Socrates in Plato’s ‘Apology of Socrates’ and ‘Phaedo’

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787) / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By Dr. Gregory Nagy
Francis Jones Professor of Classical Greek Literature
Professor of Comparative Literature
Director, Center for Hellenic Studies
Harvard University

Socrates in Plato’s ‘Apology of Socrates’

[[“It is, in short, music which observes neither end nor beginning, music with neither real climax nor real resolution …” – Glenn Gould 1956, concerning the Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach (there are 32 of them: “Aria” plus 30 variations plus “Aria”)]] [[This epigraph is excluded from the printed version.]]

The meaning of daimonion

Socratic daimonion / Assemblée nationale

The key word here is daimonion, which is a neuter adjective derived from the noun daimōn. This word daimōn (plural daimones) is used to refer to an unspecified god or hero intervening in human life. By contrast, theos, ‘god’, is used to refer to a specified god. Accordingly, I have been translating the noun daimōn as ‘superhuman force’. And now I will apply this translation to the derivative form daimonion.

In the usage of Plato’s Socrates, as in Plato’s Republic (6.496c), daimonion functions as the adjective of the neuter noun sēmeion, which is derived from another neuter noun, sēma. Sēma means ‘sign, signal, symbol; tomb, tomb of a hero’. Since sēmeion can be translated as ‘signal’, I propose to translate the expression to daimonion sēmeion, as we find it in the Republic, as ‘the superhuman signal’. Elsewhere in the usage of Plato’s Socrates, however, as in Plato’s Apology of Socrates, the expressions to daimonion and to sēmeion are used separately as synonyms of each other; in these cases, I will translate to daimonion as ‘the superhuman thing’ and to sēmeion as ‘the signal’.

The subversive threat of ‘the superhuman signal’

In Plato’s Apology of Socrates (31d), in a passage I will not be quoting here, Plato’s Socrates says that ‘the superhuman thing’, to daimonion, had prevented him from participating in the public life of the Athenian state, restricting him to a private way of interacting with his fellow citizens. He describes this superhuman thing as an inner phōnē, ‘voice’, that never tells him what to do but only what not to do. One of the things that this inner voice tells Socrates not to do is to participate in the public life of the Athenian State. As Plato’s Socrates says in {605|606} the Apology (32a), in another passage I will not be quoting, he must not ‘lead the public life of a citizen’, politeuein, and so, by default, he will ‘lead the private life’, idiōteuein. That is how he gets into trouble with the Athenian State: as we learn in Plato’s Euthyphro (3b), in yet another passage I will not be quoting, Socrates was accused of subversion, on the grounds that we was corrupting the young men of Athens by speaking to them about to daimonion, ‘the superhuman thing’, which did not fit the traditional concept of theoi, ‘gods’.

I will now quote from the Apology another passage in which this expression to daimonion, ‘the superhuman thing’, occurs. In this passage, as we will see, the synonymous expression to sēmeion, ‘the signal’, is also used:


In the past, the oracular [mantikē] art of the superhuman thing [to daimonion] within me was in the habit of opposing me, each and every time, even about minor things, if I was going to do anything not correctly [orthōs]. But now that these things, as you can see, have happened to me – things that anyone would consider, by general consensus, to be the worst possible things to happen to someone – |40b the signal [to sēmeion] of the god [theos] has not opposed me, either as I was leaving my house and going out in the morning, or when I was coming up to this place of judgment, or as I was speaking. No, it has not opposed me about anything I was going to say, though on other occasions when I was speaking, it [= the signal] has often stopped me, even when I was in the middle of saying something. But now in nothing I either said or did concerning this matter has it opposed me. So, what do I take to be the explanation of this? I will tell you. Perhaps this is a proof that what has happened to me is something good [agathon], |40c and it cannot be that we are thinking straight [orthōs] if we think that death is something bad [kakon]. This is a great proof to me of what I am saying, since the signal [to sēmeion] that I am used to would surely have opposed me if I had been heading toward something not good [agathon].

Plato Apology of Socrates 40a-c [1] {606|607}

So, what does ‘the superhuman signal’ tell Socrates not to experience? The answer to that question will be clear when we reach Text A5. As we will see in that text, this ‘signal’ does not tell Socrates not to choose death. And that is because, as we will also see in that text, dying ‘now’ is not wrong – it is right. The present time will be for Socrates the ‘right time’, the hōrā, to die.

What happens to Socrates after death

Roman mosaic depicting Orpheus, wearing a Phrygian cap and surrounded by the beasts charmed by the music of his lyre / Giovanni Dall’Orto

As Plato’s Socrates argues, one of two things is most likely to happen after he or anyone else dies, and neither one of them is a bad thing:


Let us think about it this way: there is plenty of reason to hope that death is something good [agathon]. I say this because death is one of two things: either it is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness for the person who has died, or, according to the sayings [legomena], there is some kind of a change [meta-bolē] that happens – a relocation [met-oikēsis] for the soul [psūkhē] from this place [topos] to another place [topos].

Plato Apology of Socrates 40c [2]

The legomena or ‘sayings’ here are the revelations of a mystical hero named Orpheus, which are mediated in Athenian traditions by another mystical hero named Musaeus. Both of these figures will be mentioned by name later, in Text A4. In the dialogues composed by Plato, Socrates frequently expresses interest in the mystical teachings attributed to Orpheus and Musaeus, who are associated with the elitist predemocratic agenda of the Peisistratidai, a dynasty of tyrants who ruled Athens before the advent of the democratic regime. [3] In {607|608} 19§8, I have already noted the ideological antipathy of the Athenian democracy toward the Peisistratidai.

The interest expressed by Socrates in the legomena or ‘sayings’ of figures like Orpheus and Musaeus does not make him dependent on their teachings, however. Plato’s Socrates is equally interested in another scenario for an afterlife, which is no afterlife at all:


Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, |40d but a sleep like the sleep of someone who sees nothing even in a dream, death will be a wondrous gain [kerdos]. For if a person were to select the night in which he slept without seeing anything even in a dream, and if he were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life in a better and more pleasant way than this one, I think that any person – I will not say a private individual [idiōtēs], but even the great king – |40e will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is like this, I say that to die is a gain [kerdos]; for the sum total of time is then only a single night.

Plato Apology of Socrates 40c-e [4]

That said, Plato’s Socrates proceeds to consider in some detail the alternative scenario, giving a precious glimpse into the mystical legomena or ‘sayings’ of Orpheus about an afterlife: [5]


But if death is the journey [apo-dēmiā] to another place [topos], and, if the sayings [legomena] are true [alēthē], that all the dead are over there [ekeî], then what good [agathon], O jurors, [dikastai], can be greater {608|609} than this? |41a If, when someone arrives in the world of Hādēs, he is freed from those who call themselves jurors [dikastai] here, and finds the true [alētheîs] judges [dikastai] who are said to give judgment [dikazein] over there [ekeî] – Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aiakos and Triptolemos, and other demigods [hēmi-theoi] who were righteous [dikaioi] in their own life – that would not be a bad journey [apo-dēmiā], now would it? To make contact with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer – who of you would not welcome such a great opportunity? Why, if these things are true [alēthē], let me die again and again. |41b I, too, would have a wondrous activity [diatribē] there, once I make contact with Palamedes, and with Ajax the son of Telamon, and with other ancient men who have suffered death through an unjust [a-dikos] judgment [krisis]. And there will be no small pleasure, I think, in comparing my own experiences [pathos plural] with theirs. Further – and this is the greatest thing of all – I will be able to continue questioning those who are over there [ekeî], just as I question those who are over here [entautha], and investigating who among them is wise [sophos] and who among them thinks he is wise [sophos] but is not. Who would not welcome the great opportunity, O jurors [dikastai], of being able to question the leader of the great Trojan expedition; |41c or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or one could mention countless other men – and women too! What unmitigated happiness [eudaimoniā] would there be in having dialogues [dialegesthai] with them over there [ekeî] and just being in their company and asking them questions! And I say it absolutely: those who are over there [ekeî] do not put someone to death for this; certainly not. I say that because those who are over there [ekeî] are happier [eu-daimonesteroi] than those who are over here [entautha]. And they are already immortal [athanatoi] for the rest of time, if in fact the sayings [legomena] are true [alēthē].

Plato Apology of Socrates 40e-41c [6] {609|610}

The world of such an afterlife, which is indicated mystically as ekeî, ‘over there’, in the sense of in that life, in opposition to entautha, ‘over here’, in the sense of in this life, is evidently a world in which heroes themselves achieve an afterlife. And such an afterlife, as I have been arguing in this book, is the third of three experiences: (1) death itself, (2) arrival in Hādēs, and (3) passing through Hādēs into a mystical otherworldly life. In the process of passing through Hādēs what is just and what is unjust will clearly be seen. Plato’s Socrates has a keen interest in such a prospect: he shows it by highlighting the heroes Palamedes and Ajax, both of whom died unjust deaths and both of whom could blame their deaths not only on the unjust treatment they received from their fellow Achaeans but also, more importantly, on the machinations of an unjust Odysseus.

What Plato’s Socrates is saying here about Odysseus is that he was unjust – and recognized as unjust – in the myths about the deaths of Palamedes and Ajax. From these myths, we learn that Odysseus was instrumental in causing the deaths of both these heroes. In the case of Ajax, the relevant myth is well known from sources such as Pindar’s Nemean 8. In the case of Palamedes, the myth is retold briefly by the figure of Socrates himself in the Memorabilia of Xenophon (4.2.33) – and in Xenophon’s version of the Apology of Socrates (26).

In Text A4, which I quoted a minute ago from Plato’s own version of the Apology of Socrates (41c), we saw the figure of Odysseus associated with the figure of Sisyphus, who is a prototypical trickster. In Odyssey xi 593-600, this trickster is actually punished in the afterlife for his trickery. This is not to say, however, that the world ‘over there’ is a place of eternal punishment even for tricksters like Sisyphus. More simply, it is a place where unjust as well as just deeds are sorted out and judged for all to see. In the case of Sisyphus, his negative side is highlighted in the Odyssey while his positive side is shaded over. There is a glimpse of this hero’s positive side, where we read the report of Pausanias (2.1.3) concerning Sisyphus as the founder of the Isthmian Games. Conversely, in the case of Odysseus, the Homeric Odyssey consistently highlights this hero’s positive side and shades over his negative side. Still, the {610|611} myths that involve him in the deaths of Palamedes and Ajax show that Odysseus too, like Sisyphus, had his negative side – as a trickster.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Socrates in Text A4 from Plato’s Apology of Socrates (41c) seeks to cross-examine Odysseus as an exponent of injustice – if, that is, there is really an afterlife, and if Socrates will really get a chance to make contact with that hero in such an afterlife. As we can also see in Text A4 from Plato’s Apology of Socrates (41c), another exponent of injustice whom Socrates would hope to cross-examine in such an afterlife is the hero Agamemnon himself as the leader of the expedition against Troy. That hero too can be considered an exponent of injustice, as we have seen more than once in this book. And such a negative view is highlighted by the fact that Plato’s Socrates does not even mention that hero by name in this context.

After speaking about men who lived in the heroic past, Socrates now turns his attention to men of his own time, especially to the dikastai or ‘jurors’ who condemn him to death. He speaks to them ironically and even sarcastically:


But even you, O jurors [dikastai], should have good hopes when you face death, and you should have in mind [dia-noeîsthai] this one thing as true [alēthes]: |41d that nothing bad [kakon] can happen to a good [agathos] person, either in life or when he comes to its completion [teleutân]. The events involving this person are not neglected by the gods [theoi]. Nor is it by chance that the events involving me have happened. Rather, this one thing is clear to me, that to be already dead and to be in a state where I am already released from events involving me was better for me. And it is for this reason that the signal [sēmeion] in no way diverted me from my path. Further, it is for this reason that I am not at all angry with those who accused me or with those who condemned me. Granted, it was not with this in mind that they accused me and condemned me, since they thought they were doing me harm, |41e and for this they deserve to be blamed. In any case, I ask them for only one thing. When my sons are grown up, I would ask you men to punish them [= my sons] and give them pain, as I have given you pain – if they seem to care about material things or the like, instead of striving for merit [aretē]. Or, if they seem to be something but are not at all that thing – then go ahead and insult them, as I am now insulting {611|612} you, for not caring about things they ought to care about, and for thinking they are something when they are really worth nothing. And if |42a you do this, then the things I have experienced because of what you have done to me will be just [dikaia] – and the same goes for my sons.

Plato Apology of Socrates 41c-42a [7]

These jurors who condemn Socrates to death are supposedly the upholders of justice, but for Socrates they are exactly the opposite, despite the term dikastai that they apply to themselves. Socrates has in mind here the literal meaning of dikastai. This word means not only ‘jurors’ in the political context of Athens in the world of the historical present time of Socrates in 399 BCE. In the world of the distant heroic past, this same word means, literally, ‘judges’ in the sense of ‘men of justice’. Those dikastai are the ‘men of justice’ who once upon a time lived in the heroic age and who now judge each and every person who dies and passes through Hādēs. According to the relevant myth cited by Socrates in Plato’s Apology of Socrates (41a), as I quoted it in Text A4, these otherworldly ‘judges’ include Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aiakos, and Triptolemos. Further, as we saw in the quoted text, all four of these heroes qualify as hēmi-theoi or ‘demigods’. The use of this word hēmi-theoi with reference to the great heroes of the heroic age – as viewed from the perspective of the present.

So, now, we can finally see why it is that the mysterious superhuman signal or sēmeion of Socrates never did divert him from doing or saying what he did or said in his own life. It is because he deserves to be judged as a man of justice, while the jurors who condemned him fail to merit such a judgment. And, as a man of justice, Socrates even deserves to become a hero. {612|613}

A heroic timing for the death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787) / Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This idea, that Socrates deserves to become a hero, starts to take shape in the context of the passage I quoted in Text A4 from Plato’s Apology of Socrates (40e-41c). This passage centered on the possibility of an afterlife as predicted in the mystical legomena or ‘sayings’ attributed to figures like Orpheus and Musaeus. If there is to be such an afterlife, then Socrates after death will be judged to be a just man by otherworldly judges like the heroes Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aiakos, and Triptolemos, and then, once judged, he will be allowed to pass through Hādēs into a mystical place of afterlife. This mystical place, as we see from the context of this Text A4, is populated not only by the four heroes who judge the incoming dead and who are described as hēmi-theoi or ‘demigods’ but also by heroes in general, who likewise qualify as hēmi-theoi or ‘demigods’. Among these heroes are the poets Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and Homer, listed in order of seniority, from the supposedly earliest to the latest. [8] Both Hesiod and Homer were actually worshipped as cult heroes. After the four poets, mentioned as heroes here in the Apology of Socrates (41a), Plato’s Socrates goes on to mention the heroes Palamedes and Ajax (41b), whom we have already considered, and then, as he nears the end of his speech, he makes this general statement about all the heroes whom he hopes to join in the afterlife: ‘And they [= all these heroes] are already immortal [athanatoi] for the rest of time, if in fact the sayings [legomena] are true [alēthē]’ (41c). Finally, in the last sentence of his speech, Plato’s Socrates says that the time has come for him to die. I will now quote this sentence and then argue that it signals the idea that Socrates will be dying the death of a hero:


But let me interrupt. You see, the hour [hōrā] of departure has already arrived. So, now, we all go our ways – I to die, and you to live. And the question is, which one of us on either side is going toward something that is better? It is not clear, except to the god.

Plato Apology of Socrates 42a [9] {613|614}

So, the death of Socrates will take place at exactly the right ‘time’, which is the hōrā. And we come back full circle to the very idea of the ancient Greek hero is defined by hōrā as the right ‘time’ of death.

