Chapter 7: Plato troubles Socrates
There are two dialogues to which the ancient biographers of Plato specifically refer as written prior to Socrates’ death: the Phaedrus and the Lysis. Concerning the latter Diogenes Laertius in his ‘Life of Plato’ writes:
‘They say that, on hearing Plato read the Lysis, Socrates exclaimed, “By Heracles, what a number of lies this young man is telling about me!” For he has included in the dialogue much that Socrates never said.’ (iii. 35, tr. R.D. Hicks).
Diogenes does not name the source from which he derived this story, but the reference to the source in plural ‘they say’ (phasi) suggests that he found it in a number of sources. The ancient ‘Anonymous Life of Plato’ says:
‘Plato caused Socrates trouble in their meetings (kai pragmata paraschein autôi tôi Sôkratei en tais pros auton enteuxesi); he published writings when Socrates was still alive which fell into Socrates’ hands (sungrammata exetheto, ha eti zôntos Sôkratous eis cheiras autou êlthon). For after Plato wrote the dialogue Lysis, Socrates having read it (hôi entetuchêkôs ho Sôkratês) said to his friends “this young man takes me wherever he likes (hopêi thelei), as far as he likes (eph’ hoson thelei), and to encounter whoever he likes (pros hous thelei)”. (1)
The anonymous biographer brings in a very important point, for Diogenes’ rendering of Socrates’ words ‘what a number of lies this young man is telling about me’ could be interpreted as referring solely to the Lysis, whereas the anonymous biographer indicates that Socrates on the occasion referred to several dialogues. On my proposed dating of the dialogues these were the Phaedrus, the Charmides, and the Hippias Major. In the Phaedrus Plato takes Socrates on a walk outside the city walls along the Ilissus to a charming spot under a plane-tree; Phaedrus is his good friend, still in possession of his riches. Dramatically the dialogue is set in the time of the peace of Nicias, before Phaedrus was exiled for his supposed involvement in the mutilation of Hermae (together with Alcibiades and others), all his property having been confiscated. The third partner in the discussion is Lysias, represented by his playful piece on an erotic theme; he is a resident alien, one of the richest men in Athens. In the Charmides Socrates turns to his old haunt, the wrestling-school of Taureas, eager to meet his old friends and to discuss philosophy having just returned from the military camp at Potidaea where he took part in a great battle of which the news just reached Athens. After a short discussion with Chaerephon, a staunch democrat, his main discussion partners become Charmides and Critias. When Plato composed this dialogue, both these men were playing important roles in the aristocratic revolution that became known as the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In the Hippias Major, somewhere in Athens, Socrates has a tête-à-tête discussion with Hippias, one of the most famous sophists. In the Lysis we find Socrates on the way from the Academy, park and gymnasium outside the walls of Athens, making straight for the Lyceum, a gymnasium to the north-east of the city; he is walking along the road that runs outside the city wall when he is approached by Hippothales, an aristocratic friend of his, who persuades him to join him and other friends and visit a newly opened wrestling-school in which Socrates’ friend Miccus is a teacher. After a short discussion with his two friends Hippothales and Ktesippus, Socrates becomes engaged in a discussion with two aristocratic boys, Lysis and Menexenus.
What difference can a return to the ancient dating of the Lysis make? To answer this question I shall begin by recalling a fairly representative modern rendering of the dialogue. Donald Watt in his ‘Introduction to Lysis’ writes:
‘In the introductory section of the dialogue, which deals with the youth Hippothales and his love for the boy Lysis, the terms used are without exception “erotic”: Hippothales is referred to as the erastês, the older, sexually active partner (erôn) in a male homosexual relationship; Lysis is the paidika, the younger, sexually passive partner (erômenos) - though Hippothales has not as yet managed to consummate his love (erôs). His erôs for Lysis stands in relation to and in contrast with the simple philia (friendship) which the two boys, Lysis and Menexenus, when they are subsequently introduced into the dialogue, are seen to feel for each other, and with the higher sort of philia which Socrates will exhibit in his treatment of the two boys and Hippothales. That is to say, Hippothales embodies the one-sided sexual love (erôs) felt by the lover (erastês) * [*Cf. Phaedrus 238c-241d (the reference is by Donald Watt)]; in Lysis and Menexenus we have an instance of natural, reciprocal friendship (philia); while Socrates gradually reveals a higher philia, educative philia. On a practical level Hippothales is taught how a lover (erastês) should treat his boy (paidika); on an intellectual and moral level Lysis, Menexenus and Hippothales (and of course all the others present) are given a lesson in philosophy.’(2)
Donald Watt fails to mention that in the given text Socrates speaks about Hippothales’ aim of ‘catching the boy’ (ean men helês ta paidika, 205e2) as something highly desirable. For Socrates says to Hippothales that if he succeeded in catching the boy by means of his compositions in which he praises the boy, those compositions would do him honour (kosmos soi estai, 205e2-3) as victor (hôsper nenikêkoti, 205e3-4), but if he failed, those compositions would contribute to his becoming ridiculous (katagelastos, 206a1). The expression ‘to catch the boy’ had an unmistakable connotation; it meant sexual consummation of erotic passion, with one notable exception – the conception of love unveiled in Socrates’ second speech on love in the Phaedrus. But on the modern dating the Phaedrus is a late dialogue while the Lysis is early, so that the Phaedran palinode has nothing to do with the historical Socrates; when Plato wrote the Lysis, he himself, his Socrates, and his readers knew nothing about the Phaedran love. This then means that within the framework of the modern dating of both the Phaedrus and the Lysis Socrates in the latter approves of and is ready to foster an erotic relationship between a boy and his lover that finds its consummation in sexual gratification; this with a boy so young he is not allowed to leave the house on his own, his parents leaving him in the care of a trusted slave-guardian. As Watt’s reference to the Phaedrus indicates, he views Hippothales’ erotic infatuation in the light of Socrates’ first speech on love, in which sexual gratification is the goal towards which is aimed the erotic love of a man for a boy. What Watt omits to say is that in the Lysis Hippothales asks Socrates to help him to get the boy’s favour (206b9-c3), and that Socrates promises to show him how to go about it (206c4-7), whereas in Socrates’ first speech on love in the Phaedrus Socrates proscribes such love in no uncertain terms (238a-c, 265a9-10, 266a2-6), showing the negative impact of such love on the lover (238b7-c4, 241a6-b5) and especially on the young boy, the paidika (238d8-241d1).
If the Phaedrus were a late dialogue, as modern interpreters insist, then the Lysis would corroborate the charges raised against Socrates by Meletus that he corrupted the youth. How it then chimes with Plato’s Apology which presents us with a vigorous defence of Socrates against those charges nobody has ever attempted to explain. The matter changes dramatically if we read the Lysis in the light of the ancient tradition according to which the Lysis was preceded by the Phaedrus. For in the Phaedrus the ‘catching of the beloved’ provides the main theme of Socrates’ second speech on love; ‘the beloved is taken captive’(3) by philosophic discussions, and his capture is consummated when he becomes an ardent disciple of a philosopher who is in love with him; they both jointly follow philosophy and refrain from sex (256a7-b7), and this is what ‘Platonic love’ is all about.
By dating the Phaedrus as the first dialogue, and the Lysis as a dialogue written during Socrates’ lifetime, the ancient biographic tradition allowed us to take recourse to Plato’s autobiographic remarks in the Seventh Letter as a guide for dating his Charmides and Hippias Major as written not only prior to the death of Socrates, but more precisely, prior to the dissolution of the rule of the Thirty Tyrants, in 404. Plato’s autobiographic remarks will now allow us to date the Lysis as Plato’s fourth dialogue, written after the Hippias Major after the restoration of democracy. Let me recapitulate. Plato says in the Seventh Letter that in his youth he was strongly attracted to politics, most strongly in the early days of the Thirty, when it appeared that the aristocrats would rule the city for the best (324b-c); to this period I assigned Plato’s publication of the Phaedrus, and his writing and publication of the Charmides. Plato then says that his enthusiasm evaporated when he saw that the rule of the Thirty turned to the bad, and that he withdrew from the evils of those days in consequence (Seventh Letter 324d-325a); to this closing period of the rule of the Thirty I assigned Plato’s composition and publication of the Hippias Major. One of the reasons for this dating of the Hippias Major is closely related to my reasons for dating the Lysis in the following period, which began with the restoration of democracy:
In the Hippias Major Socrates speaks with contempt about hoi polloi, that is ‘the many’ who constituted the political backbone of the Athenian democracy prior to its dissolution by the Thirty: ‘the many’ do not even know what it means to be a true politician (281c), let alone knowing what true laws are and what it takes to live according to them (284d-e). This way of speaking about ‘the many’ is inconsistent with the way Plato viewed democracy after its restoration and prior to the condemnation and the death of Socrates at the hands of the democrats, as he speaks of it in the Seventh Letter:
‘A revolution terminated the power of the Thirty and the form of government as it then was. And once more, though with more hesitation, I began to be moved by the desire to take part in public and political affairs ... those who had returned from exile at that time [that is the victorious democrats] showed very considerable forbearance’ (pollêi ge echrêsanto hoi tote katelthontes epieikeiai, 325a5-b5, tr. J. Harward).
