previous next

[393a]

Socrates
But, my good friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector his name?

Hermogenes
Why do you ask that?

Socrates
Because that name seems to me similar to Astyanax, and both names seem to be Greek. For lord (ἄναξ) and holder (ἕκτωρ) mean nearly the same thing, indicating that they are names of a king; for surely a man is holder of that of which he is lord; for it is clear that he rules it and possesses it and holds it. [393b] Or does it seem to you that there is nothing in what I am saying, and am I wrong in imagining that I have found a clue to Homer's opinion about the correctness of names?

Hermogenes
No, by Zeus, you are not wrong, in my opinion; I think perhaps you have found a clue.

Socrates
It is right, I think, to call a lion's offspring a lion and a horse's offspring a horse. I am not speaking of prodigies, such as the birth of some other kind of creature from a horse, [393c] but of the natural offspring of each species after its kind. If a horse, contrary to nature, should bring forth a calf, the natural offspring of a cow, it should be called a calf, not a colt, nor if any offspring that is not human should be born from a human being, should that other offspring be called a human being; and the same applies to trees and all the rest. Do you not agree?

Hermogenes
Yes.

Socrates
Good; but keep watch of me, and do not let me trick you; for by the same argument any offspring of a king should be called a king; [393d] and whether the same meaning is expressed in one set of syllables or another makes no difference; and if a letter is added or subtracted, that does not matter either, so long as the essence of the thing named remains in force and is made plain in the name.

Hermogenes
What do you mean?

Socrates
Something quite simple. For instance, when we speak of the letters of the alphabet, you know, we speak their names, not merely the letters themselves, except in the case of four, ε, υ, ο, ω.1 [393e] We make names for all the other vowels and consonants by adding other letters to them; and so long as we include the letter in question and make its force plain, we may properly call it by that name, and that will designate it for us. Take beta, for instance, The addition of e(η), t(τ), a(α) does no harm and does not prevent the whole name from making clear the nature of that letter which the lawgiver wished to designate; he knew so well how to give names to letters.

Hermogenes
I think you are right.

Socrates
Does not the same reasoning apply to a king?


1 In Plato's time the names epsilon, ypsilon, omicron, and omega were not yet in vogue. The names used were εἶ, , οὖ,and.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

load focus Greek (1903)
hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: