passages on speech and writing.
Based on the Jowett translation; updated by Martin Irvine, 1996]
Socrates My dear Phaedrus, whence come you, and whither are you going?
Phaedrus I come from Lysias the son of Cephalus, and I am going to
take a walk outside the wall, for I have been sitting with him the whole
morning; and our common friend Acumenus tells me that it is much more refreshing
to walk in the open air than to be shut up in a cloister.
Phaedrus My tale, Socrates, is one of your sort, for love was the theme which occupied us- -love after a fashion: Lysias has been writing about a fair youth who was being tempted, but not by a lover; and this was the point: he ingeniously proved that the non-lover should be accepted rather than the lover.
Socrates O that is noble of him! I wish that he would say the poor man rather than the rich, and the old man rather than the young one; then he would meet the case of me and of many a man; his words would be quite refreshing, and he would be a public benefactor. For my part, I do so long to hear his speech, that if you walk all the way to Megara, and when you have reached the wall come back, as Herodicus recommends, without going in, I will keep you company.
Phaedrus What do you mean, my good Socrates? How can you imagine that my unpractised memory can do justice to an elaborate work, which the greatest rhetorician of the age spent a long time in composing. Indeed, I cannot; I would give a great deal if I could.
Socrates I believe that I know Phaedrus about as well as I know myself, and I am very sure that the speech of Lysias was repeated to him, not once only, but again and again;--he insisted on hearing it many times over and Lysias was very willing to gratify him; at last, when nothing else would do, he got hold of the book, and looked at what he most wanted to see,--this occupied him during the whole morning; --and then when he was tired with sitting, he went out to take a walk, not until, by the dog, as I believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire discourse, unless it was unusually long, and he went to a place outside the wall that he might practise his lesson. There he saw a certain lover of discourse who had a similar weakness;--he saw and rejoiced; now thought he, "I shall have a partner in my revels." And he invited him to come and walk with him. But when the lover of discourse begged that he would repeat the tale, he gave himself airs and said, "No I cannot," as if he were indisposed; although, if the hearer had refused, he would sooner or later have been compelled by him to listen whether he would or no. Therefore, Phaedrus, bid him do at once what he will soon do whether bidden or not.
Phaedrus I see that you will not let me off until I speak in some fashion or other; verily therefore my best plan is to speak as I best can.
Socrates A very true remark, that of yours.
Phaedrus I will do as I say; but believe me, Socrates, I did not learn the very words--O no; nevertheless I have a general notion of what he said, and will give you a summary of the points in which the lover differed from the non-lover. Let me begin at the beginning.
Socrates Yes, my sweet one; but you must first of all show what you have in your left hand under your cloak, for that roll, as I suspect, is the actual discourse. Now, much as I love you, I would not have you suppose that I am going to have your memory exercised at my expense, if you have Lysias himself here.
Phaedrus Enough; I see that I have no hope of practising my art upon you. But if I am to read, where would you please to sit?
Socrates Let us turn aside and go by the Ilissus; we will sit down at some quiet spot.
Socrates The perfection which is required of the finished orator is, or rather must be, like the perfection of anything else; partly given by nature, but may also be assisted by art. If you have the natural power and add to it knowledge and practice, you will be a distinguished speaker; if you fall short in either of these, you will be to that extent defective. But the art, as far as there is an art, of rhetoric does not lie in the direction of Lysias or Thrasymachus.
Phaedrus In what direction then?
Socrates I conceive Pericles to have been the most accomplished of rhetoricians.
Phaedrus What of that?
Socrates All the great arts require discussion and high speculation about the truths of nature; hence come loftiness of thought and completeness of execution. And this, as I conceive, was the quality which, in addition to his natural gifts, Pericles acquired from his intercourse with Anaxagoras whom he happened to know. He was thus imbued with the higher philosophy, and attained the knowledge of Mind and the negative of Mind, which were favourite themes of Anaxagoras, and applied what suited his purpose to the art of speaking.
Socrates Rhetoric is like medicine.
Phaedrus How so?
Socrates Why, because medicine has to define the nature of the body
and rhetoric of the soul--if we would proceed, not empirically but
scientifically, in the one case to impart health and strength by giving medicine
and food in the other to implant the conviction or virtue which you desire, by
the right application of words and training.
Socrates Yes, that is the true and only way in which any subject can be set forth or treated by rules of art, whether in speaking or writing. But the writers of the present day, at whose feet you have sat, craftily, conceal the nature of the soul which they know quite well. Nor, until they adopt our method of reading and writing, can we admit that they write by rules of art?
Phaedrus What is our method?
Socrates I cannot give you the exact details; but I should like to tell you generally, as far as is in my power, how a man ought to proceed according to rules of art.
Phaedrus Let me hear.
