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Plato: From The ‘Theaetetus’ – Socrates’ Satire Of ‘The First Rate Specimen’

‘Socrates’, part of the ‘Mosaic of the Seven Sages’ found in a Roman villa at Suweydie near Baalbek, now in the collections of the Beirut National Museum.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an extract from the ‘THEAETETUS’ by Plato, in Benjamin Jowett’s 1871 translation excerpted at the Gutenberg Project. From 173c to 175d. Greek text is excerpted from the Greek Wikisource.


173c: ‘THEODORUS: Nay, Socrates, not until we have finished what we are about; for you truly said that we belong to a brotherhood which is free, and are not the servants of the argument; but the argument is our servant, and must wait our leisure. Who is our judge? Or where is the spectator having any right to censure or control us, as he might the poets?

SOCRATES: Then, as this is your wish, I will describe the leaders; for there is no use in talking about the inferior sort. In the first place, the lords of philosophy have never, from their youth upwards, known their way to the Agora, or the dicastery, or the council, or any other political assembly; they neither see nor hear the laws or decrees, as they are called, of the state written or recited; the eagerness of political societies in the attainment of offices—clubs, and banquets, and revels, and singing-maidens,—do not enter even into their dreams. Whether any event has turned out well or ill in the city, what disgrace may have descended to any one from his ancestors, male or female, are matters of which the philosopher no more knows than he can tell, as they say, how many pints are contained in the ocean. Neither is he conscious of his ignorance. For he does not hold aloof in order that he may gain a reputation; but the truth is, that the outer form of him only is in the city: his mind, disdaining the littlenesses and nothingnesses of human things, is ‘flying all abroad’ as Pindar says, measuring earth and heaven and the things which are under and on the earth and above the heaven, interrogating the whole nature of each and all in their entirety, but not condescending to anything which is within reach.

THEODORUS: What do you mean, Socrates?

SOCRATES: I will illustrate my meaning, Theodorus, by the jest which the clever witty Thracian handmaid is said to have made about Thales, when he fell into a well as he was looking up at the stars. She said, that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven, that he could not see what was before his feet. This is a jest which is equally applicable to all philosophers. For the philosopher is wholly unacquainted with his next-door neighbour; he is ignorant, not only of what he is doing, but he hardly knows whether he is a man or an animal; he is searching into the essence of man, and busy in enquiring what belongs to such a nature to do or suffer different from any other;—I think that you understand me, Theodorus?

THEODORUS: I do, and what you say is true.

SOCRATES: And thus, my friend, on every occasion, private as well as public, as I said at first, when he appears in a law-court, or in any place in which he has to speak of things which are at his feet and before his eyes, he is the jest, not only of Thracian handmaids but of the general herd, tumbling into wells and every sort of disaster through his inexperience. His awkwardness is fearful, and gives the impression of imbecility. When he is reviled, he has nothing personal to say in answer to the civilities of his adversaries, for he knows no scandals of any one, and they do not interest him; and therefore he is laughed at for his sheepishness; and when others are being praised and glorified, in the simplicity of his heart he cannot help going into fits of laughter, so that he seems to be a downright idiot. When he hears a tyrant or king eulogized, he fancies that he is listening to the praises of some keeper of cattle—a swineherd, or shepherd, or perhaps a cowherd, who is congratulated on the quantity of milk which he squeezes from them; and he remarks that the creature whom they tend, and out of whom they squeeze the wealth, is of a less tractable and more insidious nature. Then, again, he observes that the great man is of necessity as ill-mannered and uneducated as any shepherd—for he has no leisure, and he is surrounded by a wall, which is his mountain-pen. Hearing of enormous landed proprietors of ten thousand acres and more, our philosopher deems this to be a trifle, because he has been accustomed to think of the whole earth; and when they sing the praises of family, and say that some one is a gentleman because he can show seven generations of wealthy ancestors, he thinks that their sentiments only betray a dull and narrow vision in those who utter them, and who are not educated enough to look at the whole, nor to consider that every man has had thousands and ten thousands of progenitors, and among them have been rich and poor, kings and slaves, Hellenes and barbarians, innumerable. And when people pride themselves on having a pedigree of twenty-five ancestors, which goes back to Heracles, the son of Amphitryon, he cannot understand their poverty of ideas. Why are they unable to calculate that Amphitryon had a twenty-fifth ancestor, who might have been anybody, and was such as fortune made him, and he had a fiftieth, and so on? He amuses himself with the notion that they cannot count, and thinks that a little arithmetic would have got rid of their senseless vanity. Now, in all these cases our philosopher is derided by the vulgar, partly because he is thought to despise them, and also because he is ignorant of what is before him, and always at a loss.

