Part 2 out of 3
was a rudis indigestaque materies, not yet distributed into words and
sentences, in which the cry of fear or joy mingled with more definite
sounds recognized by custom as the expressions of things or events. It was
the principle of analogy which introduced into this 'indigesta moles' order
and measure. It was Anaxagoras' omou panta chremata, eita nous elthon
diekosmese: the light of reason lighted up all things and at once began to
arrange them. In every sentence, in every word and every termination of a
word, this power of forming relations to one another was contained. There
was a proportion of sound to sound, of meaning to meaning, of meaning to
sound. The cases and numbers of nouns, the persons, tenses, numbers of
verbs, were generally on the same or nearly the same pattern and had the
same meaning. The sounds by which they were expressed were rough-hewn at
first; after a while they grew more refined--the natural laws of euphony
began to affect them. The rules of syntax are likewise based upon analogy.
Time has an analogy with space, arithmetic with geometry. Not only in
musical notes, but in the quantity, quality, accent, rhythm of human
speech, trivial or serious, there is a law of proportion. As in things of
beauty, as in all nature, in the composition as well as in the motion of
all things, there is a similarity of relations by which they are held
It would be a mistake to suppose that the analogies of language are always
uniform: there may be often a choice between several, and sometimes one
and sometimes another will prevail. In Greek there are three declensions
of nouns; the forms of cases in one of them may intrude upon another.
Similarly verbs in -omega and -mu iota interchange forms of tenses, and the
completed paradigm of the verb is often made up of both. The same nouns
may be partly declinable and partly indeclinable, and in some of their
cases may have fallen out of use. Here are rules with exceptions; they are
not however really exceptions, but contain in themselves indications of
other rules. Many of these interruptions or variations of analogy occur in
pronouns or in the verb of existence of which the forms were too common and
therefore too deeply imbedded in language entirely to drop out. The same
verbs in the same meaning may sometimes take one case, sometimes another.
The participle may also have the character of an adjective, the adverb
either of an adjective or of a preposition. These exceptions are as
regular as the rules, but the causes of them are seldom known to us.
Language, like the animal and vegetable worlds, is everywhere intersected
by the lines of analogy. Like number from which it seems to be derived,
the principle of analogy opens the eyes of men to discern the similarities
and differences of things, and their relations to one another. At first
these are such as lie on the surface only; after a time they are seen by
men to reach farther down into the nature of things. Gradually in language
they arrange themselves into a sort of imperfect system; groups of personal
and case endings are placed side by side. The fertility of language
produces many more than are wanted; and the superfluous ones are utilized
by the assignment to them of new meanings. The vacuity and the superfluity
are thus partially compensated by each other. It must be remembered that
in all the languages which have a literature, certainly in Sanskrit, Greek,
Latin, we are not at the beginning but almost at the end of the linguistic
process; we have reached a time when the verb and the noun are nearly
perfected, though in no language did they completely perfect themselves,
because for some unknown reason the motive powers of languages seem to have
ceased when they were on the eve of completion: they became fixed or
crystallized in an imperfect form either from the influence of writing and
literature, or because no further differentiation of them was required for
the intelligibility of language. So not without admixture and confusion
and displacement and contamination of sounds and the meanings of words, a
lower stage of language passes into a higher. Thus far we can see and no
further. When we ask the reason why this principle of analogy prevails in
all the vast domain of language, there is no answer to the question; or no
other answer but this, that there are innumerable ways in which, like
number, analogy permeates, not only language, but the whole world, both
visible and intellectual. We know from experience that it does not (a)
arise from any conscious act of reflection that the accusative of a Latin
noun in 'us' should end in 'um;' nor (b) from any necessity of being
understood,--much less articulation would suffice for this; nor (c) from
greater convenience or expressiveness of particular sounds. Such notions
were certainly far enough away from the mind of primitive man. We may
speak of a latent instinct, of a survival of the fittest, easiest, most
euphonic, most economical of breath, in the case of one of two competing
sounds; but these expressions do not add anything to our knowledge. We may
try to grasp the infinity of language either under the figure of a
limitless plain divided into countries and districts by natural boundaries,
or of a vast river eternally flowing whose origin is concealed from us; we
may apprehend partially the laws by which speech is regulated: but we do
not know, and we seem as if we should never know, any more than in the
parallel case of the origin of species, how vocal sounds received life and
grew, and in the form of languages came to be distributed over the earth.
iii. Next in order to analogy in the formation of language or even prior
to it comes the principle of onomatopea, which is itself a kind of analogy
or similarity of sound and meaning. In by far the greater number of words
it has become disguised and has disappeared; but in no stage of language is
it entirely lost. It belongs chiefly to early language, in which words
were few; and its influence grew less and less as time went on. To the ear
which had a sense of harmony it became a barbarism which disturbed the flow
and equilibrium of discourse; it was an excrescence which had to be cut
out, a survival which needed to be got rid of, because it was out of
keeping with the rest. It remained for the most part only as a formative
principle, which used words and letters not as crude imitations of other
natural sounds, but as symbols of ideas which were naturally associated
with them. It received in another way a new character; it affected not so
much single words, as larger portions of human speech. It regulated the
juxtaposition of sounds and the cadence of sentences. It was the music,
not of song, but of speech, in prose as well as verse. The old onomatopea
of primitive language was refined into an onomatopea of a higher kind, in
which it is no longer true to say that a particular sound corresponds to a
motion or action of man or beast or movement of nature, but that in all the
higher uses of language the sound is the echo of the sense, especially in
poetry, in which beauty and expressiveness are given to human thoughts by
the harmonious composition of the words, syllables, letters, accents,
quantities, rhythms, rhymes, varieties and contrasts of all sorts. The
poet with his 'Break, break, break' or his e pasin nekuessi
kataphthimenoisin anassein or his 'longius ex altoque sinum trahit,' can
produce a far finer music than any crude imitations of things or actions in
sound, although a letter or two having this imitative power may be a lesser
element of beauty in such passages. The same subtle sensibility, which
adapts the word to the thing, adapts the sentence or cadence to the general
meaning or spirit of the passage. This is the higher onomatopea which has
banished the cruder sort as unworthy to have a place in great languages and
We can see clearly enough that letters or collocations of letters do by
various degrees of strength or weakness, length or shortness, emphasis or
pitch, become the natural expressions of the finer parts of human feeling
or thought. And not only so, but letters themselves have a significance;
as Plato observes that the letter rho accent is expressive of motion, the
letters delta and tau of binding and rest, the letter lambda of smoothness,
nu of inwardness, the letter eta of length, the letter omicron of
roundness. These were often combined so as to form composite notions, as
for example in tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged), thrauein (crush),
krouein (strike), thruptein (break), pumbein (whirl),--in all which words
we notice a parallel composition of sounds in their English equivalents.
Plato also remarks, as we remark, that the onomatopoetic principle is far
from prevailing uniformly, and further that no explanation of language
consistently corresponds with any system of philosophy, however great may
be the light which language throws upon the nature of the mind. Both in
Greek and English we find groups of words such as string, swing, sling,
spring, sting, which are parallel to one another and may be said to derive
their vocal effect partly from contrast of letters, but in which it is
impossible to assign a precise amount of meaning to each of the expressive
and onomatopoetic letters. A few of them are directly imitative, as for
example the omega in oon, which represents the round form of the egg by the
figure of the mouth: or bronte (thunder), in which the fulness of the
sound of the word corresponds to the thing signified by it; or bombos
(buzzing), of which the first syllable, as in its English equivalent, has
the meaning of a deep sound. We may observe also (as we see in the case of
the poor stammerer) that speech has the co-operation of the whole body and
may be often assisted or half expressed by gesticulation. A sound or word
is not the work of the vocal organs only; nearly the whole of the upper
part of the human frame, including head, chest, lungs, have a share in
creating it; and it may be accompanied by a movement of the eyes, nose,
fingers, hands, feet which contributes to the effect of it.
