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K. The Art of Writing (274 – 279)

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 SOCRATES: What’s left, then, is aptness and ineptness in connection with writing: What feature makes writing good, and what inept? Right?

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 PHAEDRUS: Yes.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 SOCRATES: Well, do you know how best to please god when you either use words or discuss them in general?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 PHAEDRUS: Not at all. Do you?

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 SOCRATES: I can tell you what I’ve heard the ancients said, though they alone know the truth. However, if we could discover that ourselves, would
we still care about the speculations of other people?

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 PHAEDRUS: That’s a silly question. Still, tell me what you say you’ve heard.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 SOCRATES: Well, this is what I’ve heard. Among the ancient gods of Naucratis in Egypt* there was one to whom the bird called the ibis is sacred. The name of that divinity was Theuth* and it was he who first discovered number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, as well as the games of checkers and dice, and, above all else, writing.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 1 Now the king of all Egypt at that time was Thamus,* who lived in the great city in the upper region that the Greeks call Egyptian Thebes; Thamus 
they call Ammon. Theuth came to exhibit his arts to him and urged him
to disseminate them to all the Egyptians. Thamus asked him about the usefulness of each art, and while Theuth was explaining it, Thamus praised him for whatever he thought was right in his explanations and criticized him for whatever he thought was wrong.
 The story goes that Thamus said much to Theuth, both for and against each art, which it would take too long to repeat. But when they came to writing, Theuth said: “O King, here is something that, once learned, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have discovered
a potion for memory and for wisdom.” Thamus, however, replied: “O most expert Theuth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art, but only another can judge how they can benefit or harm those who will use them. (275)

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 3 And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are. In fact, it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of those who learn it: they will not practice using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering. but for reminding; you provide your students with the appearance of wisdom, not with its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know nothing. And they will be difficult to get along with, since they will merely appear to be wise instead of really being so.”

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 PHAEDRUS: Socrates, you’re very good at making up stories from Egypt or wherever else you want!

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 SOCRATES: But, my friend, the priests of the temple of Zeus at Dodona say that the first prophecies were the words of an oak. Everyone who lived at that time, not being as wise as you young ones are today, found it rewarding enough in their simplicity to listen to an oak or even a stone, so long as it was telling the truth, while it seems to make a difference to you, Phaedrus, who is speaking and where he comes from. Why, though, don’t you just consider whether what he says is right or wrong?

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 PHAEDRUS: I deserved that, Socrates. And I agree that the Theban king was correct about writing.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 SOCRATES: Well, then, those who think they can leave written instructions for an art, as well as those who accept them, thinking that writing can yield results that are dear or certain, must be quite naive and truly ignorant of Ammon’s prophetic judgment: otherwise, how could they possibly think that words that have been written down can do more than remind those who already know what the writing is about?

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 PHAEDRUS: Quite right.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 SOCRATES: You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting. The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent. The same is true of written words. You’d think they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever. When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not. And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs its father’s support; alone, it can neither
 defend itself nor come to its own support.

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 0 PHAEDRUS: You are absolutely right about that, too. (276)

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 SOCRATES: Now tell me, can we discern another kind of discourse, a legitimate brother of this one? Can we say how it comes about, and how it is by nature better and more capable?

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 PHAEDRUS: Which one is that? How do you think it comes about?

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 SOCRATES: It is a discourse that is written down, with knowledge, in the soul of the listener; it can defend itself, and it knows for whom it should speak and for whom it should remain silent.

20 Leave a comment on paragraph 20 0 PHAEDRUS: You mean the living, breathing discourse of the man who knows, of which the written one can be fairly called an image.

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 1 SOCRATES: Absolutely right. And tell me this. Would a sensible farmer, who cared about his seeds and wanted them to yield fruit, plant them in
all seriousness in the gardens of Adonis* in the middle of the summer and enjoy watching them bear fruit within seven days? Or would he do this as an amusement and in honor of the holiday, if he did it at all? Wouldn’t he use his knowledge of farming to plant the seeds he cared for when it was appropriate and be content if they bore fruit seven months later?

