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Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
Hermogenes. Suppose that we make Socrates a party to the argument?
Cratylus. If you please.
Her. I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has
been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not conventional;
not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use; but that
there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for Hellenes
as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own name of Cratylus
is a true name or not, and he answers "Yes." And Socrates? "Yes."
Then every man's name, as I tell him, is that which he is called.
To this he replies- "If all the world were to call you Hermogenes,
that would not be your name." And when I am anxious to have a further
explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that
he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell,
and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell
me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will
be so good, what is your own view of the truth or correctness of names,
which I would far sooner hear.
Socrates. Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that "hard
is the knowledge of the good." And the knowledge of names is a great
part of knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the
fifty-drachma course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education
in grammar and language- these are his own words- and then I should
have been at once able to answer your question about the correctness
of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the single-drachma course,
and therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I will,
however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation of them.
When he declares that your name is not really Hermogenes, I suspect
that he is only making fun of you;- he means to say that you are no
true son of Hermes, because you are always looking after a fortune
and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there is a good deal of difficulty
in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had better leave the question
open until we have heard both sides.
Her. I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and
others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name
which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change
that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old- we frequently
change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good
as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all
is convention and habit of the users;- such is my view. But if I am
mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any
Soc. I dare say that you be right, Hermogenes: let us see;- Your meaning
is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody agrees
to call it?
Her. That is my notion.
Soc. Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?
Soc. Well, now, let me take an instance;- suppose that I call a man
a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly
called a horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the
rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man
by me and a horse by the world:- that is your meaning?
Her. He would, according to my view.
Soc. But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there is
in words a true and a false?
Soc. And there are true and false propositions?
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And a true proposition says that which is, and a false proposition
says that which is not?
Her. Yes; what other answer is possible?
Soc. Then in a proposition there is a true and false?
Soc. But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts
Her. No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
Soc. Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or every
Her. I should say that every part is true.
Soc. Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?
Her. No; that is the smallest.
Soc. Then the name is a part of the true proposition?
Soc. Yes, and a true part, as you say.
Soc. And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?
Soc. Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may be true
Her. So we must infer.
Soc. And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be
Soc. And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody says
that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering
Her. Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other than
this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities and
countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes
differ from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic
tribes from one another.
Soc. But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ as the
names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras
tells us? For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that
things are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as
they appear to you. Do you agree with him, or would you say that things
have a permanent essence of their own?
Her. There have been times, Socrates, when I have been driven in my
perplexity to take refuge with Protagoras; not that I agree with him
Soc. What! have you ever been driven to admit that there was no such
thing as a bad man?
Her. No, indeed; but I have often had reason to think that there are
very bad men, and a good many of them.
Soc. Well, and have you ever found any very good ones?
Her. Not many.
Soc. Still you have found them?
Soc. And would you hold that the very good were the very wise, and
the very evil very foolish? Would that be your view?
Her. It would.
Soc. But if Protagoras is right, and the truth is that things are
as they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of
Soc. And if, on the other hand, wisdom and folly are really distinguishable,
you will allow, I think, that the assertion of Protagoras can hardly
be correct. For if what appears to each man is true to him, one man
cannot in reality be wiser than another.
Her. He cannot.
Soc. Nor will you be disposed to say with Euthydemus, that all things
equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for neither
on his view can there be some good and other bad, if virtue and vice
are always equally to be attributed to all.
Her. There cannot.
Soc. But if neither is right, and things are not relative to individuals,
and all things do not equally belong to all at the same moment and
always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent
essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us, fluctuating
according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to
their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.
Soc. Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves, or
equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also
a class of being?
Her. Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.
Soc. Then the actions also are done according to their proper nature,
and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for example,
we do not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument; but we
cut with the proper instrument only, and according to the natural
process of cutting; and the natural process is right and will succeed,
but any other will fail and be of no use at all.
Her. I should say that the natural way is the right way.
Soc. Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the right
way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.
Soc. And this holds good of all actions?
Soc. And speech is a kind of action?
Soc. And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases? Will
not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural
way of speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural
instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and failure.
Her. I quite agree with you.
Soc. And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men
Her. That is true.
Soc. And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts,
is not naming also a sort of action?
Soc. And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had
a special nature of their own?
Soc. Then the argument would lead us to infer that names ought to
be given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument,
and not at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with
Her. I agree.
Soc. But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with something?
Soc. And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or
pierced with something?
Soc. And that which has to be named has to be named with something?
Soc. What is that with which we pierce?
Her. An awl.
Soc. And with which we weave?
Her. A shuttle.
Soc. And with which we name?
Her. A name.
Soc. Very good: then a name is an instrument?
Soc. Suppose that I ask, "What sort of instrument is a shuttle?" And
you answer, "A weaving instrument."
Soc. And I ask again, "What do we do when we weave?"- The answer is,
that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And may not a similar description be given of an awl, and of
instruments in general?
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names: will
you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do
when we name?
Her. I cannot say.
Soc. Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish things
according to their natures?
Her. Certainly we do.
Soc. Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of distinguishing
natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of the web.
Soc. And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?
Soc. Then the weaver will use the shuttle well- and well means like
a weaver? and the teacher will use the name well- and well means like
Soc. And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will he be using
Her. That of the carpenter.
Soc. And is every man a carpenter, or the skilled only?
Her. Only the skilled.
Soc. And when the piercer uses the awl, whose work will he be using
Her. That of the smith.
Soc. And is every man a smith, or only the skilled?
Her. The skilled only.
Soc. And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will he be using?
Her. There again I am puzzled.
Soc. Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?
Her. Indeed I cannot.
Soc. Does not the law seem to you to give us them?
Her. Yes, I suppose so.
Soc. Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the work of the
Her. I agree.
Soc. And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?
Her. The skilled only.
Soc. Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to give a name, but only
a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all skilled artisans
in the world is the rarest.
Soc. And how does the legislator make names? and to what does he look?
Consider this in the light of the previous instances: to what does
the carpenter look in making the shuttle? Does he not look to that
which is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?
Soc. And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will he make
another, looking to the broken one? or will he look to the form according
to which he made the other?
Her. To the latter, I should imagine.
Soc. Might not that be justly called the true or ideal shuttle?
Her. I think so.
SOC. And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture of garments,
thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material, ought all of
them to have the true form of the shuttle; and whatever is the shuttle
best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the form which
the maker produces in each case.
Soc. And the same holds of other instruments: when a man has discovered
the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work, he must express
this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the material,
whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought to know
how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature to their
Soc. And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature
to their uses?
Soc. For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the several
kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.
Soc. Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also to know how
to put the true natural names of each thing into sounds and syllables
and to make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he
is to be a namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different
legislators will not use the same syllables. For neither does every
smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same
purpose, make them all of the same iron. The form must be the same,
but the material may vary, and still the instrument may be equally
good of whatever iron made, whether in Hellas or in a foreign country;-
there is no difference.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian, is not
therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he gives
the true and proper form of the name in whatever syllables; this or
that country makes no matter.
Her. Quite true.
Soc. But who then is to determine whether the proper form is given
to the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used? the carpenter who
makes, or the weaver who is to use them?
Her. I should say, he who is to use them, Socrates.
Soc. And who uses the work of the lyremaker? Will not he be the man
who knows how to direct what is being done, and who will know also
whether the work is being well done or not?
Soc. And who is he?
Her. The player of the lyre.
Soc. And who will direct the shipwright?
Her. The pilot.
Soc. And who will be best able to direct the legislator in his work,
and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other
country? Will not the user be the man?
Soc. And this is he who knows how to ask questions?
Soc. And how to answer them?
Soc. And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call a dialectician?
Her. Yes; that would be his name.
Soc. Then the work of the carpenter is to make a rudder, and the pilot
has to direct him, if the rudder is to be well made.
Soc. And the work of the legislator is to give names, and the dialectician
must be his director if the names are to be rightly given?
Her. That is true.
Soc. Then, Hermogenes, I should say that this giving of names can
be no such light matter as you fancy, or the work of light or chance
persons; and Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by
nature, and that not every man is an artificer of names, but he only
who looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is able
to express the true forms of things in letters and syllables.
Her. I cannot answer you, Socrates; but I find a difficulty in changing
my opinion all in a moment, and I think that I should be more readily
persuaded, if you would show me what this is which you term the natural
fitness of names.
Soc. My good Hermogenes, I have none to show. Was I not telling you
just now (but you have forgotten), that I knew nothing, and proposing
to share the enquiry with you? But now that you and I have talked
over the matter, a step has been gained; for we have discovered that
names have by nature a truth, and that not every man knows how to
give a thing a name.
Her. Very good.
Soc. And what is the nature of this truth or correctness of names?
That, if you care to know, is the next question.
Her. Certainly, I care to know.
Soc. Then reflect.
Her. How shall I reflect?
Soc. The true way is to have the assistance of those who know, and
you must pay them well both in money and in thanks; these are the
Sophists, of whom your brother, Callias, has- rather dearly- bought
the reputation of wisdom. But you have not yet come into your inheritance,
and therefore you had better go to him, and beg and entreat him to
tell you what he has learnt from Protagoras about the fitness of names.
