Part 2 out of 3
Now, said Socrates, I will analyze one of the two pairs of opposites which
I have mentioned to you, and also its intermediate processes, and you shall
analyze the other to me. One of them I term sleep, the other waking. The
state of sleep is opposed to the state of waking, and out of sleeping
waking is generated, and out of waking, sleeping; and the process of
generation is in the one case falling asleep, and in the other waking up.
Do you agree?
I entirely agree.
Then, suppose that you analyze life and death to me in the same manner. Is
not death opposed to life?
And they are generated one from the other?
What is generated from the living?
And what from the dead?
I can only say in answer--the living.
Then the living, whether things or persons, Cebes, are generated from the
That is clear, he replied.
Then the inference is that our souls exist in the world below?
That is true.
And one of the two processes or generations is visible--for surely the act
of dying is visible?
Surely, he said.
What then is to be the result? Shall we exclude the opposite process? And
shall we suppose nature to walk on one leg only? Must we not rather assign
to death some corresponding process of generation?
Certainly, he replied.
And what is that process?
Return to life.
And return to life, if there be such a thing, is the birth of the dead into
the world of the living?
Then here is a new way by which we arrive at the conclusion that the living
come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and this, if
true, affords a most certain proof that the souls of the dead exist in some
place out of which they come again.
Yes, Socrates, he said; the conclusion seems to flow necessarily out of our
And that these admissions were not unfair, Cebes, he said, may be shown, I
think, as follows: If generation were in a straight line only, and there
were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return of elements
into their opposites, then you know that all things would at last have the
same form and pass into the same state, and there would be no more
generation of them.
What do you mean? he said.
A simple thing enough, which I will illustrate by the case of sleep, he
replied. You know that if there were no alternation of sleeping and
waking, the tale of the sleeping Endymion would in the end have no meaning,
because all other things would be asleep, too, and he would not be
distinguishable from the rest. Or if there were composition only, and no
division of substances, then the chaos of Anaxagoras would come again. And
in like manner, my dear Cebes, if all things which partook of life were to
die, and after they were dead remained in the form of death, and did not
come to life again, all would at last die, and nothing would be alive--what
other result could there be? For if the living spring from any other
things, and they too die, must not all things at last be swallowed up in
death? (But compare Republic.)
There is no escape, Socrates, said Cebes; and to me your argument seems to
be absolutely true.
Yes, he said, Cebes, it is and must be so, in my opinion; and we have not
been deluded in making these admissions; but I am confident that there
truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the
dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good
souls have a better portion than the evil.
Cebes added: Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply
recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we
have learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible
unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man;
here then is another proof of the soul's immortality.
But tell me, Cebes, said Simmias, interposing, what arguments are urged in
favour of this doctrine of recollection. I am not very sure at the moment
that I remember them.
One excellent proof, said Cebes, is afforded by questions. If you put a
question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer of himself,
but how could he do this unless there were knowledge and right reason
already in him? And this is most clearly shown when he is taken to a
diagram or to anything of that sort. (Compare Meno.)
But if, said Socrates, you are still incredulous, Simmias, I would ask you
whether you may not agree with me when you look at the matter in another
way;--I mean, if you are still incredulous as to whether knowledge is
Incredulous, I am not, said Simmias; but I want to have this doctrine of
recollection brought to my own recollection, and, from what Cebes has said,
I am beginning to recollect and be convinced; but I should still like to
hear what you were going to say.
This is what I would say, he replied:--We should agree, if I am not
mistaken, that what a man recollects he must have known at some previous
And what is the nature of this knowledge or recollection? I mean to ask,
Whether a person who, having seen or heard or in any way perceived
anything, knows not only that, but has a conception of something else which
is the subject, not of the same but of some other kind of knowledge, may
not be fairly said to recollect that of which he has the conception?
What do you mean?
I mean what I may illustrate by the following instance:--The knowledge of a
lyre is not the same as the knowledge of a man?
And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre, or a
garment, or anything else which the beloved has been in the habit of using?
Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind's eye an image of the
youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection. In like manner
any one who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and there are endless examples
of the same thing.
Endless, indeed, replied Simmias.
And recollection is most commonly a process of recovering that which has
been already forgotten through time and inattention.
Very true, he said.
Well; and may you not also from seeing the picture of a horse or a lyre
remember a man? and from the picture of Simmias, you may be led to remember
Or you may also be led to the recollection of Simmias himself?
And in all these cases, the recollection may be derived from things either
like or unlike?
It may be.
And when the recollection is derived from like things, then another
consideration is sure to arise, which is--whether the likeness in any
degree falls short or not of that which is recollected?
Very true, he said.
And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such a thing
as equality, not of one piece of wood or stone with another, but that, over
and above this, there is absolute equality? Shall we say so?
Say so, yes, replied Simmias, and swear to it, with all the confidence in
And do we know the nature of this absolute essence?
To be sure, he said.
And whence did we obtain our knowledge? Did we not see equalities of
material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather from them
the idea of an equality which is different from them? For you will
acknowledge that there is a difference. Or look at the matter in another
way:--Do not the same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and
at another time unequal?
That is certain.
But are real equals ever unequal? or is the idea of equality the same as of
Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of equality?
I should say, clearly not, Socrates.
And yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality,
you conceived and attained that idea?
Very true, he said.
Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
But that makes no difference; whenever from seeing one thing you conceived
another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an act of
But what would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other
material equals? and what is the impression produced by them? Are they
equals in the same sense in which absolute equality is equal? or do they
fall short of this perfect equality in a measure?
Yes, he said, in a very great measure too.
And must we not allow, that when I or any one, looking at any object,
observes that the thing which he sees aims at being some other thing, but
falls short of, and cannot be, that other thing, but is inferior, he who
makes this observation must have had a previous knowledge of that to which
the other, although similar, was inferior?
And has not this been our own case in the matter of equals and of absolute
Then we must have known equality previously to the time when we first saw
the material equals, and reflected that all these apparent equals strive to
attain absolute equality, but fall short of it?
And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known, and
can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of some other
of the senses, which are all alike in this respect?
Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is the same
as the other.
From the senses then is derived the knowledge that all sensible things aim
at an absolute equality of which they fall short?
Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must have
had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred to that
standard the equals which are derived from the senses?--for to that they
all aspire, and of that they fall short.
No other inference can be drawn from the previous statements.
And did we not see and hear and have the use of our other senses as soon as
we were born?
Then we must have acquired the knowledge of equality at some previous time?
That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born having
the use of it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of
birth not only the equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas;
for we are not speaking only of equality, but of beauty, goodness, justice,
holiness, and of all which we stamp with the name of essence in the
dialectical process, both when we ask and when we answer questions. Of all
this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?
But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten what in each case we
acquired, then we must always have come into life having knowledge, and
shall always continue to know as long as life lasts--for knowing is the
acquiring and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting,
Simmias, just the losing of knowledge?
Quite true, Socrates.
But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us at
birth, and if afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered what we
previously knew, will not the process which we call learning be a
recovering of the knowledge which is natural to us, and may not this be
rightly termed recollection?
So much is clear--that when we perceive something, either by the help of
sight, or hearing, or some other sense, from that perception we are able to
obtain a notion of some other thing like or unlike which is associated with
it but has been forgotten. Whence, as I was saying, one of two
alternatives follows:--either we had this knowledge at birth, and continued
to know through life; or, after birth, those who are said to learn only
remember, and learning is simply recollection.
Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
And which alternative, Simmias, do you prefer? Had we the knowledge at our
birth, or did we recollect the things which we knew previously to our
I cannot decide at the moment.
At any rate you can decide whether he who has knowledge will or will not be
able to render an account of his knowledge? What do you say?
Certainly, he will.
But do you think that every man is able to give an account of these very
matters about which we are speaking?
Would that they could, Socrates, but I rather fear that to-morrow, at this
time, there will no longer be any one alive who is able to give an account
of them such as ought to be given.
Then you are not of opinion, Simmias, that all men know these things?
They are in process of recollecting that which they learned before?
But when did our souls acquire this knowledge?--not since we were born as
And therefore, previously?
Then, Simmias, our souls must also have existed without bodies before they
were in the form of man, and must have had intelligence.
Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions are given us at the
very moment of birth; for this is the only time which remains.
Yes, my friend, but if so, when do we lose them? for they are not in us
when we are born--that is admitted. Do we lose them at the moment of
receiving them, or if not at what other time?
