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“They are called holy spirits under the earth,
Noble, averters of evil, guardians of mortal men.

Hes. WD 122 ff

What of that?

Why, I think he means that the golden race was not made of gold, but was good and beautiful. And I regard it as a proof of this that he further says we are the iron race.


Don't you suppose that if anyone of our day is good, [398b] Hesiod would say he was of that golden race?

Quite likely.

But the good are the wise, are they not?

Yes, they are the wise.

This, then, I think, is what he certainly means to say of the spirits: because they were wise and knowing (δαήμονες) he called them spirits (δαίμονες) and in the old form of our language the two words are the same. Now he and all the other poets are right, who say that when a good man dies [398c] he has a great portion and honor among the dead, and becomes a spirit, a name which is in accordance with the other name of wisdom. And so I assert that every good man, whether living or dead, is of spiritual nature, and is rightly called a spirit.

And I, Socrates, believe I quite agree with you in that. But what is the word “hero”?

That is easy to understand; for the name has been but slightly changed, and indicates their origin from love (ἔρως).

What do you mean? [398d]

Why, they were all born because a god fell in love with a mortal woman, or a mortal man with a goddess. Now if you consider the word “hero” also in the old Attic pronunciation,1 you will understand better; for that will show you that it has been only slightly altered from the name of love (Eros), the source from which the heroes spring, to make a name for them. And either this is the reason why they are called heroes, or it is because they were wise and clever orators and dialecticians, able to ask questions (ἐρωτᾶν), for εἴρειν is the same as λέγειν (speak). Therefore, when their name is spoken in the Attic dialect, which I was mentioning just now, the heroes turn out to be orators and askers of questions, [398e] so that the heroic race proves to be a race of orators and sophists. That is easy to understand, but the case of men, and the reason why they are called men (ἄνθρωποι), is more difficult. Can you tell me what it is?

No, my friend, I cannot; and even if I might perhaps find out, I shall not try, because I think you are more likely to find out than I am.

1 The old Attic alphabet was officially given up in favour of the Ionic alphabet in 404 or 403 B.C. The Attic for of the word “hero” is ἥρος, that of “Eros” ἔρως. Plato seems to think there was a change in pronunciation, as well as in spelling, and indeed that is quite possible. Or Plato may simply be confusing pronunciation with spelling, as he seems to do in several passages of this dialogue (cf. especially 410).

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