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Plato and Platonism by Walter Horatio Pater

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1. Plato and the Doctrine of Motion: 5-26
2. Plato and the Doctrine of Rest: 27-50
3. Plato and the Doctrine of Number: 51-74
4. Plato and Socrates: 75-98
5. Plato and the Sophists: 99-123
6. The Genius of Plato: 124-149
7. The Doctrine of Plato--
I. The Theory of Ideas: 150-173
II. Dialectic: 174-196
8. Lacedaemon: 197-234
9. The Republic: 235-266
10. Plato's Aesthetics: 267-283, end


[5] WITH the world of intellectual production, as with that of organic
generation, nature makes no sudden starts. Natura nihil facit per
saltum; and in the history of philosophy there are no absolute
beginnings. Fix where we may the origin of this or that doctrine or
idea, the doctrine of "reminiscence," for instance, or of "the
perpetual flux," the theory of "induction," or the philosophic view of
things generally, the specialist will still be able to find us some
earlier anticipation of that doctrine, that mental tendency. The most
elementary act of mental analysis takes time to do; the most
rudimentary sort of speculative knowledge, abstractions so simple that
we can hardly conceive the human mind without them, must grow, and with
difficulty. Philosophy itself, mental and moral, has its preparation,
its forethoughts, in the poetry that preceded it. A powerful
generalisation thrown into some salient phrase, such as [6] that of
Heraclitus--"Panta rhei,"+ all things fleet away--may startle a
particular age by its novelty, but takes possession only because all
along its root was somewhere among the natural though but half-
developed instincts of the human mind itself.

Plato has seemed to many to have been scarcely less than the creator of
philosophy; and it is an immense advance he makes, from the crude or
turbid beginnings of scientific enquiry with the Ionians or the
Eleatics, to that wide range of perfectly finished philosophical
literature. His encyclopaedic view of the whole domain of knowledge is
more than a mere step in a progress. Nothing that went before it, for
compass and power and charm, had been really comparable to it. Plato's
achievement may well seem an absolutely fresh thing in the morning of
the mind's history. Yet in truth the world Plato had entered into was
already almost weary of philosophical debate, bewildered by the
oppositions of sects, the claims of rival schools. Language and the
processes of thought were already become sophisticated, the very air he
breathed sickly with off-cast speculative atoms.

In the Timaeus, dealing with the origin of the universe he figures less
as the author of a new theory, than as already an eclectic critic of
older ones, himself somewhat perplexed by theory and counter-theory.
And as we find there a [7] sort of storehouse of all physical theories,
so in reading the Parmenides we might think that all metaphysical
questions whatever had already passed through the mind of Plato. Some
of the results of patient earlier thinkers, even then dead and gone,
are of the structure of his philosophy. They are everywhere in it, not
as the stray carved corner of some older edifice, to be found here or
there amid the new, but rather like minute relics of earlier organic
life in the very stone he builds with. The central and most intimate
principles of his teaching challenge us to go back beyond them, not
merely to his own immediate, somewhat enigmatic master--to Socrates,
who survives chiefly in his pages--but to various precedent schools of
speculative thought, in Greece, in Ionia, in Italy; beyond these into
that age of poetry, in which the first efforts of philosophic
apprehension had hardly understood themselves; beyond that unconscious
philosophy, again, to certain constitutional tendencies, persuasions,
forecasts of the intellect itself, such as had given birth, it would
seem, to thoughts akin to Plato's in the older civilisations of India
and of Egypt, as they still exercise their authority over ourselves.

The thoughts of Plato, like the language he has to use (we find it so
again, in turn, with those predecessors of his, when we pass from him
to them) are covered with the traces of previous labour and have had
their earlier [8] proprietors. If at times we become aware in reading
him of certain anticipations of modern knowledge, we are also quite
obviously among the relics of an older, a poetic or half-visionary
world. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in Plato, in spite of
his wonderful savour of literary freshness, there is nothing absolutely
new: or rather, as in many other very original products of human
genius, the seemingly new is old also, a palimpsest, a tapestry of
which the actual threads have served before, or like the animal frame
itself, every particle of which has already lived and died many times
over. Nothing but the life-giving principle of cohesion is new; the
new perspective, the resultant complexion, the expressiveness which
familiar thoughts attain by novel juxtaposition. In other words, the
form is new. But then, in the creation of philosophical literature, as
in all other products of art, form, in the full signification of that
word, is everything, and the mere matter is nothing.

There are three different ways in which the criticism of philosophic,
of all speculative opinion whatever, may be conducted. The doctrines
of Plato's Republic, for instance, may be regarded as so much truth or
falsehood, to be accepted or rejected as such by the student of to-day.
That is the dogmatic method of criticism; judging every product of
human thought, however alien [9] or distant from one's self, by its
congruity with the assumptions of Bacon or Spinoza, of Mill or Hegel,
according to the mental preference of the particular critic. There is,
secondly, the more generous, eclectic or syncretic method, which aims
at a selection from contending schools of the various grains of truth
dispersed among them. It is the method which has prevailed in periods
of large reading but with little inceptive force of their own, like
that of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonism in the third century, or the Neo-
Platonism of Florence in the fifteenth. Its natural defect is in the
tendency to misrepresent the true character of the doctrine it
professes to explain, that it may harmonise thus the better with the
other elements of a pre-conceived system.

Dogmatic and eclectic criticism alike have in our own century, under
the influence of Hegel and his predominant theory of the ever-changing
"Time-spirit" or Zeit-geist, given way to a third method of criticism,
the historic method, which bids us replace the doctrine, or the system,
we are busy with, or such an ancient monument of philosophic thought as
The Republic, as far as possible in the group of conditions,
intellectual, social, material, amid which it was actually produced, if
we would really understand it. That ages have their genius as well as
the individual; that in every age there is a peculiar ensemble of
conditions which determines [10] a common character in every product of
that age, in business and art, in fashion and speculation, in religion
and manners, in men's very faces; that nothing man has projected from
himself is really intelligible except at its own date, and from its
proper point of view in the never-resting "secular process"; the
solidarity of philosophy, of the intellectual life, with common or
general history; that what it behoves the student of philosophic
systems to cultivate is the "historic sense": by force of these
convictions many a normal, or at first sight abnormal, phase of
speculation has found a reasonable meaning for us. As the strangely
twisted pine-tree, which would be a freak of nature on an English lawn,
is seen, if we replace it, in thought, amid the contending forces of
the Alpine torrent that actually shaped its growth, to have been the
creature of necessity, of the logic of certain facts; so, beliefs the
most fantastic, the "communism" of Plato, for instance, have their
natural propriety when duly correlated with those facts, those
conditions round about them, of which they are in truth a part.

In the intellectual as in the organic world the given product, its
normal or abnormal characteristics, are determined, as people say, by
the "environment." The business of the young scholar therefore, in
reading Plato, is not to take his side in a controversy, to adopt or
refute Plato's opinions, to modify, or make apology for, [11] what may
seem erratic or impossible in him; still less, to furnish himself with
arguments on behalf of some theory or conviction of his own. His duty
is rather to follow intelligently, but with strict indifference, the
mental process there, as he might witness a game of skill; better
still, as in reading Hamlet or The Divine Comedy, so in reading The
Republic, to watch, for its dramatic interest, the spectacle of a
powerful, of a sovereign intellect, translating itself, amid a complex
group of conditions which can never in the nature of things occur
again, at once pliant and resistant to them, into a great literary
monument. To put Plato into his natural place, as a result from
antecedent and contemporary movements of Greek speculation, of Greek
life generally: such is the proper aim of the historic, that is to say,
of the really critical study of him.

At the threshold, then, of The Republic of Plato, the historic spirit
impresses upon us the fact that some of its leading thoughts are partly
derivative from earlier thinkers, of whom we happen to possess
independent information. From that brilliant and busy, yet so
unconcerned press of early Greek life, one here another there stands
aside to make the initial act of conscious philosophic reflexion. It
is done with something of the simplicity, the immediate and visible
effectiveness, of the visible world in action all around. Among
Plato's many intellectual [12] predecessors, on whom in recent years
much attention has been bestowed by a host of commentators after the
mind of Hegel, three, whose ideas, whose words even, we really find in
the very texture of Plato's work, emerge distinctly in close connexion
with The Republic: Pythagoras, the dim, half-legendary founder of the
philosophy of number and music; Parmenides, "My father Parmenides," the
centre of the school of Elea; Heraclitus, thirdly, author of the
doctrine of "the Perpetual Flux": three teachers, it must be admitted
after all, of whom what knowledge we have is to the utmost degree
fragmentary and vague. But then, one way of giving that knowledge
greater definiteness is by noting their direct and actual influence in
Plato's writings.

Heraclitus, a writer of philosophy in prose, yet of a philosophy which
was half poetic figure, half generalised fact, in style crabbed and
obscure, but stimulant, invasive, not to be forgotten--he too might be
thought, as a writer of prose, one of the "fathers" of Plato. His
influence, however, on Plato, though himself a Heraclitean in early
life, was by way of antagonism or reaction; Plato's stand against any
philosophy of motion becoming, as we say, something of a "fixed idea"
with him. Heraclitus of Ephesus (what Ephesus must have been just then
is denoted by the fact that it was one of the twelve cities of the
Ionian League) died about forty years before [13] Plato was born. Here
then at Ephesus, the much frequented centre of the religious life of
Ionia, itself so lately emancipated from its tyrants, Heraclitus, of
ancient hereditary rank, an aristocrat by birth and temper, amid all
the bustle of still undiscredited Greek democracy, had reflected, not
to his peace of mind, on the mutable character of political as well as
of physical existence; perhaps, early as it was, on the mutability of
intellectual systems also, that modes of thought and practice had
already been in and out of fashion. Empires certainly had lived and
died around; and in Ephesus as elsewhere, the privileged class had gone
to the wall. In this era of unrestrained youthfulness, of Greek
youthfulness, one of the haughtiest of that class, as being also of
nature's aristocracy, and a man of powerful intellectual gifts,
Heraclitus, asserts the native liberty of thought at all events;
becomes, we might truly say, sickly with "the pale cast" of his
philosophical questioning. Amid the irreflective actors in that
rapidly moving show, so entirely immersed in it superficial as it is
that they have no feeling of themselves, he becomes self-conscious. He
reflects; and his reflexion has the characteristic melancholy of youth
when it is forced suddenly to bethink itself, and for a moment feels
already old, feels the temperature of the world about it sensibly
colder. Its very ingenuousness, its sincerity, will make the utterance
of what comes [14] to mind just then somewhat shrill or overemphatic.

