INTRODUCTION TO THE
by Benjamin Jowett
In the Meno, Anytus had parted from Socrates with the significant words: 'That in any city, and particularly in the city of Athens, it is easier to do men harm than to do them good;' and Socrates was anticipating another opportunity of talking with him. In the Euthyphro, Socrates is awaiting his trial for impiety. But before the trial begins, Plato would like to put the world on their trial, and convince them of ignorance in that very matter touching which Socrates is accused. An incident which may perhaps really have occurred in the family of Euthyphro, a learned Athenian diviner and soothsayer, furnishes the occasion of the discussion.
This Euthyphro and Socrates are represented as meeting in the porch of the King Archon. Both have legal business in hand. Socrates is defendant in a suit for impiety which Meletus has brought against him (it is remarked by the way that he is not a likely man himself to have brought a suit against another); and Euthyphro too is plaintiff in an action for murder, which he has brought against his own father. The latter has originated in the following manner:--A poor dependant of the family had slain one of their domestic slaves in Naxos. The guilty person was bound and thrown into a ditch by the command of Euthyphro's father, who sent to the interpreters of religion at Athens to ask what should be done with him. Before the messenger came back the criminal had died from hunger and exposure.
This is the origin of the charge of murder which Euthyphro brings against his father. Socrates is confident that before he could have undertaken the responsibility of such a prosecution, he must have been perfectly informed of the nature of piety and impiety; and as he is going to be tried for impiety himself, he thinks that he cannot do better than learn of Euthyphro (who will be admitted by everybody, including the judges, to be an unimpeachable authority) what piety is, and what is impiety. What then is piety?
Euthyphro, who, in the abundance of his knowledge, is very willing to undertake all the responsibility, replies: That piety is doing as I do, prosecuting your father (if he is guilty) on a charge of murder; doing as the gods do--as Zeus did to Cronos, and Cronos to Uranus.
Socrates has a dislike to these tales of mythology, and he fancies that this dislike of his may be the reason why he is charged with impiety. 'Are they really true?' 'Yes, they are;' and Euthyphro will gladly tell Socrates some more of them. But Socrates would like first of all to have a more satisfactory answer to the question, 'What is piety?' 'Doing as I do, charging a father with murder,' may be a single instance of piety, but can hardly be regarded as a general definition.
Euthyphro replies, that 'Piety is what is dear to the gods, and impiety is what is not dear to them.' But may there not be differences of opinion, as among men, so also among the gods? Especially, about good and evil, which have no fixed rule; and these are precisely the sort of differences which give rise to quarrels. And therefore what may be dear to one god may not be dear to another, and the same action may be both pious and impious; e.g. your chastisement of your father, Euthyphro, may be dear or pleasing to Zeus (who inflicted a similar chastisement on his own father), but not equally pleasing to Cronos or Uranus (who suffered at the hands of their sons).
Euthyphro answers that there is no difference of opinion, either among gods or men, as to the propriety of punishing a murderer. Yes, rejoins Socrates, when they know him to be a murderer; but you are assuming the point at issue. If all the circumstances of the case are considered, are you able to show that your father was guilty of murder, or that all the gods are agreed in approving of our prosecution of him? And must you not allow that what is hated by one god may be liked by another? Waiving this last, however, Socrates proposes to amend the definition, and say that 'what all the gods love is pious, and what they all hate is impious.' To this Euthyphro agrees.
Socrates proceeds to analyze the new form of the definition. He shows that in other cases the act precedes the state; e.g. the act of being carried, loved, etc. precedes the state of being carried, loved, etc., and therefore that which is dear to the gods is dear to the gods because it is first loved of them, not loved of them because it is dear to them. But the pious or holy is loved by the gods because it is pious or holy, which is equivalent to saying, that it is loved by them because it is dear to them. Here then appears to be a contradiction,--Euthyphro has been giving an attribute or accident of piety only, and not the essence. Euthyphro acknowledges himself that his explanations seem to walk away or go round in a circle, like the moving figures of Daedalus, the ancestor of Socrates, who has communicated his art to his descendants.
Socrates, who is desirous of stimulating the indolent
Euthyphro, raises the question in another manner: 'Is all the pious
'Yes.' 'Is all the just pious?' 'No.' 'Then what part of justice
piety?' Euthyphro replies that piety is that part of justice which
to the gods, as there is another part of justice which 'attends' to
But what is the meaning of 'attending' to the gods? The word
when applied to dogs, horses, and men, implies that in some way they
made better. But how do pious or holy acts make the gods any better?
explains that he means by pious acts, acts of service or ministration.
Yes; but the ministrations of the husbandman, the physician, and the
have an end. To what end do we serve the gods, and what do we help them
to accomplish? Euthyphro replies, that all these difficult questions
be resolved in a short time; and he would rather say simply that piety
is knowing how to please the gods in word and deed, by prayers and
In other words, says Socrates, piety is 'a science of asking and
what we want and giving what they want; in short, a mode of doing
between gods and men. But although they are the givers of all good, how
can we give them any good in return? 'Nay, but we give them honour.'
we give them not what is beneficial, but what is pleasing or dear to
and this is the point which has been already disproved.Socrates,
weary of the subterfuges and evasions of Euthyphro, remains unshaken in
his conviction that he must know the nature of piety, or he would never
have prosecuted his old father. He is still hoping that he will
to instruct him. But Euthyphro is in a hurry and cannot stay. And
last hope of knowing the nature of piety before he is prosecuted for
has disappeared. As in the Euthydemus the irony is carried on
In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence of Socrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in tone and character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the Memorabilia that Socrates might have been acquitted 'if in any moderate degree he would have conciliated the favour of the dicasts;' and who informs us in another passage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the friend of Socrates, that he had no wish to live; and that the divine sign refused to allow him to prepare a defence, and also that Socrates himself declared this to be unnecessary, on the ground that all his life long he had been preparing against that hour. For the speech breathes throughout a spirit of defiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister aut dominus videretur esse judicum'); and the loose and desultory style is an imitation of the 'accustomed manner' in which Socrates spoke in 'the agora and among the tables of the money-changers.' The allusion in the Crito may, perhaps, be adduced as a further evidence of the literal accuracy of some parts. But in the main it must be regarded as the ideal of Socrates, according to Plato's conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public scene of his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yet his mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a new meaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts of his life are summed up, and the features of his character are brought out as if by accident in the course of the defence. The conversational manner, the seeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity,are found to result in a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of Socrates.
Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and the recollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his disciple. The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those speeches of Thucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the lofty character and policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same time furnish a commentary on the situation of affairs from the point of view of the historian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a literal truth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato's view of the situation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts; he does not appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal accuracy. He is not therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia and Symposium of Xenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of writers. The Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said, but an elaborate composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the Dialogues. And we may perhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual defence of Socrates was as much greater than the Platonic defence as the master was greater than the disciple. But in any case, some of the words used by him must have been remembered, and some of the facts recorded must have actually occurred. It is significant that Plato is said to have been present at the defence, as he is also said to have been absent at the last scene in the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose that he meant to give the stamp of authenticity to the one and not to the other?--especially when we consider that these two passages are the only ones in which Plato makes mention of himself. The circumstance that Plato was to be one of his sureties for the payment of the fine which he proposed has the appearance of truth. More suspicious is the statement that Socrates received the first impulse to his favourite calling of cross-examining the world from the Oracle of Delphi; for he must already have been famous before Chaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell), and the story is of a kind which is very likely to have been invented. On the whole we arrive at the conclusion that the Apology is true to the character of Socrates, but we cannot show that any single sentence in it was actually spoken by him. It breathes the spirit of Socrates, but has been cast anew in the mould of Plato.
