Plato to Dionysius wishes well-doing.
I hear from Archedemus1
that you think that not only I myself should keep quiet but my friends also from doing or saying anything bad about you; and that “you except Dion
Now your saying this, that Dion
is excepted, implies that I have no control over my friends; for had I had this control over you and Dion
, as well as the rest, more blessings would have come to us all and to the rest of the Greeks also, as I affirm. But as it is, my greatness consists in making myself follow my own instructions.3
However, I do not say this as though what Cratistolus and Polyxenus4
have told you is to be trusted; for it is said that
one of these men declares that at Olympia5
he heard quite a number of my companions maligning you. No doubt his hearing is more acute than mine; for I certainly heard no such thing. For the future, whenever anyone makes such a statement about any of us, what you ought, I think, to do is to send me a letter of inquiry; for I shall tell the truth without scruple or shame.
Now as for you and me, the relation in which we stand towards each other is really this. There is not a single Greek, one may say, to whom we are unknown, and our intercourse is a matter of common talk;
and you may be sure of this, that it will be common talk also in days to come, because so many have heard tell of it owing to its duration and its publicity. What, now, is the point of this remark? I will go back to the beginning and tell you. It is natural for wisdom and great power to come together, and they are for ever pursuing and seeking each other and consorting together. Moreover, these are qualities which people delight in discussing themselves in private conversation and hearing others discuss
in their poems. For example, when men talk about Hiero6
or about Pausanias the Lacedaemonian they delight to bring in their meeting with Simonides and what he did and said to them; and they are wont to harp on Periander of Corinth
and Thales of Miletus
, and on Pericles and Anaxagoras, and on Croesus also and Solon as wise men with Cyrus as potentate.7
The poets, too, follow their example, and bring together Creon and Tiresias,
Polyeidus and Minos, Agamemnon and Nestor, Odysseus and Palamedes8
; and so it was, I suppose, that the earliest men also brought together Prometheus and Zeus. And of these some were—as the poets tell—at feud with each other, and others were friends; while others again were now friends and now foes, and partly in agreement and partly in disagreement.
Now my object in saying all this is to make it clear, that when we ourselves die
men's talk about us will not likewise be silenced; so that we must be careful about it. We must necessarily, it seems, have a care also for the future, seeing that, by some law of nature, the most slavish men pay no regard to it, whereas the most upright do all they can to ensure that they shall be well spoken of in the future. Now I count this as a proof that the dead have some perception of things here on earth;9
for the best souls divine that this is so,
while the worst deny it; and the divinings of men who are godlike are of more authority than those of men who are not.
I certainly think that, had it been in their power to rectify what was wrong in their intercourse, those men of the past whom I have mentioned would have striven to the utmost to ensure a better report of themselves than they now have.10
In our case, then—if God so grant—it still remains possible to put right whatever has been amiss in word or deed during our intercourse in the past. For I maintain that, as regards
the true philosophy, men will think and speak well of it if we ourselves are upright, and ill if we are base. And in truth we could do nothing more pious than to give attention to this matter, nothing more impious than to disregard it.
How this result should be brought about, and what is the just course to pursue, I will now explain. I came to Sicily
with the reputation of being by far the most eminent of those engaged in philosophy; and I desired, on my arrival
, to gain your testimony as well, in order that I might get philosophy held in honor even by the multitude.11
In this, however, I was disappointed. But the reason I give for this is not that which is commonly given; rather it was because you showed that you did not fully trust me but wished rather to get rid of me somehow and invite others in my place; and owing, as I believe, to your distrust of me, you showed yourself inquisitive as to what my business was. Thereupon it was proclaimed aloud by many that you utterly despised me
and were devoted to other affairs. This certainly was the story noised abroad.
And now I will tell you what it is right to do after this, that so I may reply also to your question how you and I ought to behave towards each other. If you altogether despise philosophy, leave it alone. If, again, you have been taught by someone else or have yourself invented better doctrines than mine, hold them in honor.12
But if you are contented with my doctrines, then you should hold me also in special honor. So now, just as at the beginning, do you lead the way and I will follow. If I am honored
by you, I will honor you; but if I am not honored I will keep to myself. Moreover, if you honor me and take the lead in so doing, you will be thought to be honoring philosophy; and the very fact that you have studied other systems as well will gain you the credit, in the eyes of many, of being a philosopher yourself. But if I honor you, while you do not honor me, I shall be deemed to be a man who worships and pursues after wealth; and to such conduct everyone, we know, gives a bad name. So, to sum it all up, if you pay the honor, it will be a credit to both of us, but if I pay it a disgrace to both.
So much, then, about this subject.