No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
Then may we not say, Simmias, that if, as we are always repeating, there is
an absolute beauty, and goodness, and an absolute essence of all things;
and if to this, which is now discovered to have existed in our former
state, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them, finding
these ideas to be pre-existent and our inborn possession--then our souls
must have had a prior existence, but if not, there would be no force in the
argument? There is the same proof that these ideas must have existed
before we were born, as that our souls existed before we were born; and if
not the ideas, then not the souls.
Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity
for the one as for the other; and the argument retreats successfully to the
position that the existence of the soul before birth cannot be separated
from the existence of the essence of which you speak. For there is nothing
which to my mind is so patent as that beauty, goodness, and the other
notions of which you were just now speaking, have a most real and absolute
existence; and I am satisfied with the proof.
Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
I think, said Simmias, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the most
incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is sufficiently convinced of
the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul will
continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction. I cannot
get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring--the
feeling that when the man dies the soul will be dispersed, and that this
may be the extinction of her. For admitting that she may have been born
elsewhere, and framed out of other elements, and was in existence before
entering the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may
she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; about half of what was required has been
proven; to wit, that our souls existed before we were born:--that the soul
will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half of which
the proof is still wanting, and has to be supplied; when that is given the
demonstration will be complete.
But that proof, Simmias and Cebes, has been already given, said Socrates,
if you put the two arguments together--I mean this and the former one, in
which we admitted that everything living is born of the dead. For if the
soul exists before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born
only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist,
since she has to be born again?--Surely the proof which you desire has been
already furnished. Still I suspect that you and Simmias would be glad to
probe the argument further. Like children, you are haunted with a fear
that when the soul leaves the body, the wind may really blow her away and
scatter her; especially if a man should happen to die in a great storm and
not when the sky is calm.
Cebes answered with a smile: Then, Socrates, you must argue us out of our
fears--and yet, strictly speaking, they are not our fears, but there is a
child within us to whom death is a sort of hobgoblin; him too we must
persuade not to be afraid when he is alone in the dark.
Socrates said: Let the voice of the charmer be applied daily until you
have charmed away the fear.
And where shall we find a good charmer of our fears, Socrates, when you are
Hellas, he replied, is a large place, Cebes, and has many good men, and
there are barbarous races not a few: seek for him among them all, far and
wide, sparing neither pains nor money; for there is no better way of
spending your money. And you must seek among yourselves too; for you will
not find others better able to make the search.
The search, replied Cebes, shall certainly be made. And now, if you
please, let us return to the point of the argument at which we digressed.
By all means, replied Socrates; what else should I please?
Must we not, said Socrates, ask ourselves what that is which, as we
imagine, is liable to be scattered, and about which we fear? and what again
is that about which we have no fear? And then we may proceed further to
enquire whether that which suffers dispersion is or is not of the nature of
soul--our hopes and fears as to our own souls will turn upon the answers to
Very true, he said.
Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable, as
of being compounded, so also of being dissolved; but that which is
uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble.
Yes; I should imagine so, said Cebes.
And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging, whereas
the compound is always changing and never the same.
I agree, he said.
Then now let us return to the previous discussion. Is that idea or
essence, which in the dialectical process we define as essence or true
existence--whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else--are these
essences, I say, liable at times to some degree of change? or are they each
of them always what they are, having the same simple self-existent and
unchanging forms, not admitting of variation at all, or in any way, or at
They must be always the same, Socrates, replied Cebes.
And what would you say of the many beautiful--whether men or horses or
garments or any other things which are named by the same names and may be
called equal or beautiful,--are they all unchanging and the same always, or
quite the reverse? May they not rather be described as almost always
changing and hardly ever the same, either with themselves or with one
The latter, replied Cebes; they are always in a state of change.
And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but the
unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind--they are invisible
and are not seen?
That is very true, he said.
Well, then, added Socrates, let us suppose that there are two sorts of
existences--one seen, the other unseen.
Let us suppose them.
The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging?
That may be also supposed.
And, further, is not one part of us body, another part soul?
To be sure.
And to which class is the body more alike and akin?
Clearly to the seen--no one can doubt that.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Not by man, Socrates.
And what we mean by 'seen' and 'not seen' is that which is or is not
visible to the eye of man?
Yes, to the eye of man.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen?
That follows necessarily, Socrates.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body as an
instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or
hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the body
is perceiving through the senses)--were we not saying that the soul too is
then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable, and wanders and
is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a drunkard, when
she touches change?
But when returning into herself she reflects, then she passes into the
other world, the region of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and
unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when
she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her
erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And
this state of the soul is called wisdom?
That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far as may be
inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding one?
I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of every one who follows the
argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable--even the
most stupid person will not deny that.
And the body is more like the changing?
Yet once more consider the matter in another light: When the soul and the
body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and the
body to obey and serve. Now which of these two functions is akin to the
divine? and which to the mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be
that which naturally orders and rules, and the mortal to be that which is
subject and servant?
And which does the soul resemble?
The soul resembles the divine, and the body the mortal--there can be no
doubt of that, Socrates.
Then reflect, Cebes: of all which has been said is not this the
conclusion?--that the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and
immortal, and intellectual, and uniform, and indissoluble, and
unchangeable; and that the body is in the very likeness of the human, and
mortal, and unintellectual, and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable.
Can this, my dear Cebes, be denied?
But if it be true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution? and
is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
And do you further observe, that after a man is dead, the body, or visible
part of him, which is lying in the visible world, and is called a corpse,
and would naturally be dissolved and decomposed and dissipated, is not
dissolved or decomposed at once, but may remain for a for some time, nay
even for a long time, if the constitution be sound at the time of death,
and the season of the year favourable? For the body when shrunk and
embalmed, as the manner is in Egypt, may remain almost entire through
infinite ages; and even in decay, there are still some portions, such as
the bones and ligaments, which are practically indestructible:--Do you
And is it likely that the soul, which is invisible, in passing to the place
of the true Hades, which like her is invisible, and pure, and noble, and on
her way to the good and wise God, whither, if God will, my soul is also
soon to go,--that the soul, I repeat, if this be her nature and origin,
will be blown away and destroyed immediately on quitting the body, as the
many say? That can never be, my dear Simmias and Cebes. The truth rather
is, that the soul which is pure at departing and draws after her no bodily
taint, having never voluntarily during life had connection with the body,
which she is ever avoiding, herself gathered into herself;--and making such
abstraction her perpetual study--which means that she has been a true
disciple of philosophy; and therefore has in fact been always engaged in
the practice of dying? For is not philosophy the practice of death?--
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world--to the
divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she is secure of bliss
and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild
passions and all other human ills, and for ever dwells, as they say of the
initiated, in company with the gods (compare Apol.). Is not this true,
Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her
departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in
love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of
the body, until she is led to believe that the truth only exists in a
bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste, and use for the
purposes of his lusts,--the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear and
avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and
invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy;--do you suppose that
such a soul will depart pure and unalloyed?
Impossible, he replied.
She is held fast by the corporeal, which the continual association and
constant care of the body have wrought into her nature.
And this corporeal element, my friend, is heavy and weighty and earthy, and
is that element of sight by which a soul is depressed and dragged down
again into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible and of
the world below--prowling about tombs and sepulchres, near which, as they
tell us, are seen certain ghostly apparitions of souls which have not
departed pure, but are cloyed with sight and therefore visible.
(Compare Milton, Comus:--
'But when lust,
By unchaste looks, loose gestures, and foul talk,
But most by lewd and lavish act of sin,
Lets in defilement to the inward parts,
The soul grows clotted by contagion,
Imbodies, and imbrutes, till she quite lose,
The divine property of her first being.
Such are those thick and gloomy shadows damp
Oft seen in charnel vaults and sepulchres,
Lingering, and sitting by a new made grave,
As loath to leave the body that it lov'd,
And linked itself by carnal sensuality
To a degenerate and degraded state.')
That is very likely, Socrates.
Yes, that is very likely, Cebes; and these must be the souls, not of the
good, but of the evil, which are compelled to wander about such places in
payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life; and they continue
to wander until through the craving after the corporeal which never leaves
them, they are imprisoned finally in another body. And they may be
supposed to find their prisons in the same natures which they have had in
their former lives.
What natures do you mean, Socrates?
What I mean is that men who have followed after gluttony, and wantonness,
and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass into
asses and animals of that sort. What do you think?
I think such an opinion to be exceedingly probable.