There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with the Apology. The same recollection of his master may have been present to the mind of Plato when depicting the sufferings of the Just in the Republic. The Crito may also be regarded as a sort of appendage to the Apology, in which Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless represented as scrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization of the sufferer is carried still further in the Gorgias, in which the thesis is maintained, that 'to suffer is better than to do evil;' and the art of rhetoric is described as only useful for the purpose of self-accusation. The parallelisms which occur in the so-called Apology of Xenophon are not worth noticing, because the writing in which they are contained is manifestly spurious. The statements of the Memorabilia respecting the trial and death of Socrates agree generally with Plato; but they have lost the flavour of Socratic irony in the narrative of Xenophon.
The Apology or Platonic defence of Socrates is divided into three parts: 1st.The defence properly so called; 2nd. The shorter address in mitigation of the penalty; 3rd. The last words of prophetic rebuke and exhortation.
II. Part One: Main Defense Speech
The first part commences with an apology for his colloquial style; he is, as he has always been, the enemy of rhetoric, and knows of no rhetoric but truth; he will not falsify his character by making a speech. Then he proceeds to divide his accusers into two classes; first, there is the nameless accuser--public opinion. All the world from their earliest years had heard that he was a corrupter of youth, and had seen him caricatured in the Clouds of Aristophanes. Secondly, there are the professed accusers, who are but the mouth-piece of the others. The accusations of both might be summed up in a formula. The first say, 'Socrates is an evil-doer and a curious person, searching into things under the earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the better cause, and teaching all this to others.' The second, 'Socrates is an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth, who does not receive the gods whom the state receives, but introduces other new divinities.' These last words appear to have been the actual indictment (compare Xen. Mem.); and the previous formula, which is a summary of public opinion, assumes the same legal style.
The answer begins by clearing up a confusion. In the representations of the Comic poets, and in the opinion of the multitude, he had been identified with the teachers of physical science and with the Sophists. But this was an error. For both of them he professes a respect in the open court, which contrasts with his manner of speaking about them in other places. (Compare for Anaxagoras, Phaedo, Laws; for the Sophists, Meno, Republic, Tim., Theaet., Soph., etc.) But at the same time he shows that he is not one of them. Of natural philosophy he knows nothing; not that he despises such pursuits, but the fact is that he is ignorant of them, and never says a word about them. Nor is he paid for giving instruction--that is another mistaken notion:--he has nothing to teach. But he commends Evenus for teaching virtue at such a 'moderate' rate as five minae. Something of the 'accustomed irony,' which may perhaps be expected to sleep in the ear of the multitude, is lurking here.
He then goes on to explain the reason why he is in such an evil name. That had arisen out of a peculiar mission which he had taken upon himself. The enthusiastic Chaerephon (probably in anticipation of the answer which he received) had gone to Delphi and asked the oracle if there was any man wiser than Socrates; and the answer was, that there was no man wiser. What could be the meaning of this--that he who knew nothing, and knew that he knew nothing, should be declared by the oracle to be the wisest of men? Reflecting upon the answer, he determined to refute it by finding 'a wiser;' and first he went to the politicians, and then to the poets, and then to the craftsmen, but always with the same result--he found that they knew nothing, or hardly anything more than himself; and that the little advantage which in some cases they possessed was more than counter-balanced by their conceit of knowledge. He knew nothing, and knew that he knew nothing: they knew little or nothing, and imagined that they knew all things. Thus he had passed his life as a sort of missionary in detecting the pretended wisdom of mankind; and this occupation had quite absorbed him and taken him away both from public and private affairs. Young men of the richer sort had made a pastime of the same pursuit, 'which was not unamusing.' And hence bitter enmities had arisen; the professors of knowledge had revenged themselves by calling him a villainous corrupter of youth, and by repeating the commonplaces about atheism and materialism and sophistry, which are the stock-accusations against all philosophers when there is nothing else to be said of them.
The second accusation he meets by interrogating Meletus, who is present and can be interrogated. 'If he is the corrupter, who is the improver of the citizens?' (Compare Meno.) 'All men everywhere.' But how absurd, how contrary to analogy is this! How inconceivable too, that he should make the citizens worse when he has to live with them. This surely cannot be intentional; and if unintentional, he ought to have been instructed by Meletus, and not accused in the court.
But there is another part of the indictment which says that he teaches men not to receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new gods. 'Is that the way in which he is supposed to corrupt the youth?' 'Yes, it is.' 'Has he only new gods, or none at all?' 'None at all.' 'What, not even the sun and moon?' 'No; why, he says that the sun is a stone, and the moon earth.' That, replies Socrates, is the old confusion about Anaxagoras; the Athenian people are not so ignorant as to attribute to the influence of Socrates notions which have found their way into the drama, and may be learned at the theatre. Socrates undertakes to show that Meletus (rather unjustifiably) has been compounding a riddle in this part of the indictment: 'There are no gods, but Socrates believes in the existence of the sons of gods, which is absurd.'
Leaving Meletus, who has had enough words spent upon him, he returns to the original accusation. The question may be asked, Why will he persist in following a profession which leads him to death? Why?--because he must remain at his post where the god has placed him, as he remained at Potidaea, and Amphipolis, and Delium, where the generals placed him. Besides, he is not so overwise as to imagine that he knows whether death is a good or an evil; and he is certain that desertion of his duty is an evil. Anytus is quite right in saying that they should never have indicted him if they meant to let him go. For he will certainly obey God rather than man; and will continue to preach to all men of all ages the necessity of virtue and improvement; and if they refuse to listen to him he will still persevere and reprove them. This is his way of corrupting the youth, which he will not cease to follow in obedience to the god, even if a thousand deaths await him.
He is desirous that they should let him live--not for his own sake, but for theirs; because he is their heaven-sent friend (and they will never have such another), or, as he may be ludicrously described, he is the gadfly who stirs the generous steed into motion. Why then has he never taken part in public affairs? Because the familiar divine voice has hindered him; if he had been a public man, and had fought for the right, as he would certainly have fought against the many, he would not have lived, and could therefore have done no good. Twice in public matters he has risked his life for the sake of justice--once at the trial of the generals; and again in resistance to the tyrannical commands of the Thirty.
But, though not a public man, he has passed his days in instructing the citizens without fee or reward--this was his mission. Whether his disciples have turned out well or ill, he cannot justly be charged with the result, for he never promised to teach them anything. They might come if they liked, and they might stay away if they liked: and they did come, because they found an amusement in hearing the pretenders to wisdom detected. If they have been corrupted, their elder relatives (if not themselves) might surely come into court and witness against him, and there is an opportunity still for them to appear. But their fathers and brothers all appear in court (including 'this' Plato), to witness on his behalf; and if their relatives are corrupted, at least they are uncorrupted; 'and they are my witnesses. For they know that I am speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.'
This is about all that he has to say. He will not entreat the judges to spare his life; neither will he present a spectacle of weeping children, although he, too, is not made of 'rock or oak.' Some of the judges themselves may have complied with this practice on similar occasions, and he trusts that they will not be angry with him for not following their example. But he feels that such conduct brings discredit on the name of Athens: he feels too, that the judge has sworn not to give away justice; and he cannot be guilty of the impiety of asking the judge to break his oath, when he is himself being tried for impiety.
III. Part Two: Proposal of Counter-Penalty
As he expected, and probably intended, he is convicted. And
tone of the speech, instead of being more conciliatory, becomes more
and commanding. Anytus proposes death as the penalty: and what
shall he make? He, the benefactor of the Athenian people, whose whole
has been spent in doing them good, should at least have the Olympic
IV. Part Three: Socrates' Final Address
(He is condemned to death.) He is an old man already, and the Athenians will gain nothing but disgrace by depriving him of a few years of life. Perhaps he could have escaped, if he had chosen to throw down his arms and entreat for his life. But he does not at all repent of the manner of his defence; he would rather die in his own fashion than live in theirs. For the penalty of unrighteousness is swifter than death; that penalty has already overtaken his accusers as death will soon overtake him.
