Plato, Aristotle and Socrates

Most of what know about Socrates is based on what Plato wrote about him. Plato was Socrates’ number one student. He learned a lot from Socrates about how to think, and what sort of questions to think about. He once said, Socrates was an “an absolute unlikeness to any human being that is or ever was."

Plato left behind a great number of written works, many of which were in the form of dialogues in which Socrates is the leader of the discussions conducted in a Socratic question-and-answer style. In many of Plato's works Socrates is a mouthpiece for Plato's ideas and doctrines. Many of are written in a poetic language with the use of metaphors, parables and symbols.

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Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Socrates and Plato: Master and Pupil

Plato was about the age of 19 when he became a student of Socrates. Plato was soldier at the time and went to listen to Socrates speak a war had ended. Plato remained faithful to Socrates until his death in 399 B.C. According to Plato's own account he began his professional life as a dramatist, and wrote a few tragedies, but gave all that up and even burned his manuscripts when he met Socrates

The master- pupil relationship between Socrates and Plato lasted about ten years and was a decisive influence in Plato's philosophical career. Before meeting Socrates he had, very likely, developed an interest in the earlier philosophers, and in schemes for the betterment of political conditions at Athens. At an early age he devoted himself to poetry. All these interests, however, were absorbed in the pursuit of wisdom to which, under the guidance of Socrates, he ardently devoted himself. [Source: Catholic Encyclopedia Article, 1913 |=|]

Plato was about 30 years old when Socrates died in 399 B.C.. He was very upset and began to write down some of the conversations he had heard Socrates have. Practically everything we know about Socrates comes from what Plato wrote down After a while, Plato began to write down his own ideas about philosophy instead of just writing down Socrates‘ ideas.

Plato’s The Meno: Discussion Between Meno and Socrates

Plato and Socrates, a composite from the Raphael painting

Plato wrote in “The Meno”: “Meno. Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?
Socrates: O Meno, there was a time when the Thessalians were famous among the other Hellenes only for their riches and their riding; but now, if I am not mistaken, they are equally famous for their wisdom, especially at Larisa, which is the native city of your friend Aristippus. And this is Gorgias' doing; for when he came there, the flower of the Aleuadae, among them your admirer Aristippus, and the other chiefs of the Thessalians, fell in love with his wisdom. And he has taught you the habit of answering questions in a grand and bold style, which becomes those who know, and is the style in which he himself answers all comers; and any Hellene who likes may ask him anything. How different is our lot! my dear Meno. Here at Athens there is a dearth of the commodity, and all wisdom seems to have emigrated from us to you. I am certain that if you were to ask any Athenian whether virtue was natural or acquired, he would laugh in your face, and say: "Stranger, you have far too good an opinion of me, if you think that I can answer your question. For I literally do not know what virtue is, and much less whether it is acquired by teaching or not." And I myself, Meno, living as I do in this region of poverty, am as poor as the rest of the world; and I confess with shame that I know literally nothing about virtue; and when I do not know the "quid" of anything how can I know the "quale"? How, if I knew nothing at all of Meno, could I tell if he was fair, or the opposite of fair; rich and noble, or the reverse of rich and noble? Do you think that I could?
Meno: No, Indeed. But are you in earnest, Socrates, in saying that you do not know what virtue is? And am I to carry back this report of you to Thessaly?
Socrates: Not only that, my dear boy, but you may say further that I have never known of any one else who did, in my judgment. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

Meno: Then you have never met Gorgias when he was at Athens?
Socrates: Yes, I have.
Meno: And did you not think that he knew?
Socrates: I have not a good memory, Meno, and therefore I cannot now tell what I thought of him at the time. And I dare say that he did know, and that you know what he said: please, therefore, to remind me of what he said; or, if you would rather, tell me your own view; for I suspect that you and he think much alike.
Meno: Very true.
Socrates: Then as he is not here, never mind him, and do you tell me: By the gods, Meno, be generous, and tell me what you say that virtue is; for I shall be truly delighted to find that I have been mistaken, and that you and Gorgias do really have this knowledge; although I have been just saying that I have never found anybody who had.

Socrates and Plato, the medieval view
Meno: There will be no difficulty, Socrates, in answering your question. Let us take first the virtue of a man-he should know how to administer the state, and in the administration of it to benefit his friends and harm his enemies; and he must also be careful not to suffer harm himself. A woman's virtue, if you wish to know about that, may also be easily described: her duty is to order her house, and keep what is indoors, and obey her husband. Every age, every condition of life, young or old, male or female, bond or free, has a different virtue: there are virtues numberless, and no lack of definitions of them; for virtue is relative to the actions and ages of each of us in all that we do. And the same may be said of vice, Socrates.
Socrates: How fortunate I am, Meno! When I ask you for one virtue, you present me with a swarm of them, which are in your keeping. Suppose that I carry on the figure of the swarm, and ask of you, What is the nature of the bee? and you answer that there are many kinds of bees, and I reply: But do bees differ as bees, because there are many and different kinds of them; or are they not rather to be distinguished by some other quality, as for example beauty, size, or shape? How would you answer me?