In this respect the Lysis stands in sharp contrast to the Hippias Major. In it there is no mention of hoi polloi, the pejorative meaning could not be easily eradicated from that expression. Plato speaks in the Lysis simply of Athenians as such, regarding the people of Athens as being ready and willing to embrace as their leader a man who has attained the expert knowledge requisite for guiding and managing the city well (209d). Written prior to the death of Socrates, the Lysis can be best viewed as composed in the early days of the restored democracy; the democrats firmly proclaimed at the very point of their victorious re-entry into the city of Athens that reconciliation with the aristocrats was to be their main policy. Xenophon writes:
‘The men from Piraeus [that is the democrats] went up to the Acropolis under arms and offered sacrifice to Athena. When they had come down, the generals convened an Assembly. There Thrasybulus [the leader of the democrats] spoke as follows: “I advise you,” he said, “men of the city, ‘to know yourselves’ (gnônai humas autous). And you would best learn to know yourselves were you to consider what grounds you have for arrogance (tini humin mega phronêteon esti) that you should undertake to rule over us. Are you more just? But the commons (ho dêmos), though poorer than you, never did you any wrong for the sake of money, while you, though richer than any of them, have done many disgraceful things for the sake of gain. But since you can lay no claim to justice, consider then whether it is courage that you have a right to pride yourselves upon (ei ara ep’ andreiai humin mega phronêteon). And what better test (kalliôn krisis) could there be of this than the way we made war upon one another? Well then, would you say that you are superior in intelligence (gnômêi proechein), you who having a wall, arms, money, and the Peloponnesians as allies, have been worsted by men who had none of these? Is it the Lacedaemonians, then, think you, that you may pride yourselves upon? How so? Why, they have delivered you up to this outraged populace (tôi adikêmenôi toutôi dêmôi), just as men fasten a clog upon the necks of snapping dogs and deliver them up to keepers, and now have gone away and left you. Nevertheless, my comrades (ô andres), I am not the man to ask you to violate any of the pledges to which you have sworn, but I ask you rather to show this virtue also, in addition to your other virtues (pros tois allois kalois), – that you are true to your oaths and are god-fearing men (euorkoi kai hosioi).’ When he had said this and more to the same effect, and had told them that there was no need of their being disturbed (hoti ouden deoi tarattesthai), but that they had only to live under the laws that had previously been in force (tois nomois tois archaiois chrêsthai), he dismissed the assembly.’ (Hellenica II.iv.39-42, C.L. Brownson’s translation)
As can be seen, Thrasybulus opened his speech by pointing to the Delphic adage ‘Know thyself’ that provided the very basis of all Socrates’ philosophic enquiries, as Socrates proclaims in Plato’s first dialogue (Phaedrus, 230a). Xenophon could not miss its significance, and neither could Plato. After Socrates’ refusal to obey the Thirty who had ordered him to take part in imprisoning Leon of Salamis, a prominent citizen, there was no better way for Thrasybulus to calm the situation and assure the citizens on both sides that all would be well, than to proclaim adherence to the principles held high by Socrates.
There are other aspects of the Lysis that point to its being written at the time when Plato began to think about entering a political arena within the framework of democracy. In the introductory part of the dialogue Hippothales is ridiculed by his friends for the way in which he gives expression to his love of Lysis: in prose and in verse he extols the boy’s father, grandfather, and all his ancestors (205b6-c4). Socrates joins in:
‘You are ridiculous, Hippothales! Are you composing and singing a eulogy in your own honour before you’ve won the victory? ... Any man who knows what’s what when it comes to love (ta erôtika sophos, 206a1) my friend, does not praise the boy he’s in love with (ton erômenon, 206a2) until he’s caught him (prin an helêi, 206a2), for fear of how the future will turn out. Also, when a man praises or compliments handsome boys, they become filled with pride and conceit... And to employ speeches and songs not so as to make him amenable (logois te kai ôidais mê kêlein) but so as to make him wild (exagriainein, 206b2) shows considerable crassness (pollê amousia, 206b3), doesn’t it?... Well, watch out that you don’t expose yourself to all those charges with your poetry writing, Hippothales. Still, I don’t imagine you’d readily agree that a man who harms himself by the poetry he writes can ever be a good poet, since he’s harmful to himself.’ (205d5-206b8) (4).
In the Charmides we found Socrates deeply involved in perpetrating the mistake that he so mercilessly criticizes in the Lysis; being inflamed with erotic passion at having a glimpse of Charmides’ naked body (155d), he bestowed a lengthy praise on his ancestry:
‘I don’t think there is anyone else here who could easily point to any two families, apart from those from which you come, whose union might be expected to produce anyone better or more noble. Your father’s family, that of Critias, Dropides’ son, has been eulogized by Anacreon, Solon and many other poets, and has been presented to us by tradition as pre-eminent for beauty, virtue and everything else that is called happiness (kallei te kai aretêi kai têi allêi legomenêi eudaimoniai, 157e7-158a1). The same is true of your mother’s family too: no one in the continent of Asia is said to have been considered more handsome or taller than your uncle Pyrilampes, whenever he went as ambassador to the Great King or anyone else in the continent. That whole side of the family is in no way inferior to the other. So it’s natural that, coming from such people, you should be first in everything.’ (157d8-158a7, tr. Donald Watt)
This in itself ought to make us doubt the modern dating of these two dialogues as written after Socrates’ death. For if on this dating the Lysis is viewed as preceding the Charmides, one ought to ask what happened to Plato that he so soon utterly neglected Socrates’ advice given in the former dialogue. If the Charmides is viewed as preceding the Lysis, one ought to ask what made Plato expose the former dialogue to such strong ridicule and such harsh rebuke. The whole picture radically changes if we view both these dialogues as written prior to Socrates’ death. For as I have shown in the chapter devoted to the Charmides, the dialogue is best viewed as written in 404 during the aristocratic revolution before the rule of the aristocrats deteriorated into tyranny; Charmides and Critias, Socrates’ main interlocutors in the dialogue, both belonged to the ruling aristocrats, and they both died in the decisive battle with the exiled democrats (5). Plato in the Seventh Letter says that in those days he was strongly attracted to politics (324b8-c1) and that the ruling aristocrats, some of whom were his relatives and acquaintances, called upon him straightaway to take part in the government ‘as something to which I had claim’ (hôs epi prosêkonta pragmata me, 324d3). In the Charmides, in his praise of his uncle Charmides’ ancestry Plato justified the rightful claim of the aristocrats to their rule of the city; they were in his view the best men, distinguished by aretê, and therefore the best men for that task. But after his disillusionment with Critias and his associates, after the defeat of the tyrants and the restoration of democracy, when Plato began to contemplate again the possibility of his entering a political career, this time in democracy, he had to distance himself from his Charmidian eulogy on Charmides and Critias, and there was no better way of doing so than to expose such eulogies to Socrates’ scorn and ridicule in a dialogue written so as to correspond to the new political situation.
Does this then mean that Plato in the Lysis exposes himself to Socrates’ irony? Yes, it does; consider the name of Hippothales in the light of the Phaedrus. Hippos means horse, thallô means to thrive, to sprout, to bloom; Plato’s contemporaries who had read the Phaedran myth in which the soul is likened to a charioteer and his two horses could not help seeing in Hippothales a veiled self-reference to Plato himself. Then think of the name of Lysis, Hippothales’ beloved; it can mean ‘dissolution’ of a political constitution (6), but it may also mean a ‘deliverance from bitter quarrel and strife’ (eridos chalepês lusis, Hesiod, Theogony 637), ‘deliverance from injustice’ (luseis adikêmatôn, Plato, Rep. 364e6). The name of the father of Lysis, Democrates, signifies the democratic rule, the rule of the people. Their names in this conjunction remind the reader of the dissolution of a disastrously bad democratic regime by an even more disastrous rule of the Thirty, and at the same time point to the desperate need of a positive solution to the enormous problems which confront the restored democracy. In the course of the dialogue Socrates argues that Democrates will entrust Lysis with the management of all his estate and all his affairs as soon as Lysis acquires the knowledge that will enable him to do a better job of it than his father could do. Ctesippus and Menexenus, Socrates’ other two interlocutors in the dialogue, are well documented real persons and so we may presume that Plato did not invent Lysis, Democrates, and Hippothales either. Rather, as Plato contemplated their names he realized the possibilities they offered him in their conjunction; the moment he realized it, he could not but write the Lysis.
There is thus a good deal of Plato’s self-criticism involved in Socrates’ rebuke of Hippothales in the Lysis with its critical reflection on the Charmides, but the Charmides was philosophically too important for Plato to dismiss it entirely with scorn. In the very midst of Socrates’ criticism of Hippothales words are employed that recall the import of the Charmides that must be protected against the vicissitudes of politics. For when Socrates tells Hippothales that he ought to be able ‘to charm’ (kêlein, 206b2) the beloved boy (ta paidika, 205e2) ‘by speeches and songs’ (logois te kai ôidais, 206b2) instead of making him wild, he refers to the central theme of the Charmides, which is the use of charms (epôidais) ‘which are the beautiful discourses’ (tous logous einai tous kalous, 157a) as a means for instilling the virtue of temperance and self-control, sôphrosunê, in the soul of a philosopher and in the soul of his beloved. As I have argued in the chapter devoted to the Charmides, and as the definite article tous logous suggests, Plato here refers to Socrates’ two speeches in the Phaedrus, the purpose of which was to instil the virtue of temperance and self-control in the souls of the philosopher and his beloved. The reference to the Phaedrus in the Charmides is reinforced in the Lysis, where Socrates maintains that the failure to properly charm the beloved boy is a sign of a grave lack of art and philosophic understanding (pollê amousia, 206b3); in the Phaedrus the association of philosophy with Muses and with mousikê is more pronounced than in any other dialogue of Plato. All this is completely lost in Donald Watt’s translation of logois te kai ôidais mê kêlein as ‘to employ speeches and songs not so as to make him amenable’, and that of pollê amousia as ‘considerable crassness’.