And now, as one who is about to die, he will prophesy to them. They have put him to death in order to escape the necessity of giving an account of their lives. But his death 'will be the seed' of many disciples who will convince them of their evil ways, and will come forth to reprove them in harsher terms, because they are younger and more inconsiderate.
He would like to say a few words, while there is time, to those who would have acquitted him. He wishes them to know that the divine sign never interrupted him in the course of his defence; the reason of which, as he conjectures, is that the death to which he is going is a good and not an evil. For either death is a long sleep, the best of sleeps, or a journey to another world in which the souls of the dead are gathered together, and in which there may be a hope of seeing the heroes of old--in which, too, there are just judges; and as all are immortal, there can be no fear of any one suffering death for his opinions.
Nothing evil can happen to the good man either in life or death, and his own death has been permitted by the gods, because it was better for him to depart; and therefore he forgives his judges because they have done him no harm, although they never meant to do him any good.
He has a last request to make to them--that they will trouble
as he has troubled them, if they appear to prefer riches to virtue, or
to think themselves something when they are nothing.
THE CRITO seems intended to exhibit the character of Socrates in one light only, not as the philosopher, fulfilling a divine mission and trusting in the will of Heaven, but simply as the good citizen, who having been unjustly condemned is willing to give up his life in obedience to the laws of the State.
The days of Socrates are drawing to a close; the fatal ship has been seen off Sunium, as he is informed by his aged friend and contemporary Crito, who visits him before the dawn has broken; he himself has been warned in a dream that on the third day he must depart. Time is precious and Crito has come early in order to gain his consent to a plan of escape. This can be easily accomplished by his friends, who will incur no danger in making the attempt to save him, but will be disgraced forever if they allow him to perish. He should think of his duty to his children, and not play into the hands of his enemies. Money is already provided by Crito as well as by Simmias and others, and he will have no difficulty in finding friends in Thessaly and other places.
Socrates is afraid that Crito is but pressing upon him the opinions of the many: whereas, all his life long he has followed the dictates of reason only and the opinion of the one wise or skilled man. There was a time when Crito himself had allowed the propriety of this. And although someone will say "The many can kill us," that makes no difference; but a good life, that is to say a just and honorable life, is alone to be valued. All considerations of loss of reputation or injury to his children should be dismissed: the only question is whether he would be right in attempting to escape. Crito, who is a disinterested person, not having the fear of death before his eyes, shall answer this for him. Before he was condemned they had often held discussions, in which they agreed that no man should either do evil, or return evil for evil, or betray the right. Are these principles to be altered because the circumstances of Socrates are altered? Crito admits that they remain the same. Then is his escape consistent with the maintenance of them? To this Crito is unable or unwilling to reply.
Socrates proceeds: Suppose the laws of Athens to come and
with him: they will ask, "Why does he seek to
overturn them?" and if he replies, "They have injured him," will not
the laws answer, "Yes, but was that the agreement? Has he
any objection to make to them which would justify him in overturning
them? Was he not brought into the world and educated
by their help, and are they not his parents? He might have left Athens
and gone where he pleased, but he has lived there for
seventy years more constantly than any other citizen." Thus he has
clearly shown that he acknowledged the agreement which he cannot now
without dishonor to himself and danger to his friends. Even in the
of the trial he might have proposed exile as the penalty, but then he
that he preferred death to exile. And whither will he direct his
In any well-ordered State the laws will consider him as an enemy.
in a land of misrule like Thessaly he may be welcomed at first, and the
unseemly narrative of his escape regarded by the inhabitants as an
tale. But if he offends them he will have to learn another sort of
Will he continue to give lectures in virtue? That would hardly be
And how will his
Finally, they exhort him to think of justice first, and of life and children afterwards. He may now depart in peace and innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil. But if he breaks agreements, and returns evil for evil, they will be angry with him while he lives; and their brethren, the laws of the world below, will receive him as an enemy. Such is the mystic voice which is always murmuring in his ears.
That Socrates was not a good citizen was a charge made against him during his lifetime, which has been often repeated in later ages. The crimes of Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides, who had been his pupils, were still recent in the memory of the now restored democracy. The fact that he had been neutral in the death struggle of Athens was not likely to conciliate popular good-will. Plato, writing probably in the next generation, undertakes the defence of his friend and master in this particular, not to the Athenians of his day, but to posterity and the world at large.
Whether such an incident ever really occurred as the visit of Crito and the proposal of escape is uncertain: Plato could easily have invented far more than that; and in the selection of Crito, the aged friend, as the fittest person to make the proposal to Socrates, we seem to recognize the hand of the artist. Whether anyone who has been subjected by the laws of his country to an unjust judgment is right in attempting to escape is a thesis about which casuists might disagree. Shelley is of the opinion that Socrates "did well to die," but not for the "sophistical" reasons which Plato has put into his mouth. And there would be no difficulty in arguing that Socrates should have lived and preferred to a glorious death the good which he might still be able to perform. "A skilful rhetorician would have had much to say about that" (50 C). It may be remarked, however, that Plato never intended to answer the question of casuistry, but only to exhibit the ideal of patient virtue which refuses to do the least evil in order to avoid the greatest, and to show Socrates, his master, maintaining in death the opinions which he had professed in his life. Not "the world," but the "one wise man," is still the philosopher's paradox in his last hours.
After an interval of some months or years, at Phlius a town of Sicyon, the tale of the last hours of Socrates is narrated to Echecrates and other Phliasians by Phaedo the "beloved disciple." The Dialogue necessarily takes the form of a narrative, because Socrates has to be described acting as well as speaking. The minutest particulars of the event are interesting to distant friends, and the narrator has an equal interest in them.
During the voyage of the sacred ship to and from Delos, which has occupied thirty days, the execution of Socrates has been deferred. (Cp. Xen. Mem. iv. 8, 2.) The time has been passed by him in conversation with a select company of disciples. But now the holy season is over, and the disciples meet earlier than usual in order that they may converse with Socrates for the last time. Those who were present, and those who might have been expected to be present, are specially mentioned. There are Simmias and Cebes (Crito 45b), two disciples of Philolaus whom Socrates "by his enchantments has attracted from Thebes" (Mem. iii. 11, 17), Crito the aged friend, the attendant of the prison, who is as good as a friend, -- these take part in the conversation. There are present also, Hermogenes, from whom Xenophon derived his information about the trial of Socrates (Mem. iv. 8, 4); the "madman" Apollodorus (Symp.173d); Euclid and Terpsion from Megara (cp. Theaet. sub init); Ctesippus, Antisthenes, Menexenus, and some other less-known members of the Socratic circle, all of whom are silent auditors. Aristippus and Plato are noted as absent. Soon the wife and children of Socrates are sent away, under the direction of Crito; he himself has just been released from chains, and is led by this circumstance to make the natural remark that "Pleasure follows pain." (Observe that Plato is preparing the way for his doctrine of the alternation of opposites.) "Aesop would have represented them in a fable as a two-headed creature of the gods." The mention of Aesop reminds Cebes of a question which had been asked by Evenus the poet (cp. Apol. 20a): "Why Socrates, who was not a poet, while in prison had been putting Aesop into verse?" "Because several times in his life he had been warned in dreams that he should make music; and as he was about to die and was not certain what was the meaning of this, he wished to fulfill the admonition in the letter as well as in the sprit, by writing verses as well as by cultivating philosophy. Tell Evenus this and bid him follow me in death." "He is not the sort of man to do that, Socrates." "Why, is he not a philosopher?" "Yes." "Then he will be willing to die, although he will not take his own life, for that is held not to be right."