Yet Heraclitus, thus superbly turning aside from the vulgar to think,
so early in the impetuous spring-tide of Greek history, does but
reflect after all the aspect of what actually surrounds him, when he
cries out--his philosophy was no matter of formal treatise or system,
but of harsh, protesting cries--Panta chŰrei kai ouden menei.+ All
things give way: nothing remaineth. There had been enquirers before
him of another sort, purely physical enquirers, whose bold,
contradictory, seemingly impious guesses how and of what primary
elements the world of visible things, the sun, the stars, the brutes,
their own souls and bodies, had been composed, were themselves a part
of the bold enterprise of that romantic age; a series of intellectual
adventures, of a piece with its adventures in unknown lands or upon the
sea. The resultant intellectual chaos expressed the very spirit of
gifted and sanguine but insubordinate youth (remember, that the word
neotÍs,+ youth, came to mean rashness, insolence!) questioning,
deciding, rejecting, on mere rags and tatters of evidence, unbent to
discipline, unmethodical, irresponsible. Those opinions too, coming
and going, those conjectures as to what under-lay the sensible world,
were themselves but fluid elements on the changing surface of

[15] Surface, we say; but was there really anything beneath it? That
was what to the majority of his hearers, his readers, Heraclitus, with
an eye perhaps on practice, seemed to deny. Perpetual motion, alike in
things and in men's thoughts about them,--the sad, self-conscious,
philosophy of Heraclitus, like one, knowing beyond his years, in this
barely adolescent world which he is so eager to instruct, makes no
pretence to be able to restrain that. Was not the very essence of
thought itself also such perpetual motion? a baffling transition from
the dead past, alive one moment since, to a present, itself deceased in
turn ere we can say, It is here? A keen analyst of the facts of nature
and mind, a master presumably of all the knowledge that then there was,
a vigorous definer of thoughts, he does but refer the superficial
movement of all persons and things around him to deeper and still more
masterful currents of universal change, stealthily withdrawing the
apparently solid earth itself from beneath one's feet. The principle
of disintegration, the incoherency of fire or flood (for Heraclitus
these are but very lively instances of movements, subtler yet more
wasteful still) are inherent in the primary elements alike of matter
and of the soul. Legei pou HÍrakleitos, says Socrates in the Cratylus,
hoti panta chŰrei kai ouden menei.+ But the principle of lapse, of
waste, was, in fact, in one's self. "No one has ever passed [16] twice
over the same stream." Nay, the passenger himself is without identity.
Upon the same stream at the same moment we do, and do not, embark: for
we are, and are not: eimen te kai ouk eimen.+ And this rapid change, if
it did not make all knowledge impossible, made it wholly relative, of a
kind, that is to say, valueless in the judgment of Plato. Man, the
individual, at this particular vanishing-point of time and place,
becomes "the measure of all things."

To know after what manner (says Socrates, after discussing the
question in what proportion names, fleeting names, contribute
to our knowledge of things) to know after what manner we must be
taught, or discover for ourselves, the things that really are
(ta onta)+ is perhaps beyond the measure of your powers and mine.
We must even content ourselves with the admission of this, that
not from their names, but much rather themselves from themselves,
they must be learned and looked for. . . . For consider, Cratylus,
a point I oft-times dream on--whether or no we may affirm that
what is beautiful and good in itself, and whatever is, respectively,
in itself, is something?

Cratylus. To me at least, Socrates, it seems to be something.

Socrates. Let us consider, then, that 'in-itself'; not whether
a face, or anything of that kind, is beautiful, and whether all
these things seem to flow like water. But, what is beautiful in
itself--may we say?--has not this the qualities that define it,

Cratylus. It must be so.

Socrates. Can we then, if it is ever passing out below, predicate
about it; first, that it is that; next, that it has this or that
quality; or must it not be that, even as we speak, it should
straightway become some other thing, and go out under on its way,
and be no longer as it is? Now, how could that which is never in
the same state be a thing at all? . . .

[17] Socrates. Nor, in truth, could it be an object of knowledge
to any one; for, even as he who shall know comes upon it, it would
become another thing with other qualities; so that it would be no
longer matter of knowledge what sort of a thing it is, or in what
condition. Now, no form of knowing, methinks, has knowledge of
that which it knows to be no-how.

Cratylus. It is as you say.

Socrates. But if, Cratylus, all things change sides, and nothing
stays, it is not fitting to say that there is any knowing at
all. . . . And the consequence of this argument would be, that
there is neither any one to know, nor anything to be known. If,
on the other hand, there be always that which knows, and that
which is known; and if the Beautiful is, and the Good is, and
each one of those things that really are, is, then, to my thinking,
those things in no way resemble that moving stream of which we are
now speaking. Whether, then, these matters be thus, or in that
other way as the followers of Heraclitus affirm and many besides,
I fear may be no easy thing to search out. But certainly it is
not like a sensible man, committing one's self, and one's own soul,
to the rule of names, to serve them, and, with faith in names and
those who imposed them, as if one knew something thereby, to
maintain (damaging thus the character of that which is, and our
own) that there is no sound ring in any one of them, but that all,
like earthen pots, let water. Cratylus, 439.+

Yet from certain fragments in which the Logos is already named we may
understand that there had been another side to the doctrine of
Heraclitus; an attempt on his part, after all, to reduce that world of
chaotic mutation to cosmos, to the unity of a reasonable order, by the
search for and the notation, if there be such, of an antiphonal rhythm,
or logic, which, proceeding uniformly from movement to movement, as in
some intricate musical theme, might link together in one those
contending, infinitely diverse [18] impulses. It was an act of
recognition, even on the part of a philosophy of the inconsecutive, the
incoherent, the insane, of that Wisdom which, "reacheth from end to
end, sweetly and strongly ordering all things." But if the "weeping
philosopher," the first of the pessimists, finds the ground of his
melancholy in the sense of universal change, still more must he weep at
the dulness of men's ears to that continuous strain of melody
throughout it. In truth, what was sympathetic with the hour and the
scene in the Heraclitean doctrine, was the boldly aggressive, the
paradoxical and negative tendency there, in natural collusion, as it
was, with the destructiveness of undisciplined youth; that sense of
rapid dissolution, which, according to one's temperament and one's luck
in things, might extinguish, or kindle all the more eagerly, an
interest in the mere phenomena of existence, of one's so hasty passage
through the world.

The theory of the perpetual flux was indeed an apprehension of which
the full scope was only to be realised by a later age, in alliance with
a larger knowledge of the natural world, a closer observation of the
phenomena of mind, than was possible, even for Heraclitus, at that
early day. So, the seeds of almost all scientific ideas might seem to
have been dimly enfolded in the mind of antiquity; but fecundated,
admitted to their full working prerogative, one by one, in after ages,
by good favour of the special [19] intellectual conditions belonging to
a particular generation, which, on a sudden, finds itself preoccupied
by a formula, not so much new, as renovated by new application.

It is in this way that the most modern metaphysical, and the most
modern empirical philosophies alike have illustrated emphatically,
justified, expanded, the divination (so we may make bold to call it
under the new light now thrown upon it) of the ancient theorist of
Ephesus. The entire modern theory of "development," in all its various
phases, proved or unprovable,--what is it but old Heracliteanism awake
once more in a new world, and grown to full proportions?

Panta chŰrei, panta rhei+--It is the burden of Hegel on the one hand, to
whom nature, and art, and polity, and philosophy, aye, and religion
too, each in its long historic series, are but so many conscious
movements in the secular process of the eternal mind; and on the other
hand of Darwin and Darwinism, for which "type" itself properly is not
but is only always becoming. The bold paradox of Heraclitus is, in
effect, repeated on all sides, as the vital persuasion just now of a
cautiously reasoned experience, and, in illustration of the very law of
change which it asserts, may itself presently be superseded as a
commonplace. Think of all that subtly disguised movement, latens
processus, Bacon calls it (again as if by a kind of anticipation) which
[20] modern research has detected, measured, hopes to reduce to minuter
or ally to still larger currents, in what had seemed most substantial
to the naked eye, the inattentive mind. To the "observation and
experiment" of the physical enquirer of to-day, the eye and the sun it
lives by reveal themselves, after all, as Heraclitus had declared
(scarcely serious, he seemed to those around him) as literally in
constant extinction and renewal; the sun only going out more gradually
than the human eye; the system meanwhile, of which it is the centre, in
ceaseless movement nowhither. Our terrestrial planet is in constant
increase by meteoric dust, moving to it through endless time out of
infinite space. The Alps drift down the rivers into the plains, as
still loftier mountains found their level there ages ago. The granite
kernel of the earth, it is said, is ever changing in its very
substance, its molecular constitution, by the passage through it of
electric currents. And the Darwinian theory--that "species," the
identifying forms of animal and vegetable life, immutable though they
seem now, as of old in the Garden of Eden, are fashioned by slow
development, while perhaps millions of years go by: well! every month
is adding to its evidence. Nay, the idea of development (that, too, a
thing of growth, developed in the progress of reflexion) is at last
invading one by one, as the secret of their explanation, all the
products of mind, the very [21] mind itself, the abstract reason; our
certainty, for instance, that two and two make four. Gradually we have
come to think, or to feel, that primary certitude. Political
constitutions, again, as we now see so clearly, are "not made," cannot
be made, but "grow." Races, laws, arts, have their origins and end,
are themselves ripples only on the great river of organic life; and
language is changing on our very lips.

In Plato's day, the Heraclitean flux, so deep down in nature itself--
the flood, the fire--seemed to have laid hold on man, on the social and
moral world, dissolving or disintegrating opinion, first principles,
faith, establishing amorphism, so to call it, there also. All along
indeed the genius, the good gifts of Greece to the world had had much
to do with the mobility of its temperament. Only, when Plato came into
potent contact with his countrymen (Pericles, Phidias, Socrates being
now gone) in politics, in literature and art, in men's characters, the
defect naturally incident to that fine quality had come to have
unchecked sway. From the lifeless background of an unprogressive
world--Egypt, Syria, frozen Scythia--a world in which the unconscious
social aggregate had been everything, the conscious individual, his
capacity and rights, almost nothing, the Greek had stepped forth, like
the young prince in the fable, to set things going. To the philosophic
eye however, [22] about the time when the history of Thucydides leaves
off, they might seem to need a regulator, ere the very wheels wore
themselves out.

Mobility! We do not think that a necessarily undesirable condition of
life, of mind, of the physical world about us. 'Tis the dead things,
we may remind ourselves, that after all are most entirely at rest, and
might reasonably hold that motion (vicious, fallacious, infectious
motion, as Plato inclines to think) covers all that is best worth
being. And as for philosophy--mobility, versatility, the habit of
thought that can most adequately follow the subtle movement of things,
that, surely, were the secret of wisdom, of the true knowledge of them.
It means susceptibility, sympathetic intelligence, capacity, in short.
It was the spirit of God that moved, moves still, in every form of real
power, everywhere. Yet to Plato motion becomes the token of unreality
in things, of falsity in our thoughts about them. It is just this
principle of mobility, in itself so welcome to all of us, that, with
all his contriving care for the future, he desires to withstand.
Everywhere he displays himself as an advocate of the immutable. The
Republic is a proposal to establish it indefectibly in a very precisely
regulated, a very exclusive community, which shall be a refuge for
elect souls from an ill-made world.

That four powerful influences made for the political unity of Greece
was pointed out by [23] Grote: common blood, common language, a common
religious centre, the great games in which all alike communicated. He
adds that they failed to make the Greeks one people. Panhellenism was
realised for the first time, and then but imperfectly, by Alexander the
Great. The centrifugal tendency had ever been too much for the
centripetal tendency in them, the progressive elements for the element
of order. Their boundless impatience, that passion for novelty noted
in them by Saint Paul, had been a matter of radical character. Their
varied natural gifts did but concentrate themselves now and then to an
effective centre, that they might be dissipated again, towards every
side, in daring adventure alike of action and of thought. Variety and
novelty of experience, further quickened by a consciousness trained to
an equally nimble power of movement, individualism, the capacities, the
claim, of the individual, forced into their utmost play by a ready
sense and dexterous appliance of opportunity,--herein, certainly, lay
at least one half of their vocation in history. The material
conformation of Greece, a land of islands and peninsulas, with a range
of sea-coast immense as compared with its area, and broken up by
repellent lines of mountain this way and that, nursing jealously a
little township of three or four thousand souls into an independent
type of its own, conspired to the same effect. Independence, local and
personal,--it was the Greek ideal!

