The Lost Plato Volume 1: Plato's Struggle With Socrates
Chapter 5: The Charmides and the Phaedrus
In the preceding chapter I argued that Plato wrote the Phaedrus in response to Aristophanes’ scathing attack on Socrates and his disciples in the Frogs, in the final stages of the Peloponnesian war, and that it was finished and published after its end, for only then Simmias, to whom Plato refers in the dialogue in parenthesis, could come to Athens from Thebes (1). The question arises which dialogue came next. This I believe to be the Charmides, for there are strong reasons for dating it shortly after Plato’s publishing of the Phaedrus. Socrates’ interlocutors in the Charmides are well-known historical figures: Chaerephon, Critias, and Charmides. Charmides and Critias took an active part in the aristocratic revolution that was established after the dissolution of democracy with which the military defeat of Athens ended. Thisregime deteriorated in a few months into tyranny under Critias’ leadership and became known as the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In the dialogue Chaerephon, an ardent democrat, is on the best terms with Critias and is presented as a great admirer of Charmides. Chaerephon was exiled by the Thirty at the point when the aristocratic regime began to show its true nature (cf. Apology 20e-21a); I therefore date the Charmides in 404, before Chaerephon went to exile.
Xenophon vividly describes in the Hellenica the crucial moments in the political deterioration of the rule of the Thirty, which may help us better appreciate the relevance of the rule of the Thirty for the dating of the Charmides. He says in the Hellenica that Theramenes, the original leader of the Thirty, attempted to resist the mass executions of the democrats; he tried to argue with Critias, opposing his eagerness to put to death all those that had any sympathy with the people, but Critias rejoined that those who wanted to have more than others (tois pleonektein boulomenois) had to put out of the way those who were best able to thwart them, and accused Theramenes of foolishness (euêthês ei, II. iii. 15-16). Critias prevailed among the Thirty, and great numbers of men were put to death unjustly (apothnêskontôn pollôn kai adikôs); naturally, the resentment with this state of affairs grew, and Theramenes began to voice his opposition more openly and forcefully (II. iii. 17).Critias and the rest of the Thirty became seriously alarmed; they therefore co-opted three thousand citizens into the oligarchy, and confiscated the arms of the rest of the citizens (II. iii. 20). Feeling safe after this, ‘they put many people to death out of personal enmity, and many also for the sake of securing their property’ (II. iii. 21). In the end Critias accused Theramenes of high treason in front of the Senate. In the course of his speech he took the high moral ground, identifying himself and his fellow oligarchs as ‘the best men’ (hoi beltistoi, II. iii. 25), and accusing Theramenes of ‘always striving to have more than others and taking no thought of honour (tou de kalou) or of his friends’ (II. iii. 33). Calling for his death, he appealed to the Senators’ virtue of sôphrosunê: ‘If you are wise (ean sôphronête), you will not spare this man, but rather yourself’ (II. iii. 34). In a brilliant defence, Theramenes riposted that it was Critias and his cronies who by their unjustly robbing others of property and by putting to death people who were guilty of no wrong betrayed not only their friends, but also themselves, and all because of their covetousness (II. iii. 43-44): ‘For you in the days of the democracy were regarded as the bitterest of all haters of the people (pantôn misodêmotatos), and under the aristocracy (en de têi aristokratiai) you have shown yourself the bitterest of all haters of decent men (pantôn misochrêstotatos)’ (II. iii. 47). When it became clear that Theramenes had won the Senate over, Critias took recourse to brutal force and had Theramenes put to death (II. iii. 50-56).
From Xenophon’s Hellenica we learn that from then on everything went downhill for Critias. Thrasyboulos, the leader of the exiled democrats, seized Phyle, a strong fortress in Attica and defeated an expedition force sent by the Thirty against him (II. iv. 2-7). After this the Thirty decided to appropriate Eleusis as a place of refuge, if it should prove to be needed. There they held a review of the townspeople under the guard of cavalry, pretending that they wanted to know how numerous they were, and ordering them all to register. After registering, each man had to pass out by the gate in the town wall in the direction of the sea. As each man passed out, he was seized and bound. When all had thus been seized, they were taken to Athens and put to death: ‘this was pleasing to such citizens as cared for nothing else but “having more” (pleonektein)’ (II. iv. 8-10). Soon afterwards Thrasymachus and his followers liberated Piraeus, the port of Athens; the Thirty set out against him and were defeated in the battle of Munichia, in which Critias and Charmides fell (II. iv. 10-19).
The virtue discussed in the Charmides is sôphrosunê, which cannot be correctly rendered by any single English word; it is the virtue that comprises prudence, self-control, temperance, moderation, soundness of mind, which in the Charmides all coincide in the notion of wisdom as such. It is this virtue that Critias and his fellow-oligarchs needed most, and of which in the course of their rule they proved to be badly lacking. It is not surprising therefore that modern interpreters view the dialogue in the light of these events and therefore deny Charmides and Critias in the dialogue any sôphrosunê. Thus Donald Watt writes in his ‘Introduction to Charmides’:
‘Part of Plato’s purpose in this dialogue is to exculpate Socrates from any responsibility for the crimes of his former companions ... [Critias is] both quite lacking in sôphrosunê and quite ignorant of its meaning ... Plato is endeavouring to show that Socrates tried to educate Critias and Charmides in sôphrosunê, but failed. But by trying, he saved himself from any possible accusation of responsibility for their later crimes.’ (2)
This is simply a misinterpretation of the dialogue. Critias in the Charmides may perhaps be viewed as displaying a lack of sôphrosunê in the early stages of his discussion with Socrates when he remonstrates that Socrates is bent on refuting him at any cost, without properly considering his arguments (166c), and again when he proves unable to defend his definition of sôphrosunê as self-reflective knowledge yet refuses to admit his defeat (169c). On closer view, as I shall argue, it will appear that even concerning these two points Plato is sympathetic to Critias’ critical remarks at Socrates’ address. But more importantly, the matter does not end there. For in the discussion that follows Critias’ reservations Socrates brings in the image of the ideal ruler who must have sôphrosunê - understood as knowledge of good and evil - if he is to be of any use (171d-174c). As a result Critias rises to the occasion and shows how much he has learned in the process of discussing sôphrosunê with Socrates. ‘Don’t disappoint Socrates in anything either great or small,’ he admonishes his young cousin Charmides. Charmides replies: ‘You may depend on my following and not deserting him. I’d be behaving terribly if I didn’t obey you, my guardian, and didn’t do what you tell me.’ At that point Critias says ‘And I do command you to do so’ (Alla mên keleuô egôge, 176c3). Critias has realized in the course of the discussion, as the ideal ruler endowed with sôphrosunê should, that becoming a faithful disciple of Socrates is the best course of action for Charmides.