THEODORUS: That is very true, Socrates.

SOCRATES: But, O my friend, when he draws the other into upper air, and gets him out of his pleas and rejoinders into the contemplation of justice and injustice in their own nature and in their difference from one another and from all other things; or from the commonplaces about the happiness of a king or of a rich man to the consideration of government, and of human happiness and misery in general—what they are, and how a man is to attain the one and avoid the other—when that narrow, keen, little legal mind is called to account about all this, he gives the philosopher his revenge; for dizzied by the height at which he is hanging, whence he looks down into space, which is a strange experience to him, he being dismayed, and lost, and stammering broken words, is laughed at, not by Thracian handmaidens or any other uneducated persons, for they have no eye for the situation, but by every man who has not been brought up a slave.’ …/…


Original Greek

‘…ΣΩ. Ἧι τοῖς μὲν τοῦτο ὃ σὺ εἶπες ἀεὶ πάρεστι, σχολή, καὶ τοὺς λόγους ἐν εἰρήνῃ ἐπὶ σχολῆς ποιοῦνται· ὥσπερ ἡμεῖς νυνὶ τρίτον ἤδη λόγον ἐκ λόγου μεταλαμβάνομεν, οὕτω κἀκεῖνοι, ἐὰν αὐτοὺς ὁ ἐπελθὼν τοῦ προκειμένου μᾶλλον καθάπερ ἡμᾶς ἀρέσῃ· καὶ διὰ μακρῶν ἢ βραχέων μέλει οὐδὲν λέγειν, ἂν μόνον τύχωσι τοῦ ὄντος· οἱ δὲ ἐν ἀσχολίᾳ e τε ἀεὶ λέγουσι—κατεπείγει γὰρ ὕδωρ ῥέον—καὶ οὐκ ἐγχωρεῖ περὶ οὗ ἂν ἐπιθυμήσωσι τοὺς λόγους ποιεῖσθαι, ἀλλ’ ἀνάγκην ἔχων ὁ ἀντίδικος ἐφέστηκεν καὶ ὑπογραφὴν παραναγιγνωσκομένην ὧν ἐκτὸς οὐ ῥητέον [ἣν ἀντωμοσίαν καλοῦσιν]· οἱ δὲ λόγοι ἀεὶ περὶ ὁμοδούλου πρὸς δεσπότην καθήμενον, ἐν χειρί τινα δίκην ἔχοντα, καὶ οἱ ἀγῶνες οὐδέποτε τὴν ἄλλως ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ τὴν περὶ αὐτοῦ, πολλάκις δὲ καὶ περὶ ψυχῆς 173 ὁ δρόμος· ὥστ’ ἐξ ἁπάντων τούτων ἔντονοι καὶ δριμεῖς γίγνονται, ἐπιστάμενοι τὸν δεσπότην λόγῳ τε θωπεῦσαι καὶ ἔργῳ ὑπελθεῖν, σμικροὶ δὲ καὶ οὐκ ὀρθοὶ τὰς ψυχάς. τὴν γὰρ αὔξην καὶ τὸ εὐθύ τε καὶ τὸ ἐλευθέριον ἡ ἐκ νέων δουλεία ἀφῄρηται, ἀναγκάζουσα πράττειν σκολιά, μεγάλους κινδύνους καὶ φόβους ἔτι ἁπαλαῖς ψυχαῖς ἐπιβάλλουσα, οὓς οὐ δυνάμενοι μετὰ τοῦ δικαίου καὶ ἀληθοῦς ὑποφέρειν, εὐθὺς ἐπὶ τὸ ψεῦδός τε καὶ τὸ ἀλλήλους ἀνταδικεῖν τρεπόμενοι b πολλὰ κάμπτονται καὶ συγκλῶνται, ὥσθ’ ὑγιὲς οὐδὲν ἔχοντες τῆς διανοίας εἰς ἄνδρας ἐκ μειρακίων τελευτῶσι, δεινοί τε καὶ σοφοὶ γεγονότες, ὡς οἴονται. καὶ οὗτοι μὲν δὴ τοιοῦτοι, ὦ Θεόδωρε· τοὺς δὲ τοῦ ἡμετέρου χοροῦ πότερον βούλει διελθόντες ἢ ἐάσαντες πάλιν ἐπὶ τὸν λόγον τρεπώμεθα, ἵνα μὴ καί, ὃ νυνδὴ ἐλέγομεν, λίαν πολὺ τῇ ἐλευθερίᾳ καὶ μεταλήψει τῶν λόγων καταχρώμεθα;