And those who have chosen the portion of injustice, and tyranny, and
violence, will pass into wolves, or into hawks and kites;--whither else can
we suppose them to go?
Yes, said Cebes; with such natures, beyond question.
And there is no difficulty, he said, in assigning to all of them places
answering to their several natures and propensities?
There is not, he said.
Some are happier than others; and the happiest both in themselves and in
the place to which they go are those who have practised the civil and
social virtues which are called temperance and justice, and are acquired by
habit and attention without philosophy and mind. (Compare Republic.)
Why are they the happiest?
Because they may be expected to pass into some gentle and social kind which
is like their own, such as bees or wasps or ants, or back again into the
form of man, and just and moderate men may be supposed to spring from them.
No one who has not studied philosophy and who is not entirely pure at the
time of his departure is allowed to enter the company of the Gods, but the
lover of knowledge only. And this is the reason, Simmias and Cebes, why
the true votaries of philosophy abstain from all fleshly lusts, and hold
out against them and refuse to give themselves up to them,--not because
they fear poverty or the ruin of their families, like the lovers of money,
and the world in general; nor like the lovers of power and honour, because
they dread the dishonour or disgrace of evil deeds.
No, Socrates, that would not become them, said Cebes.
No indeed, he replied; and therefore they who have any care of their own
souls, and do not merely live moulding and fashioning the body, say
farewell to all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and
when philosophy offers them purification and release from evil, they feel
that they ought not to resist her influence, and whither she leads they
turn and follow.
What do you mean, Socrates?
I will tell you, he said. The lovers of knowledge are conscious that the
soul was simply fastened and glued to the body--until philosophy received
her, she could only view real existence through the bars of a prison, not
in and through herself; she was wallowing in the mire of every sort of
ignorance; and by reason of lust had become the principal accomplice in her
own captivity. This was her original state; and then, as I was saying, and
as the lovers of knowledge are well aware, philosophy, seeing how terrible
was her confinement, of which she was to herself the cause, received and
gently comforted her and sought to release her, pointing out that the eye
and the ear and the other senses are full of deception, and persuading her
to retire from them, and abstain from all but the necessary use of them,
and be gathered up and collected into herself, bidding her trust in herself
and her own pure apprehension of pure existence, and to mistrust whatever
comes to her through other channels and is subject to variation; for such
things are visible and tangible, but what she sees in her own nature is
intelligible and invisible. And the soul of the true philosopher thinks
that she ought not to resist this deliverance, and therefore abstains from
pleasures and desires and pains and fears, as far as she is able;
reflecting that when a man has great joys or sorrows or fears or desires,
he suffers from them, not merely the sort of evil which might be
anticipated--as for example, the loss of his health or property which he
has sacrificed to his lusts--but an evil greater far, which is the greatest
and worst of all evils, and one of which he never thinks.
What is it, Socrates? said Cebes.
The evil is that when the feeling of pleasure or pain is most intense,
every soul of man imagines the objects of this intense feeling to be then
plainest and truest: but this is not so, they are really the things of
And is not this the state in which the soul is most enthralled by the body?
Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and
rivets the soul to the body, until she becomes like the body, and believes
that to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with
the body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same
habits and haunts, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to
the world below, but is always infected by the body; and so she sinks into
another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in
the communion of the divine and pure and simple.
Most true, Socrates, answered Cebes.
And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are
temperate and brave; and not for the reason which the world gives.
Certainly not! The soul of a philosopher will reason in quite another way;
she will not ask philosophy to release her in order that when released she
may deliver herself up again to the thraldom of pleasures and pains, doing
a work only to be undone again, weaving instead of unweaving her Penelope's
web. But she will calm passion, and follow reason, and dwell in the
contemplation of her, beholding the true and divine (which is not matter of
opinion), and thence deriving nourishment. Thus she seeks to live while
she lives, and after death she hopes to go to her own kindred and to that
which is like her, and to be freed from human ills. Never fear, Simmias
and Cebes, that a soul which has been thus nurtured and has had these
pursuits, will at her departure from the body be scattered and blown away
by the winds and be nowhere and nothing.
When Socrates had done speaking, for a considerable time there was silence;
he himself appeared to be meditating, as most of us were, on what had been
said; only Cebes and Simmias spoke a few words to one another. And
Socrates observing them asked what they thought of the argument, and
whether there was anything wanting? For, said he, there are many points
still open to suspicion and attack, if any one were disposed to sift the
matter thoroughly. Should you be considering some other matter I say no
more, but if you are still in doubt do not hesitate to say exactly what you
think, and let us have anything better which you can suggest; and if you
think that I can be of any use, allow me to help you.
Simmias said: I must confess, Socrates, that doubts did arise in our
minds, and each of us was urging and inciting the other to put the question
which we wanted to have answered and which neither of us liked to ask,
fearing that our importunity might be troublesome under present at such a
Socrates replied with a smile: O Simmias, what are you saying? I am not
very likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present situation
as a misfortune, if I cannot even persuade you that I am no worse off now
than at any other time in my life. Will you not allow that I have as much
of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans? For they, when they perceive
that they must die, having sung all their life long, do then sing more
lustily than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away
to the god whose ministers they are. But men, because they are themselves
afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that they sing a lament
at the last, not considering that no bird sings when cold, or hungry, or in
pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow, nor yet the hoopoe; which
are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow, although I do not believe this to
be true of them any more than of the swans. But because they are sacred to
Apollo, they have the gift of prophecy, and anticipate the good things of
another world, wherefore they sing and rejoice in that day more than they
ever did before. And I too, believing myself to be the consecrated servant
of the same God, and the fellow-servant of the swans, and thinking that I
have received from my master gifts of prophecy which are not inferior to
theirs, would not go out of life less merrily than the swans. Never mind
then, if this be your only objection, but speak and ask anything which you
like, while the eleven magistrates of Athens allow.
Very good, Socrates, said Simmias; then I will tell you my difficulty, and
Cebes will tell you his. I feel myself, (and I daresay that you have the
same feeling), how hard or rather impossible is the attainment of any
certainty about questions such as these in the present life. And yet I
should deem him a coward who did not prove what is said about them to the
uttermost, or whose heart failed him before he had examined them on every
side. For he should persevere until he has achieved one of two things:
either he should discover, or be taught the truth about them; or, if this
be impossible, I would have him take the best and most irrefragable of
human theories, and let this be the raft upon which he sails through life--
not without risk, as I admit, if he cannot find some word of God which will
more surely and safely carry him. And now, as you bid me, I will venture
to question you, and then I shall not have to reproach myself hereafter
with not having said at the time what I think. For when I consider the
matter, either alone or with Cebes, the argument does certainly appear to
me, Socrates, to be not sufficient.
Socrates answered: I dare say, my friend, that you may be right, but I
should like to know in what respect the argument is insufficient.
In this respect, replied Simmias:--Suppose a person to use the same
argument about harmony and the lyre--might he not say that harmony is a
thing invisible, incorporeal, perfect, divine, existing in the lyre which
is harmonized, but that the lyre and the strings are matter and material,
composite, earthy, and akin to mortality? And when some one breaks the
lyre, or cuts and rends the strings, then he who takes this view would
argue as you do, and on the same analogy, that the harmony survives and has
not perished--you cannot imagine, he would say, that the lyre without the
strings, and the broken strings themselves which are mortal remain, and yet
that the harmony, which is of heavenly and immortal nature and kindred, has
perished--perished before the mortal. The harmony must still be somewhere,
and the wood and strings will decay before anything can happen to that.
The thought, Socrates, must have occurred to your own mind that such is our
conception of the soul; and that when the body is in a manner strung and
held together by the elements of hot and cold, wet and dry, then the soul
is the harmony or due proportionate admixture of them. But if so, whenever
the strings of the body are unduly loosened or overstrained through disease
or other injury, then the soul, though most divine, like other harmonies of
music or of works of art, of course perishes at once, although the material
remains of the body may last for a considerable time, until they are either
decayed or burnt. And if any one maintains that the soul, being the
harmony of the elements of the body, is first to perish in that which is
called death, how shall we answer him?
Socrates looked fixedly at us as his manner was, and said with a smile:
Simmias has reason on his side; and why does not some one of you who is
better able than myself answer him? for there is force in his attack upon
me. But perhaps, before we answer him, we had better also hear what Cebes
has to say that we may gain time for reflection, and when they have both
spoken, we may either assent to them, if there is truth in what they say,
or if not, we will maintain our position. Please to tell me then, Cebes,
he said, what was the difficulty which troubled you?