Meno: I should answer that bees do not differ from one another, as bees.
Socrates: And if I went on to say: That is what I desire to know, Meno; tell me what is the quality in which they do not differ, but are all alike;-would you be able to answer?
Meno: I should.
Socrates: And so of the virtues, however many and different they may be, they have all a common nature which makes them virtues; and on this he who would answer the question, "What is virtue?" would do well to have his eye fixed: Do you understand?
Meno: I am beginning to understand; but I do not as yet take hold of the question as I could wish.
Socrates: When you say, Meno, that there is one virtue of a man, another of a woman, another of a child, and so on, does this apply only to virtue, or would you say the same of health, and size, and strength? Or is the nature of health always the same, whether in man or woman?
Meno: I should say that health is the same, both in man and woman.
Socrates: And is not this true of size and strength? If a woman is strong, she will be strong by reason of the same form and of the same strength subsisting in her which there is in the man. I mean to say that strength, as strength, whether of man or woman, is the same. Is there any difference?
Meno: I think not.

Meno and Socrates Use the Socratic Method to Discuss Virtue

Socrates: And will not virtue, as virtue, be the same, whether in a child or in a grown-up person, in a woman or in a man?
Meno: I cannot help feeling, Socrates, that this case is different from the others.
Socrates: But why? Were you not saying that the virtue of a man was to order a state, and the virtue of a woman was to order a house?
Meno: I did say so.
Socrates: And can either house or state or anything be well ordered without temperance and without justice?
Meno: Certainly not.
Socrates: Then they who order a state or a house temperately or justly order them with temperance and justice?
Meno: Certainly.
Socrates: Then both men and women, if they are to be good men and women, must have the same virtues of temperance and justice?
Meno: True.
Socrates: And can either a young man or an elder one be good, if they are intemperate and unjust?
Meno: They cannot.
Socrates: They must be temperate and just?
Meno: Yes. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

Meno (Socrates) drawing 29
Meno drawing
Socrates: Then all men are good in the same way, and by participation in the same virtues?
Meno: Such is the inference.
Socrates: And they surely would not have been good in the same way, unless their virtue had been the same?
Meno: They would not.
Socrates: Then now that the sameness of all virtue has been proven, try and remember what you and Gorgias say that virtue is.
Meno: Will you have one definition of them all?
Socrates: That is what I am seeking.
Meno: If you want to have one definition of them all, I know not what to say, but that virtue is the power of governing mankind.
Socrates: And does this definition of virtue include all virtue? Is virtue the same in a child and in a slave, Meno? Can the child govern his father, or the slave his master; and would he who governed be any longer a slave?
Meno: I think not, Socrates.
Socrates: No, indeed; there would be small reason in that. Yet once more, fair friend; according to you, virtue is "the power of governing"; but do you not add "justly and not unjustly"?
Meno: Yes, Socrates; I agree there; for justice is virtue.
Socrates: Would you say "virtue," Meno, or "a virtue"?
Meno: What do you mean?

Socrates: I mean as I might say about anything; that a round, for example, is "a figure" and not simply "figure," and I should adopt this mode of speaking, because there are other figures.
Meno: Quite right; and that is just what I am saying about virtue-that there are other virtues as well as justice.
Socrates: What are they? tell me the names of them, as I would tell you the names of the other figures if you asked me.
Meno: Courage and temperance and wisdom and magnanimity are virtues; and there are many others.
Socrates: Yes, Meno; and again we are in the same case: in searching after one virtue we have found many, though not in the same way as before; but we have been unable to find the common virtue which runs through them all.

Using the Socratic Method to Reach a Final Point (“A Figure)

Meno: Why, Socrates, even now I am not able to follow you in the attempt to get at one common notion of virtue as of other things.
Socrates: No wonder; but I will try to get nearer if I can, for you know that all things have a common notion. Suppose now that some one asked you the question which I asked before: Meno, he would say, what is figure? And if you answered "roundness," he would reply to you, in my way of speaking, by asking whether you would say that roundness is "figure" or "a figure"; and you would answer "a figure."
Meno: Certainly.
Socrates: And for this reason-that there are other figures?
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: And if he proceeded to ask, What other figures are there? you would have told him. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]
Meno: I should.

Socrates: And if he similarly asked what colour is, and you answered whiteness, and the questioner rejoined, Would you say that whiteness is colour or a colour? you would reply, A colour, because there are other colours as well.
Meno: I should.
Socrates: And if he had said, Tell me what they are?-you would have told him of other colours which are colours just as much as whiteness.
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: And suppose that he were to pursue the matter in my way, he would say: Ever and anon we are landed in particulars, but this is not what I want; tell me then, since you call them by a common name, and say that they are all figures, even when opposed to one another, what is that common nature which you designate as figure-which contains straight as well as round, and is no more one than the other-that would be your mode of speaking?
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: And in speaking thus, you do not mean to say that the round is round any more than straight, or the straight any more straight than round?
Meno: Certainly not.

