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Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
PHAEDO, who is the narrator of the dialogue to ECHECRATES of
ATTENDANT OF THE PRISON
The Prison of Socrates.
Place OF THE NARRATION: Phlius.
Echecrates. Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates
on the day when he drank the poison?
Phaedo. Yes, Echecrates, I was.
Ech. I wish that you would tell me about his death. What did he say
in his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison,
but no one knew anything more; for no Phliasian ever goes to Athens
now, and a long time has elapsed since any Athenian found his way
to Phlius, and therefore we had no clear account.
Phaed. Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?
Ech. Yes; someone told us about the trial, and we could not understand
why, having been condemned, he was put to death, as appeared, not
at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?
Phaed. An accident, Echecrates. The reason was that the stern of the
ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned
on the day before he was tried.
Ech. What is this ship?
Phaed. This is the ship in which, as the Athenians say, Theseus went
to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the saviour
of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo
at the time, that if they were saved they would make an annual pilgrimage
to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of
the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo
crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city
is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and often, when
the vessel is detained by adverse winds, there may be a very considerable
delay. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the
trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was
not put to death until long after he was condemned.
Ech. What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or done?
And which of his friends had he with him? Or were they not allowed
by the authorities to be present? And did he die alone?
Phaed. No; there were several of his friends with him.
Ech. If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me what
passed, as exactly as you can.
Phaed. I have nothing to do, and will try to gratify your wish. For
to me, too, there is no greater pleasure than to have Socrates brought
to my recollection, whether I speak myself or hear another speak of
Ech. You will have listeners who are of the same mind with you, and
I hope that you will be as exact as you can.
Phaed. I remember the strange feeling which came over me at being
with him. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death
of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him, Echecrates; his mien
and his language were so noble and fearless in the hour of death that
to me he appeared blessed. I thought that in going to the other world
he could not be without a divine call, and that he would be happy,
if any man ever was, when he arrived there, and therefore I did not
pity him as might seem natural at such a time. But neither could I
feel the pleasure which I usually felt in philosophical discourse
(for philosophy was the theme of which we spoke). I was pleased, and
I was also pained, because I knew that he was soon to die, and this
strange mixture of feeling was shared by us all; we were laughing
and weeping by turns, especially the excitable Apollodorus-you know
the sort of man?
Phaed. He was quite overcome; and I myself and all of us were greatly
Ech. Who were present?
Phaed. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus, Critobulus
and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, and Antisthenes;
likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus, and some others;
but Plato, if I am not mistaken, was ill.
Ech. Were there any strangers?
Phaed. Yes, there were; Simmias the Theban, and Cebes, and Phaedondes;
Euclid and Terpison, who came from Megara.
Ech. And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?
Phaed. No, they were said to be in Aegina.
Ech. Anyone else?
Phaed. I think that these were about all.
Ech. And what was the discourse of which you spoke?
Phaed. I will begin at the beginning, and endeavor to repeat the entire
conversation. You must understand that we had been previously in the
habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the
trial was held, and which is not far from the prison. There we remained
talking with one another until the opening of the prison doors (for
they were not opened very early), and then went in and generally passed
the day with Socrates. On the last morning the meeting was earlier
than usual; this was owing to our having heard on the previous evening
that the sacred ship had arrived from Delos, and therefore we agreed
to meet very early at the accustomed place. On our going to the prison,
the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out
and bade us wait and he would call us. "For the Eleven," he said,
"are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving
orders that he is to die to-day." He soon returned and said that we
might come in. On entering we found Socrates just released from chains,
and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child
in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women
will: "O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse
with your friends, or they with you." Socrates turned to Crito and
said: "Crito, let someone take her home." Some of Crito's people accordingly
led her away, crying out and beating herself. And when she was gone,
Socrates, sitting up on the couch, began to bend and rub his leg,
saying, as he rubbed: "How singular is the thing called pleasure,
and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the
opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he
who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other.
They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem;
and I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had noticed them, he would
have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and
when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the
reason why when one comes the other follows, as I find in my own case
pleasure comes following after the pain in my leg, which was caused
by the chain."
Upon this Cebes said: I am very glad indeed, Socrates, that you mentioned
the name of Aesop. For that reminds me of a question which has been
asked by others, and was asked of me only the day before yesterday
by Evenus the poet, and as he will be sure to ask again, you may as
well tell me what I should say to him, if you would like him to have
an answer. He wanted to know why you who never before wrote a line
of poetry, now that you are in prison are putting Aesop into verse,
and also composing that hymn in honor of Apollo.
Tell him, Cebes, he replied, that I had no idea of rivalling him or
his poems; which is the truth, for I knew that I could not do that.
But I wanted to see whether I could purge away a scruple which I felt
about certain dreams. In the course of my life I have often had intimations
in dreams "that I should make music." The same dream came to me sometimes
in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the same
or nearly the same words: Make and cultivate music, said the dream.
And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort
and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has always been
the pursuit of my life, and is the noblest and best of music. The
dream was bidding me to do what I was already doing, in the same way
that the competitor in a race is bidden by the spectators to run when
he is already running. But I was not certain of this, as the dream
might have meant music in the popular sense of the word, and being
under sentence of death, and the festival giving me a respite, I thought
that I should be safer if I satisfied the scruple, and, in obedience
to the dream, composed a few verses before I departed. And first I
made a hymn in honor of the god of the festival, and then considering
that a poet, if he is really to be a poet or maker, should not only
put words together but make stories, and as I have no invention, I
took some fables of esop, which I had ready at hand and knew, and
turned them into verse. Tell Evenus this, and bid him be of good cheer;
that I would have him come after me if he be a wise man, and not tarry;
and that to-day I am likely to be going, for the Athenians say that
Simmias said: What a message for such a man! having been a frequent
companion of his, I should say that, as far as I know him, he will
never take your advice unless he is obliged.
Why, said Socrates,-is not Evenus a philosopher?
I think that he is, said Simmias.
Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing
to die, though he will not take his own life, for that is held not
to be right.
Here he changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to
the ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting.
Why do you say, inquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own
life, but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying?
Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are acquainted
with Philolaus, never heard him speak of this?
I never understood him, Socrates.
My words, too, are only an echo; but I am very willing to say what
I have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, I ought
to be thinking and talking of the nature of the pilgrimage which I
am about to make. What can I do better in the interval between this
and the setting of the sun?
Then tell me, Socrates, why is suicide held not to be right? as I
have certainly heard Philolaus affirm when he was staying with us
at Thebes: and there are others who say the same, although none of
them has ever made me understand him.
But do your best, replied Socrates, and the day may come when you
will understand. I suppose that you wonder why, as most things which
are evil may be accidentally good, this is to be the only exception
(for may not death, too, be better than life in some cases?), and
why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted to be his own
benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another.
By Jupiter! yes, indeed, said Cebes, laughing, and speaking in his
I admit the appearance of inconsistency, replied Socrates, but there
may not be any real inconsistency after all in this. There is a doctrine
uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open
the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which
I do not quite understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our
guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs. Do you not agree?
Yes, I agree to that, said Cebes.
And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example took
the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no
intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry
with him, and would you not punish him if you could?
Certainly, replied Cebes.
Then there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not
take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.
Yes, Socrates, said Cebes, there is surely reason in that. And yet
how can you reconcile this seemingly true belief that God is our guardian
and we his possessions, with that willingness to die which we were
attributing to the philosopher? That the wisest of men should be willing
to leave this service in which they are ruled by the gods who are
the best of rulers is not reasonable, for surely no wise man thinks
that when set at liberty he can take better care of himself than the
gods take of him. A fool may perhaps think this-he may argue that
he had better run away from his master, not considering that his duty
is to remain to the end, and not to run away from the good, and that
there is no sense in his running away. But the wise man will want
to be ever with him who is better than himself. Now this, Socrates,
is the reverse of what was just now said; for upon this view the wise
man should sorrow and the fool rejoice at passing out of life.
The earnestness of Cebes seemed to please Socrates. Here, said he,
turning to us, is a man who is always inquiring, and is not to be
convinced all in a moment, nor by every argument.
And in this case, added Simmias, his objection does appear to me to
have some force. For what can be the meaning of a truly wise man wanting
to fly away and lightly leave a master who is better than himself?
