I had better make
an end; enough.

PHAEDRUS: I thought that you were only half-way and were going to make a
similar speech about all the advantages of accepting the non-lover. Why do
you not proceed?

SOCRATES: Does not your simplicity observe that I have got out of
dithyrambics into heroics, when only uttering a censure on the lover? And
if I am to add the praises of the non-lover what will become of me? Do you
not perceive that I am already overtaken by the Nymphs to whom you have
mischievously exposed me? And therefore I will only add that the non-lover
has all the advantages in which the lover is accused of being deficient.
And now I will say no more; there has been enough of both of them. Leaving
the tale to its fate, I will cross the river and make the best of my way
home, lest a worse thing be inflicted upon me by you.

PHAEDRUS: Not yet, Socrates; not until the heat of the day has passed; do
you not see that the hour is almost noon? there is the midday sun standing
still, as people say, in the meridian. Let us rather stay and talk over
what has been said, and then return in the cool.

SOCRATES: Your love of discourse, Phaedrus, is superhuman, simply
marvellous, and I do not believe that there is any one of your
contemporaries who has either made or in one way or another has compelled
others to make an equal number of speeches. I would except Simmias the
Theban, but all the rest are far behind you. And now I do verily believe
that you have been the cause of another.

PHAEDRUS: That is good news. But what do you mean?

SOCRATES: I mean to say that as I was about to cross the stream the usual
sign was given to me,--that sign which always forbids, but never bids, me
to do anything which I am going to do; and I thought that I heard a voice
saying in my ear that I had been guilty of impiety, and that I must not go
away until I had made an atonement. Now I am a diviner, though not a very
good one, but I have enough religion for my own use, as you might say of a
bad writer--his writing is good enough for him; and I am beginning to see
that I was in error. O my friend, how prophetic is the human soul! At the
time I had a sort of misgiving, and, like Ibycus, 'I was troubled; I feared
that I might be buying honour from men at the price of sinning against the
gods.' Now I recognize my error.

PHAEDRUS: What error?

SOCRATES: That was a dreadful speech which you brought with you, and you
made me utter one as bad.


SOCRATES: It was foolish, I say,--to a certain extent, impious; can
anything be more dreadful?

PHAEDRUS: Nothing, if the speech was really such as you describe.

SOCRATES: Well, and is not Eros the son of Aphrodite, and a god?

PHAEDRUS: So men say.

SOCRATES: But that was not acknowledged by Lysias in his speech, nor by
you in that other speech which you by a charm drew from my lips. For if
love be, as he surely is, a divinity, he cannot be evil. Yet this was the
error of both the speeches. There was also a simplicity about them which
was refreshing; having no truth or honesty in them, nevertheless they
pretended to be something, hoping to succeed in deceiving the manikins of
earth and gain celebrity among them. Wherefore I must have a purgation.
And I bethink me of an ancient purgation of mythological error which was
devised, not by Homer, for he never had the wit to discover why he was
blind, but by Stesichorus, who was a philosopher and knew the reason why;
and therefore, when he lost his eyes, for that was the penalty which was
inflicted upon him for reviling the lovely Helen, he at once purged
himself. And the purgation was a recantation, which began thus,--

'False is that word of mine--the truth is that thou didst not embark in
ships, nor ever go to the walls of Troy;'

and when he had completed his poem, which is called 'the recantation,'
immediately his sight returned to him. Now I will be wiser than either
Stesichorus or Homer, in that I am going to make my recantation for
reviling love before I suffer; and this I will attempt, not as before,
veiled and ashamed, but with forehead bold and bare.

PHAEDRUS: Nothing could be more agreeable to me than to hear you say so.

SOCRATES: Only think, my good Phaedrus, what an utter want of delicacy was
shown in the two discourses; I mean, in my own and in that which you
recited out of the book. Would not any one who was himself of a noble and
gentle nature, and who loved or ever had loved a nature like his own, when

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