ΘΕΟ. Μηδαμῶς, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀλλὰ διελθόντες. πάνυ c γὰρ εὖ τοῦτο εἴρηκας, ὅτι οὐχ ἡμεῖς οἱ ἐν τῷ τοιῷδε χορεύοντες τῶν λόγων ὑπηρέται, ἀλλ’ οἱ λόγοι ἡμέτεροι ὥσπερ οἰκέται, καὶ ἕκαστος αὐτῶν περιμένει ἀποτελεσθῆναι ὅταν ἡμῖν δοκῇ· οὔτε γὰρ δικαστὴς οὔτε θεατὴς ὥσπερ ποιηταῖς ἐπιτιμήσων τε καὶ ἄρξων ἐπιστατεῖ παρ’ ἡμῖν.

ΣΩ. Λέγωμεν δή, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἐπεὶ σοί γε δοκεῖ, περὶ τῶν κορυφαίων· τί γὰρ ἄν τις τούς γε φαύλως διατρίβοντας ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ λέγοι; οὗτοι δέ που ἐκ νέων πρῶτον μὲν εἰς d ἀγορὰν οὐκ ἴσασι τὴν ὁδόν, οὐδὲ ὅπου δικαστήριον ἢ βουλευτήριον ἤ τι κοινὸν ἄλλο τῆς πόλεως συνέδριον· νόμους δὲ καὶ ψηφίσματα λεγόμενα ἢ γεγραμμένα οὔτε ὁρῶσιν οὔτε ἀκούουσι· σπουδαὶ δὲ ἑταιριῶν ἐπ’ ἀρχὰς καὶ σύνοδοι καὶ δεῖπνα καὶ σὺν αὐλητρίσι κῶμοι, οὐδὲ ὄναρ πράττειν προσίσταται αὐτοῖς. εὖ δὲ ἢ κακῶς τις γέγονεν ἐν πόλει, ἤ τί τῳ κακόν ἐστιν ἐκ προγόνων γεγονὸς ἢ πρὸς ἀνδρῶν ἢ γυναικῶν, μᾶλλον αὐτὸν λέληθεν ἢ οἱ τῆς θαλάττης λεγόμενοι e χόες. καὶ ταῦτα πάντ’ οὐδ’ ὅτι οὐκ οἶδεν, οἶδεν· οὐδὲ γὰρ αὐτῶν ἀπέχεται τοῦ εὐδοκιμεῖν χάριν, ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι τὸ σῶμα μόνον ἐν τῇ πόλει κεῖται αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐπιδημεῖ, ἡ δὲ διάνοια, ταῦτα πάντα ἡγησαμένη σμικρὰ καὶ οὐδέν, ἀτιμάσασα πανταχῇ πέτεται κατὰ Πίνδαρον “τᾶς τε γᾶς ὑπένερθε” καὶ τὰ ἐπίπεδα γεωμετροῦσα, “οὐρανοῦ θ’ ὕπερ” ἀστρονομοῦσα, 174 καὶ πᾶσαν πάντῃ φύσιν ἐρευνωμένη τῶν ὄντων ἑκάστου ὅλου, εἰς τῶν ἐγγὺς οὐδὲν αὑτὴν συγκαθιεῖσα.

ΘΕΟ. Πῶς τοῦτο λέγεις, ὦ Σώκρατες;

ΣΩ. Ὥσπερ καὶ Θαλῆν ἀστρονομοῦντα, ὦ Θεόδωρε, καὶ ἄνω βλέποντα, πεσόντα εἰς φρέαρ, Θρᾷττά τις ἐμμελὴς καὶ χαρίεσσα θεραπαινὶς ἀποσκῶψαι λέγεται ὡς τὰ μὲν ἐν οὐρανῷ προθυμοῖτο εἰδέναι, τὰ δ’ ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ καὶ παρὰ πόδας λανθάνοι αὐτόν. ταὐτὸν δὲ ἀρκεῖ σκῶμμα ἐπὶ πάντας b ὅσοι ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ διάγουσι. τῷ γὰρ ὄντι τὸν τοιοῦτον ὁ μὲν πλησίον καὶ ὁ γείτων λέληθεν, οὐ μόνον ὅτι πράττει, ἀλλ’ ὀλίγου καὶ εἰ ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν ἤ τι ἄλλο θρέμμα· τί δέ ποτ’ ἐστὶν ἄνθρωπος καὶ τί τῇ τοιαύτῃ φύσει προσήκει διάφορον τῶν ἄλλων ποιεῖν ἢ πάσχειν, ζητεῖ τε καὶ πράγματ’ ἔχει διερευνώμενος. μανθάνεις γάρ που, ὦ Θεόδωρε· ἢ οὔ;

ΘΕΟ. Ἔγωγε· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγεις.