Socrates: You only assert that the round figure is not more a figure than the straight, or the straight than the round?
Meno: Very true.
Socrates: To what then do we give the name of figure? Try and answer. Suppose that when a person asked you this question either about figure or colour, you were to reply, Man, I do not understand what you want, or know what you are saying; he would look rather astonished and say: Do you not understand that I am looking for the "simile in multis"? And then he might put the question in another form: Mono, he might say, what is that "simile in multis" which you call figure, and which includes not only round and straight figures, but all? Could you not answer that question, Meno? I wish that you would try; the attempt will be good practice with a view to the answer about virtue.
Meno: I would rather that you should answer, Socrates.
Socrates: Shall I indulge you?
Meno: By all means.
Socrates: And then you will tell me about virtue?
Meno: I will.
Socrates: Then I must do my best, for there is a prize to be won.
Meno: Certainly.

Explaining What a Final Point (Figure) Is

Socrates: Well, I will try and explain to you what figure is. What do you say to this answer?-Figure is the only thing which always follows colour. Will you be satisfied with it, as I am sure that I should be, if you would let me have a similar definition of virtue?
Meno: But, Socrates, it is such a simple answer.
Socrates: Why simple?
Meno: Because, according to you, figure is that which always follows colour. (Soc. Granted.)
Meno: But if a person were to say that he does not know what colour is, any more than what figure is-what sort of answer would you have given him?
Socrates: I should have told him the truth. And if he were a philosopher of the eristic and antagonistic sort, I should say to him: You have my answer, and if I am wrong, your business is to take up the argument and refute me. But if we were friends, and were talking as you and I are now, I should reply in a milder strain and more in the dialectician's vein; that is to say, I should not only speak the truth, but I should make use of premisses which the person interrogated would be willing to admit. And this is the way in which I shall endeavour to approach you. You will acknowledge, will you not, that there is such a thing as an end, or termination, or extremity?-all which words use in the same sense, although I am aware that Prodicus might draw distinctions about them: but still you, I am sure, would speak of a thing as ended or terminated-that is all which I am saying-not anything very difficult. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

Meno: Yes, I should; and I believe that I understand your meaning.
Socrates: And you would speak of a surface and also of a solid, as for example in geometry.
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: Well then, you are now in a condition to understand my definition of figure. I define figure to be that in which the solid ends; or, more concisely, the limit of solid.
Meno: And now, Socrates, what is colour?
Socrates: You are outrageous, Meno, in thus plaguing a poor old man to give you an answer, when you will not take the trouble of remembering what is Gorgias' definition of virtue.
Meno: When you have told me what I ask, I will tell you, Socrates.
Socrates: A man who was blindfolded has only to hear you talking, and he would know that you are a fair creature and have still many lovers.
Meno: Why do you think so?

Socrates: Why, because you always speak in imperatives: like all beauties when they are in their prime, you are tyrannical; and also, as I suspect, you have found out that I have weakness for the fair, and therefore to humour you I must answer.
Meno: Please do.
Socrates: Would you like me to answer you after the manner of Gorgias, which is familiar to you?
Meno: I should like nothing better.
Socrates: Do not he and you and Empedocles say that there are certain effluences of existence?
Meno: Certainly.
Socrates: And passages into which and through which the effluences pass?
Meno: Exactly.
Socrates: And some of the effluences fit into the passages, and some of them are too small or too large?
Meno: True.
Socrates: And there is such a thing as sight?
Meno: Yes.

Socrates: And now, as Pindar says, "read my meaning" colour is an effluence of form, commensurate with sight, and palpable to sense.
Meno: That, Socrates, appears to me to be an admirable answer.
Socrates: Why, yes, because it happens to be one which you have been in the habit of hearing: and your wit will have discovered, I suspect, that you may explain in the same way the nature of sound and smell, and of many other similar phenomena.
Meno: Quite true.
Socrates: The answer, Meno, was in the orthodox solemn vein, and therefore was more acceptable to you than the other answer about figure.
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: And yet, O son of Alexidemus, I cannot help thinking that the other was the better; and I am sure that you would be of the same opinion, if you would only stay and be initiated, and were not compelled, as you said yesterday, to go away before the mysteries.
Meno: But I will stay, Socrates, if you will give me many such answers.

Socrates Discusses Good, Evil, Virtue and Honor

Socrates Alcibiades

Socrates: Well then, for my own sake as well as for yours, I will do my very best; but I am afraid that I shall not be able to give you very many as good: and now, in your turn, you are to fulfil your promise, and tell me what virtue is in the universal; and do not make a singular into a plural, as the facetious say of those who break a thing, but deliver virtue to me whole and sound, and not broken into a number of pieces: I have given you the pattern.
Meno: Well then, Socrates, virtue, as I take it, is when he, who desires the honourable, is able to provide it for himself; so the poet says, and I say too: “Virtue is the desire of things honourable and the power of attaining them. [Source: Plato, Meno, 380 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

“Socrates: And does he who desires the honourable also desire the good?
Meno: Certainly.
Socrates: Then are there some who desire the evil and others who desire the good? Do not all men, my dear sir, desire good?
Meno: I think not.
Socrates: There are some who desire evil?
Meno: Yes.
Socrates: Do you mean that they think the evils which they desire, to be good; or do they know that they are evil and yet desire them?
Meno: Both, I think.