Socrates protests that he has not been consulted: ‘Will you then force me (biasêi ara, 176c7), without even allowing me to examine this matter?’ he asks Charmides. ‘Yes,’ replies Charmides, ‘consider yourself forced by me (hôs biasomenou, 176c8), for he [i.e. Critias] commands it; and you had better consider it well.’ It could be argued that both Charmides and Critias display lack of sôphrosunê at this point, that is at the very end of the dialogue. But if we accept this view, then we must view the Socrates of the dialogue as fully endorsing and fostering their lack of this virtue. For in response to their ‘threat of force’ Socrates observes: ‘Once you are intent on doing something and resort to force, no man alive will be able to resist you.’ Charmides capitalizes on this admission of Socrates: ‘Well then, don’t resist me either.’ Socrates concludes the discussion and the whole dialogue with a pledge: ‘I won’t resist you then’ (Ou toinun enantiôsomai, 176d5). It is these very last lines of the dialoguethat speak most decisively against its modern dating after the death of Socrates. For had Plato written the dialogue after Socrates’ death, far from exculpating Socrates, he would have been implicating him fully, and his presenting Socrates in compliance with the wishes of Charmides and Critias would be in total disharmony with the Apology in which Socrates speaks at length about his refusal to obey the Thirty when they ordered him and four others to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis to Athens, to be put to death (32c). Late in his life, in The Seventh Letter Plato re-emphasizes Socrates’ refusal to obey the Thirty, referring to the same incident: the Thirty commanded Socrates to imprison a citizen ‘bringing him by force’ (biai axonta, 324e3), ‘but Socrates did not obey’ (hod’ ouk epeitheto, 325a2) and was prepared to suffer anything ‘rather than take any part in their impious deeds’ (prin anosiôn autois ergôn genesthai koinônos, 325a2-3). It is noteworthy that according to Xenophon’s Hellenica Theramenes in defending himself against Critias’ accusation of betraying the aristocrats refers to the case of Leon the Salaminian as a turning point; it was from then on that he began to oppose the self-destructive policies of Critias and his followers:
‘For when Leon the Salaminian was put to death, a man of capacity, both actually and by repute, although he was not guilty of a single act of wrong-doing, I knew that those who were like him would be fearful, and being fearful, would be enemies of this government’ (II.iii.39).
The contrast between these testimonies concerning Critias, and Socrates’ discussion with him in the Charmides can be satisfactorily explained only if Plato wrote the dialogue before the seisure of Leon the Salaminian by the Thirty (3).
The proposed dating of the Charmides can help us to determine more precisely the dating of the Phaedrus. The Phaedrus was finished and published in the early days of the Thirty, but if it was Plato's first dialogue and therefore written before the Charmides, a large part of it must have been written during the final stages of the Peloponnesian War, for in the early days of the rule of the aristocrats Plato wrote the Charmides. Let us then view the dramatical setting of the Phaedrus on the basis of the historical situation in which it was written. In the year in which Aristophanes staged the Frogs, that is in 405 the Spartans destroyed the Athenian fleet at Aegospotami, and as a result of this defeat Athens was besieged by land and sea; the army of Sparta and its allies were encamped in the Academy, in the outskirts of Athens, while the Athenians were enclosed within the city walls as in prison (4). The Phaedrus opens with a scene that could not be more contrasting. Socrates meets Phaedrus outside the city walls (exô teichous, 227a3), where Phaedrus goes for a walk. At a stroke Plato thus transports himself and the reader in space and time: into the countryside, away from the besieged city, and from the days of the devastating war into the days of peace. And he dwells and enlarges on this theme of blissful peace. Phaedrus goes for a walk outside the walls because it is less tiring than walking in public walks in the city (227a6-7). Socrates, who normally prefers to stay in the city (230d1) is so eager to listen to Phaedrus’ rendering of Lysias’ speech on Love that he is willing to walk with him as far as Megara, up to the walls, and back again (227d-5). It was the enmity between Megara and Athens that had triggered the Peloponnesian war in 431, and it was only during the peace of Nicias, which lasted from 421 to 415, that such a walk could be contemplated. The peace was meant to last for fifty years, but it was soon broken by the Athenians, in particular Alcibiades, who repudiated Socrates and philosophy for the sake of his adventurous designs. By choosing Phaedrus as Socrates’ counterpart in the dialogue Plato reminded the reader of all those fateful events, for like Alcibiades Phaedrus was implicated in the sacrilegious crime of the mutilation of herms in 415, for which he was exiled and all his property was confiscated (see n. 24 in ch. 4). In the closing stages of the war, by invoking the peace of Nicias in the Phaedrus Plato invites the reader to consider conditions that would ascertain a lasting peace. This time Socrates should be taken seriously and philosophy should be adhered to.
Plato in the Phaedrus revels in the imaginary enjoyment of the open countryside. Phaedrus and Socrates look for a pleasant place where they could sit and read Lysias’ discourse. They turn off the road, decide to walk along the Ilissus, then they wade in the stream, bare-footed as they both are, ‘which is especially delightful at this hour of a summer’s day’ (229a4-7). It was in the summer of 405 that the Spartans and their allies encamped in the Academy just outside the city walls, and we can imagine Plato writing the opening scene of the Phaedrus in the heat of such a summer’s day, cooped up in the overcrowded city, which offered no relief from heat.
Phaedrus spots a tall plane tree that offers welcome shade, there is a little breeze and grass to sit on (229a-b). Socrates finds the place charming:
‘Upon my word, a delightful resting-place, with this tall spreading plane, and a lovely shade from the high branches of the agnus: now that it’s in full flower, it will make the place ever so fragrant. And what a lovely stream under the plane-tree, and how cool to the feet! Judging by the statuettes and images I should say it’s consecrated to Achelous and some of the Nymphs. And then too, isn’t the freshness of the air most welcome and pleasant: and the shrill summery music of the cicada-choir! And as crowning delight the grass, thick enough on a gentle slope to rest your head most comfortably.’ (230b2-c5, tr. Hackforth)
The statuettes and images consecrated to the local deities, brought there by their worshippers, remain undisturbed; what a contrast to the countryside actually ravaged by war and siege!
It is midday by the time Phaedrus finishes reading Lysias’ discourse and Socrates finishes his two discourses on love in response to it: ‘the cicadas overhead are singing after their wont in the heat of the day and conversing with one another’ (258e7-259a1). The majority of people (tous pollous, 259a2), because of their lazy minds, would not converse but rather doze under the spell of the cicadas. Socrates says that if the same happened to him and Phaedrus, the cicadas would rightly laugh at them, taking them for a pair of slaves that had invaded their retreat like sheep, to have their midday sleep beside the spring: ‘But if they see us discussing philosophy (dialegomenous, 259a7) and steering clear of their bewitching siren-song, they might be filled with admiration and grant us that gift of honour that gods permit them to confer upon mortals’ (259a6-b2). What is Socrates talking about? Phaedrus does not know this story, so Socrates narrates it.
The story says that the cicadas are the devotees of the Muses: they report to Terpsichora on those who honour her with dance, to Erato on those who worship her in the rites of love, to Calliope and Urania on those who live in accordance with philosophy and thus do honour to the art (mousikên) of these two noblest Muses (259b5-d7). Christopher Rowe remarks that Plato wants the reader to recall Hesiod’s full list of the nine Muses in the Theogony(5). The passage is indeed evocative of Hesiod’s Theogony, but written in the closing days of the Peloponnesian war, when the aristocratic revolution was on the cards as the only possible alternative to the destruction of Athens by Sparta and her allies, the dialogue exercises the memory of the reader in a more demanding manner. For in the passage on the Muses Hesiod presents a picture of a ruler whom Calliope endowed with the art of persuasion that enables him to apply the law in deciding disputed rights, for ‘speaking with unerring judgement he can put a quick and expert end even to a great quarrel,’ (asphaleôs agoreuôn aipsa te kai mega neikos epistamenôs katepausen, 86-87). Hesiod says that such kings, because of their ability of persuasion ‘are wise, for they can turn the foolish views of their subjects, misled by demagogues, into right actions with great ease, talking them over with gentle argument’(touneka gar basilêes echephrones, houneka laois blaptomenois agorêphi metatropa erga teleusi rêidiôs, malakois paraiphamenoi epeessin, 88-90). With this gesture towards Hesiod Plato in the dialogue opened the discussion of rhetoric (258e-259e), which culminated in an outline of rhetoric steeped in philosophy, founded on dialectic (265c-274a), for the art of gentle, yet effective persuasion was in his view what was most needed in the days to come. In the Phaedrus Plato could not lecture the aristocrats directly on how to rule the city, the best he could do was to point out to them obliquely what was expected of them by all those who invested their best hopes in their ascent to power, what was the best advice they could get from the wise men of old, and to provide them with the tool for acquiring the unfailing persuasiveness of which Hesiod speaks in the Theogony, that is the tool of rhetoric founded in dialectic, in philosophy. The dramatic setting of the Phaedrus, which so starkly contrasts with the situation in which the dialogue was written, thus becomes instrumental in Plato's delivering a powerful message aimed at influencing the actual political situation. The proposed dating of the composition of the Phaedrus and the Charmides allows us to understand better an important episode in Plato’s life. For as Plato’s autobiographic remarks in his Seventh Letter indicate, Plato was encouraged by his friends to take an active part in the aristocratic revolution, but hesitated (324d). It appears that instead of embracing the opportunity to enter a political career, which he coveted (Seventh Letter, 324b8-c1), he was preoccupied with giving the final touches to the Phaedrus and with writing the Charmides.