Her. But how inconsistent should I be, if, whilst repudiating Protagoras
and his Truth, I were to attach any value to what he and his book
Soc. Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and the poets.
Her. And where does Homer say anything about names, and what does
Soc. He often speaks of them; notably and nobly in the places where
he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give to the
same things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable statement
about the correctness of names? For the Gods must clearly be supposed
to call things by their right and natural names; do you not think
Her. Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call them at all.
But to what are you referring?
Soc. Do you not know what he says about the river in Troy who had
a single combat with Hephaestus?
Whom the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander.
Her. I remember.
Soc. Well, and about this river- to know that he ought to be called
Xanthus and not Scamander- is not that a solemn lesson? Or about the
bird which, as he says,
The Gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis: to be taught how much more
correct the name Chalcis is than the name Cymindis- do you deem that
a light matter? Or about Batieia and Myrina? And there are many other
observations of the same kind in Homer and other poets. Now, I think
that this is beyond the understanding of you and me; but the names
of Scamandrius and Astyanax, which he affirms to have been the names
of Hector's son, are more within the range of human faculties, as
I am disposed to think; and what the poet means by correctness may
be more readily apprehended in that instance: you will remember I
dare say the lines to which I refer?
Her. I do.
Soc. Let me ask you, then, which did Homer think the more correct
of the names given to Hector's son- Astyanax or Scamandrius?
Her. I do not know.
Soc. How would you answer, if you were asked whether the wise or the
unwise are more likely to give correct names?
Her. I should say the wise, of course.
Soc. And are the men or the women of a city, taken as a class, the
Her. I should say, the men.
Soc. And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called him Astyanax
(king of the city); but if the men called him Astyanax, the other
name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the women.
Her. That may be inferred.
Soc. And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than
Her. To be sure.
Soc. Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name
for the boy than Scamandrius?
Soc. And what is the reason of this? Let us consider:- does he not
himself suggest a very good reason, when he says,
For he alone defended their city and long walls? This appears to be
a good reason for calling the son of the saviour king of the city
which his father was saving, as Homer observes.
Her. I see.
Soc. Why, Hermogenes, I do not as yet see myself; and do you?
Her. No, indeed; not I.
Soc. But tell me, friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector his
Her. What of that?
Soc. The name appears to me to be very nearly the same as the name
of Astyanax- both are Hellenic; and a king (anax) and a holder (ektor)
have nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king;
for a man is clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules,
and owns, and holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am talking
nonsense; and indeed I believe that I myself did not know what I meant
when I imagined that I had found some indication of the opinion of
Homer about the correctness of names.
Her. I assure you that I think otherwise, and I believe you to be
on the right track.
Soc. There is reason, I think, in calling the lion's whelp a lion,
and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary
course of nature, when an animal produces after his kind, and not
of extraordinary births;- if contrary to nature a horse have a calf,
then I should not call that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman
birth a man, but only a natural birth. And the same may be said of
trees and other things. Do you agree with me?
Her. Yes, I agree.
Soc. Very good. But you had better watch me and see that I do not
play tricks with you. For on the same principle the son of a king
is to be called a king. And whether the syllables of the name are
the same or not the same, makes no difference, provided the meaning
is retained; nor does the addition or subtraction of a letter make
any difference so long as the essence of the thing remains in possession
of the name and appears in it.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. A very simple matter. I may illustrate my meaning by the names
of letters, which you know are not the same as the letters themselves
with the exception of the four e, u, o (short), o (long); the names
of the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of other letters
which we add to them; but so long as we introduce the meaning, and
there can be no mistake, the name of the letter is quite correct.
Take, for example, the letter beta- the addition of e, t, a, gives
no offence, and does not prevent the whole name from having the value
which the legislator intended- so well did he know how to give the
Her. I believe you are right.
Soc. And may not the same be said of a king? a king will often be
the son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble
sire; and similarly the off spring of every kind, in the regular course
of nature, is like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet
the syllables may be disguised until they appear different to the
ignorant person, and he may not recognize them, although they are
the same, just as any one of us would not recognize the same drugs
under different disguises of colour and smell, although to the physician,
who regards the power of them, they are the same, and he is not put
out by the addition; and in like manner the etymologist is not put
out by the addition or transposition or subtraction of a letter or
two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for this need not
interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the names of Hector
and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is t, and yet they
have the same meaning. And how little in common with the letters of
their names has Archepolis (ruler of the city)- and yet the meaning
is the same. And there are many other names which just mean "king."
Again, there are several names for a general, as, for example, Agis
(leader) and Polemarchus (chief in war) and Eupolemus (good warrior);
and others which denote a physician, as Iatrocles (famous healer)
and Acesimbrotus (curer of mortals); and there are many others which
might be cited, differing in their syllables and letters, but having
the same meaning. Would you not say so?
Soc. The same names, then, ought to be assigned to those who follow
in the course of nature?
Soc. And what of those who follow out of the course of nature, and
are prodigies? for example, when a good and religious man has an irreligious
son, he ought to bear the name not of his father, but of the class
to which he belongs, just as in the case which was before supposed
of a horse foaling a calf.
Her. Quite true.
Soc. Then the irreligious son of a religious father should be called
Soc. He should not be called Theophilus (beloved of God) or Mnesitheus
(mindful of God), or any of these names: if names are correctly given,
his should have an opposite meaning.
Her. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. Again, Hermogenes, there is Orestes (the man of the mountains)
who appears to be rightly called; whether chance gave the name, or
perhaps some poet who meant to express the brutality and fierceness
and mountain wildness of his hero's nature.
Her. That is very likely, Socrates.
Soc. And his father's name is also according to nature.
Soc. Yes, for as his name, so also is his nature; Agamemnon (admirable
for remaining) is one who is patient and persevering in the accomplishment
of his resolves, and by his virtue crowns them; and his continuance
at Troy with all the vast army is a proof of that admirable endurance
in him which is signified by the name Agamemnon. I also think that
Atreus is rightly called; for his murder of Chrysippus and his exceeding
cruelty to Thyestes are damaging and destructive to his reputation-
the name is a little altered and disguised so as not to be intelligible
to every one, but to the etymologist there is no difficulty in seeing
the meaning, for whether you think of him as ateires the stubborn,
or as atrestos the fearless, or as ateros the destructive one, the
name is perfectly correct in every point of view. And I think that
Pelops is also named appropriately; for, as the name implies, he is
rightly called Pelops who sees what is near only (o ta pelas oron).
Her. How so?
Soc. Because, according to the tradition, he had no forethought or
foresight of all the evil which the murder of Myrtilus would entail
upon his whole race in remote ages; he saw only what was at hand and
immediate,- Or in other words, pelas (near), in his eagerness to win
Hippodamia by all means for his bride. Every one would agree that
the name of Tantalus is rightly given and in accordance with nature,
if the traditions about him are true.
Her. And what are the traditions?
Soc. Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened to him in
his life- last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after
his death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in
the world below- all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You
might imagine that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the
most weighted down by misfortune), disguised the name by altering
it into Tantalus; and into this form, by some accident of tradition,
it has actually been transmuted. The name of Zeus, who is his alleged
father, has also an excellent meaning, although hard to be understood,
because really like a sentence, which is divided into two parts, for
some call him Zena, and use the one half, and others who use the other
half call him Dia; the two together signify the nature of the God,
and the business of a name, as we were saying, is to express the nature.
For there is none who is more the author of life to us and to all,
than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are right in calling him
Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning the God
through whom all creatures always have life (di on zen aei pasi tois
zosin uparchei). There is an irreverence, at first sight, in calling
him son of Cronos (who is a proverb for stupidity), and we might rather
expect Zeus to be the child of a mighty intellect. Which is the fact;
for this is the meaning of his father's name: Kronos quasi Koros (Choreo,
to sweep), not in the sense of a youth, but signifying to chatharon
chai acheraton tou nou, the pure and garnished mind (sc. apo tou chorein).
He, as we are informed by tradition, was begotten of Uranus, rightly
so called (apo tou oran ta ano) from looking upwards; which, as philosophers
tell us, is the way to have a pure mind, and the name Uranus is therefore
correct. If I could remember the genealogy of Hesiod, I would have
gone on and tried more conclusions of the same sort on the remoter
ancestors of the Gods,- then I might have seen whether this wisdom,
which has come to me all in an instant, I know not whence, will or
will not hold good to the end.
Her. You seem to me, Socrates, to be quite like a prophet newly inspired,
and to be uttering oracles.
Soc. Yes, Hermogenes, and I believe that I caught the inspiration
from the great Euthyphro of the Prospaltian deme, who gave me a long
lecture which commenced at dawn: he talked and I listened, and his
wisdom and enchanting ravishment has not only filled my ears but taken
possession of my soul,and to-day I shall let his superhuman power
work and finish the investigation of names- that will be the way;
but to-morrow, if you are so disposed, we will conjure him away, and
make a purgation of him, if we can only find some priest or sophist
who is skilled in purifications of this sort.