Socrates: And do you really imagine, Meno, that a man knows evils to be evils and desires them notwithstanding?
Meno: Certainly I do.
Socrates: And desire is of possession?
Meno: Yes, of possession.
Socrates: And does he think that the evils will do good to him who possesses them, or does he know that they will do him harm?
Meno: There are some who think that the evils will do them good, and others who know that they will do them harm.
Socrates: And, in your opinion, do those who think that they will do them good know that they are evils?
Meno: Certainly not.

Socrates: Is it not obvious that those who are ignorant of their nature do not desire them; but they desire what they suppose to be goods although they are really evils; and if they are mistaken and suppose the evils to be good they really desire goods?
Meno: Yes, in that case.
Socrates: Well, and do those who, as you say, desire evils, and think that evils are hurtful to the possessor of them, know that they will be hurt by them?
Meno: They must know it.
Socrates: And must they not suppose that those who are hurt are miserable in proportion to the hurt which is inflicted upon them?
Meno: How can it be otherwise?
Socrates: But are not the miserable ill-fated?
Meno: Yes, indeed.

Socrates: And does any one desire to be miserable and ill-fated?
Meno: I should say not, Socrates.
Socrates: But if there is no one who desires to be miserable, there is no one, Meno, who desires evil; for what is misery but the desire and possession of evil?
Meno: That appears to be the truth, Socrates, and I admit that nobody desires evil.
Socrates: And yet, were you not saying just now that virtue is the desire and power of attaining good?
Meno: Yes, I did say so.
Socrates: But if this be affirmed, then the desire of good is common to all, and one man is no better than another in that respect?
Meno: True.
Socrates: And if one man is not better than another in desiring good, he must be better in the power of attaining it?
Meno: Exactly.
Socrates: Then, according to your definition, virtue would appear to be the power of attaining good?

Socrates Arrival at the Symposim

Plato wrote in “The Symposium”: “Socrates dropped behind in a fit of abstraction, and desired Aristodemus, who was waiting, to go on before him. When he reached the house of Agathon he found the doors wide open, and a comical thing happened. A servant coming out met him, and led him at once into the banqueting-hall in which the guests were reclining, for the banquet was about to begin. Welcome, Aristodemus, said Agathon, as soon as he appeared-you are just in time to sup with us; if you come on any other matter put it off, and make one of us, as I was looking for you yesterday and meant to have asked you, if I could have found you. But what have you done with Socrates? I turned round, but Socrates was nowhere to be seen; and I had to explain that he had been with me a moment before, and that I came by his invitation to the supper. [Source: Plato, “The Symposium”, 360 B.C., translated by Benjamin Jowett]

“You were quite right in coming, said Agathon; but where is he himself? He was behind me just now, as I entered, he said, and I cannot think what has become of him.
Go and look for him, boy, said Agathon, and bring him in; and do you, Aristodemus, meanwhile take the place by Eryximachus. The servant then assisted him to wash, and he lay down, and presently another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had retired into the portico of the neighbouring house.
"There he is fixed," said he, "and when I call to him he will not stir." How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep calling him.
Let him alone, said my informant; he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason. I believe that he will soon appear; do not therefore disturb him.

“Well, if you think so, I will leave him, said Agathon. And then, turning to the servants, he added, "Let us have supper without waiting for him. Serve up whatever you please, for there; is no one to give you orders; hitherto I have never left you to yourselves. But on this occasion imagine that you art our hosts, and that I and the company are your guests; treat us well, and then we shall commend you." After this, supper was served, but still no-Socrates; and during the meal Agathon several times expressed a wish to send for him, but Aristodemus objected; and at last when the feast was about half over-for the fit, as usual, was not of long duration-Socrates entered; Agathon, who was reclining alone at the end of the table, begged that he would take the place next to him; that "I may touch you," he said, "and have the benefit of that wise thought which came into your mind in the portico, and is now in your possession; for I am certain that you would not have come away until you had found what you sought." How I wish, said Socrates, taking his place as he was desired, that wisdom could be infused by touch, out of the fuller the emptier man, as water runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one; if that were so, how greatly should I value the privilege of reclining at your side! For you would have filled me full with a stream of wisdom plenteous and fair; whereas my own is of a very mean and questionable sort, no better than a dream. But yours is bright and full of promise, and was manifested forth in all the splendour of youth the day before yesterday, in the presence of more than thirty thousand Hellenes. You are mocking, Socrates, said Agathon, and ere long you and I will have to determine who bears off the palm of wisdom-of this Dionysus shall be the judge; but at present you are better occupied with supper.

