BECK index

The Lover

by Sanderson Beck
(based on Plato's Phaedrus)

SOCRATES: A Series of Philosophical Plays is now published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.



Scene: Along the banks of the Ilissus River in the countryside near Athens. It is a summer morning, and Socrates is basking in the sun. Phaedrus approaches walking from the city.

Phaedrus, my friend,
where are you coming from,
and where are you going?

I've been sitting all morning with Lysias,
and now I'm going to walk outside the wall.
Acumenus says it's more refreshing to walk
in the open air rather than on the sidewalks.

He's right about that, my friend.
Then I take it Lysias was in town.

Yes, he's staying with Epicrates
near the temple of Olympian Zeus.

Did he entertain you with a feast of discourse?

You may hear about it,
if you have the time to walk along and listen.

But shouldn't I consider hearing Lysias' discourse
"above any other business," as Pindar said?

Lead the way, then.

If you'll talk.

Socrates and Phaedrus stroll along the river bank.

You are the one to hear it, Socrates,
for the topic was about love.
Lysias described how one of the beauties
was being tempted, not by a lover---
and this is what's interesting about it---
but he wrote that favors should be granted
to one who is not in love rather than to a lover.

I wish he'd write
the poor man rather than the rich,
and the old man rather than the young.
Then many people like me would qualify.
I want to hear this speech so much,
that if you walk all the way to Megara and back,
I still won't let you off.

But my good Socrates, how can you expect me
to remember an elaborate speech
carefully composed over a long period of time
by the finest rhetorician of our era?
It is far beyond me, though I wish I could.

Oh Phaedrus, if I don't know you,
I have forgotten myself.
For I'm sure Lysias repeated the speech to you
not only once, but many times over and over again.
Even that would not be enough for Phaedrus,
but you probably borrowed the text
and studied it the whole morning.
Tired of sitting, I imagine you went for a walk
in order to memorize the speech or, if it was long,
to find a place outside the wall to practice it.
And when you saw a certain lover of discourse,
you were glad, thinking that now you had
someone to share in your revels.
So you invited this person to walk with you;
and when the lover of discourse
begged you to repeat the speech,
you acted coyly and said you wouldn't.
Even though if the listener had refused,
eventually you'd have compelled him to listen.
So Phaedrus, do now,
what you would have done anyway.

It seems you will not let me off, Socrates;
so I'll do my best to speak as well as I can.

What you think about me is true.

Then I'll do this, Socrates,
for I really haven't learned the whole speech;
but I'll give you the general idea of the points
on which the lover and the non-lover differ.

First, my friend, show what you have
in your left hand under your cloak,
for I suspect that is the actual speech.
If this is case, understand that,
as much as I like you, I'm not going to let you
practice your speechmaking on me
when the speech of Lysias is right here.
Come on, show it.

All right.
You have robbed me, Socrates,
of my hope of practicing on you.
Where would you like to sit so that we can read?

Let's go down the Ilissus until we find a quiet spot.

Fortunately I happen to be barefoot,
and you always are without shoes.
So it's easy for us to put our feet in the water,
and it's not unpleasant to do so,
especially at this hour and time of year.

Lead the way, then,
and look for a place to sit.

Phaedrus and Socrates wade through the stream. Phaedrus sees a large tree ahead of them.

Do you see the tall plane-tree ahead?


There's shade and a gentle breeze and grass
where we can sit or even lie down.

Head for it.

Tell me, Socrates, is this the place
where Boreas is said to have carried off Orithyia?

That's what they say.

Then was it from here?
The brook appears wonderfully pure and clear,
and I can imagine maidens playing nearby.

No, it's about two or three stadiums downstream
where you cross to the temple of Artemis;
there is an altar to Boreas around there.

I've never noticed it;
but say before God, Socrates,
do you believe this story is true?

If I disbelieved, like the scientists,
I would not be unusual;
then I could say scientifically that Boreas,
the north wind, pushed her off the nearby rocks
as she was playing with Pharmacia,
and when she died,
it was said that Boreas carried her away.
Phaedrus, I believe such things are very nice,
but the inventors of them are not to be envied,
requiring as they do much effort and ingenuity.
Once begun they must explain centaurs and chimera,
and then go on to Gorgons and Pegasus
and many other extraordinary and unusual natures.
If the skeptic is to reduce them to probabilities,
this crude science will take up much of one's leisure.
I don't have time for such things,
and the reason for this, my friend,
is that I am not yet able to know myself,
according to the Delphic inscription.
It appears ridiculous to me,
when I don't know this,
to consider other strange things.
So I don't bother with those
and accept the customary belief about them;
Thus I don't consider those but myself, as I said,
to find out whether I am a monster
more complicated and proud
than the serpent Typhon,
or a gentler and simpler animal
whose fate is a divine and quiet nature.
But my friend, while we were talking,
isn't this the tree you were leading us toward?

Yes, this is it.

By Hera, it is a beautiful resting place.
for the plane-tree and willow are tall and shady,
and their blossoms make the place most fragrant.
The stream is nice as it flows under the plane-tree,
and the water is cool, as my feet indicate.
This place must be sacred
to some nymphs and Achelous,
judging from the statues and figurines.
How fresh and lovely the breeze
and the shrill summer music of the crickets!
But the greatest delight is the thick grass
on a gentle slope perfect for laying one's head.
You've guided the stranger very well, dear Phaedrus.

You are a wonder and appear most extraordinary.
For you do seem like a stranger, as you say;
since you don't leave the city
or ever seem to venture outside the walls.

Please forgive me, for I love learning,
and the country and trees will not teach me,
but the people in town do.
Yet you seem to have found
a potion to draw me out.
For as they lead hungry creatures
by dangling fruit in front of them,
so by holding a book in front of me
it appears you may lead me all over Attica
and any other place you wish.
So now that I have come here,
I'm going to lie down,
and you, in whatever position is easy to read,
take it and read.

Socrates lies on the grassy slope with his feet in the water, while Phaedrus sits next to him and reads from the scroll.

Then listen.