Cebes said: I will tell you. My feeling is that the argument is where it
was, and open to the same objections which were urged before; for I am
ready to admit that the existence of the soul before entering into the
bodily form has been very ingeniously, and, if I may say so, quite
sufficiently proven; but the existence of the soul after death is still, in
my judgment, unproven. Now my objection is not the same as that of
Simmias; for I am not disposed to deny that the soul is stronger and more
lasting than the body, being of opinion that in all such respects the soul
very far excels the body. Well, then, says the argument to me, why do you
remain unconvinced?--When you see that the weaker continues in existence
after the man is dead, will you not admit that the more lasting must also
survive during the same period of time? Now I will ask you to consider
whether the objection, which, like Simmias, I will express in a figure, is
of any weight. The analogy which I will adduce is that of an old weaver,
who dies, and after his death somebody says:--He is not dead, he must be
alive;--see, there is the coat which he himself wove and wore, and which
remains whole and undecayed. And then he proceeds to ask of some one who
is incredulous, whether a man lasts longer, or the coat which is in use and
wear; and when he is answered that a man lasts far longer, thinks that he
has thus certainly demonstrated the survival of the man, who is the more
lasting, because the less lasting remains. But that, Simmias, as I would
beg you to remark, is a mistake; any one can see that he who talks thus is
talking nonsense. For the truth is, that the weaver aforesaid, having
woven and worn many such coats, outlived several of them, and was outlived
by the last; but a man is not therefore proved to be slighter and weaker
than a coat. Now the relation of the body to the soul may be expressed in
a similar figure; and any one may very fairly say in like manner that the
soul is lasting, and the body weak and shortlived in comparison. He may
argue in like manner that every soul wears out many bodies, especially if a
man live many years. While he is alive the body deliquesces and decays,
and the soul always weaves another garment and repairs the waste. But of
course, whenever the soul perishes, she must have on her last garment, and
this will survive her; and then at length, when the soul is dead, the body
will show its native weakness, and quickly decompose and pass away. I
would therefore rather not rely on the argument from superior strength to
prove the continued existence of the soul after death. For granting even
more than you affirm to be possible, and acknowledging not only that the
soul existed before birth, but also that the souls of some exist, and will
continue to exist after death, and will be born and die again and again,
and that there is a natural strength in the soul which will hold out and be
born many times--nevertheless, we may be still inclined to think that she
will weary in the labours of successive births, and may at last succumb in
one of her deaths and utterly perish; and this death and dissolution of the
body which brings destruction to the soul may be unknown to any of us, for
no one of us can have had any experience of it: and if so, then I maintain
that he who is confident about death has but a foolish confidence, unless
he is able to prove that the soul is altogether immortal and imperishable.
But if he cannot prove the soul's immortality, he who is about to die will
always have reason to fear that when the body is disunited, the soul also
may utterly perish.
All of us, as we afterwards remarked to one another, had an unpleasant
feeling at hearing what they said. When we had been so firmly convinced
before, now to have our faith shaken seemed to introduce a confusion and
uncertainty, not only into the previous argument, but into any future one;
either we were incapable of forming a judgment, or there were no grounds of
ECHECRATES: There I feel with you--by heaven I do, Phaedo, and when you
were speaking, I was beginning to ask myself the same question: What
argument can I ever trust again? For what could be more convincing than
the argument of Socrates, which has now fallen into discredit? That the
soul is a harmony is a doctrine which has always had a wonderful attraction
for me, and, when mentioned, came back to me at once, as my own original
conviction. And now I must begin again and find another argument which
will assure me that when the man is dead the soul survives. Tell me, I
implore you, how did Socrates proceed? Did he appear to share the
unpleasant feeling which you mention? or did he calmly meet the attack?
And did he answer forcibly or feebly? Narrate what passed as exactly as
PHAEDO: Often, Echecrates, I have wondered at Socrates, but never more
than on that occasion. That he should be able to answer was nothing, but
what astonished me was, first, the gentle and pleasant and approving manner
in which he received the words of the young men, and then his quick sense
of the wound which had been inflicted by the argument, and the readiness
with which he healed it. He might be compared to a general rallying his
defeated and broken army, urging them to accompany him and return to the
field of argument.
ECHECRATES: What followed?
PHAEDO: You shall hear, for I was close to him on his right hand, seated
on a sort of stool, and he on a couch which was a good deal higher. He
stroked my head, and pressed the hair upon my neck--he had a way of playing
with my hair; and then he said: To-morrow, Phaedo, I suppose that these
fair locks of yours will be severed.
Yes, Socrates, I suppose that they will, I replied.
Not so, if you will take my advice.
What shall I do with them? I said.
To-day, he replied, and not to-morrow, if this argument dies and we cannot
bring it to life again, you and I will both shave our locks; and if I were
you, and the argument got away from me, and I could not hold my ground
against Simmias and Cebes, I would myself take an oath, like the Argives,
not to wear hair any more until I had renewed the conflict and defeated
Yes, I said, but Heracles himself is said not to be a match for two.
Summon me then, he said, and I will be your Iolaus until the sun goes down.
I summon you rather, I rejoined, not as Heracles summoning Iolaus, but as
Iolaus might summon Heracles.
That will do as well, he said. But first let us take care that we avoid a
Of what nature? I said.
Lest we become misologists, he replied, no worse thing can happen to a man
than this. For as there are misanthropists or haters of men, there are
also misologists or haters of ideas, and both spring from the same cause,
which is ignorance of the world. Misanthropy arises out of the too great
confidence of inexperience;--you trust a man and think him altogether true
and sound and faithful, and then in a little while he turns out to be false
and knavish; and then another and another, and when this has happened
several times to a man, especially when it happens among those whom he
deems to be his own most trusted and familiar friends, and he has often
quarreled with them, he at last hates all men, and believes that no one has
any good in him at all. You must have observed this trait of character?
And is not the feeling discreditable? Is it not obvious that such an one
having to deal with other men, was clearly without any experience of human
nature; for experience would have taught him the true state of the case,
that few are the good and few the evil, and that the great majority are in
the interval between them.
What do you mean? I said.
I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small, that
nothing is more uncommon than a very large or very small man; and this
applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small, or swift and
slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether the instances you
select be men or dogs or anything else, few are the extremes, but many are
in the mean between them. Did you never observe this?
Yes, I said, I have.
And do you not imagine, he said, that if there were a competition in evil,
the worst would be found to be very few?
Yes, that is very likely, I said.
Yes, that is very likely, he replied; although in this respect arguments
are unlike men--there I was led on by you to say more than I had intended;
but the point of comparison was, that when a simple man who has no skill in
dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards imagines to
be false, whether really false or not, and then another and another, he has
no longer any faith left, and great disputers, as you know, come to think
at last that they have grown to be the wisest of mankind; for they alone
perceive the utter unsoundness and instability of all arguments, or indeed,
of all things, which, like the currents in the Euripus, are going up and
down in never-ceasing ebb and flow.
That is quite true, I said.
Yes, Phaedo, he replied, and how melancholy, if there be such a thing as
truth or certainty or possibility of knowledge--that a man should have
lighted upon some argument or other which at first seemed true and then
turned out to be false, and instead of blaming himself and his own want of
wit, because he is annoyed, should at last be too glad to transfer the
blame from himself to arguments in general: and for ever afterwards should
hate and revile them, and lose truth and the knowledge of realities.
Yes, indeed, I said; that is very melancholy.
Let us then, in the first place, he said, be careful of allowing or of
admitting into our souls the notion that there is no health or soundness in
any arguments at all. Rather say that we have not yet attained to
soundness in ourselves, and that we must struggle manfully and do our best
to gain health of mind--you and all other men having regard to the whole of
your future life, and I myself in the prospect of death. For at this
moment I am sensible that I have not the temper of a philosopher; like the
vulgar, I am only a partisan. Now the partisan, when he is engaged in a
dispute, cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious
only to convince his hearers of his own assertions. And the difference
between him and me at the present moment is merely this--that whereas he
seeks to convince his hearers that what he says is true, I am rather
seeking to convince myself; to convince my hearers is a secondary matter
with me. And do but see how much I gain by the argument. For if what I
say is true, then I do well to be persuaded of the truth, but if there be
nothing after death, still, during the short time that remains, I shall not
distress my friends with lamentations, and my ignorance will not last, but
will die with me, and therefore no harm will be done. This is the state of
mind, Simmias and Cebes, in which I approach the argument. And I would ask
you to be thinking of the truth and not of Socrates: agree with me, if I
seem to you to be speaking the truth; or if not, withstand me might and
main, that I may not deceive you as well as myself in my enthusiasm, and
like the bee, leave my sting in you before I die.