Socrates and Achilles

As we have seen, those whom Socrates will meet in an afterlife – if there is to be an afterlife – include heroes like Odysseus, who committed acts of injustice against other heroes. They also include Agamemnon, who as we know from our readings can likewise be considered guilty of having committed acts of injustice. These examples of inclusion make it clear that membership in a heroic afterlife as pictured in the sayings of mystical poets like Orpheus and Musaeus is not restricted to paragons of justice like Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aiakos, and Triptolemos. Even heroes who are known to have committed catastrophically unjust deeds are still eligible for immortalization in an afterlife. The wording of Socrates in Plato’s Apology of Socrates (41c) takes for granted such eligibility when he says that all the heroes whom he will meet and with whom he will engage in dialogue ‘are already immortal [athanatoi] for the rest of time, if in fact the sayings [legomena] are true [alēthē]’. So, the assumption here is that Homeric heroes like Odysseus and Agamemnon are already immortalized by the time Plato’s Socrates initiates his dialogues with them. But something seems to be missing in this picture. Socrates does not mention another most prominent Homeric hero here. I mean Achilles. But Socrates does not need to mention Achilles in this context – because Socrates has already been having a dialogue with Achilles in a previous context.

Even before Socrates dies, he is already interrogating Achilles – however indirectly – about that hero’s motives as they play out in the Iliad:


Perhaps someone might say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of pursuing such a goal in life, which is likely to cause you to die right now? To him I would reply – and I would be replying justly [dikaiōs]: You, my good man, are not saying it well, if you think it is necessary for a man to calculate the risks of living or dying; there is little use in doing that. Rather, he should only consider whether in doing anything he is doing things that are just [dikaia] or unjust [adika], acting the part of {614|615} a good [agathos] man or of a bad [kakos] one. Worthless men, |28c according to your view, would be the demigods [hēmi-theoi] who fulfilled their lives by dying at Troy, especially the son of Thetis [= Achilles], who so despised the danger of risk, preferring it to waiting for disgrace. His mother, goddess that she was, had said to him, when he was showing his eagerness to slay Hector, something like this, I think: My child, if you avenge the slaying of your comrade [hetairos] Patroklos and kill Hector, you will die yourself. “Right away your fate [potmos]” – she says – “is ready for you after Hector”. And he [= Achilles], hearing this, utterly despised danger and death, |28d and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live like a worthless [kakos] man, and not to avenge his friend. “Right away may I die next,” he says, “and impose justice [dikē] on the one who committed injustice [adikeîn], rather than stay behind here by the curved ships, a laughing stock and a heavy load for Earth to bear.” Do you think that he had any thought of death and danger?

Plato Apology of Socrates 28b-d [10]

Socrates here is paraphrasing the relevant verses of Iliad XVIII 90-104, but he weaves into his paraphrases some actual quotations of the original Homeric wording. Likewise in Plato’s Symposium (179e-180a), we see a second paraphrase of the same verses. In the case of that second paraphrase, however, the choice made by Achilles to forfeit his life in order to avenge the death of Patroklos appears to be conflated with another choice that faces the hero. At an earlier point in the Iliad, in the context of the so-called Embassy Scene where Achilles is speaking to Phoenix and the other delegates (IX 410-416), he says {615|616} that he must decide between two kēres or ‘fated ways’ (IX 411): either he dies at a ripe old age after a safe nostos, ‘homecoming’, to his homeland Phthia or he dies young on the battlefield in Troy – and thereby wins for himself a kleos, ‘glory’, that will last forever (IX 413).

I have noted that Plato’s apparent conflation of two choices facing Achilles turns out to be justified: the two choices are in fact one choice. In the Embassy Scene of the Iliad, when Achilles says he must choose between two kēres or ‘fated ways’ (IX 411), either a nostos, ‘homecoming’, or a kleos, ‘glory’, that will last forever (IX 413), he is actually not yet ready to make his choice: the two alternative fates have simply been foretold for him by his mother, the goddess Thetis (IX 410-411). Later on, after Patroklos has been killed, Achilles is facing the same choice, but by now he has made his decision. He says that there cannot be a homecoming for him (nosteîn XVIII 90) because he must kill Hector in order to avenge the death of Patroklos, and, once he kills Hector, his own death in battle will become a certainty (XVIII 90-93), just as his mother had foretold – and as she now foretells again (XVIII 96-97).

In the passage from Plato that I quoted in Text B, Apology of Socrates 28b-d, we saw that Thetis is first being paraphrased. Since it is easy to overlook the distinction that Plato’s verbal art is making here between paraphrasing and quoting, I will repeat here the wording of the paraphrase: ‘His mother, goddess that she was, had said to him, when he was showing his eagerness to slay Hector, something like this, I think: My child, if you avenge the slaying of your comrade [hetairos] Patroklos and kill Hector, you will die yourself’ (28c). So, the paraphrase is signaled ostentatiously as a paraphrase. Then, immediately after we hear this paraphrase, we now hear Thetis being quoted directly (28c again), and the wording that I will translate as ‘she says’ (φησί) signals just as ostentatiously that we are now hearing a quotation: ‘“Right away your fate [potmos]” – she says – “is ready for you after Hector”’. [11] The quotation corresponds exactly to what we find in Iliad XVIII 96, where Thetis says: ‘Right away your fate [potmos] is next, ready for you after Hector’. [12] And then, immediately after the quotation from Thetis, Achilles himself seems to be quoted directly as he responds to Thetis (28d). The wording that I will translate as ‘he says’ (φησί) indicates – {616|617} again, ostentatiously – that we are once again hearing a quotation: ‘“Right away may I die next,” he says, “and impose justice [dikē] on the one who committed injustice [adikeîn], rather than stay behind here by the curved ships, a laughing stock and a heavy load for Earth to bear”’. [13] So, Achilles wants to punish Hector for having ‘committed injustice’, and this punishment is viewed as the imposing of ‘justice’. But in this case the words of Achilles as quoted by Plato’s Socrates do not at all correspond to the words we find in Iliad XVIII 98-104, where Achilles says something different – and something that takes much longer to say. What the hero does say here in the Iliad is a spectacular masterpiece of virtuosity in verbal pyrotechnics, full of the most intensely emotive outbursts. Here is my translation of these lines in Iliad XVIII 98-104: ‘Right away may I die next, since it turns out that I did not help my comrade [hetairos] |99 by protecting him when he was about to be killed. And there he was, far away from his fatherland, |100 and he died. He missed having me as his protector from harm. |101 And now, since I will not have a homecoming [neesthai] to my dear fatherland, |102 and I did not become the light [of salvation] for Patroklos or for my other companions, |103 those others, many of them, who were also dispatched by radiant Hector |104 – and here I am by the ships, just sitting here, a heavy load for Earth to bear – …’. [14]

At this juncture, exactly at the point where Achilles has just spoken of himself as ‘a heavy load for Earth to bear’, the wording of the hero as quoted by Plato’s Socrates in the Apology (28d) breaks off, as we saw. I repeat the wording: ‘“Right away may I die next,” he says, “and impose justice [dikē] on the one who committed injustice [adikeîn], rather than stay behind here by the curved ships, a laughing stock and a heavy load for Earth to bear”’. [15] In the Iliad, however, we see that the wording of Achilles does not break off but continues for several more lines, moving past the parenthetical expression at line 104 where the hero had said: ‘and here I am by the ships, just sitting here, a heavy load for Earth to bear’. [16] Not only does the wording of Achilles continue. It must continue. And {617|618} that is because this wording is, so far, still incomplete in syntax, as also in meaning. At this point, there is no syntactical follow-up as of yet for the clause indicated by the second ‘since’ in my translation, which I will now highlight as I repeat what Achilles is saying so passionately: ‘Right away may I die next, since it turns out that I did not help my comrade [hetairos] |99 by protecting him when he was about to be killed. And there he was, far away from his fatherland, |100 and he died. He missed having me as his protector from harm. |101 And now, since I will not have a homecoming [neesthai] to my dear fatherland, |102 and I did not become the light [of salvation] for Patroklos or for my other companions, |103 those others, many of them, who were also dispatched by radiant Hector |104 – and here I am by the ships, just sitting here, a heavy load for Earth to bear – …’. Picking up from this point onward, both the syntax and the meaning of Achilles will keep moving on, from line 105 all the way to line 121, where the hero will finally have the chance to say what his motive is. Leading up to line 121, Achilles had said that his determination to kill Hector shows that he chooses to die young on the battlefield, and he refers to this death as his inevitable kēr or ‘fated way’ at line 115. And now, highlighting what he will get for himself as his compensation, he declares at line 121 that he will win kleos, that is, the ‘glory’ of epic song. For Achilles, to die this way is the right thing to do.

For Socrates as well, to die as he chooses to die is the right thing to do. And he expresses this idea by using the words dikē or ‘justice’ and dikaios or ‘just’. It is true of course that the Homeric wording used by Achilles in the Iliad to motivate his own choice is not replicated by the Platonic wording used by Plato’s Socrates when the hero is quoted as saying that he chooses to die for a just cause, but I still find the Platonic wording to be true to Homeric poetry – in the sense that it conveys with psychological insight and accuracy the larger-than-life feelings expressed by Achilles. So, even before he dies and goes off to a heroic afterlife – if there is such a thing – Socrates is already having a dialogue with Achilles by quoting him in this special way, using words that Achilles himself does not use in his own Iliad. Moreover, since the readers of Plato’s Apology of Socrates are reading the words of Socrates at a time when the man they are reading is already dead, we may say that Socrates is having his dialogue with Achilles every time we read him quoting the hero of the Iliad.

Plato’s Socrates is meeting Achilles half way by using the diction of Homeric poetry in speaking about ‘a heavy load for Earth to bear’, but Achilles in turn is meeting Socrates half way by letting himself be quoted in the act of speaking about dying for a just cause. And this special way of letting Achilles speak about the just cause of dying for his comrade Patroklos, even if it is too {618|619} late now to save him, matches the special way of speaking that is chosen by Socrates when he says that he fights for justice as a philosopher the same way as he fights in war as a citizen soldier. In the Apology (28a), Socrates goes out of his way to remind his listeners of the fact that he was a distinguished combat veteran of three famous battles in the Peloponnesian War – Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium. Each one of these three battles was a military disaster for Athens, the homeland of Socrates, and in each one of these battles, as Socrates is proud to remind his fellow Athenians, he showed to all his bravery in the face of death. This bravery is portrayed also in Plato’s Symposium (220d–221c), where we find a vivid retelling of the admirable comportment of Socrates at a critical moment in the battle of Delium. Summing up the stories of his reputation for bravery on the battlefield, Socrates says in the Apology (28e): ‘I stood my ground [e-men-on] and put my life at risk’, following the orders of military commanders. Socrates is saying here that he was always ready to die for his fellow citizens in war – not only to die with them – just as Achilles is saying that he is ready to die for his comrade, since that is the right thing to do. In the same way, as we read in the Apology (29a), Socrates will not break rank and flee when he follows the dictates of his own moral responsibilities as a philosopher: that is, he will not abandon the taxis or ‘military formation’ of the just cause that he pursues.

An Odyssean way for the journey of Socrates

The descent of Socrates into hell

We have already seen that Socrates in Plato’s Apology of Socrates views Odysseus in an unfavorable light when he refers to injustices committed by this hero against other heroes such as Ajax and Palamedes. But Socrates shows a different attitude when it comes to the overall story of Odysseus as narrated in the Homeric Odyssey. As we will now see, Socrates views this story in a favorable light, modeling his own evolution as a philosopher on the idea of an Odyssean journey of a soul. I have used this expression journey of a soul when I analyzed the overall narrative of the Homeric Odyssey. In the context of that analysis, I was emphasizing not the specific idea of the soul, which is the English word I used there as a working translation of psūkhē, but rather the more general idea of a mystical journey experienced by the psūkhē – however we may translate that Greek word. As the psūkhē travels on its journey, it passes through a transitional phase visualized as Hādēs and eventually reaches an eschatological phase or afterlife visualized as the Island of the Blessed – or as various other such kinds of mystical places where heroes are immortalized. Socrates in the Apology of Socrates hopes to reach such a place after his death and, in {619|620} such an afterlife, he hopes to have dialogues with a variety of heroes, including Odysseus. In Text A4, I have already quoted the passage where Socrates refers to such hoped-for dialogues in the afterlife (41c). But now the question is, how will Socrates reach such an afterlife? As I will argue, the way for Socrates to journey to such an afterlife is an Odyssean way.

The impetus for this spiritual journey of Socrates is a visit to the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi by a man named Chaerephon. The story of this visit is retold by Plato’s Socrates in the Apology: he describes Chaerephon as someone who has been a hetairos or ‘comrade’ of his ever since the two of them were young men (20e-21a). As we see from the retelling of the story by Plato’s Socrates, Chaerephon went to Delphi and formally asked the Oracle whether there existed anyone more sophos or ‘wise’ than Socrates, and the priestess of Apollo, the Pythia, responded that there was no such man; when Socrates finds out about this oracular pronouncement, he interprets it as an ainigma or ‘riddle’ sent to him by the god Apollo himself (21a). [17] In this retelling by Plato’s Socrates, it is made clear that Chaerephon had consulted the Oracle on his own. Clearly he was not some kind of official emissary – the kind that would have been delegated to consult the Oracle on behalf of the Athenian State. In other words, Chaerephon was not an official theōros or ‘sacred delegate’. I will soon analyze the relevance of this word theōros, and for now I simply emphasize that Chaerephon consulted the Oracle on his own. And, given the nature of the question that was asked of the Oracle, we can understand how such a consultation could be viewed by the State as an act of provocation – even of subversion. The wording of Socrates is actually implying such a view when he says that Chaerephon ‘dared to do it’ (ἐτόλμησε 21a). Then, in Plato’s dramatization of the speech by Socrates, the hostile listeners to his speech react by shouting their sense of outrage at the very thought of such a consultation, and Socrates needs to quiet them down, saying to them: ‘stop your shouting’ (μὴ θορυβεῖτε, again 21a). Continuing his story, Socrates now describes what happened after he learned of the Oracle’s response: ever since, he says, he has been wandering around and testing what the god said by engaging in dialogue with any and all persons who may be more sophos or ‘wise’ than he is (21b-22a). And the word that Plato’s Socrates uses for ‘engaging in dialogue’, dialegesthai (21c), is the key to understanding the entire spiritual journey of Socrates. The never-ending {620|621} quest of Socrates to engage in dialogue extends even into his hoped-for afterlife: he says he intends to continue doing in this afterlife what he has been doing throughout his life ever since he heard what the Oracle said. So, Socrates will continue testing the truth of Apollo by seeking to discover whether those whom he encounters in the afterlife are ‘wise’, sophoi, or whether they merely think they are ‘wise’ but are not (41b). [18] And, once again, the discovery procedure for Plato’s Socrates is expressed by way of the word dialegesthai, which means ‘engaging in dialogue’ (41c). I have already quoted the context of this passage in Text A4.

So, now, we come at last to the wording used by Plato’s Socrates to describe his spiritual journey. He taps into the language of initiation in telling about his wanderings through life, describing these wanderings as an ordeal of initiation, ‘laboring [poneîn] to achieve labors [ponoi]’:


I must perform for you the tale of my wandering [planē], just as if I had been laboring [poneîn] to achieve labors [ponoi] that I endured for this purpose: that the [god’s] oracular wording [manteiā] should become impossible to refute.

Plato Apology of Socrates 22a [19]

Words like ponos and kamatos, both of which mean ‘ordeal, labor, pain’, can apply to the life-and-death struggles of heroes in stories about their larger-than-life struggles. A classic example is the ponos or ‘labor’ of Hēraklēs himself in the act of literally wrestling with Thanatos or Death incarnate in the Alcestis of Euripides (1027). In that context as also elsewhere, especially in related contexts that we find in the songs of Pindar, such mythical experiences of heroes are presented as models for the ritual experiences of humans who engage in ritual activities such as athletic competitions, [20] and this kind of engagement can be seen in anthropological terms as a shining example of what we know as initiation. [21] {621|622}

I highlight again the ponoi or ‘labors’ of Socrates, which he equates with his planē or ‘wandering’ all over the world, as it were, in the course of his unending spiritual journey. The wording that Socrates uses here evokes the experiences of heroes like Hēraklēs himself. For example, the canonical Labors of Hēraklēs are described this way in a Homeric Hymn:


|4 He [= Hēraklēs] used to travel all over the boundless earth and all over the sea, |5 veering from his path and wandering off, all because of the missions assigned to him by Eurystheus the king. |6 He [= Hēraklēs] performed many reckless things on his own, and he suffered many such things in return.