"You know my situation
and how our affair may be best arranged.
You should not refuse me,
because I am not your lover.
For lovers repent of their good deeds
when their passion ceases,
but non-lovers are free of compulsion,
do not repent of their good deeds,
and are able to do what is best.
Also lovers on account of their love
neglect their own concerns
and by the extra troubles they endure,
think they have already given to the beloved enough.
But non-lovers do not neglect their own affairs,
make no excuses and are free to gratify the beloved.
But if lovers are valued,
because they will do more,
since they are ready to be hated by others
in order to please their beloved,
it is easy to see, if what they say is true,
that later when they fall in love again
they will injure an old love to please the new one.
How can you trust yourself to lovers
who admit they're insane and not in their right mind,
who know they're fools and can't control themselves.
And when they come to their right mind,
will they consider those things good
which they did when in that condition?
If you were to choose the best among your lovers,
your choice would be from a few;
but there are many more non-lovers,
and you would have a better chance of choosing
one who is worthy of your friendship.

"Now if you're afraid of public opinion
and ashamed if people discover your love affair,
lovers thinking that others will envy them
like to show everyone the honor of possession;
but non-lovers controlling themselves
choose what is best instead of popular opinion.
Lovers are always following their beloved,
and whenever they are seen talking with each other
people presume they are meeting for a love affair;
but when non-lovers meet, no one asks why,
because talking is needed in a pleasant friendship.
If you're afraid friendship won't last,
and when you have surrendered
what you value most
a quarrel will make you suffer more,
you still should be more afraid of the lovers;
for they are bothered by many things
and think everything is done to hurt them.
Thus they are very jealous and keep the beloved
away from others who are wealthy and educated
lest they should appear to be superior,
and they guard against anyone who is any good.
If they convince you to dislike these,
you will find that you lack friends,
and if you consider what is better for you,
you must get into a quarrel with the lover.
But those not in love
who succeed by their excellence
would not be jealous of your companions
and would detest those who were,
believing you are slighted by these
and benefited by the others
so that the hope is more friendship than enmity
will come out of their affair with you.

"Many lovers are motivated
by desire for the body
before they know
the character of the object of love;
so it's unclear whether
they'll wish to be friends
after their desire has passed.
But those who were not in love
but were friends before the affair
are more likely to remain your friends
after the passion has decreased.
It will also be better for your character
to be persuaded by me instead of a lover.
For lovers flatter by praising you too much,
out of fear of offending you
and because their judgment is distorted by passion.
And lovers exaggerate the pains and pleasures,
complaining over nothing and praising nonsense,
so that the beloved is to be pitied more than envied.
But if you are persuaded by me,
in my intercourse with you I'll consider
not only present pleasure but also future benefit,
not overcome by love but in control of myself
and not becoming angry over small matters
I only become concerned over important issues;
I'll forgive involuntary wrongs
and try to prevent intentional ones;
for these are the signs of a long-term friendship.
If you think friendship cannot be strong
unless one is in love,
you should realize that in that case
we would not put much on
sons or fathers or mothers
nor would we have trusted friends we have gained
not through passion but from other associations.

"If one should gratify the most eager,
then as in other things one should do good
not to the best but to those most in need,
for those helped most will be most grateful.
And when you give a banquet,
you shouldn't invite your friends
but the beggars and those who are hungry,
for they will love you and wait at your door
and be most pleased and grateful,
and they will pray for many goods for you.
But probably you shouldn't gratify those who beg
but grant favors to those who can repay you,
not to those who simply ask but to the deserving,
not to those who will enjoy your beauty
but to those who will share goods with you later,
not to those who will boast of their conquest
but to those who will modestly keep it a secret,
and not to those who are eager for a short time
but to those who will be friends all your life,
not to those who quarrel when their passion stops
but to those whose virtue will continue past youth.
So remember what I have said,
that lovers are criticized by their friends
who think their way of life is bad,
but no one ever criticized the non-lover for that.

"Perhaps you'll ask me whether I advise you
to grant favors to every non-lover.
Even a lover wouldn't expect you
to accept all lovers.
For favors spread around are not highly valued
nor could you hide it from the others.
But love should harm none
and be a benefit to both.
So I think I've said enough,
but if you think I've left anything out,
just ask."

How does the argument
appear to you, Socrates?
Isn't it marvelous,
especially in its choice of words?

Miraculous, my friend; I am amazed.
And I felt this due to you, Phaedrus,
because watching you it seemed to me
you were delighted to be reading it.
For believing you are more experienced
I followed along with you in the divine ecstasy.

You're kidding.

Do you think I'm joking and not serious?

None of that, Socrates,
but truly say before the god of friendship,
do you think any other Greek could have spoken
better or more thoroughly on this subject?

Should you and I praise the argument
because the author said what he should,
and not because of all the fine expressions?
If that is the case, I grant it for your sake,
since in my stupidity I didn't notice that.
For I was listening to the rhetoric,
and I don't think even Lysias
would think it adequate.
It seemed to me, Phaedrus,
though you may deny it,
that he said the same thing two or three times,
as if he couldn't think of anything else to say
or wanted to show off his ability
to say the same thing in two very fine ways.

Nonsense, Socrates;
it's especially good in that.
He left out nothing,
and no one could cover the subject
any more thoroughly or capably than he did.

I will not go along with you on that.
For the ancient and wise men and women
who have spoken about these things
would rise up against me,
if I agreed with you.

Who are they?
and where have you heard
anything better than this?

I can't say now,
but I heard something
either from beautiful Sappho or wise Anacreon
or some of the prose writers.
Why do I say so?
because I feel my heart is full
and that I could make another speech
different than this but just as good.
I realize that I'm not inventing anything good,
being aware of my own ignorance;
it must have been poured into me through the ears,
like into a pitcher from the fountain of another,
but in my stupidity I've forgotten
how and from whom I heard it.

Most nobly and beautifully said!
Promise to make a better oration
different and no shorter than the one in the book,
and I will set up a golden statue at Delphi,
not only of myself but also of you.

You are most dear and truly golden, Phaedrus,
if you think I mean Lysias failed completely;
even the worst writer makes some good points.
For example, who could speak on this theme
without praising the discretion of the non-lover
and blaming the indiscretion of the lover?
But there may be praise for arranging these well
and for originality in finding other arguments
which are more difficult to discover.

I agree with what you say;
so I'll do this:
I'll let you assume that
the lover is more neurotic than the non-lover,
and if you speak on the rest better than Lysias,
your statue of metal will stand at Olympia.

Have you taken me seriously, Phaedrus,
because I kidded you about your beloved Lysias,
and do you really think I'll try to speak
with more wisdom and ingenuity than he did?

