Socrates Quotes in Phaedrus
Phaedrus — if I don’t know Phaedrus, I’ve forgotten even who I am. But I do, and I haven’t; I know perfectly well that when he heard Lysias’ speech he did not hear it just once, but repeatedly asked him to go through it for him, and Lysias responded readily. But for Phaedrus not even that was enough, and in the end he borrowed the book and examined the things in it which he was most eager to look at, and doing this he sat from sun-up until he was tired and went for a walk […] knowing the speech quite off by heart, unless it was a rather long one. He was going outside the wall to practice it, when he met the very person who is sick with passion for hearing people speak — and […] he was glad, because he would have a companion in his manic frenzy, and he told him to lead on.
But, Phaedrus, while I think such explanations attractive in other respects, they belong in my view to an over-clever and laborious person who is not altogether fortunate; just because after that he must set the shape of the Centaurs to rights, and again that of the Chimaera, and a mob of such things […] if someone is skeptical about these, and tries with his boorish kind of wisdom to reduce each to what is likely, he’ll need a good deal of leisure. As for me, there’s no way I have leisure for it all, and the reason for it, my friend, is this. I am not yet capable of ‘knowing myself’, in accordance with the Delphic inscription; so it seems absurd to me that while I am still ignorant of this subject I should inquire into things which do not belong to me.
Yet how is it reasonable to give away such a thing to someone in so unfortunate a condition — one that no person with experience of it would even try to prevent? For the ones who suffer it agree themselves that they are sick rather than in their right mind, and that they know they are out of their mind but cannot control themselves; so how, when they come to their senses, could they approve of the decisions they make when in this condition? Moreover, if you were to choose the best one out of those in love with you, your choice would be only from a few, while if you chose the most suitable to yourself out of everybody else, you would be choosing from many; so that you would have a much greater expectation of chancing on the man worthy of your affection among the many.
In everything, my boy, there is one starting-point for those who are going to deliberate successfully: they must know what they are deliberating about, or they will inevitably miss their target altogether. Most people are unaware that they do not know what each thing really is. So then, assuming that they know what it is, they fail to reach agreement about it at the beginning of their enquiry, and, having gone forward on this basis, they pay the penalty one would expect: they agree neither with themselves nor with each other. So let us, you and I, avoid having happen to us what we find fault with in others: since the discussion before you and me is whether one should rather enter into friendship with lover or with non-lover, let us establish an agreed definition of love, about what sort of thing it is and what power it possesses, and look to this as our point of reference while we make our enquiry as to whether it brings help or harm.
When I was about to cross the river, my good man, I had that supernatural experience, the sign that I am accustomed to having — on each occasion, you understand, it holds me back from whatever I am about to do — and I seemed to hear a kind of voice from the very spot, forbidding me to leave until I make expiation, because I have committed an offence against what belongs to the gods. Well, I am a seer; not a very good one, but like people who are poor at reading and writing, just good enough for my own purposes; so I already clearly understand what my offence is. For the fact is, my friend, that the soul too is something which has divinatory powers; for something certainly troubled me some while ago as I was making the speech, and I had a certain feeling of unease, as Ibycus says (if I remember rightly), ‘that for offences against the gods, I win renown from all my fellow men’. But now I realize my offence.
[It is not true that] when a lover is there for the having, one should rather grant favors to the one not in love, on the grounds that the first is mad, while the second is sane. That would be rightly said if it were a simple truth that madness is a bad thing; but as it is, the greatest of goods come to us through madness, provided that it is bestowed by divine gift. The prophetess at Delphi, no less, and the priestesses at Dodona do many fine things for Greece when mad, both on a private and on a public level, whereas when sane they achieve little or nothing; and if we speak of the Sibyl and of others who by means of inspired prophecy foretell many things to many people and set them on the right track with respect to the future, we would spin the story out by saying things that are obvious to everyone.