“Socrates took his place on the couch, and supped with the rest; and then libations were offered, and after a hymn had been sung to the god, and there had been the usual ceremonies, they were about to commence drinking, when Pausanias said, And now, my friends, how can we drink with least injury to ourselves? I can assure you that I feel severely the effect of yesterday's potations, and must have time to recover; and I suspect that most of you are in the same predicament, for you were of the party yesterday. Consider then: How can the drinking be made easiest? I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in drink.

“I think that you are right, said Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus; but I should still like to hear one other person speak: Is Agathon able to drink hard? I am not equal to it, said Agathon. Then, the Eryximachus, the weak heads like myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus, and others who never can drink, are fortunate in finding that the stronger ones are not in a drinking mood. (I do not include Socrates, who is able either to drink or to abstain, and will not mind, whichever we do.) Well, as of none of the company seem disposed to drink much, I may be forgiven for saying, as a physician, that drinking deep is a bad practice, which I never follow, if I can help, and certainly do not recommend to another, least of all to any one who still feels the effects of yesterday's carouse. “I always do what you advise, and especially what you prescribe as a physician, rejoined Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and the rest of the company, if they are wise, will do the same. It was agreed that drinking was not to be the order of the day, but that they were all to drink only so much as they pleased.”

Speech of Socrates on Love and Divine Beauty in Plato’s Sympoisum

Edward Carpenter wrote in “Ioläus”: In Plato’s Symposium: “Socrates, in his speech, and especially in the later portion of it where he quotes his supposed tutoress Diotima, carries the argument up to its highest issue. After contending for the essentially creative, generative nature of love, not only in the Body but in the Soul, he proceeds to say that it is not so much the seeking of a lost half which causes the creative impulse in lovers, as the fact that in our mortal friends we are contemplating (though unconsciously) an image of the Essential and Divine Beauty; it is this that affects us with that wonderful “mania,”and lifts us into the region where we become creators. And he follows on to the conclusion that it is by wisely and truly loving our visible friends that at last, after long, long experience, there dawns upon us the vision of that Absolute Beauty which by mortal eyes must ever remain unseen. [Source: Edward Carpenter's “Ioläus,”1902 \=\]

Socrates said: “He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes towards the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty . . . beauty absolute, separate, simple and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the evergrowing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who, from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end." [Source: Symposium of Plato, trans. B. Fowett] \=\

This is indeed the culmination, for Plato, of all existence-the ascent into the presence of that endless Beauty of which all fair mortal things are but the mirrors. But to condense this great speech of Socrates is impossible; only to persistent and careful reading (if even then) will it yield up all its treasures. \=\

symposia banquet

Dialogue Between Socrates and Ion, the Rhapsode

Plato wrote in “Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Ion,” (380 B.C.):
Socrates. Welcome, Ion. Are you from your native city of Ephesus?
Ion: No, Socrates; but from Epidaurus, where I attended the festival of Asclepius.
Socrates: And do the Epidaurians have contests of rhapsodes at the festival?
Ion: O yes; and of all sorts of musical performers.
Socrates: And were you one of the competitors- and did you succeed?
Ion: I obtained the first prize of all, Socrates.
Socrates: Well done; and I hope that you will do the same for us at the Panathenaea.
Ion: And I will, please heaven.
[Source:Plato, Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Ion, 380 B.C. translated by Benjamin Jowett, MIT]

Socrates: I often envy the profession of a rhapsode, Ion; for you have always to wear fine clothes, and to look as beautiful as you can is a part of your art. Then, again, you are obliged to be continually in the company of many good poets; and especially of Homer, who is the best and most divine of them; and to understand him, and not merely learn his words by rote, is a thing greatly to be envied. And no man can be a rhapsode who does not understand the meaning of the poet. For the rhapsode ought to interpret the mind of the poet to his hearers, but how can he interpret him well unless he knows what he means? All this is greatly to be envied.
Ion: Very true, Socrates; interpretation has certainly been the most laborious part of my art; and I believe myself able to speak about Homer better than any man; and that neither Metrodorus of Lampsacus, nor Stesimbrotus of Thasos, nor Glaucon, nor any one else who ever was, had as good ideas about Homer as I have, or as many.

Socrates. I am glad to hear you say so, Ion; I see that you will not refuse to acquaint me with them.
Ion: Certainly, Socrates; and you really ought to hear how exquisitely I render Homer. I think that the Homeridae should give me a golden crown.
Socrates: I shall take an opportunity of hearing your embellishments of him at some other time. But just now I should like to ask you a question: Does your art extend to Hesiod and Archilochus, or to Homer only?
Ion: To Homer only; he is in himself quite enough.