The dramatic setting of the Charmides and the actual situation in which it was written are similarly contrasting. For on the proposed dating it was composed in the time of peace, shortly after the end of the Peloponnesian War, yet in its opening lines Plato takes us to the very beginning of the war, or rather its preliminary stage. The year is 432, Socrates has returned to Athens after a lengthy military campaign at Potidaea. Socrates is the narrator; he takes us to a wrestling-school, one of his old haunts. His friends are happy to see him alive, for they have just learned of the battle in which he took part and in which many Athenians lost their lives. Socrates reports that he answered their questions concerning it, but he recounts neither their questions nor his answers; he is more interested in matters at home and asks his friends about the current state of philosophy (peri philosophias hopôs echoi ta nun, 153d3). Plato was born during the war, which determined the environment of his childhood, teens, and early manhood, so it would be quite natural for him to discuss sôphrosunê, that is the virtue of temperance and self-control, against this background. But the theme of war disappears from the dialogue as soon as it has provided its dramatic setting. Plato could hardly have found a more striking way of emphasizing the importance of philosophy. As he was writing the dialogue the devastation that the war had brought about was visible everywhere that he cast his eyes; it was time to turn attention to philosophy that would guarantee a better future.
P. Friedländer, says about the Charmides:
‘In a dialogue dealing with sôphrosunê we do not find any reference to the ordinary meaning of this virtue: that it consists in the mastering of one’s desires and passions. If we consider that this - “which is commonly called sôphrosunê” (Phaedo 68c) - is also a dominant conception in other works of Plato, we must ask why he omitted it in the Charmides.’(6)
This question must be asked, in so far as sôphrosunê in the Charmides is more akin to the virtue of wisdom, phronêsis, and to the virtue of justice, dikaiosunê as we know these from Plato’s later dialogues. And yet, Friedländer is wrong when he says that in the Charmides we do not find any reference to the ordinary meaning of sôphrosunê. For consider the setting of the dialogue which opens up with Socrates’ enquiry into the interest in philosophy (peri philosophias, 153d3) among young men: ‘Have any of the young distinguished themselves in wisdom or in beauty or in both?’ (ê sophiai ê kallei ê amphoterois, 153d4-5). Socrates’ friends have nothing to say about philosophy, but they are unanimous in their praise of the beauty of the youth named Charmides who just then enters the hall, the eyes of everyone upon him. Called over by Critias, his elder cousin, Charmides sits between him and Socrates. At that moment Socrates catches a glimpse of the youth’s body inside his cloak and is ‘inflamed’ (ephlegomên, 155d4); he regains his composure as he directs the discussion towards sôphrosunê, the virtue of temperance. This scene points to the Phaedrus, in which Plato presented us with a picture of a philosopher-lover erotically aroused at the sight of a young man, his soul being all ‘heated up’ (pasan aisthêsei diathermênas tên psuchên, 253e5-6). The lover is filled with erotic desire as he approaches the youth, but the beauty of the beloved transports him to the sight of Beauty (pros tên tou kallous phusin) as together with Temperance (meta sôphrosunês) it is enthroned on a holy pedestal among true beings (254b5-7). This gives him the power to control his base desires; the lover and the beloved then spend their time discussing philosophy (meta philosophôn logôn, 257b6). Since sôphrosunê viewed as temperance and self-control was thoroughly dealt with in the Phaedrus, Plato in its follow-up, that is the Charmides, simply opens the philosophic discussion with a situation that powerfully evokes the preceding dialogue with all its philosophic and moral import: Plato in the Charmides presents the reader with the Phaedran love in action (7).Having pointed to the exhaustive Phaedran treatment of this aspect of sôphrosunê, which thus remainscentral to his notion of it, Plato in the Charmides focuses attention on such aspects of virtue that he views as essential for Charmides and Critias in the actual political situation, in their new role as rulers of the city. To make his admonitions more palatable and acceptable to them, he dramatically projects the dialogue to the days before he himself was even born, lets Critias play the central role in introducing Socrates to young Charmides, and brings in the discussion on sôphrosunê innocuously as a kind of charm (epôidê), as a remedy for headaches from whichCharmides suffers.
A. The epôidê Charmides suffers from headaches; Socrates claims to have a leaf that will cure them, if Charmides submits his soul to a cure by the ‘charm’, that is the epôidê (155e5 and passim) that instils sôphrosunê in the soul. What is this epôidê supposed to be? Most interpreters do not even attempt to explain it, as if it was of no relevance for the understanding of the dialogue. T.G.Tuckey is an exception; he contends that the beautiful speeches that constitute the charm refer to the Socratic method of questioning; in other words, he identifies the Charmidian epôidê with the Socratic elenchos(8). But this cannot be right, for epôidê and elenchos differ sharply in their meaning. According to Liddell & Scott elenchos means ‘reproach’, ‘disgrace’, ‘dishonour’, ‘argument of disproof’, ‘refutation’, whereas epôidê means ‘song sung to’ or ‘song sung over’, ‘charm for’ or ‘charm against’. Plato clearly marks this difference by their different uses in the Charmides. The elenchos is sharp and biting, Charmides submits to it with reluctance (159b), and even Critias, a seasoned debater, winces when Socrates subjects him to it (166c). The epôidê enchants the soul (157a), and Charmides insists on receiving it (176b). Elenchos, to which Socrates subjects Charmides and Critias, and of which almost the whole dialogue consists, purifies the souls of the interlocutors by liberating them of their false opinions concerning the virtue of sôphrosunê; it thus prepares them for the epôidê which is to evoke and engender sôphrosunê in the souls, but which as such remains outside the framework of the dialogue (157a).
At the beginning of the discussion Critias claims that Charmides already has sôphrosunê (157d). If that were so, muses Socrates, then the epôidê could be skipped and the medicine he has received for headaches from a Thracian physician – some kind of leaf with medicinal properties (phullon ti, 155e5) – could be applied straightaway. But can the young man himself confirm that he already participates in temperance (êdê sôphrosunês metechein, 158c3-4)? Charmides can neither confirm nor deny his being temperate, and so Socrates invites him to a joint investigation of this matter. When the youth agrees, Socrates subjects him to questioning; the promised epôidê remains suspended and elenchos runs its course. At the end of the dialogue, after elenchos has purified the soul of false beliefs,the need for the epôidê is reaffirmed, but its delivery is deferred for future meetings between Socrates and Charmides (175e-176d).(9) The epôidê thus remains a riddle for the reader to solve, but one thing is certain: it is not elenchos.