And now let us proceed, he said. And first of all let me be sure that I
have in my mind what you were saying. Simmias, if I remember rightly, has
fears and misgivings whether the soul, although a fairer and diviner thing
than the body, being as she is in the form of harmony, may not perish
first. On the other hand, Cebes appeared to grant that the soul was more
lasting than the body, but he said that no one could know whether the soul,
after having worn out many bodies, might not perish herself and leave her
last body behind her; and that this is death, which is the destruction not
of the body but of the soul, for in the body the work of destruction is
ever going on. Are not these, Simmias and Cebes, the points which we have
They both agreed to this statement of them.
He proceeded: And did you deny the force of the whole preceding argument,
or of a part only?
Of a part only, they replied.
And what did you think, he said, of that part of the argument in which we
said that knowledge was recollection, and hence inferred that the soul must
have previously existed somewhere else before she was enclosed in the body?
Cebes said that he had been wonderfully impressed by that part of the
argument, and that his conviction remained absolutely unshaken. Simmias
agreed, and added that he himself could hardly imagine the possibility of
his ever thinking differently.
But, rejoined Socrates, you will have to think differently, my Theban
friend, if you still maintain that harmony is a compound, and that the soul
is a harmony which is made out of strings set in the frame of the body; for
you will surely never allow yourself to say that a harmony is prior to the
elements which compose it.
But do you not see that this is what you imply when you say that the soul
existed before she took the form and body of man, and was made up of
elements which as yet had no existence? For harmony is not like the soul,
as you suppose; but first the lyre, and the strings, and the sounds exist
in a state of discord, and then harmony is made last of all, and perishes
first. And how can such a notion of the soul as this agree with the other?
Not at all, replied Simmias.
And yet, he said, there surely ought to be harmony in a discourse of which
harmony is the theme.
There ought, replied Simmias.
But there is no harmony, he said, in the two propositions that knowledge is
recollection, and that the soul is a harmony. Which of them will you
I think, he replied, that I have a much stronger faith, Socrates, in the
first of the two, which has been fully demonstrated to me, than in the
latter, which has not been demonstrated at all, but rests only on probable
and plausible grounds; and is therefore believed by the many. I know too
well that these arguments from probabilities are impostors, and unless
great caution is observed in the use of them, they are apt to be deceptive
--in geometry, and in other things too. But the doctrine of knowledge and
recollection has been proven to me on trustworthy grounds; and the proof
was that the soul must have existed before she came into the body, because
to her belongs the essence of which the very name implies existence.
Having, as I am convinced, rightly accepted this conclusion, and on
sufficient grounds, I must, as I suppose, cease to argue or allow others to
argue that the soul is a harmony.
Let me put the matter, Simmias, he said, in another point of view: Do you
imagine that a harmony or any other composition can be in a state other
than that of the elements, out of which it is compounded?
Or do or suffer anything other than they do or suffer?
Then a harmony does not, properly speaking, lead the parts or elements
which make up the harmony, but only follows them.
For harmony cannot possibly have any motion, or sound, or other quality
which is opposed to its parts.
That would be impossible, he replied.
And does not the nature of every harmony depend upon the manner in which
the elements are harmonized?
I do not understand you, he said.
I mean to say that a harmony admits of degrees, and is more of a harmony,
and more completely a harmony, when more truly and fully harmonized, to any
extent which is possible; and less of a harmony, and less completely a
harmony, when less truly and fully harmonized.
But does the soul admit of degrees? or is one soul in the very least degree
more or less, or more or less completely, a soul than another?
Not in the least.
Yet surely of two souls, one is said to have intelligence and virtue, and
to be good, and the other to have folly and vice, and to be an evil soul:
and this is said truly?
But what will those who maintain the soul to be a harmony say of this
presence of virtue and vice in the soul?--will they say that here is
another harmony, and another discord, and that the virtuous soul is
harmonized, and herself being a harmony has another harmony within her, and
that the vicious soul is inharmonical and has no harmony within her?
I cannot tell, replied Simmias; but I suppose that something of the sort
would be asserted by those who say that the soul is a harmony.
And we have already admitted that no soul is more a soul than another;
which is equivalent to admitting that harmony is not more or less harmony,
or more or less completely a harmony?
And that which is not more or less a harmony is not more or less
And that which is not more or less harmonized cannot have more or less of
harmony, but only an equal harmony?
Yes, an equal harmony.
Then one soul not being more or less absolutely a soul than another, is not
more or less harmonized?
And therefore has neither more nor less of discord, nor yet of harmony?
She has not.
And having neither more nor less of harmony or of discord, one soul has no
more vice or virtue than another, if vice be discord and virtue harmony?
Not at all more.
Or speaking more correctly, Simmias, the soul, if she is a harmony, will
never have any vice; because a harmony, being absolutely a harmony, has no
part in the inharmonical.
And therefore a soul which is absolutely a soul has no vice?
How can she have, if the previous argument holds?
Then, if all souls are equally by their nature souls, all souls of all
living creatures will be equally good?
I agree with you, Socrates, he said.
And can all this be true, think you? he said; for these are the
consequences which seem to follow from the assumption that the soul is a
It cannot be true.
Once more, he said, what ruler is there of the elements of human nature
other than the soul, and especially the wise soul? Do you know of any?
Indeed, I do not.
And is the soul in agreement with the affections of the body? or is she at
variance with them? For example, when the body is hot and thirsty, does
not the soul incline us against drinking? and when the body is hungry,
against eating? And this is only one instance out of ten thousand of the
opposition of the soul to the things of the body.
But we have already acknowledged that the soul, being a harmony, can never
utter a note at variance with the tensions and relaxations and vibrations
and other affections of the strings out of which she is composed; she can
only follow, she cannot lead them?
It must be so, he replied.
And yet do we not now discover the soul to be doing the exact opposite--
leading the elements of which she is believed to be composed; almost always
opposing and coercing them in all sorts of ways throughout life, sometimes
more violently with the pains of medicine and gymnastic; then again more
gently; now threatening, now admonishing the desires, passions, fears, as
if talking to a thing which is not herself, as Homer in the Odyssee
represents Odysseus doing in the words--
'He beat his breast, and thus reproached his heart:
Endure, my heart; far worse hast thou endured!'
Do you think that Homer wrote this under the idea that the soul is a
harmony capable of being led by the affections of the body, and not rather
of a nature which should lead and master them--herself a far diviner thing
than any harmony?
Yes, Socrates, I quite think so.
Then, my friend, we can never be right in saying that the soul is a
harmony, for we should contradict the divine Homer, and contradict
True, he said.
Thus much, said Socrates, of Harmonia, your Theban goddess, who has
graciously yielded to us; but what shall I say, Cebes, to her husband
Cadmus, and how shall I make peace with him?
I think that you will discover a way of propitiating him, said Cebes; I am
sure that you have put the argument with Harmonia in a manner that I could
never have expected. For when Simmias was mentioning his difficulty, I
quite imagined that no answer could be given to him, and therefore I was
surprised at finding that his argument could not sustain the first onset of
yours, and not impossibly the other, whom you call Cadmus, may share a
Nay, my good friend, said Socrates, let us not boast, lest some evil eye
should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That, however,
may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near in Homeric
fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Here lies the point:--You want
to have it proven to you that the soul is imperishable and immortal, and
the philosopher who is confident in death appears to you to have but a vain
and foolish confidence, if he believes that he will fare better in the
world below than one who has led another sort of life, unless he can prove
this; and you say that the demonstration of the strength and divinity of
the soul, and of her existence prior to our becoming men, does not
necessarily imply her immortality. Admitting the soul to be longlived, and
to have known and done much in a former state, still she is not on that
account immortal; and her entrance into the human form may be a sort of
disease which is the beginning of dissolution, and may at last, after the
toils of life are over, end in that which is called death. And whether the
soul enters into the body once only or many times, does not, as you say,
make any difference in the fears of individuals. For any man, who is not
devoid of sense, must fear, if he has no knowledge and can give no account
of the soul's immortality. This, or something like this, I suspect to be
your notion, Cebes; and I designedly recur to it in order that nothing may
escape us, and that you may, if you wish, add or subtract anything.