And I rather imagine that Cebes is referring to you; he thinks that
you are too ready to leave us, and too ready to leave the gods who,
as you acknowledge, are our good rulers.
Yes, replied Socrates; there is reason in that. And this indictment
you think that I ought to answer as if I were in court?
That is what we should like, said Simmias.
Then I must try to make a better impression upon you than I did when
defending myself before the judges. For I am quite ready to acknowledge,
Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were
not persuaded that I am going to other gods who are wise and good
(of this I am as certain as I can be of anything of the sort) and
to men departed (though I am not so certain of this), who are better
than those whom I leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I
might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something
remaining for the dead, and, as has been said of old, some far better
thing for the good than for the evil.
But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said
Simmias. Will you not communicate them to us?-the benefit is one in
which we too may hope to share. Moreover, if you succeed in convincing
us, that will be an answer to the charge against yourself.
I will do my best, replied Socrates. But you must first let me hear
what Crito wants; he was going to say something to me.
Only this, Socrates, replied Crito: the attendant who is to give you
the poison has been telling me that you are not to talk much, and
he wants me to let you know this; for that by talking heat is increased,
and this interferes with the action of the poison; those who excite
themselves are sometimes obliged to drink the poison two or three
Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to
give the poison two or three times, if necessary; that is all.
I was almost certain that you would say that, replied Crito; but I
was obliged to satisfy him.
Never mind him, he said.
And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who
has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when
he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the
greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and
Cebes, I will endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple
of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do
not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this
is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should
he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing
Simmias laughed and said: Though not in a laughing humor, I swear
that I cannot help laughing when I think what the wicked world will
say when they hear this. They will say that this is very true, and
our people at home will agree with them in saying that the life which
philosophers desire is truly death, and that they have found them
out to be deserving of the death which they desire.
And they are right, Simmias, in saying this, with the exception of
the words "They have found them out"; for they have not found out
what is the nature of this death which the true philosopher desires,
or how he deserves or desires death. But let us leave them and have
a word with ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as
To be sure, replied Simmias.
And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being
dead is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in
herself, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the
soul-that is death?
Exactly: that and nothing else, he replied.
And what do you say of another question, my friend, about which I
should like to have your opinion, and the answer to which will probably
throw light on our present inquiry: Do you think that the philosopher
ought to care about the pleasures-if they are to be called pleasures-of
eating and drinking?
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what do you say of the pleasures of love-should he care about
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body-for
example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments
of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise
anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
I should say the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and
not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of
the body and turn to the soul.
That is true.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be
observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the body.
That is true.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that a life
which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having;
but that he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though
he were dead.
That is quite true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge?-is
the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer or a helper?
I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they
not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and
yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said
of the other senses?-for you will allow that they are the best of
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth?-for in attempting to consider
anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Yes, that is true.
Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none
of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor
any pleasure-when she has as little as possible to do with the body,
and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?
That is true.
And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul runs away
from the body and desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not
an absolute justice?
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense? (and I speak
not of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength,
and of the essence or true nature of everything). Has the reality
of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather,
is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures
made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most
exact conception of the essence of that which he considers?
And he attains to the knowledge of them in their highest purity who
goes to each of them with the mind alone, not allowing when in the
act of thought the intrusion or introduction of sight or any other
sense in the company of reason, but with the very light of the mind
in her clearness penetrates into the very fight of truth in each;
he has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and of the whole
body, which he conceives of only as a disturbing element, hindering
the soul from the acquisition of knowledge when in company with her-is
not this the sort of man who, if ever man did, is likely to attain
the knowledge of existence?
There is admirable truth in that, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when they consider all this, must not true philosophers make a
reflection, of which they will speak to one another in such words
as these: We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which
seems to bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we
are in the body, and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil,
our desire will not be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth.
For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the
mere requirement of food; and also is liable to diseases which overtake
and impede us in the search after truth: and by filling us so full
of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies, and idols, and every
sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as people say, so much as
a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence
but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned
by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and
in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things
the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover,
if there is time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body
introduces a turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation,
and hinders us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that
if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the
body, and the soul in herself must behold all things in themselves:
then I suppose that we shall attain that which we desire, and of which
we say that we are lovers, and that is wisdom, not while we live,
but after death, as the argument shows; for if while in company with
the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things seems
to follow-either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at
all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be in
herself alone and without the body. In this present life, I reckon
that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least
possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated with
the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself
is pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will
be cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other
pure souls, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and
this is surely the light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed
to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which
the true lovers of wisdom cannot help saying to one another, and thinking.
You will agree with me in that?
But if this is true, O my friend, then there is great hope that, going
whither I go, I shall there be satisfied with that which has been
the chief concern of you and me in our past lives. And now that the
hour of departure is appointed to me, this is the hope with which
I depart, and not I only, but every man who believes that he has his
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body,
as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting
herself into herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling
in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far
as she can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And what is that which is termed death, but this very separation and
release of the soul from the body?
To be sure, he said.
And the true philosophers, and they only, study and are eager to release
the soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body
their especial study?
That is true.
And as I was saying at first, there would be a ridiculous contradiction
in men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death,
and yet repining when death comes.
Then, Simmias, as the true philosophers are ever studying death, to
them, of all men, death is the least terrible. Look at the matter
in this way: how inconsistent of them to have been always enemies
of the body, and wanting to have the soul alone, and when this is
granted to them, to be trembling and repining; instead of rejoicing
at their departing to that place where, when they arrive, they hope
to gain that which in life they loved (and this was wisdom), and at
the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man
has been willing to go to the world below in the hope of seeing there
an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will
he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in like manner
that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine
at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, my friend,
if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that
there only, and nowhere else, he can find wisdom in her purity. And
if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were
to fear death.
He would, indeed, replied Simmias.
And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is
not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom,
but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of
either money or power, or both?
That is very true, he replied.
There is a virtue, Simmias, which is named courage. Is not that a
special attribute of the philosopher?
Again, there is temperance. Is not the calm, and control, and disdain
of the passions which even the many call temperance, a quality belonging
only to those who despise the body and live in philosophy?
That is not to be denied.
For the courage and temperance of other men, if you will consider
them, are really a contradiction.
How is that, Socrates?
Well, he said, you are aware that death is regarded by men in general
as a great evil.
That is true, he said.
And do not courageous men endure death because they are afraid of
yet greater evils?
That is true.
Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because
they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear,
and because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.
And are not the temperate exactly in the same case? They are temperate
because they are intemperate-which may seem to be a contradiction,
but is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish
temperance. For there are pleasures which they must have, and are
afraid of losing; and therefore they abstain from one class of pleasures
because they are overcome by another: and whereas intemperance is
defined as "being under the dominion of pleasure," they overcome only
because they are overcome by pleasure. And that is what I mean by
saying that they are temperate through intemperance.
That appears to be true.
Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear
or pleasure or pain, which are measured like coins, the greater with
the less, is not the exchange of virtue. O my dear Simmias, is there
not one true coin for which all things ought to exchange?-and that
is wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this,
is anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or
justice. And is not all true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter
what fears or pleasures or other similar goods or evils may or may
not attend her? But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when
they are severed from wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a
shadow of virtue only, nor is there any freedom or health or truth
in her; but in the true exchange there is a purging away of all these
things, and temperance, and justice, and courage, and wisdom herself
are a purgation of them. And I conceive that the founders of the mysteries
had a real meaning and were not mere triflers when they intimated
in a figure long ago that he who passes unsanctified and uninitiated
into the world below will live in a slough, but that he who arrives
there after initiation and purification will dwell with the gods.
For "many," as they say in the mysteries, "are the thyrsus bearers,
but few are the mystics,"-meaning, as I interpret the words, the true
philosophers. In the number of whom I have been seeking, according
to my ability, to find a place during my whole life; whether I have
sought in a right way or not, and whether I have succeeded or not,
I shall truly know in a little while, if God will, when I myself arrive
in the other world: that is my belief. And now, Simmias and Cebes,
I have answered those who charge me with not grieving or repining
at parting from you and my masters in this world; and I am right in
not repining, for I believe that I shall find other masters and friends
who are as good in the world below. But all men cannot believe this,
and I shall be glad if my words have any more success with you than
with the judges of the Athenians.