The principle of onomatopea has fallen into discredit, partly because it
has been supposed to imply an actual manufacture of words out of syllables
and letters, like a piece of joiner's work,--a theory of language which is
more and more refuted by facts, and more and more going out of fashion with
philologians; and partly also because the traces of onomatopea in separate
words become almost obliterated in the course of ages. The poet of
language cannot put in and pull out letters, as a painter might insert or
blot out a shade of colour to give effect to his picture. It would be
ridiculous for him to alter any received form of a word in order to render
it more expressive of the sense. He can only select, perhaps out of some
dialect, the form which is already best adapted to his purpose. The true
onomatopea is not a creative, but a formative principle, which in the later
stage of the history of language ceases to act upon individual words; but
still works through the collocation of them in the sentence or paragraph,
and the adaptation of every word, syllable, letter to one another and to
the rhythm of the whole passage.
iv. Next, under a distinct head, although not separable from the
preceding, may be considered the differentiation of languages, i.e. the
manner in which differences of meaning and form have arisen in them. Into
their first creation we have ceased to enquire: it is their aftergrowth
with which we are now concerned. How did the roots or substantial portions
of words become modified or inflected? and how did they receive separate
meanings? First we remark that words are attracted by the sounds and
senses of other words, so that they form groups of nouns and verbs
analogous in sound and sense to one another, each noun or verb putting
forth inflexions, generally of two or three patterns, and with exceptions.
We do not say that we know how sense became first allied to sound; but we
have no difficulty in ascertaining how the sounds and meanings of words
were in time parted off or differentiated. (1) The chief causes which
regulate the variations of sound are (a) double or differing analogies,
which lead sometimes to one form, sometimes to another (b) euphony, by
which is meant chiefly the greater pleasure to the ear and the greater
facility to the organs of speech which is given by a new formation or
pronunciation of a word (c) the necessity of finding new expressions for
new classes or processes of things. We are told that changes of sound take
place by innumerable gradations until a whole tribe or community or society
find themselves acquiescing in a new pronunciation or use of language. Yet
no one observes the change, or is at all aware that in the course of a
lifetime he and his contemporaries have appreciably varied their intonation
or use of words. On the other hand, the necessities of language seem to
require that the intermediate sounds or meanings of words should quickly
become fixed or set and not continue in a state of transition. The process
of settling down is aided by the organs of speech and by the use of writing
and printing. (2) The meaning of words varies because ideas vary or the
number of things which is included under them or with which they are
associated is increased. A single word is thus made to do duty for many
more things than were formerly expressed by it; and it parts into different
senses when the classes of things or ideas which are represented by it are
themselves different and distinct. A figurative use of a word may easily
pass into a new sense: a new meaning caught up by association may become
more important than all the rest. The good or neutral sense of a word,
such as Jesuit, Puritan, Methodist, Heretic, has been often converted into
a bad one by the malevolence of party spirit. Double forms suggest
different meanings and are often used to express them; and the form or
accent of a word has been not unfrequently altered when there is a
difference of meaning. The difference of gender in nouns is utilized for
the same reason. New meanings of words push themselves into the vacant
spaces of language and retire when they are no longer needed. Language
equally abhors vacancy and superfluity. But the remedial measures by which
both are eliminated are not due to any conscious action of the human mind;
nor is the force exerted by them constraining or necessary.
(7) We have shown that language, although subject to laws, is far from
being of an exact and uniform nature. We may now speak briefly of the
faults of language. They may be compared to the faults of Geology, in
which different strata cross one another or meet at an angle, or mix with
one another either by slow transitions or by violent convulsions, leaving
many lacunae which can be no longer filled up, and often becoming so
complex that no true explanation of them can be given. So in language
there are the cross influences of meaning and sound, of logic and grammar,
of differing analogies, of words and the inflexions of words, which often
come into conflict with each other. The grammarian, if he were to form new
words, would make them all of the same pattern according to what he
conceives to be the rule, that is, the more common usage of language. The
subtlety of nature goes far beyond art, and it is complicated by
irregularity, so that often we can hardly say that there is a right or
wrong in the formation of words. For almost any formation which is not at
variance with the first principles of language is possible and may be
The imperfection of language is really due to the formation and correlation
of words by accident, that is to say, by principles which are unknown to
us. Hence we see why Plato, like ourselves unable to comprehend the whole
of language, was constrained to 'supplement the poor creature imitation by
another poor creature convention.' But the poor creature convention in the
end proves too much for all the rest: for we do not ask what is the origin
of words or whether they are formed according to a correct analogy, but
what is the usage of them; and we are compelled to admit with Hermogenes in
Plato and with Horace that usage is the ruling principle, 'quem penes
arbitrium est, et jus et norma loquendi.'
(8) There are two ways in which a language may attain permanence or fixity.
First, it may have been embodied in poems or hymns or laws, which may be
repeated for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years with a religious
accuracy, so that to the priests or rhapsodists of a nation the whole or
the greater part of a language is literally preserved; secondly, it may be
written down and in a written form distributed more or less widely among
the whole nation. In either case the language which is familiarly spoken
may have grown up wholly or in a great measure independently of them. (1)
The first of these processes has been sometimes attended by the result that
the sound of the words has been carefully preserved and that the meaning of
them has either perished wholly, or is only doubtfully recovered by the
efforts of modern philology. The verses have been repeated as a chant or
part of a ritual, but they have had no relation to ordinary life or speech.
(2) The invention of writing again is commonly attributed to a particular
epoch, and we are apt to think that such an inestimable gift would have
immediately been diffused over a whole country. But it may have taken a
long time to perfect the art of writing, and another long period may have
elapsed before it came into common use. Its influence on language has been
increased ten, twenty or one hundred fold by the invention of printing.
Before the growth of poetry or the invention of writing, languages were
only dialects. So they continued to be in parts of the country in which
writing was not used or in which there was no diffusion of literature. In
most of the counties of England there is still a provincial style, which
has been sometimes made by a great poet the vehicle of his fancies. When a
book sinks into the mind of a nation, such as Luther's Bible or the
Authorized English Translation of the Bible, or again great classical works
like Shakspere or Milton, not only have new powers of expression been
diffused through a whole nation, but a great step towards uniformity has
been made. The instinct of language demands regular grammar and correct
spelling: these are imprinted deeply on the tablets of a nation's memory
by a common use of classical and popular writers. In our own day we have
attained to a point at which nearly every printed book is spelt correctly
and written grammatically.
(9) Proceeding further to trace the influence of literature on language we
note some other causes which have affected the higher use of it: such as
(1) the necessity of clearness and connexion; (2) the fear of tautology;
(3) the influence of metre, rhythm, rhyme, and of the language of prose and
verse upon one another; (4) the power of idiom and quotation; (5) the
relativeness of words to one another.
It has been usual to depreciate modern languages when compared with
ancient. The latter are regarded as furnishing a type of excellence to
which the former cannot attain. But the truth seems to be that modern
languages, if through the loss of inflections and genders they lack some
power or beauty or expressiveness or precision which is possessed by the
ancient, are in many other respects superior to them: the thought is
generally clearer, the connexion closer, the sentence and paragraph are
better distributed. The best modern languages, for example English or
French, possess as great a power of self-improvement as the Latin, if not
as the Greek. Nor does there seem to be any reason why they should ever
decline or decay. It is a popular remark that our great writers are
beginning to disappear: it may also be remarked that whenever a great
writer appears in the future he will find the English language as perfect
and as ready for use as in the days of Shakspere or Milton. There is no
reason to suppose that English or French will ever be reduced to the low
level of Modern Greek or of Mediaeval Latin. The wide diffusion of great
authors would make such a decline impossible. Nor will modern languages be
easily broken up by amalgamation with each other. The distance between
them is too wide to be spanned, the differences are too great to be
overcome, and the use of printing makes it impossible that one of them
should ever be lost in another.
The structure of the English language differs greatly from that of either
Latin or Greek. In the two latter, especially in Greek, sentences are
joined together by connecting particles. They are distributed on the right
hand and on the left by men, de, alla, kaitoi, kai de and the like, or
deduced from one another by ara, de, oun, toinun and the like. In English
the majority of sentences are independent and in apposition to one another;
they are laid side by side or slightly connected by the copula. But within
the sentence the expression of the logical relations of the clauses is
closer and more exact: there is less of apposition and participial
structure. The sentences thus laid side by side are also constructed into
paragraphs; these again are less distinctly marked in Greek and Latin than
in English. Generally French, German, and English have an advantage over
the classical languages in point of accuracy. The three concords are more
accurately observed in English than in either Greek or Latin. On the other
hand, the extension of the familiar use of the masculine and feminine
gender to objects of sense and abstract ideas as well as to men and animals
no doubt lends a nameless grace to style which we have a difficulty in
appreciating, and the possible variety in the order of words gives more
flexibility and also a kind of dignity to the period. Of the comparative
effect of accent and quantity and of the relation between them in ancient
and modern languages we are not able to judge.
