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(B) The Prologue of Aristodemus.

In the Prologue, with which Aristodemus's narrative opens, special attention may be drawn to the following points:—

a It is significant that the first person to appear on the scene is Socrates. We are led at once to admire his good humour and ready wit as shown in the playful tone of his conversation (1) with Aristodemus (174 A, B), in which he makes jesting quotations from Homer and indulges in a pun on the name of Agathon (cp. the pun he makes on Gorgias, 198 C); and (2) with Agathon (175 C—E). These amiable traits in the character of Socrates are further illustrated in other parts of the dialogue.

b Socrates on the way becomes lost in thought and fails to put in an appearance till the banquet is already far advanced (174 D, 175 C). Aristodemus explains to Agathon (175 B) that this is no exceptional occurrence (ἔθος τι τοῦτ᾽ ἔχει). That this incident is intended to be specially emphasized as typical of Socrates' habits becomes clear when we notice how Alcibiades in his speech (220 C) describes a similar incident as taking place in one of the campaigns in which he served. The corroboration thus effected is one of many examples of the literary care and ingenuity with which Plato in this dialogue interweaves incident with speech. Another example occurs a little further on (176 C) where Eryximachus, discussing the question “to drink or not to drink,” describes Socrates as ἱκανὸς ἀμφότερα: this statement, too, we find amplified and confirmed by Alcibiades (220 A). Both these matters illustrate that entire subordination of flesh to spirit in which Socrates was unique.

c Agathon (175 C ff.) expresses a desire to share in the “witty invention” which Socrates had discovered on his way: Socrates with his usual mock-modesty disclaims for himself the possession of σοφία, except of a poor kind, but congratulates Agathon on the fine and abundant σοφία he has just been displaying so conspicuously: and the conversational banter concludes with Agathon's remark—“Presently, with the Wine-god as umpire, you and I will fight out our wisdommatch.” Here, at this early stage, we have struck for us one of the key-notes of the dialogue. For one main motive of the dialogue as a whole is to exhibit the σοφία of Socrates, his intellectual as well as moral supremacy. And we find, in the sequel, that this is done largely by pitting him against Agathon, over the wine-bowl. In this we have the reason for the juxtaposition of the two speeches, matched, as it were, one against the other. His speech is, in itself, one sufficient proof of the superiority of Socrates over his rival. But there are also other proofs: there is the masterly criticism and confutation to which Socrates subjects the belauded poet; there is the express statement, confirmed by expressive action, of Alcibiades, in which is asserted the superiority of Socrates not merely to Agathon but to all others who make claim to σοφία (213 E, 215 C ff.); and finally the Wine-god himself bestows on Socrates the palm when, in the concluding scene, we see him alone pursuing discussion with unflagging zeal and with a clearness of head undimmed by long and deep potations while his rival drowses and succumbs to sleep. Thus the διαδικασία περὶ τῆς σοφίας runs through the book, and always, from beginning to end, νικᾷ Σωκράτης.

To this we may add one minor point. Agathon, in this preliminary play of wit, applies to Socrates the epithet ὑβριστής, “a mocker.” And this, too, is a trait upon which Alcibiades, in the sequel, lays much stress. ὕβρις is one of the most striking characteristics of the SatyrSocrates (216 E, 219 C).

d Another example of the literary interweaving—or the method of “responsions,” as we might term it,—which is so marked a feature of the dialogue, is to be found in the statement of Socrates concerning the character of his own knowledge. His speciality in the way of science is, he announces, “erotics,” and this is his only speciality (177 D). Accordingly, when we find Socrates in the sequel delivering a discourse on this subject we are evidently intended by Plato to feel that his views are to be taken seriously as those of one who professed to be an expert in this subject if in nothing else. And this intention is emphasized when we come to the later passage (the “responsion”) in 198 D where Socrates again refers to his conviction that concerning “erotics” he knew the truth (εἰδὼς τὴν ἀλήθειαν). It is hardly necessary to add that “erotics,” construed in the Socratic sense, constitutes by no means an insignificant department of knowledge (φαύλη τις σοφία 175 E), as Socrates modestly implies, inasmuch as it is practically coextensive with a theory of education and involves an insight into the origin, nature and destiny of the human soul.