Cebes answered: I agree, Socrates, in the greater part of what you
say. But in what relates to the soul, men are apt to be incredulous;
they fear that when she leaves the body her place may be nowhere,
and that on the very day of death she may be destroyed and perish-immediately
on her release from the body, issuing forth like smoke or air and
vanishing away into nothingness. For if she could only hold together
and be herself after she was released from the evils of the body,
there would be good reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say is
true. But much persuasion and many arguments are required in order
to prove that when the man is dead the soul yet exists, and has any
force of intelligence.
True, Cebes, said Socrates; and shall I suggest that we talk a little
of the probabilities of these things?
I am sure, said Cebes, that I should gready like to know your opinion
I reckon, said Socrates, that no one who heard me now, not even if
he were one of my old enemies, the comic poets, could accuse me of
idle talking about matters in which I have no concern. Let us, then,
if you please, proceed with the inquiry.
Whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below,
is a question which may be argued in this manner: The ancient doctrine
of which I have been speaking affirms that they go from this into
the other world, and return hither, and are born from the dead. Now
if this be true, and the living come from the dead, then our souls
must be in the other world, for if not, how could they be born again?
And this would be conclusive, if there were any real evidence that
the living are only born from the dead; but if there is no evidence
of this, then other arguments will have to be adduced.
That is very true, replied Cebes.
Then let us consider this question, not in relation to man only, but
in relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything
of which there is generation, and the proof will be easier. Are not
all things which have opposites generated out of their opposites?
I mean such things as good and evil, just and unjust-and there are
innumerable other opposites which are generated out of opposites.
And I want to show that this holds universally of all opposites; I
mean to say, for example, that anything which becomes greater must
become greater after being less.
And that which becomes less must have been once greater and then become
And the weaker is generated from the stronger, and the swifter from
And the worse is from the better, and the more just is from the more
And is this true of all opposites? and are we convinced that all of
them are generated out of opposites?
And in this universal opposition of all things, are there not also
two intermediate processes which are ever going on, from one to the
other, and back again; where there is a greater and a less there is
also an intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that
which grows is said to wax, and that which decays to wane?
Yes, he said.
And there are many other processes, such as division and composition,
cooling and heating, which equally involve a passage into and out
of one another. And this holds of all opposites, even though not always
expressed in words-they are generated out of one another, and there
is a passing or process from one to the other of them?
Very true, he replied.
Well, and is there not an opposite of life, as sleep is the opposite
True, he said.
And what is that?
Death, he answered.
And these, then, are generated, if they are opposites, the one from
the other, and have there their two intermediate processes also?
Now, said Socrates, I will analyze one of the two pairs of opposites
which I have mentioned to you, and also its intermediate processes,
and you shall analyze the other to me. The state of sleep is opposed
to the state of waking, and out of sleeping waking is generated, and
out of waking, sleeping, and the process of generation is in the one
case falling asleep, and in the other waking up. Are you agreed about
Then suppose that you analyze life and death to me in the same manner.
Is not death opposed to life?
And they are generated one from the other?
What is generated from life?
And what from death?
I can only say in answer-life.
Then the living, whether things or persons, Cebes, are generated from
That is clear, he replied.
Then the inference is, that our souls are in the world below?
That is true.
And one of the two processes or generations is visible-for surely
the act of dying is visible?
Surely, he said.
And may not the other be inferred as the complement of nature, who
is not to be supposed to go on one leg only? And if not, a corresponding
process of generation in death must also be assigned to her?
Certainly, he replied.
And what is that process?
And revival, if there be such a thing, is the birth of the dead into
the world of the living?
Then there is a new way in which we arrive at the inference that the
living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living;
and if this is true, then the souls of the dead must be in some place
out of which they come again. And this, as I think, has been satisfactorily
Yes, Socrates, he said; all this seems to flow necessarily out of
our previous admissions.
And that these admissions are not unfair, Cebes, he said, may be shown,
as I think, in this way: If generation were in a straight line only,
and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return
into one another, then you know that all things would at last have
the same form and pass into the same state, and there would be no
more generation of them.
What do you mean? he said.
A simple thing enough, which I will illustrate by the case of sleep,
he replied. You know that if there were no compensation of sleeping
and waking, the story of the sleeping Endymion would in the end have
no meaning, because all other things would be asleep, too, and he
would not be thought of. Or if there were composition only, and no
division of substances, then the chaos of Anaxagoras would come again.
And in like manner, my dear Cebes, if all things which partook of
life were to die, and after they were dead remained in the form of
death, and did not come to life again, all would at last die, and
nothing would be alive-how could this be otherwise? For if the living
spring from any others who are not the dead, and they die, must not
all things at last be swallowed up in death?
There is no escape from that, Socrates, said Cebes; and I think that
what you say is entirely true.
Yes, he said, Cebes, I entirely think so, too; and we are not walking
in a vain imagination; but I am confident in the belief that there
truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring
from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and
that the good souls have a better portion than the evil.
Cebes added: Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply
recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in
which we learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible
unless our soul was in some place before existing in the human form;
here, then, is another argument of the soul's immortality.
But tell me, Cebes, said Simmias, interposing, what proofs are given
of this doctrine of recollection? I am not very sure at this moment
that I remember them.
One excellent proof, said Cebes, is afforded by questions. If you
put a question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer
of himself; but how could he do this unless there were knowledge and
right reason already in him? And this is most clearly shown when he
is taken to a diagram or to anything of that sort.
But if, said Socrates, you are still incredulous, Simmias, I would
ask you whether you may not agree with me when you look at the matter
in another way; I mean, if you are still incredulous as to whether
knowledge is recollection.
Incredulous, I am not, said Simmias; but I want to have this doctrine
of recollection brought to my own recollection, and, from what Cebes
has said, I am beginning to recollect and be convinced; but I should
still like to hear what more you have to say.
This is what I would say, he replied: We should agree, if I am not
mistaken, that what a man recollects he must have known at some previous
And what is the nature of this recollection? And, in asking this,
I mean to ask whether, when a person has already seen or heard or
in any way perceived anything, and he knows not only that, but something
else of which he has not the same, but another knowledge, we may not
fairly say that he recollects that which comes into his mind. Are
we agreed about that?
What do you mean?
I mean what I may illustrate by the following instance: The knowledge
of a lyre is not the same as the knowledge of a man?
And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre,
or a garment, or anything else which the beloved has been in the habit
of using? Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind's eye
an image of the youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection:
and in the same way anyone who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and
there are endless other things of the same nature.
Yes, indeed, there are-endless, replied Simmias.
And this sort of thing, he said, is recollection, and is most commonly
a process of recovering that which has been forgotten through time
Very true, he said.
Well; and may you not also from seeing the picture of a horse or a
lyre remember a man? and from the picture of Simmias, you may be led
to remember Cebes?
Or you may also be led to the recollection of Simmias himself?
True, he said.
And in all these cases, the recollection may be derived from things
either like or unlike?
That is true.
And when the recollection is derived from like things, then there
is sure to be another question, which is, whether the likeness of
that which is recollected is in any way defective or not.
Very true, he said.
And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such
a thing as equality, not of wood with wood, or of stone with stone,
but that, over and above this, there is equality in the abstract?
Shall we affirm this?
Affirm, yes, and swear to it, replied Simmias, with all the confidence
And do we know the nature of this abstract essence?
To be sure, he said.
And whence did we obtain this knowledge? Did we not see equalities
of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather
from them the idea of an equality which is different from them?-you
will admit that? Or look at the matter again in this way: Do not the
same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another
That is certain.
But are real equals ever unequal? or is the idea of equality ever
That surely was never yet known, Socrates.
Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of equality?
I should say, clearly not, Socrates.
And yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality,
you conceived and attained that idea?
Very true, he said.
Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
But that makes no difference; whenever from seeing one thing you conceived
another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an act
But what would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other
material equals? and what is the impression produced by them? Are
they equals in the same sense as absolute equality? or do they fall
short of this in a measure?
Yes, he said, in a very great measure, too.
And must we not allow that when I or anyone look at any object, and
perceive that the object aims at being some other thing, but falls
short of, and cannot attain to it-he who makes this observation must
have had previous knowledge of that to which, as he says, the other,
although similar, was inferior?
And has not this been our case in the matter of equals and of absolute
Then we must have known absolute equality previously to the time when
we first saw the material equals, and reflected that all these apparent
equals aim at this absolute equality, but fall short of it?
That is true.
And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known,
and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of
some other sense. And this I would affirm of all such conceptions.
Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is
the same as the other.
And from the senses, then, is derived the knowledge that all sensible
things aim at an idea of equality of which they fall short-is not
Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must
have had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred
to that the equals which are derived from the senses-for to that they
all aspire, and of that they fall short?
That, Socrates, is certainly to be inferred from the previous statements.
And did we not see and hear and acquire our other senses as soon as
we were born?
Then we must have acquired the knowledge of the ideal equal at some
time previous to this?
That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born
having it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant
of birth not only equal or the greater or the less, but all other
ideas; for we are not speaking only of equality absolute, but of beauty,
goodness, justice, holiness, and all which we stamp with the name
of essence in the dialectical process, when we ask and answer questions.
Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge
That is true.
But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten that which we
acquired, then we must always have been born with knowledge, and shall
always continue to know as long as life lasts-for knowing is the acquiring
and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting, Simmias,
just the losing of knowledge?
Quite true, Socrates.
But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us
at birth, and afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered that
which we previously knew, will not that which we call learning be
a process of recovering our knowledge, and may not this be rightly
termed recollection by us?
For this is clear, that when we perceived something, either by the
help of sight or hearing, or some other sense, there was no difficulty
in receiving from this a conception of some other thing like or unlike
which had been forgotten and which was associated with this; and therefore,
as I was saying, one of two alternatives follows: either we had this
knowledge at birth, and continued to know through life; or, after
birth, those who are said to learn only remember, and learning is
Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
And which alternative, Simmias, do you prefer? Had we the knowledge
at our birth, or did we remember afterwards the things which we knew
previously to our birth?
I cannot decide at the moment.
At any rate you can decide whether he who has knowledge ought or ought
not to be able to give a reason for what he knows.
Certainly, he ought.
But do you think that every man is able to give a reason about these
very matters of which we are speaking?
I wish that they could, Socrates, but I greatly fear that to-morrow
at this time there will be no one able to give a reason worth having.
Then you are not of opinion, Simmias, that all men know these things?
Then they are in process of recollecting that which they learned before.
But when did our souls acquire this knowledge?-not since we were born
And therefore previously?
Then, Simmias, our souls must have existed before they were in the
form of man-without bodies, and must have had intelligence.
Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions were given
us at the moment of birth; for this is the only time that remains.
Yes, my friend, but when did we lose them? for they are not in us
when we are born-that is admitted. Did we lose them at the moment
of receiving them, or at some other time?
No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
Then may we not say, Simmias, that if, as we are always repeating,
there is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and essence in general,
and to this, which is now discovered to be a previous condition of
our being, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them-assuming
this to have a prior existence, then our souls must have had a prior
existence, but if not, there would be no force in the argument? There
can be no doubt that if these absolute ideas existed before we were
born, then our souls must have existed before we were born, and if
not the ideas, then not the souls.
Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity
for the existence of the soul before birth, and of the essence of
which you are speaking: and the argument arrives at a result which
happily agrees with my own notion. For there is nothing which to my
mind is so evident as that beauty, goodness, and other notions of
which you were just now speaking have a most real and absolute existence;
and I am satisfied with the proof.
Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
I think, said Simmias, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the
most incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is convinced of
the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul
will continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction.
I cannot get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring-the
feeling that when the man dies the soul may be scattered, and that
this may be the end of her. For admitting that she may be generated
and created in some other place, and may have existed before entering
the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may
she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; that our soul existed before we were
born was the first half of the argument, and this appears to have
been proven; that the soul will exist after death as well as before
birth is the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has
to be supplied.
But that proof, Simmias and Cebes, has been already given, said Socrates,
if you put the two arguments together-I mean this and the former one,
in which we admitted that everything living is born of the dead. For
if the soul existed before birth, and in coming to life and being
born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death
continue to exist, since she has to be born again? surely the proof
which you desire has been already furnished. Still I suspect that
you and Simmias would be glad to probe the argument further; like
children, you are haunted with a fear that when the soul leaves the
body, the wind may really blow her away and scatter her; especially
if a man should happen to die in stormy weather and not when the sky
Cebes answered with a smile: Then, Socrates, you must argue us out
of our fears-and yet, strictly speaking, they are not our fears, but
there is a child within us to whom death is a sort of hobgoblin; him
too we must persuade not to be afraid when he is alone with him in
Socrates said: Let the voice of the charmer be applied daily until
you have charmed him away.
And where shall we find a good charmer of our fears, Socrates, when
you are gone?
Hellas, he replied, is a large place, Cebes, and has many good men,
and there are barbarous races not a few: seek for him among them all,
far and wide, sparing neither pains nor money; for there is no better
way of using your money. And you must not forget to seek for him among
yourselves too; for he is nowhere more likely to be found.
The search, replied Cebes, shall certainly be made. And now, if you
please, let us return to the point of the argument at which we digressed.
By all means, replied Socrates; what else should I please?
Very good, he said.
Must we not, said Socrates, ask ourselves some question of this sort?-What
is that which, as we imagine, is liable to be scattered away, and
about which we fear? and what again is that about which we have no
fear? And then we may proceed to inquire whether that which suffers
dispersion is or is not of the nature of soul-our hopes and fears
as to our own souls will turn upon that.
That is true, he said.
Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable
of being dissolved in like manner as of being compounded; but that
which is uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble.
Yes; that is what I should imagine, said Cebes.
And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging,
where the compound is always changing and never the same?
That I also think, he said.
Then now let us return to the previous discussion. Is that idea or
essence, which in the dialectical process we define as essence of
true existence-whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else:
are these essences, I say, liable at times to some degree of change?
or are they each of them always what they are, having the same simple,
self-existent and unchanging forms, and not admitting of variation
at all, or in any way, or at any time?
They must be always the same, Socrates, replied Cebes.
And what would you say of the many beautiful-whether men or horses
or garments or any other things which may be called equal or beautiful-are
they all unchanging and the same always, or quite the reverse? May
they not rather be described as almost always changing and hardly
ever the same either with themselves or with one another?
The latter, replied Cebes; they are always in a state of change.
And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but
the unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind-they are
invisible and are not seen?
That is very true, he said.
Well, then, he added, let us suppose that there are two sorts of existences,
one seen, the other unseen.
Let us suppose them.
The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging.
That may be also supposed.
And, further, is not one part of us body, and the rest of us soul?
To be sure.
And to which class may we say that the body is more alike and akin?
Clearly to the seen: no one can doubt that.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Not by man, Socrates.
And by "seen" and "not seen" is meant by us that which is or is not
visible to the eye of man?
Yes, to the eye of man.
And what do we say of the soul? is that seen or not seen?
Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen?
That is most certain, Socrates.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body
as an instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense
of sight or hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving
through the body is perceiving through the senses)-were we not saying
that the soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the
changeable, and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her,
and she is like a drunkard when under their influence?
But when returning into herself she reflects; then she passes into
the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness,
which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by
herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring
ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And
this state of the soul is called wisdom?
That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far
as may be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding
I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of everyone who follows the
argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable even
the most stupid person will not deny that.
And the body is more like the changing?
Yet once more consider the matter in this light: When the soul and
the body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern,
and the body to obey and serve.
Now which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and which
to the mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be that which
naturally orders and rules, and the mortal that which is subject and
And which does the soul resemble?
The soul resembles the divine and the body the mortal-there can be
no doubt of that, Socrates.
Then reflect, Cebes: is not the conclusion of the whole matter this?-that
the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and
intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and
the body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible,
and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes,
But if this is true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution?
and is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
And do you further observe, that after a man is dead, the body, which
is the visible part of man, and has a visible framework, which is
called a corpse, and which would naturally be dissolved and decomposed
and dissipated, is not dissolved or decomposed at once, but may remain
for a good while, if the constitution be sound at the time of death,
and the season of the year favorable? For the body when shrunk and
embalmed, as is the custom in Egypt, may remain almost entire through
infinite ages; and even in decay, still there are some portions, such
as the bones and ligaments, which are practically indestructible.
You allow that?