Homeric Hymn to Herakles 4-6 [22]

The words used here in telling about the ordeals of Hēraklēs match closely the words used at the very beginning of the Odyssey to tell about the ordeals of Odysseus: [23]


|1 That man, tell me O Muse the song of that man, that versatile [polu-tropos] man, who in very many ways |2 veered from his path and wandered off far and wide, after he had destroyed the sacred citadel of Troy. |3 Many different cities of many different people did he see, getting to know different ways of thinking [noos]. |4 Many were the pains [algea] he suffered in his heart [thūmos] while crossing the sea |5struggling to merit [arnusthai] the saving of his own life [psūkhē] and his own homecoming [nostos] as well as the homecoming of his comrades [hetairoi]. [24]

Odyssey i 1-5

The philosophical wandering of Socrates in the course of his spiritual journey matches in wording the heroic wandering of Odysseus as we see it described {622|623} here at the very beginning of the Odyssey (i 1-5), where it is said that the hero kept on wandering off (i 2) as he kept on learning all kinds of things (i 3) in the course of his painful struggle to save his own psūkhē (i 5). Now I am ready to interpret psūkhē in the present context as ‘soul’ – in the transcendent sense that Odysseus experiences a journey of a soul. And this psūkhē or ‘soul’ is destined for immortalization after death. In the Phaedo of Plato, to which we will turn soon, the very idea of such a destiny for the psūkhē will be most passionately debated.

The swan song of Socrates

Trumpeter Swan photo by Alan D. Williams, Wikimedia Commons

Before I bring Plato’s Apology of Socrates to a close, I will show a preview from his Phaedo. In the passage I am about to quote, Plato’s Socrates is speaking about this final dialogue of his, comparing the words in this dialogue to the song sung by a swan before death:


When he heard [what Simmias said] Socrates laughed in a measured way and said: |84e “Well, well, Simmias, so I guess I am not very likely to persuade other people that I do not regard my present situation as a misfortune, if I am unable to persuade even you, and if you keep worrying whether I am at all more troubled now than I was in my earlier phase of life – and whether I am inferior to swans [kuknoi] in my prophetic [mantikē] capacity. It seems that swans, when they get the feeling that they must die, even though they were singing throughout their earlier phase of life, |85a will now sing more and better than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they are about to go away to the god whose attendants [therapōnplural] they are. But humans, because of their fear of death, tell lies about the swans [kuknoi], claiming that swans are lamenting [thrēneîn] their own death when they sing their hearts out in sorrow. So, humans are not taking into account the fact that no bird sings when it is hungry or cold or experiences some other such pain – not even the nightingale herself or the swallow or the hoopoe. All these birds are said to be singing in their sorrow because they have something to lament. But I do not believe that these birds sing because of some sorrow – and I do not believe it about the swans [kuknoi], either. {623|624} |85b Rather, as I believe, it is because swans are sacred to Apollo and have a prophetic [mantikē] capacity and foresee the good things that will happen in the house of Hādēs – that is why they sing and rejoice in that [last] day of theirs more than they ever did in the previous time of their life. And I, too, think of myself as the consecrated [hieros] agent of the same god, and a fellow temple-servant [homo-doulos] with the swans [kuknoi], and, thinking that I have received from my master [despotēs] a prophetic [mantikē] capacity that is not inferior to theirs, I would not part from life in a less happy state of mind [thūmos] than the swans. And it is for this reason that you must speak and ask whatever questions you want, so long as the Athenian people’s Board of Eleven allows it.”

Plato Phaedo 84d-85b [25]

The swan song of Socrates is not the last word. In other words, it is not the same thing as the last dialogue – as staged by Plato – in which Socrates engages while he is still alive. Rather, the swan song of Socrates is the living word that he perpetuates by way of his eternal quest for the truth.

Socrates in Plato’s ‘Phaedo’

The meaning of theōriā

Miniature Frieze, known as the “Thera Flotilla Fresco” (Late Bronze Age, Late Minoan I Period, The West House, Room 5, South Wall 3.90 x 0.43 meters, Santorini, Greece) / Wikimedia Commons

My abbreviated translation of the noun theōriā is ‘sacred journey’. This noun is related to the noun theōros, referring to a person who is officially delegated to embark on such a sacred journey. I will translate this noun as ‘sacred delegate’. And I will translate the corresponding verb theōreîn this way: ‘to journey as a sacred delegate’. Etymologically, theōros means ‘one who sees [root hor-] a vision [theā]’. So, the basic meaning of theōriā can be reconstructed as a ritualized journey undertaken for the purpose of achieving a sacralized vision. This basic meaning is most evident in the context of athletics as a ritual activity. In the wording of Herodotus (1.59.1, 8.26), for example, a theōros is a ‘sacred delegate’ of a given community who is sent out to observe a given athletic competition and who then returns to his community with news of what he has seen. [26] Similarly, this same word theōros can refer to a ‘sacred delegate’ of a given community who is sent out to consult an oracle and who then returns with news of what the oracle said: we see a famous example in the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles (114), where Creon is sent out as a theōros to consult the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi. [27] When a theōros reports to his community what the Oracle has said, the content of his report is considered to be visual as well as verbal, since the god of the Oracle communicates not so much by saying or by not saying but rather by ‘indicating’, sēmainein, as we saw in an aphorism of Heraclitus (22 B 93 DK). When the god Apollo of the Oracle at Delphi engages in the act of sēmainein, ‘indicating’, he is conferring an inner vision {625|626} upon the theōros, who thus becomes worthy of the meaning of this word as ‘the one who sees [root hor-] a vision [theā]’; so, both the encoder and the decoder of the oracular message are operating on the basis of the same inner vision. [28] This relationship between the words sēmainein and theōros is pertinent to the usage of the modern lexical creations semantics or semiotics and theory respectively. [29]

In the case of the modern word theory, I must add, the lengthy history of its eventual meaning is mediated by philosophical reinterpretations of the words theōriātheōros, and theōreîn already in ancient times. The most familiar interpretation is Aristotle’s concept of theōriā as a ‘contemplation’ of the divine, especially by the divine (Nicomachean Ethics10.1174b). From the standpoint of Plato’s philosophical agenda, to go back to a broader understanding, theōriā is the inner vision of the mind, and that is how it can come to mean ‘theory’ or ‘theorizing’, as best represented by the theoretical thinking of Socrates himself when he engages in dialogue (as in Plato Philebus 38b). It is this kind of theoretical thinking, brought to life in dialogue, that Socrates says he adopted as his mission in life after he heard the response of the Oracle of Apollo to the question posed by Chaerephon – whether there existed anyone more sophos or ‘wise’ than Socrates. Earlier, we read about this moment, retold in Plato’s Apology of Socrates (21a). But now there is more to be said about the mission that was launched because of Apollo’s response to this question. That mission, which is the perpetual engagement of Socrates in dialogue with anyone he encounters after he had heard about the response, is the essence of theōriā.

But such a theōriā of Socrates, in the sense of a dialogic mission, was obviously not sanctioned by the Athenian State. Likewise, Chaerephon had not been given any authorization to become a theōros or ‘sacred delegate’ of the State. It should come as no surprise, then, that the word theōros is not applied to Chaerephon in Plato’s Apology of Socrates. Nor is the word applied to Chaerephon in Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates (14), where we find a parallel version of the story about his consultation of the Oracle. I note also an interesting additional detail in Xenophon’s version: that there were many witnesses to this particular consultation of the Oracle at Delphi (again, Apology of Socrates 14).

So, the word theōros, in the sense of a ‘sacred delegate’, would not be an appropriate term for a private agent who consults the Oracle at Delphi – at least, not from the standpoint of the Athenian State. In terms of this reasoning, the {626|627} word theōros should apply only to public agents, especially as exemplified by great figures in the past. [30] A case in point is the lawgiver Lycurgus of Sparta, who, according to Herodotus (1.65.4), received from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi the law code that he gave to the people of Sparta. [31] In Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates (15), Socrates himself makes a reference to the visit of Lycurgus to the Oracle at Delphi, and the philosopher goes out of his way to contrast what the lawgiver was told and what Chaerephon himself was told by the Oracle. In the case of Lycurgus, according to Socrates as mediated in Xenophon’s Apology of Socrates (15), the Oracle addressed Lycurgus by professing ambivalence whether the lawgiver is a human or a god; an earlier source, Herodotus (1.65.2-5), also mentions this detail about the consultation of the Oracle by Lycurgus. In the case of Socrates, on the other hand, Xenophon’s version of the Apology of Socrates (again, 15) reports a contrast that was highlighted by Socrates himself in his speech: here the philosopher is emphasizing a major difference between himself and the famed lawgiver from Sparta’s glorious past: whereas Apollo’s Oracle compared Lycurgus to a god, Socrates was compared only to other mortals.

Parallel to such an idealization of Lycurgus, lawgiver of Sparta, is the idealization of Solon, lawgiver of Athens. According to a traditional story attested in Herodotus (1.29.1), Solon left Athens for ten years after he gave the Athenians their laws, so that he would not be forced to change any of these laws. Herodotus adds that Solon had made the Athenians swear that they would make no changes in his absence (1.29.2). Herodotus also adds that Solon gave the Athenians a prophasis or ‘pretext’ for his departure and for his subsequent wanderings all over the world, saying that he was embarking on a theōriā or ‘sacred journey’ (θεωρίης πρόφασιν 1.29.2, θεωρίης … εἵνεκεν 1.30.1). [32] The subtext of this pretext, as I have already noted, was that the Athenians were thus bound by oath not to change anything in the laws that Solon had given them – so long as he was away on his theōriā. Solon’s sacred journey or theōriā obligated the Athenians.

In the course of his wandering all over the world on his sacred journey, Solon comes to the court of Croesus, king of the Lydians, who addresses the Athenian lawgiver with these words: {627|628}


|1.30.2 Athenian guest [xenos], we have heard much about your wisdom [sophiā] and your wandering [planē], how you in your love of wise things [philosopheîn] have traveled all over the world for the sake of a sacred journey [theōriā], so now I desire to ask you who is the most fortunate [olbios] of all men you have ever seen.

Herodotus 1.30.2 [33]

The wording that describes the philosophical mission of Solon here is most revealing. It helps us understand the wording used by Plato’s Socrates in describing his own philosophical mission:


I must perform for you the tale of my wandering [planē], just as if I had been laboring [poneîn] to achieve labors [ponoi] that I endured for this purpose: that the [god’s] oracular wording [manteiā] should become impossible to refute.

Plato Apology of Socrates 22a [34]

Hēraklēs and even Odysseus can be seen as heroic models for the metaphor that pictures the planē or ‘wandering’ of Socrates all over the world in the course of his unending spiritual journey. Now we see that Solon too is a comparable model, especially since this idealized lawgiver’s own spiritual journey is described as a philosophical quest: in the wording of Herodotus (1.30.2), Solon is said to love wise things, philosopheîn. The one big difference, however, in describing the spiritual journeys of the lawgiver who acts as a philosopher and of the philosopher who acts as a lawgiver is that the theōriāor ‘sacred journey’ of Solon the lawgiver is explicitly linked with his love of wise things, philosopheîn, whereas the same word theōriā is only implied in the description given by Plato’s Socrates of his own mission as a philosopher. For Socrates, theōriācannot be made explicit because he is acting as a private {628|629} agent while he wanders around the world, as it were, on his sacred journey. So, the word theōriā is politically inappropriate for someone who does not represent the Athenian State.

The symbolism of theōriā in Plato’s Phaedo

Miniature Frieze, known as the “Thera Flotilla Fresco” (Late Bronze Age, Late Minoan I Period, The West House, Room 5, South Wall 3.90 x 0.43 meters, Santorini, Greece) / Wikimedia Commons

For Socrates in his own lifetime, as we have just seen, the word theōriā was politically off limits. In the fullness of time, however, Plato’s Socrates will have the last word. Ultimately, the philosophical meaning of theōriā as ‘theory’ will be victorious over the political meaning of theōriā as a ‘sacred journey’ undertaken for the good of the Athenian State. Even the meaning of the modern word theory symbolizes the ultimate victory of philosophy, as brought to life in Socratic dialogue, over the politics that brought about the philosopher’s death. In Plato’s Phaedo, as we will now see, the symbolism of this word theōriā as a ‘sacred journey’ vindicates the philosophical mission of Socrates.

I start by examining the use of this word theōriā in the context of a passage we find at the very beginning of Plato’s Phaedo. The dramatic setting of this dialogue is Phleious, a city in the North Peloponnesus, far away from Athens. The speaker Echecrates is from Phleious, and he is having his own dialogue with another speaker, Phaedo, who is from Athens and who had been a student of Socrates:


|57a {Echecrates:} Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison [pharmakon]? Or did you hear about it from some other person?

{Phaedo:} I myself was there, Echecrates.

{Echecrates:} So, what were the things the man said before his death? And how did he reach the fulfillment [teleutân] of his life? I would be very glad to hear about it. For neither does any one of us Phliasians nowadays visit Athens, and it has been a long time since any guest from there [= Athens] |57bhas visited here [= Phleious], who would be able to report to us clearly about these things – except for the detail that he took poison [pharmakon] and died. As for the other related matters, no one had anything to indicate.

{Phaedo:} |58a So then you have not been informed about the trial [dikē] and about how it went? {629|630}

{Echecrates:} Well, someone did tell us about those things, but we were wondering why, after the trial [dikē] had already taken place some time earlier, he was put to death not right then and there, it seems, but much later. So, why did it happen that way, Phaedo?

{Phaedo:} It was a matter of chance [tukhē], Echecrates, that things happened that way for him. The reason was that the stern of the ship that the Athenians send to Delos happened to be garlanded [stephein] on the day before the trial [dikē].

{Echecrates:} What is this ship?

{Phaedo:} This is the ship in which, as the Athenians say, Theseus went to Crete when he took with him those famous two-times-seven young people. |58b He saved [sōzein] them and he too was saved [sōzein]. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo at that time, that if they were saved [sōzein] they would make an annual sacred journey [theōriā] to Delos. And even now, ever since that time, year after year, they send the ship to the god. So, every time they begin the sacred journey [theōriā], they have a custom [nomos] at this time of the year to purify [kathareuein] the city and to refrain from publicly executing anybody before the ship goes to Delos and then comes back from there. And sometimes this takes a long time, whenever the winds |58c happen to detain them. And the beginning of the sacred journey [theōriā] is when the priest of Apollo garlands [stephein] the stern of the ship. This happened, as I say, on the day before the trial [dikē]. And this was the reason why Socrates spent a long time in prison between the time of his trial [dikē] and the time of his death.