The question is, what has this Phaedran erotic banter in the Lysis to do with the rekindling of Plato’s political ambitions within the framework of the newly restored democracy? The Gorgias, written at the time when Plato finally began to realize that within the framework of the Athenian democracy there was no place for his political ambitions, sheds some light on this matter. In the Lysis Socrates speaks of Hippias’ beloved boy as his paidika, in the Gorgias he uses this erotic term, ‘your beloved’ (ta sa paidika, 482a1), to designate Callicles’ political infatuation with ‘the people of Athens’ ([erôn] ... tou te Athênaiôn dêmou, 481d3-5). Throughout Plato’s dialogues his Phaedran erotic is insolubly linked to his politics, his educational ideals, and his philosophy. As Plato began to contemplate a political career in the restored democracy, attracted to the people of Athens by their wise forbearance concerning the aristocrats, he was wary of the Charmidian folly of making his political paidika recalcitrant and wild (exagriainein, 206b2) by excessive praise. The solution Plato wanted to offer is indicated in the way Socrates speaks of Hippothales’ paidika; the moment he saw Lysis he realized that the boy was ‘beautiful and good’ (kalos te kagathos, 207a2-3). This might seem to negate what I have just said, for Socrates could not bestow on the boy a higher praise than this. But the discussion that follows makes it clear that the attribute of the boy’s being kalos te kagathos only means that he has the potential to acquire it in its fullest sense, and that as such he is worthy of Socrates’ unreserved concern. Socrates’ whole educational effort aimed at cultivating beauty and goodness of character both in himself and in his friends and followers, and as will be seen, in his discussion with Lysis Socrates will speak of the people of Athens in corresponding terms.
After the preliminary discussion with Hippothales Socrates is joined by Lysis and his friend Menexenus. He asks the latter: ‘Which of you is the elder?’ Menexenus answers: ‘That is a matter of dispute between us’ (207b8-c2). He gets a similar answer when he asks whether they agree on which of them is nobler (gennaioteros, 207c2) and which is more beautiful (kalliôn, 207c5). Then he says that he shall not ask them which is the richer (plousiôteros, 207c7), for by virtue of their friendship such a question is pointless:
‘friends have all things in common (koina ta ge philôn, 207c10), so in this respect you will not differ from one another, if it is true what you say concerning your friendship’.
Socrates then wanted to ask which of them was more just and which was the wiser, but at that moment Menexenus was called away. This interruption is not fortuitous, for Plato thus lays emphasis on the principle of friends having all things in common. Plato ended the Phaedrus by proclaiming this principle, and it was the flagrant disregard of this principle that brought about the downfall of the Thirty. It is of crucial importance for our understanding of Plato’s political aspirations to see that he put forward this ideal in the Phaedrus when he hoped to make his career as an aristocratic politician, and that he reaffirmed it in the Lysis when he began to contemplate a career as a politician in the democracy. In the Lysis Socrates points to the principle of sharing as an essential characteristic of friendship that binds Lysis and Menexenus after he characterized Lysis as ‘beautiful and good’ and found Menexenus to rival him in this respect; in both Socrates’ and Plato’s view the principle of sharing is the mark of true nobility of character. It is on the basis of Lysis’ avowed adherence to this principle that Socrates subjects him to questioning in which he opens for him the prospect of being entrusted with the affairs of the Athenians as soon as he acquires the wisdom that is required for this task.
Menexenus having been temporarily called away, Socrates subjects Lysis to protreptic questioning whose purpose is to ‘turn’ the boy ‘towards’ (protrepein) learning, to awaken in him the desire to acquire wisdom. Socrates begins with the question of love, on which the whole dialogue will be focused: ‘Your father and mother love (philei, 207d6) you very much, don’t they?’ ‘Of course,’ the boy replies. Socrates then asks: ‘Then they would wish you to be as happy as possible’ (hôs eudaimonestaton, 207d7)? The boy is quite certain of it. Socrates asks: ‘Do you think that a man is happy who is in a condition of a slave and is allowed to do nothing he desires?’ The boy avows that such a state is totally incompatible with happiness and Socrates compels him to admit that this is precisely the state in which he is kept by his parents. They do not allow him to ride his father’s chariot and take the reins in a race, they do not allow him to use the whip to the mules, they do not even allow him to be his own master (archein seautou, 208c1-2), but have appointed a guardian (paidagôgos, 208c3), who is a slave (doulos ôn, 208c4), to guide him. Finally, when the boy admits that if he tried to touch his mother’s spinning implements, he would be actually beaten, Socrates asks:
‘But what have you done that they are preventing you from being happy (eudaimona einai) and from doing what you want (poiein hoti an boulêi, 208e4-5) in this terrible manner (houtô se deinôs) ?’
When the boy answers that he is not yet of age (209a4), Socrates doubts that this is the real reason, for when Lysis’ parents want somebody to read or write something for them, they do not wait for his coming of age but gladly entrust him with it:
‘Then in this case you are allowed (exesti soi, 209b2) to write and read whichever letter you want to (hoti an boulêi, 209b2) first, and whichever second ... What may be the reason that in this case they do not prevent you from doing the one but prevent you from doing the other?’
The boy answers:
‘I think it is because I know these things but not the others’ (hoti tauta men epistamai, ekeina d' ou, 209c2).
A few points are worth observing concerning the way in which Socrates leads the boy to the recognition that it is his ignorance which is the cause of his not being allowed to do what he wants. Socrates talks in a manner that the boy can understand, yet he at the same time aims at a far higher level of understanding, which the boy may hopefully one day attain. Thus the first two questions point to the intimately close relationship between love and happiness; the palinode in the Phaedrus culminated in establishing this connection (256a7-b1). The difference appears to be that in the Lysis Socrates speaks of parental love and of the happiness that parents wish to bestow on their child whereas in the Phaedrus he speaks about love that binds a true lover to his beloved. The unfolding discussion in the Lysis will nevertheless show that Socrates refers to parental love as the fountain of love with which Lysis is well acquainted, which as such ought to characterize the relationship between him and his lover Hippothales. The reader of the Phaedrus would remember the passage in the Palinode in which the beloved realizes that all his other friends and relatives bestow on him love that is nothing (moiran philias oudemian parechontai, 255b6) in comparison with his divinely inspired lover (pros ton entheon philon); he would remember that true lovers attain real happiness, which is achieved only by virtue of their engagement in philosophy in which they become involved through their love (256a-b).
In the given protreptic passage in the Lysis Socrates indicates that there is a necessary connection between knowledge, freedom of will, and happiness; happiness depends on the freedom to do what one wants (poiein hoti an boulêi, 208e4-5), which is open only to those who know what is the right thing to do. For when a man knows what is the right thing to do he cannot fail to do it; here freedom coincides with necessity. This Socratic paradox is clearly implied by the peculiar reference to reading and writing: ‘in this case you are allowed (exesti soi, 209b2) to write and to read whichever of the letters you want first (hoti an boulêi, 209b2), and whichever second’. This freedom to read or write first or second whichever letter one wants to does not mean to read and write letters in the wrong order, it means reading and writing letters in the right order. The reader of the Hippias Major has been prepared for this Socratic conception of ‘doing what one wants’, which means doing the right thing, for Socrates maintains there that people err and do wrong involuntarily (akontes, 296b6-7), and that they do so from childhood onwards (arxamenoi ek paidôn, 296c4). The protreptic discussion in the Lysis employs the tension between the everyday understanding of ‘doing what one wants to do’, as when the boy admits that he is not allowed to do what he ‘wants’, and the Socratic meaning according to which one can truly wish to do only what is right.
In the remaining exchanges of the protreptic part of the dialogue Socrates opens to the boy the prospect of life enlightened by knowledge both on the level of his own individual life and on the level of the state as a whole:
‘So your father is not waiting for you to come of age to trust everything to you, but on the day he considers that you know better than himself (se beltion hautou phronein, 209c4-5), he’ll trust both himself and his property to you (epitrepsei soi kai hauton kai ta hautou, 209c5-6).’
When the boy agrees, Socrates makes a similar point concerning Lysis’ neighbour, and then concerning the Athenians:
‘What about the Athenians? Don’t you think they’ll entrust you with their affairs, as soon as they realize that you know enough (hotan aisthanôntai hoti hikanôs phroneis)?’
Lysis answers with an emphatic ‘I do’ (Egôge, 209d4-5). There is no other dialogue in which Plato can be seen putting into Socrates’ mouth such a sanguine view of the Athenians as he does here. Any doubt concerning Plato’s seriousness at this point in the Lysis and any attempt to view Socrates’ words as ironic would undermine the protreptic, educational direction and force of this discussion. For Socrates is talking to a young boy and his whole purpose is to arouse in him the desire for knowledge. This passage in particular ought to be read in the light of Plato’s autobiographic reflections in the Seventh Letter where he says that after the fall of the Thirty Tyrants the moderation of the democrats (325b5) rekindled in him the desire (epithumia, 325b1) to devote himself to politics (prattein ta koina kai politika, 325b1). When Plato began to contemplate the prospect of a political career in Athens after the restoration of democracy, he genuinely believed that the Athenians were interested in choosing a wise leader and were capable of welcoming him when he arose.