[24] Yet of one side only of that ideal, as we may see, of the still
half-Asiatic rather than the full Hellenic ideal, of the Ionian ideal
as conceived by the Athenian people in particular, people of the coast
who have the roaming thoughts of sailors, ever ready to float away
anywhither amid their walls of wood. And for many of its admirers
certainly the whole Greek people has been a people of the sea-coast.
In Lacedaemon, however, as Plato and others thought, hostile,
inaccessible in its mountain hollow where it had no need of any walls
at all, there were resources for that discipline and order which
constitute the other ingredient in a true Hellenism, the saving Dorian
soul in it. Right away thither, to that solemn old mountain village,
now mistress of Greece, he looks often, in depicting the Perfect City,
the ideal state. Perfection, in every case, as we may conceive, is
attainable only through a certain combination of opposites, Attic
aleipha with the Doric oxos;+ and in the Athens of Plato's day, as he
saw with acute prevision, those centrifugal forces had come to be
ruinously in excess of the centripetal. Its rapid, empiric,
constitutional changes, its restless development of political
experiment, the subdivisions of party there, the dominance of faction,
as we see it, steadily increasing, breeding on itself, in the pages of
Thucydides, justify Plato's long-drawn paradox that it is easier to
wrestle against many than against one. The soul, [25] moreover, the
inward polity of the individual, was the theatre of a similar
dissolution; and truly stability of character had never been a
prominent feature in Greek life. Think of the end of Pausanias failing
in his patriotism, of Themistocles, of Miltiades, the saviours of
Greece, actually selling the country they had so dearly bought to its
old enemies.

It is something in this way that, for Plato, motion and the philosophy
of motion identify themselves with the vicious tendency in things and
thought. Change is the irresistible law of our being, says the
Philosophy of Motion. Change, he protests, through the power of a true
philosophy, shall not be the law of our being; and it is curious to
note the way in which, consciously or unconsciously, that philosophic
purpose shapes his treatment, even in minute detail, of education, of
art, of daily life, his very vocabulary, in which such pleasant or
innocent words, as "manifold," "embroidered," "changeful," become the
synonyms of what is evil. He, first, notes something like a fixed
cycle of political change; but conceives it (being change) as, from the
very first, backward towards decadence. The ideal city, again, will
not be an art-less place: it is by irresistible influence of art, that
he means to shape men anew; by a severely monotonous art however, such
art as shall speak to youth, all day long, from year to year, almost
exclusively, of the loins girded about.

[26] Stimulus, or correction,--one hardly knows which to ask for first,
as more salutary for our own slumbersome, yet so self-willed, northern
temperaments. Perhaps all genuine fire, even the Heraclitean fire, has
a power for both. "Athens," says Dante,

--Athens, aye and Sparta's state
That were in policy so great,
And framed the laws of old,
How small a place they hold,
How poor their art of noble living
Shews by thy delicate contriving,
Where what October spun
November sees outrun!
Think in the time thou canst recall,
Laws, coinage, customs, places all,
How thou hast rearranged,
How oft thy members changed!
Couldst thou but see thyself aright,
And turn thy vision to the light,
Thy likeness thou would'st find
In some sick man reclined;
On couch of down though he be pressed,
He seeks and finds not any rest,
But turns and turns again,
To ease him of his pain.
Purgatory: Canto VI: Shadwell's Translation.

Now what Dante says to Florence, contrasting it with Athens and Sparta
as he conceives them, Plato might have said to Athens, in contrast with
Sparta, with Lacedaemon, at least as he conceived it.


6. +Transliteration: Panta rhei. Translation: "All things give way [or
flow]." Plato, Cratylus 402 A, cites Heraclitus' fragment more fully--
Legei pou HÍrakleitos hoti panta chŰrei kai ouden menei, or
"Heracleitus says somewhere that all things give way, and nothing
remains." Pater cites the same fragment in The Renaissance,
Conclusion. The verb rheŰ means "flow," while the verb choreŰ means
"give way."

14. +Transliteration: Panta chŰrei kai ouden menei. Pater's
translation: "All things give way: nothing remaineth." Plato, Cratylus

14. +Transliteration: neotÍs. Liddell and Scott definition: "youth:
also ... youthful spirit, rashness."

15. +Transliteration: Legei pou HÍrakleitos hoti panta chŰrei kai ouden
menei. Pater's translation in The Renaissance, Conclusion:
"[Herakleitos says somewhere that] All things give way; nothing
remains." Plato, Cratylus 402a.

16. +Transliteration: eimen te kai ouk eimen. E-text editor's
translation: "We are and are not." Heraclitus, Fragments. Fragmenta
Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 326. Ed. F.W.A. Mullach. Darmstadt:
Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of the Paris, 1860 edition). In
the same fragment, Heraclitus is described as having said, Potamois
tois autois embainomen te kai ouk embainomen, which translates as "we
go into the same river, and [yet] we do not go into the same river."
Plato cites that thought in the passage alluded to above, Cratylus

16. +Transliteration: ta onta. Definition: "the things that are."

17. +Rather than retain the original's very small print for such
quotations, I have indented them throughout Plato and Platonism. As
Pater indicates, the source of his quotation is the Cratylus, 439.

19. +Transliteration: Panta chŰrei, panta rhei. See above, notes for
pages 6, 14, 15, and 16. The verb rheŰ means "flow," while the verb
choreŰ means "give way."

24. +Transliteration: aleipha . . . oxos. Liddell and Scott definition:
"unguent, oil . . . sour wine, vinegar."


[27] OVER against that world of flux,

Where nothing is, but all things seem,

it is the vocation of Plato to set up a standard of unchangeable
reality, which in its highest theoretic development becomes the world
of "eternal and immutable ideas," indefectible outlines of thought, yet
also the veritable things of experience: the perfect Justice, for
instance, which if even the gods mistake it for perfect Injustice is
not moved out of its place; the Beauty which is the same, yesterday,
to-day and for ever. In such ideas or ideals, "eternal" as
participating in the essential character of the facts they represent to
us, we come in contact, as he supposes, with the insoluble, immovable
granite beneath and amid the wasting torrent of mere phenomena. And in
thus ruling the deliberate aim of his philosophy to be a survey of
things sub specie eternitatis, the reception of a kind of absolute and
independent knowledge [28] (independent, that is, of time and position,
the accidents and peculiar point of view of the receiver) Plato is
consciously under the influence of another great master of the Pre-
Socratic thought, Parmenides, the centre of the School of Elea.

About half a century before the birth of Plato, Socrates being then in
all the impressibility of early manhood, Parmenides, according to the
witness of Plato himself--Parmenides at the age of sixty-five--had
visited Athens at the great festival of the Panathenaea, in company
with Zeno the Eleatic, a characteristic specimen of Greek cleverness,
of the acute understanding, personally very attractive. Though forty
years old, the reputation this Zeno now enjoyed seems to have been very
much the achievement of his youth, and came of a mastery of the sort of
paradox youth always delights in. It may be said that no one has ever
really answered him; the difficulties with which he played so nicely
being really connected with those "antinomies," or contradictions, or
inconsistencies, of our thoughts, which more than two thousand years
afterwards Kant noted as actually inherent in the mind itself--a
certain constitutional weakness or limitation there, in dealing by way
of cold-blooded reflexion with the direct presentations of its
experience. The "Eleatic Palamedes," Plato calls him, "whose
dialectic art causes one and the same thing to appear both like and
[29] unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion." Ah! you hear
already the sort of words that seem sometimes so barren and
unprofitable even in Plato.

It is from extant fragments of a work of his, not a poem, but,
appropriately, To Syngramma,+ The Prose, of Zeno, that such knowledge as
we have of his doctrine, independently of the Parmenides of Plato, is
derived. The active principle of that doctrine then lies in the
acuteness with which he unfolds the contradictions which make against
the very conceivability of the fundamental phenomena of sense, in so
far as those phenomena are supposed to be really existent independently
of ourselves. The truth of experience, of a sensible experience, he
seems to protest:--Why! sensible experience as such is logically
inconceivable. He proved it, or thought, or professed to think, he
proved it, in the phenomenon which covers all the most vivid, the
seemingly irresistible facts, of such experience. Motion was indeed,
as the Heracliteans said, everywhere: was the most incisive of all
facts in the realm of supposed sensible fact. Think of the prow of the
trireme cleaving the water. For a moment Zeno himself might have
seemed but a follower of Heraclitus. He goes beyond him. All is
motion: he admits.--Yes: only, motion is (I can show it!) a nonsensical
term. Follow it, or rather stay by it, and it transforms itself,
agreeably enough for the [30] curious observer, into rest. Motion must
be motion in space, of course; from point to point in it,--and again,
more closely, from point to point within such interval; and so on,
infinitely; 'tis rest there: perpetual motion is perpetual rest:--the
hurricane, the falling tower, the deadly arrow from the bow at whose
coming you shake there so wretchedly, Zeno's own rapid word-fence--all
alike at rest, to the restful eye of the pure reason! The tortoise,
the creature that moves most slowly, cannot be overtaken by Achilles,
the swiftest of us all; or at least you can give no rational
explanation how it comes to be overtaken. Zeno had an armoury of such
enigmas. Can a bushel of corn falling make a noise if a single grain
makes none? Again, that motion should cease, we find inconceivable:
but can you conceive how it should so much as begin? at what point
precisely, in the moving body? Ubiquitous, tyrannous, irresistible, as
it may seem, motion, with the whole so dazzling world it covers, is--

Himself so striking an instance of mobile humour in his exposure of the
unreality of all movement, Zeno might be taken so far only for a
master, or a slave, of paradox; such paradox indeed as is from the very
first inherent in every philosophy which (like that of Plato himself,
accepting even Zeno as one of its institutors) opposes the seen to the
unseen as [31] falsehood to truth. It was the beginning of
scholasticism; and the philosophic mind will perhaps never be quite in
health, quite sane or natural, again. The objective, unconscious,
pleasantly sensuous mind of the Greek, becoming a man, as he thinks,
and putting away childish thoughts, is come with Zeno one step towards
Aristotle, towards Aquinas, or shall we say into the rude scholasticism
of the pedantic Middle Age? And we must have our regrets. There is
always something lost in growing up.

The wholesome scepticism of Hume or Mill for instance, the scepticism
of the modern world, beset now with insane speculative figments, has
been an appeal from the preconceptions of the understanding to the
authority of the senses. With the Greeks, whose metaphysic business
was then still all to do, the sceptical action of the mind lay rather
in the direction of an appeal from the affirmations of sense to the
authority of newly-awakened reason. Just then all those real and
verbal difficulties which haunt perversely the human mind always, all
those unprofitable queries which hang about the notions of matter and
time and space, their divisibility and the like, seemed to be stirring
together, under the utterance of this brilliant, phenomenally clever,
perhaps insolent, young man, his master's favourite. To the work of
that grave master, nevertheless--of Parmenides--a very different person
certainly from his rattling disciple, Zeno's [32] seemingly so
fantastic doctrine was sincerely in service. By its destructive
criticism, its dissipation of the very conceivability of the central
and most incisive of sensible phenomena, it was a real support to
Parmenides in his assertion of the nullity of all that is but
phenomenal, leaving open and unoccupied space (emptiness, we might say)
to that which really is. That which is, so purely, or absolutely, that
it is nothing at all to our mixed powers of apprehension:--Parmenides
and the Eleatic School were much occupied with the determination of the
thoughts, or of the mere phrases and words, that belong to that.

Motion discredited, motion gone, all was gone that belonged to an
outward and concrete experience, thus securing exclusive validity to
the sort of knowledge, if knowledge it is to be called, which
corresponds to the "Pure Being," that after all is only definable as
"Pure Nothing," that colourless, formless, impalpable existence (ousia
achrŰmatos, aschÍmatistos, anaphÍs)+ to use the words of Plato, for whom
Parmenides became a sort of inspired voice. Note at times, in reading
him, in the closing pages of the fifth book of The Republic for
instance, the strange accumulation of terms derivative from the
abstract verb "To be." As some more modern metaphysicians have done,
even Plato seems to pack such terms together almost by rote. Certainly
something of paradox may always be felt even in his [33] exposition of
"Being," or perhaps a kind of paralysis of speech--aphasia.+

Parmenides himself had borrowed the thought from another, though he
made it his own. Plato, in The Republic, as a critic of Homer, by way
of fitting Homer the better for the use of the schoolboys of the ideal
city, is ready to sacrifice much of that graceful polytheism in which
the Greeks anticipated the dulia of saints and angels in the catholic
church. He does this to the advantage of a very abstract, and as it
may seem disinterested, certainly an uninteresting, notion of deity,
which is in truth:--well! one of the dry sticks of mere "natural
theology," as it is called. In this he was but following the first,
the original, founder of the Eleatic School, Xenophanes, who in a
somewhat scornful spirit had urged on men's attention that, in their
prayers and sacrifices to the gods, in all their various thoughts and
statements, graceful or hideous, about them, they had only all along
with much fallacy been making gods after their own likeness, as horse
or dog too, if perchance it cast a glance towards heaven, would after
the same manner project thither the likeness of horse or dog: that to
think of deity you must think of it as neither here nor there, then nor
now; you must away with all limitations of time and space and matter,
nay, with the very conditions, the limitation, of thought itself;
apparently not [34] observing that to think of it in this way was in
reality not to think of it at all:--That in short Being so pure as this
is pure Nothing.