And are we to suppose that the soul, which is invisible, in passing
to the true Hades, which like her is invisible, and pure, and noble,
and on her way to the good and wise God, whither, if God will, my
soul is also soon to go-that the soul, I repeat, if this be her nature
and origin, is blown away and perishes immediately on quitting the
body as the many say? That can never be, dear Simmias and Cebes. The
truth rather is that the soul which is pure at departing draws after
her no bodily taint, having never voluntarily had connection with
the body, which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself
(for such abstraction has been the study of her life). And what does
this mean but that she has been a true disciple of philosophy and
has practised how to die easily? And is not philosophy the practice
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible worldto
the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives
in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears
and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as
they say of the initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true,
Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of
her departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always,
and is in love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires
and pleasures of the body, until she is led to believe that the truth
only exists in a bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste
and use for the purposes of his lusts-the soul, I mean, accustomed
to hate and fear and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the
bodily eye is dark and invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy-do
you suppose that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
That is impossible, he replied.
She is engrossed by the corporeal, which the continual association
and constant care of the body have made natural to her.
And this, my friend, may be conceived to be that heavy, weighty, earthy
element of sight by which such a soul is depressed and dragged down
again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible
and of the world below-prowling about tombs and sepulchres, in the
neighborhood of which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions
of souls which have not departed pure, but are cloyed with sight and
That is very likely, Socrates.
Yes, that is very likely, Cebes; and these must be the souls, not
of the good, but of the evil, who are compelled to wander about such
places in payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life;
and they continue to wander until the desire which haunts them is
satisfied and they are imprisoned in another body. And they may be
supposed to be fixed in the same natures which they had in their former
What natures do you mean, Socrates?
I mean to say that men who have followed after gluttony, and wantonness,
and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass
into asses and animals of that sort. What do you think?
I think that exceedingly probable.
And those who have chosen the portion of injustice, and tyranny, and
violence, will pass into wolves, or into hawks and kites; whither
else can we suppose them to go?
Yes, said Cebes; that is doubtless the place of natures such as theirs.
And there is no difficulty, he said, in assigning to all of them places
answering to their several natures and propensities?
There is not, he said.
Even among them some are happier than others; and the happiest both
in themselves and their place of abode are those who have practised
the civil and social virtues which are called temperance and justice,
and are acquired by habit and attention without philosophy and mind.
Why are they the happiest?
Because they may be expected to pass into some gentle, social nature
which is like their own, such as that of bees or ants, or even back
again into the form of man, and just and moderate men spring from
That is not impossible.
But he who is a philosopher or lover of learning, and is entirely
pure at departing, is alone permitted to reach the gods. And this
is the reason, Simmias and Cebes, why the true votaries of philosophy
abstain from all fleshly lusts, and endure and refuse to give themselves
up to them-not because they fear poverty or the ruin of their families,
like the lovers of money, and the world in general; nor like the lovers
of power and honor, because they dread the dishonor or disgrace of
No, Socrates, that would not become them, said Cebes.
No, indeed, he replied; and therefore they who have a care of their
souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell
to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when
philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel
that they ought not to resist her influence, and to her they incline,
and whither she leads they follow her.
What do you mean, Socrates?
I will tell you, he said. The lovers of knowledge are conscious that
their souls, when philosophy receives them, are simply fastened and
glued to their bodies: the soul is only able to view existence through
the bars of a prison, and not in her own nature; she is wallowing
in the mire of all ignorance; and philosophy, seeing the terrible
nature of her confinement, and that the captive through desire is
led to conspire in her own captivity (for the lovers of knowledge
are aware that this was the original state of the soul, and that when
she was in this state philosophy received and gently counseled her,
and wanted to release her, pointing out to her that the eye is full
of deceit, and also the ear and other senses, and persuading her to
retire from them in all but the necessary use of them and to be gathered
up and collected into herself, and to trust only to herself and her
own intuitions of absolute existence, and mistrust that which comes
to her through others and is subject to vicissitude)-philosophy shows
her that this is visible and tangible, but that what she sees in her
own nature is intellectual and invisible. And the soul of the true
philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance,
and therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears,
as far as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or
sorrows or fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of
evil which might be anticipated-as, for example, the loss of his health
or property, which he has sacrificed to his lusts-but he has suffered
an evil greater far, which is the greatest and worst of all evils,
and one of which he never thinks.
And what is that, Socrates? said Cebes.
Why, this: When the feeling of pleasure or pain in the soul is most
intense, all of us naturally suppose that the object of this intense
feeling is then plainest and truest: but this is not the case.
And this is the state in which the soul is most enthralled by the
How is that?
Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails
and rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe
that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing
with the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have
the same habits and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her
departure to the world below, but is always saturated with the body;
so that she soon sinks into another body and there germinates and
grows, and has therefore no part in the communion of the divine and
pure and simple.
That is most true, Socrates, answered Cebes.
And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are
temperate and brave; and not for the reason which the world gives.
Certainly not! For not in that way does the soul of a philosopher
reason; she will not ask philosophy to release her in order that when
released she may deliver herself up again to the thraldom of pleasures
and pains, doing a work only to be undone again, weaving instead of
unweaving her Penelope's web. But she will make herself a calm of
passion and follow Reason, and dwell in her, beholding the true and
divine (which is not matter of opinion), and thence derive nourishment.
Thus she seeks to live while she lives, and after death she hopes
to go to her own kindred and to be freed from human ills. Never fear,
Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured and has
had these pursuits, will at her departure from the body be scattered
and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.
When Socrates had done speaking, for a considerable time there was
silence; he himself and most of us appeared to be meditating on what
had been said; only Cebes and Simmias spoke a few words to one another.
And Socrates observing this asked them what they thought of the argument,
and whether there was anything wanting? For, said he, much is still
open to suspicion and attack, if anyone were disposed to sift the
matter thoroughly. If you are talking of something else I would rather
not interrupt you, but if you are still doubtful about the argument
do not hesitate to say exactly what you think, and let us have anything
better which you can suggest; and if I am likely to be of any use,
allow me to help you.
Simmias said: I must confess, Socrates, that doubts did arise in our
minds, and each of us was urging and inciting the other to put the
question which he wanted to have answered and which neither of us
liked to ask, fearing that our importunity might be troublesome under
Socrates smiled and said: O Simmias, how strange that is; I am not
very likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present
situation as a misfortune, if I am unable to persuade you, and you
will keep fancying that I am at all more troubled now than at any
other time. Will you not allow that I have as much of the spirit of
prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive that they
must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more than
ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the
god whose ministers they are. But men, because they are themselves
afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a
lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold,
or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow,
nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow,
although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of
the swans. But because they are sacred to Apollo and have the gift
of prophecy and anticipate the good things of another world, therefore
they sing and rejoice in that day more than they ever did before.
And I, too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant of the
same God, and the fellow servant of the swans, and thinking that I
have received from my master gifts of prophecy which are not inferior
to theirs, would not go out of life less merrily than the swans. Cease
to mind then about this, but speak and ask anything which you like,
while the eleven magistrates of Athens allow.
Well, Socrates, said Simmias, then I will tell you my difficulty,
and Cebes will tell you his. For I dare say that you, Socrates, feel,
as I do, how very hard or almost impossible is the attainment of any
certainty about questions such as these in the present life. And yet
I should deem him a coward who did not prove what is said about them
to the uttermost, or whose heart failed him before he had examined
them on every side. For he should persevere until he has attained
one of two things: either he should discover or learn the truth about
them; or, if this is impossible, I would have him take the best and
most irrefragable of human notions, and let this be the raft upon
which he sails through life-not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot
find some word of God which will more surely and safely carry him.
And now, as you bid me, I will venture to question you, as I should
not like to reproach myself hereafter with not having said at the
time what I think. For when I consider the matter either alone or
with Cebes, the argument does certainly appear to me, Socrates, to
be not sufficient.
Socrates answered: I dare say, my friend, that you may be right, but
I should like to know in what respect the argument is not sufficient.