Another quality in which modern are superior to ancient languages is
freedom from tautology. No English style is thought tolerable in which,
except for the sake of emphasis, the same words are repeated at short
intervals. Of course the length of the interval must depend on the
character of the word. Striking words and expressions cannot be allowed to
reappear, if at all, except at the distance of a page or more. Pronouns,
prepositions, conjunctions may or rather must recur in successive lines.
It seems to be a kind of impertinence to the reader and strikes
unpleasantly both on the mind and on the ear that the same sounds should be
used twice over, when another word or turn of expression would have given a
new shade of meaning to the thought and would have added a pleasing variety
to the sound. And the mind equally rejects the repetition of the word and
the use of a mere synonym for it,--e.g. felicity and happiness. The
cultivated mind desires something more, which a skilful writer is easily
able to supply out of his treasure-house.
The fear of tautology has doubtless led to the multiplications of words and
the meanings of words, and generally to an enlargement of the vocabulary.
It is a very early instinct of language; for ancient poetry is almost as
free from tautology as the best modern writings. The speech of young
children, except in so far as they are compelled to repeat themselves by
the fewness of their words, also escapes from it. When they grow up and
have ideas which are beyond their powers of expression, especially in
writing, tautology begins to appear. In like manner when language is
'contaminated' by philosophy it is apt to become awkward, to stammer and
repeat itself, to lose its flow and freedom. No philosophical writer with
the exception of Plato, who is himself not free from tautology, and perhaps
Bacon, has attained to any high degree of literary excellence.
To poetry the form and polish of language is chiefly to be attributed; and
the most critical period in the history of language is the transition from
verse to prose. At first mankind were contented to express their thoughts
in a set form of words having a kind of rhythm; to which regularity was
given by accent and quantity. But after a time they demanded a greater
degree of freedom, and to those who had all their life been hearing poetry
the first introduction of prose had the charm of novelty. The prose
romances into which the Homeric Poems were converted, for a while probably
gave more delight to the hearers or readers of them than the Poems
themselves, and in time the relation of the two was reversed: the poems
which had once been a necessity of the human mind became a luxury: they
were now superseded by prose, which in all succeeding ages became the
natural vehicle of expression to all mankind. Henceforward prose and
poetry formed each other. A comparatively slender link between them was
also furnished by proverbs. We may trace in poetry how the simple
succession of lines, not without monotony, has passed into a complicated
period, and how in prose, rhythm and accent and the order of words and the
balance of clauses, sometimes not without a slight admixture of rhyme, make
up a new kind of harmony, swelling into strains not less majestic than
those of Homer, Virgil, or Dante.
One of the most curious and characteristic features of language, affecting
both syntax and style, is idiom. The meaning of the word 'idiom' is that
which is peculiar, that which is familiar, the word or expression which
strikes us or comes home to us, which is more readily understood or more
easily remembered. It is a quality which really exists in infinite
degrees, which we turn into differences of kind by applying the term only
to conspicuous and striking examples of words or phrases which have this
quality. It often supersedes the laws of language or the rules of grammar,
or rather is to be regarded as another law of language which is natural and
necessary. The word or phrase which has been repeated many times over is
more intelligible and familiar to us than one which is rare, and our
familiarity with it more than compensates for incorrectness or inaccuracy
in the use of it. Striking expressions also which have moved the hearts of
nations or are the precious stones and jewels of great authors partake of
the nature of idioms: they are taken out of the sphere of grammar and are
exempt from the proprieties of language. Every one knows that we often put
words together in a manner which would be intolerable if it were not
idiomatic. We cannot argue either about the meaning of words or the use of
constructions that because they are used in one connexion they will be
legitimate in another, unless we allow for this principle. We can bear to
have words and sentences used in new senses or in a new order or even a
little perverted in meaning when we are quite familiar with them.
Quotations are as often applied in a sense which the author did not intend
as in that which he did. The parody of the words of Shakspere or of the
Bible, which has in it something of the nature of a lie, is far from
unpleasing to us. The better known words, even if their meaning be
perverted, are more agreeable to us and have a greater power over us. Most
of us have experienced a sort of delight and feeling of curiosity when we
first came across or when we first used for ourselves a new word or phrase
or figure of speech.
There are associations of sound and of sense by which every word is linked
to every other. One letter harmonizes with another; every verb or noun
derives its meaning, not only from itself, but from the words with which it
is associated. Some reflection of them near or distant is embodied in it.
In any new use of a word all the existing uses of it have to be considered.
Upon these depends the question whether it will bear the proposed extension
of meaning or not. According to the famous expression of Luther, 'Words
are living creatures, having hands and feet.' When they cease to retain
this living power of adaptation, when they are only put together like the
parts of a piece of furniture, language becomes unpoetical, in expressive,
Grammars would lead us to suppose that words have a fixed form and sound.
Lexicons assign to each word a definite meaning or meanings. They both
tend to obscure the fact that the sentence precedes the word and that all
language is relative. (1) It is relative to its own context. Its meaning
is modified by what has been said before and after in the same or in some
other passage: without comparing the context we are not sure whether it is
used in the same sense even in two successive sentences. (2) It is
relative to facts, to time, place, and occasion: when they are already
known to the hearer or reader, they may be presupposed; there is no need to
allude to them further. (3) It is relative to the knowledge of the writer
and reader or of the speaker and hearer. Except for the sake of order and
consecutiveness nothing ought to be expressed which is already commonly or
universally known. A word or two may be sufficient to give an intimation
to a friend; a long or elaborate speech or composition is required to
explain some new idea to a popular audience or to the ordinary reader or to
a young pupil. Grammars and dictionaries are not to be despised; for in
teaching we need clearness rather than subtlety. But we must not therefore
forget that there is also a higher ideal of language in which all is
relative--sounds to sounds, words to words, the parts to the whole--in
which besides the lesser context of the book or speech, there is also the
larger context of history and circumstances.
The study of Comparative Philology has introduced into the world a new
science which more than any other binds up man with nature, and distant
ages and countries with one another. It may be said to have thrown a light
upon all other sciences and upon the nature of the human mind itself. The
true conception of it dispels many errors, not only of metaphysics and
theology, but also of natural knowledge. Yet it is far from certain that
this newly-found science will continue to progress in the same surprising
manner as heretofore; or that even if our materials are largely increased,
we shall arrive at much more definite conclusions than at present. Like
some other branches of knowledge, it may be approaching a point at which it
can no longer be profitably studied. But at any rate it has brought back
the philosophy of language from theory to fact; it has passed out of the
region of guesses and hypotheses, and has attained the dignity of an
Inductive Science. And it is not without practical and political
importance. It gives a new interest to distant and subject countries; it
brings back the dawning light from one end of the earth to the other.
Nations, like individuals, are better understood by us when we know
something of their early life; and when they are better understood by us,
we feel more kindly towards them. Lastly, we may remember that all
knowledge is valuable for its own sake; and we may also hope that a deeper
insight into the nature of human speech will give us a greater command of
it and enable us to make a nobler use of it. (Compare again W. Humboldt,
'Ueber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues;' M. Muller,
'Lectures on the Science of Language;' Steinthal, 'Einleitung in die
Psychologie und Sprachwissenschaft:' and for the latter part of the Essay,
Delbruck, 'Study of Language;' Paul's 'Principles of the History of
Language:' to the latter work the author of this Essay is largely
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Hermogenes, Cratylus.
HERMOGENES: Suppose that we make Socrates a party to the argument?
CRATYLUS: If you please.
HERMOGENES: I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus
has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not
conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but
that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for
Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of
Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers 'Yes.' And Socrates?
'Yes.' Then every man's name, as I tell him, is that which he is called.
To this he replies--'If all the world were to call you Hermogenes, that
would not be your name.' And when I am anxious to have a further
explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that he has a
notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell, and could
entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell me, Socrates,
what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so good, what is
your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which I would far
SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that 'hard is the
knowledge of the good.' And the knowledge of names is a great part of
knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty-drachma
course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in grammar and
language--these are his own words--and then I should have been at once able
to answer your question about the correctness of names. But, indeed, I
have only heard the single-drachma course, and therefore, I do not know the
truth about such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus
in the investigation of them. When he declares that your name is not
really Hermogenes, I suspect that he is only making fun of you;--he means
to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking
after a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there is a good
deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had better
leave the question open until we have heard both sides.
HERMOGENES: I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and
others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which
you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and give
another, the new name is as correct as the old--we frequently change the
names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the old: for
there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and habit
of the users;--such is my view. But if I am mistaken I shall be happy to
hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any one else.