On this, my friend,
you are now where you had me.
For you must speak as best you can
or we'll have to resort to a comic turn about;
be careful and don't make me say,
"If I don't know Socrates, I've forgotten myself,"
and "He was eager to speak but acted coyly."
Make up your mind because we're not leaving here
until you speak what you said was in your heart.
We are alone here,
and I'm stronger and younger;
so do what I tell you willingly
rather than by force.

Oh blessed Phaedrus, I'll be ridiculous
if as an extemporizing amateur I try to compete
with a good writer on these things.

Look here;
stop messing around;
for I have something to say
which will force you to speak.

Please don't say it.

But I will; and I even swear an oath---
but by what god? or by this plane-tree?
I swear that unless you tell me the speech,
I will never show nor read you another speech.

You scoundrel!
How well you know how to
make a lover of discourse
do what you command!

Then why do you try to get out of it?

I no longer do,
since you have sworn this.
For how could I ever
give up such entertainment?

Then speak.

So you know what I'll do?

About what?

I'll speak with my head covered,
so that I can quickly run through the speech
without looking at you
in shame at my confusion.

Only speak,
and in anything else do what you wish.
Socrates covers his head with the cloak so that he can only see straight ahead, like a horse with blinders.

Come then, o Muses,
aid me in this story,
which this excellent person
compels me to speak,
so that his friend, whom he thinks is wise,
may now seem to him even more so.

Once upon a time there was a young person,
who was very beautiful and had many lovers.
Among them was a very clever one,
who was no less in love
yet persuaded the youth
that he was not in love;
and one time he argued
that favors should be granted
to the non-lover rather than to the lover;
and he said the following:

"There is one fine beginning
when one is about to give advice about anything.
One must know what the advice is about,
or one is bound to make errors every time.
Most people forget that
they don't know everything.
So as if knowing
they don't make any agreements
at the beginning of the inquiry,
and so naturally they end up
contradicting themselves and each other.
So you and I should avoid this error,
and since the argument is whether
a lover or non-lover is to be preferred,
let's agree on a definition of love,
its nature and its power,
and keeping this in mind let's inquire
whether love is beneficial or harmful.
Now it's clear to all that love is a desire,
and we also know that those not in love
nevertheless desire what is beautiful.
How then do we distinguish
the one in love from the one who is not?
It should be noticed that in each one of us
are two ruling and leading principles,
which we follow wherever they lead;
one is innate desire for pleasures,
the other acquired belief aiming for the best.
These in us sometimes agree and sometimes rebel;
sometimes one controls, sometimes the other.
When belief leads by reason toward the best,
its control is called prudence;
but when desire irrationally
draws us toward pleasures,
its rule in us is known as indulgence.
Now indulgence has many varieties and forms.
For example, if the desire for eating prevails
over the logic of the best and the other desires,
it is called gluttony;
if drink becomes a tyrant leading one to that,
it is clear what that is called, and so on.
Now the desire led by beauty toward pleasure
which overcomes rational belief of what is right
and is urged by the desire
to enjoy a beautiful body
may be specifically called erotic love."

Dear Phaedrus, does it seem to you,
as it does to me, that I am divinely inspired?

Certainly, Socrates,
you are unusually eloquent.

Then listen to me in silence;
for this place seems to be divine.
So if I am often caught up by nymphs
as the speech goes on, don't be surprised;
for I'm already almost breaking into poetry.

Very true.

You are responsible;
but listen to the rest,
for perhaps the fit may be prevented.
So that is in the care of God,
and we must go on
with the argument to the youth.

"Having defined the subject of the advice,
while watching that definition
let's say what benefit or harm may result
from granting favors to
one in love or not in love.

"The one ruled by desire
and enslaved by pleasure
is bound to make the beloved
as pleasing to himself as possible.
To the neurotic everything is pleasant
which is not resistant,
but the superior and equal are offensive.
So the lover will not put up with a beloved
who is superior or equal
and will always try
to make one weaker and inferior;
and the ignorant are weaker than the wise,
cowards than the brave,
the dull than the witty,
and the one unable to speak than the orator.
Such mental defects in the beloved
are bound to please the lover;
and if not there by nature
he will cultivate them,
because not to do so is to lose his pleasure.
So he must be jealous,
and he will keep his beloved away from others
who would be beneficial,
would develop courage,
and especially from the prudent
and divine philosophy,
thus causing the beloved great harm
by keeping that one ignorant of everything
and completely dependent on him.
So in relation to the mind,
the one in love is neither
an advantageous guardian nor partner.

"Let's see how the lover
who must pursue pleasure instead of good
will treat the body of the one
over whom he is lord.
He will court a beloved
who is delicate and weak
and used to a soft life in the shade
so that the complexion
must be altered by cosmetics,
rather than someone
who is strong and independent.

"In regard to property the lover would desire
his beloved to be lacking in possessions,
thus being easier to catch
and when caught more manageable.
Since father, mother, relatives, and friends
might hinder his sweet intercourse,
he wishes the beloved to be deprived of them
so as to be unmarried, childless, and homeless,
and then he can have what is pleasant all to himself.

"Other evils, like flattery, contain some pleasure
but do great harm, much like a courtesan.
But a lover is not only harmful
but very unpleasant to live with too.
His compulsions are oppressive,
for he is older, while his love is young,
and he never leaves day or night,
always wanting to touch or see or hear the beloved;
but what consolation does the beloved receive?
After a while the old face and other features,
which are unpleasant to even hear mentioned,
with protracted intercourse become disgusting.
The beloved is suspiciously guarded from everyone,
has to listen to exaggerated praises
and criticisms which are inappropriate
and hardly tolerable when the man is sober,
and when he has been drinking, disgusting.

"While in love he is harmful and unpleasant,
but later when his love is spent
he becomes false to his many promises and oaths.
The payoff comes
when he has a new ruler inside him,
discretion and prudence
instead of love and madness;
he's now different,
but the youth doesn't realize it.
When asked to return favors and fulfill promises,
the lover is ashamed of his past foolishness
and runs away,
forcing the beloved to run after him
like in a game of "hide and go seek."
If this person had been smart enough not to accept
an indiscreet lover instead of a discreet non-lover,
the beloved would not have surrendered
to one who is
untrustworthy, finicky, jealous, unpleasant,
harmful to one's property and one's body
and most harmful to the education of the soul,
of which in truth
nothing will ever be more important,
either for people or for gods.
So you should keep these things in mind,
my friend,
and realize that the affection of a lover
does not come from kindness
but from a habit of appetite
he wants to gratify.
'As wolves love the lambs,
So lovers love their loves.'"
That's it, Phaedrus;
I told you I'd get poetic.
Don't listen to me any longer,
but let the argument end already.