Plato Phaedo 57a-58c [35] {630|631}

In this passage, we see that Theseus the Athenian hero saves the people of Athens by freeing them from being dominated by the naval empire of Minos, king of the city of Knossos on the island of Crete. In the Athenian myth, as we see it retold briefly by Plutarch in his Life of Theseus (15.1-2), this domination took the form of a seasonally recurring human sacrifice of fourteen young Athenians, seven boys and seven girls, offered to the monster son of Minos, called the Minotaur, who was half man and half bull and who dwelled in Knossos inside a maze known as the laburinthos or ‘Labyrinth’ (15.2). Joining the original ensemble of seven boys and seven girls who are destined for human sacrifice, Theseus sails with them to Knossos in Crete. There Ariadne the daughter of Minos falls in love with Theseus. She helps him penetrate the Labyrinth, where Theseus finds the Minotaur and kills him. Then, retracing his steps by following the thread that Ariadne gave him, Theseus escapes from the Labyrinth and thus ‘saves’ both himself and the other young Athenians. This act of ‘saving’ the Athenians is expressed by the verb sōzein in the passage we have just read in Plato’s Phaedo, where we learn also that Theseus celebrated his salvation and the salvation of the other young Athenians by sailing together with them to Delos, sacred island of Apollo, on a prototypical theōriā or ‘sacred journey’. In Plutarch’s Life of Theseus (21.1-3), we can read further details about that prototypical celebration in Delos. There Theseus and the other young Athenians are transformed into a choral ensemble who sing and dance the story of the hero’s victory over the Minotaur inside the Labyrinth of Crete, and the Labyrinth itself is re-enacted by way of the singing and dancing, which is traditionally called the geranos or ‘crane’. This song and dance of the crane, as traditionally performed at the festival of Apollo at Delos, literally re-enacts the Cretan Labyrinth, since the dance-steps danced by cranes in the course of these birds’ courtship rituals during mating season seem to be re-tracing the patterns of a maze or Labyrinth, as Plutarch says explicitly in his Life of Theseus (21.2), following the report of the antiquarian Dicaearchus (F 85 ed. Wehrli), who lived in the fourth/third century BCE. [40]

As we see from the Phaedo of Plato, this prototypical theōriā or ‘sacred journey’ of Theseus is re-enacted in an Athenian state festival held in honor of {631|632} Apollo at Delos, marked by a ritualized theōriā or ‘sacred journey’ of the ship of Theseus from Athens to Delos and back. As we learn from Plutarch’s Life of Theseus (23.1) the triākontoros or thirty-oar ship that sailed every year on this ritualized journey to Delos and back was believed to be the same ship on which Theseus had sailed to Delos together with the rest of the young Athenians who had been saved from being sacrificed to the Minotaur. Plutarch in the Life of Theseus (again, 23.1) says that the ancient traditions about this ship could be traced forward in time from the mythical era of Theseus all the way to the historical era of Demetrius of Phaleron, a philosopher who dominated Athens both politically and culturally in the late fourth century BCE: according to these ancient traditions, Plutarch reports, the ship of Theseus had always remained the same ship, except that each and every piece of it had been replaced, one by one, in the course of time. Thus the ship as it existed in the ritual present time of Demetrius in the late fourth century BCE – or, as it existed less than a century earlier, in the year 399 BCE when Socrates died – consisted of parts that included not a single piece that could be dated all the way back to the mythical past when Theseus had sailed to the island of Delos on this same ship. Plutarch in the Life of Theseus (again, 23.1) also says that it had become a philosophical game to debate whether the ship that sailed annually in the ritual was really the same thing as the ship that sailed prototypically in the myth.

A far more sophisticated form of such a philosophical game is being played out in Plato’s Phaedo, since the theōriā or ‘sacred journey’ of the Athenian Ship of State that sails to Delos and back is an occasion for testing Plato’s Theory of Forms as it plays out in the dramatized dialogue of Socrates with his students in the Phaedo. The Athenian Ship of State that is sailing to Delos and back while Socrates is having the last dialogue of his life is materially the exact replica of the supposedly original ship. The ship of the theōriā or ‘sacred journey’ in myth is the absolute ship, the ideal ship, comparable to an ideal ship in Plato’s Theory of Forms, whereas the ship of the real world is not absolute, not ideal, just as the things of this world are not real in terms of Plato’s Theory of Forms. The word in Greek that we translate as ‘Form’ is ideā, and it is from this Greek word that such English words as ideaideal, and idealism are borrowed. Of these borrowings, the adjective and noun ideal and the idealcome closest to the philosophical concept that we translate in English as Form.

So far, we have seen an ideal of salvation that is mythologically launched, as it were, when the ship of Theseus starts sailing on its sacred voyage or theōriā. For Plato’s Socrates, however, there is also a parallel ideal of salvation {632|633} that will be philosophically continued by the theory or theōriā that will forever be fueled by the living word of Socratic dialogue. In what follows, I will start to explore the shaping of such an ideal.

The garlanding of the theoric ship

As we can see from the wording of Plato’s Phaedo (58a and 58c), quoted in Text C, the priest of Apollo attaches garlands to the stern of the Athenian Ship of State as the formal ritual act of launching this ship on its sacred voyage or theōriāto Delos and back. I now focus on the word used in the text of Plato here, stephein, which means ‘to garland, to make garlands for’ (again, 58a and 58c). But what does it really mean, to ‘garland’ a theoric ship? In ancient Greek, the noun that derives from this verb stephein is stephanos, meaning ‘garland’. Both the noun and the verb refer to blossoms or leaves that are strung together and then ritually attached to an object or to a person. In Modern Greek, the noun corresponding to ancient stephanosis stephánē (stepháni), likewise meaning ‘garland’. There is also a neuter plural form of the noun in Modern Greek, stéphana, which can mean ‘wedding garlands’: I note with special interest the metonymy embedded in the phrase used to offer best wishes to newlywed couples: kalá stéphana, meaning literally ‘[may you have] good garlands!’. In one Modern Greek phrasebook for English-speakers, this expression is translated ‘may you have a quick and happy wedding’.

[[The illustrations that follow, plus the captions, are included only in the online version of the book, not in the printed version.]]

This picture, given to me by my friend Costas Tzagarakis, shows an assortment of garlands on sale in a marketplace. The flowers that make up the garland in this case are sempreviva (in Venetian Italian, it means ‘eternally alive’; the local Greeks think it is a local Greek word). The locale is Cythera. For more on this flower and on its symbolism, I refer here to the words of my friend Costis:


A votive offering or tama, showing stephana or ‘wedding garlands’

Another votive offering or tama, showing stephana or ‘wedding garlands’

The mind set that corresponds to such a usage in Modern Greek throws light on the fact that the garlanding of objects or of persons is a way of delineating a ritual framework. The attaching of a garland marks the beginning of engagement in a ritual – and a ritual must always have a notionally perfect beginning. So the attaching of a garland to the stern of the theoric ship is meant to be a perfect send-off for the sacred voyage ahead, which must also be notionally perfect and therefore unpolluted. For the Athenian State to execute Socrates while the sacred voyage is in progress would be to pollute the ritual – and to pollute the State. I should add that the ritual practice of garlanding a ship before a sea voyage survives to this day in the Greek-speaking world, and such rituals of garlanding are linked with important festive occasions – including Easter.

As we take an overall view of the many diverse civilizations that have taken shape in the course of the last four or five thousand years in the islands as well as the mainland coastlines mediated by the Aegean Sea, we can see that the ritual of garlanding the stern of a theoric ship is a custom of the greatest antiq- {633|634} uity. The primary attestation comes from the evidence of pictures painted on the plastered surface of inner walls at the site of Akrotiri on the Aegean island of Santorini, the ancient name of which was Thera. This evidence can be dated back to the time when the prehistoric volcano that once occupied most of this island exploded, some time around the middle of the second millennium BCE, leaving behind a gigantic caldera that now occupies the space where the mountain once stood. The wall paintings to which I refer were preserved by the volcanic ash that buried the site of Akrotiri in the wake of the explosion. I concentrate here on a band of paintings that line the inner walls of “Room 5” in a building known to archaeologists as the West House – although there is currently no agreement about what exactly is meant by the term “house” in this instance. [41] This band of paintings, known as the Miniature Frieze, has been described as “one of the most important monuments in Aegean art.” [42]

The Miniature Frieze occupies the upper third of the inner walls of Room 5, where the doors and the windows would not interrupt the flow of the narrative that was painted on all four of the inner walls. The narrative of the Frieze moves clockwise, beginning and ending at the same point. The point of beginning, situated at the southernmost end of the west wall, shows part of a harbor city or “Town I,” while the point of ending, situated at the westernmost end of the south wall, shows the other part of the same harbor city, “Town I.” So, the narrative comes full circle back to “Town I.” [43] The north wall shows, again, a coastal city, which is “Town II”; as for “Town III,” which overlaps the north and the east walls, this site is yet another coastal city, and, in this case, it is situated at the mouth of a river; the same can be said for “Town IV,” at the eastern side of the south wall, which is once again a coastal city situated at the mouth of a river; actually, “Town IV” may be another way of looking at one and the same city, “Town III.” [44] Then there is the south wall, showing a fleet of ships sailing from the harbor of “Town IV” toward the “home port,” that is, toward the same place that had also served as a point of departure, which was “Town V.” [45] The fleet consists of seven large ships, only one of which is under sail; [46] the other six ships are being rowed by multitudes of oarsmen; further back to our left, in {634|635} front of “Town IV,” there is also a small boat, equipped with no mast, which is rowed by only five oarsmen. [47] All seven of the large ships are heading from left to right in the direction of the harbor of “Town V.” Located at the stern of each one of these seven large ships is a structure that looks like a cabin, and there is a male figure seated inside each one of these “cabins.”

The middle zone of wall paintings in Room 4, situated to the south of Room 5 in the same “West House,” shows a variety of close-up pictures featuring enlarged views of the same kinds of decorations that we see attached to the “cabins” located at the sterns of the seven large ships. Of particular interest are two semi-circular garlands of flowers that decorate the “cabin” of the first ship we see on our left in Figure 36 as we view the upper row of large ships pictured on the south wall of the Miniature Frieze in Room 5: this detail matches most closely the two semi-circular garlands of flowers that decorate the wall of the adjacent Room 4, as we see in Figure 61. [48]

The illustrations that follow are included only in the online version of the book, not in the printed version.

From the Miniature Frieze in West House Room 5, Figure 36 in Doumas 1999.

From a fresco painting in Room 4 of the West House, Figure 61 in Doumas 1999.

What we see painted on the wall of Room 4 shows the same garlanded frame of vision that we see painted in the Miniature Frieze decorating the south wall of Room 5. But there is a big difference. Whereas the man who is seated in the “cabin” positioned at the stern of the ship in the picture painted on the plaster wall of Room 5 can look through the garlanded frame of vision and see the sights to be seen as he sails ahead on his sea voyage, a viewer who looks at the plaster wall of Room 4 and sees a picture of the same garlanded frame of vision could merely imagine the sights to be seen in the course of such a sea voyage. Having noted this difference, however, I must return to what the two painted details have in common: whether the sights to be seen are really seen or only imagined, these sights could be interpreted as a theōriā or the ‘seeing of a vision’. What is being represented in both paintings, I argue, is a prototype of a theōriā in the sense of a ‘sacred journey’ that leads to the achievement of a mystical vision. And that view of that vision is framed by the two semi-circular garlands through which the viewer views what is seen. To borrow from a modern idiom, the vision is viewed through rose-colored glasses.

Revisiting another theōriā

At an earlier point in this book, we have already had a chance to observe another example of theōriā in the sense of a ‘sacred journey’. In this example as well, the theōriā is signaled by the ritual gesture of garlanding. The example I have in {635|636} mind is a seasonally recurring ritual of the Thessalians as described in the wording of Philostratus (Hērōikos 53.9-13): these Thessalians, representing the Aeolians of Europe who are separated by the Aegean Sea from the Aeolians of Asia Minor, send across the sea to the Asiatic region of Troy an ensemble of ‘twice seven’ theōroi or ‘sacred delegates’ (53.9), who perform the ritual gesture of ‘garlanding’ (53.12 stephanoûn) the tumulus of Achilles while wearing ‘garlands of amaranth’ on their own heads (53.9 stephanoi amarantinoi). In this example, the ideal of ritual perfection is expressed by way of symbolizing the ideal of eternity, since the ritual itself is meant to be recycled year after year into eternity. The ideal of eternity is symbolized by the Greek expression for ‘garlands of amaranth’ (again 53.9, stephanoi amarantinoi), since amaranton or ‘amaranth’ literally means ‘unwilting’.

Theorizing about theōriā

So, the ritual act of garlanding, which marks theōriā as a sacred voyage or even as a “vision quest,” is a sign of immortality. For Plato’s Socrates, theōriā is not only a journey of a ship or a journey of a soul: it is also a metaphor for philosophical inquiry through dialogue. That, as we have seen, is the way we get the word theory from theōriā. Such theory is a journey of a soul that is meant to be ongoing forever, through dialogue.

For Plato’s Socrates, the living word of dialogue can live only if it avoids getting killed by the written word. There are moments in Plato’s Phaedo when Socrates catches himself in the act of talking in a way that makes him imagine that some reader is already reading him as a piece of writing – as what we would call a book. But the very idea of Socrates as the author of a book is something to be resisted. It makes him smile knowingly and say:


Then he smiled and said, “It seems just now that I am speaking as an author of some piece of writing [sungraphikōs ereîn]. Still, what I am saying does hold, I think.”

Plato Phaedo 102d [49] {636|637}

But of course Socrates is in fact mediated here and everywhere by an author, who is none other than his old student Plato. Whatever Socrates says is being written down for him by Plato, who seems to be saying it for him. So, the dialogues that Socrates is having with his students in Plato’s Phaedo, for example, are really mediated by the writings of Plato. That is why Plato has to suppress himself as a writer – if the living word of the dialogues is to come alive and stay alive. That is why it would be best for Plato to stay out of any of these dialogues, avoiding his own presence especially in the last of all the dialogues that Socrates will have with his students while he was still alive. That is why, as Phaedo implies in Plato’s Phaedo – I stress that this speaker only implies it – Plato himself was not there in the course of that last dialogue. He could not be there because he could not be there as an author. Plato would not be up to it. Here is the way Plato’s Phaedo speaks of Plato’s absence, notional or otherwise, while Phaedo is telling about those Athenians who were present when Socrates died:


Of native Athenians who were present, there were, besides the Apollodorus I just mentioned, Critobulus and his father Crito; Hermogenes; Epigenes; Aeschines; and Antisthenes; also present was Ctesippus of the deme of Paiania; Menexenus; and some other native Athenians. As for Plato, I think he was not feeling up to it [= he was feeling weak, a-stheneîn].

Plato Phaedo 59b [50]

This riddling reference to the absence of Plato raises more questions than it answers. Here is the only mention of Plato in the dialogues attributed to Plato’s authorship – other than the reference made by Plato’s Socrates in Plato’s Apology ofSocrates to the presence of his supporters on the occasion of his trial (34a, 38b). So, if Plato was really not there to transcribe, as it were, the things that Socrates said in his last days and hours while alive, how can we trust what he says Socrates said? But this question is misleading: except for the letters that are ascribed to Plato, this man does not say anywhere that he is saying anything. Socrates is saying everything, and even Socrates leaves open-ended what Socrates says. The students of Socrates are not getting the last word from their teacher when he engages them in dialogue for the last time. Rather, the students are get- {637|638} ting the latest word, which can ever be renewed whenever the dialogue is re-started.

Yes, our first impression may be that Socrates speaks to us as if he were a book, and yet, it is the live speech of dialogue that makes the word come alive. What matters is not the wording of Socrates but the words that he is starting in the process of engaging in dialogue, to be continued by his interlocutors and by succeeding interlocutors in generations to come, generation after generation, notionally forever. That is why the dialogues as framed by Plato are not authorial. That is why Socrates is not an author.

Socrates, master of poetry as well as dialogue

Temple of Apollo at Delos / Wikimedia Commons

The time frame of the ritual theōriā or sacred voyage of the Athenian Ship of State makes room for three phases: (1) the ship sails from Athens to Delos, bringing celebrants; (2) these Athenian celebrants participate in celebrating the festival of the god Apollo at Delos; and (3) the ship sails back to Athens from Delos, taking back the celebrants. Within this time frame, as we have seen, Socrates will engage in dialogues with his followers, and these dialogues are figured as a philosophical form of theōriā. But Socrates will be engaging not only in philosophy within this time frame but also in poetry, spending some of his remaining time by composing a hymn to Apollo and by turning the prose fables of Aesop into poetry:


In the course of my life I have often had the same recurrent dream, which appeared in different forms in different versions of my envisaging the dream, but which always said the same thing: “Socrates,” it said, “go and practice the craft of the Muses [mousikē] and keep on working at it.” Previously, I had imagined that this was only intended to urge |61a and encourage me to keep on doing what has always been the pursuit of my life, in the same way that competitors in a footrace are called on by the spectators to run when they are already running. So, I thought that the dream was calling on me to keep on doing what I was already doing, which is, to practice philosophy as the craft of the Muses [mousikē], since philosophy is the greatest form of this craft and since I practiced philosophy. But now that the trial [dikē] has taken place and the festival of the god [Apollo] has been causing the postponement of {638|639} my execution, I got the idea that I should do something different, just in case the dream was ordering me to practice the craft of the Muses [mousikē] in the popular [dēmōdēs] sense of the word – so I got the idea that I should not disobey it [= the dream] and that I should go ahead and practice this craft. I was thinking that it would be a safer thing not to depart [this world] before performing a sacred rite by making poetry [poiēmata] and thus |61b obeying the dream. So, the first thing I did was to make a poem [poieîn] in honor of the god who is the recipient of the current festival, and then, after [meta] having finished with the god, here is what I [= Socrates] did: keeping in mind that a poet must, if he is really going to be a poet, make [poieîn] myths [mūthoi] and not just words [logoi] in general, and that I was no expert in the discourse of myth [mūtho-logikos], I took some myths [mūthoi] of Aesop that I knew and had on hand, and I made poetry [poieîn] out of the first few of these that I happened upon.