In this respect, replied Simmias: Might not a person use the same
argument about harmony and the lyre-might he not say that harmony
is a thing invisible, incorporeal, fair, divine, abiding in the lyre
which is harmonized, but that the lyre and the strings are matter
and material, composite, earthy, and akin to mortality? And when someone
breaks the lyre, or cuts and rends the strings, then he who takes
this view would argue as you do, and on the same analogy, that the
harmony survives and has not perished; for you cannot imagine, as
we would say, that the lyre without the strings, and the broken strings
themselves, remain, and yet that the harmony, which is of heavenly
and immortal nature and kindred, has perished-and perished too before
the mortal. The harmony, he would say, certainly exists somewhere,
and the wood and strings will decay before that decays. For I suspect,
Socrates, that the notion of the soul which we are all of us inclined
to entertain, would also be yours, and that you too would conceive
the body to be strung up, and held together, by the elements of hot
and cold, wet and dry, and the like, and that the soul is the harmony
or due proportionate admixture of them. And, if this is true, the
inference clearly is that when the strings of the body are unduly
loosened or overstrained through disorder or other injury, then the
soul, though most divine, like other harmonies of music or of the
works of art, of course perishes at once, although the material remains
of the body may last for a considerable time, until they are either
decayed or burnt. Now if anyone maintained that the soul, being the
harmony of the elements of the body, first perishes in that which
is called death, how shall we answer him?
Socrates looked round at us as his manner was, and said, with a smile:
Simmias has reason on his side; and why does not some one of you who
is abler than myself answer him? for there is force in his attack
upon me. But perhaps, before we answer him, we had better also hear
what Cebes has to say against the argument-this will give us time
for reflection, and when both of them have spoken, we may either assent
to them if their words appear to be in consonance with the truth,
or if not, we may take up the other side, and argue with them. Please
to tell me then, Cebes, he said, what was the difficulty which troubled
Cebes said: I will tell you. My feeling is that the argument is still
in the same position, and open to the same objections which were urged
before; for I am ready to admit that the existence of the soul before
entering into the bodily form has been very ingeniously, and, as I
may be allowed to say, quite sufficiently proven; but the existence
of the soul after death is still, in my judgment, unproven. Now my
objection is not the same as that of Simmias; for I am not disposed
to deny that the soul is stronger and more lasting than the body,
being of opinion that in all such respects the soul very far excels
the body. Well, then, says the argument to me, why do you remain unconvinced?
When you see that the weaker is still in existence after the man is
dead, will you not admit that the more lasting must also survive during
the same period of time? Now I, like Simmias, must employ a figure;
and I shall ask you to consider whether the figure is to the point.
The parallel which I will suppose is that of an old weaver, who dies,
and after his death somebody says: He is not dead, he must be alive;
and he appeals to the coat which he himself wove and wore, and which
is still whole and undecayed. And then he proceeds to ask of someone
who is incredulous, whether a man lasts longer, or the coat which
is in use and wear; and when he is answered that a man lasts far longer,
thinks that he has thus certainly demonstrated the survival of the
man, who is the more lasting, because the less lasting remains. But
that, Simmias, as I would beg you to observe, is not the truth; everyone
sees that he who talks thus is talking nonsense. For the truth is
that this weaver, having worn and woven many such coats, though he
outlived several of them, was himself outlived by the last; but this
is surely very far from proving that a man is slighter and weaker
than a coat. Now the relation of the body to the soul may be expressed
in a similar figure; for you may say with reason that the soul is
lasting, and the body weak and short-lived in comparison. And every
soul may be said to wear out many bodies, especially in the course
of a long life. For if while the man is alive the body deliquesces
and decays, and yet the soul always weaves her garment anew and repairs
the waste, then of course, when the soul perishes, she must have on
her last garment, and this only will survive her; but then again when
the soul is dead the body will at last show its native weakness, and
soon pass into decay. And therefore this is an argument on which I
would rather not rely as proving that the soul exists after death.
For suppose that we grant even more than you affirm as within the
range of possibility, and besides acknowledging that the soul existed
before birth admit also that after death the souls of some are existing
still, and will exist, and will be born and die again and again, and
that there is a natural strength in the soul which will hold out and
be born many times-for all this, we may be still inclined to think
that she will weary in the labors of successive births, and may at
last succumb in one of her deaths and utterly perish; and this death
and dissolution of the body which brings destruction to the soul may
be unknown to any of us, for no one of us can have had any experience
of it: and if this be true, then I say that he who is confident in
death has but a foolish confidence, unless he is able to prove that
the soul is altogether immortal and imperishable. But if he is not
able to prove this, he who is about to die will always have reason
to fear that when the body is disunited, the soul also may utterly
All of us, as we afterwards remarked to one another, had an unpleasant
feeling at hearing them say this. When we had been so firmly convinced
before, now to have our faith shaken seemed to introduce a confusion
and uncertainty, not only into the previous argument, but into any
future one; either we were not good judges, or there were no real
grounds of belief.
Ech. There I feel with you-indeed I do, Phaedo, and when you were
speaking, I was beginning to ask myself the same question: What argument
can I ever trust again? For what could be more convincing than the
argument of Socrates, which has now fallen into discredit? That the
soul is a harmony is a doctrine which has always had a wonderful attraction
for me, and, when mentioned, came back to me at once, as my own original
conviction. And now I must begin again and find another argument which
will assure me that when the man is dead the soul dies not with him.
Tell me, I beg, how did Socrates proceed? Did he appear to share the
unpleasant feeling which you mention? or did he receive the interruption
calmly and give a sufficient answer? Tell us, as exactly as you can,
Phaed. Often, Echecrates, as I have admired Socrates, I never admired
him more than at that moment. That he should be able to answer was
nothing, but what astonished me was, first, the gentle and pleasant
and approving manner in which he regarded the words of the young men,
and then his quick sense of the wound which had been inflicted by
the argument, and his ready application of the healing art. He might
be compared to a general rallying his defeated and broken army, urging
them to follow him and return to the field of argument.
Ech. How was that?
Phaed. You shall hear, for I was close to him on his right hand, seated
on a sort of stool, and he on a couch which was a good deal higher.
Now he had a way of playing with my hair, and then he smoothed my
head, and pressed the hair upon my neck, and said: To-morrow, Phaedo,
I suppose that these fair locks of yours will be severed.
Yes, Socrates, I suppose that they will, I replied.
Not so if you will take my advice.
What shall I do with them? I said.
To-day, he replied, and not to-morrow, if this argument dies and cannot
be brought to life again by us, you and I will both shave our locks;
and if I were you, and could not maintain my ground against Simmias
and Cebes, I would myself take an oath, like the Argives, not to wear
hair any more until I had renewed the conflict and defeated them.
Yes, I said, but Heracles himself is said not to be a match for two.
Summon me then, he said, and I will be your Iolaus until the sun goes
I summon you rather, I said, not as Heracles summoning Iolaus, but
as Iolaus might summon Heracles.
That will be all the same, he said. But first let us take care that
we avoid a danger.
And what is that? I said.
The danger of becoming misologists, he replied, which is one of the
very worst things that can happen to us. For as there are misanthropists
or haters of men, there are also misologists or haters of ideas, and
both spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world.
Misanthropy arises from the too great confidence of inexperience;
you trust a man and think him altogether true and good and faithful,
and then in a little while he turns out to be false and knavish; and
then another and another, and when this has happened several times
to a man, especially within the circle of his most trusted friends,
as he deems them, and he has often quarreled with them, he at last
hates all men, and believes that no one has any good in him at all.
I dare say that you must have observed this.
Yes, I said.
And is not this discreditable? The reason is that a man, having to
deal with other men, has no knowledge of them; for if he had knowledge
he would have known the true state of the case, that few are the good
and few the evil, and that the great majority are in the interval
How do you mean? I said.
I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small,
that nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man;
and this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small,
or swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether
the instances you select be men or dogs or anything else, few are
the extremes, but many are in the mean between them. Did you never
Yes, I said, I have.
And do you not imagine, he said, that if there were a competition
of evil, the first in evil would be found to be very few?
Yes, that is very likely, I said.
Yes, that is very likely, he replied; not that in this respect arguments
are like men-there I was led on by you to say more than I had intended;
but the point of comparison was that when a simple man who has no
skill in dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards
imagines to be false, whether really false or not, and then another
and another, he has no longer any faith left, and great disputers,
as you know, come to think, at last that they have grown to be the
wisest of mankind; for they alone perceive the utter unsoundness and
instability of all arguments, or, indeed, of all things, which, like
the currents in the Euripus, are going up and down in never-ceasing
ebb and flow.
That is quite true, I said.
Yes, Phaedo, he replied, and very melancholy too, if there be such
a thing as truth or certainty or power of knowing at all, that a man
should have lighted upon some argument or other which at first seemed
true and then turned out to be false, and instead of blaming himself
and his own want of wit, because he is annoyed, should at last be
too glad to transfer the blame from himself to arguments in general;
and forever afterwards should hate and revile them, and lose the truth
and knowledge of existence.