Cebes asks why men say that suicide is not right, if death is to be accounted a good? Well, (1) according to one explanation, because man is a prisoner, and is not allowed to open the door of his prison and run away -- this is the truth in a "mystery." Or rather, perhaps, (2) because man is not his own property, but a possession of the gods, and he has no right to make away with that which does not belong to him. But why, asks Cebes, if he is a possession of the gods, will he wish to die and leave them? for he is under their protection; and surely he cannot take better care of himself than they take of him. Simmias explains that Cebes is really referring to Socrates, whom they think too unmoved at the prospect of leaving the gods and his friends. Socrates answers that he is going to other gods who are wise and good, and perhaps to better friends; and he professes that he is ready to defend himself against the charge of Cebes. They shall be his judges, and he hopes that he will be more successful in convincing them than he had been in convincing the court.
The philosopher desires death -- which the wicked world will insinuate that he also deserves: and perhaps he does, but not in any sense which they are capable of understanding. Enough of them: the real question is, What is the nature of that death which he desires? Death is the separation of soul and body -- and the philosopher desires such a separation. He would like to be freed from the dominion of bodily pleasures and of the senses, which are always perturbing his mental vision. He wants to get rid of eyes and ears, and with the light of the mind only to behold the light of truth. All the evils and impurities and necessities of men come from the body. And death separates him from these evils, which in this life he cannot wholly cast aside. Why then should he repine when the hour of separation arrives? Why, if he is dead while he lives, should he fear that other death, through which alone he can behold wisdom in her purity?
Besides, the philosopher has notions of good and evil unlike those of other men. For they are courageous because they are afraid of greater dangers, and temperate because they desire greater pleasures. But he disdains this balancing of pleasures and pains; he knows no virtue but that which is the companion of wisdom. All the virtues, including wisdom, are regarded by him only as purifications of the soul. And this was the meaning of the founders of the mysteries when they said, "Many are the wand-bearers, but few are the mystics." (Cp. Matt. xxii. 14: "Many are called, but few are chosen.") And in the hope that he is one of these mystics, Socrates is now departing. This is his answer to those who charge him with indifference at the prospect of leaving the gods and his friends.
Still, a fear is expressed that the soul, upon leaving the body, may vanish away like smoke or air. Socrates in answer appeals first of all to the old Orphic tradition that the souls of the dead are in the world below, and that the living come from them. This he attempts to found on a philosophical assumption that all opposites -- e.g. less, greater; weaker, stronger; sleeping, waking; life, death -- are generated out of each other. Nor can this process of generation be only a passage from living to dying, for then all would end in death. The perpetual sleeper (Endymion) would be no longer distinguished, for all the world would sink in rest. The circle of nature is not complete unless the living come from the dead as well as pass to them.
The favorite Platonic doctrine of reminiscence is then adduced as a confirmation of the pre-existence of the soul. Some proofs of this doctrine are demanded. One proof given is the same as that of the Meno (82a foll.), and is derived from the latent knowledge of mathematics, which may be elicited from an unlearned person when a diagram is presented to him. Again, there is a power of association, which from seeing Simmias may remember Cebes, or from seeing a picture of Simmias may remember Simmias. The lyre may recall the player of the lyre, and equal pieces of wood or stone may be associated with the higher notion of absolute equality. But here observe that material equalities fall short of the conception of absolute equality with which they are compared, and which is the measure of them. And the measure or standard must be prior to that which is measured, the idea of equality prior to the visible equals. And if prior to them, then prior also to the perceptions of the senses which recall them, and therefore either given before birth or at birth. But all men have not this knowledge, nor have any without a process of reminiscence; and this is a proof that it is not innate or given at birth (unless indeed it was given and taken away at the same instant, which is absurd). But if not given to men in birth, it must have been given before birth -- this is the only alternative which remains. And if we had ideas in a former state, then our souls must have existed and must have had intelligence in a former state. The pre-existence of the soul stands or falls with the doctrine of ideas.
It is objected by Simmias and Cebes that these arguments only prove a former and not a future existence. Socrates answers this objection by recalling the previous argument, in which he had shown that the living had come from the dead. But the fear that the soul at departing may vanish into air (especially if there is a wind blowing at the time) has not yet been charmed away. He proceeds: When we fear that the soul will vanish away, let us ask ourselves what is that we suppose to be liable to dissolution? Is it the simple or the compound, the unchanging or the changing, the invisible idea or the visible object of sense? Clearly the latter and not the former; and therefore not the soul, which in her own pure thought is unchangeable, and only when using the senses descends into the region of change. Again, the soul commands, the body serves: in this respect too the soul is akin to the divine, and the body to the mortal. And in every point of view the soul is the image of divinity and immortality, and the body of the human and mortal. And whereas the body is liable to speedy dissolution, the soul is almost if not quite indissoluble. (Cp. Tim. 41a.) Yet even the body may be preserved for ages by the embalmer's art; how much more the soul returning into herself on her way to the good and wise God! She has been practicing death all her life long, and is now finally released from the errors and follies and passions of men, and forever dwells in the company of the gods.
But the soul which is polluted and engrossed by the corporeal, and has no eye except that of the senses, and is weighed down by the bodily appetites, cannot attain to this abstraction. In her fear of the world below she lingers about her sepulchre, a ghostly apparition, saturated with sense, and therefore visible. At length she enters into the body of some animal of a nature congenial to her former life of sensuality or violence, and becomes an ass or a wolf or a kite. And of these earthy souls the happiest are those who have practiced virtue without philosophy; they are allowed to pass into gentle and civil natures, such as bees and ants. (Cp. Rep. 619c; Meno 100a.) But only the philosopher who departs pure is permitted to enter the company of the gods. This is the reason why he abstains from fleshly lusts, and not from the fear of loss or disgrace, which are the motives of other men. He too has been a captive, and the willing agent of his own captivity. But Philosophy has spoken to him, and he has heard her voice; she has gently entreated him, and brought his soul out of the "miry clay," and purged away the mists of passion and the illusions of sense which envelop her, and taught her to resist the influence of pleasures and pains, which are like nails fastening her to the body. To that prison-house she will not return; and therefore she abstains from bodily pleasures -- not from a desire of having more or greater ones, which is the exchange of commerce and not of virtue, but because she knows that only in the calm of pleasures and passions she will behold the light of truth.
Simmias and Cebes remain in doubt; but they are unwilling to raise objections at such a time. Socrates wonders at this. Let them regard him rather as the swan, who, having sung the praises of Apollo all his life long, sings at his death more lustily than ever. (Cp. 60d.) Simmias acknowledges that there is cowardice in not probing truth to the bottom. "And if truth divine and inspired is not to be had, then let a man take the best of human notions, and upon this frail bark let him sail through life." He proceeds to state his difficulty: It has been argued that the soul is invisible and incorporeal, and therefore immortal, and prior to the body. But is not the soul acknowledged to be a harmony, and has she not the same relation to the body, as the harmony-- which like her is invisible -- has to the lyre? And yet the harmony does not survive the lyre. Cebes has also an objection, which like Simmias he expresses in a figure. He is willing to admit that the soul is more lasting than the body. But the more lasting nature of the soul does not prove her immortality; for after having worn out many bodies in a single life, and many more in successive births and deaths, she may at last perish, or, as Socrates afterwards restates the objection, the very act of birth may be the beginning of her death, and the last body may survive the last soul, just as the coat of an old weaver is left behind him after he is dead, although a man is more lasting than his coat. And he who would prove the immortality of the soul, must prove not only that the soul outlives one or many bodies, but that she outlives them all.
The audience, like the chorus in a play, for a moment interpret the feelings of the actors; there is a temporary depression, and then the inquiry is resumed. It is a melancholy reflection that arguments, like men, are apt to be deceivers; and those who have been often deceived become distrustful both of arguments and of friends. But this unfortunate experience should not make us either haters of men or haters of arguments. The hatred of arguments is equally mistaken, whether we are going to live or die. At the approach of death Socrates desires to be impartial, and yet he cannot help feeling that he has too great an interest in the truth of his own argument. And therefore he wishes his friends to examine and refute him, if they think that he is not speaking the truth.