But, said Cebes, as far as I see at present, I have nothing to add or
subtract: I mean what you say that I mean.
Socrates paused awhile, and seemed to be absorbed in reflection. At length
he said: You are raising a tremendous question, Cebes, involving the whole
nature of generation and corruption, about which, if you like, I will give
you my own experience; and if anything which I say is likely to avail
towards the solution of your difficulty you may make use of it.
I should very much like, said Cebes, to hear what you have to say.
Then I will tell you, said Socrates. When I was young, Cebes, I had a
prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is called the
investigation of nature; to know the causes of things, and why a thing is
and is created or destroyed appeared to me to be a lofty profession; and I
was always agitating myself with the consideration of questions such as
these:--Is the growth of animals the result of some decay which the hot and
cold principle contracts, as some have said? Is the blood the element with
which we think, or the air, or the fire? or perhaps nothing of the kind--
but the brain may be the originating power of the perceptions of hearing
and sight and smell, and memory and opinion may come from them, and science
may be based on memory and opinion when they have attained fixity. And
then I went on to examine the corruption of them, and then to the things of
heaven and earth, and at last I concluded myself to be utterly and
absolutely incapable of these enquiries, as I will satisfactorily prove to
you. For I was fascinated by them to such a degree that my eyes grew blind
to things which I had seemed to myself, and also to others, to know quite
well; I forgot what I had before thought self-evident truths; e.g. such a
fact as that the growth of man is the result of eating and drinking; for
when by the digestion of food flesh is added to flesh and bone to bone, and
whenever there is an aggregation of congenial elements, the lesser bulk
becomes larger and the small man great. Was not that a reasonable notion?
Yes, said Cebes, I think so.
Well; but let me tell you something more. There was a time when I thought
that I understood the meaning of greater and less pretty well; and when I
saw a great man standing by a little one, I fancied that one was taller
than the other by a head; or one horse would appear to be greater than
another horse: and still more clearly did I seem to perceive that ten is
two more than eight, and that two cubits are more than one, because two is
the double of one.
And what is now your notion of such matters? said Cebes.
I should be far enough from imagining, he replied, that I knew the cause of
any of them, by heaven I should; for I cannot satisfy myself that, when one
is added to one, the one to which the addition is made becomes two, or that
the two units added together make two by reason of the addition. I cannot
understand how, when separated from the other, each of them was one and not
two, and now, when they are brought together, the mere juxtaposition or
meeting of them should be the cause of their becoming two: neither can I
understand how the division of one is the way to make two; for then a
different cause would produce the same effect,--as in the former instance
the addition and juxtaposition of one to one was the cause of two, in this
the separation and subtraction of one from the other would be the cause.
Nor am I any longer satisfied that I understand the reason why one or
anything else is either generated or destroyed or is at all, but I have in
my mind some confused notion of a new method, and can never admit the
Then I heard some one reading, as he said, from a book of Anaxagoras, that
mind was the disposer and cause of all, and I was delighted at this notion,
which appeared quite admirable, and I said to myself: If mind is the
disposer, mind will dispose all for the best, and put each particular in
the best place; and I argued that if any one desired to find out the cause
of the generation or destruction or existence of anything, he must find out
what state of being or doing or suffering was best for that thing, and
therefore a man had only to consider the best for himself and others, and
then he would also know the worse, since the same science comprehended
both. And I rejoiced to think that I had found in Anaxagoras a teacher of
the causes of existence such as I desired, and I imagined that he would
tell me first whether the earth is flat or round; and whichever was true,
he would proceed to explain the cause and the necessity of this being so,
and then he would teach me the nature of the best and show that this was
best; and if he said that the earth was in the centre, he would further
explain that this position was the best, and I should be satisfied with the
explanation given, and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought
that I would then go on and ask him about the sun and moon and stars, and
that he would explain to me their comparative swiftness, and their
returnings and various states, active and passive, and how all of them were
for the best. For I could not imagine that when he spoke of mind as the
disposer of them, he would give any other account of their being as they
are, except that this was best; and I thought that when he had explained to
me in detail the cause of each and the cause of all, he would go on to
explain to me what was best for each and what was good for all. These
hopes I would not have sold for a large sum of money, and I seized the
books and read them as fast as I could in my eagerness to know the better
and the worse.
What expectations I had formed, and how grievously was I disappointed! As
I proceeded, I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any other
principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and water, and
other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person who began by
maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates,
but who, when he endeavoured to explain the causes of my several actions in
detail, went on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of bones
and muscles; and the bones, as he would say, are hard and have joints which
divide them, and the muscles are elastic, and they cover the bones, which
have also a covering or environment of flesh and skin which contains them;
and as the bones are lifted at their joints by the contraction or
relaxation of the muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and this is why I am
sitting here in a curved posture--that is what he would say, and he would
have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which he would attribute
to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten thousand other
causes of the same sort, forgetting to mention the true cause, which is,
that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and accordingly I have
thought it better and more right to remain here and undergo my sentence;
for I am inclined to think that these muscles and bones of mine would have
gone off long ago to Megara or Boeotia--by the dog they would, if they had
been moved only by their own idea of what was best, and if I had not chosen
the better and nobler part, instead of playing truant and running away, of
enduring any punishment which the state inflicts. There is surely a
strange confusion of causes and conditions in all this. It may be said,
indeed, that without bones and muscles and the other parts of the body I
cannot execute my purposes. But to say that I do as I do because of them,
and that this is the way in which mind acts, and not from the choice of the
best, is a very careless and idle mode of speaking. I wonder that they
cannot distinguish the cause from the condition, which the many, feeling
about in the dark, are always mistaking and misnaming. And thus one man
makes a vortex all round and steadies the earth by the heaven; another
gives the air as a support to the earth, which is a sort of broad trough.
Any power which in arranging them as they are arranges them for the best
never enters into their minds; and instead of finding any superior strength
in it, they rather expect to discover another Atlas of the world who is
stronger and more everlasting and more containing than the good;--of the
obligatory and containing power of the good they think nothing; and yet
this is the principle which I would fain learn if any one would teach me.
But as I have failed either to discover myself, or to learn of any one
else, the nature of the best, I will exhibit to you, if you like, what I
have found to be the second best mode of enquiring into the cause.
I should very much like to hear, he replied.
Socrates proceeded:--I thought that as I had failed in the contemplation of
true existence, I ought to be careful that I did not lose the eye of my
soul; as people may injure their bodily eye by observing and gazing on the
sun during an eclipse, unless they take the precaution of only looking at
the image reflected in the water, or in some similar medium. So in my own
case, I was afraid that my soul might be blinded altogether if I looked at
things with my eyes or tried to apprehend them by the help of the senses.
And I thought that I had better have recourse to the world of mind and seek
there the truth of existence. I dare say that the simile is not perfect--
for I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates existences
through the medium of thought, sees them only 'through a glass darkly,' any
more than he who considers them in action and operation. However, this was
the method which I adopted: I first assumed some principle which I judged
to be the strongest, and then I affirmed as true whatever seemed to agree
with this, whether relating to the cause or to anything else; and that
which disagreed I regarded as untrue. But I should like to explain my
meaning more clearly, as I do not think that you as yet understand me.
No indeed, replied Cebes, not very well.
There is nothing new, he said, in what I am about to tell you; but only
what I have been always and everywhere repeating in the previous discussion
and on other occasions: I want to show you the nature of that cause which
has occupied my thoughts. I shall have to go back to those familiar words
which are in the mouth of every one, and first of all assume that there is
an absolute beauty and goodness and greatness, and the like; grant me this,
and I hope to be able to show you the nature of the cause, and to prove the
immortality of the soul.
Cebes said: You may proceed at once with the proof, for I grant you this.
Well, he said, then I should like to know whether you agree with me in the
next step; for I cannot help thinking, if there be anything beautiful other
than absolute beauty should there be such, that it can be beautiful only in
as far as it partakes of absolute beauty--and I should say the same of
everything. Do you agree in this notion of the cause?
Yes, he said, I agree.