As to the globe,13
there is something wrong with it; and Archedemus will point it out to you when he arrives. There is also another matter—much more valuable and divine than the globe—which he most certainly must explain, as you were puzzled about it when you sent him. For, according to his report, you say that you have not had a sufficient demonstration of the doctrine concerning the nature of “the First.”14
Now I must expound it to you in a riddling way in order that, should the tablet come to any harm “in folds of ocean or of earth,” he that readeth may not understand.
The matter stands thus: Related to
the King of All are all things, and for his sake they are, and of all things fair He is the cause. And related to the Second are the second things and related to the Third the third. About these, then, the human soul strives to learn, looking to the things that are akin to itself,
whereof none is fully perfect. But as to the King and the objects I have mentioned, they are of quite different quality. In the next place the soul inquires— “Well then, what quality have they?” But the cause of all the mischief, O son of Dionysius and Doris, lies in this very question, or rather in the travail which this question creates in the soul; and unless a man delivers himself from this he will never really attain the truth.
You, however, declared to me in the garden, under the laurels, that you had formed this notion yourself and that it was a discovery of your own;
and I made answer that if it was plain to you that this was so, you would have saved me from a long discourse.15
I said, however, that I had never met with any other person who had made this discovery; on the contrary most of the trouble I had was about this very problem. So then, after you had either, as is probable, got the true solution from someone else, or had possibly (by Heaven's favor) hit on it yourself, you fancied you had a firm grip on the proofs of it, and so you omitted to make them fast; thus your view of the truth sways now this way, now that, round about the apparent object; whereas the true object is wholly different.16
Nor are you alone in this experience; on the contrary, there has never yet been anyone, I assure you, who has not suffered the same confusion at the beginning, when he first learnt this doctrine from me; and they all overcome it with difficulty, one man having more trouble and another less, but scarcely a single one of them escapes with but little.
So now that this has occurred, and things are in this state, we have pretty well found an answer, as I think, to the question how we ought to behave towards each other. For seeing that you are testing my doctrines both by attending the lectures of other teachers and
by examining my teaching side by side with theirs, as well as by itself, then, if the test you make is a true one, not only will these doctrines implant themselves now in your mind, but you also will be devoted both to them and to us.
How, then, will this, and all that I have said, be brought to pass? You have done right now in sending Archedemus; and in the future also, after he returns to you and reports my answer, you will probably be beset later on with fresh perplexities. Then, if you are rightly advised, you will send Archedemus back to me, and he with his cargo will return to you again.
And if you do this twice or thrice, and fully test the doctrines I send you, I shall be surprised if your present difficulties do not assume quite a new aspect. Do you, therefore, act so, and with confidence; for there is no merchandise more fair than this or dearer to Heaven which you can ever dispatch or Archedemus transport.
Beware, however, lest these doctrines be ever divulged to uneducated people.17
For there are hardly any doctrines, I believe, which sound more absurd than these to the vulgar, or, on the other hand, more admirable and inspired to men of fine disposition. For it is through being repeated and listened to frequently for many years that these doctrines are refined at length, like gold, with prolonged labor. But listen now to the most remarkable result of all. Quite a number of men there are
who have listened to these doctrines—men capable of learning and capable also of holding them in mind and judging them by all sorts of tests—and who have been hearers of mine for no less than thirty years18
and are now quite old; and these men now declare that the doctrines that they once held to be most incredible appear to them now the most credible, and what they then held most credible now appears the Opposite. So, bearing this in mind, have a care lest one day you should repent of what has now been divulged improperly. The greatest safeguard is to avoid writing and to learn by heart;
for it is not possible that what is written down should not get divulged. For this reason I myself have never yet written anything on these subjects, and no treatise by Plato exists or will exist, but those which now bear his name belong to a Socrates become fair and young.19
Fare thee well, and give me credence; and now, to begin with, read this letter over repeatedly and then burn it up.
So much, then, for that. You were surprised at my sending Polyxenus to you; but now as of old I repeat
the same statement about Lycophron20
also and the others you have with you, that, as respects dialectic, you are far superior to them all both in natural intelligence and in argumentative ability; and I maintain that if any of them is beaten in argument, this defeat is not voluntary, as some imagine, but involuntary. All the same, it appears that you treat them with the greatest consideration and make them presents. So much, then, about these men; too much, indeed, about such as they!
As for Philistion,21
if you are making use of him yourself by all means do so;
but if not, lend him if possible to Speusippus22
and send him home. Speusippus, too, begs you to do so; and Philistion also promised me, that, if you would release him, he would gladly come to Athens
. Many thanks for releasing the man in the stone-quarries; and my request with regard to his household and Hegesippus, the son of Ariston,23
is no hard matter; for in your letter you said that should anyone wrong him or them and you come to know of it you would not allow it. It is proper for me also to say what is true
about Lysicleides; for of all those who have come to Athens
he is the only one who has not misrepresented your association with me; on the contrary, he always speaks nicely about past events and puts the best construction on them.