Socrates requests Simmias and Cebes to state their objections again. They do not go to the length of denying the pre-existence of ideas. Simmias is of opinion that the soul is a harmony of the body. But the admission of the pre-existence of ideas, and therefore of the soul, is at variance with this. (Cp. a parallel difficulty in Theaet. 203a, 204a.) For a harmony is an effect, whereas the soul is not an effect, but a cause; a harmony follows, but the soul leads; a harmony admits of degrees, and the soul has no degrees. Again, upon the supposition that the soul is a harmony, why is one soul better than another? Are they more or less harmonized, or is there one harmony within another? But the soul does not admit of degrees, and cannot therefore be more or less harmonized. Further, the soul is often engaged in resisting the affections of the body, as Homer describes Odysseus "rebuking his heart." Could he have written this under the idea that the soul is a harmony of the body? Nay, rather, are we not contradicting Homer and ourselves in affirming anything of the sort?
The goddess Harmonia, as Socrates playfully terms the argument of Simmias, has been happily disposed of; and now an answer has to be given to the Theban Cadmus. Socrates recapitulates the argument of Cebes, which, as he remarks, involves the whole question of natural growth or causation; about this he proposes to narrate his own mental experience. When he was young he had puzzled himself with physics: he had inquired into the growth and decay of animals, and the origin of thought, until at last he began to doubt the self-evident fact that growth is the result of eating and drinking, and thus he arrived at the conclusion that he was not meant for such inquiries. Nor was he less perplexed with notions of comparison and number. At first he had imagined himself to understand differences of greater and less, and to know that ten is two more than eight, and the like. But now those very notions appeared to him to contain a contradiction. For how can one be divided into two? or two be compounded into one? Theseare difficulties which Socrates cannot answer. Of generation and destruction he knows nothing. But he has a confused notion of another method in which matters of this sort are to be investigated. (Cp. Rep. 435d; 533a; Char. 170a foll.)
Then he heard some one reading out of a book of Anaxagoras, that mind is the cause of all things. And he said to himself: If mind is the cause of all things, mind must dispose them all for the best. The new teacher will show me this "order of the best" in man and nature. How great had been his hopes and how great his disappointment! For he found that his new friend was anything but consistent in his use of mind as a cause, and that he soon introduced winds, waters, and other eccentric notions. It was as if a person had said that Socrates is sitting here because he is made up of bones and muscles, instead of telling the true reason -- that he is here because the Athenians have thought good to sentence him to death, and he has thought good to await his sentence. Had his bones and muscles been left by him to their own ideas of right, they would long ago have taken themselves off. But surely there is a great confusion of the cause and condition in all this. And this confusion also leads people into all sorts of erroneous theories about the position and motions of the earth. None of them know how much stronger than any Atlas is the power of the best. But this "best" is still undiscovered; and in inquiring after the cause, we can only hope to attain the second best.
Now there is a danger in the contemplation of the nature of things, as there is a danger in looking at the sun during an eclipse, unless the precaution is taken of looking only at the image reflected in the water, or in a glass. (Cp. Laws, 897d; Rep. 516a foll.) And I was afraid, says Socrates, that I might injure the eye of the soul. I thought that I had better return to the old and safe method of ideas. Though I do not mean to say that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas sees only through a glass darkly, any more than he who contemplates actual effects.
If the existence of ideas is granted to him, Socrates is of opinion that he will then have no difficulty in proving the immortality of the soul. He will only ask for a further admission: that beauty is the cause of the beautiful, greatness the cause of the great, smallness of the small, and so on of other things. Thus he avoids the contradictions of greater and less (greater by reason of that which is smaller!), of addition and subtraction, and the other difficulties of relation. These subtleties he is for leaving to wiser heads than his own; he prefers to test ideas by their consequences, and, if asked to give an account of them, goes back to some higher idea or hypothesis which appears to him to be the best, until at last he arrives at a resting-place. (Rep.510a foll.; Phil. 16a foll.)
The doctrine of ideas, which has long ago received the assent of the Socratic circle, is now affirmed by the Phliasian auditor to command the assent of any men of sense. The narrative is continued; Socrates is desirous of explaining how opposite ideas may appear to coexist but not really coexist in the same thing or person. For example, Simmias may be said to have greatness and also smallness, because he is greater than Socrates and less than Phaedo. And yet Simmias is not really great and also small, but only when compared to Phaedo and Socrates. I use the illustration, says Socrates, because I want to show you not only that ideal opposites excludeone another, but also the opposites in us. I, for example, having the attribute of smallness remain small, and cannot become great: the smallness in me drives out greatness.
One of the company here remarked that this was inconsistent with the old assertion that opposites generated opposites. But that, replies Socrates, was affirmed, not of opposite ideas either in us or in nature, but of opposite things -- not of life and death, but of individuals living and dying. When this objection has been removed, Socrates proceeds: This doctrine of the mutual exclusion of opposites is not only true of the opposites themselves, but of things which are inseparable from them. For example, cold and heat are opposed; and fire, which is inseparable from heat, cannot coexist with cold, or snow, which is inseparable from cold, with heat. Again, the number three excludes the number four, because three is an odd number and four is an even number, and the odd is opposed to the even. Thus we are able to proceed a step beyond "the safe and simple answer." We may say, not only that the odd excludes the even, but that the number three, which participates in oddness, excludes the even. And in like manner, not only that does life exclude death, but the soul, of which life is the inseparable attribute, also excludes death. And that of which life is the inseparable attribute is by the force of the terms imperishable. If the odd principle were imperishable, then the number three would not perish, but remove on the approach of the even principle. But the immortal is imperishable; and therefore the soul on the approach of death does not perish but removes.
Thus all objections appear to be finally silenced. And now the application has to be made: If the soul is immortal, "what manner of persons ought we to be?" having regard not only to time but to eternity. For death is not the end of all, and the wicked is not released from his evil by death; but every one carries with him into the world below that which he is and that which he becomes, and that only.
For after death the soul is carried away to judgment, and when she has received her punishment returns to earth in the course of ages. The wise soul is conscious of her situation, and follows the attendant angel who guides her through the windings of the world below; but the impure soul wanders hither and thither without a guide, and is carried at last to her own place, as the pure soul is also carried away to hers. "In order that you may understand this, I must first describe to you the nature and conformation of the earth."
Now the whole earth is a globe placed in the centre of the heavens, and is maintained there by the perfection of balance. That which we call the earth is only a small hollow, of which there are many; but the true earth is above, and is a finer and subtler element, and is full of precious stones and bright colors, of which the stones and colors in our earth are but fragments and reflections, and the earth itself is corroded and crusted over just as the shore is by the sea. And if, like birds, we could fly to the surface of the air, in the same manner that fishes come to the top of the sea, then we should behold the true earth and the true heaven and the true stars. This heavenly earth is of divers colors, sparkling with jewels brighter than gold and whiter than any snow, having flowers and fruits innumerable. And the inhabitants dwell, some on the shore of the sea of air, others in "islets of the blest," and they hold converse with the gods, and behold the sun, moon, and stars as they truly are, and their other blessedness is of a piece with this.
But the interior of the earth has other and deeper hollows, and one huge chasm or opening called Tartarus, into which vast streams of water and fire are ever flowing to and fro, of which small portions find their way to the surface and form seas and rivers and volcanoes. There is a perpetual inhalation and exhalation of the air rising and falling as the waters pass into the depths of the earth and return again, in their course forming lakes and rivers, but never descending below the centre of the earth, the opposite side of which is a precipice to the rivers on both sides. These rivers are many and mighty, and there are four principal ones, Oceanus, Acheron, Pyriphlegethon, and Cocytus. Oceanus is the river which encircles the earth; Acheron takes an opposite direction, and after flowing under the earth and in the desert places at last reaches the Acherusian lake, and this is the river at which the dead await their return to earth. Pyriphlegethon is a stream of fire, which coils around the earth and flows into the depths of Tartarus. The fourth river (Cocytus) is that which is called by the poets the Stygian river, and falls into, and forms the lake Styx, receiving strange powers in the waters. This river, too, falls into Tartarus.