SOCRATES: I dare say that you may be right, Hermogenes: let us see;--Your
meaning is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody agrees
to call it?
HERMOGENES: That is my notion.
SOCRATES: Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?
SOCRATES: Well, now, let me take an instance;--suppose that I call a man a
horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly called a
horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the
world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a horse by
the world:--that is your meaning?
HERMOGENES: He would, according to my view.
SOCRATES: But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there is
in words a true and a false?
SOCRATES: And there are true and false propositions?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And a true proposition says that which is, and a false
proposition says that which is not?
HERMOGENES: Yes; what other answer is possible?
SOCRATES: Then in a proposition there is a true and false?
SOCRATES: But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts
HERMOGENES: No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
SOCRATES: Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or every
HERMOGENES: I should say that every part is true.
SOCRATES: Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?
HERMOGENES: No; that is the smallest.
SOCRATES: Then the name is a part of the true proposition?
SOCRATES: Yes, and a true part, as you say.
SOCRATES: And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?
SOCRATES: Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may be true
HERMOGENES: So we must infer.
SOCRATES: And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be the
SOCRATES: And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody says
that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering them?
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other
than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities and
countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ
from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes from
SOCRATES: But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ as the
names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras tells us?
For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that things are to
me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to you.
Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a permanent
essence of their own?
HERMOGENES: There have been times, Socrates, when I have been driven in my
perplexity to take refuge with Protagoras; not that I agree with him at
SOCRATES: What! have you ever been driven to admit that there was no such
thing as a bad man?
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; but I have often had reason to think that there
are very bad men, and a good many of them.
SOCRATES: Well, and have you ever found any very good ones?
HERMOGENES: Not many.
SOCRATES: Still you have found them?
SOCRATES: And would you hold that the very good were the very wise, and
the very evil very foolish? Would that be your view?
HERMOGENES: It would.
SOCRATES: But if Protagoras is right, and the truth is that things are as
they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of us foolish?
SOCRATES: And if, on the other hand, wisdom and folly are really
distinguishable, you will allow, I think, that the assertion of Protagoras
can hardly be correct. For if what appears to each man is true to him, one
man cannot in reality be wiser than another.
HERMOGENES: He cannot.
SOCRATES: Nor will you be disposed to say with Euthydemus, that all things
equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for neither on his
view can there be some good and others bad, if virtue and vice are always
equally to be attributed to all.
HERMOGENES: There cannot.
SOCRATES: But if neither is right, and things are not relative to
individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment
and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent
essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating
according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their own
essence the relation prescribed by nature.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.
SOCRATES: Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves, or
equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also a
class of being?
HERMOGENES: Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.
SOCRATES: Then the actions also are done according to their proper nature,
and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for example, we do
not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument; but we cut with the
proper instrument only, and according to the natural process of cutting;
and the natural process is right and will succeed, but any other will fail
and be of no use at all.
HERMOGENES: I should say that the natural way is the right way.
SOCRATES: Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the right
way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.
SOCRATES: And this holds good of all actions?
SOCRATES: And speech is a kind of action?
SOCRATES: And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases? Will
not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural way of
speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural
instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and failure.
HERMOGENES: I quite agree with you.
SOCRATES: And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts,
is not naming also a sort of action?
SOCRATES: And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had
a special nature of their own?
SOCRATES: Then the argument would lead us to infer that names ought to be
given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument, and not
at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with success.
HERMOGENES: I agree.
SOCRATES: But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with
SOCRATES: And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or
pierced with something?
SOCRATES: And that which has to be named has to be named with something?
SOCRATES: What is that with which we pierce?
HERMOGENES: An awl.
SOCRATES: And with which we weave?
HERMOGENES: A shuttle.
SOCRATES: And with which we name?
HERMOGENES: A name.
SOCRATES: Very good: then a name is an instrument?
SOCRATES: Suppose that I ask, 'What sort of instrument is a shuttle?' And
you answer, 'A weaving instrument.'
SOCRATES: And I ask again, 'What do we do when we weave?'--The answer is,
that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And may not a similar description be given of an awl, and of
instruments in general?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names: will
you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do when we
HERMOGENES: I cannot say.
SOCRATES: Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish
things according to their natures?
HERMOGENES: Certainly we do.
SOCRATES: Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of distinguishing
natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of the web.
SOCRATES: And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?
SOCRATES: Then the weaver will use the shuttle well--and well means like a
weaver? and the teacher will use the name well--and well means like a
SOCRATES: And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will he be
HERMOGENES: That of the carpenter.
SOCRATES: And is every man a carpenter, or the skilled only?
HERMOGENES: Only the skilled.
SOCRATES: And when the piercer uses the awl, whose work will he be using
HERMOGENES: That of the smith.
SOCRATES: And is every man a smith, or only the skilled?
HERMOGENES: The skilled only.
SOCRATES: And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will he be using?
HERMOGENES: There again I am puzzled.
SOCRATES: Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?
HERMOGENES: Indeed I cannot.
SOCRATES: Does not the law seem to you to give us them?
HERMOGENES: Yes, I suppose so.
SOCRATES: Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the work of the
HERMOGENES: I agree.
SOCRATES: And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?
HERMOGENES: The skilled only.
SOCRATES: Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to give a name, but only
a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all skilled artisans
in the world is the rarest.
SOCRATES: And how does the legislator make names? and to what does he
look? Consider this in the light of the previous instances: to what does
the carpenter look in making the shuttle? Does he not look to that which
is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?
SOCRATES: And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will he make
another, looking to the broken one? or will he look to the form according
to which he made the other?
HERMOGENES: To the latter, I should imagine.
SOCRATES: Might not that be justly called the true or ideal shuttle?
HERMOGENES: I think so.
SOCRATES: And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture of
garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material, ought all
of them to have the true form of the shuttle; and whatever is the shuttle
best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the form which the
maker produces in each case.
SOCRATES: And the same holds of other instruments: when a man has
discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must
express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the
material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought to
know how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature to their
SOCRATES: And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature to
SOCRATES: For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the
several kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.
SOCRATES: Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also to know how to
put the true natural name of each thing into sounds and syllables, and to
make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is to be a
namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different legislators
will not use the same syllables. For neither does every smith, although he
may be making the same instrument for the same purpose, make them all of
the same iron. The form must be the same, but the material may vary, and
still the instrument may be equally good of whatever iron made, whether in
Hellas or in a foreign country;--there is no difference.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian, is not
therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he gives the
true and proper form of the name in whatever syllables; this or that
country makes no matter.
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: But who then is to determine whether the proper form is given to
the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used? the carpenter who makes, or
the weaver who is to use them?
HERMOGENES: I should say, he who is to use them, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And who uses the work of the lyre-maker? Will not he be the man
who knows how to direct what is being done, and who will know also whether
the work is being well done or not?
SOCRATES: And who is he?
HERMOGENES: The player of the lyre.
SOCRATES: And who will direct the shipwright?
HERMOGENES: The pilot.
SOCRATES: And who will be best able to direct the legislator in his work,
and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other country?
Will not the user be the man?
SOCRATES: And this is he who knows how to ask questions?
SOCRATES: And how to answer them?
SOCRATES: And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call a
HERMOGENES: Yes; that would be his name.
SOCRATES: Then the work of the carpenter is to make a rudder, and the
pilot has to direct him, if the rudder is to be well made.
SOCRATES: And the work of the legislator is to give names, and the
dialectician must be his director if the names are to be rightly given?
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then, Hermogenes, I should say that this giving of names can be
no such light matter as you fancy, or the work of light or chance persons;
and Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by nature, and that
not every man is an artificer of names, but he only who looks to the name
which each thing by nature has, and is able to express the true forms of
things in letters and syllables.
HERMOGENES: I cannot answer you, Socrates; but I find a difficulty in
changing my opinion all in a moment, and I think that I should be more
readily persuaded, if you would show me what this is which you term the
natural fitness of names.
SOCRATES: My good Hermogenes, I have none to show. Was I not telling you
just now (but you have forgotten), that I knew nothing, and proposing to
share the enquiry with you? But now that you and I have talked over the
matter, a step has been gained; for we have discovered that names have by
nature a truth, and that not every man knows how to give a thing a name.
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: And what is the nature of this truth or correctness of names?
That, if you care to know, is the next question.
HERMOGENES: Certainly, I care to know.
SOCRATES: Then reflect.
HERMOGENES: How shall I reflect?