Socrates in the given passage concludes that as regards matters of which we possess knowledge everyone will trust them to us and we shall do what we wish concerning them (poiêsomen te en toutois hoti an boulômetha, 210b3); no one will deliberately thwart us, rather we shall be free in those matters and masters of others, and these things will be really our things, for we shall benefit from them; but in things of which we have no understanding no one will trust us to do what we fancy (poiein ta hêmin dokounta, 210b7). In this passage Socrates clearly distinguishes between our ‘doing what we wish’ (hoti an boulômetha), which is doing what is right and good, and which as such is incompatible both with our doing what is wrong and with our being wrong about that which we are doing, and between our ‘doing what we fancy’ (ta hêmin dokounta), which may mean our doing wrong and being wrong about that which we are doing.
Socrates goes on to say that concerning things of which we have no understanding we shall be hindered (oute tis hêmin epitrepsei) not only by strangers, but even by our own father and mother and ‘if there is anything closer to us than they’ (kai ei ti toutôn oikeioteron estin, 210b6-c3). To what or to whom can Socrates be referring? The philosopher-lover of the Phaedrus? Or one’s superior, critical self, of which Socrates in the Hippias Major speaks as the person nearest to himself (298b11-c2, 304d1-3)? Both, and yet something more. For if these two cases were the only thing to which Socrates here refers, then we would expect him to use the pronoun tis, that is ‘someone’, not ti, that is ‘anything’ or ‘something’. Socrates’ ‘anything closer than father and mother’ that exercises a hindering power over us whenever we are about to go wrong – Socrates speaks here in the first person plural – takes us to the very heart of the Phaedran palinode, where the lover is driven by his sexual appetite to approach the beloved, but as he does so the beloved’s beauty triggers in him the memory of true being (to on, 247d3; ta onta ontôs, 247e3), of Beauty and of Self-control (254b), which gives him the power to hinder and to overcome his sexual drive (254b-c). In the light of the Phaedrus true Being is closer to us than our closest relatives, for it gives us the capacity to speak and determines our very humanity (249b-c); we derive from it the ability to engage in a truly loving relationship and if within the context of true love we succeed in recollecting it, it exercises a far greater and more beneficial controlling power over us than even our parents, relatives and friends.
The protreptic discussion in the Lysis culminates in Socrates’ refocusing his attention on love. Socrates argues that people are of no benefit (anôpheleis, 210c6) concerning things of which they lack understanding, and that no person will be loved (oudena philei) by anyone in so far as that person is useless (kath’ hoson an êi achrêstos, 210c8):
‘So if you become wise, my boy, everybody will be a friend to you (pantes soi philoi esontai, 210d1-2), everybody will be close to you (oikeioi, 210d2), since you’ll be useful and good’ (chrêsimos gar kai agathos esêi, 210d2-3).(7)
These lines have a bearing on the dating of the Lysis, for Socrates in the Apology says that many people began to hate him (pollois apêchthomên, 21e2) because of his philosophic activities. And indeed, Socrates was so far from gaining universal friendship because of his pursuit of philosophy that the majority of the jurors sentenced him to death on account of it. How could Plato after Socrates’ Defence-speech write the Lysis in which Socrates asserts that one attains universal love by virtue of attaining wisdom?
Against this reason for dating the Lysis prior to Socrates’ death it might be objected that similar arguments of Socrates for turning the young to philosophy are presented in Xenophon’s Memorabilia written many years after the death of Socrates. In Memorabilia Socrates subjects to protreptic questioning an aristocratic youth called Euthydemus. He begins by undermining the young man’s confidence that his learning derived from books has made him knowledgeable and wise; he shows him that he does not know what is just, what is beautiful, what is good, that he does not know himself and his own powers, and that he thus does not even know what he can do and what he is doing (IV.ii.8-27). Then Socrates shows the youth what a difference knowledge concerning these matters makes:
‘Those who know what they do win fame and honour by attaining their ends. Their equals are glad to have dealings with them; and those who miss their objects look to them for counsel, look to them for protection, rest on them their hopes of better things, and for all these reasons love (agapôsin)(8) them above all other men.’ (IV.ii.28, tr. E.C. Marchant).
The opening sentence of the Memorabilia makes it quite clear that it was written after Socrates’ trial and death. Xenophon writes: ‘I have often wondered by what arguments those who drew up the indictment against Socrates could persuade the Athenians that his life was forfeit to the state’ (I.i.1, tr. Marchant). Yet the very nature of Xenophon’s opening question deprives the objection of its force. For Xenophon’s work is written in defence of Socrates; when he presents Socrates’ protreptic arguments, he does so in order to bring home to the reader the absurdity and the unfairness of Socrates’ indictment and execution. Xenophon endeavours to show that Socrates did his best to inculcate humility in the aristocratic youth and to promote love between them and the people of Athens, and yet the Athenians sentenced him to death! Socrates’ protreptic arguments in the Memorabilia are followed by his inculcating in the young aristocrat Euthydemus the virtues of sôphrosunê, that is of prudence, temperance, and wisdom (cf. III.ix.4), of deep religiosity, justice, and self-discipline (enkrateia), of what is beautiful and good; he is portrayed as a wise man who shared his knowledge with others (IV.iii.1-IV.vii.1; cf. I.iii.1, III.ii.1). There is no such apologetic mood in the Lysis – Socrates’ protreptic discussion with Lysis is followed by a display of his philosophic ignorance in its most abrasive and unhelpful manner, as shown below.
Socrates in the Lysis ends the protrepticus by pointing out to the boy that he cannot pride himself (mega phronein) on things of which he has as yet no knowledge (mêpô phronei), and cannot be truly high-minded (megalophrôn) – a quality of character to which all those aspired who sought greatness – if he lacks wisdom (eiper aphrôn eti, 210d5-7). The boy accepts this lesson in humility with good grace, and his lover Hippothales is thus given a lesson on how one ought to talk to one’s beloved (tois paidikois dialegesthai, 210e3); one ought to make him humble and modest, not conceited and spoiled (9). Menexenus rejoins the party at this point and Lysis wants Socrates to subject Menexenus to the same lesson that he has undergone, but Socrates replies:
‘You will tell him that, for you were paying close attention ... try therefore to remember it as well as you can (peirô apomnêmoneusai auta hoti malista) in order to tell it all to him clearly (saphôs), and if you forget anything, ask me again as soon as you next see me’ (211a6-b2).
From these words we may safely infer that Plato wholeheartedly approved of Socrates’ protreptic activity. But Plato wanted more from Socrates; his protreptic efforts ought to be followed by the positive inculcation of wisdom, not by piling up one difficulty after another so as to make the road towards virtue and wisdom impassable for the young. Plato’s Lysis is a direct appeal to the living Socrates; it is Plato’s powerful challenge to his teacher to overcome his philosophic ignorance. Did Plato at this point have grounds to expect that Socrates could respond positively to his challenge? In Plato’s view, the truth was there, laid out in the Phaedrus, and what is more, in the light of the Phaedran discussion on the spoken word of a philosopher, and of its progeny in the soul of the philosopher’ beloved disciple (Phdr. 275c-278b), the truth revealed in that dialogue was an authentic offspring of Socrates’ own thought. What hindered Socrates from embracing it were his cognitive scruples. It was imperative to bring these to light, examine them, and demonstrate their futility. Plato began his struggle with and against Socrates’ ignorance in the three dialogues that preceded the Lysis, but he did so in a more cautious, covert manner. In the Phaedrus Socrates has not yet attained even the knowledge of himself (229e-230a), yet he transcended his ignorance in moments of divine inspiration (241e, 262d, 263d). In the Charmides Socrates maintained that by virtue of examining others he examined himself, thus endeavouring to overcome his ignorance (166c7-d4). In the Hippias Major Plato dramatized Socrates’ critical self-examination by splitting his self in two personalities engaged in constant dialogue, with Socrates’ critical self expressing its deep unhappiness concerning Socrates’ ignorance. In the Lysis, in which Socrates’ interlocutors are two immature boys, and where all propositions, doubts, and objections are his own, his relapses into ignorance are shown in their overwhelming negativity.
In the introductory passages Socrates was approached by Hippothales as an expert in matters of love – ‘give me advice what one ought to say and do to become loved by the beloved (prosphilês paidikois, 206c3) – and in his protreptic discussion with Lysis he showed him how he should talk to the boy so as ‘to catch him’. But although at the end of the protreptic discussion Socrates appeared to be completely satisfied with his achievement (210e), he now says to Menexenus, who has rejoined the discussion, that he has a ‘great erotic desire to acquire friends’ (echô pros de tên tôn philôn ktêsin panu erôtikôs, 211e2-3), but that he does not even know in what way one person becomes a friend of another (oud’ hontina tropon gignetai philos heteros heterou oida, 212a5-6). In Socrates’ introductory discussions with Hippothales and with Lysis we can see in action the philosopher lover of the Phaedran Palinode; now, by interconnecting the terms ‘friend’ (philos) and ‘erotic desire’ (echô panu erôtikôs) Plato points the reader to the Phaedrus in which true erotic love is presented as a loving relationship within the framework of which the desire to engage in sexual intercourse is overcome. The ensuing display of Socrates’ ignorance thus stands out in sharp relief, mirroring Socrates’ accentuation of his ignorance after the publication of the Phaedrus.
As in the Phaedrus, the Charmides and the Hippias Major, Socrates in the Lysis finds his state of ignorance deeply unsatisfying. His first attempt at overcoming it is acted out within the framework of conceptual analysis. Since Menexenus has said that he has acquired the friendship of Lysis quickly and easily, Socrates turns to him as to an expert on the subject (se boulomai eresthai hate empeiron, 212a4-7):
‘When a man loves (philêi) someone, which is the friend (philos) of which? Is it the one who loves (ho philôn) who is the friend of the one who is loved (tou philoumenou)? Or is it the one who is loved (ho philoumenos) who is the friend of the one who loves (tou philountos)? Or is there no difference?’ (212a8-b2).