The dead are first of all judged according to their deeds, and those who are incurable are thrust into Tartarus, from which they never come out. Those who have only committed venial sins are first purified of them, and then rewarded for the good which they have done. Those who have committed crimes, great indeed, but not unpardonable, are thrust into Tartarus, but are cast forth at the end of the year on the shores of the rivers, where they stand crying to their victims to let them come out, and if they prevail, then they are let out and their sufferings cease; if not, they are borne in a ceaseless whirl along the rivers of Tartarus. The pure souls also receive their reward, and have their abode in the upper earth, and a select few in still fairer "mansions."
Socrates is not prepared to insist on the literal accuracy of this description, but he is confident that something of the kind is true. He who has sought after the pleasures of knowledge and rejected the pleasures of the body, has reason to be of good hope at the approach of death, whose voice is already heard calling to him, and will be heard calling by all men.
The hour has come at which he must drink the poison, and not much remains to be done. How shall they bury him? That is a question which he refuses to entertain, for they are not burying him, but is dead body. His friends had once been sureties that he would remain, and they shall now be sureties that he has run away. Yet he would not die without the customary ceremonies of washing and burial. Shall he make a libation of the poison? In the spirit he will, but not in the letter. One request he utters in the very act of death, which has been a puzzle to after ages. The puzzle has been occasioned by the simplicity of his words, for there is no reason to suppose that they have any hidden meaning. With a sort of irony he remembers that a trifling religious duty is still unfulfilled, just as above (60e) he is represented as desirous before he departs to make a few verses in order to satisfy a scruple about the meaning of a dream.
1. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul has such a great interest for all mankind that they are apt to rebel against any examination of the nature of their belief. They do not like to acknowledge that this, as well as the other "eternal ideas" of man, has a history in time, which may be traced in Greek poetry or philosophy, and also in the Hebrew Scriptures. They convert feeling into reasoning, and throw a net-work of dialectics over that which is really a deeply-rooted instinct. In the same temper which Socrates reproves in himself (91b) they are disposed to think that even bad arguments will do no harm, for they will die with them, and while they live they will gain by the delusion. But there is a better and higher spirit to be gathered from the Phaedo, as well as from the other writings of Plato, which says that first principles should be most constantly reviewed (Phaedo 107b), and that the highest subjects demand of us the greatest accuracy (Rep. 504e).
2. Modern philosophy is perplexed at this whole question, which is sometimes fairly given up and handed over to the realm of faith. The perplexity should not be forgotten by us when we attempt to submit the Phaedo of Plato to the requirements of logic. For what idea can we form of the soul when separated from the body? Or how can the soul be united with the body and still be independent? Is the soul related to the body as the ideal to the real, or as the whole to the parts, or as the subject to the object, or as the cause to the effect, or as the end to the means? Shall we say with Aristotle, that the soul is the entelechy or form of an organized living body? or with Plato, that she has a life of her own? Is the Pythagorean image of the harmony, or of the monad, the truer expression? Is the soul related to the body as sight to the eye, or as the boatman to his boat? (Arist. de Anim. ii. 1, 11, 12.) And in another state of being is the soul to be conceived of as vanishing into infinity, hardly possessing an existence which she can call her own, as in the pantheistic system of Spinoza and others? or as an individual spirit informed with another body and retaining the impress of her former character? (Cp. Gorg. 524b-c.) Or is the opposition of soul and body a mere illusion, and the true self neither soul nor body, but the union of the two in the "I" which is above them? And is death the assertion of this individuality in the higher nature, and the falling away into nothingness of the lower? Or are we vainly attempting to pass the boundaries of human thought? The body and the soul seem to be inseparable, not only in fact, but in our conceptions of them; and any philosophy which too closely unites them, or too widely separates them, either in this life or in another, disturbs the balance of human nature. Neither Plato nor any other philosopher has perfectly adjusted them, or been perfectly consistent with himself in describing their relation to one another.
3. Again believing in the immortality of the soul, we must still ask the question of Socrates, "What is that which we suppose to be immortal?" Is it the personal and individual element in us, or the spiritual and universal? Is it the principle of knowledge or of goodness, or the union of the two? Is it the mere force of life which is determined to be, or the consciousness of self which cannot be got rid of, or the fire of genius which refuses to be extinguished? Or is there a hidden being which is allied to the Author of all existence, who is because he is perfect, and to whom our ideas of perfection give us a title to belong? Whatever answer is given by us to these questions, there still remains the necessity of allowing the permanence of evil, if not forever, at any rate for a time, in order that the wicked "may not have too good a bargain." For the annihilation of evil at death, or the eternal duration of it, seem to involve equal difficulties in the moral order of the universe. Sometimes we are led by our feelings, rather than by our reason, to think of the good and wise only as existing in another life. Why should the mean, the weak, the idiot, the infant, the herd of men who have never in any proper sense the use of reason, reappear with blinking eyes in the light of another world? But our second thought is that the hope of humanity is a common one, and that all or none have a right to immortality. Reason does not allow us to suppose that we have any greater claims than others, and experience sometimes reveals to us unexpected flashes of the higher nature in those whom we had despised. Such are some of the distracting thoughts which press upon us when we attempt to assign any form to our conceptions of a future state.
4. Again, ideas must be given through something; and we are always prone to argue about the soul from analogies of outward things which may serve to embody our thoughts, but are also partly delusive. For we cannot reason from the natural to the spiritual, or from the outward to the inward. The progress of physiological science, without bringing us nearer to the great secret, has perhaps tended to remove some erroneous notions respecting the relations of body and mind, and in this we have the advantage of the ancients. But no one imagines that any seed of immortality is to be discerned in our mortal frames. The result seems to be that those who have thought most deeply on the immortality of the soul, have been content to rest their belief on the agreement of the more enlightened part of mankind, and on the inseparable connection of such a doctrine with the existence of a God, and our ideas of divine justice -- also in a less degree on the impossibility of thinking otherwise of those whom we reverence in this world. And after all has been said, the figure, the analogy, the argument, are felt to be only approximations in different forms to the expression of the common sentiment of the human heart.
5. The Phaedo of Plato may also be regarded as a dialectical approximation to the truth of immortality. Beginning in mystery, Socrates, in the intermediate part of the Dialogue, attempts to bring the doctrine of a future life into connection with his theory of knowledge. In proportion as he succeeds in this, the individual seems to disappear in a more general notion of the soul; the contemplation of ideas "under the form of eternity" takes the place of past and future states of existence. His language may be compared to that of some modern philosophers, who speak of eternity, not in the sense of perpetual duration of time, but as an ever-present quality of the soul. Yet at the conclusion of the Dialogue, having "arrived at the end of the intellectual world" (Rep. 532b), he replaces the veil of mythology, and describes the soul and her attendant genius in the language of the mysteries or of a disciple of Zoroaster. Nor can we fairly demand of Plato a consistency which is wanting among ourselves, who acknowledge that another world is beyond the range of human thought, and yet are always seeking to represent the mansions of heaven or hell in the colors of the painter, or in the descriptions of the poet or rhetorician.