Her. With all my heart; for am very curious to hear the rest of the
enquiry about names.
Soc. Then let us proceed; and where would you have us begin, now that
we have got a sort of outline of the enquiry? Are there any names
which witness of themselves that they are not given arbitrarily, but
have a natural fitness? The names of heroes and of men in general
are apt to be deceptive because they are often called after ancestors
with whose names, as we were saying, they may have no business; or
they are the expression of a wish like Eutychides (the son of good
fortune), or Sosias (the Saviour), or Theophilus (the beloved of God),
and others. But I think that we had better leave these, for there
will be more chance of finding correctness in the names of immutable
essences;- there ought to have been more care taken about them when
they were named, and perhaps there may have been some more than human
power at work occasionally in giving them names.
Her. I think so, Socrates.
Soc. Ought we not to begin with the consideration of the Gods, and
show that they are" rightly named Gods?
Her. Yes, that will be well.
Soc. My notion would be something of this sort:- I suspect that the
sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many
barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes. Seeing
that they were always moving and running, from their running nature
they were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men
became acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the
same name to them all. Do you think that likely?
Her. I think it very likely indeed.
Soc. What shall follow the Gods?
Her. Must not demons and heroes and men come next?
Soc. Demons! And what do you consider to be the meaning of this word?
Tell me if my view is right.
Her. Let me hear.
Soc. You know how Hesiod uses the word?
Her. I do not.
Soc. Do you not remember that he speaks of a golden race of men who
Her. Yes, I do.
Soc. He says of them-
But now that fate has closed over this race
They are holy demons upon the earth,
Beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.
Her. What is the inference?
Soc. What is the inference! Why, I suppose that he means by the golden
men, not men literally made of gold, but good and noble; and I am
convinced of this, because he further says that we are the iron race.
Her. That is true.
Soc. And do you not suppose that good men of our own day would by
him be said to be of golden race?
Her. Very likely.
Soc. And are not the good wise?
Her. Yes, they are wise.
Soc. And therefore I have the most entire conviction that he called
them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise), and in
our older Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and other poets
say truly, that when a good man dies he has honour and a mighty portion
among the dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name given to him
signifying wisdom. And I say too, that every wise man who happens
to be a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life and death,
and is rightly called a demon.
Her. Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you; but what
is the meaning of the word "hero"? (eros)
Soc. I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for the name
is not much altered, and signifies that they were born of love.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. Do you not know that the heroes are demigods?
Her. What then?
Soc. All of them sprang either from the love of a God for a mortal
woman, or of a mortal man for a Goddess; think of the word in the
old Attic, and you will see better that the name heros is only a slight
alteration of Eros, from whom the heroes sprang: either this is the
meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skilful as rhetoricians
and dialecticians, and able to put the question (erotan), for eirein
is equivalent to legein. And therefore, as I was saying, in the Attic
dialect the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and questioners. All
this is easy enough; the noble breed of heroes are a tribe of sophists
and rhetors. But can you tell me why men are called anthropoi?- that
is more difficult.
Her. No, I cannot; and I would not try even if I could, because I
think that you are the more likely to succeed.
Soc. That is to say, you trust to the inspiration of Euthyphro.
Her. Of course.
Soc. Your faith is not vain; for at this very moment a new and ingenious
thought strikes me, and, if I am not careful, before tomorrow's dawn
I shall be wiser than I ought to be. Now, attend to me; and first,
remember that we of put in and pull out letters in words, and give
names as we please and change the accents. Take, for example, the
word Dii Philos; in order to convert this from a sentence into a noun,
we omit one of the iotas and sound the middle syllable grave instead
of acute; as, on the other hand, letters are sometimes inserted in
words instead of being omitted, and the acute takes the place of the
Her. That is true.
Soc. The name anthropos, which was once a sentence, and is now a noun,
appears to be a case just of this sort, for one letter, which is the
a, has been omitted, and the acute on the last syllable has been changed
to a grave.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. I mean to say that the word "man" implies that other animals
never examine, or consider, or look up at what they see, but that
man not only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which
he sees, and hence he alone of all animals is rightly anthropos, meaning
anathron a opopen.
Her. May I ask you to examine another word about which I am curious?
Her. I will take that which appears to me to follow next in order.
You know the distinction of soul and body?
Soc. Of course.
Her. Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous words.
Soc. You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness of the
word psnche (soul), and then of the word soma (body)?
Soc. If I am to say what occurs to me at the moment, I should imagine
that those who first use the name psnche meant to express that the
soul when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power of
breath and revival (anapsuchon), and when this reviving power fails
then the body perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken, they
called psyche. But please stay a moment; I fancy that I can discover
something which will be more acceptable to the disciples of Euthyphro,
for I am afraid that they will scorn this explanation. What do you
say to another?
Her. Let me hear.
Soc. What is that which holds and carries and gives life and motion
to the entire nature of the body? What else but the soul?
Her. Just that.
Soc. And do you not believe with Anaxagoras, that mind or soul is
the ordering and containing principle of all things?
Her. Yes; I do.
Soc. Then you may well call that power phuseche which carries and
holds nature (e phusin okei, kai ekei), and this may be refined away
into psuche. Her. Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more
scientific than the other.
Soc. It is so; but I cannot help laughing, if I am to suppose that
this was the true meaning of the name.
Her. But what shall we say of the next word?
Soc. You mean soma (the body).
Soc. That may be variously interpreted; and yet more variously if
a little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is the
grave (sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our
present life; or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives
indications to (semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were
the inventors of the name, and they were under the impression that
the soul is suffering the punishment of sin, and that the body is
an enclosure or prison in which the soul is incarcerated, kept safe
(soma, sozetai), as the name ooma implies, until the penalty is paid;
according to this view, not even a letter of the word need be changed.
Her. I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this class of
words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the Gods,
like that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether
any similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
Soc. Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle
which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge,- that of the Gods we
know nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give
themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves,
whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles;
and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them
by any sort of kind names or patronymics which they like, because
we do not know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good custom,
and one which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then, if you
please, in the first place announce to them that we are not enquiring
about them; we do not presume that we are able to do so; but we are
enquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these names,- in
this there can be small blame.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you are quite right, and I would like
to do as you say.
Soc. Shall we begin, then, with Hestia, according to custom?
Her. Yes, that will be very proper.
Soc. What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?
Her. That is another and certainly a most difficult question.
Soc. My dear Hermogenes, the first imposers of names must surely have
been considerable persons; they were philosophers, and had a good
deal to say.
Her. Well, and what of them?
Soc. They are the men to whom I should attribute the imposition of
names. Even in foreign names, if you analyze them, a meaning is still
discernible. For example, that which we term ousia is by some called
esia, and by others again osia. Now that the essence of things should
be called estia, which is akin to the first of these (esia = estia),
is rational enough. And there is reason in the Athenians calling that
estia which participates in ousia. For in ancient times we too seem
to have said esia for ousia, and this you may note to have been the
idea of those who appointed that sacrifices should be first offered
to estia, which was natural enough if they meant that estia was the
essence of things. Those again who read osia seem to have inclined
to the opinion of Heracleitus, that all things flow and nothing stands;
with them the pushing principle (othoun) is the cause and ruling power
of all things, and is therefore rightly called osia. Enough of this,
which is all that we who know nothing can affirm. Next in order after
Hestia we ought to consider Rhea and Cronos, although the name of
Cronos has been already discussed. But I dare say that I am talking
Her. Why, Socrates?
Soc. My good friend, I have discovered a hive of wisdom.
Her. Of what nature?
Soc. Well, rather ridiculous, and yet plausible.
Her. How plausible?
Soc. I fancy to myself Heracleitus repeating wise traditions of antiquity
as old as the days of Cronos and Rhea, and of which Homer also spoke.
Her. How do you mean?
Soc. Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion
and nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and
says that you cannot go into the same water twice.
Her. That is true.
Soc. Well, then, how can we avoid inferring that he who gave the names
of Cronos and Rhea to the ancestors of the Gods, agreed pretty much
in the doctrine of Heracleitus? Is the giving of the names of streams
to both of them purely accidental? Compare the line in which Homer,
and, as I believe, Hesiod also, tells of
Ocean, the origin of Gods, and mother Tethys. And again, Orpheus says,
The fair river of Ocean was the first to marry, and he espoused his
sister Tethys, who was his mother's daughter. You see that this is
a remarkable coincidence, and all in the direction of Heracleitus.
Her. I think that there is something in what you say, Socrates; but
I do not understand the meaning of the name Tethys.
Soc. Well, that is almost self-explained, being only the name of a
spring, a little disguised; for that which is strained and filtered
(diattomenon, ethoumenon) may be likened to a spring, and the name
Tethys is made up of these two words.
Her. The idea is ingenious, Socrates.
Soc. To be sure. But what comes next?- of Zeus we have spoken.
Soc. Then let us next take his two brothers, Poseidon and Pluto, whether
the latter is called by that or by his other name.
Her. By all means.