SOCRATES: The true way is to have the assistance of those who know, and
you must pay them well both in money and in thanks; these are the Sophists,
of whom your brother, Callias, has--rather dearly--bought the reputation of
wisdom. But you have not yet come into your inheritance, and therefore you
had better go to him, and beg and entreat him to tell you what he has
learnt from Protagoras about the fitness of names.
HERMOGENES: But how inconsistent should I be, if, whilst repudiating
Protagoras and his truth ('Truth' was the title of the book of Protagoras;
compare Theaet.), I were to attach any value to what he and his book
SOCRATES: Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and the poets.
HERMOGENES: And where does Homer say anything about names, and what does
SOCRATES: He often speaks of them; notably and nobly in the places where
he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give to the same
things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable statement about
the correctness of names? For the Gods must clearly be supposed to call
things by their right and natural names; do you not think so?
HERMOGENES: Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call them at
all. But to what are you referring?
SOCRATES: Do you not know what he says about the river in Troy who had a
single combat with Hephaestus?
'Whom,' as he says, 'the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander.'
HERMOGENES: I remember.
SOCRATES: Well, and about this river--to know that he ought to be called
Xanthus and not Scamander--is not that a solemn lesson? Or about the bird
which, as he says,
'The Gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis:'
to be taught how much more correct the name Chalcis is than the name
Cymindis--do you deem that a light matter? Or about Batieia and Myrina?
(Compare Il. 'The hill which men call Batieia and the immortals the tomb of
the sportive Myrina.') And there are many other observations of the same
kind in Homer and other poets. Now, I think that this is beyond the
understanding of you and me; but the names of Scamandrius and Astyanax,
which he affirms to have been the names of Hector's son, are more within
the range of human faculties, as I am disposed to think; and what the poet
means by correctness may be more readily apprehended in that instance: you
will remember I dare say the lines to which I refer? (Il.)
HERMOGENES: I do.
SOCRATES: Let me ask you, then, which did Homer think the more correct of
the names given to Hector's son--Astyanax or Scamandrius?
HERMOGENES: I do not know.
SOCRATES: How would you answer, if you were asked whether the wise or the
unwise are more likely to give correct names?
HERMOGENES: I should say the wise, of course.
SOCRATES: And are the men or the women of a city, taken as a class, the
HERMOGENES: I should say, the men.
SOCRATES: And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called him
Astyanax (king of the city); but if the men called him Astyanax, the other
name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the women.
HERMOGENES: That may be inferred.
SOCRATES: And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name for
the boy than Scamandrius?
SOCRATES: And what is the reason of this? Let us consider:--does he not
himself suggest a very good reason, when he says,
'For he alone defended their city and long walls'?
This appears to be a good reason for calling the son of the saviour king of
the city which his father was saving, as Homer observes.
HERMOGENES: I see.
SOCRATES: Why, Hermogenes, I do not as yet see myself; and do you?
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; not I.
SOCRATES: But tell me, friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector his
HERMOGENES: What of that?
SOCRATES: The name appears to me to be very nearly the same as the name of
Astyanax--both are Hellenic; and a king (anax) and a holder (ektor) have
nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king; for a man is
clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules, and owns, and
holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am talking nonsense; and
indeed I believe that I myself did not know what I meant when I imagined
that I had found some indication of the opinion of Homer about the
correctness of names.
HERMOGENES: I assure you that I think otherwise, and I believe you to be
on the right track.
SOCRATES: There is reason, I think, in calling the lion's whelp a lion,
and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary course
of nature, when an animal produces after his kind, and not of extraordinary
births;--if contrary to nature a horse have a calf, then I should not call
that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman birth a man, but only a
natural birth. And the same may be said of trees and other things. Do you
agree with me?
HERMOGENES: Yes, I agree.
SOCRATES: Very good. But you had better watch me and see that I do not
play tricks with you. For on the same principle the son of a king is to be
called a king. And whether the syllables of the name are the same or not
the same, makes no difference, provided the meaning is retained; nor does
the addition or subtraction of a letter make any difference so long as the
essence of the thing remains in possession of the name and appears in it.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: A very simple matter. I may illustrate my meaning by the names
of letters, which you know are not the same as the letters themselves with
the exception of the four epsilon, upsilon, omicron, omega; the names of
the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of other letters which
we add to them; but so long as we introduce the meaning, and there can be
no mistake, the name of the letter is quite correct. Take, for example,
the letter beta--the addition of eta, tau, alpha, gives no offence, and
does not prevent the whole name from having the value which the legislator
intended--so well did he know how to give the letters names.
HERMOGENES: I believe you are right.
SOCRATES: And may not the same be said of a king? a king will often be the
son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble sire; and
similarly the offspring of every kind, in the regular course of nature, is
like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet the syllables may be
disguised until they appear different to the ignorant person, and he may
not recognize them, although they are the same, just as any one of us would
not recognize the same drugs under different disguises of colour and smell,
although to the physician, who regards the power of them, they are the
same, and he is not put out by the addition; and in like manner the
etymologist is not put out by the addition or transposition or subtraction
of a letter or two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for this
need not interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the names of
Hector and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is tau, and yet they
have the same meaning. And how little in common with the letters of their
names has Archepolis (ruler of the city)--and yet the meaning is the same.
And there are many other names which just mean 'king.' Again, there are
several names for a general, as, for example, Agis (leader) and Polemarchus
(chief in war) and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others which denote a
physician, as Iatrocles (famous healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of
mortals); and there are many others which might be cited, differing in
their syllables and letters, but having the same meaning. Would you not
SOCRATES: The same names, then, ought to be assigned to those who follow
in the course of nature?
SOCRATES: And what of those who follow out of the course of nature, and
are prodigies? for example, when a good and religious man has an
irreligious son, he ought to bear the name not of his father, but of the
class to which he belongs, just as in the case which was before supposed of
a horse foaling a calf.
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then the irreligious son of a religious father should be called
SOCRATES: He should not be called Theophilus (beloved of God) or
Mnesitheus (mindful of God), or any of these names: if names are correctly
given, his should have an opposite meaning.
HERMOGENES: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Again, Hermogenes, there is Orestes (the man of the mountains)
who appears to be rightly called; whether chance gave the name, or perhaps
some poet who meant to express the brutality and fierceness and mountain
wildness of his hero's nature.
HERMOGENES: That is very likely, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And his father's name is also according to nature.
SOCRATES: Yes, for as his name, so also is his nature; Agamemnon
(admirable for remaining) is one who is patient and persevering in the
accomplishment of his resolves, and by his virtue crowns them; and his
continuance at Troy with all the vast army is a proof of that admirable
endurance in him which is signified by the name Agamemnon. I also think
that Atreus is rightly called; for his murder of Chrysippus and his
exceeding cruelty to Thyestes are damaging and destructive to his
reputation--the name is a little altered and disguised so as not to be
intelligible to every one, but to the etymologist there is no difficulty in
seeing the meaning, for whether you think of him as ateires the stubborn,
or as atrestos the fearless, or as ateros the destructive one, the name is
perfectly correct in every point of view. And I think that Pelops is also
named appropriately; for, as the name implies, he is rightly called Pelops
who sees what is near only (o ta pelas oron).
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: Because, according to the tradition, he had no forethought or
foresight of all the evil which the murder of Myrtilus would entail upon
his whole race in remote ages; he saw only what was at hand and immediate,
--or in other words, pelas (near), in his eagerness to win Hippodamia by
all means for his bride. Every one would agree that the name of Tantalus
is rightly given and in accordance with nature, if the traditions about him
HERMOGENES: And what are the traditions?
SOCRATES: Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened to him in
his life--last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after his
death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in the world
below--all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You might imagine
that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the most weighted down
by misfortune), disguised the name by altering it into Tantalus; and into
this form, by some accident of tradition, it has actually been transmuted.
The name of Zeus, who is his alleged father, has also an excellent meaning,
although hard to be understood, because really like a sentence, which is
divided into two parts, for some call him Zena, and use the one half, and
others who use the other half call him Dia; the two together signify the
nature of the God, and the business of a name, as we were saying, is to
express the nature. For there is none who is more the author of life to us
and to all, than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are right in
calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning the
God through whom all creatures always have life (di on zen aei pasi tois
zosin uparchei). There is an irreverence, at first sight, in calling him
son of Cronos (who is a proverb for stupidity), and we might rather expect
Zeus to be the child of a mighty intellect. Which is the fact; for this is
the meaning of his father's name: Kronos quasi Koros (Choreo, to sweep),
not in the sense of a youth, but signifying to chatharon chai acheraton tou
nou, the pure and garnished mind (sc. apo tou chorein). He, as we are
informed by tradition, was begotten of Uranus, rightly so called (apo tou
oran ta ano) from looking upwards; which, as philosophers tell us, is the
way to have a pure mind, and the name Uranus is therefore correct. If I
could remember the genealogy of Hesiod, I would have gone on and tried more
conclusions of the same sort on the remoter ancestors of the Gods,--then I
might have seen whether this wisdom, which has come to me all in an
instant, I know not whence, will or will not hold good to the end.