6. The doctrine of the immortality of the soul was not new to the Greeks in the age of Socrates, but, like the unity of God, had a foundation in the popular belief. The old Homeric notion of a gibbering ghost flitting away to Hades; or of a few illustrious heroes enjoying the isles of the blest; or of an existence divided between the two; or the Hesiodic, of righteous spirits, who become guardian angels -- had given place in the mysteries and the Orphic poets to representations, partly fanciful, of a future state of rewards and punishments. (Laws, ix. 870a.) The reticence of the Greeks on public occasions and in some part of their literature respecting this "underground" religion, is not to be taken as a measure of the diffusion of such beliefs. If Pericles in the funeral oration is silent on the consolations of immortality, the poet Pindar and the tragedians on the other hand constantly assume the continued existence of the dead in an upper or under world. Darius and Laius are still alive; Antigone will be dear to her brethren after death; the way to the palace of Cronos is found by those who "have thrice departed from evil." The tragedy of the Greeks is not "rounded" by this life, but is deeply set in decrees of fate and mysterious workings of powers beneath the earth. In the caricature of Aristophanes there is also a witness to the common sentiment. The Ionian and Pythagorean philosophies arose, and some new elements were added to the popular belief. The individual must find an expression as well as the world. Either the soul was supposed to exist in the form of a magnet or of a particle of fire, or light, or air, or water; or of a number or of a harmony of number; or to be or have, like the stars, a principle of motion (Arist. de Anim. i. 1, 2, 3). At length Anaxagoras, hardly distinguishing between life and mind, or between mind human and divine, attained the pure abstraction; and this, like the other abstractions of Greek philosophy, sank deep into the human intelligence. The opposition of the intelligible and the sensible, and of God to the world, supplied an analogy which assisted in the separation of soul and body. If ideas were separable from phenomena, mind was also separable from matter; if the ideas were eternal, the mind that conceived them was eternal too. As the unity of God was more distinctly acknowledged the conception of the human soul became more developed. The succession, or alternation of life and death, had occurred to Heraclitus. The Eleatic Parmenides had stumbled upon the modern thesis, that "thought and being are the same." The eastern belief in transmigration defined the sense of individuality; and some, like Empedocles, fancied that the blood which they had shed in another state of being was crying against them, and that for thirty thousand years they were to be "fugitives and vagabonds upon the earth." The desire of recognizing a lost love or friend in the world below (Phaedo 68a) is a natural feeling which, in that age as well as in every other, has given distinctness to the hope of immortality. Nor were ethical considerations wanting, partly derived from the necessity of punishing the greater sort of criminals, whom no avenging power of this world could reach. The voice of conscience, too, was heard reminding the good man that he was not altogether innocent. (Rep. 330a.) To these indistinct longings and fears an expression was given in the mysteries and Orphic poets: a "heap of books" (Rep. 364e), passing under the names of Musaeus and Orpheus in Plato's time, were filled with notions of an under world.
7. Yet probably the belief in the individuality of the soul after death had but a feeble hold on the Greek mind. Like the personality of God, the personality of man in a future state was not inseparably bound up with the reality of his existence. For the distinction between the personal and impersonal, and also between the divine and human, was far less marked to the Greek than to ourselves. And as Plato readily passes from the notion of the good to that of God, he also passes, almost imperceptibly to himself and his reader, from the future life of the individual soul to the eternal being of the absolute soul. There has been a clearer statement and a clearer denial of the belief in modern times than is found in early Greek philosophy, and hence the comparative silence on the whole subject which is often remarked in ancient writers, and particularly in Aristotle. For Plato and Aristotle are not further removed in their teaching about the immortality of the soul than they are in their theory of knowledge.
8. That in an age when logic was beginning to mould human thought, Plato should have cast his belief in immortality into a logical form, is not surprising. And when we consider how much the doctrine of ideas was also one of words, we cannot wonder that he should have fallen into verbal fallacies: early logic is always mistaking the truth of the form for the truth of the matter. It is easy to see that the alternation of opposites is not the same as the generation of them out of each other; and that the generation out of each other, which is the first argument in the Phaedo, is at variance with their mutual exclusion of each other, whether in themselves or in us, which is the last. For even if we admit the distinction which he draws at 103a, between the opposites and the things which have the opposites, still individuals fall under the latter class; and we have to pass out of the region of human hopes and fears to a conception of an abstract soul which is the impersonation of the ideas. Such a conception, which in Plato himself is but half expressed, is unmeaning to us, and relative only to a particular stage in the history of thought. The doctrine of reminiscence is also a fragment of a former world, which has no place in the philosophy of modern times. But Plato had the wonders of psychology just opening to him, and he had not the explanation of them which is supplied by the analysis of language and the history of the human mind. The question, "Whence come our abstract ideas?" he could only answer by imaginary hypothesis. Nor is it difficult to see that his crowning argument is purely verbal, and is but the expression of an instinctive confidence put into a logical form: "The soul is immortal because it contains a principle of imperishableness." Nor does he himself seem at all to be aware that nothing is added to human knowledge by his "safe and simple answer," that beauty is the cause of the beautiful; and that he is merely reasserting the Eleatic being "divided by the Pythagorean numbers," against the Heraclitean doctrine of perpetual generation. The answer to the "very serious question" of generation and destruction is really the denial of them. For this he would substitute, as in the Republic, a system of ideas, tested not by experience, but by their consequences, and not explained by actual causes, but by a higher, that is, more general notion: consistency with themselves is all that is required of them. (Rep. 510a foll., and Phaedo 101a foll.)
9. To deal fairly with such arguments they should not only not be separated from the age to which they belong, but they should be translated as far as possible into their modern equivalents. "If the ideas of men are eternal, their souls are eternal, and if not the ideas, then not the souls.' Such an argument stands nearly in the same relation to Plato and his age, as the argument from the existence of God to immortality among ourselves. "If God exists, then the soul exists after death; and if there is no God, there is no existence of the soul after death." For the ideas are to his mind the reality, the truth, the principle of permanence, as well as of mind and order in the world. When Simmias and Cebes say that they are more strongly persuaded of the existence of ideas than they are of the immortality of the soul, they represent fairly enough the order of thought in Greek philosophy. And we might say in the same way that we are more certain of the existence of God than we are of the immortality of the soul, and are led by the belief in the one to the belief in the other. The parallel, as Socrates would say, is not perfect, but agrees in as far as the mind in either case is regarded, as dependent on something above and beyond herself. Nor need we shrink from pressing the analogy one step further: "We are more certain of our ideas of truth and right than we are of the existence of God, and are led on in the order of thought from one to the other."
10. The main argument of the Phaedo is derived from the existence of eternal ideas of which the soul is a partaker; the other argument of the alteration of opposites is replaced by this. And there have not been wanting philosophers of the idealist school who have imagined that the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is a theory of knowledge only, and that in all that precedes Plato is preparing for this. Such a view is far from lying of the surface of the Phaedo, and seems to be inconsistent with the Gorgias and the Republic. Those who maintain it are immediately compelled to renounce the shadow which they have grasped, as a play of words only. But the truth is that Plato in his argument for the immortality of the soul has collected many elements of proof or persuasion, ethical and mythological as well as dialectical, which are not easily to be reconciled with one another; and he is as much in earnest about his doctrine of retribution, which is repeated in all his more ethical writings, as about his theory of knowledge. And while we may fairly translate the dialectical into the language of the Hegel, and the religious and mythological into the language of Dante or Bunyan, the ethical speaks to us still in the same voice, reaching across the ages.
11. Two arguments of this sort occur in the Phaedo. The first may be described as the aspiration of the soul after another sort of being. Like the Oriental or Christian ascetic, the philosopher is seeking to withdraw from impurities of sense, to leave the world and the things of the world, and to find his higher self. Plato recognizes in these aspirations the foretaste of immortality; as Butler and Addison in modern times have argued, the one from the moral tendencies of mankind, the other from the progress of the soul towards perfection. In using this argument Plato has certainly confused the soul which has left the body, with the soul of the good and wise. (Cp. Rep. 611c.) Such a confusion was natural, and arose partly out of the antithesis of soul and body. The soul in her own essence, and the soul "clothed upon" with virtues and graces, were easily interchanged with one another, because on a subject which passes expression the distinctions of language can hardly be maintained.