Soc. Poseidon is Posidesmos, the chain of the feet; the original inventor
of the name had been stopped by the watery element in his walks, and
not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler of this element
Poseidon; the e was probably inserted as an ornament. Yet, perhaps,
not so; but the name may have been originally written with a double
l and not with an s, meaning that the God knew many things (Polla
eidos). And perhaps also he being the shaker of the earth, has been
named from shaking (seiein), and then p and d have been added. Pluto
gives wealth (Ploutos), and his name means the giver of wealth, which
comes out of the earth beneath. People in general appear to imagine
that the term Hades is connected with the invisible (aeides) and so
they are led by their fears to call the God Pluto instead.
Her. And what is the true derivation?
Soc. In spite of the mistakes which are made about the power of this
deity, and the foolish fears which people have of him, such as the
fear of always being with him after death, and of the soul denuded
of the body going to him, my belief is that all is quite consistent,
and that the office and name of the God really correspond.
Her. Why, how is that?
Soc. I will tell you my own opinion; but first, I should like to ask
you which chain does any animal feel to be the stronger? and which
confines him more to the same spot,- desire or necessity?
Her. Desire, Socrates, is stronger far.
Soc. And do you not think that many a one would escape from Hades,
if he did not bind those who depart to him by the strongest of chains?
Her. Assuredly they would.
Soc. And if by the greatest of chains, then by some desire, as I should
certainly infer, and not by necessity?
Her. That is clear.
Soc. And there are many desires?
Soc. And therefore by the greatest desire, if the chain is to be the
Soc. And is any desire stronger than the thought that you will be
made better by associating with another?
Her. Certainly not.
Soc. And is not that the reason, Hermogenes, why no one, who has been
to him, is willing to come back to us? Even the Sirens, like all the
rest of the world, have been laid under his spells. Such a charm,
as I imagine, is the God able to infuse into his words. And, according
to this view, he is the perfect and accomplished Sophist, and the
great benefactor of the inhabitants of the other world; and even to
us who are upon earth he sends from below exceeding blessings. For
he has much more than he wants down there; wherefore he is called
Pluto (or the rich). Note also, that he will have nothing to do with
men while they are in the body, but only when the soul is liberated
from the desires and evils of the body. Now there is a great deal
of philosophy and reflection in that; for in their liberated state
he can bind them with the desire of virtue, but while they are flustered
and maddened by the body, not even father Cronos himself would suffice
to keep them with him in his own far-famed chains.
Her. There is a deal of truth in what you say.
Soc. Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades, not from
the unseen (aeides)- far otherwise, but from his knowledge (eidenai)
of all noble things.
Her. Very good; and what do we say of Demeter, and Here, and Apollo,
and Athene, and Hephaestus, and Ares, and the other deities?
Soc. Demeter is e didousa meter, who gives food like a mother; Here
is the lovely one (erate)- for Zeus, according to tradition, loved
and married her; possibly also the name may have been given when the
legislator was thinking of the heavens, and may be only a disguise
of the air (aer), putting the end in the place of the beginning. You
will recognize the truth of this if you repeat the letters of Here
several times over. People dread the name of Pherephatta as they dread
the name of Apollo- and with as little reason; the fear, if I am not
mistaken, only arises from their ignorance of the nature of names.
But they go changing the name into Phersephone, and they are terrified
at this; whereas the new name means only that the Goddess is wise
(sophe); for seeing that all things in the world are in motion (pheromenon),
that principle which embraces and touches and is able to follow them,
is wisdom. And therefore the Goddess may be truly called Pherepaphe
(Pherepapha), or some name like it, because she touches that which
is (tou pheromenon ephaptomene), herein showing her wisdom. And Hades,
who is wise, consorts with her, because she is wise. They alter her
name into Pherephatta now-a-days, because the present generation care
for euphony more than truth. There is the other name, Apollo, which,
as I was saying, is generally supposed to have some terrible signification.
Have you remarked this fact?
Her. To be sure I have, and what you say is true.
Soc. But the name, in my opinion, is really most expressive of the
power of the God.
Her. How so?
Soc. I will endeavour to explain, for I do not believe that any single
name could have been better adapted to express the attributes of the
God, embracing and in a manner signifying all four of them,- music,
and prophecy, and medicine, and archery.
Her. That must be a strange name, and I should like to hear the explanation.
Soc. Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of Harmony.
In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors
and diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal,
as well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and
the same object, which is to make a man pure both in body and soul.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and the absolver
from all impurities?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then in reference to his ablutions and absolutions, as being
the physician who orders them, he may be rightly called Apolouon (purifier);
or in respect of his powers of divination, and his truth and sincerity,
which is the same as truth, he may be most fitly called Aplos, from
aplous (sincere), as in the Thessalian dialect, for all the Thessalians
call him Aplos; also he is Ballon (always shooting), because he is
a master archer who never misses; or again, the name may refer to
his musical attributes, and then, as in akolouthos, and akoitis, and
in many other words the a is supposed to mean "together," so the meaning
of the name Apollo will be "moving together," whether in the poles
of heaven as they are called, or in the harmony of song, which is
termed concord, because he moves all together by an harmonious power,
as astronomers and musicians ingeniously declare. And he is the God
who presides over harmony, and makes all things move together, both
among Gods and among men. And as in the words akolouthos and akoitis
the a is substituted for an o, so the name Apollon is equivalent to
omopolon; only the second l is added in order to avoid the ill-omened
sound of destruction (apolon). Now the suspicion of this destructive
power still haunts the minds of some who do not consider the true
value of the name, which, as I was saying just now, has reference
to all the powers of the God, who is the single one, the everdarting,
the purifier, the mover together (aplous, aei Ballon, apolouon, omopolon).
The name of the Muses and of music would seem to be derived from their
making philosophical enquiries (mosthai); and Leto is called by this
name, because she is such a gentle Goddess, and so willing (ethelemon)
to grant our requests; or her name may be Letho, as she is often called
by strangers- they seem to imply by it her amiability, and her smooth
and easy-going way of behaving. Artemis is named from her healthy
(artemes), well-ordered nature, and because of her love of virginity,
perhaps because she is a proficient in virtue (arete), and perhaps
also as hating intercourse of the sexes (ton aroton miseasa). He who
gave the Goddess her name may have had any or all of these reasons.
Her. What is the meaning of Dionysus and Aphrodite?
Soc. Son of Hipponicus, you ask a solemn question; there is a serious
and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the serious
explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no objection to
your hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke. Dionusos
is simply didous oinon (giver of wine), as he might be called in fun,-
and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes those who drink,
think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when they have none.
The derivation of Aphrodite, born of the foam (aphoros), may be fairly
accepted on the authority of Hesiod.
Her. Still there remains Athene, whom you, Socrates, as an Athenian,
will surely not forget; there are also Hephaestus and Ares.
Soc. I am not likely to forget them.
Her. No, indeed.
Soc. There is no difficulty in explaining the other appellation of
Her. What other appellation?
Soc. We call her Pallas.
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And we cannot be wrong in supposing that this is derived from
armed dances. For the elevation of oneself or anything else above
the earth, or by the use of the hands, we call shaking (pallein),
Her. That is quite true.
Soc. Then that is the explanation of the name Pallas?
Her. Yes; but what do you say of the other name?
Soc. That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern interpreters
of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of the ancients.
For most of these in their explanations of the poet, assert that he
meant by Athene "mind" (nous) and "intelligence" (dianoia), and the
maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and
indeed calls her by a still higher title, "divine intelligence" (Thou
noesis), as though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God
(Theonoa);- using a as a dialectical variety e, and taking away i
and s. Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may mean "she who knows
divine things" (Theia noousa) better than others. Nor shall we be
far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify this
Goddess with moral intelligence (en ethei noesin), and therefore gave
her the name ethonoe; which, however, either he or his successors
have altered into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athene.
Her. But what do you say of Hephaestus?
Soc. Speak you of the princely lord of light (Phaeos istora)?
Soc. Ephaistos is Phaistos, and has added the e by attraction; that
is obvious to anybody.
Her. That is very probable, until some more probable notion gets into
Soc. To prevent that, you had better ask what is the derivation of
Her. What is Ares?
Soc. Ares may be called, if you will, from his manhood (arren) and
manliness, or if you please, from his hard and unchangeable nature,
which is the meaning of arratos: the latter is a derivation in every
way appropriate to the God of war.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And now, by the Gods, let us have no more of the Gods, for I
am afraid of them; ask about anything but them, and thou shalt see
how the steeds of Euthyphro can prance.
Her. Only one more God! I should like to know about Hermes, of whom
I am said not to be a true son. Let us make him out, and then I shall
know whether there is any meaning in what Cratylus says.
Soc. I should imagine that the name Hermes has to do with speech,
and signifies that he is the interpreter (ermeneus), or messenger,
or thief, or liar, or bargainer; all that sort of thing has a great
deal to do with language; as I was telling you the word eirein is
expressive of the use of speech, and there is an often-recurring Homeric
word emesato, which means "he contrived"- out of these two words,
eirein and mesasthai, the legislator formed the name of the God who
invented language and speech; and we may imagine him dictating to
us the use of this name: "O my friends," says he to us, "seeing that
he is the contriver of tales or speeches, you may rightly call him
Eirhemes." And this has been improved by us, as we think, into Hermes.