Plato helps the reader to solve the riddle; Socrates says that ‘these charms are the beautiful speeches’ (tas d’ epôidas tautas tous logous einai tous kalous, 157a4-5), and that ‘such speeches have the power to engender temperance in souls’ (ek de tôn toioutôn logôn en tais psuchais sôphrosunên engignesthai, 157a5-6). As can be seen, when the notion of the charms (epôidai) is introduced as that of ‘beautiful speeches’, these are qualified by the definite article, thus pointing to something very specific, with which the reader ought to be acquainted. What beautiful speeches can Socrates be referring to? The reader of the Phaedrus has no difficulty in identifying ‘the beautiful speeches’, for Socrates’ two speeches on love in the Phaedrus are conducive to temperance, are beautiful, and are both characterized as such, although the second speech is more beautiful than the first; speaking of the palinode, Phaedrus says that Socrates composed it much more beautifully than the previous speech on love (ton logon ... hosôi kalliô tou proterou apêrgasô, Phaedrus 257c1-2).(10) The very concept of ‘charms’ in the Charmides points tothe Phaedrus, in which Socrates refers to the power of a rhetorician to charm the audience (epaidôn kêlein, 276d1) and defines rhetoric as psuchagôgia, which is best translated as the ‘charming of the soul’ (261a7, 271c10); both speeches on love that Socrates gives in the Phaedrus represent rhetorical charms. Socrates in the Charmides claims to have received the epôidê from a Thracian physician while staying at Potidaea. This story is another signpost that directs the attention of the reader to the Phaedrus, for Socrates says that the Thracian from whom he received the epôidê was a follower of Zalmoxis, and that it is said of Zalmoxis’ followers ‘that they aim at immortality’ (hoi legontai kai athanatizein, 156d5-6); the Phaedran palinode instils sôphrosunê in the soul of the lover and his beloved and thereby puts them on course towards immortality (249a, 256b). The readers of the Phaedrus would know that they should not probe into the provenance of the charms ascribed to the Thracian, for they would recall Socrates’ rebuke to Phaedrus. In the Phaedrus Socrates tells a myth about the invention of writing by an Egyptian divinity called Theuth, and Phaedrus divines that the inventor of the myth is Socrates himself. Socrates rebukes him: ‘To you it perhaps makes a difference who the speaker is and where he comes from: you don’t just consider whether what he says is right or not’ (275b-c). This rebuke is meant very seriously, for this is how Plato wanted his Phaedrus to be read; its readers should not be distracted by attempting to ascribe some views to Socrates, other views to Plato. This message is reinforced in the Charmides, where Socrates at first says that he obtained the epôidê from the Thracian, but later on casually remarks that if Charmides already has temperance, he needs neither the charms of Zalmoxis, nor those of Arabis the Hyperborian (158b). Herodotus speaks of Zalmoxis as half mythical (iv.94-96) and of Arabis as mythical (iv.36). Plato thus reminds the reader that he should not enquire into the question of the authorship of the charm, that is of ‘the beautiful speeches’ that engender temperance in the soul, but rather direct all his attention to the speeches themselves; that ‘the beautiful speeches’ are what really matters is then reiterated at the end of the dialogue when Charmides insists that he needs to be charmed by Socrates and Socrates agrees to devote himself to charming his soul.
Paradoxically, in the Charmides it is Socrates himself who shows an inappropriate interest in the provenance of a thought introduced by his young interlocutor. For when Charmides brings in his third definition of temperance as ‘doing one’s own business’ (to ta heautou prattein, 161b6) and says that he heard it said by someone else, Socrates surmises that he must have heard it from Critias. Critias denies this, and Charmides reproaches Socrates for his inquisitiveness: ‘What difference does it make from whom I heard it?’ Socrates replies that it makes no difference and that ‘one ought not to enquire at all who said the words, but only whether they are true or not’ (pantôs gar ou touto skepteon, hostis auto eipen, alla poteron alêthes legetai ê ou, 161c5-6). Nevertheless, a little later Socrates guesses again that it was Critias from whom Charmides heard the third definition (162c), while further on he bids Critias to ‘never mind whether it is Critias or Socrates who is being subjected to scrutiny’ (eite Kritias estin eite Sôkratês ho elenchomenos, 166d9-e1). Why does Socrates repeatedly transgressagainst his own principle that one ought not to enquire into who said what but only whether what has been said is true or false, and why does he then nevertheless reiterate this principle? The Charmides indicates that Socrates was uneasy about the philosophic theory which Plato had ascribed to him in the Phaedrus – we can imagine Socrates queried again and again by the readers of the Phaedrus and warding them off: ‘ it is Plato, not me’ - and so Plato in the Charmides reminded both him and the readers that on Socrates’ own principles they should not worry as to whether the thoughts ascribed to him in the dialogue were his or Plato’s, but rather properly examine whether they were true or not.
It is noteworthy that Thomas Szlezák, although he accepts without questioning the ‘axiomatic’ late dating of the Phaedrus, that isas having been written much later than the Charmides(11), argues forcefully that the Charmides cannot be properly understood unless it is viewed in the light of the Phaedrus. His contention that Plato held the doctrines expressed in the Phaedrus before writing any dialogues enables him to present a very perceptive interpretation of the Charmidian charm. When Socrates says in the Charmides that he had learned the charm ‘with a lot of effort’ (meta pollês spoudês, 175e4), Szlezák argues that Plato here refers to the ‘far finer effort’ (polu kalliôn spoudê) of which Socrates speaks in Phaedrus 276e5 and that Socrates in the Charmides has acquired temperance as a result of fine speeches (kaloi logoi), which in the light of the Phaedrus means that he has philosophic knowledge of the Forms, of the soul, and thus of himself.(12) The intellectual tyranny that the obligatory late dating of the Phaedrus has exercised over the minds of the interpreters of Plato throughout the last century comes to the fore very clearly in Szlezák's case.
Plato’s use ofthe concepts of epôidêin his later dialogues shows that he employed the term to refer to his own texts, and especially to texts that were profoundly similar to the Phaedran palinode. Thus in the Phaedo Socrates advises his friends that they should free themselves from fear of death by charming their souls (epaidein, 77a8; exepaisete, 77a9), and at the end of the dialogue he gives an example of epôidê that should combat the fear of death: it is the eschatological myth about the life of the soul after its departure from the mortal body (epaidein, 114d7). Similarly in the tenth book of the Republic Plato fortifies the soul by ‘the charm’ (tên epôidên, 608a4), which contains in a nutshell the results of the preceding arguments, but refers in particular to the forthcoming proof of the immortality of the soul (608c1-2), which is crowned with the eschatological myth of Er. Finally, in the Laws Plato views his whole work (panta hosa dielêluthamen te kai eti dielthoimen an, 664b5-7) as true charms (ontôs epôidai, 659e1).
B. ‘Know thyself’ Another passage in the Charmides that requires the Phaedran background is Critias’ musing about the Delphic ‘Know thyself’ (Gnôthi sauton). Donald Watt translates it as follows:
‘Indeed, I’d almost say that is what self-control really is, knowing oneself. I agree with the man who dedicated the inscription to that effect at Delphi. The fact is, I think that the inscription was dedicated to serve instead of “Hail” (Chaire), as a greeting from the god to the people entering the temple, as though the god felt that this form of greeting wasn’t correct, and that they ought not to recommend that to one another, but rather self-control (sôphronein)... because, as the inscription implies and as I maintain, “Know thyself” and “Be self-controlled” are the same thing (to gar Gnôthi sauton kai to Sôphronei estin men tauton).’ (164d-e, tr. D. Watt).