Socrates uncovers his head.

Yet I thought you were in the middle of it
and would talk about
the good points of the non-lover
and how that one should be more favored.
But Socrates, why have you stopped now?

If I get poetic criticizing the lover,
what do you think I'll do if I praise the other?
I'll be inspired by the nymphs
you've exposed me to.
Let's just say the one left has the good qualities
that are opposite to the other.
Why should it be a long argument?
I said enough about both;
that's the fitting story.
I'm going to cross the river and go away
before I'm compelled by you any more.

Socrates gets up to go, but pauses in a moment of distraction as Phaedrus is speaking, then sits down again.

Not yet, Socrates, until the heat passes.
Don't you see it's already almost noon?
Let's discuss what was said;
and when it's cooler, we'll go.

you're simply a wonder about arguments.
I don't think anyone
has produced more discourses
in your life than you,
except the Theban Simmias.
Now you're responsible
for producing one spoken by me.

You're not declaring war, but what is this?

My good friend,
when I was about to cross the river,
the spirit and sign which usually comes to me came---
always it restrains me when I'm about to act---
and I thought I heard a voice from it,
which would not let me go away
until I expiate myself from some sin against God.
Now I'm a seer, not too serious a one,
but like the poor writers,
adequate for myself alone;
so clearly I already understand the error.
How insightful the soul is, my friend!
For while I was making the argument,
something was bothering me, and, like Ibycus,
"I was upset, lest in buying honor
I exchange the gods for people."
But now I perceive the error.

What do you mean?

Terrible, Phaedrus, it was a terrible argument
that you brought and made me speak.

How so?

It was foolish and somewhat blasphemous.
What could be more terrible than that?

Nothing, if what you say is true.

What then?
Don't you believe that Love is a god?

That's what they say.

Not according to Lysias nor by your argument,
which was spoken through my mouth
by you under a spell.
If Love is a god or something divine,
which it is,
it is not bad,
but I argued just now that it is.
So these arguments are mistaken about Love,
and their foolishness is very funny besides
in not being healthy or true
they are pretending as if they are
by deceiving some humanoids
to be esteemed by them.
So, my friend, I must purify myself.
Before suffering for speaking ill of Love
I'll try to atone by recanting,
with my head bare,
and not like before, covered in shame.

Socrates, there is nothing you could say to me
that would please me more than this.

For just think, my good Phaedrus,
how shameless was the speech I argued
and the one from the book.
For if someone who was well brought up and gentle
and who was in love or was loved by such a person
had heard us saying that lovers are
violent over small matters and jealous and harmful,
don't you think he would believe he was listening
to sailors who had never seen a liberated love,
and wouldn't he very much refuse to accept
what we object to in regard to Love?

By God, he probably would, Socrates.

Then being ashamed and afraid of Love itself,
I want to wash this brine out of my ears
with the river of reason;
and I advise Lysias to quickly write that
the one in love should be favored
rather than the one who is not in love.

Be sure that he will,
for when you have spoken in praise of the lover,
Lysias will be compelled by me
to write about the same argument.

I believe this, because of what you are.

Then speak with confidence.

Where is the youth to whom we spoke?
This should be heard so that the one not in love
will not be favored before it can be anticipated.

The beloved is always present,
whenever you wish.

Now, fair youth,
realize that the last argument was by Phaedrus,
but this one is a recantation.
Here it must be said that the argument is not true
which says that the one not in love
should be favored over the one in love,
because he is insane,
while the other is prudent.
If insanity were completely evil,
that would be fine;
but the greatest goods
come to us through insanity,
when it is given by the gods.
For the prophetess and priestesses at Delphi
when they have been insane
have conferred many blessings on Greece,
but few or none when they were prudent.
Also the Sibyl and others with prophetic inspiration
have foretold events and guided many to success.
The psychic or manic arts have been connected
with psychosis or mania for this reason.
The ancients attested that the prophecy of inspiration
is superior to omen interpretation
just as insanity from the gods
is superior to sanity, which comes from humans.
Secondly, when disease or troubles have come
to certain families through an old guilt,
insanity and prophecy found a release for them
by means of purifications and prayers.
Thirdly, a mad inspiration from the Muses
may grab a tender soul
and awaken poetry and song,
which have educated many
about ancient heroic deeds;
but whoever tries the doors of the Muses
without a little madness fails to inspire.

These and many more are examples of how
insanity from the gods has produced fine works,
so that we're not afraid
nor should we be troubled
by the argument that
a prudent friend is preferable.
But they must show that
love is not sent from heaven
for the benefit of the lover and the beloved
before we'll give them the prize of victory.
But we have to prove the opposite,
that madness is given by the gods
for great happiness;
and though our proof
won't be believed by the clever,
it will be trusted by the wise.
First we must understand the truth
about the divine and human nature of the soul,
its experiences and actions.
Here is the beginning of the proof:

Every soul is immortal.
For the ever-moving is immortal,
but that which moves another
and is moved by another
in having an end to movement,
has an end to life.
Now only does what moves itself,
since it doesn't leave itself,
never stop moving,
but this is also the source
and origin of movement
for the other things which move;
and it is the origin of the uncreated.
For every created thing
must be created out of the origin,
and it is not created out of anything;
for if the origin were created out of something,
this could not have been created out of the origin.
Since it is uncreated,
it must also be indestructible.
For with the origin destroyed,
it could never be created from anything
nor anything else from it,
since all things must be created from the origin.
Thus what moves itself is the origin of movement.
And this can neither be destroyed nor created,
or all of heaven and creation would collapse
and never again
could movement from them be created.
Having said that the immortal is self-moving,
whoever says this is the essence of the soul
will not be disgraced.
For every body,
which is moved externally is soulless,
while what is moved internally by itself is ensouled,
as this is the nature of the soul;
but if this is so,
that what moves itself is nothing else but the soul,
then the soul must be uncreated and immortal.