Iris also appears to have been called from the verb "to tell" (eirein),
because she was a messenger.
Her. Then I am very sure that Cratylus was quite right in saying that
I was no true son of Hermes (Ermogenes), for I am not a good hand
Soc. There is also reason, my friend, in Pan being the double-formed
son of Hermes.
Her. How do you make that out?
Soc. You are aware that speech signifies all things (pan), and is
always turning them round and round, and has two forms, true and false?
Soc. Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which
dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below,
and is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have
generally to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the
place of them?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan) and
the perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called aipolos
(goat-herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth in his
upper part, and rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And, as the
son of Hermes, he is speech or the brother of speech, and that brother
should be like brother is no marvel. But, as I was saying, my dear
Hermogenes, let us get away from the Gods.
Her. From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates. But why should
we not discuss another kind of Gods- the sun, moon, stars, earth,
aether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year?
Soc. You impose a great many tasks upon me. Still, if you wish, I
will not refuse.
Her. You will oblige me.
Soc. How would you have me begin? Shall I take first of all him whom
you mentioned first- the sun?
Her. Very good.
Soc. The origin of the sun will probably be clearer in the Doric form,
for the Dorians call him alios, and this name is given to him because
when he rises he gathers (alizoi) men together or because he is always
rolling in his course (aei eilein ion) about the earth; or from aiolein,
of which meaning is the same as poikillein (to variegate), because
he variegates the productions of the earth.
Her. But what is selene (the moon)?
Soc. That name is rather unfortunate for Anaxagoras.
Her. How so?
Soc. The word seems to forestall his recent discovery, that the moon
receives her light from the sun.
Her. Why do you say so?
Soc. The two words selas (brightness) and phos (light) have much the
Soc. This light about the moon is always new (neon) and always old
(enon), if the disciples of Anaxagoras say truly. For the sun in his
revolution always adds new light, and there is the old light of the
Her. Very true.
Soc. The moon is not unfrequently called selanaia.
Soc. And as she has a light which is always old and always new (enon
neon aei) she may very properly have the name selaenoneoaeia; and
this when hammered into shape becomes selanaia.
Her. A real dithyrambic sort of name that, Socrates. But what do you
say of the month and the stars?
Soc. Meis (month) is called from meiousthai (to lessen), because suffering
diminution; the name of astra (stars) seems to be derived from astrape,
which is an improvement on anastphope, signifying the upsetting of
the eyes (anastrephein opa).
Her. What do you say of pur (fire) and udor (water)?
Soc. I am at a loss how to explain pur; either the muse of Euthyphro
has deserted me, or there is some very great difficulty in the word.
Please, however, to note the contrivance which I adopt whenever I
am in a difficulty of this sort.
Her. What is it?
Soc. I will tell you; but I should like to know first whether you
can tell me what is the meaning of the pur?
Her. Indeed I cannot.
Soc. Shall I tell you what I suspect to be the true explanation of
this and several other words?- My belief is that they are of foreign
origin. For the Hellenes, especially those who were under the dominion
of the barbarians, often borrowed from them.
Her. What is the inference?
Soc. Why, you know that any one who seeks to demonstrate the fitness
of these names according to the Hellenic language, and not according
to the language from which the words are derived, is rather likely
to be at fault.
Her. Yes, certainly.
Soc. Well then, consider whether this pur is not foreign; for the
word is not easily brought into relation with the Hellenic tongue,
and the Phrygians may be observed to have the same word slightly changed,
just as they have udor (water) and kunes (dogs), and many other words.
Her. That is true.
Soc. Any violent interpretations of the words should be avoided; for
something to say about them may easily be found. And thus I get rid
of pur and udor. Aer (air), Hermogenes, may be explained as the element
which raises (airei) things from the earth, or as ever flowing (aei
pei), or because the flux of the air is wind, and the poets call the
winds "air-blasts," (aetai); he who uses the term may mean, so to
speak, air-flux (aetorroun), in the sense of wind-flux (pneumatorroun);
and because this moving wind may be expressed by either term he employs
the word air (aer = aetes rheo). Aither (aether) I should interpret
as aeitheer; this may be correctly said, because this element is always
running in a flux about the air (aei thei peri tou aera ron). The
meaning of the word ge (earth) comes out better when in the form of
gaia, for the earth may be truly called "mother" (gaia, genneteira),
as in the language of Homer (Od. ix. 118; xiii. 160) gegaasi means
Soc. What shall we take next? Her. There are orai (the seasons), and
the two names of the year, eniautos and etos.
Soc. The orai should be spelt in the old Attic way, if you desire
to know the probable truth about them; they are rightly called the
orai because they divide (orizousin) the summers and winters and winds
and the fruits of the earth. The words eniautos and etos appear to
be the same,- "that which brings to light the plants and growths of
the earth in their turn, and passes them in review within itself (en
eauto exetazei)": this is broken up into two words, eniautos from
en eauto, and etos from etazei, just as the original name of Zeus
was divided into Zena and Dia; and the whole proposition means that
his power of reviewing from within is one, but has two names, two
words etos and eniautos being thus formed out of a single proposition.
Her. Indeed, Socrates, you make surprising progress.
Soc. I am run away with.
Her. Very true.
Soc. But am not yet at my utmost speed.
Her. I should like very much to know, in the next place, how you would
explain the virtues. What principle of correctness is there in those
charming words- wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest of them?
Soc. That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring;
still, as I have put on the lion's skin, I must not be faint of heart;
and I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis)
and understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge (episteme),
and all those other charming words, as you call them?
Her. Surely, we must not leave off until we find out their meaning.
Soc. By the dog of Egypt I have not a bad notion which came into my
head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of names
were undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers, who, in
their search after the nature of things, are always getting dizzy
from constantly going round and round, and then they imagine that
the world is going round and round and moving in all directions; and
this appearance, which arises out of their own internal condition,
they suppose to be a reality of nature; they think that there is nothing
stable or permanent, but only flux and motion, and that the world
is always full of every sort of motion and change. The consideration
of the names which I mentioned has led me into making this reflection.
Her. How is that, Socrates?
Soc. Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which have been
just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most surely
Her. No, indeed, I never thought of it.
Soc. Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is
a name indicative of motion.
Her. What was the name? Soc. Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify
Phoras kai rhou noesis (perception of motion and flux), or perhaps
Phoras onesis (the blessing of motion), but is at any rate connected
with Pheresthai (motion); gnome (judgment), again, certainly implies
the ponderation or consideration (nomesis) of generation, for to ponder
is the same as to consider; or, if you would rather, here is noesis,
the very word just now mentioned, which is neou esis (the desire of
the new); the word neos implies that the world is always in process
of creation. The giver of the name wanted to express his longing of
the soul, for the original name was neoesis, and not noesis. The word
sophrosune is the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which
we were just now considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this,
and indicates that the soul which is good for anything follows (epetai)
the motion of things, neither anticipating them nor falling behind
them; wherefor the word should rather be read as epistemene, inserting
en. Sunesis (understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind
of conclusion; the word is derived from sunienai (to go along with),
and, like epistasthai (to know), implies the progression of the soul
in company with the nature of things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark,
and appears not to be of native growth; the meaning is, touching the
motion or stream of things. You must remember that the poets, when
they speak of the commencement of any rapid motion, often use the
word esuthe (he rushed); and there was a famous Lacedaemonian who
was named Sous (Rush), for by this word the Lacedaemonians signify
rapid motion, and the touching (epaphe) of motion is expressed by
sophia, for all things are supposed to be in motion. Good (agathon)
is the name which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature; for,
although all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some
are swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable
for their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called agathon.
Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis (understanding of
the just); but the actual word dikaion is more difficult: men are
only agreed to a certain extent about justice, and then they begin
For those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the greater
part of nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that there is
a penetrating power which passes through all this, and is the instrument
of creation in all, and is the subtlest and swiftest element; for
if it were not the subtlest, and a power which none can keep out,
and also the swiftest, passing by other things as if they were standing
still, it could not penetrate through the moving universe. And this
element, which superintends all things and pieces (diaion) all, is
rightly called dikaion; the letter k is only added for the sake of
euphony. Thus far, as I was saying, there is a general agreement about
the nature of justice; but I, Hermogenes, being an enthusiastic disciple,
have been told in a mystery that the justice of which I am speaking
is also the cause of the world: now a cause is that because of which
anything is created; and some one comes and whispers in my ear that
justice is rightly so called because partaking of the nature of the
cause, and I begin, after hearing what he has said, to interrogate
him gently: "Well, my excellent friend," say I, "but if all this be
true, I still want to know what is justice." Thereupon they think
that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping over the barriers, and
have been already sufficiently answered, and they try to satisfy me
with one derivation after another, and at length they quarrel. For
one of them says that justice is the sun, and that he only is the
piercing (diaionta) and burning (kaonta) element which is the guardian
of nature. And when I joyfully repeat this beautiful notion, I am
answered by the satirical remark, "What, is there no justice in the
world when the sun is down?" And when I earnestly beg my questioner
to tell me his own honest opinion, he says, "Fire in the abstract";
but this is not very intelligible. Another says, "No, not fire in
the abstract, but the abstraction of heat in the fire." Another man
professes to laugh at all this, and says, as Anaxagoras says, that
justice is mind, for mind, as they say, has absolute power, and mixes
with nothing, and orders all things, and passes through all things.