Menexenus thinks that there is no difference between the two, and Socrates therefore asks whether in that case both become friends (philoi) of each other if only one loves (philêi) the other:
‘Isn’t it possible for a man who loves (philounta) someone not to be loved in return (mê antiphileisthai) by that someone he loves (hupo toutou hon an philêi)? ... Lovers (hoi erastai) certainly do sometimes seem to experience something of that sort with their boys (pros ta paidika). However much they may love (philountes) them, some think they’re not loved in return (ouk antiphileisthai); others, that they are actually hated by them ... In such a case, then, the one loves (philei) and the other is loved (phileitai) ... Then which of them is the friend (philos) of which? ... Or is neither the friend (philos) of either, unless both of them love (philôsi) each other (212b3-c8)?’
When Menexenus opts for the last suggestion, Socrates asks whether one-sided love does not count:
‘So nothing that does not love in return (mê ouk antiphiloun) is dear (philon) to whoever loves it (tôi philounti)? ... So they’re not horse-lovers (philippoi) whom the horses don’t love in return (mê antiphilôsin) – or quail-lovers (philortuges), or dog-lovers (philokunes), wine-lovers (philoinoi), sports-lovers (philogumnastai), or wisdom-lovers (philosophoi), if wisdom does not love them in return (antiphilêi)?’ (212d4-8).
When Menexenus admits that all these must count as cases of love, Socrates points out the resulting absurdities,
‘that a man is often the friend (philon) of what is not his friend (mê philou), and often of what is actually his enemy, when he either loves (philêi) what does not love (mê philoun) him, or loves (philêi) what actually hates him’ (213c1-3).
The enquiry ends in an impasse, with Socrates asking
‘What are we to do, then, if neither those who love (hoi philountes), nor those who are loved (philoumenoi), nor those who both love and are loved (hoi philountes kai philoumenoi) are to be friends (philoi)? Shall we say any others remain, over and above these, who become friends (philous) to one another?’ (213c5-8).(10)
Since Menexenus has nothing else to offer Socrates suggests that perhaps he and Menexenus did not conduct their search properly (ouk orthôs ezêtoumen, 213d1-2).
Donald Watt suggests that in the given passage ‘Plato, by confronting the term [philos] as it is actually used in Greek, makes himself prisoner of its ambiguities’ (10). And indeed, on the dating of the Lysis that he accepts – an early dialogue written after Socrates’ death, before Plato conceived of the Forms – he can hardly view it differently. The import of the passage looks very different if viewed as I suggest, that is as written during Socrates’ lifetime, after Plato conceived the Forms: in the light of the Phaedrus, Plato’s first dialogue. Socrates in the Lysis begins his enquiry into the meaning of love by examining the actual usage of the term philos and the related terms, which is the first stage on the road to the Recollection of the Forms. In the Phaedrus Socrates makes it clear that human language derives from and depends on the a priori intellection of true being, i.e. of the Forms: we can understand what people say only because we Recollect the Forms (249b-c). But this elementary Recollection, in which all human beings participate, does not bring us very far. In the Lysis Plato shows that an investigation of love, friendship, and the related concepts leaves us in a quandary if it is confined to the examination of language alone; one must transcend purely conceptual analysis if one is to make headway in the search for truth. By demonstrating that Socrates’ conceptual analysis of friendship, love, and related terms ends in perplexity, Plato directs the reader's eye towards the Phaedrus in which true love derives from the Forms and orients our sight towards the Forms, that is to Being that truly is (ousia ontôs ousa ... monôi theatê nôi, 247c6-7).
When Socrates asks Menexenus ‘Can it be that we were not conducting our investigation properly at all?’, Lysis steps in: ‘I don’t think you were.’ (213d1-2). Socrates welcomes Lysis’ intervention and suggests approaching the enquiry anew by following what the poets say on the subject (skopounta kata tous poiêtas (11), 213e5-214a1), ‘for these are as if our fathers in wisdom and our guides’ (houtoi gar hêmin hôsper pateres tês sophias eisin kai hêgemones, 214a1-2), telling us ‘concerning friends, who they are’ (peri tôn philôn, hoi tunchanousin ontes, 214a2-3):
‘they say that God himself makes men friends (poiein philous autous) by bringing them to one another. And they say it, I believe, in this way: “God always brings the like man to the like”’ (aiei toi ton homoion agei theos hôs ton homoion, 214a2-6).
The verse is quoted from Homer’s Odyssey (xvii.218). Taking recourse to the writings of the philosophers of nature, Socrates in the Lysis interprets the poet’s words as meaning that ‘like must always be friend to like’ (hoti to homoion tôi homoiôi anankê aei philon einai, 214b3-4). This thesis he then subjects to scrutiny.
When Socrates refers to poets as ‘our fathers in wisdom and our guides’, is he not prejudicing this part of his investigation by speaking in irony? As soon as Lysis accepts as true the proposition that ‘like is of necessity always friend to like’, Socrates counters it by saying that only half of it is true, since a bad man is hated the more by another bad man the more he associates with him, for he commits acts of injustice against him (adikei gar), and those who commit injustice cannot be friends with those who suffer it (214b3-c3). But Socrates then puts in a caveat ‘possibly the whole of what they say is true, but we don’t understand what they mean’ (214b7-8). He adds that ‘the poets’ would indeed be saying a half-truth if bad men could be like one another (eiper hoi ponêroi allêlois homoioi), but that ‘they seem to claim that good men are those who are like each other and are friends’ (dokousin legein tous agathous homoious einai allêlois kai philous), for bad men are unreliable and unstable and ‘can never be like even to their own selves’ (mêdepote homoious mêd’ autous hautois einai), let alone to one another (214c5-8). If Socrates was ironical in speaking of Homer as one of ‘our fathers in wisdom and our guides’, it did not prevent him from interpreting his words in a good light and in all seriousness. This passage should be read in connection with Socrates’ message to Homer in the Phaedrus, in which Homer is challenged to defend his statements (eis elenchon iôn peri hôn egrapse), and where Socrates says that if Homer can demonstrate the inferiority of his writings in relation to living pronouncements out of his own mouth, he ought not to be called a poet but a philosopher (278b7-d2). Many a reader of the Phaedrus must have been outraged by this preposterous message to the long dead poet. Plato now shows that his Socrates addressed these words in the first place to himself: in the Lysis he interprets, challenges, and defends Homer, thus breathing new life into Homer’s words. But can one speak here of Plato’s interpreting Homer, can the thesis that Socrates derives from the verse really be what Homer means, or does he twist his meaning so as to derive from it whatever he needs for the sake of the argument? This question is important. In chapter five we saw that Plato took recourse to a quotation from the Odyssey in the Charmides in an attempt to warn the Thirty against the impending disastrous course of their actions. Could it be that Plato’s reference to the Odyssey in the Lysis is intended as a similarly potent political message, this time addressed to his readers within the context of the newly restored democracy? To answer these questions, let us consult the original context from which the quotation is taken.
When we look up the verse in Homer, we are at first baffled. The goat-herd Melantheus meets two men whom he believes to be wretched and remarks
‘now indeed a very wretched man leads a wretched man (mala panchu kakos kakon hêgêlazei, xvii, 217), for god always brings like to like’ (hôs aiei ton homoion agei theos hôs ton homoion, xvii.218).
There is not a word concerning friendship. Furthermore, Melantheus views the two as bad, not good, and so one must ask not only what entitled Plato/Socrates to derive from the verse the thesis that ‘like must always be friend to like’, but particularly what ground he found for his charitable interpretation of it, i.e. that the poets here ‘seem to identify good men with those who are like each other and are friends’. The matter is not improved by our knowing that one of the ‘wretched men’ is Odysseus disguised as a beggar and the other the swine-herd Eumaeus. For how can these two be considered as ‘like to each other’, as homoioi? Their mutual likeness appears to be only the very superficial one of appearance – they are both in rags and both look equally wretched – and as such it cannot form the basis of friendship between the two. It would appear that the gap is unbridgeable between Odysseus, the ruler of Ithaca, the destroyer of Troy and one of the most celebrated heroes of ancient times, on the one hand, and a poor swine-herd on the other.
We can solve the riddle if we delve deeper into the Odyssey. When on his return to his land of Ithaca Odysseus disguised as a beggar enters the abode of Eumaeus, the swine-herd gives him all the simple hospitality of which his poor house is capable, and Odysseus in return prays that Zeus and all the other immortal gods will give Eumaeus what he wishes for most of all. Eumaeus says that his greatest wish is that his master, ‘who genuinely loved (ephilei) me’ may return (xiv. 62). The love that bound Odysseus to his swine-herd was the kind of relationship on which the whole political structure of Odysseus’ rule was based. When Odysseus at the end of Odyssey after killing the suitors wants to slaughter their fathers and relatives, who are intent on killing him, Zeus intervenes and orders ‘that they should love (phileontôn) each other as they did before’ (xxiv. 485-6).
