© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE Last updated November 21, 1998
Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.

E-mail Archives :
The discussion with Cephalus (Republic, I)

February 9-19, 1997

This page is part of the "e-mail archives" section of a site, Plato and his dialogues, dedicated to developing a new interpretation of Plato's dialogues. The "e-mail archives" section includes HTML edited versions of posts that I submitted on various e-mail discussion lists about Plato and ancient philosophy.

This set of posts was part of a "slow reading" of the Republic started in early 1997 on the plato-republic list.

To: plato-republic <plato-republic@freelance.com>
Date : February 09, 1997, 11:21:21
Subject: What are we looking for?

(This is the continuation of a post whose beginning can be found in another page of these archives that started on how to read Plato)

We may read Socrates conversation as social chat before the train gets started, and decide that the real thing only starts when the word "justice (dikaiosunèn)" is at last spoken at 331c (and, along the same lines, we may view the final myth, the myth of Er, as a closing tale for kids after the serious business is over), or we may prefer to assume (as I do) that everything in a dialogue contributes to the overall design and look for the "hidden" purpose of that discussion.

Colliding the two ends of the dialogue, we may realize that Socrates is asking Cephalus to do almost exactly what the gods expect Er to do in the myth (and with almost the same words): tell youger people what awaits them in the "afterlife", except that Cephalus is not quite there yet, only close to it! And to Socrates' question about what he should expect in the future, Cephalus answers by talking about the past! (We may notice that, in the myth of Er, in a slightly different way, the same kind of "inversion" takes place: as I explain in the page about Gyges' ring, the cave and Er, the myth kind of inverts life and death and should be read "backward": the choice of life is done in our life, not before our birth).

So, it is in order to figure out where Cephalus "comes from" (should we say his phusis), that Socrates starts talking about Cephalus' ousia, his "pollèn ousian" (329e), that is, his "great wealth" or his "multiple substance". And it is only when Socrates starts asking about the past (in fact looking for "the greatest good (ti megiston agathon)" (330d) in the past!...) and how this "pollèn ousian", mentioned again at 330d, has helped Cephalus in his life, that Cephalus at last talks about the future, calling to mind the tales of his youth about Hades and the afterlife (those "tales" that Socrates will "rewrite" at the end with the myth of Er).

So, OK, we may not want to look for much meaning in the conversation with Cephalus and be content to stick witht the very words read at the first degree, and make believe that we have to wait till the end to possibly make sense out of it. But what will we gain in doing so?!...

So, am I "perverting" our reading in suggesting that the contrary movement of Socrates and Cephalus, the first one starting with an interest in his future to eventually try and understand how his "past" might condition it while the second one talks regrets of the past before eventually ending up on fear for his future, is "real life" (I mean the "real life" of the fiction Plato is depicting, as opposed to the "abstract" time of the myth) instanciation of the double movement depicted in the myth of Er, between souls that just died and souls about to go back to bodily life?...

To: plato-republic@freelance.com
Date: February16, 1997, 15:04:05
Subject: A cast of souls (327a-328b)

Let me suggest, elaborating further on suggestions from earlier posts of mine (1), that the Republic involves three "meta-characters" whose "souls" are played by three groups of three characters.

The dialogue pits, in front of the mostly silent "soul" of a typical well born Athenian, another well born Athenian "converted" by Socrates against a typical representative of the new population of the city, a rich metic from the harbour, active supporter of the democratic regime. All three "meta-characters" are those of youngsters that might be students at the Academy, were they born one generation later.

The soul "converted" by Socrates is "made up" of three brothers: Glaucon as the epithumiai, Adeimantus as the thumos, and... yes! Plato as the logos... After all, Plato is the one who wrote all the logoi we are reading, as Tony keeps telling us! But Plato has been completely taken over by Socrates' teaching, so that it is Socrates himself that we hear talking as the logos of the Plato Brothers soul (the fact that this soul is made up of three brothers tells us something about Plato/Socrates' conception of the soul: parts in the soul have different *roles* but not to the extent that one should completely take over the others, as could do a father with respect to his children and grandchildren; all parts have an equal right to being taken care of albeit in a different manner, and thus are more like brothers than like father and son).

The soul who "opposes" it, the soul of the rich democratic metics, is also made up of three brothers: Lysias the rhetor to be as logos, Polemarchus, the principle of fight as thumos and Euthydemus as epithumiai (those that come "straight from the crowd"). Except that... Except that this soul is caught in between the traditions of its own past--Cephalus, the father, taking over the role of "logos"-- and the dynamics of its own behavior always asking for more--the ever increasing influence of rhetoric that is coming back to it (Cephalus was born in Syracuse in Sicily, the birthplace of rhetoric) with a new universal twist under the guise of Thrasymachus the foreigner taking over the role of the epithumiai that drive this rhetoric.