Socrates Rhetoric is the art of enchanting the soul, and therefore he who would be an orator has to learn the differences of human souls--they are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences between man and man. Having proceeded thus far in his analysis, he will next divide speeches into their different classes:-"Such and such persons," he will say, are affected by this or that kind of speech in this or that way," and he will tell you why. The pupil must have a good theoretical notion of them first, and then he must have experience of them in actual life, and be able to follow them with all his senses about him, or he will never get beyond the precepts of his masters. But when he understands what persons are persuaded by what arguments, and sees the person about whom he was speaking in the abstract actually before him, and knows that it is he, and can say to himself, "This is the man or this is the character who ought to have a certain argument applied to him in order to convince him of a certain opinion"; -he who knows all this, and knows also when he should speak and when he should refrain, and when he should use pithy sayings, pathetic appeals, sensational effects, and all the other modes of speech which he has learned;-when, I say, he knows the times and seasons of all these things, then, and not till then, he is a perfect master of his art; but if he fail in any of these points, whether in speaking or teaching or writing them, and yet declares that he speaks by rules of art, he who says "I donít believe you" has the better of him. Well, the teacher will say, is this, and Socrates, your account of the so-called art of rhetoric, or am I to look for another?
Phaedrus He must take this, Socrates for there is no possibility of
another, and yet the creation of such an art is not easy.
Socrates Enough appears to have been said by us of a true and false art of speaking.
Socrates But there is something yet to be said of propriety and
impropriety of writing.
Socrates At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis is sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters [grammata=writing]. Now in those days the god Thamus was the king of the whole country of Egypt; and he dwelt in that great city of Upper Egypt which the Hellenes call Egyptian Thebes, and the god himself is called by them Ammon. Theuth came to him and showed his inventions [technas, "arts"], desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them. Thamus enquired about their several uses, and as Theuth enumerated them, Thamus praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them.
It would take a long time to repeat all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise
or blame of the various arts [technai]. But when they came to letters [grammata
], Theuth said, "This invention, O King, will make the Egyptians wiser and give
them better memories; I have discovered a remedy [pharmakon: potion,
medicine, drug] both for the memory and for wisdom." Thamus replied: "O most
ingenious [technikotate ] Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not
always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the
users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a
paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a power
opposite to that which they in fact possess. For this discovery of yours will
create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it; they will not
exercise their memories, but, trusting in external, foreign marks [graphes],
they will not bring things to remembrance from within themselves. You have
discovered a remedy [pharmakon ] not for memory, but for reminding. You
offer your students the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom. They will be
hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be
omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company,
having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Socrates I cannot help feeling, Phaedrus, that writing is unfortunately like painting; for the creations of the painter have the attitude of life, and yet if you ask them a question they preserve a solemn silence. And the same may be said of (written) discourses [logoi]. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them, they always give one unvarying answer. And when they have been once written down they are tumbled about anywhere among those who may or may not understand them, and do not know to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they have no parent to protect them, and they cannot protect or defend themselves.
Phaedrus That again is most true.
Socrates Is there not another kind of word or speech far better than this, which shows itself to be the legitimate brother of this bastard one, both in the manner of its birth and in its better and more powerful nature?
Phaedrus Whom do you mean, and what is his origin?
Socrates I mean an intelligent word written [graphetai] in the soul of the learner, which can defend itself, and knows when to speak and when to be silent.
Phaedrus You mean the living word of knowledge which has a soul, and of which written word is properly no more than an image?
Socrates Yes, of course that is what I mean. And now may I be allowed to ask you a question: Would a farmer, who is a man of sense, take the seeds, which he values and which he wishes to bear fruit, and in sober seriousness plant them during the heat of summer, in some garden of Adonis, that he may rejoice when he sees them in eight days appearing in beauty? at least he would do so, if at all, only for the sake of amusement and pastime. But when he is in earnest he sows in fitting soil, and practises cultivation, and is satisfied if in eight months the seeds which he has sown arrive at perfection?
Phaedrus Yes, Socrates, that will be his way when he is in earnest; he will do the other, as you say, only in play.
Socrates And can we suppose that he who knows the just and good and honourable has less understanding, than the farmer, about his own seeds?
Phaedrus Certainly not.
Socrates Then he will not seriously decide to write his thoughts with pen and ink, sowing words which can neither speak for themselves nor teach the truth adequately to others?
Phaedrus No, that is not likely.
Socrates No, that is not likely-in the garden of letters he will sow and plant, but only for the sake of recreation and amusement; he will write them down as memorials to be treasured against the forgetfulness of old age, by himself, or by any other old man who is treading the same path. He will rejoice in beholding their tender growth; and while others are refreshing their souls with banqueting and the like, this will be the pastime in which his days are spent.
Phaedrus A pastime, Socrates, as noble as the other is ignoble, the pastime of a man who can be amused by serious talk, and can discourse merrily about justice and the like.
Socrates True, Phaedrus. But nobler far is the serious pursuit of the dialectician, who, finding a congenial soul, by the help of science sows and plants therein words which are able to help themselves and him who planted them, and are not unfruitful, but have in them a seed which others brought up in different soils render im