So what about the similarity between Odysseus and Eumaeus, the swine-herd, which Plato’s reference to Homer postulates? When Odysseus returns to Ithaca after his twenty years absence, Athena transforms him into a beggar and advises him to go to Eumaeus, the only servant on the island truly faithful to him. The external and superficial similarity that is thus established between Odysseus and Eumaeus is not the only similarity between the two, for Homer shows us the two as truly similar in so far as they are both good, and both trustworthy. Homer uses the same attribute of excellence of character when he speaks of Eumaeus as when he speaks of Odysseus: ‘noble swine-herd’ (dion huphorbon, xiv. 3), ‘noble Odysseus (dios Odusseus, xiv. 4). He speaks of Eumaeus as ‘the leader of men’ (orchamos andrôn, xiv. 22), and he lets Eumaeus pronounce long speeches in which he refers to his own noble descent (xv. 390-484). Eumaeus’ mind is good (phresi gar kechrêt’ agathêisin, xiv. 421), he knows what was right (peri gar phresin aisima êidê, 433), and so Odysseus expresses his wish that Eumaeus becomes as loved (philos) by Zeus as he himself loves him (aith’ houtôs, Eumaie, philos Dii patri genoio hôs emoi, xiv. 440-1). Homer lets both Eumaeus and Odysseus use the same phrase ‘I know, I understand, you say this to a man who knows’ (gignôskô, phroneô, ta ge dê noeonti keleueis: Eumaeus at xvi. 136, Odysseus at xvii. 194, and 281). And Odysseus promises Eumaeus that if he helps him in the combat with the suitors and they are victorious he will build him a house near his own and regard him as a friend and brother of his son Telemachus (xxi. 215-6). It is this ‘being alike’ of the ruler and the ruled, on which their loving relationship is based, which forms the relationship of trust and love on which Odysseus’ rule is based. It is this type of relationship that Plato wants to bring into focus by his reference to Homer in the Lysis.
Let me point out at this point that the relationship of deep friendship between Odysseus and his slave Eumaeus, with all its political undertones, to which Socrates’ quotation from Homer’s Odyssey points, is of great significance for determining the dating of the Lysis with greater precision. After the return of the democrats Thrasybulus passed a law ‘according to which were admitted to Athenian citizenship all those who returned to the city from Piraeus, some of whom were clearly slaves’ (en hôi metedidou tês politeias pasi tois ek Peiraieôs katelthousi, hôn enioi phanerôs êsan douloi); this law was soon afterwards rescinded by Archinous (Aristotle, Athenian Constitution 40.2). Socrates’ quotation from Homer’s Odyssey indicates that Plato wrote the Lysis while the law of Thrasybulus was still in force.
Returning to Socrates’ arguments in the Lysis, Socrates concludes that the answer to the question of who are friends (tines eisin hoi philoi, 214d8) has thus been obtained: ‘The argument indicates that friends are those who are good men’ (hoi an ôsi agathoi, 214e1). But as soon as Lysis gives his assent to this thesis, Socrates raises his objections against it. If two people who are alike are friends in so far as they are alike (ho homoios tôi homoiôi kath’ hoson homoios philos, 214e3-4), are they useful to each other? What benefit could any two things which were alike (hotioun homoion hotôioun homoiôi, 214e5-6) hold for each other, or what harm could they do to each other, that they could not do to themselves too? What could be done to them that could not be done to them by themselves too? How could such things be held in affection by each other (ta dê toiauta pôs an hup’ allêlôn agapêtheiêi, 215a1) when they could give each other no assistance? How could what is not held in affection be a friend (pôs philon, 215a3)? Socrates concludes ‘Well then, two people who are alike are not friends’ (ho men homoios tôi homoiôi ou philos, 215a4).
Donald Watt remarks that Socrates refutes the argument ‘by forcing “like” and “unlike” to mean “absolutely identical” and “absolutely opposite”, rather than merely “similar” and “dissimilar”,’ and that ‘such absolutes are, of course, unattainable in the human sphere.’ He says that ‘it is hard to believe that Plato was unaware of the eristic nature of the argumentation’ and suggests that ‘the most plausible explanation is that he intends to satirize the methods of the sophists’. He notes that this explanation goes back to Stallbaum and is supported by Guthrie (12). Although he does not suggest any better explanation, he nevertheless expresses doubts concerning it:
‘But why, then, are there no sophists present in the dialogue, to act as dramatic and philosophical foils? Why adopt such an approach with two young boys? One would have expected such arguments as Socrates puts forward to have come from a sophist, whom he would have proceeded to refute, as in the Euthydemus ... Perhaps Menexenus is meant to represent the sophist in our dialogue. He is explicitly characterized as “eristic” or “argumentative” and as a “formidable opponent in a debate” (211b-c); yet he hardly lives up to either description. Indeed, in this dialogue, all the theses which are proposed for consideration are proposed by Socrates himself, just as all the refutations of them are Socrates’ own. Menexenus, like Lysis, is permitted little more than to say “Yes” or “No”, as Socrates requires.’ (13)
Again, the dating of the Phaedrus and the Lysis that I propose offers the solution. In the Phaedrus Plato presented the reader with Socrates who raised his eyes to the plain of true being, of Forms, such as Beauty, Temperance, Knowledge, and the like; the Apology, in which Socrates protested his philosophic ignorance, clearly indicates that Socrates rejected Plato’s Phaedran presentation of the truth as lacking that level of certainty that was in his view constitutive of knowledge. In Plato’s eyes, the only arguments that could be raised against the Phaedran true being – the Forms posited outside this world of change and not-being – were eristic in their nature. In the Lysis Plato signals to the reader the eristic nature of Socrates’ arguments by making Socrates characterize Menexenus as ‘eristic’ while making this characterization completely out of place as far as the boy is concerned; Socrates accuses the boy of something that applies to himself. In the given case Socrates refutes the thesis that friends are alike by forcing on the world of imperfection and change the attribute of absolute likeness, which has its proper place only in the world of true being. The quotation from Homer invites the reader to see for himself the eristic nature of Socrates’ arguments; Eumaeus’ and Odysseus’ being alike not only does not make their mutual services and benefits redundant, it forms the basis on which they can be of true benefit to one another. The same applies concerning the identification of being a ‘friend’, philos, with being good, agathos, which is addressed next in the dialogue.
Having rejected the identification of philos with ‘being alike’, Socrates suggests that a good man is philos of another good man in so far as they both are good (214d3-e1). When Lysis finds the suggestion plausible, Socrates again raises his own objections: Would not a good man be self-sufficient in so far as he is good? If so, he would not need anything, and if he needed nothing, he would not feel affection for anything (oude ti agapôiê an, 215b1), he would not love anything (oud’ an philoi, 215b2), and who does not love is no philos (ou philos, 215b2-3). Plato is here clearly teasing Socrates who was not only nearer to such an ‘ideal’ of self-sufficiency than anyone else, but appears to have consciously aspired to it. For in Xenophon’s Memorabilia Socrates says that in his view ‘to need nothing is divine, and to need as little as possible comes next to the divine’ (egô de nomizô to men mêdenos deisthai theion einai, to d’ hôs elachistôn engutatô tou theiou, I.vi.10). In Plato’s Symposium Alcibiades says of Socrates:
‘Someone’s beauty or wealth or high honour, at which many wonder, are of no account with him, and are utterly despised by him; he regards all such possessions and attributes as being of no worth and no value at all, and views us that have them as nobodies; all his life he just plays with men treating them with irony (216d7-e5).’
Alcibiades felt like this after Socrates had rejected his amorous advances; Plato must have felt like this after Socrates cast in doubt his philosophical advances.
If Socrates’ argument that a good man cannot be a friend to a good man because of his self-sufficiency is viewed against the Phaedran background, we can immediately see what is wrong with it; Socrates strips the concept of goodness of its human dimension and in this form he then projects it into the human setting in which there is no place for it. In the Phaedrus Plato’s Socrates had demonstrated that it is impossible (ou gar dêpote heimartai) for a good man not to be a friend to a good man (agathon mê philon agathôi einai, 255b1-2), for both derive from their relationship the greatest benefits. The philosopher-lover cannot fail to love his beloved for he derives the greatest possible benefit from his love of him; the beloved’s beauty kindles in him the memory of the Form of beauty that carries him to the true being that he saw prior to his initial incarnation and which he now sees again; the beloved cannot fail to love the philosopher-lover for he can see that he is loved by him more truly than by all his other friends (philoi) and relatives (255b1-7). In the Phaedrus we encounter Socrates transcending his ignorance and discovering the truth about love in a moment of enthusiasm (theion pathos peponthenai, 238c5-6) triggered by love, the enthusiasm that brings him ‘beyond himself’ in the Charmides (kai ouket’ en emautou ên, 155d4). In the Lysis we find him sobered up, with his mind closed to all that he saw when in the state of being ‘beyond himself’; now he does not even know what love is. And yet, with the Phaedrus always in the background, Socrates in his wanderings gestures towards it all the time in spite of himself; Plato does not leave his readers at a loss concerning the realm of the Forms from which love and friendship derive.
Having rejected both the identification of philos with ‘being alike’, and the related proposition that a good man is a philos of another good man, Socrates proposes the very opposite, ‘that like to like and good men to good men are the greatest enemies’ (hoti to men homoion tôi homoiôi kai hoi agathoi tois agathois polemiôtatoi eien, 215c5-6). The concept of a ‘good man’ with which Socrates operates in this proposition is radically different from the one posited immediately before, for the new proposition views good men as ‘of necessity most filled with envy of one another, with contentiousness, and with hatred’ (215d2-4). If the previously considered good man was superhumanly perfect, the good man he now considers is very human and very far from perfect (215a6-8). Socrates now speaks of ‘good men’ as the Athenians knew them only too well; the Thirty considered themselves to be the best men of Athens (14), and were supposedly elected by the Athenians as such, but they soon began to arrest and execute men of worth and good standing, noble and good (kalous te kagathous) (15). Even Odysseus, of whom the reader was reminded by Socrates’ quotation was this kind of an imperfect good man, and so were the suitors whom he killed. In his eristic mood, Socrates does not signal in any way that he has changed radically the notion of the good man with his new proposition. In this world marked by human imperfection, yet dependent on and derived from the Forms, the two propositions, on the one hand that friendship is founded on mutual likeness and on the other that it is founded on opposites, are not mutually exclusive, rather, they complement one another. Only if people realize this can they have a realistic hope that they can promote as much love and friendship in their society as is humanly possible, that is love and friendship in the sense in which Zeus speaks of it towards the end of the Odyssey (24. 481-486); and it is notable that both Socrates’ reference to the Odyssey in the Charmides and the one in the Lysis aim at recalling this scene of impending reconciliation and restoration of love.