In opposition then to the anthropomorphic religious poetry of Homer,
Xenophanes elaborates the notion, or rather the abstract or purely
verbal definition, of that which really is (to on)+ as inconclusive of
all time, and space, and mode; yet so that all which can be identified
concretely with mode and space and time is but antithetic to it, as
finite to infinite, seeming to being, contingent to necessary, the
temporal, in a word, to the eternal. Once for all, in harshest
dualism, the only true yet so barren existence is opposed to the world
of phenomena--of colour and form and sound and imagination and love, of
empirical knowledge. Objects, real objects, as we know, grow in
reality towards us in proportion as we define their various qualities.
And yet, from another point of view, definition, qualification, is a
negative process: it is as if each added quality took from the object
we are defining one or more potential qualities. The more definite
things become as objects of sensible or other empirical apprehension,
the more, it might be said from the logician's point of view, have we
denied about them. It might seem that their increasing reality as
objects of sense was in direct proportion to the increase of their
distance from that perfect Being which is everywhere and at all times
in every possible mode of being. A [35] thing visibly white is found
as one approaches it to be also smooth to the touch; and this added
quality, says the formal logician, does but deprive it of all other
possible modes of texture; Omnis determinatio est negatio.+ Vain
puerilities! you may exclaim:--with justice. Yet such are the
considerations which await the mind that suffers itself to dwell awhile
on the abstract formula to which the "rational theology" of Xenophanes
leads him. It involved the assertion of an absolute difference between
the original and all that is or can be derived from it; that the former
annuls, or is exclusive of, the latter, which has in truth no real or
legitimate standing-ground as matter of knowledge; that, in opposite
yet equally unanswerable senses, at both ends of experience there is--
nothing! Of the most concrete object, as of the most abstract, it
might be said, that it more properly is not than is.

From Xenophanes, as a critic of the polytheism of the Greek religious
poets, that most abstract and arid of formulae, Pure Being, closed in
indifferently on every side upon itself, and suspended in the midst of
nothing, like a hard transparent crystal ball, as he says; "The
Absolute"; "The One"; passed to his fellow-citizen Parmenides, seeking,
doubtless in the true spirit of philosophy, for the centre of the
universe, of his own experience of it, for some common measure of the
experience of all men. To enforce a reasonable unity and order, to
impress some larger likeness of reason, [36] as one knows it in one's
self, upon the chaotic infinitude of the impressions that reach us from
every side, is what all philosophy as such proposes. Kosmos;+ order;
reasonable, delightful, order; is a word that became very dear, as we
know, to the Greek soul, to what was perhaps most essentially Greek in
it, to the Dorian element there. Apollo, the Dorian god, was but its
visible consecration. It was what, under his blessing, art
superinduced upon the rough stone, the yielding clay, the jarring
metallic strings, the common speech of every day. Philosophy, in its
turn, with enlarging purpose, would project a similar light of
intelligence upon the at first sight somewhat unmeaning world we find
actually around us:--project it; or rather discover it, as being really
pre-existent there, if one were happy enough to get one's self into the
right point of view. To certain fortunate minds the efficacious moment
of insight would come, when, with delightful adaptation of means to
ends, of the parts to the whole, the entire scene about one,
bewildering, unsympathetic, unreasonable, on a superficial view, would
put on, for them at least, kosmiotÍs,+ that so welcome expression of
fitness, which it is the business of the fine arts to convey into
material things, of the art of discipline to enforce upon the lives of
men. The primitive Ionian philosophers had found, or thought they
found, such a principle (archÍ)+ in the force of some omnipresent
physical element, [37] air, water, fire; or in some common law, motion,
attraction, repulsion; as Plato would find it in an eternally appointed
hierarchy of genus and species; as the science of our day embraces it
(perhaps after all only in fancy) in the expansion of a large body of
observed facts into some all-comprehensive hypothesis, such as

For Parmenides, at his early day, himself, as some remnants of his work
in that direction bear witness, an acute and curious observer of the
concrete and sensible phenomena of nature, that principle of reasonable
unity seemed attainable only by a virtual negation, by the
obliteration, of all such phenomena. When we have learned as exactly
as we can all the curious processes at work in our own bodies or souls,
in the stars, in or under the earth, their very definiteness, their
limitation, will but make them the more antagonistic to that which
alone really is, because it is always and everywhere itself, identical
exclusively with itself. Phenomena!--by the force of such arguments as
Zeno's, the instructed would make a clean sweep of them, for the
establishment, in the resultant void, of the "One," with which it is
impossible (para panta legomena)+ in spite of common language, and of
what seems common sense, for the "Many"--the hills and cities of
Greece, you and me, Parmenides himself, really to co-exist at all.
"Parmenides," says one, "had stumbled upon [38] the modern thesis that
thought and being are the same."

Something like this--this impossibly abstract doctrine--is what Plato's
"father in philosophy" had had to proclaim, in the midst of the busy,
brilliant, already complicated life of the recently founded colonial
town of Elea. It was like the revelation to Israel in the midst of
picturesque idolatries, "The Lord thy God is one Lord";+ only that here
it made no claim to touch the affections, or even to warm the
imagination. Israel's Greek cousin was to undergo a harder, a more
distant and repressive discipline in those matters, to which a
peculiarly austere moral beauty, at once self-reliant and submissive,
the aesthetic expression of which has a peculiar, an irresistible
charm, would in due time correspond.

It was in difficult hexameter verse, in a poem which from himself or
from others had received the title--Peri physeŰs+ (De Natur‚ Rerum) that
Parmenides set forth his ideas. From the writings of Clement of
Alexandria, and other later writers large in quotation, diligent modern
scholarship has collected fragments of it, which afford sufficient
independent evidence of his manner of thought, and supplement
conveniently Plato's, of course highly subjective, presentment in his
Parmenides of what had so deeply influenced him.-- [39] "Now come!"
(this fragment of Parmenides is in Proclus, who happened to quote it in
commenting on the Timaeus of Plato) "Come! do you listen, and take
home what I shall tell you: what are the two paths of search after
right understanding. The one,

hÍ men hopŰs estin te kai hŰs ouk esti mÍ einai?+

"that what is, is; and that what is not, is not"; or, in the Latin of
scholasticism, here inaugurated by Parmenides, esse ens: non esse non

peithous esti keleuthos; alÍtheiÍ gar opÍdei?+

"this is the path to persuasion, for truth goes along with it. The
other--that what is, is not; and by consequence that what is not, is:--
I tell you that is the way which goes counter to persuasion:

tÍn dÍ toi phrazŰ panapeithea emmen atarpon? oute gar an gnoiÍs
to ge mÍ eon ou gar ephikton?+

That which is not, never could you know: there is no way of getting at
that; nor could you explain it to another; for Thought and Being are
identical."--Famous utterance, yet of so dubious omen!--To gar auto
voein estin te kai einai +---idem est enim cogitare et esse. "It is one
to me," he proceeds, "at what point I begin; for thither I shall come
back over again: tothi gar palin hixomai authis."+

Yes, truly! again and again, in an empty circle, we may say; and
certainly, with those [40] dry and difficult words in our ears, may
think for a moment that philosophic reflexion has already done that
delightfully superficial Greek world an ill turn, troubling so early
its ingenuous soul; that the European mind, as was said, will never be
quite sane again. It has been put on a quest (vain quest it may prove
to be) after a kind of knowledge perhaps not properly attainable.
Hereafter, in every age, some will be found to start afresh
quixotically, through what wastes of words! in search of that true
Substance, the One, the Absolute, which to the majority of acute people
is after all but zero, and a mere algebraic symbol for nothingness. In
themselves, by the way, such search may bring out fine intellectual
qualities; and thus, in turn, be of service to those who can profit by
the spectacle of an enthusiasm not meant for them; must nevertheless be
admitted to have had all along something of disease about it; as indeed
to Plato himself the philosophic instinct as such is a form of "mania."

An infectious mania, it might seem,--that strange passion for
nonentity, to which the Greek was so oddly liable, to which the human
mind generally might be thought to have been constitutionally
predisposed; for the doctrine of "The One" had come to the surface
before in old Indian dreams of self-annihilation, which had been
revived, in the second century after Christ, in the ecstasies
(ecstasies of the pure [41] spirit, leaving the body behind it)
recommended by the Neo-Platonists; and again, in the Middle Age, as a
finer shade of Christian experience, in the mystic doctrines of Eckhart
and Tauler concerning that union with God which can only be attained by
the literal negation of self, by a kind of moral suicide; of which
something also may be found, under the cowl of the monk, in the clear,
cold, inaccessible, impossible heights of the book of the Imitation.
It presents itself once more, now altogether beyond Christian
influence, in the hard and ambitious intellectualism of Spinoza; a
doctrine of pure repellent substance--substance "in vacuo," to be lost
in which, however, would be the proper consummation of the transitory
individual life. Spinoza's own absolutely colourless existence was a
practical comment upon it. Descartes; Malebranche, under the monk's
cowl again; Leibnitz; Berkeley with his theory of the "Vision of all
things in God"; do but present variations on the same theme through the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By one and all it is assumed, in
the words of Plato, that to be colourless, formless, impalpable is the
note of the superior grade of knowledge and existence, evanescing
steadily, as one ascends towards that perfect (perhaps not quite
attainable) condition of either, which in truth can only be attained by
the suppression of all the rule and outline of one's own actual
experience and thought.

[42] Something like that certainly there had been already in the
doctrine of Parmenides, to whom Plato was so willing to go to school.
And in the nineteenth century, as on the one hand the philosophy of
motion, of the "perpetual flux," receives its share of verification
from that theory of development with which in various forms all modern
science is prepossessed; so, on the other hand, the philosophy of rest
also, of the perpetual lethargy, the Parmenidean assertion of the
exclusive reign of "The One," receives an unlooked-for testimony from
the modern physical philosopher, hinting that the phenomena he deals
with--matter, organism, consciousness--began in a state of
indeterminate, abstract indifference, with a single uneasy start in a
sort of eternal sleep, a ripple on the dead, level surface. Increasing
indeed for a while in radius and depth, under the force of mechanic
law, the world of motion and life is however destined, by force of its
own friction, to be restored sooner or later to equilibrium; nay, is
already gone back some noticeable degrees (how desirably!) to the
primeval indifference, as may be understood by those who can reckon the
time it will take for our worn-out planet, surviving all the fret of
the humanity it housed for a while, to be drawn into the sun.