So that's enough about the immortality of the soul;
but about her form the following must be said:
This could only be done
by a god in a long discourse,
but a human could tell
more briefly what she's like.
So let's compare her to the nature of
a pair of winged horses and a charioteer.
The horses and charioteers of the gods are all good,
but the others are mixed.
The charioteer ruling our pair
has one horse that is fine and good
and one that is the opposite;
this makes our driving hard and difficult.
So let's try to say why a living being
is called both mortal and immortal.
Every soul takes care of all unsouled things
and traverses all of heaven in one form or another.
When perfect and well feathered
she ascends and manages the whole world;
but having shed her wings she falls down
until she takes hold of something solid
and settles down, taking on an earthly body,
which seems to move itself by its own power;
together it's called a living being,
combining soul and body, and is labeled mortal.
It's not immortal by any reasonable argument,
but not having seen nor adequately understood God
we imagine some immortal living being,
having both soul and body united for all time.
But let that be as God likes it.
We need to consider the reason why
the soul loses her wings.

The natural power of the wing is to lift up
and carry the heavy to where the gods live,
and it's more divine than any other part of the body.
The divine is beautiful, wise, good, and so forth;
by these the soul's wings are nourished and grow,
but by the opposite evils
they're wasted and destroyed.
Now the great leader in heaven, Zeus,
driving a winged chariot, goes first,
ordering and taking care of everything.
He is followed by gods
and spirits in eleven companies;
for Hestia alone stays home,
and the rest of the twelve ruling gods
lead each group.
The blessed gods and goddesses
go about their work,
and whoever wants to
and is able to may follow them,
for there is no jealousy in the divine chorus.
When they go to a banquet and a festival,
they climb up a steep ascent
to the top of the heavens,
and the well matched horses
of the gods advance easily;
but others have problems,
for the bad horse weighs down
toward the earth the chariot of the charioteer
whose horse is not well trained.
This is the hardest pain
and struggle for the soul.
The ones who are called immortal reach the top,
go outside, and stand on the back of heaven
where they go around to see
what is beyond heaven.

But the region above heaven has never been
worthily sung by the poets,
nor will it ever be.
For I dare to speak the truth,
especially when speaking about truth.
For the colorless and formless
and intangible essence,
about which all true knowledge is concerned,
is seen only by the intelligence,
pilot of the soul.
So the divine intelligence of every soul
nurtured on understanding
and untouched knowledge,
capable of receiving what is proper for it,
loves watching for a while and seeing the truth,
and she enjoys being nourished by it
until the cycle brings her round to the same place.
In the circuit she observes justice, prudence,
and knowledge, which is not the knowledge
which we now associate
with things that begin and end,
but it is the knowledge of what being really is;
and she sees and partakes of other realities,
and going again inside heaven she goes home.
Then the charioteer putting the horses in the stall
feeds them ambrosia and nectar.

Such is the life of the gods;
but of the other souls,
the best follow after a god
and being most like that,
raise the charioteer's head
up into the higher region
and go round the cycle,
upset by the horses
and hardly observing the realities;
others rise and then fall and with violent horses
some things are seen, but others are not.
Others follow, striving to go up, but they cannot;
but they go round below,
colliding and trampling on each other,
trying to surpass the others.
So in the confusion and sweat of competition,
many are maimed,
and wings are broken from bad driving;
and all after much pain
go away not having seen reality,
and having gone they are nourished by opinion.
The reason for the effort to see the plain of truth
is that the best pasture for the soul is there,
and the wings which lift the soul
are nourished by it.
The following is inevitably ordained:
the soul which follows God
and observes any truth
is free of harm until the next period,
and if she can always attain this,
is always unharmed.
But when unable to follow, she doesn't see
and by chance is filled
with forgetfulness and wrong,
becoming heavy she loses her wings
and falls to earth;
then the law is that she shall not be implanted
into a beastly nature in the first birth,
but, having seen the most, into birth as a man
who is a philosopher, artist, musician or lover,
and second into a lawful king or great ruler,
third into a politician, manager or financier,
fourth into an athlete or trainer of the body,
fifth is a prophetic life or as a priest,
sixth a poet or one adapted to imitating,
seventh a craftsman or farmer,
eighth a sophist or demagogue, ninth a tyrant.

Now in all these incarnations
whoever lives justly obtains a better fate,
but the unjust obtain a worse fate.
For each soul returns in ten thousand years,
for one does not become winged before such time,
except for the honest philosopher
or that one's lover;
if one has chosen such a life
for three consecutive periods of a thousand years,
one may become winged after three thousand years.
But the others, when they've finished the first life,
are judged, and some go below the earth
to a place of correction to pay what is just;
and some lifted into a region of heaven by justice
lead a life worthy of their life in human form.
After a thousand years both come
to the allotment and choice of a second life,
each choosing whatever they wish;
there the human soul
may pass into the life of a beast,
and a human may go
from a beast back into a human.
But one who has never seen the truth
will not enter into this human form.
For a human must understand
the meaning of a concept
formed out of many perceptions by reason;
this is the recollection of those things,
which the soul saw traveling with God,
having seen beyond what we now say is
and lifted one's head into what really is.
So only the philosopher's understanding is winged;
and this is just,
because that one is always
according to the ability of memory
communing with God,
which makes one divine.
Now the humans who use such memories correctly,
always being initiated into perfect mysteries,
alone become really perfect;
but having stood aside
from human concerns with God,
they are reprimanded by many
as being disturbed,
but many forget they are inspired.