HERMOGENES: You seem to me, Socrates, to be quite like a prophet newly
inspired, and to be uttering oracles.
SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and I believe that I caught the inspiration
from the great Euthyphro of the Prospaltian deme, who gave me a long
lecture which commenced at dawn: he talked and I listened, and his wisdom
and enchanting ravishment has not only filled my ears but taken possession
of my soul,and to-day I shall let his superhuman power work and finish the
investigation of names--that will be the way; but to-morrow, if you are so
disposed, we will conjure him away, and make a purgation of him, if we can
only find some priest or sophist who is skilled in purifications of this
HERMOGENES: With all my heart; for am very curious to hear the rest of the
enquiry about names.
SOCRATES: Then let us proceed; and where would you have us begin, now that
we have got a sort of outline of the enquiry? Are there any names which
witness of themselves that they are not given arbitrarily, but have a
natural fitness? The names of heroes and of men in general are apt to be
deceptive because they are often called after ancestors with whose names,
as we were saying, they may have no business; or they are the expression of
a wish like Eutychides (the son of good fortune), or Sosias (the Saviour),
or Theophilus (the beloved of God), and others. But I think that we had
better leave these, for there will be more chance of finding correctness in
the names of immutable essences;--there ought to have been more care taken
about them when they were named, and perhaps there may have been some more
than human power at work occasionally in giving them names.
HERMOGENES: I think so, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Ought we not to begin with the consideration of the Gods, and
show that they are rightly named Gods?
HERMOGENES: Yes, that will be well.
SOCRATES: My notion would be something of this sort:--I suspect that the
sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many
barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes. Seeing
that they were always moving and running, from their running nature they
were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men became
acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the same name to
them all. Do you think that likely?
HERMOGENES: I think it very likely indeed.
SOCRATES: What shall follow the Gods?
HERMOGENES: Must not demons and heroes and men come next?
SOCRATES: Demons! And what do you consider to be the meaning of this
word? Tell me if my view is right.
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: You know how Hesiod uses the word?
HERMOGENES: I do not.
SOCRATES: Do you not remember that he speaks of a golden race of men who
HERMOGENES: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: He says of them--
'But now that fate has closed over this race
They are holy demons upon the earth,
Beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.' (Hesiod, Works and
HERMOGENES: What is the inference?
SOCRATES: What is the inference! Why, I suppose that he means by the
golden men, not men literally made of gold, but good and noble; and I am
convinced of this, because he further says that we are the iron race.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And do you not suppose that good men of our own day would by him
be said to be of golden race?
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: And are not the good wise?
HERMOGENES: Yes, they are wise.
SOCRATES: And therefore I have the most entire conviction that he called
them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise), and in our older
Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and other poets say truly,
that when a good man dies he has honour and a mighty portion among the
dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name given to him signifying wisdom.
And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be a good man is more
than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is rightly called a
HERMOGENES: Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you; but what
is the meaning of the word 'hero'? (Eros with an eta, in the old writing
eros with an epsilon.)
SOCRATES: I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for the name
is not much altered, and signifies that they were born of love.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Do you not know that the heroes are demigods?
HERMOGENES: What then?
SOCRATES: All of them sprang either from the love of a God for a mortal
woman, or of a mortal man for a Goddess; think of the word in the old
Attic, and you will see better that the name heros is only a slight
alteration of Eros, from whom the heroes sprang: either this is the
meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skilful as rhetoricians
and dialecticians, and able to put the question (erotan), for eirein is
equivalent to legein. And therefore, as I was saying, in the Attic dialect
the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and questioners. All this is easy
enough; the noble breed of heroes are a tribe of sophists and rhetors. But
can you tell me why men are called anthropoi?--that is more difficult.
HERMOGENES: No, I cannot; and I would not try even if I could, because I
think that you are the more likely to succeed.
SOCRATES: That is to say, you trust to the inspiration of Euthyphro.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: Your faith is not vain; for at this very moment a new and
ingenious thought strikes me, and, if I am not careful, before to-morrow's
dawn I shall be wiser than I ought to be. Now, attend to me; and first,
remember that we often put in and pull out letters in words, and give names
as we please and change the accents. Take, for example, the word Dii
Philos; in order to convert this from a sentence into a noun, we omit one
of the iotas and sound the middle syllable grave instead of acute; as, on
the other hand, letters are sometimes inserted in words instead of being
omitted, and the acute takes the place of the grave.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: The name anthropos, which was once a sentence, and is now a
noun, appears to be a case just of this sort, for one letter, which is the
alpha, has been omitted, and the acute on the last syllable has been
changed to a grave.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I mean to say that the word 'man' implies that other animals
never examine, or consider, or look up at what they see, but that man not
only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which he sees, and
hence he alone of all animals is rightly anthropos, meaning anathron a
HERMOGENES: May I ask you to examine another word about which I am
HERMOGENES: I will take that which appears to me to follow next in order.
You know the distinction of soul and body?
SOCRATES: Of course.
HERMOGENES: Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous words.
SOCRATES: You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness of the
word psuche (soul), and then of the word soma (body)?
SOCRATES: If I am to say what occurs to me at the moment, I should imagine
that those who first used the name psuche meant to express that the soul
when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power of breath and
revival (anapsuchon), and when this reviving power fails then the body
perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken, they called psyche. But
please stay a moment; I fancy that I can discover something which will be
more acceptable to the disciples of Euthyphro, for I am afraid that they
will scorn this explanation. What do you say to another?
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: What is that which holds and carries and gives life and motion
to the entire nature of the body? What else but the soul?
HERMOGENES: Just that.
SOCRATES: And do you not believe with Anaxagoras, that mind or soul is the
ordering and containing principle of all things?
HERMOGENES: Yes; I do.
SOCRATES: Then you may well call that power phuseche which carries and
holds nature (e phusin okei, kai ekei), and this may be refined away into
HERMOGENES: Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more scientific
than the other.
SOCRATES: It is so; but I cannot help laughing, if I am to suppose that
this was the true meaning of the name.
HERMOGENES: But what shall we say of the next word?
SOCRATES: You mean soma (the body).
SOCRATES: That may be variously interpreted; and yet more variously if a
little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is the grave
(sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our present life;
or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives indications to
(semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were the inventors of the
name, and they were under the impression that the soul is suffering the
punishment of sin, and that the body is an enclosure or prison in which the
soul is incarcerated, kept safe (soma, sozetai), as the name soma implies,
until the penalty is paid; according to this view, not even a letter of the
word need be changed.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this class of
words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the Gods, like
that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether any
similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle
which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge,--that of the Gods we know
nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give
themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves,
whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles;
and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them by any
sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like, because we do not
know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good custom, and one
which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then, if you please, in the
first place announce to them that we are not enquiring about them; we do
not presume that we are able to do so; but we are enquiring about the
meaning of men in giving them these names,--in this there can be small
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are quite right, and I would like
to do as you say.
SOCRATES: Shall we begin, then, with Hestia, according to custom?
HERMOGENES: Yes, that will be very proper.
SOCRATES: What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?
HERMOGENES: That is another and certainly a most difficult question.
SOCRATES: My dear Hermogenes, the first imposers of names must surely have
been considerable persons; they were philosophers, and had a good deal to
HERMOGENES: Well, and what of them?
SOCRATES: They are the men to whom I should attribute the imposition of
names. Even in foreign names, if you analyze them, a meaning is still
discernible. For example, that which we term ousia is by some called esia,
and by others again osia. Now that the essence of things should be called
estia, which is akin to the first of these (esia = estia), is rational
enough. And there is reason in the Athenians calling that estia which
participates in ousia. For in ancient times we too seem to have said esia
for ousia, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who
appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to estia, which was
natural enough if they meant that estia was the essence of things. Those
again who read osia seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus,
that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle
(othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore
rightly called osia. Enough of this, which is all that we who know nothing
can affirm. Next in order after Hestia we ought to consider Rhea and
Cronos, although the name of Cronos has been already discussed. But I dare
say that I am talking great nonsense.