Yes, indeed, I said; that is very melancholy.
Let us, then, in the first place, he said, be careful of admitting
into our souls the notion that there is no truth or health or soundness
in any arguments at all; but let us rather say that there is as yet
no health in us, and that we must quit ourselves like men and do our
best to gain health-you and all other men with a view to the whole
of your future life, and I myself with a view to death. For at this
moment I am sensible that I have not the temper of a philosopher;
like the vulgar, I am only a partisan. For the partisan, when he is
engaged in a dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question,
but is anxious only to convince his hearers of his own assertions.
And the difference between him and me at the present moment is only
this-that whereas he seeks to convince his hearers that what he says
is true, I am rather seeking to convince myself; to convince my hearers
is a secondary matter with me. And do but see how much I gain by this.
For if what I say is true, then I do well to be persuaded of the truth,
but if there be nothing after death, still, during the short time
that remains, I shall save my friends from lamentations, and my ignorance
will not last, and therefore no harm will be done. This is the state
of mind, Simmias and Cebes, in which I approach the argument. And
I would ask you to be thinking of the truth and not of Socrates: agree
with me, if I seem to you to be speaking the truth; or if not, withstand
me might and main, that I may not deceive you as well as myself in
my enthusiasm, and, like the bee, leave my sting in you before I die.
And now let us proceed, he said. And first of all let me be sure that
I have in my mind what you were saying. Simmias, if I remember rightly,
has fears and misgivings whether the soul, being in the form of harmony,
although a fairer and diviner thing than the body, may not perish
first. On the other hand, Cebes appeared to grant that the soul was
more lasting than the body, but he said that no one could know whether
the soul, after having worn out many bodies, might not perish herself
and leave her last body behind her; and that this is death, which
is the destruction not of the body but of the soul, for in the body
the work of destruction is ever going on. Are not these, Simmias and
Cebes, the points which we have to consider?
They both agreed to this statement of them.
He proceeded: And did you deny the force of the whole preceding argument,
or of a part only?
Of a part only, they replied.
And what did you think, he said, of that part of the argument in which
we said that knowledge was recollection only, and inferred from this
that the soul must have previously existed somewhere else before she
was enclosed in the body? Cebes said that he had been wonderfully
impressed by that part of the argument, and that his conviction remained
unshaken. Simmias agreed, and added that he himself could hardly imagine
the possibility of his ever thinking differently about that.
But, rejoined Socrates, you will have to think differently, my Theban
friend, if you still maintain that harmony is a compound, and that
the soul is a harmony which is made out of strings set in the frame
of the body; for you will surely never allow yourself to say that
a harmony is prior to the elements which compose the harmony.
No, Socrates, that is impossible.
But do you not see that you are saying this when you say that the
soul existed before she took the form and body of man, and was made
up of elements which as yet had no existence? For harmony is not a
sort of thing like the soul, as you suppose; but first the lyre, and
the strings, and the sounds exist in a state of discord, and then
harmony is made last of all, and perishes first. And how can such
a notion of the soul as this agree with the other?
Not at all, replied Simmias.
And yet, he said, there surely ought to be harmony when harmony is
the theme of discourse.
There ought, replied Simmias.
But there is no harmony, he said, in the two propositions that knowledge
is recollection, and that the soul is a harmony. Which of them, then,
will you retain?
I think, he replied, that I have a much stronger faith, Socrates,
in the first of the two, which has been fully demonstrated to me,
than in the latter, which has not been demonstrated at all, but rests
only on probable and plausible grounds; and I know too well that these
arguments from probabilities are impostors, and unless great caution
is observed in the use of them they are apt to be deceptive-in geometry,
and in other things too. But the doctrine of knowledge and recollection
has been proven to me on trustworthy grounds; and the proof was that
the soul must have existed before she came into the body, because
to her belongs the essence of which the very name implies existence.
Having, as I am convinced, rightly accepted this conclusion, and on
sufficient grounds, I must, as I suppose, cease to argue or allow
others to argue that the soul is a harmony.
Let me put the matter, Simmias, he said, in another point of view:
Do you imagine that a harmony or any other composition can be in a
state other than that of the elements out of which it is compounded?
Or do or suffer anything other than they do or suffer?
Then a harmony does not lead the parts or elements which make up the
harmony, but only follows them.
For harmony cannot possibly have any motion, or sound, or other quality
which is opposed to the parts.
That would be impossible, he replied.
And does not every harmony depend upon the manner in which the elements
I do not understand you, he said.
I mean to say that a harmony admits of degrees, and is more of a harmony,
and more completely a harmony, when more completely harmonized, if
that be possible; and less of a harmony, and less completely a harmony,
when less harmonized.
But does the soul admit of degrees? or is one soul in the very least
degree more or less, or more or less completely, a soul than another?
Not in the least.
Yet surely one soul is said to have intelligence and virtue, and to
be good, and another soul is said to have folly and vice, and to be
an evil soul: and this is said truly?
But what will those who maintain the soul to be a harmony say of this
presence of virtue and vice in the soul?-Will they say that there
is another harmony, and another discord, and that the virtuous soul
is harmonized, and herself being a harmony has another harmony within
her, and that the vicious soul is inharmonical and has no harmony
I cannot say, replied Simmias; but I suppose that something of that
kind would be asserted by those who take this view.
And the admission is already made that no soul is more a soul than
another; and this is equivalent to admitting that harmony is not more
or less harmony, or more or less completely a harmony?
And that which is not more or less a harmony is not more or less harmonized?
And that which is not more or less harmonized cannot have more or
less of harmony, but only an equal harmony?
Yes, an equal harmony.
Then one soul not being more or less absolutely a soul than another,
is not more or less harmonized?
And therefore has neither more nor less of harmony or of discord?
She has not.
And having neither more nor less of harmony or of discord, one soul
has no more vice or virtue than another, if vice be discord and virtue
Not at all more.
Or speaking more correctly, Simmias, the soul, if she is a harmony,
will never have any vice; because a harmony, being absolutely a harmony,
has no part in the inharmonical?
And therefore a soul which is absolutely a soul has no vice?
How can she have, consistently with the preceding argument?
Then, according to this, if the souls of all animals are equally and
absolutely souls, they will be equally good?
I agree with you, Socrates, he said.
And can all this be true, think you? he said; and are all these consequences
admissible-which nevertheless seem to follow from the assumption that
the soul is a harmony?
Certainly not, he said.
Once more, he said, what ruling principle is there of human things
other than the soul, and especially the wise soul? Do you know of
Indeed, I do not.
And is the soul in agreement with the affections of the body? or is
she at variance with them? For example, when the body is hot and thirsty,
does not the soul incline us against drinking? and when the body is
hungry, against eating? And this is only one instance out of ten thousand
of the opposition of the soul to the things of the body.
But we have already acknowledged that the soul, being a harmony, can
never utter a note at variance with the tensions and relaxations and
vibrations and other affections of the strings out of which she is
composed; she can only follow, she cannot lead them?
Yes, he said, we acknowledged that, certainly.
And yet do we not now discover the soul to be doing the exact opposite-leading
the elements of which she is believed to be composed; almost always
opposing and coercing them in all sorts of ways throughout life, sometimes
more violently with the pains of medicine and gymnastic; then again
more gently; threatening and also reprimanding the desires, passions,
fears, as if talking to a thing which is not herself, as Homer in
the "Odyssey" represents Odysseus doing in the words,
"He beat his breast, and thus reproached his heart:
Endure, my heart; far worse hast thou endured!" Do you think that
Homer could have written this under the idea that the soul is a harmony
capable of being led by the affections of the body, and not rather
of a nature which leads and masters them; and herself a far diviner
thing than any harmony?
Yes, Socrates, I quite agree to that.
Then, my friend, we can never be right in saying that the soul is
a harmony, for that would clearly contradict the divine Homer as well
True, he said.
Thus much, said Socrates, of Harmonia, your Theban goddess, Cebes,
who has not been ungracious to us, I think; but what shall I say to
the Theban Cadmus, and how shall I propitiate him?
I think that you will discover a way of propitiating him, said Cebes;
I am sure that you have answered the argument about harmony in a manner
that I could never have expected. For when Simmias mentioned his objection,
I quite imagined that no answer could be given to him, and therefore
I was surprised at finding that his argument could not sustain the
first onset of yours; and not impossibly the other, whom you call
Cadmus, may share a similar fate.