About its form we must say the following: that what kind of thing it is belongs to a completely and utterly superhuman exposition, and a long one; to say what it resembles requires a lesser one, one within human capacities. So let us speak in the latter way. Let it then resemble the combined power of a winged team of horses and their charioteer. Now in the case of gods, horses and charioteers are all both good themselves and of good stock; whereas in the case of the rest, there is a mixture. In the first place, our driver has charge of a pair; secondly, one of them he finds noble and good, and of similar stock, while the other is of the opposite stock, and opposite in its nature; so that the driving in our case is necessarily difficult and troublesome.
This is the life of gods; of the other souls, the one that follows god best and has come to resemble him most raises the head of its charioteer into the region outside and is carried round with the revolution, meanwhile being disturbed by its horses and scarcely seeing the things that are; while another now rises, now sinks, and because of the force exerted by its horses sees some things but not others. The remaining souls follow after them, all straining to reach the place above but unable to do so, and are carried round together under the surface, trampling and jostling one another, each trying to get ahead of the next. So there ensues the greatest confusion among the sweating competitors, and in all of it, through their charioteers’ incompetence, many souls are maimed, and many have their wings all broken; all of them with great labor depart without achieving a sight of what is, and afterwards feed on what only appears to nourish them.
When the agreed time comes, and they pretend not to remember, it reminds them; struggling, neighing, pulling, it forces them to approach the beloved again to make the same proposition, and as soon as they are close to him, head down and tail outstretched, teeth clamped on its bit, it pulls shamelessly; but the same thing happens to the charioteer as before, only even more violently, as he falls back as if from a starting barrier; still more violently, he wrenches the bit back and forces it from the teeth of the horse of excess, spattering its evil-speaking tongue and its jaws with blood and, thrusting its legs and haunches to the ground […] When the bad horse has had the same thing happen to it repeatedly and it ceases from its excess, now humbled it allows the charioteer with his foresight to lead, and when it sees the boy in his beauty, it nearly dies of fright; and the result is that then the soul of the lover follows the beloved in reverence and awe.
And then, well, if the better elements of their minds get the upper hand by drawing them to a well-ordered life, and to philosophy, they pass their life here in blessedness and harmony, masters of themselves and orderly in their behavior, having enslaved that part through which badness attempted to enter the soul and having freed that part through which goodness enters; and when they die they become winged and light, and have won one of their three submissions in these, the true Olympic games - and neither human sanity nor divine madness has any greater good to offer a man than this. But if they live a coarser way of life, devoted not to wisdom but to honor, then perhaps, I suppose, when they are drinking or in some other moment of carelessness, the licentious horses in the two of them catch them off their guard, bring them together and make that choice which is called blessed by the many, and carry it through…
These are the blessings, my boy, so great as to be counted divine, that will come to you from the friendship of a lover, in the way I have described; whereas the acquaintance of the one not in love, which is diluted with a merely mortal good sense, dispensing miserly benefits of a mortal kind, engenders in the soul that is the object of its attachment a meanness that, though praised by the many as a virtue, will cause it to wallow mindlessly around the earth and under the earth for nine thousand years.
Socrates: Well then, for things that are going to be said well, and beautifully, mustn’t there be knowledge in the mind of the speaker of the truth about whatever he means to speak of?
Phaedrus: What I have heard about this, my dear Socrates, is that there is no necessity for the man who means to be an orator to understand what is really just but only what would appear so to the majority of those who will give judgement; and not what is really good or beautiful but whatever will appear so; because persuasion comes from that and not from the truth.
Socrates: …[I]t would be [ridiculous] when I tried in earnest to persuade you by putting together a speech in praise of the donkey, labelling it a horse and saying that the beast would be an invaluable acquisition both at home and on active service, useful to fight from and capable too of carrying baggage, and good for many other purposes.
Phaedrus: Then it would be thoroughly ridiculous.