But it is of Plato after all we should be thinking; of the
comparatively temperate thoughts, the axiomata media, he was able to
derive, by a [43] sort of compromise, from the impossible paradox of
his ancient master. What was it, among things inevitably manifest on
his pages as we read him, that Plato borrowed and kept from the Eleatic

Two essential judgments of his philosophy: The opposition of what is,
to what appears; and the parallel opposition of knowledge to opinion;
(heteron epistÍmÍs doxa; eph' heterŰ ara heteron ti dynamenÍ hekatera
autŰn pephyke? ouk enchŰrei gnŰston kai doxaston tauton einai?)+ and
thirdly, to illustrate that opposition, the figurative use, so
impressed on thought and speech by Plato that it has come to seem
hardly a figure of speech at all but appropriate philosophic language,
of the opposition of light to darkness.--

Well, then (Socrates is made to say in the fifth book of The
Republic) if what is, is the object of knowledge, would not
something other than what is, be the object of opinion?

Yes! something else.

Does opinion then opine what is not; or is it impossible to have
even opinion concerning what is not? Consider! does not he who
has opinion direct his opinion upon something? or is it
impossible, again, to have an opinion, yet an opinion about


But he who has an opinion has opinion at least about something;
hasn't he? Yet after all what is not, is not a thing; but would
most properly be denominated nothing.


Now to what is not, we assigned of necessity ignorance: to what
is, knowledge.

Rightly: he said.

[44] Neither what is, then, nor what is not, is the object of


Opinion therefore would be neither ignorance nor knowledge.

It seems not.

Is it, then, beyond these; going beyond knowledge in clearness,
beyond ignorance in obscurity?

Neither the one, nor the other.

But, I asked, opinion seems to you (doesn't it?) to be a darker
thing than knowledge, yet lighter than ignorance.

Very much so; he answered.

Does it lie within those two?


Opinion, then, would be midway, between these two conditions?

Undoubtedly so.

Now didn't we say in what went before that if anything became
apparent such that it is, and is not, at the same time, a thing
of that kind would lie between that which is in unmixed clearness,
and that which wholly is not; and that there would be, in regard
to that, neither knowledge nor ignorance; but, again, a condition
revealing itself between ignorance and knowledge?


And now, between these two, what we call 'opinion' has in fact
revealed itself.

Clearly so.

It would remain for us therefore, as it seems, to find that which
partakes of both--both of Being and Not-being, and which could
rightly be called by neither term distinctly; in order that, if it
appear, we may in justice determine it to be the object of opinion;
assigning the extremes to the extremes, the intermediate to what
comes between them.

Or is it not thus?

Thus it is.

These points then being assumed, let him tell me! let him speak
and give his answer--that excellent person, who on the one hand
thinks there is no Beauty itself, nor any idea of Beauty itself,
ever in the same condition in regard to the same things (aei kata
tauta hŰsautŰs echousan)+ yet, on the other hand, holds [45] that
there are the many beautiful objects:--that lover of sight (ho
philotheamŰn)+ who can by no means bear it if any one says that
the beautiful is one; the just also; and the rest, after the same
way. For good Sir! we shall say, pray tell us, is there any one
of these many beautiful things which will not appear ugly (under
certain conditions) of the many just or pious actions which will
not seem unjust or impious?

No! he answered. Rather it must be that they shall seem, in a
manner, both beautiful and ugly; and all the rest you ask of.

Well! The many double things:--Do they seem to be at all less
half than double?

Not at all.

And great, in truth, and little, and light, and heavy--will they
at all more truly be called by these names which we may give them,
than by the opposite names?

No! he said; but each of them will always hold of both.

Every several instance of 'The Many,' then--is it, more truly
than it is not, that which one may affirm it to be?

It is like people at supper-parties he said (very Attic supper-
parties!) playing on words, and the children's riddle about the
eunuch and his fling round the bat--with what, and on what, the
riddle says he hit it; for these things also seem to set both
ways, and it is not possible, fixedly, to conceive any one of
them either to be, or not to be; neither both, nor the one, nor
the other.

Have you anything then you can do with them; or anywhere you can
place them with fairer effect than in that position between being
and the being not? For presumably they will not appear more
obscure than what is not, so as not to be, still more; nor more
luminous than what is, so as to be, even more than that. We have
found then that the many customary notions of the many, about
Beauty and the rest are revolved somewhere between not-being and
being unmixedly.

So we have.

And agreed, at least, at the outset, that if anything of this sort
presented itself, it must be declared matter not of knowledge, but
of opinion; to be apprehended by the intermediate faculty; as it
wanders unfixed, there, between. Republic, 478.

[46] Many a train of thought, many a turn of expression, only too
familiar, some may think, to the reader of Plato, are summarised in
that troublesome yet perhaps attractive passage. The influence then of
Parmenides on Plato had made him, incurably (shall we say?) a dualist.
Only, practically, Plato's richly coloured genius will find a
compromise between the One which alone really is, is yet so empty a
thought for finite minds; and the Many, which most properly is not, yet
presses so closely on eye and ear and heart and fancy and will, at
every moment. That which really is (to on)+ the One, if he is really to
think about it at all, must admit within it a certain variety of
members; and, in effect, for Plato the true Being, the Absolute, the
One, does become delightfully multiple, as the world of ideas--
appreciable, through years of loving study, more and more clearly, one
by one, as the perfectly concrete, mutually adjusted, permanent forms
of our veritable experience: the Bravery, for instance, that cannot be
confused, not merely with Cowardice, but with Wisdom, or Humility. One
after another they emerge again from the dead level, the Parmenidean
tabula rasa, with nothing less than the reality of persons face to face
with us, of a personal identity. It was as if the firm plastic
outlines of the delightful old Greek polytheism had found their way
back after all into a repellent monotheism. Prefer as he may in theory
that [47] blank white light of the One--its sterile, "formless,
colourless, impalpable," eternal identity with itself--the world, and
this chiefly is why the world has not forgotten him, will be for him,
as he is by no means colour-blind, by no means a colourless place. He
will suffer it to come to him, as his pages convey it in turn to us,
with the liveliest variety of hue, as in that conspicuously visual
emblem of it, the outline of which (essentially characteristic of
himself as it seems) he had really borrowed from the old Eleatic
teacher who had tried so hard to close the bodily eye that he might the
better apprehend the world unseen.--

And now (he writes in the seventh book of The Republic) take
for a figure of human nature, as regards education and the lack
thereof, some such condition as this. Think you see people as
it were in some abode below-ground, like a cave, having its
entrance spread out upwards towards the light, broad, across the
whole cavern. Suppose them here from childhood; their legs and
necks chained; so that there they stay, and can see only what is
in front of them, being unable by reason of the chain to move
their heads round about: and the light of a fire upon them,
blazing from far above, behind their backs: between the fire and
the prisoners away up aloft: and see beside it a low wall built
along, as with the showmen, in front of the people lie the screens
above which they exhibit their wonders.

I see: he said.

See, then, along this low wall, men, bearing vessels of all sorts
wrought in stone and wood; and, naturally, some of the bearers
talking, other silent.

It is a strange figure you describe: said he: and strange

They are like ourselves: I answered! Republic, 514.

[48] Metaphysical formulae have always their practical equivalents.
The ethical alliance of Heraclitus is with the Sophists, and the
Cyrenaics or the Epicureans; that of Parmenides, with Socrates, and the
Cynics or the Stoics. The Cynic or Stoic ideal of a static calm is as
truly the moral or practical equivalent of the Parmenidean doctrine of
the One, as the Cyrenaic monochronos hÍdonÍ+--the pleasure of the ideal
now--is the practical equivalent of the doctrine of motion; and, as
sometimes happens, what seems hopelessly perverse as a metaphysic for
the understanding is found to be realisable enough as one of many
phases of our so flexible human feeling. The abstract philosophy of
the One might seem indeed to have been translated into the terms of a
human will in the rigid, disinterested, renunciant career of the
emperor Marcus Aurelius, its mortal coldness. Let me however conclude
with a document of the Eleatic temper, nearer in its origin to the age
of Plato: an ancient fragment of Cleanthes the Stoic, which has justly
stirred the admiration of Stoical minds; though truly, so hard is it
not to lapse from those austere heights, the One, the Absolute, has
become in it after all, with much varied colour and detail in his
relations to concrete things and persons, our father Zeus.

An illustrious athlete; then a mendicant dealer in water-melons; chief
pontiff lastly of the sect of the Stoics; Cleanthes, as we see him in
anecdote [49] at least, is always a loyal, sometimes a very quaintly
loyal, follower of the Parmenidean or Stoic doctrine of detachment from
all material things. It was at the most critical points perhaps of
such detachment, that somewhere about the year three hundred before
Christ, he put together the verses of his famous "Hymn." By its
practical indifference, its resignation, its passive submission to the
One, the undivided Intelligence, which dia pantŰn phoita+--goes to and
fro through all things, the Stoic pontiff is true to the Parmenidean
schooling of his flock; yet departs from it also in a measure by a
certain expansion of phrase, inevitable, it may be, if one has to speak
at all about that chilly abstraction, still more make a hymn to it. He
is far from the cold precept of Spinoza, that great re-assertor of the
Parmenidean tradition: That whoso loves God truly must not expect to be
loved by Him in return. In truth, there are echoes here from many
various sources. Ek sou gar genos esmen+:--that is quoted, as you
remember, by Saint Paul, so just after all to the pagan world, as its
testimony to some deeper GnŰsis than its own. Certainly Cleanthes has
conceived his abstract monotheism a little more winningly, somewhat
better, than dry, pedantic Xenophanes; perhaps because Socrates and
Plato have lived meanwhile. You might even fancy what he says an echo
from Israel's devout response to the announcement: "The Lord thy God is
one Lord." The Greek [50] certainly is come very near to his unknown
cousin at Sion in what follows:--

kydist', athanatŰn, polyŰnyme, pankrates aiei
Zeu, physeos archÍge, nomou meta panta kybernŰn,
chaire∑ se gar pantessi themis thnÍtoisi prosaudan, k.t.l.

Mullach, Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, I. p. 151.

Thou O Zeus art praised above all gods: many are Thy names and
Thine is all power for ever.

The beginning of the world was from Thee: and with law Thou
rulest over all things.

Unto Thee may all flesh speak: for we are Thy offspring.

Therefore will I raise a hymn unto Thee: and will ever sing of
Thy power.

The whole order of the heavens obeyeth Thy word: as it moveth
around the earth:

With little and great lights mixed together: how great art Thou,
King above all for ever!

Nor is anything done upon earth apart from Thee: nor in the
firmament, nor in the seas:

Save that which the wicked do: by their own folly.

But Thine is the skill to set even the crooked straight: what is
without fashion is fashioned and the alien akin before Thee.

Thus hast Thou fitted together all things in one: the good with
the evil:

That Thy word should be one in all things: abiding for ever.

Let folly be dispersed from our souls: that we may repay Thee
the honour, wherewith Thou hast honoured us:

Singing praise of Thy works for ever: as becometh the sons of


29. +Transliteration: To Syngramma. Translation: "The Prose."

32. +Transliteration: ousia achrŰmatos, aschÍmatistos, anaphÍs. E-text
editor's translation: "the colorless, utterly formless, intangible
essence." Plato, Phaedrus 247c. See also Appreciations, "Coleridge,"
where Pater uses the same quotation.

33. +Transliteration: aphasia. Liddell and Scott definition:

34. +Transliteration: to on. Translation: "that which is."

35. +The principle is that of Baruch Spinoza.

36. +Transliteration: Kosmos. Liddell and Scott definition: "I. 1.
order; 2. good order, good behaviour, decency; 3. a set form or order:
of states, government; 4. the mode or fashion of a thing; II. an
ornament...; III. the world or universe, from its perfect arrangement."

36. +Transliteration: kosmiotÍs. Liddell and Scott definition:
"propriety, decorum, orderly behaviour."

36. +Transliteration: archÍ. Liddell and Scott definition: "I.
beginning, first cause, origin. II. 1. supreme power, sovereignty,
dominion; 2. office."

37. +Transliteration: para panta legomena. Pater's translation: "in
spite of common language."

38. "The Lord thy God. . . ." Deuteronomy 6:4. "Hear, O Israel: The
LORD our God is one LORD: . . ." See also Mark 12:29: "And Jesus
answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The
Lord our God is one Lord: . . ."