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 PHAEDRUS: That’s how he would handle those he was serious about, Socrates, quite differently from the others, as you say.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 SOCRATES: Now what about the man who knows what is just, noble, and good? Shall we say that he is less sensible with his seeds than the farmer is with his?

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 0 PHAEDRUS: Certainly not.

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 SOCRATES: Therefore, he won’t be serious about writing them in ink, sowing them, through a pen, with words that are as incapable of speaking in their own defense as they are of teaching the truth adequately.

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 PHAEDRUS: That wouldn’t be likely.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 SOCRATES: Certainly not. When he writes, it’s likely he will sow gardens of letters for the sake of amusing himself, storing up reminders for himself “when he reaches forgetful old age” and for everyone who wants to follow
in his footsteps, and will enjoy seeing them sweetly blooming. And when others turn to different amusements, watering themselves with drinking parties and everything else that goes along with them, he will rather spend his time amusing himself with the things I have just described.

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 0 PHAEDRUS: Socrates, you are contrasting a vulgar amusement with the very noblest – with the amusement of a man who can while away his time telling stories of justice and the other matters you mentioned.

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0 SOCRATES: That’s just how it is, Phaedrus. But it is much nobler to be serious about these matters, and use the art of dialectic. The dialectician chooses a proper soul and plants and sows within it discourse accompanied
by knowledge – discourse capable of helping itself as well as the man who planted it, which is not barren but produces a seed from which more (277) discourse grows in the character of others. Such discourse makes the seed forever immortal and renders the man who has it as happy as any human being can be.

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 0 PHAEDRUS: What you describe is really much nobler still.

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 SOCRATES: And now that we have agreed about this, Phaedrus, we are finally able to decide the issue.

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 PHAEDRUS: What issue is that?

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 SOCRATES: The issue which brought us to this point in the first place: We wanted to examine the attack made on Lysias on account of his writing speeches, and to ask which speeches are written artfully and which not. Now, I think that we have answered that question clearly enough.

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 PHAEDRUS: So it seemed; but remind me again how we did it.

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 SOCRATES: First, you must know the truth concerning everything you are speaking or writing about; you must learn how to define each thing in itself; and, having defined it, you must know how to divide it into kinds until you reach something indivisible. Second, you must understand the nature of the soul, along the same lines; you must determine which kind of speech is appropriate to each kind of soul, prepare and arrange your speech accordingly, and offer a complex and elaborate speech to a complex soul and a simple speech to a simple one. Then, and only then, will you be able to use speech artfully, to the extent that its nature allows it to be used that way, either in order to teach or in order to persuade. This is the whole point of the argument we have been making.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 PHAEDRUS: Absolutely. That is exactly how it seemed to us.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 SOCRATES: Now how about whether it’s noble or shameful to give or write a speech – when it could be fairly said to be grounds for reproach, and when not? Didn’t what we said just a little while ago make it clear ­

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 PHAEDRUS: What was that?

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 SOCRATES: That if Lysias or anybody else ever did or ever does write ­ privately or for the public, in the course of proposing some law – a political document which he believes to embody clear knowledge of lasting importance, then this writer deserves reproach, whether anyone says so or not. For to be unaware of the difference between a dream-image and the reality of what is just and unjust, good and bad, must truly be grounds for reproach even if the crowd praises it with one voice.

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 PHAEDRUS: It certainly must be.

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 SOCRATES: On the other hand, take a man who thinks that a written discourse on any subject can only be a great amusement, that no discourse worth serious attention has ever been written in verse or prose, and that those that are recited in public without questioning and explanation, in (278) the manner of the rhapsodes, are given only in order to produce conviction. He believes that at their very best these can only serve as reminders to those who already know. And he also thinks that only what is said for the sake of understanding and learning, what is truly written in the soul concerning what is just, noble, and good can be clear, perfect, and worth serious attention: Such discourses should be called his own legitimate children, first the discourse he may have discovered-already within himself and then its sons and brothers who may have grown naturally in other souls insofar as these are worthy; to the rest, he turns his back. Such a man, Phaedrus, would be just what you and I both would pray to become.