He proceeded: I know nothing and can understand nothing of any other of
those wise causes which are alleged; and if a person says to me that the
bloom of colour, or form, or any such thing is a source of beauty, I leave
all that, which is only confusing to me, and simply and singly, and perhaps
foolishly, hold and am assured in my own mind that nothing makes a thing
beautiful but the presence and participation of beauty in whatever way or
manner obtained; for as to the manner I am uncertain, but I stoutly contend
that by beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. This appears to me
to be the safest answer which I can give, either to myself or to another,
and to this I cling, in the persuasion that this principle will never be
overthrown, and that to myself or to any one who asks the question, I may
safely reply, That by beauty beautiful things become beautiful. Do you not
agree with me?
And that by greatness only great things become great and greater greater,
and by smallness the less become less?
Then if a person were to remark that A is taller by a head than B, and B
less by a head than A, you would refuse to admit his statement, and would
stoutly contend that what you mean is only that the greater is greater by,
and by reason of, greatness, and the less is less only by, and by reason
of, smallness; and thus you would avoid the danger of saying that the
greater is greater and the less less by the measure of the head, which is
the same in both, and would also avoid the monstrous absurdity of supposing
that the greater man is greater by reason of the head, which is small. You
would be afraid to draw such an inference, would you not?
Indeed, I should, said Cebes, laughing.
In like manner you would be afraid to say that ten exceeded eight by, and
by reason of, two; but would say by, and by reason of, number; or you would
say that two cubits exceed one cubit not by a half, but by magnitude?-for
there is the same liability to error in all these cases.
Very true, he said.
Again, would you not be cautious of affirming that the addition of one to
one, or the division of one, is the cause of two? And you would loudly
asseverate that you know of no way in which anything comes into existence
except by participation in its own proper essence, and consequently, as far
as you know, the only cause of two is the participation in duality--this is
the way to make two, and the participation in one is the way to make one.
You would say: I will let alone puzzles of division and addition--wiser
heads than mine may answer them; inexperienced as I am, and ready to start,
as the proverb says, at my own shadow, I cannot afford to give up the sure
ground of a principle. And if any one assails you there, you would not
mind him, or answer him, until you had seen whether the consequences which
follow agree with one another or not, and when you are further required to
give an explanation of this principle, you would go on to assume a higher
principle, and a higher, until you found a resting-place in the best of the
higher; but you would not confuse the principle and the consequences in
your reasoning, like the Eristics--at least if you wanted to discover real
existence. Not that this confusion signifies to them, who never care or
think about the matter at all, for they have the wit to be well pleased
with themselves however great may be the turmoil of their ideas. But you,
if you are a philosopher, will certainly do as I say.
What you say is most true, said Simmias and Cebes, both speaking at once.
ECHECRATES: Yes, Phaedo; and I do not wonder at their assenting. Any one
who has the least sense will acknowledge the wonderful clearness of
PHAEDO: Certainly, Echecrates; and such was the feeling of the whole
company at the time.
ECHECRATES: Yes, and equally of ourselves, who were not of the company,
and are now listening to your recital. But what followed?
PHAEDO: After all this had been admitted, and they had that ideas exist,
and that other things participate in them and derive their names from them,
Socrates, if I remember rightly, said:--
This is your way of speaking; and yet when you say that Simmias is greater
than Socrates and less than Phaedo, do you not predicate of Simmias both
greatness and smallness?
Yes, I do.
But still you allow that Simmias does not really exceed Socrates, as the
words may seem to imply, because he is Simmias, but by reason of the size
which he has; just as Simmias does not exceed Socrates because he is
Simmias, any more than because Socrates is Socrates, but because he has
smallness when compared with the greatness of Simmias?
And if Phaedo exceeds him in size, this is not because Phaedo is Phaedo,
but because Phaedo has greatness relatively to Simmias, who is
That is true.
And therefore Simmias is said to be great, and is also said to be small,
because he is in a mean between them, exceeding the smallness of the one by
his greatness, and allowing the greatness of the other to exceed his
smallness. He added, laughing, I am speaking like a book, but I believe
that what I am saying is true.
I speak as I do because I want you to agree with me in thinking, not only
that absolute greatness will never be great and also small, but that
greatness in us or in the concrete will never admit the small or admit of
being exceeded: instead of this, one of two things will happen, either the
greater will fly or retire before the opposite, which is the less, or at
the approach of the less has already ceased to exist; but will not, if
allowing or admitting of smallness, be changed by that; even as I, having
received and admitted smallness when compared with Simmias, remain just as
I was, and am the same small person. And as the idea of greatness cannot
condescend ever to be or become small, in like manner the smallness in us
cannot be or become great; nor can any other opposite which remains the
same ever be or become its own opposite, but either passes away or perishes
in the change.
That, replied Cebes, is quite my notion.
Hereupon one of the company, though I do not exactly remember which of
them, said: In heaven's name, is not this the direct contrary of what was
admitted before--that out of the greater came the less and out of the less
the greater, and that opposites were simply generated from opposites; but
now this principle seems to be utterly denied.
Socrates inclined his head to the speaker and listened. I like your
courage, he said, in reminding us of this. But you do not observe that
there is a difference in the two cases. For then we were speaking of
opposites in the concrete, and now of the essential opposite which, as is
affirmed, neither in us nor in nature can ever be at variance with itself:
then, my friend, we were speaking of things in which opposites are inherent
and which are called after them, but now about the opposites which are
inherent in them and which give their name to them; and these essential
opposites will never, as we maintain, admit of generation into or out of
one another. At the same time, turning to Cebes, he said: Are you at all
disconcerted, Cebes, at our friend's objection?
No, I do not feel so, said Cebes; and yet I cannot deny that I am often
disturbed by objections.
Then we are agreed after all, said Socrates, that the opposite will never
in any case be opposed to itself?
To that we are quite agreed, he replied.
Yet once more let me ask you to consider the question from another point of
view, and see whether you agree with me:--There is a thing which you term
heat, and another thing which you term cold?
But are they the same as fire and snow?
Most assuredly not.
Heat is a thing different from fire, and cold is not the same with snow?
And yet you will surely admit, that when snow, as was before said, is under
the influence of heat, they will not remain snow and heat; but at the
advance of the heat, the snow will either retire or perish?
Very true, he replied.
And the fire too at the advance of the cold will either retire or perish;
and when the fire is under the influence of the cold, they will not remain
as before, fire and cold.
That is true, he said.
And in some cases the name of the idea is not only attached to the idea in
an eternal connection, but anything else which, not being the idea, exists
only in the form of the idea, may also lay claim to it. I will try to make
this clearer by an example:--The odd number is always called by the name of
But is this the only thing which is called odd? Are there not other things
which have their own name, and yet are called odd, because, although not
the same as oddness, they are never without oddness?--that is what I mean
to ask--whether numbers such as the number three are not of the class of
odd. And there are many other examples: would you not say, for example,
that three may be called by its proper name, and also be called odd, which
is not the same with three? and this may be said not only of three but also
of five, and of every alternate number--each of them without being oddness
is odd, and in the same way two and four, and the other series of alternate
numbers, has every number even, without being evenness. Do you agree?
Then now mark the point at which I am aiming:--not only do essential
opposites exclude one another, but also concrete things, which, although
not in themselves opposed, contain opposites; these, I say, likewise reject
the idea which is opposed to that which is contained in them, and when it
approaches them they either perish or withdraw. For example; Will not the
number three endure annihilation or anything sooner than be converted into
an even number, while remaining three?
Very true, said Cebes.
And yet, he said, the number two is certainly not opposed to the number
It is not.
Then not only do opposite ideas repel the advance of one another, but also
there are other natures which repel the approach of opposites.
Very true, he said.
Suppose, he said, that we endeavour, if possible, to determine what these
By all means.
Are they not, Cebes, such as compel the things of which they have
possession, not only to take their own form, but also the form of some
What do you mean?
I mean, as I was just now saying, and as I am sure that you know, that
those things which are possessed by the number three must not only be three
in number, but must also be odd.
And on this oddness, of which the number three has the impress, the
opposite idea will never intrude?
And this impress was given by the odd principle?
And to the odd is opposed the even?
Then the idea of the even number will never arrive at three?
Then three has no part in the even?
Then the triad or number three is uneven?
To return then to my distinction of natures which are not opposed, and yet
do not admit opposites--as, in the instance given, three, although not
opposed to the even, does not any the more admit of the even, but always
brings the opposite into play on the other side; or as two does not receive
the odd, or fire the cold--from these examples (and there are many more of
them) perhaps you may be able to arrive at the general conclusion, that not
only opposites will not receive opposites, but also that nothing which
brings the opposite will admit the opposite of that which it brings, in
that to which it is brought. And here let me recapitulate--for there is no
harm in repetition. The number five will not admit the nature of the even,
any more than ten, which is the double of five, will admit the nature of
the odd. The double has another opposite, and is not strictly opposed to
the odd, but nevertheless rejects the odd altogether. Nor again will parts
in the ratio 3:2, nor any fraction in which there is a half, nor again in
which there is a third, admit the notion of the whole, although they are
not opposed to the whole: You will agree?