38. +Transliteration: Peri physeŰs. E-text editor's translation:
"Regarding Nature--i.e. the title De Natur‚ Rerum."

39. +Transliteration: hÍ men hopŰs estin te kai hŰs ouk esti mÍ einai.
Pater's translation: "that what is, is; and that what is not, is not."
Parmenides, EpeŰn Leipsana [Fragmentary Song or Poem], line 35.
Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 117. Ed. F.W.A. Mullach.
Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of the Paris, 1860

39. +Transliteration: peithous esti keleuthos; alÍtheiÍ gar opÍdei.
Pater's translation: "this is the path to persuasion, for truth goes
along with it." Parmenides, EpeŰn Leipsana [Fragmentary Song or Poem],
line 36. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118. Although I
have left the quotation as Pater renders it, the semicolon should be a
comma, as in the Mullach collection Pater used--otherwise the first
half of the sentence would be a question, and that is not how Pater
himself translates the verse.

39. +Transliteration: tÍn dÍ toi phrazŰ panapeithea emmen atarpon; oute
gar an gnoiÍs to ge mÍ eon ou gar ephikton. Pater's translation: "I
tell you that is the way which goes counter to persuasion: That which
is not, never could you know: there is no way of getting at that."
Parmenides, EpeŰn Leipsana, lines 38-9. Fragmenta Philosophorum
Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

39. +Transliteration: To gar auto voein estin te kai einai. Pater's
translation in Latin: "idem est enim cogitare et esse"; in English,
that may be translated, "Thinking and being are identical."
Parmenides, EpeŰn Leipsana, line 40. Fragmenta Philosophorum
Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

39. +Transliteration: tothi gar palin hixomai authis. Pater's
translation: "at what point I begin; for thither I shall come back over
again." Parmenides, EpeŰn Leipsana, line 42. Fragmenta Philosophorum
Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

43. +Transliteration: heteron epistÍmÍs doxa; eph' heterŰ ara heteron ti
dynamenÍ hekatera autŰn pephyke; ouk enchŰrei gnŰston kai doxaston
tauton einai. E-text editor's translation: "opinion differs from
scientific knowledge...To each of them belongs a different power, so to
each falls a different sphere...it is not possible for knowledge and
opinion to be one and the same." Plato, Republic, 478a-b.

44. +Transliteration: aei kata tauta hŰsautŰs echousan. Pater's
translation: "ever in the same condition in regard to the same things."
Plato, Republic 478.

45. +Transliteration: ho philotheamŰn. Liddell and Scott definition
"fond of seeing, fond of spectacles or shows." This word is from the
same passage just cited, note for page 44.

46. +Transliteration: to on. Translation: "that which is."

48. Transliteration: monochronos hÍdonÍ. Pater's definition "the
pleasure of the ideal now." The adjective monochronos means,
literally, "single or unitary time." See also Marius the Epicurean,
Vol. 1, Cyrenaicism, and Vol. 2, Second Thoughts, where Pater quotes
the same key Cyrenaic language.

49. +Transliteration: dia pantŰn phoita. E-text editor's translation:
"which courses through all things." Cleanthes (300-220 B.C.), Hymn to
Zeus, lines 12-13. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151.
Ed. F.W.A. Mullach. Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of
the Paris, 1860 edition). Pater has translated Cleanthes' phrase
koinos logos as "undivided Intelligence." The relevant verse reads,
"su kateuthynÍs koinon logon, hos dia pantŰn phoita," which may be
translated, "You guide the Universal Thought that courses through all
things." But the word logos is multivalent and subject to
philosophical nuance, so any translation of it is bound to be limited.

49. +Transliteration: Ek sou gar genos esmen. E-text editor's
translation: "For we are born of you." Cleanthes (300-220 B.C.), Hymn
to Zeus, line 4. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151.
Pater alludes also to Saint Paul's words in Acts 17:28: "For in him we
live, and move, and have our being."

50. +Here Pater provides a somewhat abbreviated translation of the Hymn
to Zeus. As above, the Greek is from Fragmenta Philosophorum
Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151.


[51] His devotion to the austere and abstract philosophy of Parmenides,
its passivity or indifference, could not repress the opulent genius of
Plato, or transform him into a cynic. Another ancient philosopher,
Pythagoras, set the frozen waves in motion again, brought back to
Plato's recognition all that multiplicity in men's experience to which
Heraclitus had borne such emphatic witness; but as rhythm or melody
now--in movement truly, but moving as disciplined sound and with the
reasonable soul of music in it.

Pythagoras, or the founder of the Pythagorean philosophy, is the third
of those earlier masters, who explain the intellectual confirmation of
Plato by way of antecedent. What he said, or was believed to have
said, is almost everywhere in the very texture of Platonic philosophy,
as vera vox, an authority with prescript claim on sympathetic or at
least reverent consideration, to be developed generously in the natural
growth of Plato's own thoughts.

[52] Nothing remains of his writings: dark statements only, as occasion
served, in later authors. Plato himself attributes those doctrines of
his not to Pythagoras but to the Pythagoreans. But if no such name had
come down to us we might have understood how, in the search for the
philosophic unity of experience, a common measure of things, for a
cosmical hypothesis, number and the truths of number would come to fill
the place occupied by some omnipresent physical element, air, fire,
water, in the philosophies of Ionia; by the abstract and exclusive idea
of the unity of Being itself in the system of Parmenides. To realise
unity in variety, to discover cosmos--an order that shall satisfy one's
reasonable soul--below and within apparent chaos: is from first to last
the continuous purpose of what we call philosophy. Well! Pythagoras
seems to have found that unity of principle (archÍ)+ in the dominion of
number everywhere, the proportion, the harmony, the music, into which
number as such expands. Truths of number: the essential laws of
measure in time and space:--Yes, these are indeed everywhere in our
experience: must, as Kant can explain to us, be an element in anything
we are able so much as to conceive at all. And music, covering all it
does, for Pythagoras, for Plato and Platonism--music, which though it
is of course much besides, is certainly a formal development of purely
numerical laws: that too surely is something, [53] independently of
ourselves, in the real world without us, like a personal intelligible
soul durably resident there for those who bring intelligence of it, of
music, with them; to be known on the favourite Platonic principle of
like by like (homoion homoiŰ)+ though the incapable or uninstructed ear,
in various degrees of dulness, may fail to apprehend it.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras parted early into dust (that seems
strange, if they were ever really written in a book) and antiquity
itself knows little directly about his doctrine. Yet Pythagoras is
much more than a mere name, a term, for locating as well as may be a
philosophical abstraction. Pythagoras, his person, his memory,
attracted from the first a kind of fairy-tale of mystic science. The
philosophy of number, of music and proportion, came, and has remained,
in a cloud of legendary glory; the gradual accumulation of which
Porphyry and Iamblichus, the fantastic masters of Neo-Platonism, or
Neo-Pythagoreanism, have embodied in their so-called Lives of him, like
some antique fable richly embossed with starry wonders. In this spirit
there had been much writing about him: that he was a son of Apollo,
nay, Apollo himself--the twilight, attempered, Hyperborean Apollo, like
the sun in Lapland: that his person gleamed at times with a
supernatural brightness: that he had exposed to those who loved him a
golden thigh: how Abaris, the minister of that god, [54] had come
flying to him on a golden arrow: of his almost impossible journeys: how
he was seen, had lectured indeed, in different places at the same time.
As he walked on the banks of the Nessus the river had whispered his
name: he had been, in the secondary sense, various persons in the
course of ages; a courtesan once, for some ancient sin in him; and then
a hero, Euphorbus, son of Panthus; could remember very distinctly so
recent a matter as the Trojan war, and had recognised in a moment his
own old armour, hanging on the wall, above one of his old dead bodies,
in the temple of Athene at Argos; showing out all along only by hints
and flashes the abysses of divine knowledge within him, sometimes by
miracle. For if the philosopher really is all that Pythagoras or the
Pythagoreans suppose; if the material world is so perfect a musical
instrument, and he knows its theory so well, he might surely give
practical and sensible proof of that on occasion, by himself
improvising music upon it in direct miracle. And so there, in Porphyry
and Iamblichus, the appropriate miracles are.

If the mistaken affection of the disciples of dreamy Neo-Platonic
GnŰsis at Alexandria, in the third or fourth century of our era, has
thus made it impossible to separate later legend from original evidence
as to what he was, and said, and how he said it, yet that there was a
brilliant, perhaps a showy, personality there, infusing the [55] most
abstract truths with what would tell on the fancy, seems more than
probable, and, though he would appear really to have had from the first
much of mystery or mysticism about him, the thaumaturge of Samos, "whom
even the vulgar might follow as a conjuror," must have been very unlike
the lonely "weeping" philosopher of Ephesus, or the almost disembodied
philosopher of Elea. In the very person and doings of this earliest
master of the doctrine of harmony, people saw that philosophy is

Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo's lute.

And in turn he abounded in influence on the deeds, the persons, of
others, as if he had really carried a magic lute in his hands to charm

As his fellow-citizens had all but identified Pythagoras with him, so
Apollo remained the peculiar patron of the Pythagoreans; and we may
note, in connexion with their influence on Plato, that as Apollo was
the chosen ancestral deity, so Pythagoreanism became especially the
philosophy, of the severely musical Dorian Greeks. If, as Plato was
aware, or fancied, true Spartans knew more of philosophy than they let
strangers suppose--turned them all out from time to time and feasted on
it in secret, for the strengthening of their souls--it was [56]
precisely the Pythagorean philosophy of music, of austere music,
mastering, remoulding, men's very bodies, they would then have
discussed with one another.

A native of Ionia, it is in one of the Dorian cities of Magna Graecia,
at Crotona, that Pythagoras finds the fitting scene of his mysterious
influence. He founds there something like an ideal republic, or rather
a religious brotherhood, under a rule outwardly expressive of that
inward idea of order or harmony, so dear to the Dorian soul, and, for
it, as for him, ever the peculiar pledge of the presence of philosophic
truth. AlÍtheian de ametria hÍgei syngenÍ einai, Í emmetria;+ asks one
in The Republic; and Emmetria?+ of course, is the answer.

Recalling the student of Plato to penetrate as far as he can into that
mysterious community, there, long before, in the imagination of
Pythagoras is the first dream of the Perfect City, with all those
peculiar ethical sympathies which the Platonic Republic enforces
already well defined--the perfect mystic body of the Dorian soul,
built, as Plato requires, to the strains of music. As a whole, and in
its members severally, it would reproduce and visibly reflect to others
that inward order and harmony of which each one was a part. As such,
the Pythagorean order (it was itself an "order") expanded and was long
maintained in those cities of Magna Graecia which had been the scene of
the practical [57] no less than of the speculative activity of its
founder; and in one of which, Metapontum, so late as the days of Cicero
what was believed to be the tomb of Pythagoras was still shown. Order,
harmony, the temperance, which, as Plato will explain to us, will
convince us by the visible presentment of it in the faultless person of
the youthful Charmides, is like a musical harmony,--that was the chief
thing Pythagoras exacted from his followers, at least at first, though
they were mainly of the noble and wealthy class who could have done
what they liked--temperance in a religious intention, with many
singular scruples concerning bodily purification, diet, and the like.
For if, according to his philosophy, the soul had come from heaven, to
use the phrase of Wordsworth reproducing the central Pythagorean
doctrine, "from heaven," as he says, "trailing clouds of glory," so the
arguments of Pythagoras were always more or less explicitly involving
one in consideration of the means by which one might get back thither,
of which means, surely, abstinence, the repression of one's carnal
elements, must be one; in consideration also, in curious questions, as
to the relationship of those carnal elements in us to the pilgrim soul,
before and after, for which he was so anxious to secure full use of all
the opportunities of further perfecting which might yet await it, in
the many revolutions of its existence. In the midst of that
aesthetically [58] so brilliant world of Greater Greece, as if
anticipating Plato, he has, like the philosophic kings of the Platonic
Republic, already something of the monk, of monastic ascÍsis, about
him. Its purpose is to fit him for, duly to refine his nature towards,
that closer vision of truth to which perchance he may be even now upon
his way. The secrecy again, that characteristic silence of which the
philosopher of music was, perhaps not inconsistently, a lover, which
enveloped the entire action of the Pythagoreans, and had indeed kept
Pythagoras himself, as some have thought, from committing his thoughts
to writing at all, was congruous with such monkish discipline.
Mysticism--the condition of the initiated--is a word derived, as we
know, from a Greek verb which may perhaps mean to close the eye that
one may better perceive the invisible, but more probably means to close
the lips while the soul is brooding over what cannot be uttered. Later
Christian admirers said of him, that he had hidden the words of God in
his heart.