As it stands, this passage does not make much sense. W.R.M. Lamb’s note in his edition of the Charmides can shed some light on it:
‘Throughout this passage there is allusion to the thought or wisdom implied in sôphronein, and here Critias seeks to identify phronei (“think well”, “be wise”) with gnôthi (“know”, “understand”) in the inscription gnôthi sauton at Delphi.’(13)
What neither Watt nor Lamb explain is why Critias should consider the greeting ‘Hail’ as incorrect, preferring ‘Be self-controlled’. Watt’s ‘instead of “Hail” ... as though the god felt that this form of greeting wasn’t correct’ stands for Plato’s anti tou Chaire, hôs toutou men ouk orthou ontos tou prosrêmatos, tou chairein (164d7-e1). This remains obscure until we realize that the greeting Chaire is an imperative of the verb chairein that means ‘have pleasure’, ‘enjoy’ and that the word prosrêma translated as ‘greeting’, can be understood as ‘exhortation’, as Plato immediately explains: ‘and that they should not exhort (parakeleuesthai) each other thus [i.e. ‘Have pleasure’] but rather be temperate, be wise’ (alla sôphronein,164e2). In other words, Critias maintains that according to the god’s inscription we ought not to say ‘Have pleasure’ when we greet each other, but rather ‘Be temperate’, ‘Be self-controlled’, ‘Be wise’. This would be clear to the reader of the Phaedrus, in which Socrates argued that the intemperate lover enthralled by ‘the innate desire for pleasure’ (237d7-8) derived pleasure (chairein, 240a5) from keeping his beloved in a state of dependency on him. In the Charmides Plato presents us with a portrait of Critias disdaining such pleasure and giving his full endorsement to the Phaedran conception of sôphrosunê.
The significance of this portrayal of Critias stands out in stark relief against the picture Xenophon paints of him in the Memorabilia:
‘When Socrates found that Critias loved Euthydemus (Kritian aisthanomenos erônta Euthudêmou) and wanted to use him to gratify his sexual desire (chrêsthai pros aphrodisia) he tried to restrain him by saying that it was servile behaviour unbecoming a man of noble character (aneleutheron te einai kai ou prepon andri kalôi kagathôi) to solicit his beloved, to whom he wanted to appear a worthy man, and like a beggar stooping to ask a favour that was no good (mêdenos agathou). And when Critias paid no heed to Socrates’ protestations and dissuasions, it is said (legetai) that Socrates exclaimed in the presence of Euthydemus and many others: “Critias seems to have the feelings of a pig: he can no more keep away from Euthydemus than pigs can help rubbing themselves against stones.”’ (I.ii.29-30)
Xenophon’s ‘it is said’ indicates that it was a well known story. Xenophon adds that Critias hated Socrates because of this incident (I.ii.31). In the Charmides Plato presents us with a very different Critias, as a man who did take Socrates’ views on sôphrosunê to heart, that is with the Critias as both Socrates and he ardently wished him to be. For Plato shared Socrates’ view that only a man endowed with the virtue of sôphrosunê can become a good and dependable political leader. Viewed in the light of the Phaedrus, the Charmides is a daring and urgent call on Critias to live up to the highest moral and political standards with which Socrates had confronted him in real life. This aspect of the dialogue becomes especially poignant when Critias says that Charmides appears to be a most temperate young man (sôphronestatos, 157d6); Socrates says that this is precisely what should be expected of him:
‘And indeed I think that you ought to excel others in all good qualities; for if I am not mistaken there is no one present who could easily point out two Athenian houses, whose union would be likely to produce a better or nobler scion than the two from which you are sprung. There is your father’s house, which is descended from Critias the son of Dropidas, whose family has been commemorated in the panegyrical verses of Anacreon, Solon, and many other poets, as famous for beauty and virtue and all other high fortune: and your mother’s house is equally distinguished ... Having such ancestors you ought to be first in all things ...’ (157d-158b).
Written in the early days of the aristocratic rule of the Thirty, this praise is as powerful an appeal to both Charmides and Critias to be worthy of their great ancestors, as could possibly be conceived. In the second book of the Republic we find a similarly grand, though more concise eulogy of the same ancestry, this time in praise of Glaucon and Adeimantus, Plato’s two brothers, who compel Socrates to transcend his ignorance and make it clear what justice is (367e6-368b1). In reply to their demand Socrates constructs the ideal state of the Republic on the idea of justice identified as ‘doing one’s own business’ (to ta hautou prattein, 433a8), that is the idea that Charmides introduces in the Charmides as a definition of sôphrosunê (to ta heautou prattein, 161b6) that he had heard from someone; this someone is then identified by Socrates as Critias 161b8-162c6). The similarity between this notion of sôphrosunê in the Charmides and the notion of justice (dikaiosunê) in the Republic is not accidental. Plato in the Republic wants to shed light on the Charmides; the views that Charmides and Critias had held on sôphrosunê in the days of their philosophic intercourse with Socrates inspired him to expressing in the Charmides his hope that the two would in reality transform the city so as to lead it under their government from its former existence, steeped in injustice, into a life characterized by temperance, self-control, wisdom, and justice (cf.Seventh Letter 324c-d).
C. The elenchos In contrast to the epôidê which remains unspecified in the Charmides as to its content, although it is central to it, and which as such points to the Phaedrus for its paradigm, Socratic elenchos is fully developed in the Charmides. It is introduced step by step, each new step being motivated and justified by preceding ones. Its anchoring in Socrates’ own pursuit of philosophy, that is in his concern for his own soul and for the souls of his interlocutors, is explained with a thoroughness, urgency, and freshness that suggest that elenchos is here properly introduced for the first time in Plato’s dialogues.(14)
Socrates observes that if Charmides has temperance in him, he must be able to perceive it, and if he perceives it he must be able to express it in words (158d-159a). Charmides reluctantly gives his opinion of what temperance is and thus exposes himself to Socrates’ questioning. Charmides’ own views are soon found wanting, and so he takes recourse to a view that he heard from Critias. Critias himself thus becomes the target of elenchos, and when Socrates refutes his first two attempts to define temperance and questions his third attempt, he complains that Socrates is bent on refuting him without properly considering what the discussion is about (eme gar epicheireis elenchein, easas peri hou ho logos estin, 166c5-6). A reader who has read the Phaedrus can understand Critias’ dismay, for in his third attempt Critias defines temperance as self-knowledge,in support of which he invokes the Delphic ‘Know thyself’ (164d-e). In the Phaedrus Socrates grounded all his philosophic investigations in the Delphic adage (229e-230e), which within the dialogue culminated in his contemplation of Beauty, Justice, Temperance, and Knowledge (247d, 250b-d). When Critias defines temperance as ‘knowing oneself’, he does so well aware that the quest for self-knowledge is central to Socrates’ philosophy:
‘Let us leave aside what we said before – perhaps you were more right concerning the points we made, perhaps I was, but nothing we said was very clear – now, of this, I am prepared to give you account (nun d’ ethelô toutou soi didonai logon), if you do not agree that sôphrosunê is knowing oneself (ei mê homologeis sôphrosunên einai to gignôskein auton heauton).(165a8-b4).