Socrates and Ion on the Skill of the Rhapsode

Plato wrote in “Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Ion,” (380 B.C.):
Socrates: But how did you come to have this skill about Homer only, and not about Hesiod or the other poets? Does not Homer speak of the same themes which all other poets handle? Is not war his great argument? and does he not speak of human society and of intercourse of men, good and bad, skilled and unskilled, and of the gods conversing with one another and with mankind, and about what happens in heaven and in the world below, and the generations of gods and heroes? Are not these the themes of which Homer sings?
Ion: Very true, Socrates.
Socrates: And do not the other poets sing of the same? Ion. Yes, Socrates; but not in the same way as Homer.
Socrates: What, in a worse way?
Ion: Yes, in a far worse.
Socrates: And Homer in a better way?
Ion: He is incomparably better.
Socrates: And yet surely, my dear friend Ion, in a discussion about arithmetic, where many people are speaking, and one speaks better than the rest, there is somebody who can judge which of them is the good speaker?
Ion: Yes.

symposium scene

Socrates: And he who judges of the good will be the same as he who judges of the bad speakers?
Ion: The same.
Socrates: And he will be the arithmetician?
Ion: Yes.
Socrates: Well, and in discussions about the wholesomeness of food, when many persons are speaking, and one speaks better than the rest, will he who recognizes the better speaker be a different person from him who recognizes the worse, or the same?
Ion: Clearly the same.
Socrates: And who is he, and what is his name?
Ion: The physician.

Socrates: And speaking generally, in all discussions in which the subject is the same and many men are speaking, will not he who knows the good know the bad speaker also? For if he does not know the bad, neither will he know the good when the same topic is being discussed.
Ion: True.
Socrates: Is not the same person skilful in both?
Ion: Yes.
Socrates: And you say that Homer and the other poets, such as Hesiod and Archilochus, speak of the same things, although not in the same way; but the one speaks well and the other not so well?
Ion: Yes; and I am right in saying so.
Socrates: And if you knew the good speaker, you would also know the inferior speakers to be inferior?
Ion: That is true.
Socrates: Then, my dear friend, can I be mistaken in saying that Ion is equally skilled in Homer and in other poets, since he himself acknowledges that the same person will be a good judge of all those who speak of the same things; and that almost all poets do speak of the same things?

Ion: Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and go to sleep and have absolutely no ideas of the least value, when any one speaks of any other poet; but when Homer is mentioned, I wake up at once and am all attention and have plenty to say?
Socrates: The reason, my friend, is obvious. No one can fail to see that you speak of Homer without any art or knowledge. If you were able to speak of him by rules of art, you would have been able to speak of all other poets; for poetry is a whole.
Ion: Yes.
Socrates: And when any one acquires any other art as a whole, the same may be said of them. Would you like me to explain my meaning, Ion?
Ion: Yes, indeed, Socrates; I very much wish that you would: for I love to hear you wise men talk.
Socrates: O that we were wise, Ion, and that you could truly call us so; but you rhapsodes and actors, and the poets whose verses you sing, are wise; whereas I am a common man, who only speak the truth. For consider what a very commonplace and trivial thing is this which I have said- a thing which any man might say: that when a man has acquired a knowledge of a whole art, the enquiry into good and bad is one and the same. Let us consider this matter; is not the art of painting a whole?
Ion: Yes.

Socrates: And there are and have been many painters good and bad?
Ion: Yes.
Socrates: And did you ever know any one who was skilful in pointing out the excellences and defects of Polygnotus the son of Aglaophon, but incapable of criticizing other painters; and when the work of any other painter was produced, went to sleep and was at a loss, and had no ideas; but when he had to give his opinion about Polygnotus, or whoever the painter might be, and about him only, woke up and was attentive and had plenty to say?
Ion: No indeed, I have never known such a person.
Socrates: Or did you ever know of any one in sculpture, who was skilful in expounding the merits of Daedalus the son of Metion, or of Epeius the son of Panopeus, or of Theodorus the Samian, or of any individual sculptor; but when the works of sculptors in general were produced, was at a loss and went to sleep and had nothing to say?
Ion: No indeed; no more than the other.
Socrates: And if I am not mistaken, you never met with any one among flute-players or harp- players or singers to the harp or rhapsodes who was able to discourse of Olympus or Thamyras or Orpheus, or Phemius the rhapsode of Ithaca, but was at a loss when he came to speak of Ion of Ephesus, and had no notion of his merits or defects?

Socrates on the Divine Inspiration of the Rhapsode


Plato wrote in “Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Ion,” (380 B.C.):
Ion: I cannot deny what you say, Socrates. Nevertheless I am conscious in my own self, and the world agrees with me in thinking that I do speak better and have more to say about Homer than any other man. But I do not speak equally well about others- tell me the reason of this.
Socrates: I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of this. The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, like that contained in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet, but which is commonly known as the stone of Heraclea. This stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other rings; and sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended from one another so as to form quite a long chain: and all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone. In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself; and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration. For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not by art, but because they are inspired and possessed. And as the Corybantian revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers when they are under the influence of Dionysus but not when they are in their right mind. And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves say; for they tell us that they bring songs from honeyed fountains, culling them out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; they, like the bees, winging their way from flower to flower. And this is true. For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles.