So far the whole argument has been
about the fourth kind of insanity,
when seeing beauty,
one is reminded of the true,
becomes winged and wants to fly up,
but cannot
and, like a bird looking up,
neglects what is below,
and for this reason is thought insane.
This is the best of all inspirations,
and the one sharing in this highest insanity
is the one who loves beauty
and is called a lover.
For as was said,
every human soul by nature
has seen the realities,
or she would not have entered
into a living person,
but it's not easy for all to remember that;
either the vision then was too quick,
or after falling
they happened to be with the unjust
and forgot the holy vision they had once seen.
Few are left who retain an adequate memory;
but these, when they see anything similar,
are amazed and are no longer themselves;
and they are ignorant of the experience,
because they don't clearly perceive it.
In the similarities here there is no light
in justice and prudence
and other ideas valued by souls,
but because of dim organs hardly can a few
even guess at the resemblances they see;
but then to see beauty was bright,
when with the happy chorus
the blessed sight was seen,
we following with Zeus,
and others with other gods,
were initiated into the vision of the mysteries
which is said to be ordained most blessed,
which we celebrated with our whole beings
and without experiencing the evils
which were awaiting us at a later time,
but whole and simple
and still and happy apparitions
we were both closed
and exalted by the pure sound,
being pure and not yet sealed in this thing,
which now we call the body carrying us around,
having been imprisoned
in the manner of an oyster.
So I've given thanks to memory
in a long speech now
because of the yearning for that time.
Beauty, as we said, shone with those realities,
and coming down here
it is our clearest perception.
For sight is the sharpest of our physical senses,
as thoughtfulness is not seen---
for it would arouse awful love,
if a clear image of it were available to sight---
and the others would be loved as well;
but beauty alone has this destiny,
as it is most apparent and loveliest.
So whoever is not a new initiate
or has been corrupted
is not carried quickly from here
to the sight of beauty itself there;
seeing its namesake here,
it's not worshipped directly,
but giving over to pleasure
customary to the four-footed
they attempt to mount and beget children,
and in pursuing pleasure by this intercourse
they're not afraid nor ashamed to violate nature.
But whoever is just initiated,
having seen much then,
when they see a divine face or a beautiful body,
first they shudder and that awe comes over them,
then they gaze as though worshipping a god;
and if not afraid of being thought seriously insane,
they'd sacrifice to the youths as to an idol or a god.
While they're looking, out of the shuddering
comes a change with sweat and unexpected heat;
for receiving the beauty emanating through the eyes
they are warmed, the wing is moistened,
and being warmed the roots of the wings melt,
which before had been closed and rigid
and prevented the feathers from sprouting;
now they become soft and begin to grow
as the nourishment flows into them
over the whole form of the soul;
for before it had been all feathered.

So in this process the whole throbs and palpitates,
and as cutting teeth is irritating to the gums
when the teeth of children begin to grow,
so the soul suffers
when the feathers begin to grow;
and they throb and itch as the wings grow.
So when looking at the beauty of the youths
and receiving the motion flowing from there,
which because of this is called emotion,
they are refreshed and warmed,
and recovering from the pain they're glad.
But when one is separated and it dries,
the mouths of the passages
in which the feathers grow
dry and close,
shutting the sprouting feathers inside
where the emotion throbs the arteries,
and each sprout pricks its passage
so that the soul is stung all around and in pain;
but again remembering the beautiful one,
they're glad.
From both sensations
they feel bothered and strange,
and confused they rage in madness
so that at night they can't sleep,
and in the day time they're restless.
But filled with longing
they go wherever they may see the beautiful one;
and having seen this one
and bathed in the emotion,
the sealed passages are opened again,
the stings and pains are eased,
and this pleasure is the sweetest in the present.
So they will not be left alone by the beautiful one,
whom they admire above all others,
forgetting even mother, brothers and all friends,
not minding losing property through neglect,
despising customs which they had embellished,
ready to be a slave they'll sleep anywhere
as long as it is near the beloved;
for they not only worship the beauty
but find only there a healer for their great pains.
This experience, fair youth to whom I speak,
humans call Love,
but hearing what the gods call it,
because of your youth you will laugh.
But two quotes in the apocryphal Homer say that
the mortals refer to Love as winged
and the immortals as the winged one,
because the wings must be grown.
You may believe this is possible or not,
nevertheless in reality it happens to be
the cause and the experience of lovers.

So those following Zeus who are taken by Love
can bear a heavier load of the winged.
But those attending and following Aries,
when they are captured by Love
and think they have been wronged by the beloved,
become murderous and are ready
to sacrifice both themselves and the youths.
And so it is with the followers of each god,
they live honoring and imitating that god
as best they can as long as they are uncorrupted
and they are living their first life on earth,
and they behave in this manner
before the beloved and others.
Each one selects the beloved from the beautiful
according to the character of the god,
and they fashion and adorn them like an image
as though honoring and worshipping a god.
Those with Zeus seek a soul to love like Zeus;
so they look for a philosophical and leading nature,
and when they find their beloved,
they do everything they can to make them this way.
If they have not done this before,
they learn from anyone who can teach them;
and they find out from within themselves very well,
because they were compelled to look at the god;
and from this memory they are inspired
and receive those characteristics and habits,
as much as a human can share in the divine.
And attributing this to the beloved
they love that one even more,
and drawing from Zeus, like the mystics,
they pour it out on the beloved
to make that one as much like their god as possible.
Those who follow Hera seek a royal nature,
and finding one they do everything in this way.
Thus also those with Apollo and each of the gods
go and seek youths whose natures are like the god,
and when they have won them,
they imitate the god
and by persuasion and education lead the beloveds
to the behavior and nature of the god,
as much as each of them can,
nor are they jealous nor mean to the youths,
but try in every way to make them
like themselves and the god they honor.
So the desire and initiation of true lovers,
if they accomplish what they desire
in the way I said,
thus are beautiful and happy
when friendship arises through insane love,
if one is grabbed;
and the one grabbed is caught
in the following manner:

In the beginning of this story
we divided each soul into three,
two in the form of horses
and the third a charioteer.
Of the horses we said one is good
and the other not,
but we did not define the virtue of the good
nor the evil of the bad;
now let us do so.
The one standing on the finer side has correct form,
a high neck, a hooked nose, is white with dark eyes,
loves honor with prudence and modesty,
and is a friend of true glory, needing no whip
but only the commanding word of the driver.
The other is crooked, heavy, badly put together,
with a short neck, flat face, dark color,
and gray eyes that are bloodshot,
is a friend of violence and pride,
is shaggy-eared and deaf,
hardly yielding to whip and spurs.
So when the driver sees the beloved
and the sensation warms the whole soul
with the tickling and pricking of yearning,
the obedient horse always restrained by modesty
refrains from leaping on the beloved;
but the other no longer yielding
to the spurs and whippings of the driver
springs forward by force
causing all kinds of trouble
for the companion and the driver
and compelling them to go to the youth
and bring back the memory of sexual favors.
At first they pull back and refuse to be forced
to do terrible and forbidden things;
but finally when nothing can end the evil,
they go along and agree to do his bidding.
And they come to the same youth
whose form and appearance shines like lightning.