Socrates: Well then, isn’t it better to be ridiculous and a friend than to be clever and an enemy? […] So when an expert in rhetoric who is ignorant of good and bad finds a city in the same condition and tries to persuade it, by making his eulogy not about a miserable donkey as if it were a horse but about what is bad as if it were good, and — having applied himself to what the masses think — actually persuades the city to do something bad instead of good, what sort of harvest do you think rhetoric reaps after that from the seed it sowed?
Socrates: Isn’t this sort of thing, at least, clear to anyone: that we’re of one mind about some things like this, and at odds about others? […] When someone utters the name of iron, or of silver, don’t we all have the same thing in mind?
Socrates: What about the names of just, or good? Doesn’t one of us go off in one direction, another in another, so that we disagree both with each other and with ourselves? […] So in which of the two cases are we easier to deceive, and in which does rhetoric have the greater power?
Phaedrus: Clearly in those cases where we go off in different directions.
Socrates: So the one who means to pursue a science of rhetoric must first have divided these up methodically and grasped some mark which distinguishes each of the two kinds, those in which most people are bound to tread uncertainly, and those in which they are not.
Now I am myself, Phaedrus, a lover of these divisions and collections, so that I may be able both to speak and to think; and if I find anyone else who I think has the natural capacity to look to one and to many, I pursue him ‘in his footsteps, behind him, as if he were a god’. And the name I give those who can do this - whether it’s the right one or not, god knows, but at any rate up till now I have called them ‘experts in dialectic’.
The method of the science of medicine is, I suppose, the same as that of the science of rhetoric. […] In both sciences it is necessary to determine the nature of something, in the one science the nature of body, in the other the nature of soul, if you are to proceed scientifically, and not merely by knack and experience, to produce health and strength in the one by applying medicines and diet to it, and to pass on to the other whatever conviction you wish, along with excellence, by applying words and practices in conformance with law and custom.
You, as the father of letters, have been led by your affection for them to describe them as having the opposite of their real effect. For your invention will produce forgetfulness in the souls of those who have learned it, through lack of practice at using their memory, as through reliance on writing they are reminded from outside by alien marks, not from within themselves by themselves. So you have discovered an elixir not of memory but of reminding. To your students you give an appearance of wisdom, not the reality of it; thanks to you, they will hear many things without being taught them, and will appear to know much when for the most part they know nothing, and they will be difficult to get along with because they have acquired the appearance of wisdom instead of wisdom itself.
Yes, Phaedrus, because I think writing has this strange feature, which makes it truly like painting. The offspring of painting stand there as if alive, but if you ask them something, they preserve a quite solemn silence. Similarly with written words: you might think that they spoke as if they had some thought in their heads, but if you ever ask them about any of the things they say out of a desire to learn, they point to just one thing, the same each time. And then once it is written, every composition trundles about everywhere in the same way, in the presence both of those who know about the subject and of those who have nothing at all to do with it, and it does not know how to address those it should address and not those it should not. When it is ill-treated and unjustly abused, it always needs its father to help it; for it is incapable of either defending or helping itself.
But I think it is far finer if one is in earnest about those subjects: when one makes use of the science of dialectic and, taking a fitting soul, plants and sows in it words accompanied by knowledge, which are sufficient to help themselves and the one who planted them, and are not without fruit but contain a seed from which others grow in other soils, capable of rendering that seed forever immortal, and making the one who has it as happy as it is possible for a man to be.
Until a person knows the truth about each of the things about which he speaks or writes, and becomes capable of defining the whole by itself, and, having defined it, knows how to cut it up again according to its forms until it can no longer be cut; and until he has reached an understanding of the nature of soul along the same lines, discovering the form of speech that fits each nature, and so arranges and orders what he says, offering a complex soul complex speeches containing all the modes, and simple speeches to a simple soul: not until then will he be capable of pursuing the making of speeches as a whole in a scientific way, to the degree that its nature allows, whether for the purposes of teaching or for those of persuading either, as the whole of our previous argument has indicated.