Critias’ professed readiness to answer any questions ofSocrates (didonai logon) concerning this definition is qualified by his words ‘if you do not agree that sôphrosunê is knowing oneself’; he obviously does not expect to be questioned any further. He is convinced that Socrates cannot object against a proposition in which his own thought is anchored. But Socrates proves him wrong, for in his elenctic zeal he is prepared to question anything that aspires to certainty, including the Delphic adage, however important that maxim may be to him personally. He rebukes Critias:
‘You treat me as though I professed to know what I am asking about, and if I only wished to agree with you, I could do so. But this is not the case. In fact, I am investigating with you each proposition (zêtô gar meta sou aei to protithemenon)because I myself do not know’ (dia to mê autos eidenai, 165b8-c1).
Socrates goes on to question Critias’ notion ofsôphrosunê as knowledge (epistêmê), comparing it to other kinds of knowledge, each of which produces something useful and beneficial, which is different from the given knowledge: ‘Critias, what does sôphrosunê produce that is worthy of its name, in so far as it is knowledge of oneself?’ (165d8-e2) ‘Tell me, then, what is sôphrosunê the knowledge of, which is different from sôphrosunê?’
In his answer Critias cannot hide his frustration:
‘Here you have come to the crux of the matter, Socrates. Seeking to find some similarity between sôphrosunê and other kinds of knowledge you have arrived at the very point in which it differs from all of them. There is no such similarity; all the others are knowledges of something else, not of themselves, whereas sôphrosunê alone is the knowledge both of all the other kinds of knowledge and of itself (hê de monê tôn te allôn epistêmôn epistêmê esti kai autê heautês). And you are very far from being unaware of it (kai tauta se pollou dei lelêthenai). But I think that you are doing what you just now denied doing: you are bent on refuting me, losing sight of the real point at issue in our discussion.’ (166b7-c6)
Critias’ criticism of Socrates is hard-hitting and well aimed. Plato as the author of the Phaedrus and the Charmides stands fully behind it. It is because of his conviction that Socrates’ eyes throughout the elenctic enquiry are focussed on sôphrosunê, and that Socrates is well aware that self-knowledge is central to it, that at the end of the dialogue he allows Critias and Charmides to dismiss Socrates’ self-inflicted doubts and impose upon him the role of becoming Charmides’ guide and tutor concerning it. In his immediate reply to Critias’ rebuke Socrates justifies his method of enquiry. He says that even if he tries his hardest to refute Critias (ei hoti malista se elenchô), Critias is wrong in thinking that he does so for any other reason (allou tinos heneka elenchein) than that for which he would investigate what he said himself (ê houper heneka kan emauton diereunôimên ti legô, 166c7-d1); in fact, he is doing so primarily for his own sake (egôge phêmi touto poiein, ton logon skopein malista men emautou heneka, 166d2-4). After all the praise of Charmides' and Critias' family and all their ancestors, Socrates is unceremoniously ruthless in subjecting Critias to his elenctic questioning precisely because the views adopted by Critias are central to his own philosophy; in being ruthless with Critias, Socrates is ruthless with himself. For the sake of truth he is prepared to question the very possibility of self-knowledge (167b-169a), the pursuit of which has motivated all his lifelong quest, as he professed it in the Phaedrus (229e-230a).
In the Phaedrus Socrates defines the soul as self-motion (to auto hauto kinoun), and this definition (logos, 245e3) provides the basis of the Phaedran proof (apodeixis, 245c1) of the immortality of the soul. By putting those words into the mouth of Socrates Plato flagrantly trespassed against Socrates’ ignorance, expressed so forcefully at the beginning of the Phaedrus: ‘I can’t as yet know myself, as the Delphic inscription enjoins’ (ou dunamai pô kata to Delphikon gramma gnônai emauton, 229e-230a). As we know from the Apology, Socrates’ original insistence on his philosophic ignorance, which gave rise to his relentless questioning of others, has been triggered by Chaerephon’s bringing from the Delphic oracle the pronouncement that nobody was wiser than Socrates (20e-21a). In the Charmides, within the framework of his questioning the very possibility of self-knowledge Socrates avows that all self-reflective notions, such as ‘movement that moves itself’ (kinêsis autê heautên kinein, 168e9-10), confound him. On the basis of the proposed dating of the Phaedrus and the Charmides we can infer from this that the real Socrates protested against the ascription to him of the Phaedran definition of soul, claiming his philosophic ignorance. It is no accident then that in the Charmides Plato chooses Chaerephon to be the first to welcome Socrates upon his entering the wrestling school (153b), and to be the person that triggers the onset of Socratic elenchos by his praise of the beauty of Charmides’ body ‘if only he wanted to strip off his clothes’ (apodunai, 154d4-5). What Socrates does in response to Chaerephon is stripping naked Charmides’, Critias’, and first and foremost his own soul by exposing it to elenctic questioning (154e). As in the incident evoked by Socrates in his Defence and recorded in the Apology, Chaerephon in the Charmides unwittingly triggers Socrates' relapse into not-knowing. In the Charmides, the first post-Phaedran dialogue, Plato for the first time comes to grips with and struggles against Socrates’ philosophic ignorance face to face with the living Socrates. In the Phaedrus the historical Socrates with his self-professed ignorance stands side by side with Socrates as Plato knew him, Socrates full of deep insight into the realm of moral notions, into sôphrosunê, without Plato’s awareness ofthe impending conflict between the two.
It might appear that self-motion in the Charmides is just a fleeting thought with no connection to the rest of the dialogue, let alone to the Phaedrus. For in the Charmides it is adduced as one problematic notion among others whose self-reflexivity is held to be doubtful, such as hearing that hears itself, and heat that burns itself (168e). In fact a closer look at the text reveals that the concept of motion is as central to the soul in the Charmides as it is in the Phaedrus. In the Charmides it is the soul from which good and evil start, are set in motion (hôrmêsthai, 156e7), and flow (epirrein, 156e8) into the body. In the Phaedrus the soul is the source (pêgê, 245c9) of motion of the body, and from it the flow (rheuma, 255c6) of beauty starts and is set in motion (hôrmêthê, 255c5; aporrei, 255c4).