At last, my friend, I find myself in far greater perplexity about
the nature of justice than I was before I began to learn. But still
I am of opinion that the name, which has led me into this digression,
was given to justice for the reasons which I have mentioned.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now; you must
have heard this from some one else.
Soc. And not the rest?
Her. Hardly. Soc. Well, then, let me go on in the hope of making you
believe in the originality of the rest. What remains after justice?
I do not think that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),- injustice
(adikia), which is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the
penetrating principle (diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then,
the name of andreia seems to imply a battle;- this battle is in the
world of existence, and according to the doctrine of flux is only
the counterflux (enantia rhon): if you extract the d from andreia,
the name at once signifies the thing, and you may clearly understand
that andreia is not the stream opposed to every stream, but only to
that which is contrary to justice, for otherwise courage would not
have been praised. The words arren (male) and aner (man) also contain
a similar allusion to the same principle of the upward flux (te ano
rhon). Gune (woman) I suspect to be the same word as goun (birth):
thelu (female) appears to be partly derived from thele (the teat),
because the teat is like rain, and makes things flourish (tethelenai).
Her. That is surely probable.
Soc. Yes; and the very word thallein (to flourish) seems to figure
the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this is expressed
by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of thein (running),
and allesthai (leaping). Pray observe how I gallop away when I get
on smooth ground. There are a good many names generally thought to
be of importance, which have still to be explained.
Soc. There is the meaning of the word techne (art), for example.
Her. Very true.
Soc. That may be identified with echonoe, and expresses the possession
of mind: you have only to take away the t and insert two o's, one
between the ch and n, and another between the n and e.
Her. That is a very shabby etymology.
Soc. Yes, my dear friend; but then you know that the original names
have been long ago buried and disguised by people sticking on and
stripping off letters for the sake of euphony, and twisting and bedizening
them in all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a share in the
change. Take, for example, the word katoptron; why is the letter r
inserted? This must surely be the addition of some one who cares nothing
about the truth, but thinks only of putting the mouth into shape.
And the additions are often such that at last no human being can possibly
make out the original meaning of the word. Another example is the
word sphigx, sphiggos, which ought properly to be phigx, phiggos,
and there are other examples.
Her. That is quite true, Socrates.
Soc. And yet, if you are permitted to put in and pull out any letters
which you please, names will be too easily made, and any name may
be adapted to any object.
Soc. Yes, that is true. And therefore a wise dictator, like yourself,
should observe the laws of moderation and probability.
Her. Such is my desire.
Soc. And mine, too, Hermogenes. But do not be too much of a precisian,
or "you will unnerve me of my strength." When you have allowed me
to add mechane (contrivance) to techne (art) I shall be at the top
of my bent, for I conceive mechane to be a sign of great accomplishment-
anein; for mekos the meaning of greatness, and these two, mekos and
anein, make up the word mechane. But, as I was saying, being now at
the top of my bent, I should like to consider the meaning of the two
words arete (virtue) and kakia (vice) arete I do not as yet understand,
but kakia is transparent, and agrees with the principles which preceded,
for all things being in a flux (ionton), kakia is kakos ion (going
badly); and this evil motion when existing in the soul has the general
name of kakia or vice, specially appropriated to it. The meaning of
kakos ienai may be further illustrated by the use of deilia (cowardice),
which ought to have come after andreia, but was forgotten, and, as
I fear, is not the only word which has been passed over. Deilia signifies
that the soul is bound with a strong chain (desmos), for lian means
strength, and therefore deilia expresses the greatest and strongest
bond of the soul; and aporia (difficulty) is an evil of the same nature
(from a not, and poreuesthai to go), like anything else which is an
impediment to motion and movement. Then the word kakia appears to
mean kakos ienai, or going badly, or limping and halting; of which
the consequence is, that the soul becomes filled with vice. And if
kakia is the name of this sort of thing, arete will be the opposite
of it, signifying in the first place ease of motion, then that the
stream of the good soul is unimpeded, and has therefore the attribute
of ever flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore called
arete, or, more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing), and may perhaps
have had another form, airete (eligible), indicating that nothing
is more eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete.
I daresay that you will deem this to be another invention of mine,
but I think that if the previous word kakia was right, then arete
is also right.
Her. But what is the meaning of kakon, which has played so great a
part in your previous discourse?
Soc. That is a very singular word about which I can hardly form an
opinion, and therefore I must have recourse to my ingenious device.
Her. What device?
Soc. The device of a foreign origin, which I shall give to this word
Her. Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave these words
and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.
Soc. The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon roes
(always preventing from flowing), and this is in accordance with our
former derivations. For the name-giver was a great enemy to stagnation
of all sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to that which
hindered the flux (aei ischon roun), and that is now beaten together
Her. But what do you say of kalon?
Soc. That is more obscure; yet the form is only due to the quantity,
and has been changed by altering ou into o.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. This name appears to denote mind.
Her. How so?
Soc. Let me ask you what is the cause why anything has a name; is
not the principle which imposes the name the cause?
Soc. And must not this be the mind of Gods, or of men, or of both?
Soc. Is not mind that which called (kalesan) things by their names,
and is not mind the beautiful (kalon)?
Her. That is evident.
Soc. And are not the works of intelligence and mind worthy of praise,
and are not other works worthy of blame?
Soc. Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering does the
works of a carpenter?
Soc. And the principle of beauty does the works of beauty?
Her. Of course.
Soc. And that principle we affirm to be mind?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then mind is rightly called beauty because she does the works
which we recognize and speak of as the beautiful?
Her. That is evident.
Soc. What more names remain to us?
Her. There are the words which are connected with agathon and kalon,
such as sumpheron and lusiteloun, ophelimon, kerdaleon, and their
Soc. The meaning of sumpheron (expedient) I think that you may discover
for yourself by the light of the previous examples,- for it is a sister
word to episteme, meaning just the motion (pora) of the soul accompanying
the world, and things which are done upon this principle are called
sumphora or sumpheronta, because they are carried round with the world.
Her. That is probable.
Soc. Again, cherdaleon (gainful) is called from cherdos (gain), but
you must alter the d into n if you want to get at the meaning; for
this word also signifies good, but in another way; he who gave the
name intended to express the power of admixture (kerannumenon) and
universal penetration in the good; in forming the word, however, he
inserted a d instead of an n, and so made kerdos.
Her. Well, but what is lusiteloun (profitable)?
Soc. I suppose, Hermogenes, that people do not mean by the profitable
the gainful or that which pays (luei) the retailer, but they use the
word in the sense of swift. You regard the profitable (lusitelou),
as that which being the swiftest thing in existence, allows of no
stay in things and no pause or end of motion, but always, if there
begins to be any end, lets things go again (luei), and makes motion
immortal and unceasing: and in this point of view, as appears to me,
the good is happily denominated lusiteloun- being that which looses
(luon) the end (telos) of motion. Ophelimon (the advantageous) is
derived from ophellein, meaning that which creates and increases;
this latter is a common Homeric word, and has a foreign character.
Her. And what do you say of their opposites?
Soc. Of such as mere negatives I hardly think that I need speak.
Her. Which are they?
Soc. The words axumphoron (inexpedient), anopheles (unprofitable),
alusiteles (unadvantageous), akerdes (ungainful).
Soc. I would rather take the words blaberon (harmful), zemiodes (hurtful).
Soc. The word blaberon is that which is said to hinder or harm (blaptein)
the stream (roun); blapton is boulomenon aptein (seeking to hold or
bind); for aptein is the same as dein, and dein is always a term of
censure; boulomenon aptein roun (wanting to bind the stream) would
properly be boulapteroun, and this, as I imagine, is improved into
Her. You bring out curious results, Socrates, in the use of names;
and when I hear the word boulapteroun I cannot help imagining that
you are making your mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some prelude
Soc. That is the fault of the makers of the name, Hermogenes; not
Her. Very true; but what is the derivation of zemiodes?
Soc. What is the meaning of zemiodes?- let me remark, Hermogenes,
how right I was in saying that great changes are made in the meaning
of words by putting in and pulling out letters; even a very slight
permutation will sometimes give an entirely opposite sense; I may
instance the word deon, which occurs to me at the moment, and reminds
me of what I was going to say to you, that the fine fashionable language
of modern times has twisted and disguised and entirely altered the
original meaning both of deon, and also of zemiodes, which in the
old language is clearly indicated.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. I will try to explain. You are aware that our forefathers loved
the sounds i and d, especially the women, who are most conservative
of the ancient language, but now they change i into e (long) or e
(short), and d into z; this is supposed to increase the grandeur of
Her. How do you mean?