HERMOGENES: Why, Socrates?
SOCRATES: My good friend, I have discovered a hive of wisdom.
HERMOGENES: Of what nature?
SOCRATES: Well, rather ridiculous, and yet plausible.
HERMOGENES: How plausible?
SOCRATES: I fancy to myself Heracleitus repeating wise traditions of
antiquity as old as the days of Cronos and Rhea, and of which Homer also
HERMOGENES: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion and
nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and says that
you cannot go into the same water twice.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Well, then, how can we avoid inferring that he who gave the
names of Cronos and Rhea to the ancestors of the Gods, agreed pretty much
in the doctrine of Heracleitus? Is the giving of the names of streams to
both of them purely accidental? Compare the line in which Homer, and, as I
believe, Hesiod also, tells of
'Ocean, the origin of Gods, and mother Tethys (Il.--the line is not found
in the extant works of Hesiod.).'
And again, Orpheus says, that
'The fair river of Ocean was the first to marry, and he espoused his sister
Tethys, who was his mother's daughter.'
You see that this is a remarkable coincidence, and all in the direction of
HERMOGENES: I think that there is something in what you say, Socrates; but
I do not understand the meaning of the name Tethys.
SOCRATES: Well, that is almost self-explained, being only the name of a
spring, a little disguised; for that which is strained and filtered
(diattomenon, ethoumenon) may be likened to a spring, and the name Tethys
is made up of these two words.
HERMOGENES: The idea is ingenious, Socrates.
SOCRATES: To be sure. But what comes next?--of Zeus we have spoken.
SOCRATES: Then let us next take his two brothers, Poseidon and Pluto,
whether the latter is called by that or by his other name.
HERMOGENES: By all means.
SOCRATES: Poseidon is Posidesmos, the chain of the feet; the original
inventor of the name had been stopped by the watery element in his walks,
and not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler of this element
Poseidon; the epsilon was probably inserted as an ornament. Yet, perhaps,
not so; but the name may have been originally written with a double lamda
and not with a sigma, meaning that the God knew many things (Polla eidos).
And perhaps also he being the shaker of the earth, has been named from
shaking (seiein), and then pi and delta have been added. Pluto gives
wealth (Ploutos), and his name means the giver of wealth, which comes out
of the earth beneath. People in general appear to imagine that the term
Hades is connected with the invisible (aeides) and so they are led by their
fears to call the God Pluto instead.
HERMOGENES: And what is the true derivation?
SOCRATES: In spite of the mistakes which are made about the power of this
deity, and the foolish fears which people have of him, such as the fear of
always being with him after death, and of the soul denuded of the body
going to him (compare Rep.), my belief is that all is quite consistent, and
that the office and name of the God really correspond.
HERMOGENES: Why, how is that?
SOCRATES: I will tell you my own opinion; but first, I should like to ask
you which chain does any animal feel to be the stronger? and which confines
him more to the same spot,--desire or necessity?
HERMOGENES: Desire, Socrates, is stronger far.
SOCRATES: And do you not think that many a one would escape from Hades, if
he did not bind those who depart to him by the strongest of chains?
HERMOGENES: Assuredly they would.
SOCRATES: And if by the greatest of chains, then by some desire, as I
should certainly infer, and not by necessity?
HERMOGENES: That is clear.
SOCRATES: And there are many desires?
SOCRATES: And therefore by the greatest desire, if the chain is to be the
SOCRATES: And is any desire stronger than the thought that you will be
made better by associating with another?
HERMOGENES: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And is not that the reason, Hermogenes, why no one, who has been
to him, is willing to come back to us? Even the Sirens, like all the rest
of the world, have been laid under his spells. Such a charm, as I imagine,
is the God able to infuse into his words. And, according to this view, he
is the perfect and accomplished Sophist, and the great benefactor of the
inhabitants of the other world; and even to us who are upon earth he sends
from below exceeding blessings. For he has much more than he wants down
there; wherefore he is called Pluto (or the rich). Note also, that he will
have nothing to do with men while they are in the body, but only when the
soul is liberated from the desires and evils of the body. Now there is a
great deal of philosophy and reflection in that; for in their liberated
state he can bind them with the desire of virtue, but while they are
flustered and maddened by the body, not even father Cronos himself would
suffice to keep them with him in his own far-famed chains.
HERMOGENES: There is a deal of truth in what you say.
SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades, not from
the unseen (aeides)--far otherwise, but from his knowledge (eidenai) of all
HERMOGENES: Very good; and what do we say of Demeter, and Here, and
Apollo, and Athene, and Hephaestus, and Ares, and the other deities?
SOCRATES: Demeter is e didousa meter, who gives food like a mother; Here
is the lovely one (erate)--for Zeus, according to tradition, loved and
married her; possibly also the name may have been given when the legislator
was thinking of the heavens, and may be only a disguise of the air (aer),
putting the end in the place of the beginning. You will recognize the
truth of this if you repeat the letters of Here several times over. People
dread the name of Pherephatta as they dread the name of Apollo,--and with
as little reason; the fear, if I am not mistaken, only arises from their
ignorance of the nature of names. But they go changing the name into
Phersephone, and they are terrified at this; whereas the new name means
only that the Goddess is wise (sophe); for seeing that all things in the
world are in motion (pheromenon), that principle which embraces and touches
and is able to follow them, is wisdom. And therefore the Goddess may be
truly called Pherepaphe (Pherepapha), or some name like it, because she
touches that which is in motion (tou pheromenon ephaptomene), herein
showing her wisdom. And Hades, who is wise, consorts with her, because she
is wise. They alter her name into Pherephatta now-a-days, because the
present generation care for euphony more than truth. There is the other
name, Apollo, which, as I was saying, is generally supposed to have some
terrible signification. Have you remarked this fact?
HERMOGENES: To be sure I have, and what you say is true.
SOCRATES: But the name, in my opinion, is really most expressive of the
power of the God.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: I will endeavour to explain, for I do not believe that any
single name could have been better adapted to express the attributes of the
God, embracing and in a manner signifying all four of them,--music, and
prophecy, and medicine, and archery.
HERMOGENES: That must be a strange name, and I should like to hear the
SOCRATES: Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of Harmony.
In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors and
diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal, as
well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and the same
object, which is to make a man pure both in body and soul.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and the absolver
from all impurities?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then in reference to his ablutions and absolutions, as being the
physician who orders them, he may be rightly called Apolouon (purifier); or
in respect of his powers of divination, and his truth and sincerity, which
is the same as truth, he may be most fitly called Aplos, from aplous
(sincere), as in the Thessalian dialect, for all the Thessalians call him
Aplos; also he is aei Ballon (always shooting), because he is a master
archer who never misses; or again, the name may refer to his musical
attributes, and then, as in akolouthos, and akoitis, and in many other
words the alpha is supposed to mean 'together,' so the meaning of the name
Apollo will be 'moving together,' whether in the poles of heaven as they
are called, or in the harmony of song, which is termed concord, because he
moves all together by an harmonious power, as astronomers and musicians
ingeniously declare. And he is the God who presides over harmony, and
makes all things move together, both among Gods and among men. And as in
the words akolouthos and akoitis the alpha is substituted for an omicron,
so the name Apollon is equivalent to omopolon; only the second lambda is
added in order to avoid the ill-omened sound of destruction (apolon). Now
the suspicion of this destructive power still haunts the minds of some who
do not consider the true value of the name, which, as I was saying just
now, has reference to all the powers of the God, who is the single one, the
everdarting, the purifier, the mover together (aplous, aei Ballon,
apolouon, omopolon). The name of the Muses and of music would seem to be
derived from their making philosophical enquiries (mosthai); and Leto is
called by this name, because she is such a gentle Goddess, and so willing
(ethelemon) to grant our requests; or her name may be Letho, as she is
often called by strangers--they seem to imply by it her amiability, and her
smooth and easy-going way of behaving. Artemis is named from her healthy
(artemes), well-ordered nature, and because of her love of virginity,
perhaps because she is a proficient in virtue (arete), and perhaps also as
hating intercourse of the sexes (ton aroton misesasa). He who gave the
Goddess her name may have had any or all of these reasons.
HERMOGENES: What is the meaning of Dionysus and Aphrodite?
SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, you ask a solemn question; there is a serious
and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the serious
explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no objection to your
hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke. Dionusos is
simply didous oinon (giver of wine), Didoinusos, as he might be called in
fun,--and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes those who drink,
think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when they have none. The
derivation of Aphrodite, born of the foam (aphros), may be fairly accepted
on the authority of Hesiod.