Socrates in the Charmides says that ‘some great man is needed who will satisfactorily analyse’ (megalou dê tinos, ô phile, andros dei, hostis touto kata pantôn hikanôs diairêsetai, 169a2-3) the concept of self-knowledge, self-motion, and other self-reflexive notions; he does not deny their possibility. In the Phaedrus Socrates professed to be a lover (erastês) of conceptual analysis (tôn diaireseôn, 266b3-4), an essential part of dialectic on which knowledge is founded, and in the Charmides Plato does his best to compel Socrates to be true to this professed love and to overcome his ignorance in the course of his search for the definition of sôphrosunê. The concept of self-motion is questioned in the Charmides as part of Socrates’ doubts concerning self-knowledge, which threatens his entire philosophic enquiry, for without the possibility of self-knowledge the Socratic elenchos becomes meaningless. And so it is as much in Socrates’ own philosophic interests as it is in the interests of Plato that Socrates in spite of his serious doubts dismisses neither self-knowledge nor self-motion as impossible. On the dating that I propose, apart from being an appeal to Critias and to Charmides to embrace the Socratic sôphrosunê, the Charmides is Plato’s appeal on Socrates to overcome the doubts with which he responded to the Phaedrus. The investigation of sôphrosunê in its self-reflexivity leads to the investigation of the relationship between sôphrosunê and the good (agathon); when this relationship has been brought to light it must be thoroughly explored (to ge prophainomenon anankaion skopein kai mê eikêi parienai) if one has even a little respect for oneself (ei tis ge hautou kai smikron kêdetai, 173a4-5) (172a-176a). D. Sôphrosunê Socrates was no agnostic; in the Charmides, just at the point when his ignorance resounds most strongly, he articulates his profound yearning for knowledge. He professes that the aim of his investigations is the common good (koinon agathon, 166d4-5), which consists in revealing each thing as it is. ‘Each thing’ stands for hekaston tôn ontôn, and the ‘thing’ directly under investigation is sôphrosunê. In the Phaedrus the term ta onta designates the Forms (247e3, 248a5); and sôphrosunê is prominent among these (247d6, 250b2, 253d6, 254b7); Socrates in the Phaedrus is infused with and enthused by the theory of Forms in the process of his endeavour to reach self-knowledge as the Delphic inscription enjoins. In response to Socrates’ presumed protestations against Plato’s attributing to him his own doctrinal certainties concerning the nature of the soul and the Forms in the Phaedrus, Plato in the Charmides gives more space and greater urgency to Socrates’ expressions of ignorance. Theory of Forms nevertheless comes to the fore in the Charmides both directly in Socrates' focusing his eye on sôphrosunê as one of the onta, and indirectly by his pointing to the beautiful speeches in the Phaedrus as the charms that can instil the virtue in the soul. In other words, Socrates’ philosophic not-knowing is given its full sway in the Charmides only to be redirected with a renewed urgency towards the Forms. Each attempted definition of temperance in the Charmides points to the Phaedrus where it finds a back-up either in the realm of Forms, or in the activity that results from their contemplation:
1. In the Charmides, Charmides defines temperance as a well ordered performance of everything that one does (to kosmiôs panta prattein, 159b3). In the Phaedrus the philosopher and his beloved become orderly (kosmioi, 256b2) in every aspect of their lives by virtue of contemplating the Forms, especially sôphrosunê.
2. In the Charmides, Charmides defines sôphrosunê as aidôs (160e4), which is best rendered as a sense of honour, shame, and modesty. In the Phaedrusaidôs is closely associated with sôphrosunê; by contemplating it the philosopher acquires the strength he needs to control his sexual appetites (253d, 254a-b, 256a).
3. In the Charmides, Charmides takes recourse to Critias’ definition of sôphrosunê as ‘doing one’s own business’ (to ta heautou prattein, 161b6). In the Phaedrus each god is ‘doing his own business’ (prattôn hekastos autôn to hautou, 247a6); human souls follow gods (247a6-7), and imitate their example (249b5-6, 250b, 252e-253b).
4. In the Charmides, taking over from Charmides, Critias defines sôphrosunê as ‘doing what is good’ (tên tôn agathôn praxin, 163e10-11). In the Phaedrus a philosopher focuses his discourse on those things that are just, beautiful, and good (peri dikaiôn te kai kalôn kai agathôn, 278a3-4), for only these have the desired clarity and perfection and are worthy of serious concern (en monois hêgoumenos to te enarges einai kai teleon kai axion spoudês, 278a4-5).
5. In the Charmides, Critias defines sôphrosunê as ‘knowing oneself’ (164d), and the enquiry into this definition determines the rest of the discussion. In the Phaedrus Socrates’ pursuit of self-knowledge provides the framework for the dialogue as a whole; he begins by declaring that he is fully committed to and preoccupied with the endeavour to know himself (229e), within the framework of this endeavour he directs his sight to the Forms (249b5-6), among which sôphrosunêplaysa pivotal role (247d6, 250b2, 253d6, 254b7), and he ends the dialogue by praying that he may always be sôphrôn (279c3).
Socrates in the Charmides embodies the tension between Plato, who discovered the Forms under the impact of Socrates’ search for definitions (15), and Socrates who daily returned to an awareness of his ignorance after daring excursions into the realm of knowledge. This tension finds one of its strongest expressions in the closing scene of the Charmides. Socrates is devastated that he is unable to discover ‘what that is to which the lawgiver gave the name of sôphrosunê’ (eph’ hotôi pote tôn ontôn ho nomothetês touto tounoma etheto, tên sôphrosunên, 175b3-4). Here Socrates speaks of the original act of name-giving, when the legislator’s eye was directed to the Forms in accordance with which their earthly semblances were named (16). Unable to find the truth (tên alêtheian, Charmides 175d2), Socrates despairs about the charm, the epôidê, for it is worth nothing without the truth, that is without the knowledge as to what sôphrosunê is; in the Phaedrus the Forms are simply called the truth (alêtheia, 248b6, 249b6). Socrates nevertheless goes on to say that he is quite certain that sôphrosunê is some great good (sôphrosunên mega ti agathon einai, 175e7), and that if Charmides has it, he is blessed (makarion einai, 176a1); in the Phaedrus the philosopher and his beloved live a blessed life (makarion bion, 256a8-b1) by virtue of their contemplation of Forms, in particular of sôphrosunê (254b7). When in the end Charmides refuses to accept Socrates’ protestations of ignorance and insists on being charmed by Socrates (176b), Socrates acquiesces to Charmides’ demand and thus virtually transcends both his ignorance and the dialogue; the required epôidê lies outside the framework of the Charmides, in the Phaedrus, and all that is required of Socrates is to embrace it. In the Phaedrus it is emphasized that only a very few people, and even they with the greatest of difficulties, can see Justice, Temperance (sôphrosunê), and Knowledge, so dull are the organs with which the soul perceives them in their earthly images (250b). This sheds light on the difficulties that Charmides, Critias, and Socrates experience in their attempts to define sôphrosunê. When Critias says that self-awareness is essential to sôphrosunê and defines the latter as self-knowledge (to gignôskein heauton, 164c-d), Socrates asks what is the subject of this knowledge. Critias suggests that it is ‘this knowledge itself and all other branches (types and instances) of knowledge’ (tôn te allôn epistêmôn epistêmê esti kai autê heautês, 166c2-3). What does this shift of focus from ‘knowledge of oneself’ to ‘knowledge of itself’ and the accompanying inclusion of all other knowledge in it signify? Socrates enlarges its scope even further, to include knowledge of ignorance (kai anepistêmosunês, 166e7), and then he says what it all means:
‘So the temperate, self-controlled and wise man (ho sôphrôn, 167a1) alone will know himself and be capable of examining what he knows and what he doesn’t, and in the same way he will be able to know what others know and think that they know, when they really have knowledge of it; and what they think they know when they do not really know it’ (167a1-4).
Here the Charmides sheds a much needed light on an apparent discrepancy in the Phaedrus, where Socrates says on the one hand that he is seeking self-knowledge and finds it ridiculous to get interested in anything else prior to achieving it (259e-230a), and on the other, almost in the same breath, he maintains that he loves learning (philomathês gar eimi, 230d3) and only the people in the city are willing to teach him, not the countryside with its trees (230d2-3). For it is in questioning others as to what they know or only think they know that Socrates questions himself and thereby promotes his self-knowledge (17). Socrates in this way focuses his attention on virtue, for he identifies virtue with knowledge (18).
The Charmidean definition of self-knowledge as ‘knowledge of itself and of other [branches of] knowledge’ points to the Phaedran conception of Knowledge as Form (19). In doing so it sheds light on the Phaedran definition of soul as ‘self-movement’ (to hauto kinoun, 245c7) which is ‘the source and principle of motion to anything else that moves’ (tois allois hosa kineitai touto pêgê kai archê kinêseôs, 245c9). For in the Phaedrus the essential exercise of the self-moving activity of the soul is the contemplation of the Forms, and the self-movement of the soul is primarily the soul’s knowledge directed to Knowledge (kathorai de epistêmên ... tên en tôi ho estin on ontôs epistêmên ousan, Phaedrus 247d4-e2); in the Charmides Plato elucidates this point by focussing on the self-reflexivity of knowledge.