ΣΩ. Τοιγάρτοι, ὦ φίλε, ἰδίᾳ τε συγγιγνόμενος ὁ τοιοῦτος c ἑκάστῳ καὶ δημοσίᾳ, ὅπερ ἀρχόμενος ἔλεγον, ὅταν ἐν δικαστηρίῳ ἤ που ἄλλοθι ἀναγκασθῇ περὶ τῶν παρὰ πόδας καὶ τῶν ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς διαλέγεσθαι, γέλωτα παρέχει οὐ μόνον Θρᾴτταις ἀλλὰ καὶ τῷ ἄλλῳ ὄχλῳ, εἰς φρέατά τε καὶ πᾶσαν ἀπορίαν ἐμπίπτων ὑπὸ ἀπειρίας, καὶ ἡ ἀσχημοσύνη δεινή, δόξαν ἀβελτερίας παρεχομένη· ἔν τε γὰρ ταῖς λοιδορίαις ἴδιον ἔχει οὐδὲν οὐδένα λοιδορεῖν, ἅτ’ οὐκ εἰδὼς κακὸν οὐδὲν οὐδενὸς ἐκ τοῦ μὴ μεμελετηκέναι· ἀπορῶν d οὖν γελοῖος φαίνεται. ἔν τε τοῖς ἐπαίνοις καὶ ταῖς τῶν ἄλλων μεγαλαυχίαις οὐ προσποιήτως ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι γελῶν ἔνδηλος γιγνόμενος ληρώδης δοκεῖ εἶναι. τύραννόν τε γὰρ ἢ βασιλέα ἐγκωμιαζόμενον, ἕνα τῶν νομέων, οἷον συβώτην ἢ ποιμένα ἤ τινα βουκόλον, ἡγεῖται ἀκούειν εὐδαιμονιζόμενον πολὺ βδάλλοντα· δυσκολώτερον δὲ ἐκείνων ζῷον καὶ ἐπιβουλότερον ποιμαίνειν τε καὶ βδάλλειν νομίζει αὐτούς, ἄγροικον δὲ καὶ ἀπαίδευτον ὑπὸ ἀσχολίας οὐδὲν ἧττον τῶν e νομέων τὸν τοιοῦτον ἀναγκαῖον γίγνεσθαι, σηκὸν ἐν ὄρει τὸ τεῖχος περιβεβλημένον. γῆς δὲ ὅταν μυρία πλέθρα ἢ ἔτι πλείω ἀκούσῃ ὥς τις ἄρα κεκτημένος θαυμαστὰ πλήθει κέκτηται, πάνσμικρα δοκεῖ ἀκούειν εἰς ἅπασαν εἰωθὼς τὴν γῆν βλέπειν. τὰ δὲ δὴ γένη ὑμνούντων, ὡς γενναῖός τις ἑπτὰ πάππους πλουσίους ἔχων ἀποφῆναι, παντάπασιν ἀμβλὺ καὶ ἐπὶ σμικρὸν ὁρώντων ἡγεῖται τὸν ἔπαινον, ὑπὸ 175 ἀπαιδευσίας οὐ δυναμένων εἰς τὸ πᾶν ἀεὶ βλέπειν οὐδὲ λογίζεσθαι ὅτι πάππων καὶ προγόνων μυριάδες ἑκάστῳ γεγόνασιν ἀναρίθμητοι, ἐν αἷς πλούσιοι καὶ πτωχοὶ καὶ βασιλῆς καὶ δοῦλοι βάρβαροί τε καὶ Ἕλληνες πολλάκις μυρίοι γεγόνασιν ὁτῳοῦν· ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ πέντε καὶ εἴκοσι καταλόγῳ προγόνων σεμνυνομένων καὶ ἀναφερόντων εἰς Ἡρακλέα τὸν Ἀμφιτρύωνος ἄτοπα αὐτῷ καταφαίνεται τῆς σμικρολογίας, ὅτι b δὲ ὁ ἀπ’ Ἀμφιτρύωνος εἰς τὸ ἄνω πεντεκαιεικοστὸς τοιοῦτος ἦν οἵα συνέβαινεν αὐτῷ τύχη, καὶ ὁ πεντηκοστὸς ἀπ’ αὐτοῦ, γελᾷ οὐ δυναμένων λογίζεσθαί τε καὶ χαυνότητα ἀνοήτου ψυχῆς ἀπαλλάττειν. ἐν ἅπασι δὴ τούτοις ὁ τοιοῦτος ὑπὸ τῶν πολλῶν καταγελᾶται, τὰ μὲν ὑπερηφάνως ἔχων, ὡς δοκεῖ, τὰ δ’ ἐν ποσὶν ἀγνοῶν τε καὶ ἐν ἑκάστοις ἀπορῶν.