Soc. For example, in very ancient times they called the day either
imera or emera (short e), which is called by us emera (long e).
Her. That is true.
Soc. Do you observe that only the ancient form shows the intention
of the giver of the name? of which the reason is, that men long for
(imeirousi) and love the light which comes after the darkness, and
is therefore called imera, from imeros, desire.
Soc. But now the name is so travestied that you cannot tell the meaning,
although there are some who imagine the day to be called emuera because
it makes things gentle (emera).
Her. Such is my view.
Soc. And do you know that the ancients said dougon and not zugon?
Her. They did so.
Soc. And zugon (yoke) has no meaning,- it ought to be duogon, which
word expresses the binding of two together (duein agoge) for the purpose
of drawing;- this has been changed into zugon, and there are many
other examples of similar changes.
Her. There are.
Soc. Proceeding in the same train of thought I may remark that the
word deon (obligation) has a meaning which is the opposite of all
the other appellations of good; for deon is here a species of good,
and is, nevertheless, the chain (desmos) or hinderer of motion, and
therefore own brother of blaberon.
Her. Yes, Socrates; that is quite plain.
Soc. Not if you restore the ancient form, which is more likely to
be the correct one, and read dion instead of deon; if you convert
the e into an i after the old fashion, this word will then agree with
other words meaning good; for dion, not deon, signifies the good,
and is a term of praise; and the author of names has not contradicted
himself, but in all these various appellations, deon (obligatory),
ophelimon (advantageous), lusiteloun (profitable), kerdaleon (gainful),
agathon (good), sumpheron (expedient), euporon (plenteous), the same
conception is implied of the ordering or all-pervading principle which
is praised, and the restraining and binding principle which is censured.
And this is further illustrated by the word zemiodes (hurtful), which
if the z is only changed into d as in the ancient language, becomes
demiodes; and this name, as you will perceive, is given to that which
binds motion (dounti ion).
Her. What do you say of edone (pleasure), lupe (pain), epithumia (desire),
and the like, Socrates?
Soc. I do not think, Hermogenes, that there is any great difficulty
about them- edone is e onesis, the action which tends to advantage;
and the original form may be supposed to have been eone, but this
has been altered by the insertion of the d. Lupe appears to be derived
from the relaxation (luein) which the body feels when in sorrow; ania
(trouble) is the hindrance of motion (a and ienai); algedon (distress),
if I am not mistaken, is a foreign word, which is derived from aleinos
(grievous); odune (grief) is called from the putting on (endusis)
sorrow; in achthedon (vexation) "the word too labours," as any one
may see; chara (joy) is the very expression of the fluency and diffusion
of the soul (cheo); terpsis (delight) is so called from the pleasure
creeping (erpon) through the soul, which may be likened to a breath
(pnoe) and is properly erpnoun, but has been altered by time into
terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and epithumia explain themselves;
the former, which ought to be eupherosune and has been changed euphrosune,
is named, as every one may see, from the soul moving (pheresthai)
in harmony with nature; epithumia is really e epi ton thumon iousa
dunamis, the power which enters into the soul; thumos (passion) is
called from the rushing (thuseos) and boiling of the soul; imeros
(desire) denotes the stream (rous) which most draws the soul dia ten
esin tes roes- because flowing with desire (iemenos), and expresses
a longing after things and violent attraction of the soul to them,
and is termed imeros from possessing this power; pothos (longing)
is expressive of the desire of that which is not present but absent,
and in another place (pou); this is the reason why the name pothos
is applied to things absent, as imeros is to things present; eros
(love) is so called because flowing in (esron) from without; the stream
is not inherent, but is an influence introduced through the eyes,
and from flowing in was called esros (influx) in the old time when
they used o (short) for o (long), and is called eros, now that o (long)
is substituted for o (short). But why do you not give me another word?
Her. What do you think of doxa (opinion), and that class of words?
Soc. Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses the
march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting
of a bow (toxon); the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis
(thinking), which is only oisis (moving), and implies the movement
of the soul to the essential nature of each thing- just as boule (counsel)
has to do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish) combines
the notion of aiming and deliberating- all these words seem to follow
doxa, and all involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia, absence
of counsel, on the other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or mistaking
of the mark, or aim, or proposal, or object.
Her. You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
Soc. Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however, until I
have explained anagke (necessity), which ought to come next, and ekousion
(the voluntary). Ekousion is certainly the yielding (eikon) and unresisting-
the notion implied is yielding and not opposing, yielding, as I was
just now saying, to that motion which is in accordance with our will;
but the necessary and resistant being contrary to our will, implies
error and ignorance; the idea is taken from walking through a ravine
which is impassable, and rugged, and overgrown, and impedes motion-
and this is the derivation of the word anagkaion (necessary) an agke
ion, going through a ravine. But while my strength lasts let us persevere,
and I hope that you will persevere with your questions.
Her. Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest, such as
aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not forgetting
to enquire why the word onoma (name), which is the theme of our discussion,
has this name of onoma.
Soc. You know the word maiesthai (to seek)?
Her. Yes;- meaning the same as zetein (to enquire).
Soc. The word onoma seems to be a compressed sentence, signifying
on ou zetema (being for which there is a search); as is still more
obvious in onomaston (notable), which states in so many words that
real existence is that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma);
aletheia is also an agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering),
implying the divine motion of existence; pseudos (falsehood) is the
opposite of motion; here is another ill name given by the legislator
to stagnation and forced inaction, which he compares to sleep (eudein);
but the original meaning of the word is disguised by the addition
of ps; on and ousia are ion with an i broken off; this agrees with
the true principle, for being (on) is also moving (ion), and the same
may be said of not being, which is likewise called not going (oukion
or ouki on = ouk ion).
Her. You have hammered away at them manfully; but suppose that some
one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon and
doun?- show me their fitness.
Soc. You mean to say, how should I answer him?
Soc. One way of giving the appearance of an answer has been already
Her. What way?
Soc. To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign origin;
and this is very likely the right answer, and something of this kind
may be true of them; but also the original forms of words may have
been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in all
manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language
when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands our earnest attention
and we must not flinch. For we should remember, that if a person go
on analysing names into words, and enquiring also into the elements
out of which the words are formed, and keeps on always repeating this
process, he who has to answer him must at last give up the enquiry
Her. Very true.
Soc. And at what point ought he to lose heart and give up the enquiry?
Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are the elements
of all other names and sentences; for these cannot be supposed to
be made up of other names? The word agathon (good), for example, is,
as we were saying, a compound of agastos (admirable) and thoos (swift).
And probably thoos is made up of other elements, and these again of
others. But if we take a word which is incapable of further resolution,
then we shall be right in saying that we have at last reached a primary
element, which need not be resolved any further.
Her. I believe you to be in the right.
Soc. And suppose the names about which you are now asking should turn
out to be primary elements, must not their truth or law be examined
according to some new method?
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Quite so, Hermogenes; all that has preceded would lead to this
conclusion. And if, as I think, the conclusion is true, then I shall
again say to you, come and help me, that I may not fall into some
absurdity in stating the principle of primary names.
Her. Let me hear, and I will do my best to assist you.
Soc. I think that you will acknowledge with me, that one principle
is applicable to all names, primary as well as secondary- when they
are regarded simply as names, there is no difference in them.
Her. Certainly not.
Soc. All the names that we have been explaining were intended to indicate
the nature of things.
Her. Of course.
Soc. And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the
secondary names, is implied in their being names.
Soc. But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance from
Her. That is evident.
Soc. Very good; but then how do the primary names which precede analysis
show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown; which they
must do, if they are to be real names? And here I will ask you a question:
Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to communicate
with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb, make signs
with the hands and head and the rest of the body?
Her. There would be no choice, Socrates.
Soc. We should imitate the nature of the thing; the elevation of our
hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness; heaviness and
downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground;
if we were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal,
we should make our bodies and their gestures as like as we could to
Her. I do not see that we could do anything else.
Soc. We could not; for by bodily imitation only can the body ever
Her. Very true.
Soc. And when we want to express ourselves, either with the voice,
or tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of that
which we want to express.
Her. It must be so, I think.
Soc. Then a name is a vocal imitation of that which the vocal imitator
names or imitates?
Her. I think so.
Soc. Nay, my friend, I am disposed to think that we have not reached
the truth as yet.
Her. Why not?
Soc. Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that the people
who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which they
Her. Quite true.
Soc. Then could I have been right in what I was saying?
Her. In my opinion, no. But I wish that you would tell me, Socrates,
what sort of an imitation is a name?
Soc. In the first place, I should reply, not a musical imitation,
although that is also vocal; nor, again, an imitation of what music
imitates; these, in my judgment, would not be naming. Let me put the
matter as follows: All objects have sound and figure, and many have
Soc. But the art of naming appears not to be concerned with imitations
of this kind; the arts which have to do with them are music and drawing?