e In 177 B we have an interesting parallel between Plato's language and that of Isocrates. In Hel. 210 B,τῶν μὲν γὰρ τοὺς βομβυλίους καὶ τοὺς ἅλας καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα βουληθέντων ἐπαινεῖν κ.τ.λ.,” Isocrates scoffs at the eulogists of “bees and salt and such-like trumpery,” and his language is echoed in the allusion (put in the mouth of Eryximachus quoting Phaedrus) to a βιβλίον ἀνδρὸς σοφοῦ ἐν ἐνῆσαν ἅλες ἔπαινον θαυμάσιον ἔχοντες πρὸς ὠφέλειαν (177 B). This eulogist of salt is commonly supposed to be Polycrates, since encomia on similar paltry subjects—mice, χύτραι, ψῆφοι—are ascribed to him1. Dümmler, however2, takes the reference to be to Antisthenes (Protreptikos), on the strength of the statement in Pollux VI. 16. 98: βομβύλιος δὲ τὸ στενὸν ἔκπωμα καὶ βομβοῦν ἐν τῇ πόσει, ὡς Ἀντισθένης ἐν προτρεπτικῷ. And for ἅλες as eulogized in the same work he quotes also Rep. 372 B ff. (ὄψον ἕξουσιν ἅλας). It may be added that a further allusion to the βομβύλιος, as στενὸν ἔκπωμα, may be discovered in the mention of ἔκπωμα μέγα in Sympos. 213 E. Since Antisthenes seems to have devoted a good deal of attention to the subject of μέθη3, one is inclined to suppose that his views are alluded to in Sympos. (176, 213-14); and another allusion to him may be found in the mention of the χρηστοὶ σοφισταί who eulogized Heracles (177 B), since Heracles was, notoriously, the patron-saint of the Cynics4. However much they might differ on other points, Plato and Isocrates were agreed in so far as both found the Cynic leader an objectionable person.

f A significant indication is given us at the conclusion of the Prologue that the account of the speeches which follows is not an exhaustive account, but only a selection. And it is a selection that has been sifted twice. For Apollodorus states (178 A) that neither did Aristodemus remember all the views put forward by every speaker, nor did he (Apollodorus) remember all that Aristodemus had related. This statement is further confirmed by the later statement (180 C) that Aristodemus passed over the discourses of several speakers who followed next after Phaedrus. We are to infer, therefore, that there was a good deal of speechifying at the banquet which was not ἀξιομνημόνευτον. But why Plato is at pains to emphasize this point is not wholly clear. It may, of course, be merely a literary device meant to enhance the verisimilitude of the account, since the speeches actually related might be thought insufficient to occupy the length of time supposed to elapse between the end of the δεῖπνον and the hour of Alcibiades' arrival—which would probably not be early. It is possible, however, that we should look for a deeper reason. If so, may not the intention be to brush aside and discredit other speeches stated by another author5 (ἄλλος τις, 172 B) to have been delivered on this occasion?


1 So Hug (Sympos. ad loc.) following Sauppe and Blass: also Jebb, Att. Or. II. 99. I may note here an inconsistency as to the date of Polycrates' “Accusation” in Jebb, Att. Or. I. 150-51 compared with ib. XLV: in the latter place it is set in 393 B.C.

2 In this Dümmler (Akad. p. 66) follows Winckelmann (Antisth. fr. p. 21). Polycrates, however, may be alluded to as well as Antisthenes, as the terms of the reference are wide (ἄλλα τοιαῦτα συχνά); moreover, a close relation may have existed between these two writers.

3 See Dümmler, Antisthenica, pp. 17 ff.

4 See Gomperz, G. T. II. p. 151; Dümmler, Akad. p. 66.

5 See above, § ii. A, ad fin.

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