The dust of his golden verses perhaps, but certainly the gold-dust of
his thoughts, lies scattered all along Greek literature from Plato to
the latest of the Greek Fathers of the Church. You may find it
serviceably worked out in the notes of Zeller's excellent work on Greek
philosophy, and, with more sparing comment, in Mullach's Fragmenta
Philosophorum Graecorum. No one of those Pre-Socratic philosophers has
[59] been the subject of a more enthusiastic erudition. For his mind's
health however, if in doing so he is not making a disproportionate use
of his time, inconsistent certainly with the essential temper of the
doctrine he seeks for, and such as a true Pythagorean would instantly
condemn, the young scholar might be recommended to go straight to the
pages of Aristotle--those discreet, unromantic pages, salutary
therefore to listen to, concerning doctrines in themselves so
fantastic.* In the Ethics, as you may know, in the Metaphysics, and
elsewhere, Aristotle gives many not unsympathetic notices at least of
the disciples, which, by way of sober contrast on a matter from the
first profusely, perhaps cheaply, embroidered, is like quiet
information from Pythagoras himself. Only, remember always in reading
Plato--Plato, as a sincere learner in the school of Pythagoras--that
the essence, the active principle of the Pythagorean doctrine, resides,
not as with the ancient Eleatics, nor as with our modern selves too
often, in the "infinite," those eternities, infinitudes, abysses,
Carlyle invokes for us so often--in no cultus of the infinite (to
apeiron) but in the finite (to peras).+ It is so indeed, with that
exception of the Parmenidean sect, through all Greek philosophy,
congruously with the proper vocation of the [60] people of art, of art
as being itself the finite, ever controlling the infinite, the
formless. Those famous systoichiai tŰn enantiŰn,+ or parallel columns
of contraries: the One and the Many: Odd and Even, and the like: Good
and Evil: are indeed all reducible ultimately to terms of art, as the
expressive and the inexpressive. Now observe that Plato's "theory of
ideas" is but an effort to enforce the Pythagorean peras,+ with all the
unity-in-variety of concerted music,--eternal definition of the finite,
upon to apeiron,+ the infinite, the indefinite, formless, brute matter,
of our experience of the world.

For it is of Plato again we should be thinking, and of Pythagoras or
the Pythagoreans, only so far as they explain the actual conformation
of Plato's thoughts as we find them, especially in The Republic. Let
us see, as much as possible in his own words, what Plato received from
that older philosophy, of which the two leading persuasions were;
first, the universality, the ultimate truth, of numerical, of musical
law; and secondly, the pre-existence, the double eternity, of the soul.

In spirit, then, we are certainly of the Pythagorean company in that
most characteristic dialogue, the Meno, in which Plato discusses the
nature, the true idea, of Virtue, or rather how one may attain thereto;
compelled to this subordinate and accessory question by the
intellectual [61] cowardice of his disciple, though after his manner he
flashes irrepressible light on that other primary and really
indispensable question by the way. Pythagoras, who had founded his
famous brotherhood by way of turning theory into practice, must have
had, of course, definite views on that most practical question, how
virtue is to be attained by us; and Plato is certainly faithful to him
in assigning the causation of virtue partly to discipline, forming
habit (askÍsis)+ as enforced on the monk, the soldier, the schoolboy, as
he is true to his own experience in assigning it partly also to a good
natural disposition (physei)+ and he suggests afterwards, as I suppose
some of us would be ready to do, that virtue is due also in part (theia
moira)+ to the good pleasure of heaven, to un-merited grace. Whatever
else, however, may be held about it, it is certain (he admits) that
virtue comes in great measure through learning. But is there in very
deed such a thing as learning? asks the eristic Meno, who is so
youthfully fond of argument for its own sake, and must exercise by
display his already well-trained intellectual muscle. Is not that
favourite, that characteristic, Greek paradox, that it is impossible to
be taught, and therefore useless to seek, what one does not know
already, after all the expression of an empirical truth?--

Meno. After what manner Socrates will you seek for that which
you do not know at all--what it is? For what sort of thing,
among the things you know not, will you propose as your [62]
object of search? Or even if you should have lighted full upon
it, how will you know that it is this thing which you knew not?

Socrates. Ah! I understand the kind of thing you mean to say,
Meno. Do you see what a contentious argument this is you are
bringing down on our heads?--that forsooth it is not possible
for a man to seek either for what he knows, or for what he knows
not; inasmuch as he would not seek what he knows, at least;
because he knows it, and to one in such case there is no need
of seeking. Nor would he seek after what he knows not; for he
knows not what he shall seek for. Meno, 80.

Well! that is true in a sense, as Socrates admits; not however in any
sense which encourages idle acquiescence in what according to common
language is our ignorance. There is a sense (it is exemplified in
regard to sound and colour, perhaps in some far more important things)
in which it is matter of experience that it is impossible to seek for,
or be taught, what one does not know already. He who is in total
ignorance of musical notes, who has no ear, will certainly be unaware
of them when they light on him, or he lights upon them. Where could
one begin? we ask, in certain cases where not to know at all means
incapacity for receiving knowledge. Yes, certainly; the Pythagoreans
are right in saying that what we call learning is in fact reminiscence-
-: anamnÍsis + famous word! and Socrates proceeds to show in what precise
way it is impossible or possible to find out what you don't know: how
that happens. In full use of the dialogue, as itself the instrument
most [63] fit for him of whatever what we call teaching and learning
may really be, Plato, dramatic always, brings in one of Meno's slaves,
a boy who speaks Greek nicely, but knows nothing of geometry:
introduces him, we may fancy, into a mathematical lecture-room where
diagrams are to be seen on the walls, cubes and the like lying on the
table--particular objects, the mere sight of which will rouse him when
subjected to the dialectical treatment, to universal truths concerning
them. The problem required of him is to describe a square of a
particular size: to find the line which must be the side of such a
square; and he is to find it for himself. Meno, carefully on his
guard, is to watch whether the boy is taught by Socrates in any of his
answers; whether he answers anything at any point otherwise than by way
of reminiscence and really out of his own mind, as the reasonable
questions of Socrates fall like water on the seed-ground, or like
sunlight on the photographer's negative.

"See him now!" he cries triumphantly, "How he remembers; in the logical
order; as he ought to remember!" The reader, in truth, following
closely, scrupulously, this pretty process, cannot help seeing that
after all the boy does not discover the essential point of the problem
for himself, that he is more than just guided on his way by the
questioning of Socrates, that Plato has chosen an instance in itself
illusively clear as being concerned with elementary space. It is [64]
once for all, however, that he recognises, under such questioning, the
immovable, indefectible certainty of this or that truth of space. So
much, the candid reader must concede, is clearly to the advantage of
the Pythagorean theory: that even his false guesses have a
plausibility, a kinship to, a kind of claim upon, truth, about them:
that as he remembers, in logical order (hŰs dei)+ so he makes the
mistakes also which he ought to make--the right sort of mistakes, such
as are natural and ought to occur in order to the awakening mind, a
kind of properly innate errors. Nyn autŰ hŰsper onar arti anakekinÍtai
hai doxai autai.+--"Just now, as in a dream, these opinions have been
stirred up within him"; and he will perform, Socrates assures us,
similar acts of reminiscence on demand, with other geometrical
problems, with any and every problem whatever.

"If then," observes Socrates in the Phaedo, wistfully pondering, for
such consolation as there may be in it, in his last hours, the larger
outlook suggested by this hopeful doctrine:--

If, having apprehended it (having apprehended a certain mathe-
matical principle, that is) before birth, we were born already
possessed of this principle, had we not knowledge, both before
and immediately upon our begetting here, not merely about the
equal and the greater and the less, but about all other things
of the kind? For our theory (of an innate knowledge, that is
to say, independent of our experience here) our theory holds
not a bit more about two equal lines, than about the absolute
Beauty (was he going now to see its very face again, after the
dim intermediate life here?) and about what is absolutely just
and good, and about all things whatever, upon [65] which, in
all our past questioning and answering, we set this seal--hois
episphragizometha touto + --That, which really is. Phaedo, 75.

But to return to the cheerful pages of the Meno--from the prison-cell
to the old mathematical lecture-room and that psychological experiment
upon the young boy with the square:-- Oukoun oudenos didaxantos, all'
erŰtÍsantos, epistÍsetai, analabŰn, autos ex hautou, epistÍmÍn;+
"Through no one's teaching, then, but by a process of mere questioning,
will he attain a true science, knowledge in the fullest sense
(epistÍmÍ)+ by the recovery of such science out of himself?"--Yes! and
that recovery is an act of reminiscence.

These opinions therefore, the boy's discoverable right notions about
side and square and diagonal, were innate in him (enÍsan de ge autŰ
autai hai doxai)+ and surely, as Socrates was observing later, right
opinions also concerning other things more important, which too, when
stirred up by a process of questioning, will be established in him as
consciously reasoned knowledge (erŰtÍsei epegertheisai, epistÍmai
gignontai).+ That at least is what Plato is quite certain about: not
quite so confident, however, regarding another doctrine, fascinating as
he finds it, which seemed to afford an explanation of this leading
psychological fact of an antecedent knowledge within us--the doctrine
namely of metempsychŰsis, of the transmigration of souls through
various forms of the bodily life, [66] under a law of moral
retribution, somewhat oracularly suggested in the ancient poets, by
Hesiod and Pindar, but a matter of formal consciousness with the
Pythagoreans, and at last inseparably connected with the authority of
Socrates, who in the Phaedo discourses at great length on that so
comfortable theory, venturing to draw from it, as we saw just now, a
personal hope in the immediate prospect of death. The soul, then,
would be immortal (athanatos an hÍ psychÍ eiÍ)+ prospectively as well as
in retrospect, and is not unlikely to attain to clearer levels of truth
"over the way, there," as, in the Meno, Socrates drew from it an
encouragement to the search for truth, here. Retrospectively, at all
events, it seemed plain that "the soul is eternal. It is right
therefore to make an effort to find out things one may not know, that
is to say, one does not remember, just now." Those notions were in the
boy, they and the like of them, in all boys and men; and he did not
come by them in this life, a young slave in Athens. Ancient, half-
obliterated inscriptions on the mental walls, the mental tablet, seeds
of knowledge to come, shed by some flower of it long ago, it was in an
earlier period of time they had been laid up in him, to blossom again
now, so kindly, so firmly!