12. The other ethical proof of the immortality of the soul is derived from the necessity of retribution. The wicked would be too well off if their evil deeds came to an end. It is not to be supposed than an Ardiaeus, an Archelaus, an Ismenias could ever have suffered the penalty of their crimes in this world. The manner in which this retribution is accomplished Plato represents under the figure of mythology. Doubtless he felt that it was easier to improve than to invent, and that in religion especially the traditional form was required in order to give verisimilitude to the myth. The myth too is far more probable to that age than to ours, and may fairly be regarded as "one guess among many" about the nature of the earth, which he cleverly supports by the indications of geology. Not that he insists on the absolute truth of his own particular notions: "no man of sense will be confident of that; but he will be confident that something of the kind is true" (114d). As in other passages (Gorg. 527a. Tim. 29d; cp. Phaedo 107b), he wins belief for his fictions by the moderation of his statements; he does not, like Dante or Swedenborg, allow himself to be deceived by his own creations.
The Dialogue must be read in the light of the situation. And first of all we are struck by the calmness of the scene. Like the spectators at the time, we cannot pity Socrates; his mien and his language are so noble and fearless. He is the same as he ever was, but milder and gentler, and he has in no degree lost his interest in dialectics; the argument is the greatest gain to him, and he will not forego the delight of it in compliance with the jailer's intimation that he should not heat himself with talking. Some other traits of his character may be noted; for example, the courteous manner in which he inclines his head to the last objector, or the ironical touch, "Me already, as the tragic poet would say, the voice of fate calls;" or the depreciation of the arguments with which "he comforted himself and them;" or the allusion to the possibility of finding another teacher among barbarous races (cp. Polit. 262d); or the mysterious reference to another science (mathematics?) of generation and destruction for which he is vainly feeling. There is no change in him; only now he is invested with a sort of sacred character, as the prophet or priest of Apollo the God of the festival, in whose honor he first of all composes a hymn, and then like the swan pours forth his dying lay. Perhaps the extreme elevation of Socrates above his own situation, and the ordinary interests of life (compare his jeu d' esprit about his burial) create in the mind of the reader an impression stronger than could be derived from arguments that such a one, in his own language, has in him "a principle which does not admit of death."
The other persons of the Dialogue may be considered under two heads: (1) private friends; (2) the respondents in the argument.
First there is Crito, who has been already introduced to us in the Euthydemus and the Crito; he is the equal in years of Socrates, and stands in quite a different relation to him from his younger disciples. He is a man of the world who is rich and prosperous (cp. the jest in the Euthydemus 304c), the best friend of Socrates, who wants to know his last commands, in whose presence he talks to his family, and who performs the last duty of closing his eyes. It is observable too that, as in the Euthydemus, Crito shows no aptitude for philosophical discussions. Nor among the friends of Socrates must the jailer be forgotten, who seems to have been introduced by Plato in order to show the impression made by the extraordinary man on the common. The gentle nature of the man is indicated by his weeping at the announcement of his errand and then turning away, and also by the words of Socrates to his disciples: "How charming the man is! since I have been in prison he was always coming to me, and has been as good as could be to me." We are reminded too that he has retained this gentle nature amid scenes of death and violence by the contrasts which he draws between the behavior of Socrates and of others when about to die.
Another person who takes no part in the philosophical discussion is the excitable Apollodorus, the same who, in the Symposium, of which he is the narrator, is called "the madman," and who testifies his grief by the most violent emotions. Phaedo is also present, the "beloved disciple" as he may be termed, who is described, if not "leaning on his bosom," as seated next to Socrates, who is playing with his hair. At a particular point the argument is described as falling before the attack of Simmias. A sort of despair is introduced in the minds of the company. The effect of this is heightened by the description of Phaedo, who has been the eye-witness of the scene, and by the sympathy of his Phliasian auditors, who are beginning to think "that they too can never trust an argument again." Like Apollodorus, Phaedo himself takes no part in the argument. But the calmness of his behavior, "veiling his face" when he can no longer contain his tears, contrasts with the passionate cries of the other.
The two principal interlocutors are Simmias and Cebes, the disciples of Philolaus the Pythagorean philosopher of Thebes. Simmias is described in the Phaedrus (242b) as fonder of an argument than any man living; and Cebes, although finally persuaded by Socrates, is said to be the most incredulous of human beings. It is Cebes who at the commencement of the Dialogue raises the question why "suicide is unlawful," and who first supplies the doctrine of recollection as a confirmation of the argument of the pre-existence of the soul. It is Cebes who urges that the pre-existence does not necessarily involve the future existence of the soul, and who brings forward the argument of the weaver and his coat. To Simmias, on the other hand, is attributed the notion that the soul is a harmony, which is naturally put into the mouth of a Pythagorean disciple. It is Simmias, too, who first remarks on the uncertainty of human knowledge, and only at last concedes to the argument such a qualified approval as is consistent with the feebleness of the human faculties.
There is no proof that the conversation was ever actually held, and the place of the Dialogue in the series is doubtful. The doctrine of ideas is certainly carried beyond the Socratic point of view; in no other of the writings of Plato is the theory of them so completely developed. Whether the belief in immortality can be attributed to Socrates or not is uncertain; the silence of the Memorabilia, and of the earlier Dialogues of Plato, is an argument to the contrary. Yet in the Cyropaedia Xenophon (viii. 7, 19 foll.) has put language into the mouth of the dying Cyrus which recalls the Phaedo, and may perhaps have been derived from the teaching of Socrates.
The Phaedo, as has been already intimated, is not one of the Socratic Dialogues of Plato; nor, on the other hand, can it be assigned to that later period of the Platonic writings at which the ideas appear to be forgotten. Without pretending to determine the real time of composition, the Meno, Euthyphro, Apology, Phaedo, and Symposium may be conveniently read by us in this order as illustrative of the life of Socrates. Another chain may be formed of the Meno, Phaedo, and Phaedrus, in which the immortality of the soul is connected with the doctrine of ideas. In the Meno the theory of ideas is based on the ancient belief in transmigration, which reappears again in the Phaedrus, as well as in the Republic and Timaeus, and in all of them is connected with a doctrine of retribution. In the Phaedrus the immortality of the soul is supposed to rest on the conception of the soul as a principle of motion, whereas in the Republic the argument turns on the natural continuance of the soul, which, if not destroyed by her own proper evil, can hardly be destroyed by any other. The soul of man in the Timaeus (42a foll.) is derived from the Supreme Creator, and either returns after death to her kindred star, or descends into the lower life of an animal. The Apology expresses the same view as the Phaedo, but with less confidence; the probability of death being a long sleep is not excluded. The Theaetetus also describes, in a digression, the desire of the soul to fly away and be with God -- "and to fly to him is to be like him" (176b). Lastly, the Symposium may be observed to resemble as well as to differ from the Phaedo. While the first notion of immortality is only in the way of natural procreation or of posthumous fame and glory, the higher vision of beauty, like the good in the Republic, is the vision of the eternal idea. So deeply rooted in Plato's mind is the belief in immortality; so various are the forms of expression which he employs.Some elements of the drama may be noted in all the Dialogues of Plato. The Phaedo is the tragedy of which Socrates is the protagonist and Simmias and Cebes the secondary performers. No Dialogue has a greater unity of subject and feeling. Plato has certainly fulfilled the condition of Greek, or rather of all art, which requires that scenes of death and suffering should be clothed in beauty. The gathering of the friends at the commencement of the Dialogue, the dejection of the audience at the temporary overthrow of the argument, the picture of Socrates playing with the hair of Phaedo, the final scene in which Socrates alone retains his composure -- are masterpieces of art. The chorus at the end might have interpreted the feeling of the play: "There can no evil happen to a good man in life or death."