When the boys find the proposition that friendship is based in opposites to their liking, Socrates refutes it without much ado:
‘Isn’t enmity the most opposed thing to friendship? ... Is the enemy friend to the friend or the friend friend to the enemy (Ar’ oun to echthron tôi philôi philon ê to philon tôi echthrôi)? Or the just to the unjust, the self-controlled to the one who lacks self-control, the good to the bad?’ (216b2-5).
When the boys agree that this cannot be the case, Socrates proposes that what is neither good nor bad becomes the friend (philon) of the good (tou agathou, 216c3). Menexenus asks what he means, and Socrates replies that he himself does not know (ouk oida); his head is truly spinning because of the difficulties of the argument (tôi onti autos eilingiô hupo tês tou logou aporias). To escape the difficulty, he has recourse to an old proverb which says that ‘the beautiful is loved’ (to kalon philon einai, 216c4-7). With this step Socrates turns his attention to the concept of beauty that was central to the Hippias Major, that propelled him to the investigation of sôphrosunê in the Charmides, and that was pivotal in his investigation of love in the Phaedrus. Now, in the Lysis Socrates immediately transcends the beautiful as the ultimate object of love, directing the mind’s eye to the good designated as beautiful (legô gar tagathon kalon einai, 216c2). This does not mean a new development in Plato’s thought, for in the Phaedrus it is clearly indicated that beauty (to kalon) is not that which is ultimately desirable. Beauty is the only Form the earthly likeness of which can be perceived by the sight, the most acute of our senses, and it is because of this that it has a special role to play in attracting and leading us back to the world of true being. Socrates says in the Phaedrus that if we could in a similar way see wisdom (phronêsis) it would fill us with overwhelming desires (deinous gar an pareichen erôtas, 250d4-5), too strong to cope with in this life. The ultimate object of Wisdom located among true beings in the place above the heavens, that is of pure wisdom which is itself a Form, is left in the Phaedran passage unexpressed; one does not entrust to writing one’s most important thoughts, as Plato intimates towards the end of the Phaedrus (274c-278c). But after the publication of the Phaedrus Plato realized that a written piece could be adequately defended only in writing and he therefore had to overcome at least some of the Socratic scruples concerning the written word. In the Charmides Critias’ definition of sôphrosunê foundered because of the impossibility of giving the knowledge of the good its proper place within the domain of sôphrosunê (172d7-175b4), and in the Hippias Major the definition of beauty as that which is beneficial foundered because of the separation of beauty as the cause of the good from the good as its effect, which it involved, and which Socrates found to be completely unacceptable (296d6-297d8).
In the Lysis, in support of the proposition that what is neither good nor bad becomes philon (friend, lover or beloved) of the good Socrates argues that there are three kinds of things (tria genê), the good, the bad, and the neither-good-nor-bad (to men agathon, to de kakon, to d’ out’ agathon oute kakon, 216d6-7). He reminds the boys that the good is not philon to the good, that the bad is not philon to the bad, and that the neither-good-nor-bad is not philon to the neither-good-nor-bad, for similar is not philon to similar. Since nothing can be philon to the bad, the only remaining possibility is that the neither-good-nor-bad becomes philon to the good (Tôi agathôi ara to mête agathon mête kakon monôi monon sumbainei gignesthai philon, 217a1-2). Thus wisdom is loved neither by those who are bad nor by those who are good (hosoi de kakoi ou philosophousin, oude hoi agathoi, 218b3), for good are those who have already attained wisdom (218a2-4), bad are those whom their ignorance has rendered bad so that they are unaware of their lack of wisdom (218a5-b1). Only those men love wisdom (philosophousin) who are still neither good nor bad (hoi oute agathoi oute kakoi pô ontes, 218b2), that is those ‘who possess this bad thing, which is ignorance’ (hoi echontes to kakon touto, tên agnoian, 218a6-7), but whom their ignorance has not yet made bad (kakous einai, 218a5), for they are still aware that they don’t know what they don’t know (eti hêgoumenoi mê eidenai ha mê isasi, 218b1). Socrates greatly rejoices (autos egô panu echairon, 218c4) that he has found at last what philon is:
‘concerning the soul (kata tên psuchên), concerning the body (kata to sôma), and anything else (kai pantachou), what is neither bad nor good (to mête kakon mête agathon) is philon of the good (tou agathou) because of the presence of bad (dia kakou parousian, 218b8-c2).’
There can be little doubt that the position of a philosopher characterised here by Socrates as the lover of wisdom whose awareness of his own ignorance kindles in him the desire to acquire wisdom was the position with which he himself felt most comfortable, and most at home, and Plato emphasizes it accordingly. Socrates says he feels like a hunter who cherishes and lovingly holds in his possession that which he had been hunting (hôsper thêreutês tis echôn agapêtôs ho ethêreuomên, 218c4-5). But in the light of the previous discussion this implies that the only thing the philosopher loves is wisdom, for he can love neither those who lack wisdom like himself, for similar is not friend to similar, nor those who are unaware of their ignorance, and who are therefore bad. Who was there left, whom Socrates could love? No wonder Socrates felt uneasy when he was confronted with this picture of himself, and that he reacted to the Lysis by accusing Plato of lying about him, as the ancient biographical tradition informs us (Diog. Laert. iii.35).
After a brief period of jubilation Socrates begins to suspect that his find is a mere dream (onar, 218c8) and brings the investigation back from the ivory tower of his putative self-sufficiency – never perfect, for Socrates was constantly drawn to other people, questioning them and himself – to the relations between human beings: ‘Whoever is a friend is a friend to someone, isn’t he?’ (philos hos an eiê, poteron estin tôi philos ê ou, 218d6-7). Menexenus answers that this is necessarily so, and Socrates asks whether it is for the sake of nothing and because of nothing (oudenos heneka kai di’ ouden), or for the sake of something and because of something (ê heneka tou kai dia ti, 218d8) that a man is a friend to someone. When Menexenus answers that it is because of something and for the sake of something, Socrates enquires into the nature of these two causes. In doing so he abandons his momentary refocusing on the relationship between men and takes medicine as an example. From the assertion that the sick man (ho kamnôn) is philos of the doctor (tou iatrou) because of a disease (dia noson), and for the sake of health (heneka hugieias, 218e3-5), he derives the statement that the neither-bad-nor-good (to oute kakon oute agathon) is philon of the good (tou agathou philon) because of that which is evil-and-hostile (dia to kakon kai to echthron) and for the sake of that which is good-and-philon (heneka tou agathou kai philou, 219a6-b3). But this leads to a problem:
‘Medicine, we say, is philon for the sake of health (heneka tês hugieias, 219c1).’ - ‘Yes.’ - ‘Is health (hugieia) philon too, then?’ - ‘Of course.’ - ‘If it is philon, it is so for the sake of something (heneka tou, 219c3), isn’t it?’ - ‘Yes.’ - ‘And this something is philon, if it is to be consistent with what we admitted earlier?’ - ‘Of course.’ - ‘And that too, in its turn, will be philon for the sake of a philon?’ (219c3-5)
At this point Socrates points out that this kind of enquiry either can have no end and must be given up, or one must arrive at some principle (epi tina archên) that will not refer to something else that is philon (ep’ allo philon), but to something which is the first philon (ho estin prôton philon), for the sake of which we say that all the others too are phila (hou heneka kai ta alla phamen panta phila einai, 219c5-d2). He tentatively identifies ‘the first philon’, i.e. that which is ultimately worthy of love and from which all else that is being loved derived its being so, with the good (to agathon, 220b7) and suggests that we love the good because of evil (dia to kakon), the good being a remedy for evil (pharmakon on tou kakou to agathon, 220d2-3).