Nay, my good friend, said Socrates, let us not boast, lest some evil
eye should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That,
however, may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near
in Homeric fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Briefly, the
sum of your objection is as follows: You want to have proven to you
that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and you think that the
philosopher who is confident in death has but a vain and foolish confidence,
if he thinks that he will fare better than one who has led another
sort of life, in the world below, unless he can prove this; and you
say that the demonstration of the strength and divinity of the soul,
and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not necessarily
imply her immortality. Granting that the soul is longlived, and has
known and done much in a former state, still she is not on that account
immortal; and her entrance into the human form may be a sort of disease
which is the beginning of dissolution, and may at last, after the
toils of life are over, end in that which is called death. And whether
the soul enters into the body once only or many times, that, as you
would say, makes no difference in the fears of individuals. For any
man, who is not devoid of natural feeling, has reason to fear, if
he has no knowledge or proof of the soul's immortality. That is what
I suppose you to say, Cebes, which I designedly repeat, in order that
nothing may escape us, and that you may, if you wish, add or subtract
But, said Cebes, as far as I can see at present, I have nothing to
add or subtract; you have expressed my meaning.
Socrates paused awhile, and seemed to be absorbed in reflection. At
length he said: This is a very serious inquiry which you are raising,
Cebes, involving the whole question of generation and corruption,
about which I will, if you like, give you my own experience; and you
can apply this, if you think that anything which I say will avail
towards the solution of your difficulty.
I should very much like, said Cebes, to hear what you have to say.
Then I will tell you, said Socrates. When I was young, Cebes, I had
a prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is
called Natural Science; this appeared to me to have lofty aims, as
being the science which has to do with the causes of things, and which
teaches why a thing is, and is created and destroyed; and I was always
agitating myself with the consideration of such questions as these:
Is the growth of animals the result of some decay which the hot and
cold principle contracts, as some have said? Is the blood the element
with which we think, or the air, or the fire? or perhaps nothing of
this sort-but the brain may be the originating power of the perceptions
of hearing and sight and smell, and memory and opinion may come from
them, and science may be based on memory and opinion when no longer
in motion, but at rest. And then I went on to examine the decay of
them, and then to the things of heaven and earth, and at last I concluded
that I was wholly incapable of these inquiries, as I will satisfactorily
prove to you. For I was fascinated by them to such a degree that my
eyes grew blind to things that I had seemed to myself, and also to
others, to know quite well; and I forgot what I had before thought
to be self-evident, that the growth of man is the result of eating
and drinking; for when by the digestion of food flesh is added to
flesh and bone to bone, and whenever there is an aggregation of congenial
elements, the lesser bulk becomes larger and the small man greater.
Was not that a reasonable notion?
Yes, said Cebes, I think so.
Well; but let me tell you something more. There was a time when I
thought that I understood the meaning of greater and less pretty well;
and when I saw a great man standing by a little one I fancied that
one was taller than the other by a head; or one horse would appear
to be greater than another horse: and still more clearly did I seem
to perceive that ten is two more than eight, and that two cubits are
more than one, because two is twice one.
And what is now your notion of such matters? said Cebes.
I should be far enough from imagining, he replied, that I knew the
cause of any of them, indeed I should, for I cannot satisfy myself
that when one is added to one, the one to which the addition is made
becomes two, or that the two units added together make two by reason
of the addition. For I cannot understand how, when separated from
the other, each of them was one and not two, and now, when they are
brought together, the mere juxtaposition of them can be the cause
of their becoming two: nor can I understand how the division of one
is the way to make two; for then a different cause would produce the
same effect-as in the former instance the addition and juxtaposition
of one to one was the cause of two, in this the separation and subtraction
of one from the other would be the cause. Nor am I any longer satisfied
that I understand the reason why one or anything else either is generated
or destroyed or is at all, but I have in my mind some confused notion
of another method, and can never admit this.
Then I heard someone who had a book of Anaxagoras, as he said, out
of which he read that mind was the disposer and cause of all, and
I was quite delighted at the notion of this, which appeared admirable,
and I said to myself: If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all
for the best, and put each particular in the best place; and I argued
that if anyone desired to find out the cause of the generation or
destruction or existence of anything, he must find out what state
of being or suffering or doing was best for that thing, and therefore
a man had only to consider the best for himself and others, and then
he would also know the worse, for that the same science comprised
both. And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher
of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that
he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and then
he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this, and
would teach me the nature of the best and show that this was best;
and if he said that the earth was in the centre, he would explain
that this position was the best, and I should be satisfied if this
were shown to me, and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought
that I would then go and ask him about the sun and moon and stars,
and that he would explain to me their comparative swiftness, and their
returnings and various states, and how their several affections, active
and passive, were all for the best. For I could not imagine that when
he spoke of mind as the disposer of them, he would give any other
account of their being as they are, except that this was best; and
I thought when he had explained to me in detail the cause of each
and the cause of all, he would go on to explain to me what was best
for each and what was best for all. I had hopes which I would not
have sold for much, and I seized the books and read them as fast as
I could in my eagerness to know the better and the worse.
What hopes I had formed, and how grievously was I disappointed! As
I proceeded, I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any
other principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and
water, and other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person who
began by maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions
of Socrates, but who, when he endeavored to explain the causes of
my several actions in detail, went on to show that I sit here because
my body is made up of bones and muscles; and the bones, as he would
say, are hard and have ligaments which divide them, and the muscles
are elastic, and they cover the bones, which have also a covering
or environment of flesh and skin which contains them; and as the bones
are lifted at their joints by the contraction or relaxation of the
muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am sitting
here in a curved posture: that is what he would say, and he would
have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which he would attribute
to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten thousand other
causes of the same sort, forgetting to mention the true cause, which
is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly
I have thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo
my sentence; for I am inclined to think that these muscles and bones
of mine would have gone off to Megara or Boeotia-by the dog of Egypt
they would, if they had been guided only by their own idea of what
was best, and if I had not chosen as the better and nobler part, instead
of playing truant and running away, to undergo any punishment which
the State inflicts. There is surely a strange confusion of causes
and conditions in all this. It may be said, indeed, that without bones
and muscles and the other parts of the body I cannot execute my purposes.
But to say that I do as I do because of them, and that this is the
way in which mind acts, and not from the choice of the best, is a
very careless and idle mode of speaking. I wonder that they cannot
distinguish the cause from the condition, which the many, feeling
about in the dark, are always mistaking and misnaming. And thus one
man makes a vortex all round and steadies the earth by the heaven;
another gives the air as a support to the earth, which is a sort of
broad trough. Any power which in disposing them as they are disposes
them for the best never enters into their minds, nor do they imagine
that there is any superhuman strength in that; they rather expect
to find another Atlas of the world who is stronger and more everlasting
and more containing than the good is, and are clearly of opinion that
the obligatory and containing power of the good is as nothing; and
yet this is the principle which I would fain learn if anyone would
teach me. But as I have failed either to discover myself or to learn
of anyone else, the nature of the best, I will exhibit to you, if
you like, what I have found to be the second best mode of inquiring
into the cause.
I should very much like to hear that, he replied.
Socrates proceeded: I thought that as I had failed in the contemplation
of true existence, I ought to be careful that I did not lose the eye
of my soul; as people may injure their bodily eye by observing and
gazing on the sun during an eclipse, unless they take the precaution
of only looking at the image reflected in the water, or in some similar
medium. That occurred to me, and I was afraid that my soul might be
blinded altogether if I looked at things with my eyes or tried by
the help of the senses to apprehend them. And I thought that I had
better have recourse to ideas, and seek in them the truth of existence.
I dare say that the simile is not perfect-for I am very far from admitting
that he who contemplates existence through the medium of ideas, sees
them only "through a glass darkly," any more than he who sees them
in their working and effects. However, this was the method which I
adopted: I first assumed some principle which I judged to be the strongest,
and then I affirmed as true whatever seemed to agree with this, whether
relating to the cause or to anything else; and that which disagreed
I regarded as untrue. But I should like to explain my meaning clearly,
as I do not think that you understand me.
No, indeed, replied Cebes, not very well.
There is nothing new, he said, in what I am about to tell you; but
only what I have been always and everywhere repeating in the previous
discussion and on ot