Upon a soul thus provided, puzzled as that seed swells within it under
the spring-tide influences of this untried atmosphere, it would be the
proper vocation of the philosophic teacher [67] to supervene with his
encouraging questions. And there was another doctrine--a persuasion
still more poetical or visionary, it might seem, yet with a strong
presumption of literal truth about it, when seen in connexion with that
great fact of our consciousness which it so conveniently explains--
"reminiscence." Socrates had heard it, he tells us in the Meno, in the
locus classicus on this matter, from the venerable lips of certain
religious persons, priests and priestesses,

--who had made it their business to be able to give an account
concerning their sacred functions. Pindar too asserts this,
and many other of the poets, so many as were divinely inspired.
And what they say is as follows. But do you observe, whether
they seem to you to speak the truth. For they say that the soul
of man is immortal; and that at one time it comes to a pause,
which indeed they call dying, and then is born again; but that
it is never destroyed. That on this account indeed it is our
duty to pass through life as religiously as possible (because
there's 'another world,' namely). 'For those,' says Pindar,
'from whom Persephone shall have received a recompense of ancient
wrong--she gives back their soul again to the sun above in the
ninth year, of whom are begotten kings, illustrious and swift in
strength, and men greatest in wisdom; and for remaining time they
are called holy heroes among us.' Inasmuch then as the soul is
immortal, and has been born many times, and has seen both things
here and things in Hades, and all things, there is nothing that
it has not learned; so that it is by no means surprising that
it should be able to remember both about virtue and about other
matters what it knew at least even aforetime. For inasmuch as
the whole of nature is akin to itself (homogeneous) and the soul
has learned all things, nothing hinders one, by remembering one
thing only, which indeed people call 'learning' (though it is
something else in fact, you see!) from finding out all other
things for himself, if he be brave and fail not through weariness
in his search. For in truth to [68] seek and to learn is wholly
Recollection. Therefore one must not be persuaded by that eristic
doctrine (namely that if ignorant in ignorance you must remain)
for that on the one hand would make us idle and is a pleasant
doctrine for the weak among mankind to hear; while this other
doctrine makes us industrious and apt to seek. Trusting in
which that it is true, I am willing along with you to seek out
virtue:--what it is. Meno, 81.

These strange theories then are much with Socrates on his last sad day-
-sad to his friends--as justifying more or less, on ancient religious
authority, the instinctive confidence, checking sadness in himself,
that he will survive--survive the effects of the poison, of the funeral
fire; that somewhere, with some others, with Minos perhaps and other
"righteous souls" of the national religion, he will be holding
discourses, dialogues, quite similar to these, only a little better as
must naturally happen with so diligent a scholar, this time to-morrow.

And that wild thought of metempsychŰsis was connected with a theory,
yet more fantastic, of the visible heaven above us. For Pythagoras,
the Pythagoreans, had had their views also, as became the possessors of
"a first principle"--of a philosophy therefore which need leave no
problem untouched--on purely material things, above all on the
structure of the planets, the mechanical contrivances by which their
motion was effected (it came to just that!) on the relation of the
earth to its atmosphere and the like. The doctrine of the
transmigration, [69] the pilgrimage or mental journeys, of the soul
linked itself readily with a fanciful, guess-work astronomy, which
provided starry places, wide areas, hostelries, for that wanderer to
move or rest in. A matter of very lively and presentable form and
colour, as if making the invisible show through, this too pleased the
extremely visual fancy of Plato; as we may see, in many places of the
Phaedo, the Phaedrus, the Timaeus, and most conspicuously in the tenth
book of The Republic, where he relates the vision of Er--what he saw of
the other world during a kind of temporary death. Hell, Purgatory,
Paradise, are briefly depicted in it; Paradise especially with a quite
Dantesque sensibility to coloured light--physical light or spiritual,
you can hardly tell which, so perfectly is the inward sense blent with
its visible counter-part, reminding one forcibly of the Divine Comedy,
of which those closing pages of The Republic suggest an early outline.

That then is the third element in Plato derivative from his Pythagorean
masters: an astronomy of infant minds, we might call it, in which the
celestial world is the scene, not as yet of those abstract reasonable
laws of number and motion and space, upon which, as Plato himself
protests in the seventh book of The Republic, it is the business of a
veritable science of the stars to exercise our minds, but rather of a
machinery, which the mere star-gazer may peep into as best he can, with
its levers, its spindles and revolving [70] wheels, its spheres, he
says,--"like those boxes which fit into one another," and the literal
doors "opened in heaven," through which, at the due point of ascension,
the revolving pilgrim soul will glide forth and have a chance of gazing
into the wide spaces beyond, "as he stands outside on the back of the
sky"--that hollow partly transparent sphere which surrounds and closes
in our terrestrial atmosphere. Most difficult to follow in detailed
description, perhaps not to be taken quite seriously, one thing at
least is clear about the planetary movements as Plato and his
Pythagorean teachers conceive them. They produce, naturally enough,
sounds, that famous "music of the spheres," which the undisciplined ear
fails to recognise, to delight in, only because it is never silent.

That it really is impossible after all to learn, to be taught what you
are entirely ignorant of, was and still is a fact of experience,
manifest especially in regard to music. Now that "music of the
spheres" in its largest sense, its completest orchestration, the
harmonious order of the whole universe (kosmos)+ was what souls had
heard of old; found echoes of here; might recover in its entirety, amid
the influences of the melodious colour, sounds, manners, the enforced
modulating discipline, which would make the whole life of a citizen of
the Perfect City an education in music. We are now with Plato, you
see! in his reproduction, so fully detailed for us in The [71]
Republic, of the earlier and vaguer Pythagorean brotherhood. Musical
imagery, the notions of proportion and the like, have ever since Plato
wrote played a large part in the theory of morals; have come to seem
almost a natural part of language concerning them. Only, wherever in
Plato himself you find such imagery, you may note Pythagorean

The student of The Republic hardly needs to be reminded how all-
pervasive in it that imagery is; how emphatic, in all its speculative
theory, in all its practical provisions, is the desire for harmony; how
the whole business of education (of gymnastic even, the seeming rival
of music) is brought under it; how large a part of the claims of duty,
of right conduct, for the perfectly initiated, comes with him to be
this, that it sounds so well. PlÍmmeleia,+ discordancy,--all faultiness
resolves itself into that. "Canst play on this flute?" asks Hamlet:--
on human nature, with all its stops, of whose capricious tuneableness,
or want of tune, he is himself the representative. Well! the perfect
state, thinks Plato, can. For him, music is still everywhere in the
world, and the whole business of philosophy only as it were the correct
editing of it: as it will be the whole business of the state to
repress, in the great concert, the jarring self-assertion (pleonexia)+
of those whose voices have large natural power in them. How, in
detail, rhythm, the limit (peras)+ is enforced in Plato's Republic there
is no time to [72] show. Call to mind only that the perfect visible
equivalent of such rhythm is in those portrait-statues of the actual
youth of Greece--legacy of Greek sculpture more precious by far than
its fancied forms of deity--the quoit-player, the diadumenus, the
apoxyomenus; and how the most beautiful type of such youth, by the
universal admission of the Greeks themselves, had issued from the
severe schools of Sparta, that highest civic embodiment of the Dorian
temper, like some perfect musical instrument, perfectly responsive to
the intention, to the lightest touch, of the finger of law.--Yet with a
fresh setting of the old music in each succeeding generation. For in
truth we come into the world, each one of us, "not in nakedness," but
by the natural course of organic development clothed far more
completely than even Pythagoras supposed in a vesture of the past, nay,
fatally shrouded, it might seem, in those laws or tricks of heredity
which we mistake for our volitions; in the language which is more than
one half of our thoughts; in the moral and mental habits, the customs,
the literature, the very houses, which we did not make for ourselves;
in the vesture of a past, which is (so science would assure us) not
ours, but of the race, the species: that Zeit-geist, or abstract
secular process, in which, as we could have had no direct consciousness
of it, so we can pretend to no future personal interest. It is
humanity itself now--abstract humanity--that [73] figures as the
transmigrating soul, accumulating into its "colossal manhood" the
experience of ages; making use of, and casting aside in its march, the
souls of countless individuals, as Pythagoras supposed the individual
soul to cast aside again and again its outworn body.

So it may be. There was nothing of all that, however, in the mind of
the great English poet at the beginning of this century whose famous
Ode on The Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Childhood,
in which he made metempsychŰsis his own, must still express for some
minds something more than merely poetic truth. For Pythagoreanism too,
like all the graver utterances of primitive Greek philosophy, is an
instinct of the human mind itself, and therefore also a constant
tradition in its history, which will recur; fortifying this or that
soul here or there in a part at least of that old sanguine assurance
about itself, which possessed Socrates so immovably, his masters, his
disciples. Those who do not already know Wordsworth's Ode ought soon
to read it for themselves. Listen instead to the lines which perhaps
suggested Wordsworth's: The Retreat, by Henry Vaughan, one of the so-
called Platonist poets of about two centuries ago, who was able to
blend those Pythagorean doctrines with the Christian belief, amid which
indeed, from the unsanctioned dreams of Origen onwards, those doctrines
have shown themselves not otherwise than at home.

[74] Happy, those days, he declares,

Before I understood this place,
Appointed for my second race;
Or taught my soul to fancy ought
But a white celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love;
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness.
O! how I long to travel back
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain,
Where first I left my glorious train.--
But Ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk; and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love,
But I backward steps would move;
And when this dust falls to the urn
In that state I came return.

Summing up those three philosophies antecedent to Plato, we might say,
that if Heraclitus taught the doctrine of progress, and the Eleatics
that of rest, so, in such quaint phrase as Vaughan's, Pythagoreanism is
the philosophy of re-action.


52. +Transliteration: archÍ. Liddell and Scott definition: "I.
beginning, first cause, origin. II. 1. supreme power, sovereignty,
dominion; 2. office."

53. +Transliteration: homoion homoiŰ. Translation: "like by like."

56. +Transliteration: AlÍtheian de ametria hÍgei syngenÍ einai, Í
emmetria. E-text editor's translation: "And do you suppose that truth
is close kin to measure and proportion, or to disproportion?" Plato,
The Republic, Book VI, 486d.

56. +Transliteration: Emmetria. E-text editor's translation: "To
measure and proportion." Plato, The Republic, Book VI, 486d.

59. *Or to Mr. Burnet's Early Greek Philosophy; which I have read since
these pages went to press, with much admiration for its learning and
lucidity, and its unconventionality of view.

59. +Transliteration: to apeiron . . . to peras. Liddell and Scott
definition: "I. without trial or experience of a thing . . . II.
boundless, endless, countless / an end, extremity." As Pater
indicates, in Plato the terms mean something like "infinite" and
"finite," or "bounded" and "unbounded."

60. +Transliteration: systoichiai tŰn enantiŰn. "Co-ordinates
consisting of opposites."

60. +Transliteration: peras. See above, second note for page 59.

60. +Transliteration: to apeiron. See above, second note for page 59.

61. +Transliteration: askÍsis. Liddell and Scott definition:
"excercise, training."

61. +Transliteration: physei. Liddell and Scott definition of physis:
"the nature, inborn quality, property or constitution of a person or
thing." Thus, the dative form cited by Pater means, "with regard to

61. +Transliteration: theia moira. Translation: "one's lot by divine

62. +Transliteration: anamnÍsis. Liddell and Scott definition: "a
calling to mind, recollection."

64. +Transliteration: hŰs dei. E-text editor's translation: "as is

64. +Transliteration: Nyn autŰ hŰsper onar arti anakekinÍtai hai doxai
autai. Pater's translation: "Just now, as in a dream, these opinions
have been stirred up within him." Plato, Meno, 85c.

65. +Transliteration: hois episphragizometha touto. E-text editor's
translation: "these things upon which we set this seal." Plato,
Phaedo, 75d.

65. +Transliteration: Oukoun oudenos didaxantos, all' erŰtÍsantos,
epistÍsetai, analabŰn, autos ex hautou, epistÍmÍn. E-text editor's
translation: "No-one having taught him a thing, but rather through
questioning alone, he will understand for certain, retrieving the
knowledge out of himself?" Plato, Meno, 85d.

65. +Transliteration: epistÍmÍ. Liddell and Scott definition "1.
knowledge, understanding, skill, experience, wisdom; 2. scientific

65. +Transliteration: enÍsan de ge autŰ autai hai doxai. E-text

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