Plato Phaedo 60e-61b [52]

In two other projects, I have analyzed this passage in some detail, and I offer here only an abridged version of that analysis: [53]

In this passage from the Phaedo, Plato’s Socrates is extolling the supremacy of philosophy as mousikē. This word mousikē, meaning ‘the art of the Muses’, conventionally refers to high poetry and song, especially to Homeric poetry, but Plato’s Socrates refers to philosophy itself as an even higher form of mousikē, unlike any given poetic form of mousikē, which is by contrast provincial because it is ‘local’ or ‘popular’, that is, dēmōdēs. As Socrates says here in the Phaedo, he had a dream in {639|640} which an oracular voice kept telling him to make such a poetic kind of mousikē, and he then decided that such mousikē would in fact be quite appropriate for marking the occasion of Apollo’s heortē or ‘festival’. So, Socrates proceeded to compose two kinds of poetry as his swan song. One kind was a Hymn to Apollo, a form of poetry identified with Homer himself in the era of Plato. After all, the part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo that celebrates Apollo at Delos was most suited for performance at the festival of the god at Delos. And the other kind of poetry was a set of mūthoi or ‘myths’ by Aesop that Socrates turned into verse. This terminal gesture that Plato’s Socrates makes toward the mousikē of poetry puts Homer in his place. The most exalted representative of poetry, Homer the Poet par excellence, is implicitly paired here in the Phaedo with his lowly counterpart Aesop: both are exponents of mūthos, which Socrates links with the discourse of poetry, contrasting it with logos, which he links with the discourse of philosophy. The pairing of the lofty Homer with the lowly Aesop in this context not only lowers the status of Homeric poetry, though only from the standpoint of the philosopher: it also at the same time raises the status of the Aesopic fable, which is represented here as potential poetry by virtue of being mūthos in the sense of ‘myth’.

In the analysis that I have just summarized, I used the term swan song in referring to the two kinds of poetry that Socrates composed before his death. But Socrates himself reserves the concept of a swan song for a higher form of expression. As we have just seen in Plato’s Phaedo, as quoted in Text F, the ‘art of the Muses’ or mousikē applies not only to song and poetry but also to philosophy, which for Socrates is the highest form of mousikē. And, as we saw in a passage I quoted earlier, the real swan song of Socrates is not poetry. Rather, it is a continued dialogue with his students:


It is because they [= swans] are sacred to Apollo and have a prophetic [mantikē] capacity and foresee the good things that will happen in the house of Hādēs – that is why they sing and rejoice in that [last] day of theirs more than they ever did in the previous time of their life. And I, too, think of myself as the consecrated [hieros] agent of the same god, and a fellow temple-servant [homo-doulos] with the swans [kuknoi], {640|641} and, thinking that I have received from my master [despotēs] a prophetic [mantikē] capacity that is not inferior to theirs, I would not part from life in a less happy state of mind [thūmos] than the swans. And it is for this reason that you must speak and ask whatever questions you want, so long as the Athenian people’s Board of Eleven allows it.

Plato Phaedo 85b

Just as the ritual journey or theōriā that is undertaken by celebrants who sail to Delos culminates in the hymning of Apollo on his sacred island, so also the philosophical journey or theōriā that is undertaken by Socrates in prison culminates in the hymning of the same god by way of a dialogue that must never end.

The hymning of Apollo at the cult center of his sacred island of Delos is idealized, as I have argued, in the first part of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (the second part honors the god as worshipped at the rival cult center of Delphi). But the actual hymning of the god takes on other forms in the historical present. Whereas Apollo is hymned by an idealized chorus of Delian Maidens in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (156-178), there is evidence for real choruses that hymned the god at his Delian festival in the historical period of the fifth century BCE and thereafter.

As we see from the testimony of the fifth-century historian Thucydides (3.104.6), the chorus of the Delian Maidens who are described in the Homeric Hymn to Apollo are to be viewed as prototypes for the choruses that actually performed at the Delia, that is, at the festival of Apollo at Delos in historical times. [54] At the Delia, as Thucydides (3.104.6) observes, city-states participated in the ritual of ‘sending’ (anagein) their local choruses to perform there as part of a ‘sacrifice’, conveyed by the word hiera, ‘sacrificial offerings’. In fact, a traditional word for a festival like the Delia was thusiā, which literally means ‘sacrifice’. [55] There is a most relevant attestation of both these words, hiera or ‘sacrificial offerings’ and thusiā or ‘sacrifice, festival’, in an account concerning the celebration of the Delia at Delos in the glory days of the Athenian empire. This account, as we will now see, gives a full-blown description of the magnificent spectacle of choral performances at the Delia: [56] {641|642}


Nikias is remembered for his ambitious accomplishments with regard to Delos – accomplishments most spectacular in all their splendor and most worthy of the gods in all their magnificence. Here is an example. The choral groups [khoroi] that cities used to send [to Delos] for the performances of songs sacred to the god (Apollo) used to sail in [to the harbor of Delos] in a haphazard fashion, and the crowds that would gather to greet the ship used to start right away to call on the performers to start singing their song. There was no coordination, since the performers were still in the process of disembarking in a rushed and disorganized way, and they were still putting on their garlands and changing into their costumes. But when he [= Nikias] was in charge of the sacred voyage [theōriā] [to Delos], he first took a side trip to the island of Rheneia, bringing with him the choral group [khoros] and the sacrificial offerings [hiereia] and all the rest of the equipment. And he brought with him a bridge that had been made in advance, back in Athens, to fit the present occasion, and this bridge was most splendidly adorned with golden fixtures, with dyed colors, with garlands, with tapestries. Overnight, he took this bridge and spanned with it the strait between Rheneia and Delos – not a very great distance. |3.6 Then, come daylight, he led the procession in honor of the god and brought across the bridge to their destination the performers of the choral group [khoros], who were outfitted most magnificently and were all along performing their song. |3.7 Then, after the sacrifice [thusiā] and after the competition [agōn] and after the feasting, he set up as a dedication to the god the [famous] bronze palm tree.

Plutarch Life of Nikias 3.5-7 [57] {642|643}

This description by Plutarch, composed half a millennium after the events described, which took place in 426 BCE, still features the essential ritual concepts of hier(ei)a, ‘sacrificial offerings’, and thusiā, ‘sacrifice, festival’. [58] And we know that the practice of sending choral groups to perform at Delos, as attested in this narrative about events taking place in the second half of the fifth century, was in full bloom already in the first half of the fifth century, when choruses sang and danced choral songs composed by such master poets as Simonides and Pindar. The primary evidence comes from surviving fragments of their choral songs, [59] and the majority of these songs performed in honor of Apollo can be identified as paiānes or ‘paeans’. [60] And there is an explicit reference to such a paean as chorally performed by the prototypical Delian Maidens themselves at Delos:


|687 A paean [paiān] do the Delian Maidens |688 sing as a hymn [humnos] around the temple gates, |689singing [Apollo] the true child of Leto |690 as they swirl, and they have such a beautiful chorus [khoros] [of singers and dancers]. |691 I too, singing paeans [paiānes] at your palace, |692 aged singer that I am, like a swan [kuknos], |693 from my graybearded throat, |694 will send forth a cry. For whatever is real |695 has a place to stay in my hymns [humnoi].

Euripides Herakles 687-695 [61]

As we can see from this wording, sung and danced in a choral song composed by Euripides, the prototypical Delian Maidens are pictured in the act of performing the kind of choral song that is known as the paiān, ‘paean’, which is equated here with the performing of a humnos[62] The equation is made clear in the syntax of the wording, which can be analyzed in two steps. First, the verb humneîn, ‘sing a humnos’, takes as its inner object the song that is sung as a humnos, and this song is in fact a pa iān or ‘paean’. Second, the same verb humneîn takes as its outer object the name of the god Apollo, who is both the object of {643|644} praise and the subject of the song that is the humnos. When I use the expression subject of the song here, I mean the subject matter, not the grammatical subject. In the grammar of a humnos as a song, the divinity that figures as the subject of the song is in fact the grammatical object of the verb of singing the song. [63]

In the passage I have just quoted from the Herakles of Euripides (687-695), Text I, we have seen once again the idea of a swan song with reference to the hymning of the god Apollo. That idea fits the context of the drama here, since the chorus represents a group of elderly men who are on the threshold of death in their old age and who rejoice at the prospect – a sadly false prospect, as it turns out – of happy events awaiting Hēraklēs. So, we see here once again an old man’s song of joy at the prospect of good things to come – in this case, for someone other than the self.

I find it apt here to return to the swan song of Socrates, who rejoices at the prospect of good things to come – both for himself after his own death and for others, whoever may be listening to the dialogue:


It is because they [= swans] are sacred to Apollo and have a prophetic [mantikē] capacity and foresee the good things that will happen in the house of Hādēs – that is why they sing and rejoice in that [last] day of theirs more than they ever did in the previous time of their life. And I, too, think of myself as the consecrated [hieros] agent of the same god, and a fellow temple-servant [homo-doulos] with the swans [kuknoi], and, thinking that I have received from my master [despotēs] a prophetic [mantikē] capacity that is not inferior to theirs, I would not part from life in a less happy state of mind [thūmos] than the swans. And it is for this reason that you must speak and ask whatever questions you want, so long as the Athenian people’s Board of Eleven allows it.

Plato Phaedo 85b

The devotional tone of the words that Socrates reserves here for his very own ‘art of the Muses’ reminds me of a Liedcomposed by Schubert as his own personal hymn to Music: {644|645}


Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden, You, O sacred art, how often, in hours that were gray,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt, while I was caught up in the savage cycle of life,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb’ entzunden, you brought back my heart to warm love, reigniting it,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt! and spirited me off to a better world.
Oft hat ein Seufzer, deiner Harf’ entflossen, Often has a sigh drifted from your harp –
Ein süßer, heiliger Akkord von dir a sweet and holy chord coming from you,
Den Himmel beßrer Zeiten mir erschlossen, revealing from the heavens a glimpse of better times
Du holde Kunst, ich danke dir dafür! You, O sacred art, I thank you for this.

“An die Musik” (“To Music”) by Franz Schubert (D. 547 Op. 88 No. 4). Text by Franz von Schober

But of course Socrates reserves the concept of a swan song not for “music” as we know it but for an even higher form of human expression. As we have seen in Plato’s Phaedo, quoted in Text F, the ‘art of the Muses’ or mousikē applies not only to song and poetry but also to philosophy, which for Socrates is the highest form of mousikē. And, as we see once again in the passage I quoted in Text J, the real swan song of Socrates is not poetry but continued dialogue with his students.

A new way to imagine immortalization after death

Socrates statue, Wikimedia Commons

For Plato’s Socrates, philosophy is not only the highest art of the Muses. It is also the highest form of all communication, surpassing even the exalted language that reveals the mysteries of immortalization after death. The practice of philosophy can thus become a new way to imagine the mystical experience of being initiated into these mysteries: {645|646}


And perhaps even those who established for us the mysteries [teletai] were not unworthy but had a real meaning when they said long ago in a riddling way [ainittesthai = verb of ainigma] that he who arrives without initiation [amuētos] and without ritual induction [a-teles-tos, from verb of telos] into the realm of Hādēs will lie in mud, but that he who arrives to that place [ekeîse] after purification [= verb of katharsis] and induction [from verb of telos] will dwell [oikeîn] with the gods. As those who are involved in the mysteries [teletai] say, “Many are the carriers of the Bacchic wand [narthēx], |69d but few are the bakkhoi[= the true worshippers of Bacchus].” And these [true worshippers] are, in my opinion, none other than those who have practiced philosophy [philosopheîn] correctly.

Plato Phaedo 69c-d [64]

A question remains: what kind of immortalization after death can we hope for if we do in fact ‘practice philosophy correctly’? As we will now see, what is at stake here for Plato’s Socrates is not the resurrection of the sōma, the ‘body’, or even the preservation of the psūkhē, the ‘soul’, but simply the idea that the living word of philosophical dialogue must stay alive[65]

So, the only thing that should make us mourn or lament is not death pure and simple but the death of dialogue. The prospect of such a death is the thing that is really being lamented by the wife of Socrates in the final moments of his life:


|59d On previous days, the usual way that I [Phaedo] and the others visited Socrates was by congregating in the morning at the place where trials are held and where his own trial had taken place. That was because this place was near the prison. So, every day, we used to wait until the entrance to the prison was opened, having conversations with each {646|647} other while waiting, since the prison usually did not open all that early. And, once it opened, we used to go in and visit with Socrates, usually spending the whole day with him. On the last day, we met earlier than usual. That was because we had found out on the previous day, |59e as we were leaving the prison in the evening, that the [sacred] ship had arrived from Delos. So, we agreed to meet very early at the usual place. We went to the prison, and the guard who used to let us in came up to us and told us to wait and not to go further until he called us. “That is because the Board of Eleven,” he said, “are now with Socrates, and they are taking off his chains. They are giving him the order that he is to end it all on this very day.” Not too long after that, the guard came back and told us that we may come in. When we entered, |60a we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe – you know her, right? – was sitting next to him and holding his child. When Xanthippe saw us, she said some ritualized words [an-eu-phēmeîn], the kind that women are accustomed to say, and the wording went something like this: “Socrates, now is the last time when your dear ones will be talking to you and you to them.” Socrates glanced at Crito and said to him: “Crito, will someone please take her home?” Then a few of Crito’s people led her away; she was crying |60b and hitting herself.

Plato Phaedo 59d-60b [66]

From a philosophical perspective, the focus has shifted away from the lamenting wife and the helpless child. The poetic perspective had been so different, we may recall, in the Homeric scene in Iliad VI when Hector experiences {647|648} his final moments together with his wife Andromache and his infant son Astyanax. By the time the philosophical contingent reaches the scene of Socrates’ final moments together with his wife and his child, there is no room anymore for hearing and seeing whatever tender words and gestures may or may not have been exchanged.

From a philosophical perspective, the main thing to lament is the termination of opportunities to have dialogues with Socrates in person. It is this termination that Xanthippe laments in her own way, both for the followers of Socrates and even for herself.

But the perception of such a termination turns out to be erroneous, as we see from the final passage that I will quote here. At the beginning of this quoted passage, we find something extraordinary going on in the dialogue of Plato’s Phaedo. Starting at section 88c, Echecrates interrupts the narrative of Phaedo containing the dialogue of Socrates with Phaedo and others. The interruption of the narrative is like a derailing of the dialogue contained by the narrative. Then the speaker Phaedo in section 88e responds to the interruption by the speaker Echecrates, and the recontinued dialogue contained by the now recontinued narrative gets the argument back on track. And this argument, as we will see, corrects the erroneous impression that Socratic dialogue will be terminated by the death of Socrates:


{Echecrates:} I swear by the gods, Phaedo, I myself now feel totally the same way as you people felt back then. I mean, as I am now listening to you saying the kinds of things you are saying, this is the thought that comes to me: |88d “What argument [logos] can we ever trust again? For what could be more trustworthy than the argument [logos] of Socrates, which has now fallen into the status of untrustworthiness?” You see, the argument [logos] that the soul [psūkhē] is some kind of a tuning [harmoniā] has always been wonderfully attractive to me, and, when this argument was put into words, it was as if it connected me in my thinking with the fact that these things had been figured out earlier by me as well. And now I am in need of finding some other argument [logos], starting all the way back from the beginning – some argument that will make me believe that, when someone dies, the soul [psūkhē] does not die along with that someone. Tell me, for Zeus’ sake, tell me! How did Socrates follow up on the argument [logos] [of Simmias and {648|649} Cebes]? |88e Did he too get visibly upset, the same way you say that you all got upset? Or was he not upset and instead responded calmly to the cry for help and ran to the rescue [boētheîn] of the argument [logos]? And did he respond and run to the rescue [boētheîn] in a way that was sufficient or defective? Go through for us everything that happened, as accurately as you can.