While looking, the driver's memory returns
to the nature of beauty, and again he sees it
with prudence on an undefiled pedestal.
Seeing, he's afraid and falls back in adoration,
and falling back he's compelled to pull the reins back
so strongly as to bring both horses to their haunches,
one willingly because he does not oppose,
but the insolent one very unwillingly.
As they go away, one horse in shame and wonder
wets the whole soul with perspiration,
but the other after recovering
from the pain of the fall
while still out of breath
breaks out in angry reproaches,
condemning the driver and his companion
for their fear and lack of manhood
in deserting their position and their agreement;
and again urging them
who are not willing to go forward
he reluctantly agrees to postpone it to another time.
When the agreed upon time comes,
they pretend to have forgotten it,
but he reminds them;
struggling, neighing, and pulling he compels them
to go forward to the youth for these reasons,
and when they are near,
with head down, tail held out,
the bit in his teeth, he pulls shamelessly.
The driver has the same experience,
but even worse,
as he falls back like a racer at the starting line,
pulls back on the bit
in the mouth of the unruly horse,
spattering his abusive tongue with blood
and forcing him down to the ground with much pain.
After experiencing this many times,
the bad horse ceases being violent,
and tamed, follows the direction of the driver;
and when he sees the beauty,
he is overcome by fear,
so that from then on the soul of the lover
follows the youth in reverence and awe.

So the beloved receives every service like a god
from one who is not pretending but truly in love,
and youths are naturally friendly to the one serving,
although earlier those at school
may have misled them by implying
that it is shameful to have a lover,
and therefore the youth may have put off the lover;
but as time goes on the youth matures
and is necessarily led to go into intercourse.
For it has been ordained that
the bad are never friends with the bad,
nor may the good not be friends with the good.
Having accepted and received intercourse,
being near the lover's good will amazes the beloved,
who discovers that all other friends are nothing
in comparison to the inspired friend.
As this intimacy continues with the touching
when naked and in their intercourse,
then the fountain of the stream, which Zeus
when he was in love with Ganymede called emotion,
pours into the lover,
some into him and some outside;
and as the wind echoes and rebounds
from smooth and hard surfaces
back where it came from,
so the stream of beauty goes back
into the beautiful one through the eyes,
the natural opening to the soul,
and it excites the passages of the wings,
waters them and makes the feathers grow
and fills the soul of the beloved with love.
So being in love and confused about it,
the youth doesn't understand the situation
and has no explanation for it,
like one who has caught
an eye disease from another,
having forgotten that the lover is a mirror
in which one may see oneself.
When the lover is present, pain ceases;
but when the lover is absent,
the youth is filled with yearning inspired by love;
and its image of requited love lives within,
but the youth believes it to be friendship, not love.
Like the lover, though less strongly,
the youth desires to see the lover,
to touch him, kiss him, and lie down by him,
and soon they do these things.
So as they lie together, the lover's unruly horse
has something to say to the driver about
having earned a little enjoyment for his many pains;
while the youth's unruly horse has nothing to say,
but excited and confused
embraces and kisses the lover,
caressing him with very much kindness.
When they lie together,
the youth would not refuse
the lover any favor, if he happened to ask;
but the companion horse along with the driver
opposes these things with modesty and reason.

So if the better qualities of the understanding
leading toward an orderly
and philosophical life win,
they spend a blessed and harmonious life here,
controlling themselves and being decent,
having subjected what is evil in the soul,
while liberating what is virtuous;
and when they die they are light and winged
in having won one of the three truly Olympic contests,
nor can human wisdom nor divine insanity
confer a greater good on a person.
But if they live more vulgarly and unphilosophically,
and accustomed to the love of honor,
probably sometime when they are drunk or careless,
the two unruly horses catch the souls off their guard
and bringing them together take the opportunity
to accomplish what many consider blissful;
and once accomplished they continue to enjoy it,
though rarely, because what they are doing
is not approved by the whole understanding.
So they are friends, but less so than the others,
both during their love and afterwards,
believing they have given each other great trust,
which they could not break and become enemies.
In the end, they go out of the body unwinged,
but they have started to become feathered
so that the insane love
brings them no small reward;
for the law is
once they've begun the heavenly journey
they no longer go
on the dark journey under the earth,
but live happily in light journeying with each other;
and thanks to their love they receive similar wings.

Such things as these, dear youth,
will the divine friendship of the lover
confer on you;
but from a relationship with one not in love,
watered down by deathly prudence,
with deathly and miserly regulation,
will be implanted in the soul of the friend
an unfree virtue praised by the multitudes;
wandering around the earth for nine thousand years
the soul is left under the earth mindless.
This beautiful recantation, dear Love, was for you,
and the best we could give and put out,
but the poetic expressions were compelled
because Phaedrus requested them.
Please pardon the previous and have mercy,
be kind and gentle on my art of love,
which you gave,
don't take it away
and maim me because of anger,
but grant that even more than now
I may be honored by the beautiful.
If before, Phaedrus and I
said anything unkind to you,
Lysias, the father of the argument, is responsible;
stop such arguments and turn him to philosophy,
like his brother Polemarchus,
so that his lover here will no longer
play a double game, as he does now,
but will make his life over
simply to love and philosophical arguments.

I join in your prayer, Socrates,
if these are best for us, that they may occur.
While listening I've been amazed
that this speech is so much better than the first.
I'm afraid Lysias will have a tough time
if he wants to compete with it.
In fact recently a politician was abusing him
and using the term "speechwriter" as derogatory.

But if politicians make speeches themselves,
they are also aspiring to be great speechwriters.
Do you think they would criticize Lysias for this?

Not likely, since they would be criticizing
what they themselves want to be.

Then is it clear to all
that the writing of speeches
is not in and of itself shameful?

Of course.

But the shame, I think,
is not in speaking or writing,
but in not doing so well, but rather badly.


What then is the method of writing well?
Shall we inquire into this question?

What else is there to live for but such pleasures?
Surely not for the sake of physical pleasures,
which can't be enjoyed without previous pain.

There seems to be leisure time.
The crickets here never seem to stop conversing,
and since they are inspired by the Muses
why should we be mentally lazy and doze off?

We shouldn't; so let's talk.

Then just now we proposed examining
the theory of good speaking and writing.


For a speech to be good,
must not the speaker understand
the truth about the subject matter?

On that, Socrates, I've heard that
an orator doesn't need to learn what is really just,
but only what the people who are to judge believe,
not what is really fine and good,
but what seems so,
for they are persuaded not by truth but by this.

Let's not reject what the wise say, Phaedrus,
without first examining it to see if they're right.

You speak correctly.

Let's examine it this way.