Soc. Again, is there not an essence of each thing, just as there is
a colour, or sound? And is there not an essence of colour and sound
as well as of anything else which may be said to have an essence?
Her. I should think so.
Soc. Well, and if any one could express the essence of each thing
in letters and syllables, would he not express the nature of each
Her. Quite so.
Soc. The musician and the painter were the two names which you gave
to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called?
Her. I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or name-giver,
of whom we are in search.
Soc. If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition to consider
the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention), about
which you were asking; and we may see whether the namer has grasped
the nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner as to
imitate the essence or not.
Her. Very good.
Soc. But are these the only primary names, or are there others?
Her. There must be others.
Soc. So I should expect. But how shall we further analyse them, and
where does the imitator begin? Imitation of the essence is made by
syllables and letters; ought we not, therefore, first to separate
the letters, just as those who are beginning rhythm first distinguish
the powers of elementary, and then of compound sounds, and when they
have done so, but not before, they proceed to the consideration of
Soc. Must we not begin in the same way with letters; first separating
the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, into classes, according
to the received distinctions of the learned; also the semivowels,
which are neither vowels, nor yet mutes; and distinguishing into classes
the vowels themselves? And when we have perfected the classification
of things, we shall give their names, and see whether, as in the case
of letters, there are any classes to which they may be all referred;
hence we shall see their natures, and see, too, whether they have
in them classes as there are in the letters; and when we have well
considered all this, we shall know how to apply them to what they
resemble- whether one letter is used to denote one thing, or whether
there is to be an admixture of several of them; just, as in painting,
the painter who wants to depict anything sometimes uses purple only,
or any other colour, and sometimes mixes up several colours, as his
method is when he has to paint flesh colour or anything of that kind-
he uses his colours as his figures appear to require them; and so,
too, we shall apply letters to the expression of objects, either single
letters when required, or several letters; and so we shall form syllables,
as they are called, and from syllables make nouns and verbs; and thus,
at last, from the combinations of nouns and verbs arrive at language,
large and fair and whole; and as the painter made a figure, even so
shall we make speech by the art of the namer or the rhetorician, or
by some other art. Not that I am literally speaking of ourselves,
but I was carried away- meaning to say that this was the way in which
(not we but) the ancients formed language, and what they put together
we must take to pieces in like manner, if we are to attain a scientific
view of the whole subject, and we must see whether the primary, and
also whether the secondary elements are rightly given or not, for
if they are not, the composition of them, my dear Hermogenes, will
be a sorry piece of work, and in the wrong direction.
Her. That, Socrates, I can quite believe.
Soc. Well, but do you suppose that you will be able to analyse them
in this way? for I am certain that I should not.
Her. Much less am I likely to be able.
Soc. Shall we leave them, then? or shall we seek to discover, if we
can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability,
saying by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the
truth about them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions
of them. And in this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves, before
we proceed, that the higher method is the one which we or others who
would analyse language to any good purpose must follow; but under
the circumstances, as men say, we must do as well as we can. What
do you think?
Her. I very much approve.
Soc. That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and
so find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot
be avoided- there is no better principle to which we can look for
the truth of first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse
to divine help, like the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have
their Gods waiting in the air; and must get out of our difficulty
in like fashion, by saying that "the Gods gave the first names, and
therefore they are right." This will be the best contrivance, or perhaps
that other notion may be even better still, of deriving them from
some barbarous people, for the barbarians are older than we are; or
we may say that antiquity has cast a veil over them, which is the
same sort of excuse as the last; for all these are not reasons but
only ingenious excuses for having no reasons concerning the truth
of words. And yet any sort of ignorance of first or primitive names
involves an ignorance of secondary words; for they can only be explained
by the primary. Clearly then the professor of languages should be
able to give a very lucid explanation of first names, or let him be
assured he will only talk nonsense about the rest. Do you not suppose
this to be true?
Her. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. My first notions of original names are truly wild and ridiculous,
though I have no objection to impart them to you if you desire, and
I hope that you will communicate to me in return anything better which
you may have.
Her. Fear not; I will do my best.
Soc. In the first place, the letter r; appears to me to be the general
instrument expressing all motion (kinesis). But I have not yet explained
the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis (going); for
the letter e (long) was not in use among the ancients, who only employed
e (short); and the root is kiein, which is a foreign form, the same
as ienai. And the old word kinesis will be correctly given as iesis
in corresponding modern letters. Assuming this foreign root kiein,
and allowing for the change of the e and the insertion of the n, we
have kinesis, which should have been kieinsis or eisis; and stasis
is the negative of ienai (or eisis), and has been improved into stasis.
Now the letter r, as I was saying, appeared to the imposer of names
an excellent instrument for the expression of motion; and he frequently
uses the letter for this purpose: for example, in the actual words
rein and roe he represents motion by r; also in the words tromos (trembling),
trachus (rugged); and again, in words such as krouein (strike), thrauein
(crush), ereikein (bruise), thruptein (break), kermatixein (crumble),
rumbein (whirl): of all these sorts of movements he generally finds
an expression in the letter r, because, as I imagine, he had observed
that the tongue was most agitated and least at rest in the pronunciation
of this letter, which he therefore used in order to express motion,
just as by the letter i he expresses the subtle elements which pass
through all things. This is why he uses the letter i as imitative
of motion, ienai, iesthai. And there is another class of letters,
ph, ps, s, and x, of which the pronunciation is accompanied by great
expenditure of breath; these are used in the imitation of such notions
as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething), seiesthai, (to be shaken),
seismos (shock), and are always introduced by the giver of names when
he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy). He seems to have thought
that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance of d
and t was expressive of binding and rest in a place: he further observed
the liquid movement of l, in the pronunciation of which the tongue
slips, and in this he found the expression of smoothness, as in leios
(level), and in the word oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon (sleek),
in the word kollodes (gluey), and the like: the heavier sound of g
detained the slipping tongue, and the union of the two gave the notion
of a glutinous clammy nature, as in glischros, glukus, gloiodes. The
n he observed to be sounded from within, and therefore to have a notion
of inwardness; hence he introduced the sound in endos and entos: a
he assigned to the expression of size, and n of length, because they
are great letters: o was the sign of roundness, and therefore there
is plenty of o mixed up in the word goggulon (round). Thus did the
legislator, reducing all things into letters and syllables, and impressing
on them names and signs, and out of them by imitation compounding
other signs. That is my view, Hermogenes, of the truth of names; but
I should like to hear what Cratylus has more to say.
Her. But, Socrates, as I was telling you before, Cratylus mystifies
me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never explains
what is this fitness, so that I cannot tell whether his obscurity
is intended or not. Tell me now, Cratylus, here in the presence of
Socrates, do you agree in what Socrates has been saying about names,
or have you something better of your own? and if you have, tell me
what your view is, and then you will either learn of Socrates, or
Socrates and I will learn of you.
Crat. Well, but surely, Hermogenes, you do not suppose that you can
learn, or I explain, any subject of importance all in a moment; at
any rate, not such a subject as language, which is, perhaps, the very
greatest of all.
Her. No, indeed; but, as Hesiod says, and I agree with him, "to add
little to little" is worth while. And, therefore, if you think that
you can add anything at all, however small, to our knowledge, take
a little trouble and oblige Socrates, and me too, who certainly have
a claim upon you.
Soc. I am by no means positive, Cratylus, in the view which Hermogenes
and myself have worked out; and therefore do not hesitate to say what
you think, which if it be better than my own view shall gladly accept.
And I should not be at all surprised to find that you have found some
better notion. For you have evidently reflected on these matters and
have had teachers, and if you have really a better theory of the truth
of names, you may count me in the number of your disciples.
Crat. You are right, Socrates, in saying that I have made a study
of these matters, and I might possibly convert you into a disciple.
But I fear that the opposite is more probable, and I already find
myself moved to say to you what Achilles in the "Prayers" says to
Illustrious Ajax, son of Telamon, lord of the people,
You appear to have spoken in all things much to my mind. And you,
Socrates, appear to me to be an oracle, and to give answers much to
my whether you are inspired by Euthyphro, or whether some Muse may
have long been an inhabitant of your breast, unconsciously to yourself.
Soc. Excellent Cratylus, I have long been wondering at my own wisdom;
I cannot trust myself. And I think that I ought to stop and ask myself
What am I saying? for there is nothing worse than self-deception-
when the deceiver is always at home and always with you- it is quite
terrible, and therefore I ought often to retrace my steps and endeavour
to "look fore and aft," in the words of the aforesaid Homer. And now
let me see; where are we? Have we not been saying that the correct
name indicates the nature of the thing:- has this proposition been
Crat. Yes, Socrates, what you say, as I am disposed to think, is quite
Soc. Names, then, are given in order to instruct?
Soc. And naming is an art, and has artificers?
Soc. And who are they?
Crat. The legislators, of whom you spoke at first.
Soc. And does this art grow up among men like other arts? Let me explain
what I mean: of painters, some are better and some worse?
Soc. The better painters execute their works, I mean their figures,
better, and the worse execute them worse; and of builders also, the
better sort build fairer houses, and the worse build