[Here the narrative of Phaedo containing the dialogue of Socrates with Phaedo and others is resumed after the interruption, after the derailment.]

{Phaedo:} I tell you, Echecrates: as often as I have admired Socrates, I have never been so awed by him as I was when I was there at that moment. |89a The fact that he had something to say in response was perhaps nothing all that unusual, but the thing that really astounded me was, first, how gently and pleasantly and respectfully he received the argument [logos] of the young men [Simmias and Cebes], and, second, how acutely he sensed that we all had suffered injury from the arguments [logoi] [of Simmias and Cebes], and then, how well he healed us of our sufferings. It was as if he were calling out to us, fleeing and defeated as we were, urging us to follow him and to take another good look at our argument [logos].

{Echecrates:} And how did he do that?

{Phaedo:} I will tell you. You see, I happened to be seated close to him, at his right hand. I was sitting on a kind of stool, |89b while he was lying on a couch that was quite a bit higher than where I was. So then he stroked my head and fondled the locks of hair along my neck – he had this way of playing with my hair whenever he had a chance. And then he said: “Tomorrow, Phaedo, you will perhaps be cutting off these beautiful locks of yours?” “Yes, Socrates,” I replied, “I guess I will.” He shot back: “No you will not, if you listen to me.” “So, what will I do?” I said. He replied: “Not tomorrow but today I will cut off my own hair and you too will cut off these locks of yours – if our argument [logos] comes to an end [teleutân] for us and we cannot bring it back to life again [ana-biōsasthai]. |89c Moreover, if I were you and the argument [logos] eluded me, I would make an oath and bind myself to it, as the men of Argos had done once upon a time, that I would not wear my hair long until I win in renewed battle against the argument [logos] of {649|650} Simmias and Cebes.” “Yes,” I said, “but even Hēraklēs is said not to be a match for two opponents.” “Then summon me,” he said, “as your Iolaos, so long as there is still sunlight before the sun sets.” “Then I summon you,” I said, “not as Hēraklēs summons Iolaos: rather, I summon you the same way as Iolaos summons Hēraklēs.”

Plato Phaedo 88c-89c [67]

e breaks into the inset narrative.” [68] This moment happens when Echecrates interrupts, as we have just seen, the narrative of the speaker Phaedo who is reporting the dialogue that took place during the last days and hours of Socrates. As Elmer has also shown, “this moment is just exactly after Socrates has asked someone else to respond to the objections of Simmias; in the inset narrative, Socrates then turns to Phaedo himself, who is the frame narrator to Echecrates.” [69] And it is at this moment that Echecrates interrupts, in exasperation and even despair, the inset narrative containing the inset dialogue. After the two young philosophers Simmias and Cebes complete their logos or ‘argument’ against the logos or ‘argument’ for the {650|651} immortality of the psūkhē or ‘soul’, the other dialogic partners of Socrates are all at a loss, clearly. So, the interruption by Echecrates happens at a moment when the flow of argumentation has in any case been interrupted by the inability of the original dialogic partners to come up with a good response to the argument of Simmias and Cebes. The logos or ‘argument’ for the immortality of the psūkhē or ‘soul’, pictured as the perfect harmoniā or ‘tuning’ of Apollo’s seven-stringed lyre, has been shattered in the course of the dialogue reported by Phaedo. [70] And the same argument is now being shattered for Echecrates, who is just hearing for the first time the content of this dialogue that took place while Socrates was still alive. But Socrates is now dead. So, how can the argument for the immortality of the psūkhē or ‘soul’ have any chance to live on?

This is where the continuation of the argument comes into the picture. After the interruption of the argument, the argument will begin again, as Phaedo recontinues the inset narrative, and, in this recontinued narrative, the dialogue of Socrates gets a new life. The dialogue is brought back to life again. The dialogue, as Socrates himself implies, is resurrected. His use of the expression ana-biōnai, ‘bring back to life again’, in the text I just quoted conveys the idea of resurrecting the logos, ‘argument’, the literal meaning of which can also be translated, more simply, as ‘word’. The followers of Socrates should lament not for the death of Socrates but for the death of the word. And if the living word stays alive, then there is no need to mourn for Socrates – even if his psūkhē or ‘soul’ were to die along with him. Plato’s Socrates refers in this context to a celebrated story about the men of Argos who refused to wear their hair long until they got a rematch with the long-haired men of Sparta who had defeated them (Herodotus 1.82.7). So also, says Socrates, the followers of Socrates should cut their hair in mourning for his death only if they are ready to fight once again for the argument that the psūkhē or ‘soul’ is immortal. So, maybe Socrates himself has been immortalized after all. It is in such a context that I can understand the argument of those who see traces of a hero cult of Socrates as instituted by Plato and his followers within the space of Plato’s Academy. [71]

In the passage I have just quoted in Text N from Plato’s Phaedo (88e), we find a most striking metaphor applied to Socrates in the act of defending the logos or ‘argument’: he is said to boētheîn, which means literally that he is re- {651|652} sponding to a ‘cry for help’, a boē, by running, theîn, to the rescue. [72] This metaphor is not only military: it is also heroic, as we see in Homeric contexts (Iliad XIII 477). And, in historical times, when heroes are called upon to help their worshippers in their hour of need, the appropriate word for a positive response is boētheîn, as we see for example in Plutarch’s Life of Nikias(1.3), where the hero Hēraklēs is said to have intervened on behalf of the Syracusans by saving them in their military victory against the Athenians. Moreover, when Socrates is asked to respond to a cry for help from his beleaguered fellow debaters as the argumentation proceeds in Plato’s Phaedo, he is compared to the ultimate hero Hēraklēs. Phaedo wants to ‘summon’ or para-kaleîn Socrates, just as the worshippers of Hēraklēs ‘summon’ that hero. This way, the argument for immortality will be saved.

Socrates, however, prefers to be ‘summoned’ not as Hēraklēs but as Iolaos, the young nephew and junior partner of Hēraklēs. Socrates wants Phaedo to be his Hēraklēs after Socrates is dead. No, Phaedo will not be able to fight against the likes of Simmias and Cebes if the two of them fight against him as a pair. That would be a one-against-two fight. When Hēraklēs is fighting solo against two, even he needs the help of his nephew Iolaos. But the dialogic partner of Socrates, Phaedo, wants to summon Socrates as if Socrates were Hēraklēs. Phaedo can be Iolaos to Socrates while Socrates is Hēraklēs, although Socrates thinks that he should be Iolaos and should let Phaedo be Hēraklēs in a debate with Simmias and Cebes. Either way, Socrates would be dead, and the living dialogic partner would have to team up with the dead words of Socrates, who is shown engaging in dialogue inside the book that is Plato’s Phaedo. These dead words embedded inside the book can be made to come alive only when the word comes back to life again in a live dialogue. {652|653}