Socrates maintains that there is a fundamental difference between this first philon and all the other phila: all those other phila are phila for the sake of some other philon (heneka heterou philou phila, 220e1), whereas that which is really philon (to de tôi onti philon) is so for the sake of something that is hostile (echthrou heneka, 220e3-4), that is for the sake of evil (16). Until this moment Socrates carefully distinguished between two causes of being a philon: 1. because of something (dia ti), which ‘something’ he consistently identified with something bad, and 2. for the sake of something (heneka tou), which ‘something’ he consistently identified with something good. If he were consistent, he ought to have said that whereas all the other phila are phila ‘because of’ (dia ti) something hostile and evil, and ‘for the sake of’ (heneka tou) some other philon, the first philon is philon merely ‘because of’ (dia ti) something hostile, and that in this case the cause ‘for the sake of’ is missing. Donald Watt ascribes Plato’s substitution of ‘for the sake of’ (heneka tou) for the expected ‘because of’ (dia ti) to ‘a sort of rhetorical confusion’, and says that heneka tou can also mean ‘because of’ (17). But the very fact that Socrates carefully distinguishes between heneka, that is ‘for the sake of’, and dia ti, that is ‘because of’, throughout the lengthy passage that begins at 218d6 and ends 220d7 ought to compel us to try and read his echthrou heneka – ‘for the sake of evil’ – in 220e4 as consistent with its previous usage, especially when the given passage is of fundamental philosophic significance. There can be little doubt that the first principle of philon to which Plato turns our attention is the principle towards which true philosophers, in his view, direct their eyes. If instead of accusing Plato of confusion we attempt to see what his Socrates is doing when he suddenly suggests that the ultimate object of love, ‘the first philon’, is so ‘for the sake of’ something evil, we shall get an insight into Plato’s struggle with Socrates’ relapse into ignorance at the very point when Socrates should be overcoming it by opening his eyes to the Form of beauty in all its splendour. For Socrates’ paradoxical pronouncement that the principle of love, the first loved, which is the good, is loved ‘for the sake of’ something hostile, which is evil, points to the fact that all Socrates’ enquiries end in reassertion of ignorance – which Socrates identified with evil (e.g. Lysis 217e-218c) – as if ignorance was the aim for the sake of which he conducted his enquiries, as if he was afraid that with the disappearance of this evil, which he genuinely hated, he would lose the object of his love (ei de to echthron apelthoi, ouketi, hôs eoik’, esth’ hêmin philon, Lysis 220e4-5), which was wisdom. In the Lysis Plato struggles with the real, living Socrates, in Socrates’ lifetime, not with a figment of his imagination created after Socrates died.
To get out of this predicament, Socrates makes an experiment in thought: ‘By Zeus, if evil is destroyed, will it be impossible to be hungry any more, or thirsty, or anything of this kind? Or will there be hunger, if there be men and other animals, but not harmful hunger?’ (220e6-221a3) This makes him consider desires that are not harmful, which would not disappear with the disappearance of evil, and so he asks ‘Is it possible, then, for a man who desires and loves (epithumounta kai erônta) not to be a friend (mê philein) to that which he desires and loves (toutou hou epithumei kai erai, 221b7-8)?’ When Menexenus agrees that it is impossible, Socrates concludes that the cause of friendship is desire (hê epithumia tês philias aitia, 221d3). With this step Socrates confirms his transcending of the difference between friendship and erotic desire, in tune with the confession with which he introduced the whole inquiry into the meaning of friendship by saying that from his youth he greatly desired (tunchanô gar ek paidos epithumôn, 211d7-8) to obtain a friend, for he has been strongly erotically disposed to having friends (pros de tên tôn philôn ktêsin panu erôtikôs [echô], 211e2-3). These words evoke again the conceptual framework of the Phaedrus where in his first speech Socrates defined love (erôs) as a kind of desire (epithumia tis, 237d3) and in his second speech pointed out that the beloved is bound to the lover by friendship (philia), for he desires (epithumei, 255e2) to be with him. In the Lysis, Socrates now identifies ‘that which desires’ (to epithumoun) with that which is philon ‘to that which it desires’ (toutôi hou epithumei, 221d3-4), discarding all the preceding definitions of philon as nonsense comparable to ‘a long, composed poiêma’ (221d5-6). This dismissive comparison affects the whole preceding discussion on friendship and love in the Lysis, while it at the same time recalls Socrates’ dismissive talk of written compositions in the closing passages in the Phaedrus. Why does Plato direct Socrates’ sarcasm against his own writings in this manner? Perhaps he wants to say that he does not mind the negativity with which Socrates has greeted his writings, if only Socrates will become true to his professions of his love of truth, making the effort needed to grasp the essence of love and thus overcoming his ignorance. When Plato wrote the Lysis, his aim was to enter a political career not a career of a writer of philosophic works: he needed Socrates as a reliable political ally, he needed Socrates who knew what was to be done, not Socrates wallowing in his ignorance.
In his final attempt to find the truth in the Lysis concerning friendship and love Socrates is preoccupied with the thought that love is a desire which is related to what one needs. He argues that that which is in need (to endees) is philon of that which it is in need of (ekeinou hou an endees êi), maintaining that that comes to be in need (endees de gignetai) from which something is taken away (hou an ti aphairêtai, 221e1-3). From this he infers that love, friendship, and desire (ho te erôs kai hê philia kai hê epithumia) is (tunchanei ousa) directed at that which is akin to one and is properly one’s own (tou oikeiou dê, 221e3-4). He says to Menexenus and Lysis ‘if you are friends to each other (ei philoi eston allêlois) you are by nature in some way akin to each other and belong to each other’ (phusei pêi oikeioi esth’ humin autois, 221e5-6). From all this he concludes that if someone desires or loves someone else (ei ara tis heteros heterou epithumei ê erai) he would never desire or love him or be a friend of him (ouk an pote epethumei oude êra oude ephilei) if he were not in some way akin to and did not belong to the beloved (ei mê oikeios pêi tôi erômenôi etunchanen ôn) either in his soul (ê kata tên psuchên) or in some character or some ways of conduct or some form of his soul (ê kata ti tês psuchês êthos ê tropous ê eidos, 221e7-222a3) (18). And since it was shown that we must love (anankaion hêmin pephantai philein) what is by nature akin to us and by nature belongs to us (to phusei oikeion), it follows that the genuine lover must be (anankaion ara tôi gnêsiôi erastêi) loved by his beloved (phileisthai hupo tôn paidikôn, 222a5-7) (19).
Socrates thus towards the end of the Lysis comes to the same conclusion at which he arrived in the Phaedrus: the beloved must love the genuine lover (Phaedrus 255b-d), for he is akin to him (Phaedrus 252d-e). To make sense of the condensed argument in the Lysis, the Phaedrus is required, for in the Lysis to oikeion, the meaning of which I have rendered with an awkward ‘which is akin to one and is properly one’s own’, to which desire, love, and friendship are directed, is defined as something that is taken away (aphairetai) from the one who desires and loves and experiences friendship (221e2-4), yet although Socrates argues that love and friendship depend upon it, he makes no attempt to determine what it is, why, and in what way this something is taken away from the one who loves and is a friend. The explanatory gap directs the mind of the reader to the Phaedrus in which all the missing links are supplied, for according to the Phaedran myth all human souls, in so far as they have become incarnate, are deprived of the direct vision of true beings, that is of the divine, of the beautiful, of the good (246d8-e1), of justice, temperance, and knowledge (247d6-7), which had once sustained them in their pristine disembodied state (248a1-b5). The beauty of the beloved that inspires the philosopher-lover initiates the recovery – in Recollection – of these objects which are the true objects of love and as such are constitutive of the true love between the lover and the beloved (253c-256b), and just as Recollection is in a certain way operative in every speech-act, so it is operative to a certain degree in all human relationships of friendship and love.
How does Socrates at the end of the Lysis again relapse into his ignorance concerning love and friendship? He asks whether what is akin (to oikeion) is in any way different from that which is like (tou homoiou, 222b4), and says that if it is different, it may provide the answer to the question of what philon is (ho estin, 222b5), but if it is not different from it, it must be discarded for it was established in the previous discussion that like is useless to like by virtue of their being alike (to homoion tôi homoiôi kata tên homoiotêta achrêston, 222b8); he remarks once again that it would be quite wrong to identify philon with something useless (to de achrêston philon homologein plêmmeles, 222b8-c1). He now postulates without any further clarification - ‘for we are as if inebriated by the argument’ (epeidê hôsper methuomen hupo tou logou, 222c1-2) - that what is akin is different from what is like, and asks whether the good (to agathon) is akin (oikeion) to everyone (panti) whereas the bad is alien to everyone, or whether the bad is akin to the bad, the good is akin to the good, and the neither-good-nor-bad is akin to the neither-good-nor-bad. When the boys opt for the latter, Socrates notes that in that case the identification of philon with what is akin would mean that an unjust man would be philos to another unjust man, a bad man would be philos to another bad man, a good man would be philos to another good man, all of which had been ruled out in the previous discussion (222d1-5; philon is neuter adjective, philos masculine). But if they were to identify what is akin with that which is good (to agathon kai to oikeion an tauton phômen einai, 222d5-6), then it would follow that only good men could be friends to each other (ho agathos tôi agathôi monon philos, 222d6), which too had been previously refuted (222d7-8). Socrates recapitulates the main points of the whole discussion and concludes that if all the proposed definitions of a friend proved to be wrong, he has nothing more to say (egô men ouketi echô ti legô, 222e6-7). And as the boys are leaving, taken away by their slave-guardians, Socrates says to them:
‘We’ve now made utter fools of ourselves, an old man like me (egô te, gerôn anêr, 223b5) and you, since these people will go away and say that we think that we’re philoi (nominative plural) of one another - for I consider myself one of your number - though we were not as yet able to find out precisely what philos is’ (oupô de hoti estin ho philos hoioi te egenometha exeurein, 223b7-8).
Socrates thus relapses into the negativity of ignorance, and what is worse, he leaves in this negativity his two young interlocutors and the whole company, and that at a time when he himself, Plato, their friends, and the whole city most urgently needed to recover the notion of friendship and love that would constitute a new and better foundation of life in the city as it emerged from the catastrophe of the war and the subsequent tyranny. Could this realization bring Socrates to his senses? Socrates’ ignorance had to be confronted so that Socrates’ political potential as a friend, adviser and ally could be activated for the good of the city, before Plato began seriously to contemplate an active involvement in political life. As the ancient tradition has it, Plato with the Lysis achieved the opposite of what he intended; instead of taking on board Plato’s criticism, Socrates accused Plato of lying. With good grace, Plato responded to this by confronting the ignorant Socrates with the problem of truth and falsehood in the Hippias Minor to which the next chapter will be devoted.
Notes to Chapter 7