Many are the noble words in which poets speak concerning the actions of men; but like yourself when speaking about Homer, they do not speak of them by any rules of art: they are simply inspired to utter that to which the Muse impels them, and that only; and when inspired, one of them will make dithyrambs, another hymns of praise, another choral strains, another epic or iambic verses- and he who is good at one is not good any other kind of verse: for not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know them to be speaking not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God himself is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And Tynnichus the Chalcidian affords a striking instance of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the famous paean which; in every one's mouth, one of the finest poems ever written, simply an invention of the Muses, as he himself says. For in this way, the God would seem to indicate to us and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the work of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?

Socrates and Ion on Rhapsode as Interpreters

Plato wrote in “Persons of the Dialogue: Socrates and Ion,” (380 B.C.):

Socrates: Are there any things about which Homer and Hesiod agree?
Ion: Yes; in my opinion there are a good many.
Socrates: And can you interpret better what Homer says, or what Hesiod says, about these matters in which they agree?
Ion: I can interpret them equally well, Socrates, where they agree.
Socrates: But what about matters in which they do not agree?- for example, about divination, of which both Homer and Hesiod have something to say-
Ion: Very true:
Socrates: Would you or a good prophet be a better interpreter of what these two poets say about divination, not only when they agree, but when they disagree?
Ion: A prophet.
Socrates: And if you were a prophet, would you be able to interpret them when they disagree as well as when they agree?
Ion: Clearly.
Ion: Yes, indeed, Socrates, I feel that you are; for your words touch my soul, and I am persuaded that good poets by a divine inspiration interpret the things of the Gods to us.
Socrates: And you rhapsodists are the interpreters of the poets?
Ion: There again you are right.
Socrates: Then you are the interpreters of interpreters?
Ion: Precisely.
Socrates: I wish you would frankly tell me, Ion, what I am going to ask of you: When you produce the greatest effect upon the audience in the recitation of some striking passage, such as the apparition of Odysseus leaping forth on the floor, recognized by the suitors and casting his arrows at his feet, or the description of Achilles rushing at Hector, or the sorrows of Andromache, Hecuba, or Priam,- are you in your right mind? Are you not carried out of yourself, and does not your soul in an ecstasy seem to be among the persons or places of which you are speaking, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or whatever may be the scene of the poem?
Ion: That proof strikes home to me, Socrates. For I must frankly confess that at the tale of pity, my eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end and my heart throbs.
Socrates: Why, does not Homer speak in many passages about arts? For example, about driving; if I can only remember the lines I will repeat them.
Ion: I remember, and will repeat them.
Socrates: Tell me then, what Nestor says to Antilochus, his son, where he bids him be careful of the turn at the horse-race in honour of Patroclus.
Ion: He says:
Bend gently in the polished chariot to the left of them, and urge the horse on the right hand with whip and voice; and slacken the rein. And when you are at the goal, let the left horse draw near, yet so that the nave of the well-wrought wheel may not even seem to touch the extremity; and avoid catching the stone.



Last Days of Socrates

In 399 B.C., Socrates was tried in Athens on the nebulous charges of "neglect of the gods," “introducing new divinities” and "corrupting the youth of Athens." Historians believe the charges were based on nothing more than Socrates propensity to stir up trouble and question authorities.

Plato wrote in Euthyphro: Porch of the King Archon:
Euthyphro: Why have you left the lyceum, Socrates?
Socrates. Not in a suit, Euthyphro; impeachment is the word which the Athenians use.
Euthyphro: What! I suppose that some one has been prosecuting you, for I cannot believe that you are the prosecutor of another.
Socrates: Certainly not.
Euthyphro: Then some one else has been prosecuting you?
Socrates: Yes.
Euthyphro: And who is he? [Source: Euthyphro By Plato, written 380 B.C.,translated by Benjamin Jowett]

Socrates: A young man who is little known, Euthyphro; and I hardly know him: his name is Meletus, and he is of the deme of Pitthis. Perhaps you may remember his appearance; he has a beak, and long straight hair, and a beard which is ill grown.
Euthyphro: No, I do not remember him, Socrates. But what is the charge which he brings against you?
Socrates: What is the charge? Well, a very serious charge, which Meletus has brought a charge against Socrates. shows a good deal of character in the young man, and for which he is certainly not to be despised. He says he knows how the youth are corrupted and who are their corruptors. I fancy that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has found me out, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends. And of this our mother the State is to be the judge. Of all our political men he s the only one who seems to me to begin in the right way, with the cultivation of virtue in youth; like a good husbandman, he makes the young shoots his first care, and clears away us who are the destroyers of them. This is only the first step; he will afterwards attend to the elder branches; and if he goes on as he has begun, he will be a very great public benefactor.