Yes, he said, I entirely agree and go along with you in that.
And now, he said, let us begin again; and do not you answer my question in
the words in which I ask it: let me have not the old safe answer of which
I spoke at first, but another equally safe, of which the truth will be
inferred by you from what has been just said. I mean that if any one asks
you 'what that is, of which the inherence makes the body hot,' you will
reply not heat (this is what I call the safe and stupid answer), but fire,
a far superior answer, which we are now in a condition to give. Or if any
one asks you 'why a body is diseased,' you will not say from disease, but
from fever; and instead of saying that oddness is the cause of odd numbers,
you will say that the monad is the cause of them: and so of things in
general, as I dare say that you will understand sufficiently without my
adducing any further examples.
Yes, he said, I quite understand you.
Tell me, then, what is that of which the inherence will render the body
The soul, he replied.
And is this always the case?
Yes, he said, of course.
Then whatever the soul possesses, to that she comes bearing life?
And is there any opposite to life?
There is, he said.
And what is that?
Then the soul, as has been acknowledged, will never receive the opposite of
what she brings.
Impossible, replied Cebes.
And now, he said, what did we just now call that principle which repels the
And that principle which repels the musical, or the just?
The unmusical, he said, and the unjust.
And what do we call the principle which does not admit of death?
The immortal, he said.
And does the soul admit of death?
Then the soul is immortal?
Yes, he said.
And may we say that this has been proven?
Yes, abundantly proven, Socrates, he replied.
Supposing that the odd were imperishable, must not three be imperishable?
And if that which is cold were imperishable, when the warm principle came
attacking the snow, must not the snow have retired whole and unmelted--for
it could never have perished, nor could it have remained and admitted the
True, he said.
Again, if the uncooling or warm principle were imperishable, the fire when
assailed by cold would not have perished or have been extinguished, but
would have gone away unaffected?
Certainly, he said.
And the same may be said of the immortal: if the immortal is also
imperishable, the soul when attacked by death cannot perish; for the
preceding argument shows that the soul will not admit of death, or ever be
dead, any more than three or the odd number will admit of the even, or fire
or the heat in the fire, of the cold. Yet a person may say: 'But although
the odd will not become even at the approach of the even, why may not the
odd perish and the even take the place of the odd?' Now to him who makes
this objection, we cannot answer that the odd principle is imperishable;
for this has not been acknowledged, but if this had been acknowledged,
there would have been no difficulty in contending that at the approach of
the even the odd principle and the number three took their departure; and
the same argument would have held good of fire and heat and any other
And the same may be said of the immortal: if the immortal is also
imperishable, then the soul will be imperishable as well as immortal; but
if not, some other proof of her imperishableness will have to be given.
No other proof is needed, he said; for if the immortal, being eternal, is
liable to perish, then nothing is imperishable.
Yes, replied Socrates, and yet all men will agree that God, and the
essential form of life, and the immortal in general, will never perish.
Yes, all men, he said--that is true; and what is more, gods, if I am not
mistaken, as well as men.
Seeing then that the immortal is indestructible, must not the soul, if she
is immortal, be also imperishable?
Then when death attacks a man, the mortal portion of him may be supposed to
die, but the immortal retires at the approach of death and is preserved
safe and sound?
Then, Cebes, beyond question, the soul is immortal and imperishable, and
our souls will truly exist in another world!
I am convinced, Socrates, said Cebes, and have nothing more to object; but
if my friend Simmias, or any one else, has any further objection to make,
he had better speak out, and not keep silence, since I do not know to what
other season he can defer the discussion, if there is anything which he
wants to say or to have said.
But I have nothing more to say, replied Simmias; nor can I see any reason
for doubt after what has been said. But I still feel and cannot help
feeling uncertain in my own mind, when I think of the greatness of the
subject and the feebleness of man.
Yes, Simmias, replied Socrates, that is well said: and I may add that
first principles, even if they appear certain, should be carefully
considered; and when they are satisfactorily ascertained, then, with a sort
of hesitating confidence in human reason, you may, I think, follow the
course of the argument; and if that be plain and clear, there will be no
need for any further enquiry.
But then, O my friends, he said, if the soul is really immortal, what care
should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time which is
called life, but of eternity! And the danger of neglecting her from this
point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only been the
end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying, for they
would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their own evil
together with their souls. But now, inasmuch as the soul is manifestly
immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment
of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her progress to the
world below takes nothing with her but nurture and education; and these are
said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure the departed, at the very
beginning of his journey thither.
For after death, as they say, the genius of each individual, to whom he
belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are
gathered together, whence after judgment has been given they pass into the
world below, following the guide, who is appointed to conduct them from
this world to the other: and when they have there received their due and
remained their time, another guide brings them back again after many
revolutions of ages. Now this way to the other world is not, as Aeschylus
says in the Telephus, a single and straight path--if that were so no guide
would be needed, for no one could miss it; but there are many partings of
the road, and windings, as I infer from the rites and sacrifices which are
offered to the gods below in places where three ways meet on earth. The
wise and orderly soul follows in the straight path and is conscious of her
surroundings; but the soul which desires the body, and which, as I was
relating before, has long been fluttering about the lifeless frame and the
world of sight, is after many struggles and many sufferings hardly and with
violence carried away by her attendant genius, and when she arrives at the
place where the other souls are gathered, if she be impure and have done
impure deeds, whether foul murders or other crimes which are the brothers
of these, and the works of brothers in crime--from that soul every one
flees and turns away; no one will be her companion, no one her guide, but
alone she wanders in extremity of evil until certain times are fulfilled,
and when they are fulfilled, she is borne irresistibly to her own fitting
habitation; as every pure and just soul which has passed through life in
the company and under the guidance of the gods has also her own proper
Now the earth has divers wonderful regions, and is indeed in nature and
extent very unlike the notions of geographers, as I believe on the
authority of one who shall be nameless.
What do you mean, Socrates? said Simmias. I have myself heard many
descriptions of the earth, but I do not know, and I should very much like
to know, in which of these you put faith.
And I, Simmias, replied Socrates, if I had the art of Glaucus would tell
you; although I know not that the art of Glaucus could prove the truth of
my tale, which I myself should never be able to prove, and even if I could,
I fear, Simmias, that my life would come to an end before the argument was
completed. I may describe to you, however, the form and regions of the
earth according to my conception of them.
That, said Simmias, will be enough.
Well, then, he said, my conviction is, that the earth is a round body in
the centre of the heavens, and therefore has no need of air or any similar
force to be a support, but is kept there and hindered from falling or
inclining any way by the equability of the surrounding heaven and by her
own equipoise. For that which, being in equipoise, is in the centre of
that which is equably diffused, will not incline any way in any degree, but
will always remain in the same state and not deviate. And this is my first
Which is surely a correct one, said Simmias.
Also I believe that the earth is very vast, and that we who dwell in the
region extending from the river Phasis to the Pillars of Heracles inhabit a
small portion only about the sea, like ants or frogs about a marsh, and
that there are other inhabitants of many other like places; for everywhere
on the face of the earth there are hollows of various forms and sizes, into
which the water and the mist and the lower air collect. But the true earth
is pure and situated in the pure heaven--there are the stars also; and it
is the heaven which is commonly spoken of by us as the ether, and of which
our own earth is the sediment gathering in the hollows beneath. But we who
live in these hollows are deceived into the notion that we are dwelling
above on the surface of the earth; which is just as if a creature who was
at the bottom of the sea were to fancy that he was on the surface of the
water, and that the sea was the heaven through which he saw the sun and the
other stars, he having never come to the surface by reason of his
feebleness and sluggishness, and having never lifted up his head and seen,
nor ever heard from one who had seen, how much purer and fairer the world
above is than his own. And such is exactly our case: for we are dwelling
in a hollow of the earth, and fancy that we are on the surface; and the air
we call the heaven, in which we imagine that the stars move. But the fact
is, that owing to our feebleness and sluggishness we are prevented from
reaching the surface of the air: for if any man could arrive at the
exterior limit, or take the wings of a bird and come to the top, then like
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