If I were to convince you
to buy a horse to fight against invaders,
and both of us were ignorant of what a horse is;
yet I happened to know
that Phaedrus thinks a horse
is a tame animal with long ears---

That would be ridiculous, Socrates.

But if I seriously convinced you,
putting together an argument in praise of the ass,
calling it a horse and saying that it is
a most valuable possession domestically and in battle,
that they can carry baggage and are very useful---

That would be completely ridiculous.

But isn't it better to be ridiculous
than to be clever and an enemy?


So when an orator ignorant of good and bad
tries to persuade the state, which is also ignorant,
not by passing off an ass as a horse,
but by passing off evil as good,
and having studied the beliefs of the people
convinces them to do evil instead of good,
what kind of a harvest do you think
this oratory will reap from the seed that was sown?

Certainly not a suitable one.

So do you think this is the oratory worth learning?

Not for me.

But how are we to discover
an oratory based on truth?

Let's examine the question ourselves.

Come then, noble creatures
and convince dear Phaedrus
that unless he concentrates on philosophy,
he'll never be able to speak well on anything.
Now let Phaedrus answer.

You ask.

Is not rhetoric in its entirety an art
which leads souls with words,
not only in the lawcourts,
but also in other public assemblies
and in private gatherings as well?

No, by Zeus;
I've only heard of it being used
in lawsuits, trials, and political assemblies.

Don't parties in a lawsuit argue against each other?

They do.

About what is just and unjust?


And those with the art of speaking
can make the same things appear
to the same people just at one time
and, if they wish, at another time unjust?


And in politics they make the same things
seem good at one time,
and the opposite at another?

They do.

So did you know that Zeno has the art
of making things appear to his listeners as
alike and unlike, one and many,
stationary and moving?

Quite so.

Then the art of contention
is not limited to courts and assemblies,
but it is the art by which
everything can be shown to be like anything else,
and which can bring to light
the likenesses disguised by others.

What do you mean?

Does deception more easily occur
when the differences are large or small?

When small.

So a gradual transition
from one thing to its opposite
will be more likely to escape detection
than when going to the opposite by great jumps.

Of course.

Then the speaker must not be deceived
and should know accurately what is most similar.


So one must know the truth about things
in order to avoid this deception.


Now isn't it clear that we agree about some things
but are in doubt about others?

I think I understand, but please make it clearer.

When someone speaks of iron or silver,
we all understand the same thing, don't we?


But if someone mentions justice or goodness,
then don't we often disagree with each other?


So in which can rhetoric deceive more easily?

Clearly among the questionable things.

And which kind is Love?
Is it questionable or not?

Questionable, or you would not have let me say
that the lover can harm the beloved
and then say the lover is the greatest blessing.

Now in my ecstasy did I remember
to define Love at the beginning of the speech?

Yes by Zeus, and very thoroughly.

Then also we can divide things into classes,
such as the four divisions of divine insanity,
ascribing them to four gods, namely
prophecy inspired by Apollo,
mysteries by Dionysus,
poetry by the Muses,
and love by Aphrodite and Eros,
which we said was the best.
So this ability to divide and conceptualize,
as with the two horses and the charioteer,
is useful in understanding reality;
and I call this art dialectic.
I think also in oratory,
we must understand those
to whom we are speaking,
if we are to convince them;
just as a physician
understands the patient's body,
the orator must understand the soul.

How does the orator apply these?

First the nature of the soul must be understood,
second, what she does and experiences and how,
and third, the speeches will be adapted
so as to be able to persuade different souls.

All this seems well said, Socrates,
if one could only do it.

We've talked about speaking,
but shouldn't we now consider writing?


I've heard something from the ancients,
but only they know if it's true.

Tell me what you heard.

I heard in Egypt
there is an ancient god named Thoth
who invented numbers and arithmetic
and geometry and astronomy,
even checkers and dice
and, most important of all, writing.
The king of all Egypt then was the god Thamus,
and he lived in the great city of the upper region,
which the Greeks call the Egyptian Thebes,
and the god they call Amen.
Thoth brought his inventions to him
so they could be distributed to other Egyptians.
But he asked what benefit each had,
and when they came to writing, Thoth said,
"King, this will make the Egyptians wiser,
and it will improve their memories."

But he said, "Most skilled Thoth,
you may be able to invent something,
but judging the benefit or harm to those using it
belongs to someone else not prejudiced about it.
For this invention of writing
will cause forgetfulness
in the minds of those learning how to use it,
because they will no longer practice their memory.
Their trust in writing characters outside themselves
will discourage the use of their own memory inside.
This is not an aid to memory but to recollection.
You seem to offer students wisdom,
but it's not true;
for they'll read much without instruction
and will seem to know much,
when in reality they are mostly ignorant,
and they'll be hard to get along with,
since those seeming wise may oppose the wise.

Socrates, it's easy for you to make up stories
from Egypt or anywhere else you want.

Is it truth that counts most,
or is it who speaks it
and where it comes from?

You criticize me correctly,
and what the Theban says
about writing seems correct.

For writing like painting is not alive
and can't use intelligence to answer questions.
Surely we need to question if we are to become wiser,
for the term "wise" seems too great for me,
and it is fitting only for God alone.
Thus for those of us who love and seek wisdom
the more modest and fitting term is "philosopher."

That is appropriate.

And whoever does no better than put words together
we could call a poet or writer.

Of course.

Then will you tell this to your friend, Lysias?

It will be done;
but let's go now, Socrates,
since the stifling heat has become milder.

But shouldn't we pray to the spirits here first?

Of course.

Dear Pan and the other gods here,
grant that I may be beautiful inside,
and may what I have be friendly to the inner.
May I consider the wise wealthy,
and may I have as much gold
as one prudent can bear.
Do we need anything else, Phaedrus?

No, but let me share the prayer,
for friends have things in common.

That's fine; so let's go now.

Socrates and Phaedrus stand up and begin to walk through the stream back the way they came.


Copyright 1996, 2008 by Sanderson Beck

SOCRATES: A Series of Philosophical Plays is now published as a book. For ordering information, please click here.

"Know Yourself"
The Sophists
Prudence and Courage
The Lover
The Banquet
The Good
The Trial
Prison and Death

Introduction to Socrates and Plato
CRITO by Plato
PHAEDO by Plato

The Socratic Problem
Life of Socrates
Attitudes of Socrates
How Socrates Taught
What Socrates Taught
Did Socrates Practice It?
Influence of Socrates

BECK index