Socrates cell at the Agora in Athen

Euthyphro: I hope that he may; but I rather fear, Socrates, that the opposite will turn out to be the truth. My opinion is that in attacking you he is simply aiming a blow at the foundation of the State. But in what way does he say that you corrupt the young?
Socrates: He brings a wonderful accusation against me, which at of first hearing excites surprise: he says that I am a poet or maker of gods, and that I invent new gods and deny the existence of old ones; this is the ground of his indictment.
Euthyphro: I understand, Socrates; he means to attack you about the familiar sign which occasionally, as you say, comes to you. He the thinks that you are a neologian, and he is going to have you up before the court for this. He knows that such a charge is readily received by the world, as I myself know too well; for when I speak in the assembly about divine things, and foretell the future to them, they laugh at me and think me a madman. Yet every word that I say is true. But they are jealous of us all; and we must be brave and go at them.

Socrates: Their laughter, friend Euthyphro, is not a matter of much consequence. For a man may be thought wise; but the Athenians, I suspect, do not much trouble themselves about him until he begins to impart his wisdom to others, and then for some reason or other, perhaps, as you say, from jealousy, they are angry.
Euthyphro: I am never likely to try their temper in this way.

Socrates: I dare say not, for you are reserved in your behaviour, and seldom impart your wisdom. But I have a benevolent habit of pouring out myself to everybody, and would even pay for a listener, and I am afraid that the Athenians may think me too talkative. Now if, as I was saying, they would only laugh at me, as you say that they laugh at you, the time might pass gaily enough in the court; but perhaps they may be in earnest, and then what the end will be you soothsayers only can predict.
Euthyphro: I dare say that the affair will end in nothing, Socrates, and that you will win your cause; and I think that I shall win my own.

Socrates' Defense

The Opening Remarks of “The Apology of Socrates” in Plato’s “The Apology, Phædo and Crito”, which cover’s Socrates trial, reads: “How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, Icannot tell; but I know that they almost made me forget who I was so persuasively did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed me; I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say this, when they were certain to be detected Socrates begs to be allowed to speak in his accustomed manner. as soon as I opened my lips and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear to me most shameless unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for if such their meaning, I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! [Source: Plato. (427?–347 B.C.). “ The Apology, Phædo and Crito,” translated by Benjamin Jowett, The Harvard Classics, 1909–14]

“Well, as I was saying, they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am confident in the justice of my cause: at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator - let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me favor: If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account.

“For I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the e language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country: Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner, The judges must excuse Socrates if he defends himself in his own fashion. which may or may not be good; but think only of thetruth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.

Socrates’ Death

Plato wrote in “The Apology, Phædo and Crito”: “When he had done speaking, Crito said: And have you any commands for us, Socrates--anything to say about your children, or any other matter in which we can serve you? Nothing particular, he said: only, as I have always told you, I would have you look to yourselves; that is a service which you may always be doing to me and mine as well as to yourselves. And you need not make professions; for if you take no thought for yourselves, and walk not according to the precepts which I have given you, not now for the first time, the warmth of your professions will be of no avail. [Source: Plato. (427?–347 B.C.). “ The Apology, Phædo and Crito,” translated by Benjamin Jowett, The Harvard Classics, 1909–14]

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

“When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into the bath chamber with Crito, who bade us wait; and we waited, talking and thinking of the subject of discourse, and also of the greatness of our sorrow; he was like a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass the rest of our lives as orphans. When he had taken the bath his children were brought to him--(he had two young He takes leave of sons and an elder one); and the women of his family also his family. came, and he talked to them and gave them a few directions in the presence of Crito; and he then dismissed them and returned to us. Now the hour of sunset was near, for a good deal of time had passed while he was within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his bath, but not much was said.

“Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered The humanity of the and stood by him, saying: To you, Socrates, whom I know jailer. to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison--indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are the guilty cause. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be; you know my errand. Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out. Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do as you bid. Then, turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he would talk to me, and was as good to me as could be, and now see how generously he sorrows for me. But we must do as he says, Crito; let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let the attendant prepare some.

“Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hilltops, and many Crito would detain a one has taken the draught late, and after the announcement Socrates a little has been made to him, he has eaten and drunk, and indulged while. in sensual delights; do not hasten then, there is still time. Socrates said: Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in doing thus, for they think that they will gain by the Socrates thinks that delay; but I am right in not doing thus, for I do not think that there is nothing to be I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; gained by delay. I should be sparing and saving a life which is already gone: I could only laugh at myself for this. Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.

“Crito, when he heard this, made a sign to the servant, and the servant went in, and remained for some time, and then returned with the jailer carrying a cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough. I understand, he said: yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this to that other world--may this, then, which is my prayer, be granted to me. Then holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept over myself, for certainly I was not weeping over him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a companion. Nor was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up and moved away, and I followed; and at that moment. Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out a loud cry which made cowards of us all.

“Socrates alone in retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not offend in this way, for I have heard that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience. When we heard that, we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard and asked him if he could feel; and he said, no; and then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said (they were his last words)--he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, and justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy /, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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