ΘΕΟ. Παντάπασι τὰ γιγνόμενα λέγεις, ὦ Σώκρατες.

ΣΩ. Ὅταν δέ γέ τινα αὐτός, ὦ φίλε, ἑλκύσῃ ἄνω, καὶ c ἐθελήσῃ τις αὐτῷ ἐκβῆναι ἐκ τοῦ “τί ἐγὼ σὲ ἀδικῶ ἢ σὺ ἐμέ”; εἰς σκέψιν αὐτῆς δικαιοσύνης τε καὶ ἀδικίας, τί τε ἑκάτερον αὐτοῖν καὶ τί τῶν πάντων ἢ ἀλλήλων διαφέρετον, ἢ ἐκ τοῦ “εἰ βασιλεὺς εὐδαίμων,” “κεκτημένος τ’ αὖ χρυσίον,” βασιλείας πέρι καὶ ἀνθρωπίνης ὅλως εὐδαιμονίας καὶ ἀθλιότητος ἐπὶ σκέψιν, ποίω τέ τινε ἐστὸν καὶ τίνα τρόπον ἀνθρώπου φύσει προσήκει τὸ μὲν κτήσασθαι αὐτοῖν, τὸ δὲ ἀποφυγεῖν—περὶ τούτων ἁπάντων ὅταν αὖ δέῃ λόγον d διδόναι τὸν σμικρὸν ἐκεῖνον τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ δριμὺν καὶ δικανικόν, πάλιν αὖ τὰ ἀντίστροφα ἀποδίδωσιν· εἰλιγγιῶν τε ἀπὸ ὑψηλοῦ κρεμασθεὶς καὶ βλέπων μετέωρος ἄνωθεν ὑπὸ ἀηθείας ἀδημονῶν τε καὶ ἀπορῶν καὶ βατταρίζων γέλωτα Θρᾴτταις μὲν οὐ παρέχει οὐδ’ ἄλλῳ ἀπαιδεύτῳ οὐδενί, οὐ γὰρ αἰσθάνονται, τοῖς δ’ ἐναντίως ἢ ὡς ἀνδραπόδοις τραφεῖσι πᾶσιν. οὗτος δὴ ἑκατέρου τρόπος, ὦ Θεόδωρε, ὁ e μὲν τῷ ὄντι ἐν ἐλευθερίᾳ τε καὶ σχολῇ τεθραμμένου, ὃν δὴ φιλόσοφον καλεῖς, ᾧ ἀνεμέσητον εὐήθει δοκεῖν καὶ οὐδενὶ εἶναι ὅταν εἰς δουλικὰ ἐμπέσῃ διακονήματα, οἷον στρωματόδεσμον μὴ ἐπισταμένου συσκευάσασθαι μηδὲ ὄψον ἡδῦναι ἢ θῶπας λόγους· ὁ δ’ αὖ τὰ μὲν τοιαῦτα πάντα δυναμένου τορῶς τε καὶ ὀξέως διακονεῖν, ἀναβάλλεσθαι δὲ οὐκ ἐπισταμένου ἐπιδέξια ἐλευθερίως οὐδέ γ’ ἁρμονίαν λόγων 176 λαβόντος ὀρθῶς ὑμνῆσαι θεῶν τε καὶ ἀνδρῶν εὐδαιμόνων βίον [ἀληθῆ].’ …/…

A marble relief depicting theatre masks as worn by actors in both Greek and Roman tragedies and comedies. 2nd century CE (Vatican Museums, Rome). Picture by Mark Cartwright.


About the Dialog: 🌿The best collected works of Plato Edition: 🌿 Source for the English text: 🌿 Source for the Greek text:Θεαίτητος
Plato: From The ‘Theaetetus’ – Socrates’ Satire Of ‘The First Rate Specimen’

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