1. ἡ γὰρ εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντικὴ ἡ τοῦ δαιμονίου ἐν μὲν τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ παντὶ πάνυ πυκνὴ ἀεὶ ἦν καὶ πάνυ ἐπὶ σμικροῖς ἐναντιουμένη, εἴ τι μέλλοιμι μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν. νυνὶ δὲ συμβέβηκέ μοι ἅπερ ὁρᾶτε καὶ αὐτοί, ταυτὶ ἅ γε δὴ οἰηθείη ἄν τις καὶ νομίζεται ἔσχατα κακῶν εἶναι· ἐμοὶ δὲ |40b οὔτε ἐξιόντι ἕωθεν οἴκοθεν ἠναντιώθη τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ σημεῖον, οὔτε ἡνίκα ἀνέβαινον ἐνταυθοῖ ἐπὶ τὸ δικαστήριον, οὔτε ἐν τῷ λόγῳ οὐδαμοῦ μέλλοντί τι ἐρεῖν. καίτοι ἐν ἄλλοις λόγοις πολλαχοῦ δή με ἐπέσχε λέγοντα μεταξύ· νῦν δὲ οὐδαμοῦ περὶ ταύτην τὴν πρᾶξιν οὔτ’ ἐν ἔργῳ οὐδενὶ οὔτ’ ἐν λόγῳ ἠναντίωταί μοι. τί οὖν αἴτιον εἶναι ὑπολαμβάνω; ἐγὼ ὑμῖν ἐρῶ· κινδυνεύει γάρ μοι τὸ συμβεβηκὸς τοῦτο ἀγαθὸν γεγονέναι, καὶ οὐκ ἔσθ’ ὅπως ἡμεῖς ὀρθῶς ὑπολαμβάνομεν, |40c ὅσοι οἰόμεθα κακὸν εἶναι τὸ τεθνάναι. μέγα μοι τεκμήριον τούτου γέγονεν· οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ’ ὅπως οὐκ ἠναντιώθη ἄν μοι τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον, εἰ μή τι ἔμελλον ἐγὼ ἀγαθὸν πράξειν.
2. Ἐννοήσωμεν δὲ καὶ τῇδε ὡς πολλὴ ἐλπίς ἐστιν ἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ εἶναι. δυοῖν γὰρ θάτερόν ἐστιν τὸ τεθνάναι· ἢ γὰρ οἷον μηδὲν εἶναι μηδὲ αἴσθησιν μηδεμίαν μηδενὸς ἔχειν τὸν τεθνεῶτα, ἢ κατὰ τὰ λεγόμενα μεταβολή τις τυγχάνει οὖσα καὶ μετοίκησις τῇ ψυχῇ τοῦ τόπου τοῦ ἐνθένδε εἰς ἄλλον τόπον.
3. HPC 340-352 = E§§95-128.
4. καὶ εἴτε δὴ μηδεμία αἴσθησίς ἐστιν ἀλλ’ |40d οἷον ὕπνος ἐπειδάν τις καθεύδων μηδ’ ὄναρ μηδὲν ὁρᾷ, θαυμάσιον κέρδος ἂν εἴη ὁ θάνατος – ἐγὼ γὰρ ἂν οἶμαι, εἴ τινα ἐκλεξάμενον δέοι ταύτην τὴν νύκτα ἐν ᾗ οὕτω κατέδαρθεν ὥστε μηδὲ ὄναρ ἰδεῖν, καὶ τὰς ἄλλας νύκτας τε καὶ ἡμέρας τὰς τοῦ βίου τοῦ ἑαυτοῦ ἀντιπαραθέντα ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ δέοι σκεψάμενον εἰπεῖν πόσας ἄμεινον καὶ ἥδιον ἡμέρας καὶ νύκτας ταύτης τῆς νυκτὸς βεβίωκεν ἐν τῷ ἑαυτοῦ βίῳ, οἶμαι ἂν μὴ ὅτι ἰδιώτην τινά, ἀλλὰ τὸν μέγαν βασιλέα εὐαριθμήτους |40e ἂν εὑρεῖν αὐτὸν ταύτας πρὸς τὰς ἄλλας ἡμέρας καὶ νύκτας – εἰ οὖν τοιοῦτον ὁ θάνατός ἐστιν, κέρδος ἔγωγε λέγω· καὶ γὰρ οὐδὲν πλείων ὁ πᾶς χρόνος φαίνεται οὕτω δὴ εἶναι ἢ μία νύξ.
5. Herodotus 2.8.2 speaks of hieros logos or ‘sacred discourse’ attributed to the followers of Orpheus, among others; I offer comments in HPC 343-344 = E§§104-105.
6. εἰ δ’ αὖ οἷον ἀποδημῆσαί ἐστιν ὁ θάνατος ἐνθένδε εἰς ἄλλον τόπον, καὶ ἀληθῆ ἐστιν τὰ λεγόμενα, ὡς ἄρα ἐκεῖ εἰσι πάντες οἱ τεθνεῶτες, τί μεῖζον ἀγαθὸν τούτου εἴη ἄν, ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί; εἰ γάρ τις |41a ἀφικόμενος εἰς Ἅιδου, ἀπαλλαγεὶς τουτωνὶ τῶν φασκόντων δικαστῶν εἶναι, εὑρήσει τοὺς ὡς ἀληθῶς δικαστάς, οἵπερ καὶ λέγονται ἐκεῖ δικάζειν, Μίνως τε καὶ Ῥαδάμανθυς καὶ Αἰακὸς καὶ Τριπτόλεμος καὶ ἄλλοι ὅσοι τῶν ἡμιθέων δίκαιοι ἐγένοντο ἐν τῷ ἑαυτῶν βίῳ, ἆρα φαύλη ἂν εἴη ἡ ἀποδημία; ἢ αὖ Ὀρφεῖ συγγενέσθαι καὶ Μουσαίῳ καὶ Ἡσιόδῳ καὶ Ὁμήρῳ ἐπὶ πόσῳ ἄν τις δέξαιτ’ ἂν ὑμῶν; ἐγὼ μὲν γὰρ πολλάκις ἐθέλω τεθνάναι εἰ ταῦτ’ ἔστιν ἀληθῆ. ἐπεὶ |41b ἔμοιγε καὶ αὐτῷ θαυμαστὴ ἂν εἴη ἡ διατριβὴ αὐτόθι, ὁπότε ἐντύχοιμι Παλαμήδει καὶ Αἴαντι τῷ Τελαμῶνος καὶ εἴ τις ἄλλος τῶν παλαιῶν διὰ κρίσιν ἄδικον τέθνηκεν, ἀντιπαραβάλλοντι τὰ ἐμαυτοῦ πάθη πρὸς τὰ ἐκείνων – ὡς ἐγὼ οἶμαι, οὐκ ἂν ἀηδὲς εἴη – καὶ δὴ τὸ μέγιστον, τοὺς ἐκεῖ ἐξετάζοντα καὶ ἐρευνῶντα ὥσπερ τοὺς ἐνταῦθα διάγειν, τίς αὐτῶν σοφός ἐστιν καὶ τίς οἴεται μέν, ἔστιν δ’ οὔ. ἐπὶ πόσῳ δ’ ἄν τις, ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί, δέξαιτο ἐξετάσαι τὸν ἐπὶ Τροίαν ἀγαγόντα |41c τὴν πολλὴν στρατιὰν ἢ Ὀδυσσέα ἢ Σίσυφον ἢ ἄλλους μυρίους ἄν τις εἴποι καὶ ἄνδρας καὶ γυναῖκας, οἷς ἐκεῖ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ συνεῖναι καὶ ἐξετάζειν ἀμήχανον ἂν εἴη εὐδαιμονίας; πάντως οὐ δήπου τούτου γε ἕνεκα οἱ ἐκεῖ ἀποκτείνουσι· τά τε γὰρ ἄλλα εὐδαιμονέστεροί εἰσιν οἱ ἐκεῖ τῶν ἐνθάδε, καὶ ἤδη τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον ἀθάνατοί εἰσιν, εἴπερ γε τὰ λεγόμενα ἀληθῆ.
7. Ἀλλὰ καὶ ὑμᾶς χρή, ὦ ἄνδρες δικασταί, εὐέλπιδας εἶναι πρὸς τὸν θάνατον, καὶ ἕν τι τοῦτο διανοεῖσθαι ἀληθές, ὅτι |41dοὐκ ἔστιν ἀνδρὶ ἀγαθῷ κακὸν οὐδὲν οὔτε ζῶντι οὔτε τελευτήσαντι, οὐδὲ ἀμελεῖται ὑπὸ θεῶν τὰ τούτου πράγματα· οὐδὲ τὰ ἐμὰ νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ αὐτομάτου γέγονεν, ἀλλά μοι δῆλόν ἐστι τοῦτο, ὅτι ἤδη τεθνάναι καὶ ἀπηλλάχθαι πραγμάτων βέλτιον ἦν μοι. διὰ τοῦτο καὶ ἐμὲ οὐδαμοῦ ἀπέτρεψεν τὸ σημεῖον, καὶ ἔγωγε τοῖς καταψηφισαμένοις μου καὶ τοῖς κατηγόροις οὐ πάνυ χαλεπαίνω. καίτοι οὐ ταύτῃ τῇ διανοίᾳ κατεψηφίζοντό μου καὶ κατηγόρουν, ἀλλ’ οἰόμενοι βλάπτειν· |41e τοῦτο αὐτοῖς ἄξιον μέμφεσθαι. τοσόνδε μέντοι αὐτῶν δέομαι· τοὺς ὑεῖς μου, ἐπειδὰν ἡβήσωσι, τιμωρήσασθε, ὦ ἄνδρες, ταὐτὰ ταῦτα λυποῦντες ἅπερ ἐγὼ ὑμᾶς ἐλύπουν, ἐὰν ὑμῖν δοκῶσιν ἢ χρημάτων ἢ ἄλλου του πρότερον ἐπιμελεῖσθαι ἢ ἀρετῆς, καὶ ἐὰν δοκῶσί τι εἶναι μηδὲν ὄντες, ὀνειδίζετε αὐτοῖς ὥσπερ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν, ὅτι οὐκ ἐπιμελοῦνται ὧν δεῖ, καὶ οἴονταί τι εἶναι ὄντες οὐδενὸς ἄξιοι. καὶ ἐὰν |42a ταῦτα ποιῆτε, δίκαια πεπονθὼς ἐγὼ ἔσομαι ὑφ’ ὑμῶν αὐτός τε καὶ οἱ ὑεῖς.
8. On this canonical sequence of listing the four poets Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and Homer, see HC 394-398 = 3§§99-102.
 9. ἀλλὰ γὰρ ἤδη ὥρα ἀπιέναι, ἐμοὶ μὲν ἀποθανουμένῳ, ὑμῖν δὲ βιωσομένοις· ὁπότεροι δὲ ἡμῶν ἔρχονται ἐπὶ ἄμεινον πρᾶγμα, ἄδηλον παντὶ πλὴν ἢ τῷ θεῷ.
10. Ἴσως ἂν οὖν εἴποι τις· Εἶτ’ οὐκ αἰσχύνῃ, ὦ Σώκρατες, τοιοῦτον ἐπιτήδευμα ἐπιτηδεύσας ἐξ οὗ κινδυνεύεις νυνὶ ἀποθανεῖν; ἐγὼ δὲ τούτῳ ἂν δίκαιον λόγον ἀντείποιμι, ὅτι Οὐ καλῶς λέγεις, ὦ ἄνθρωπε, εἰ οἴει δεῖν κίνδυνον ὑπολογίζεσθαι τοῦ ζῆν ἢ τεθνάναι ἄνδρα ὅτου τι καὶ σμικρὸν ὄφελός ἐστιν, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐκεῖνο μόνον σκοπεῖν ὅταν πράττῃ, πότερον δίκαια ἢ ἄδικα πράττει, καὶ ἀνδρὸς ἀγαθοῦ ἔργα ἢ κακοῦ. φαῦλοι |28c γὰρ ἂν τῷ γε σῷ λόγῳ εἶεν τῶν ἡμιθέων ὅσοι ἐν Τροίᾳ τετελευτήκασιν οἵ τε ἄλλοι καὶ ὁ τῆς Θέτιδος ὑός, ὃς τοσοῦτον τοῦ κινδύνου κατεφρόνησεν παρὰ τὸ αἰσχρόν τι ὑπομεῖναι ὥστε, ἐπειδὴ εἶπεν ἡ μήτηρ αὐτῷ προθυμουμένῳ Ἕκτορα ἀποκτεῖναι, θεὸς οὖσα, οὑτωσί πως, ὡς ἐγὼ οἶμαι· Ὦ παῖ, εἰ τιμωρήσεις Πατρόκλῳ τῷ ἑταίρῳ τὸν φόνον καὶ Ἕκτορα ἀποκτενεῖς, αὐτὸς ἀποθανῇ – “αὐτίκα γάρ τοι,” φησί, “μεθ’ Ἕκτορα πότμος ἑτοῖμος” – ὁ δὲ τοῦτο ἀκούσας τοῦ μὲν θανάτου καὶ τοῦ κινδύνου ὠλιγώρησε, πολὺ δὲ μᾶλλον |28d δείσας τὸ ζῆν κακὸς ὢν καὶ τοῖς φίλοις μὴ τιμωρεῖν, “αὐτίκα,” φησί, “τεθναίην, δίκην ἐπιθεὶς τῷ ἀδικοῦντι, ἵνα μὴ ἐνθάδε μένω καταγέλαστος παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν ἄχθος ἀρούρης.” μὴ αὐτὸν οἴει φροντίσαι θανάτου καὶ κινδύνου;
11. “αὐτίκα γάρ τοι,” φησί, “μεθ’ Ἕκτορα πότμος ἑτοῖμος.”
12. αὐτίκα γάρ τοι ἔπειτα μεθ’ Ἕκτορα πότμος ἑτοῖμος.
13. “αὐτίκα,” φησί, “τεθναίην, δίκην ἐπιθεὶς τῷ ἀδικοῦντι, ἵνα μὴ ἐνθάδε μένω καταγέλαστος παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν ἄχθος ἀρούρης.”
14. αὐτίκα τεθναίην, ἐπεὶ οὐκ ἄρ’ ἔμελλον ἑταίρῳ |99 κτεινομένῳ ἐπαμῦναι· ὃ μὲν μάλα τηλόθι πάτρης |100 ἔφθιτ’, ἐμεῖο δὲ δῆσεν ἀρῆς ἀλκτῆρα γενέσθαι. |101 νῦν δ’ ἐπεὶ οὐ νέομαί γε φίλην ἐς πατρίδα γαῖαν, |102 οὐδέ τι Πατρόκλῳ γενόμην φάος οὐδ’ ἑτάροισι |103 τοῖς ἄλλοις, οἳ δὴ πολέες δάμεν Ἕκτορι δίῳ, |104 ἀλλ’ ἧμαι παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης.
15. (Plato Apology 28d:) “αὐτίκα,” φησί, “τεθναίην, δίκην ἐπιθεὶς τῷ ἀδικοῦντι, ἵνα μὴ ἐνθάδε μένω καταγέλαστος παρὰ νηυσὶ κορωνίσιν ἄχθος ἀρούρης.”
16. (Iliad XVIII 104:) ἀλλ’ ἧμαι παρὰ νηυσὶν ἐτώσιον ἄχθος ἀρούρης.
17. In play here is a distinction between transcendent and everyday understandings of the word sophos as ‘wise’ and ‘skilled’ respectively. I analyze the distinction in HC 398 = 3§303; 533-536 = 4§§161-162.
18. Again in play here is the distinction between transcendent and everyday understandings of this word sophos.
19. δεῖ δὴ ὑμῖν τὴν ἐμὴν πλάνην ἐπιδεῖξαι ὥσπερ πόνους τινὰς πονοῦντος ἵνα μοι καὶ ἀνέλεγκτος ἡ μαντεία γένοιτο.
20. PH 138-139 = 5§4.
21. PH 139-144 = 5§§5-15.
22. |4 ὃς πρὶν μὲν κατὰ γαῖαν ἀθέσφατον ἠδὲ θάλασσαν |5 πλαζόμενος πομπῇσιν ὕπ’ Εὐρυσθῆος ἄνακτος |6 πολλὰ μὲν αὐτὸς ἔρεξεν ἀτάσθαλα, πολλὰ δ’ ἀνέτλη.
23. I offer further commentary in GM 14-15 about the striking correspondences in the wording.
24. |1 ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ |2 πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσε· |3πολλῶν δ’ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω, |4 πολλὰ δ’ ὅ γ’ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν, |5 ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
25. Καὶ ὃς ἀκούσας ἐγέλασέν τε ἠρέμα καί φησιν· Βαβαί, ὦ Σιμμία· ἦ που χαλεπῶς ἂν τοὺς ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους πείσαιμι |84e ὡς οὐ συμφορὰν ἡγοῦμαι τὴν παροῦσαν τύχην, ὅτε γε μηδ’ ὑμᾶς δύναμαι πείθειν, ἀλλὰ φοβεῖσθε μὴ δυσκολώτερόν τι νῦν διάκειμαι ἢ ἐν τῷ πρόσθεν βίῳ· καί, ὡς ἔοικε, τῶν κύκνων δοκῶ φαυλότερος ὑμῖν εἶναι τὴν μαντικήν, οἳ ἐπειδὰν αἴσθωνται ὅτι δεῖ αὐτοὺς ἀποθανεῖν, ᾄδοντες καὶ ἐν |85a τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ, τότε δὴ πλεῖστα καὶ κάλλιστα ᾄδουσι, γεγηθότες ὅτι μέλλουσι παρὰ τὸν θεὸν ἀπιέναι οὗπέρ εἰσι θεράποντες. οἱ δ’ ἄνθρωποι διὰ τὸ αὑτῶν δέος τοῦ θανάτου καὶ τῶν κύκνων καταψεύδονται, καί φασιν αὐτοὺς θρηνοῦντας τὸν θάνατον ὑπὸ λύπης ἐξᾴδειν, καὶ οὐ λογίζονται ὅτι οὐδὲν ὄρνεον ᾄδει ὅταν πεινῇ ἢ ῥιγῷ ἤ τινα ἄλλην λύπην λυπῆται, οὐδὲ αὐτὴ ἥ τε ἀηδὼν καὶ χελιδὼν καὶ ὁ ἔποψ, ἃ δή φασι διὰ λύπην θρηνοῦντα ᾄδειν. ἀλλ’ οὔτε ταῦτά μοι φαίνεται |85b λυπούμενα ᾄδειν οὔτε οἱ κύκνοι, ἀλλ’ ἅτε οἶμαι τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος ὄντες, μαντικοί τέ εἰσι καὶ προειδότες τὰ ἐν Ἅιδου ἀγαθὰ ᾄδουσι καὶ τέρπονται ἐκείνην τὴν ἡμέραν διαφερόντως ἢ ἐν τῷ ἔμπροσθεν χρόνῳ. ἐγὼ δὲ καὶ αὐτὸς ἡγοῦμαι ὁμόδουλός τε εἶναι τῶν κύκνων καὶ ἱερὸς τοῦ αὐτοῦ θεοῦ, καὶ οὐ χεῖρον ἐκείνων τὴν μαντικὴν ἔχειν παρὰ τοῦ δεσπότου, οὐδὲ δυσθυμότερον αὐτῶν τοῦ βίου ἀπαλλάττεσθαι. ἀλλὰ τούτου γ’ ἕνεκα λέγειν τε χρὴ καὶ ἐρωτᾶν ὅτι ἂν βούλησθε, ἕως ἂν Ἀθηναίων ἐῶσιν ἄνδρες ἕνδεκα.
31. PH 164 = 6§35.
32. PH 164 = 6§36.
33. PH 164 = 6§37. On the linguistic relationship between sēmainein and theōros, see Rutherford 2000:137.
34. PH 164-165 = 6§37.
35. On the connection of the words theōros and theōreîn with the idea of “state-delegation,” see Rutherford 2000:136-138.
36. Commentary in PH 165-167 = 6§§39-42.
37. Commentary in PH 167 = 6§42n93.