42 Leave a comment on paragraph 42 0 PHAEDRUS: I wish and pray for things to be just as you say.

43 Leave a comment on paragraph 43 0 SOCRATES: Well, then: our playful amusement regarding discourse is complete. Now you go and tell Lysias that we came to the spring which is sacred to the Nymphs and heard words charging us to deliver a message to Lysias and anyone else who composes speeches, as well as to Homer and anyone else who has composed poetry either spoken or sung, and third, to Solon and anyone else who writes political documents that he
calls laws: if any one of you has composed these things with a knowledge
of the truth, if you can defend your writing when you are challenged, and
if you can yourself make the argument that your writing is of little worth,
then you must be called by a name derived not from these writings but rather from those things that you are seriously pursuing.

44 Leave a comment on paragraph 44 0 PHAEDRUS: What name, then, would you give such a man?

45 Leave a comment on paragraph 45 0 SOCRATES: To call him wise, Phaedrus, seems to me too much, and proper only for a god. To call him wisdom’s lover – a philosopher – or something similar would fit him better and be more seemly.

46 Leave a comment on paragraph 46 0 PHAEDRUS: That would be quite appropriate.

47 Leave a comment on paragraph 47 0 SOCRATES: On the other hand, if a man has nothing more valuable than
what he has composed or written, spending long hours twisting it around, pasting parts together and taking them apart – wouldn’t you be right to
call him a poet or a speech writer or an author of laws?

48 Leave a comment on paragraph 48 0 PHAEDRUS: Of course.

49 Leave a comment on paragraph 49 0 SOCRATES: Tell that, then, to your friend.

50 Leave a comment on paragraph 50 0 PHAEDRUS: And what about you? What shall you do? We must surely not forget your own friend.

51 Leave a comment on paragraph 51 0 SOCRATES: Whom do you mean?

52 Leave a comment on paragraph 52 1 PHAEDRUS: The beautiful Isocrates.* What are you going to tell him, Socrates? What shall we say he is?

53 Leave a comment on paragraph 53 0 SOCRATES: Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus. But I want to tell you what (279) I foresee for him.

54 Leave a comment on paragraph 54 0 PHAEDRUS: What is that?

55 Leave a comment on paragraph 55 0 SOCRATES: It seems to me that by his nature he can outdo anything that Lysias has accomplished in his speeches; and he also has a nobler character. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if, as he gets older and continues writing speeches of the sort he is composing now, he makes everyone who has ever attempted to compose a speech seem like a child in comparison. Even
more so if such work no longer satisfies him and a higher, divine impulse leads him to more important things. For nature, my friend, has placed the love of wisdom in his mind. That is the message I will carry to my beloved, Isocrates, from the gods of this place; and you have your own message for your Lysias.

56 Leave a comment on paragraph 56 0 PHAEDRUS: So it shall be. But let’s be off, since the heat has died down a bit.

57 Leave a comment on paragraph 57 0 SOCRATES: Shouldn’t we offer a prayer to the gods here before we leave?

58 Leave a comment on paragraph 58 0 PHAEDRUS: Of course.

59 Leave a comment on paragraph 59 0 SOCRATES: O dear Pan and all the other gods of this place, grant that I may be beautiful inside. Let all my external possessions be in friendly harmony with what is within. May I consider the wise man rich. As for gold, let me have as much as a moderate man could bear and carry with him. Do we need anything else, Phaedrus? I believe my prayer is enough for me.

60 Leave a comment on paragraph 60 0 PHAEDRUS: Make it a prayer for me as well. Friends have everything in common.

61 Leave a comment on paragraph 61 0 SOCRATES: Let’s be off.

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