The discussion reaches its culmination when Socrates combines two of Critias’ attempts to define temperance: ‘knowledge that knows itself and all the other branches of knowledge’ and ‘doing one’s own business’. If this concept withstood elenchos, Socrates maintains, then we would pass our lives without making errors, for we would do only those things for which we would have adequate knowledge. The same would be true of all those governed by us, for we would know what each person knew, and would assign them their tasks accordingly: ‘In that way a household ruled by sôphrosunê would be administered admirably, and so would a state and everything else that sôphrosunê governed’ (171d-e). Socrates observes that the discussion has not established that there is such knowledge (172a7-8), but he does not deny its possibility. This becomes clear when he returns to his picture of perfect knowledge, unsure whether sôphrosunê, even if it appeared to be this knowledge, would do us any good. He expresses his ‘new strange doubts’ (atop’ atta, 172c5, 172e5) in the form of an elenctic dream (to emon onar, 173a7). Socrates ‘dreams’ that the society governed by sôphrosunê, where everything were done according to appropriate specialized knowledge, would not bring us happiness (173a-d), for only knowledge of good and evil (peri to agathon te kai kakon, 174c2-3) could do so; he points out that this knowledge would lie outside the bounds of self-reflexivity within which Critias enclosed sôphrosunê. The investigation of sôphrosunê thus appears to end in Socrates’ despair (175e). Yet neither Charmides nor Critias are prepared to share his despair, moreover, they simply refuse to take it seriously; Charmides wants to be taught sôphrosunêby Socrates, Critias commands him to abide by his resolve, and Socrates bows to their will. Socrates’ elenctic dream is filled with apprehension, yet properly understood it foreshadows this positive result.
The dream is introduced by a strange sentence: ‘Hear then, I said, my dream, whether it has come through horn or ivory’ (eite dia keratôn eite di elephantos elêluthen, 1737-8). The key to this sentence can be found in Odyssey xix, 563-7, where true dreams are said to come through the gate made of horn, false ones through the gate made of ivory (20). The reference is to Penelope’s dream about an eagle that destroyed her geese (xix, 540f.). The dream has filled her with fear even as Socrates’ dream has made him fear that his and his friends’ enquiry was not right (ephên ... hoti phoboimên mê ouk orthôs skopoimen, 172e5-6). Penelope tells the dream to Odysseus, who is with her disguised as a beggar, and Odysseus calls it a terrible dream (ainon oneiron, xix, 568). It predicts Odysseus’ destruction of Penelope’s suitors. Socrates’ penchant for refutations threatens to destroy the outlined notion of sôphrosunê as a basis upon which the perfect society can be built. But as in the Odyssey the dream of destruction is followed by Odysseus’ victory and the establishment of peace between him and the inhabitants of Ithaca, so in the Charmides Socrates’ dream points to the knowledge of good and evil that remains untouched by Socrates’ doubts.
The implications of Socrates’ dream on the understanding of the dialogue can be fully appreciated only on the proposed dating of the Charmides. Critias had recently returned to Athens from exile as Odysseus returned to Ithaca after his long travels. When Penelope recalled her painful dream, Odysseus was at the point ofbringing about the end of her long suffering that began years before with the armed expedition of the Achaeans against Troy. When Plato wrote the Charmidean dream, the Athenians, disillusioned with democracy, hoped that Critias and the Thirty were about to end their long suffering that began with the siege of Potidaea. As Odysseus had to begin the restoration of order by destroying the evil suitors, so the Thirty in Athens were expected to deal harshly with those who brought the city to the brink of complete self-destructtion, the demagogues and informers. Lysias, one of those who suffered in the hands of the Thirty, testifies to it that when the Thirty were established in the government, they proclaimed that ‘the city must be purged of unjust men and the rest of citizens inclined to virtue and justice’ (xii.5). Xenophon says that as a first step the Thirty arrested and brought to trial and death those persons who, as all knew, had made a living in the time of democracy by acting as informers and were offensive to all decent and good citizens (kai tois kalois kagathois bareis ontas, Hellenica II.iii.12). That Plato fully shared this hope we know from his Seventh Letter: ‘I thought that they would govern the city so as to turn it away from the life steeped in injustice towards the mode of life determined by justice’ (ôiêthên gar autous ek tinos adikou biou epi dikaion bion agontas dioikêsein tên polin, 324d4-5). It was this hope that Plato encapsulated in Socrates’ Charmidean dream. He knew that to accomplish this task Critias and the rest of the Thirty needed to be armed with the knowledge of good and evil, and that they needed the assistance of Socrates if they were to establish the rule determined by sôphrosunê.
Plato’s sincere hope that Critias and Charmides could become the right men for this task can be seen in the dialogue’s final moments: Socrates’ outline of the perfect state, though left in suspense by his doubts, together with the entire preceding discussion, has an effect both on the behaviour of Charmides and especially on that of Critias. Charmides realizes that he has not yet become sufficiently sôphrôn, temperate and wise, and that his soul needs to be treated by Socrates’ charms until Socrates is satisfied that his soul is fully cured (176a-b); in this he manifests a remarkable degree of sôphrosunê, considering his youth. But Critias’ progress is even more striking, for towards the end of the dialogue not only has he overcome his earlier resentment at being subjected to Socrates elenctic questioning, but in commanding Charmides to become an assiduous follower of Socrates he behaves in full accord with Socrates’ last synthetic attempt at a definition of sôphrosunê, enriched by the prospect of the knowledge of the good and evil. Plato could not have written this scene if Critias’ and Charmides’ tyrannical natures had been fixed forever in history. He brings about in the dialogue what he wishes to happen in reality: Charmides and Critias take on board Socrates’ philosophy, while Socrates respects their authority. Socrates’ dream stands in the dialogue as a warning. With it the final section of the dialogue is introduced. The dream is a fearful dream (phoboimên, 172e6;ededoikê, 175a9), as is Penelope’s dream in the Odyssey. Directed by his dream, Socrates points to knowledge of good and evil as knowledge that is the key to good life, knowledge that Critias has not yet grasped, which he shows by expressing his view that it could be subordinated to sôphrosunê as he defined it, that is as knowledge of un unerring ruler (174d8-e2). By referring Socrates’ dream to the Odyssey, Plato gives his warning to Critias and Charmides the most potent power he could muster. In the Odyssey Penelope’s terrible dream presaged a truly terrible outcome; had the matters been left in Odysseus’ hands, his slaughter of the suitors would have been followed by his slaughtering of all their relatives and allies. Fortunately for him and for Ithaca,Zeus and at his bidding Athena intervened and stopped the slaughter (24. 477-486, 526-544). Plato’s Charmidean warning went amiss. Nothing could stop the Thirty in their tracks; their ‘purging the city’ of undesirable elements turned to butchery. As Xenophon says in the Hellenica, the Thirty ‘for the sake of their private gain have killed in eight months more Athenians, almost, than all the Peloponnesians in ten years of war’ (II.iv.21). And as Plato himself says in the Seventh Letter, the Thirty ‘in a short time showed the preceding democracy shining as gold’ (en chronôi oligôi chruson apodeixantas tên emprosthen politeian, Seventh Letter 324d7-8) in comparison with their reign.