38. |1.30.2 “Ξεῖνε Ἀθηναῖε, παρ’ ἡμέας γὰρ περὶ σέο λόγος ἀπῖκται πολλὸς καὶ σοφίης εἵνεκεν τῆς σῆς καὶ πλάνης, ὡς φιλοσοφέων γῆν πολλὴν θεωρίης εἵνεκεν ἐπελήλυθας· νῦν ὦν ἐπειρέσθαι σε ἵμερος ἐπῆλθέ μοι εἴ τινα ἤδη πάντων εἶδες ὀλβιώτατον.”
39. δεῖ δὴ ὑμῖν τὴν ἐμὴν πλάνην ἐπιδεῖξαι ὥσπερ πόνους τινὰς πονοῦντος ἵνα μοι καὶ ἀνέλεγκτος ἡ μαντεία γένοιτο.
40. |57a {ΕΧ.} Αὐτός, ὦ Φαίδων, παρεγένου Σωκράτει ἐκείνῃ τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ᾗ τὸ φάρμακον ἔπιεν ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ, ἢ ἄλλου του ἤκουσας; {ΦΑΙΔ.} Αὐτός, ὦ Ἐχέκρατες. {ΕΧ.} Τί οὖν δή ἐστιν ἅττα εἶπεν ὁ ἀνὴρ πρὸ τοῦ θανάτου; καὶ πῶς ἐτελεύτα; ἡδέως γὰρ ἂν ἐγὼ ἀκούσαιμι. καὶ γὰρ οὔτε Φλειασίων οὐδεὶς πάνυ τι ἐπιχωριάζει τὰ νῦν Ἀθήναζε, οὔτε τις ξένος ἀφῖκται χρόνου συχνοῦ |57b ἐκεῖθεν ὅστις ἂν ἡμῖν σαφές τι ἀγγεῖλαι οἷός τ’ ἦν περὶ τούτων, πλήν γε δὴ ὅτι φάρμακον πιὼν ἀποθάνοι· τῶν δὲ ἄλλων οὐδὲν εἶχεν φράζειν. |58a {ΦΑΙΔ.} Οὐδὲ τὰ περὶ τῆς δίκης ἄρα ἐπύθεσθε ὃν τρόπον ἐγένετο; {ΕΧ.} Ναί, ταῦτα μὲν ἡμῖν ἤγγειλέ τις, καὶ ἐθαυμάζομέν γε ὅτι πάλαι γενομένης αὐτῆς πολλῷ ὕστερον φαίνεται ἀποθανών. τί οὖν ἦν τοῦτο, ὦ Φαίδων; {ΦΑΙΔ.} Τύχη τις αὐτῷ, ὦ Ἐχέκρατες, συνέβη· ἔτυχεν γὰρ τῇ προτεραίᾳ τῆς δίκης ἡ πρύμνα ἐστεμμένη τοῦ πλοίου ὃ εἰς Δῆλον Ἀθηναῖοι πέμπουσιν. {ΕΧ.} Τοῦτο δὲ δὴ τί ἐστιν; {ΦΑΙΔ.} Τοῦτ’ ἔστι τὸ πλοῖον, ὥς φασιν Ἀθηναῖοι, ἐν ᾧ Θησεύς ποτε εἰς Κρήτην τοὺς “δὶς ἑπτὰ” ἐκείνους ᾤχετο |58b ἄγων καὶ ἔσωσέ τε καὶ αὐτὸς ἐσώθη. τῷ οὖν Ἀπόλλωνι ηὔξαντο ὡς λέγεται τότε, εἰ σωθεῖεν, ἑκάστου ἔτους θεωρίαν ἀπάξειν εἰς Δῆλον· ἣν δὴ ἀεὶ καὶ νῦν ἔτι ἐξ ἐκείνου κατ’ ἐνιαυτὸν τῷ θεῷ πέμπουσιν. ἐπειδὰν οὖν ἄρξωνται τῆς θεωρίας, νόμος ἐστὶν αὐτοῖς ἐν τῷ χρόνῳ τούτῳ καθαρεύειν τὴν πόλιν καὶ δημοσίᾳ μηδένα ἀποκτεινύναι, πρὶν ἂν εἰς Δῆλόν τε ἀφίκηται τὸ πλοῖον καὶ πάλιν δεῦρο· τοῦτο δ’ ἐνίοτε ἐν πολλῷ χρόνῳ γίγνεται, ὅταν τύχωσιν ἄνεμοι |58cἀπολαβόντες αὐτούς. ἀρχὴ δ’ ἐστὶ τῆς θεωρίας ἐπειδὰν ὁ ἱερεὺς τοῦ Ἀπόλλωνος στέψῃ τὴν πρύμναν τοῦ πλοίου· τοῦτο δ’ ἔτυχεν, ὥσπερ λέγω, τῇ προτεραίᾳ τῆς δίκης γεγονός. διὰ ταῦτα καὶ πολὺς χρόνος ἐγένετο τῷ Σωκράτει ἐν τῷ δεσμωτηρίῳ ὁ μεταξὺ τῆς δίκης τε καὶ τοῦ θανάτου.
41. Calame 1990:239-242.
42. Doumas 1999:44-97.
43. Doumas 1999:47.
44. Doumas 1999:47-49.
45. Doumas 1999:48.
46. Doumas 1999:47-48.
47. Morris 1989:517.
48. Doumas 1999:47.
49. Doumas 1999:95.
50. Καὶ ἅμα μειδιάσας, Ἔοικα, ἔφη, καὶ συγγραφικῶς ἐρεῖν, ἀλλ’ οὖν ἔχει γέ που ὡς λέγω.
51. Οὗτός τε δὴ ὁ Ἀπολλόδωρος τῶν ἐπιχωρίων παρῆν καὶ Κριτόβουλος καὶ ὁ πατὴρ αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔτι Ἑρμογένης καὶ Ἐπιγένης καὶ Αἰσχίνης καὶ Ἀντισθένης· ἦν δὲ καὶ Κτήσιππος ὁ Παιανιεὺς καὶ Μενέξενος καὶ ἄλλοι τινὲς τῶν ἐπιχωρίων. Πλάτων δὲ οἶμαι ἠσθένει.
52. πολλάκις μοι φοιτῶν τὸ αὐτὸ ἐνύπνιον ἐν τῷ παρελθόντι βίῳ, ἄλλοτ’ ἐν ἄλλῃ ὄψει φαινόμενον, τὰ αὐτὰ δὲ λέγον, “Ὦ Σώκρατες,” ἔφη, “μουσικὴν ποίει καὶ ἐργάζου.” καὶ ἐγὼ ἔν γε τῷ πρόσθεν χρόνῳ ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ὑπελάμβανον αὐτό μοι παρακελεύεσθαί τε |61a καὶ ἐπικελεύειν, ὥσπερ οἱ τοῖς θέουσι διακελευόμενοι, καὶ ἐμοὶ οὕτω τὸ ἐνύπνιον ὅπερ ἔπραττον τοῦτο ἐπικελεύειν, μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, ὡς φιλοσοφίας μὲν οὔσης μεγίστης μουσικῆς, ἐμοῦ δὲ τοῦτο πράττοντος. νῦν δ’ ἐπειδὴ ἥ τε δίκη ἐγένετο καὶ ἡ τοῦ θεοῦ ἑορτὴ διεκώλυέ με ἀποθνῄσκειν, ἔδοξε χρῆναι, εἰ ἄρα πολλάκις μοι προστάττοι τὸ ἐνύπνιον ταύτην τὴν δημώδη μουσικὴν ποιεῖν, μὴ ἀπειθῆσαι αὐτῷ ἀλλὰ ποιεῖν· ἀσφαλέστερον γὰρ εἶναι μὴ ἀπιέναι πρὶν ἀφοσιώσασθαι |61bποιήσαντα ποιήματα πιθόμενον τῷ ἐνυπνίῳ. οὕτω δὴ πρῶτον μὲν εἰς τὸν θεὸν ἐποίησα οὗ ἦν ἡ παροῦσα θυσία· μετὰ δὲ τὸν θεόν, ἐννοήσας ὅτι τὸν ποιητὴν δέοι, εἴπερ μέλλοι ποιητὴς εἶναι, ποιεῖν μύθους ἀλλ’ οὐ λόγους, καὶ αὐτὸς οὐκ ἦ μυθολογικός, διὰ ταῦτα δὴ οὓς προχείρους εἶχον μύθους καὶ ἠπιστάμην τοὺς Αἰσώπου, τούτων ἐποίησα οἷς πρώτοις ἐνέτυχον.
53. HC 387-388 = 3§81, Nagy 2011c §§92-93 (also §§96, 168).
54. Nagy 2011d:308.
55. I have studied this word extensively in PR 40-41, 48-49, 52-53, 83.
56. Nagy 2011d:308-309.
57. μνημονεύεται δ’ αὐτοῦ καὶ τὰ περὶ Δῆλον ὡς λαμπρὰ καὶ θεοπρεπῆ φιλοτιμήματα. τῶν γὰρ χορῶν, οὓς αἱ πόλεις ἔπεμπον ᾀσομένους τῷ θεῷ, προσπλεόντων μὲν ὡς ἔτυχεν, εὐθὺς δ’ ὄχλου πρὸς τὴν ναῦν ἀπαντῶντος ᾄδειν κελευομένων κατ’ οὐδένα κόσμον, ἀλλ’ ὑπὸ σπουδῆς ἀσυντάκτως ἀποβαινόντων ἅμα καὶ στεφανουμένων καὶ μεταμφιεννυμένων, ἐκεῖνος ὅτε τὴν θεωρίαν ἦγεν, αὐτὸς μὲν εἰς Ῥήνειαν ἀπέβη, τὸν χορὸν ἔχων καὶ τὰ ἱερεῖα καὶ τὴν ἄλλην παρασκευήν, ζεῦγμα δὲ πεποιημένον Ἀθήνησι πρὸς τὰ μέτρα καὶ κεκοσμημένον ἐκπρεπῶς χρυσώσεσι καὶ βαφαῖς καὶ στεφάνοις καὶ αὐλαίαις κομίζων, διὰ νυκτὸς ἐγεφύρωσε τὸν μεταξὺ Ῥηνείας καὶ Δήλου πόρον, οὐκ ὄντα μέγαν· |3.6 εἶθ’ ἅμ’ ἡμέρᾳ τήν τε πομπὴν τῷ θεῷ καὶ τὸν χορὸν ἄγων κεκοσμημένον πολυτελῶς καὶ ᾄδοντα διὰ τῆς γεφύρας ἀπεβίβαζε. |3.7 μετὰ δὲ τὴν θυσίαν καὶ τὸν ἀγῶνα καὶ τὰς ἑστιάσεις τόν τε φοίνικα τὸν χαλκοῦν ἔστησεν ἀνάθημα τῷ θεῷ.
58. Nagy 2011d:285.
59. Nagy 2011d:309-310.
60. Nagy 2011d:310; Kowalzig 2007:57.
61. |687 παιᾶνα μὲν Δηλιάδες |688 ναῶν ὑμνοῦσ’ ἀμφὶ πύλας |689 τὸν Λατοῦς εὔπαιδα γόνον, |690 εἱλίσσουσαι καλλίχοροι· |691 παιᾶνας δ’ ἐπὶ σοῖς μελάθροις |692 κύκνος ὣς γέρων ἀοιδὸς |693 πολιᾶν ἐκ γενύων |694 κελαδήσω· τὸ γὰρ εὖ |695 τοῖς ὕμνοισιν ὑπάρχει.
62. Nagy 2011d:310; Kowalzig 2007:66; on Euripides Herakles 687-695, see also in general Henrichs 1996.
63. Nagy 2011d:310-311.
64. καὶ κινδυνεύουσι καὶ οἱ τὰς τελετὰς ἡμῖν οὗτοι καταστήσαντες οὐ φαῦλοί τινες εἶναι, ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι πάλαι αἰνίττεσθαι ὅτι ὃς ἂν ἀμύητος καὶ ἀτέλεστος εἰς Ἅιδου ἀφίκηται ἐν βορβόρῳ κείσεται, ὁ δὲ κεκαθαρμένος τε καὶ τετελεσμένος ἐκεῖσε ἀφικόμενος μετὰ θεῶν οἰκήσει. εἰσὶν γὰρ δή, ὥς φασιν οἱ περὶ τὰς τελετάς, “ναρθηκοφόροι |69d μὲν πολλοί, βάκχοι δέ τε παῦροι·” οὗτοι δ’ εἰσὶν κατὰ τὴν ἐμὴν δόξαν οὐκ ἄλλοι ἢ οἱ πεφιλοσοφηκότες ὀρθῶς.
65. These Socratic priorities are examined with uncanny acuity by Loraux 1982.
66. |59d ἀεὶ γὰρ δὴ καὶ τὰς πρόσθεν ἡμέρας εἰώθεμεν φοιτᾶν καὶ ἐγὼ καὶ οἱ ἄλλοι παρὰ τὸν Σωκράτη, συλλεγόμενοι ἕωθεν εἰς τὸ δικαστήριον ἐν ᾧ καὶ ἡ δίκη ἐγένετο· πλησίον γὰρ ἦν τοῦ δεσμωτηρίου. περιεμένομεν οὖν ἑκάστοτε ἕως ἀνοιχθείη τὸ δεσμωτήριον, διατρίβοντες μετ’ ἀλλήλων, ἀνεῴγετο γὰρ οὐ πρῴ· ἐπειδὴ δὲ ἀνοιχθείη, εἰσῇμεν παρὰ τὸν Σωκράτη καὶ τὰ πολλὰ διημερεύομεν μετ’ αὐτοῦ. καὶ δὴ καὶ τότε πρῳαίτερον συνελέγημεν· τῇ γὰρ προτεραίᾳ ἡμέρᾳ |59e ἐπειδὴ ἐξήλθομεν ἐκ τοῦ δεσμωτηρίου ἑσπέρας, ἐπυθόμεθα ὅτι τὸ πλοῖον ἐκ Δήλου ἀφιγμένον εἴη. παρηγγείλαμεν οὖν ἀλλήλοις ἥκειν ὡς πρῳαίτατα εἰς τὸ εἰωθός. καὶ ἥκομεν καὶ ἡμῖν ἐξελθὼν ὁ θυρωρός, ὅσπερ εἰώθει ὑπακούειν, εἶπεν περιμένειν καὶ μὴ πρότερον παριέναι ἕως ἂν αὐτὸς κελεύσῃ· “Λύουσι γάρ,” ἔφη, “οἱ ἕνδεκα Σωκράτη καὶ παραγγέλλουσιν ὅπως ἂν τῇδε τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τελευτᾷ.” οὐ πολὺν δ’ οὖν χρόνον ἐπισχὼν ἧκεν καὶ ἐκέλευεν ἡμᾶς εἰσιέναι. εἰσιόντες οὖν |60a κατελαμβάνομεν τὸν μὲν Σωκράτη ἄρτι λελυμένον, τὴν δὲ Ξανθίππην – γιγνώσκεις γάρ – ἔχουσάν τε τὸ παιδίον αὐτοῦ καὶ παρακαθημένην. ὡς οὖν εἶδεν ἡμᾶς ἡ Ξανθίππη, ἀνηυφήμησέ τε καὶ τοιαῦτ’ ἄττα εἶπεν, οἷα δὴ εἰώθασιν αἱ γυναῖκες, ὅτι “Ὦ Σώκρατες, ὕστατον δή σε προσεροῦσι νῦν οἱ ἐπιτήδειοι καὶ σὺ τούτους.” καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης βλέψας εἰς τὸν Κρίτωνα, “Ὦ Κρίτων,” ἔφη, “ἀπαγέτω τις αὐτὴν οἴκαδε.” Καὶ ἐκείνην μὲν ἀπῆγόν τινες τῶν τοῦ Κρίτωνος βοῶσάν |60b τε καὶ κοπτομένην.
67. {ΕΧ.} Νὴ τοὺς θεούς, ὦ Φαίδων, συγγνώμην γε ἔχω ὑμῖν. καὶ γὰρ αὐτόν με νῦν ἀκούσαντά σου τοιοῦτόν τι λέγειν |88d πρὸς ἐμαυτὸν ἐπέρχεται· “Τίνι οὖν ἔτι πιστεύσομεν λόγῳ; ὡς γὰρ σφόδρα πιθανὸς ὤν, ὃν ὁ Σωκράτης ἔλεγε λόγον, νῦν εἰς ἀπιστίαν καταπέπτωκεν.” θαυμαστῶς γάρ μου ὁ λόγος οὗτος ἀντιλαμβάνεται καὶ νῦν καὶ ἀεί, τὸ ἁρμονίαν τινὰ ἡμῶν εἶναι τὴν ψυχήν, καὶ ὥσπερ ὑπέμνησέν με ῥηθεὶς ὅτι καὶ αὐτῷ μοι ταῦτα προυδέδοκτο. καὶ πάνυ δέομαι πάλιν ὥσπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἄλλου τινὸς λόγου ὅς με πείσει ὡς τοῦ ἀποθανόντος οὐ συναποθνῄσκει ἡ ψυχή. λέγε οὖν πρὸς Διὸς πῇ ὁ Σωκράτης μετῆλθε τὸν λόγον; καὶ πότερον |88e κἀκεῖνος, ὥσπερ ὑμᾶς φῄς, ἔνδηλός τι ἐγένετο ἀχθόμενος ἢ οὔ, ἀλλὰ πρᾴως ἐβοήθει τῷ λόγῳ; ἢ καὶ ἱκανῶς ἐβοήθησεν ἢ ἐνδεῶς; πάντα ἡμῖν δίελθε ὡς δύνασαι ἀκριβέστατα. {ΦΑΙΔ.} Καὶ μήν, ὦ Ἐχέκρατες, πολλάκις θαυμάσας Σωκράτη οὐ πώποτε μᾶλλον ἠγάσθην ἢ τότε παραγενόμενος. |89a τὸ μὲν οὖν ἔχειν ὅτι λέγοι ἐκεῖνος ἴσως οὐδὲν ἄτοπον· ἀλλὰ ἔγωγε μάλιστα ἐθαύμασα αὐτοῦ πρῶτον μὲν τοῦτο, ὡς ἡδέως καὶ εὐμενῶς καὶ ἀγαμένως τῶν νεανίσκων τὸν λόγον ἀπεδέξατο, ἔπειτα ἡμῶν ὡς ὀξέως ᾔσθετο ὃ ’πεπόνθεμεν ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων, ἔπειτα ὡς εὖ ἡμᾶς ἰάσατο καὶ ὥσπερ πεφευγότας καὶ ἡττημένους ἀνεκαλέσατο καὶ προύτρεψεν πρὸς τὸ παρέπεσθαί τε καὶ συσκοπεῖν τὸν λόγον. {ΕΧ.} Πῶς δή; {ΦΑΙΔ.} Ἐγὼ ἐρῶ. ἔτυχον γὰρ ἐν δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ καθήμενος |89b παρὰ τὴν κλίνην ἐπὶ χαμαιζήλου τινός, ὁ δὲ ἐπὶ πολὺ ὑψηλοτέρου ἢ ἐγώ. καταψήσας οὖν μου τὴν κεφαλὴν καὶ συμπιέσας τὰς ἐπὶ τῷ αὐχένι τρίχας – εἰώθει γάρ, ὁπότε τύχοι, παίζειν μου εἰς τὰς τρίχας – Αὔριον δή, ἔφη, ἴσως, ὦ Φαίδων, τὰς καλὰς ταύτας κόμας ἀποκερῇ. Ἔοικεν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, ὦ Σώκρατες. Οὔκ, ἄν γε ἐμοὶ πείθῃ. Ἀλλὰ τί; ἦν δ’ ἐγώ. Τήμερον, ἔφη, κἀγὼ τὰς ἐμὰς καὶ σὺ ταύτας, ἐάνπερ γε ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος τελευτήσῃ καὶ μὴ δυνώμεθα αὐτὸν ἀναβιώσασθαι. |89c καὶ ἔγωγ’ ἄν, εἰ σὺ εἴην καί με διαφεύγοι ὁ λόγος, ἔνορκον ἂν ποιησαίμην ὥσπερ Ἀργεῖοι, μὴ πρότερον κομήσειν, πρὶν ἂν νικήσω ἀναμαχόμενος τὸν Σιμμίου τε καὶ Κέβητος λόγον. Ἀλλ’, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, πρὸς δύο λέγεται οὐδ’ ὁ Ἡρακλῆς οἷός τε εἶναι. Ἀλλὰ καὶ ἐμέ, ἔφη, τὸν Ἰόλεων παρακάλει, ἕως ἔτι φῶς ἐστιν. Παρακαλῶ τοίνυν, ἔφην, οὐχ ὡς Ἡρακλῆς, ἀλλ’ ὡς Ἰόλεως τὸν Ἡρακλῆ.
68. Elmer 2010.
69. Elmer 2010.
70. In a separate project, Nagy 2009c, I have studied other examples of this metaphor of the shattering of the perfect harmoniā or ‘tuning’ of a seven-stringed lyre. Of particular interest is the tragedy Thamyras by Sophocles, where the lyre of Thamyras the lyre-singer disintegrates while he is playing it.
71. White 2000.
72. Chantraine DELG s.v. βοή.

Originally published by The Center for Hellenic Studies under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. From “The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours”, by Gregory Nagy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).