HERMOGENES: Still there remains Athene, whom you, Socrates, as an
Athenian, will surely not forget; there are also Hephaestus and Ares.
SOCRATES: I am not likely to forget them.
HERMOGENES: No, indeed.
SOCRATES: There is no difficulty in explaining the other appellation of
HERMOGENES: What other appellation?
SOCRATES: We call her Pallas.
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And we cannot be wrong in supposing that this is derived from
armed dances. For the elevation of oneself or anything else above the
earth, or by the use of the hands, we call shaking (pallein), or dancing.
HERMOGENES: That is quite true.
SOCRATES: Then that is the explanation of the name Pallas?
HERMOGENES: Yes; but what do you say of the other name?
SOCRATES: That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern
interpreters of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of the
ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet, assert that
he meant by Athene 'mind' (nous) and 'intelligence' (dianoia), and the
maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and indeed
calls her by a still higher title, 'divine intelligence' (Thou noesis), as
though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God (Theonoa);--using
alpha as a dialectical variety for eta, and taking away iota and sigma
(There seems to be some error in the MSS. The meaning is that the word
theonoa = theounoa is a curtailed form of theou noesis, but the omitted
letters do not agree.). Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may mean 'she
who knows divine things' (Theia noousa) better than others. Nor shall we
be far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify this
Goddess with moral intelligence (en ethei noesin), and therefore gave her
the name ethonoe; which, however, either he or his successors have altered
into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athene.
HERMOGENES: But what do you say of Hephaestus?
SOCRATES: Speak you of the princely lord of light (Phaeos istora)?
SOCRATES: Ephaistos is Phaistos, and has added the eta by attraction; that
is obvious to anybody.
HERMOGENES: That is very probable, until some more probable notion gets
into your head.
SOCRATES: To prevent that, you had better ask what is the derivation of
HERMOGENES: What is Ares?
SOCRATES: Ares may be called, if you will, from his manhood (arren) and
manliness, or if you please, from his hard and unchangeable nature, which
is the meaning of arratos: the latter is a derivation in every way
appropriate to the God of war.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And now, by the Gods, let us have no more of the Gods, for I am
afraid of them; ask about anything but them, and thou shalt see how the
steeds of Euthyphro can prance.
HERMOGENES: Only one more God! I should like to know about Hermes, of
whom I am said not to be a true son. Let us make him out, and then I shall
know whether there is any meaning in what Cratylus says.
SOCRATES: I should imagine that the name Hermes has to do with speech, and
signifies that he is the interpreter (ermeneus), or messenger, or thief, or
liar, or bargainer; all that sort of thing has a great deal to do with
language; as I was telling you, the word eirein is expressive of the use of
speech, and there is an often-recurring Homeric word emesato, which means
'he contrived'--out of these two words, eirein and mesasthai, the
legislator formed the name of the God who invented language and speech; and
we may imagine him dictating to us the use of this name: 'O my friends,'
says he to us, 'seeing that he is the contriver of tales or speeches, you
may rightly call him Eirhemes.' And this has been improved by us, as we
think, into Hermes. Iris also appears to have been called from the verb
'to tell' (eirein), because she was a messenger.
HERMOGENES: Then I am very sure that Cratylus was quite right in saying
that I was no true son of Hermes (Ermogenes), for I am not a good hand at
SOCRATES: There is also reason, my friend, in Pan being the double-formed
son of Hermes.
HERMOGENES: How do you make that out?
SOCRATES: You are aware that speech signifies all things (pan), and is
always turning them round and round, and has two forms, true and false?
SOCRATES: Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which
dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below, and
is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have generally
to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan) and the
perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called aipolos (goat-
herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth in his upper part, and
rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And, as the son of Hermes, he is
speech or the brother of speech, and that brother should be like brother is
no marvel. But, as I was saying, my dear Hermogenes, let us get away from
HERMOGENES: From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates. But why
should we not discuss another kind of Gods--the sun, moon, stars, earth,
aether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year?
SOCRATES: You impose a great many tasks upon me. Still, if you wish, I
will not refuse.
HERMOGENES: You will oblige me.
SOCRATES: How would you have me begin? Shall I take first of all him whom
you mentioned first--the sun?
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: The origin of the sun will probably be clearer in the Doric
form, for the Dorians call him alios, and this name is given to him because
when he rises he gathers (alizoi) men together or because he is always
rolling in his course (aei eilein ion) about the earth; or from aiolein, of
which the meaning is the same as poikillein (to variegate), because he
variegates the productions of the earth.
HERMOGENES: But what is selene (the moon)?
SOCRATES: That name is rather unfortunate for Anaxagoras.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: The word seems to forestall his recent discovery, that the moon
receives her light from the sun.
HERMOGENES: Why do you say so?
SOCRATES: The two words selas (brightness) and phos (light) have much the
SOCRATES: This light about the moon is always new (neon) and always old
(enon), if the disciples of Anaxagoras say truly. For the sun in his
revolution always adds new light, and there is the old light of the
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: The moon is not unfrequently called selanaia.
SOCRATES: And as she has a light which is always old and always new (enon
neon aei) she may very properly have the name selaenoneoaeia; and this when
hammered into shape becomes selanaia.
HERMOGENES: A real dithyrambic sort of name that, Socrates. But what do
you say of the month and the stars?
SOCRATES: Meis (month) is called from meiousthai (to lessen), because
suffering diminution; the name of astra (stars) seems to be derived from
astrape, which is an improvement on anastrope, signifying the upsetting of
the eyes (anastrephein opa).
HERMOGENES: What do you say of pur (fire) and udor (water)?
SOCRATES: I am at a loss how to explain pur; either the muse of Euthyphro
has deserted me, or there is some very great difficulty in the word.
Please, however, to note the contrivance which I adopt whenever I am in a
difficulty of this sort.
HERMOGENES: What is it?
SOCRATES: I will tell you; but I should like to know first whether you can
tell me what is the meaning of the pur?
HERMOGENES: Indeed I cannot.
SOCRATES: Shall I tell you what I suspect to be the true explanation of
this and several other words?--My belief is that they are of foreign
origin. For the Hellenes, especially those who were under the dominion of
the barbarians, often borrowed from them.
HERMOGENES: What is the inference?
SOCRATES: Why, you know that any one who seeks to demonstrate the fitness
of these names according to the Hellenic language, and not according to the
language from which the words are derived, is rather likely to be at fault.
HERMOGENES: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Well then, consider whether this pur is not foreign; for the
word is not easily brought into relation with the Hellenic tongue, and the
Phrygians may be observed to have the same word slightly changed, just as
they have udor (water) and kunes (dogs), and many other words.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Any violent interpretations of the words should be avoided; for
something to say about them may easily be found. And thus I get rid of pur
and udor. Aer (air), Hermogenes, may be explained as the element which
raises (airei) things from the earth, or as ever flowing (aei rei), or
because the flux of the air is wind, and the poets call the winds 'air-
blasts,' (aetai); he who uses the term may mean, so to speak, air-flux
(aetorroun), in the sense of wind-flux (pneumatorroun); and because this
moving wind may be expressed by either term he employs the word air (aer =
aetes rheo). Aither (aether) I should interpret as aeitheer; this may be
correctly said, because this element is always running in a flux about the
air (aei thei peri tou aera reon). The meaning of the word ge (earth)
comes out better when in the form of gaia, for the earth may be truly
called 'mother' (gaia, genneteira), as in the language of Homer (Od.)
gegaasi means gegennesthai.
SOCRATES: What shall we take next?
HERMOGENES: There are orai (the seasons), and the two names of the year,
eniautos and etos.
SOCRATES: The orai should be spelt in the old Attic way, if you desire to
know the probable truth about them; they are rightly called the orai
because they divide (orizousin) the summers and winters and winds and the
fruits of the earth. The words eniautos and etos appear to be the same,--
'that which brings to light the plants and growths of the earth in their
turn, and passes them in review within itself (en eauto exetazei)': this
is broken up into two words, eniautos from en eauto, and etos from etazei,
just as the original name of Zeus was divided into Zena and Dia; and the
whole proposition means that his power of reviewing from within is one, but
has two names, two words etos and eniautos being thus formed out of a
HERMOGENES: Indeed, Socrates, you make surprising progress.
SOCRATES: I am run away with.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: But am not yet at my utmost speed.
HERMOGENES: I should like very much to know, in the next place, how you
would explain the virtues. What principle of correctness is there in those
charming words--wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest of them?