The soul of the Athenian spectator is made up of the three remaining named characters: Niceratus, "the lover of victory", the son of a famed general, as his thumos (note that the group that stops Socrates and Glaucon is the group of the three "wills": Polemarchus, Adeimantus and Niceratus); Kleitophon ("famed, magnificent voice"), son of Aristonymes ("best mane"), who, because of his name, might pretend to the role of logos (he is the only one to talk, briefly joining the discussion between Socrates and Thrasymachus, along with Polemarchus, at 340a); and Charmantides, whose most ambiguous name might as well mean "filled with joy in front of the forms" or "who fights against the forms", left with the role of epithumiai (the epithumiai that might either give rise in us to the eros that will eventually lead us to the form (see Symposium) or fight the pretense of the logos to tame them in the name of those same forms.

Seen this way, the Republic looks much like a replay of Socrates' trial at the instigation of the democratic party the Lysias family was a part of, with Cleitophon-Niceratus-Charmantides as the jury.

And it is even possible to see there a "meta-meta-soul" whose thumos is that "jury", the youth of Athens, that has to make a choice between the logos upheld by Socrates and the Plato Brothers and the epithumiai of the demos and its materialistic ousia, its call on rhetoric under the pretense of "universalism".

The following two posts were off-list answers to questions generated by the previous post.

To: DewittDoe@aol.com
Date: February17, 1997, 08:45:20 +0100
Subject: Re: warlord - 331d-336a

> A few questions?
> By "converted soul" do you mean persuaded by reason?

I mean a soul that has been persuaded by Socrates' questioning and has become that of a philo-sophos, trying to build justice within and without. So, let's say converted to philosophia and trying to live by its rules, and to tell and show us what it means by "justice".

> By "opposition soul" do you mean not persuaded by reason?

I mean the soul of someone who has not yet been convinced by Socrates and thus is not yet "philosophic". At that level, the Republic is the dialogue between these two souls: first the "external" dialogue between the first and the second (book I), then the "internal" dialogue of the philosophic soul with itself to quiet in it the fears raised by the previous dialogue.

> Is the following correct:
> The converted soul is the higher part of the soul of the
> The spectator soul is the intermediate part of the sould of the
> The opposition soul is the lower part of the soul of the

I am not sure what you mean by "the soul of the Republic". What I was suggesting is that there is still another level of reading, which might be a "metaphor" of Socrates' trial and of the more general "crisis" Christopher is trying to point at from a historical standpoint, where the discussion in the Republic opposes the "philosophical" views of Socrates (and his follower Plato at the time he was writing) to the prevalent views of an Athens in the process of being taken over by rich metic businessmen (such as Cephalus and his sons) and self made businessmen (such as Anytus) using the new techniques of rhetoric to promote a democratic regime more prone to their business, in front of the sons of more traditional and aristocratic families who don't know which side to lean toward.

So, yes, the "converted" soul is, or is trying to talk to, and become, the logos of the Athenians, trying to convince the thumos (the "spectator" soul) that it should not indulge himself in listening to the arguments of the businessmen and their rhetor allies, that are only talking to their feelings and not to their reason.

To: "Jan-Pieter Baaten" <JPBaaten@pacbell.net>
Date: February 17, 1997 09:32:16
Subject: Re: warlord - 331d-336a

> I am not comfortable exploring the points you made - Cephalus-logos and Polemarchus-thumos - publicly because I am not very familiar with the terms.

They refer to the three parts of the soul as described later in the Republic: the logos is the higher part of the soul, the rational one, the one which should lead the whole (the counterpart of the "philosopher-king"); the thumos is the intermediate part, the one that has to decide between reason and passions, to make decision in order to move from thoughts to action, the "will", if you will, the counterpart of the guardians; the third part is the epithumiai, the desires or passions, itself plural, and akin to the craftsmen.

> But I do think you make an important point and I still have to think about how it might be related to exchange on weapons.

> I don't see Cephalus as exemplifying logos at all. Because he departs shortly after logos (Socrates) arrives he shows his true character. I see Cephalus characterizing an unerotic thumos. This is contrasted to the erotic thumos of his son, who not only will stay behind for the entire conversation, but is responsible for Socrates' presence in the first place.

> Perhaps Cephalus experienced erotic thumos in his youth. If he did, it seems it was directed to the pleasures of the body (sex and money). Polemarchus on the other hand is already directed to the pleasures of the mind. His desire to detain Socrates, clumsy as it was, is a desire for his logos. Whether Polemarchus is up to the task is another question.

My remarks have to be read in a broader context, in which the Republic as a whole is a dialogue between two "souls" (see my latest post). The "philosophic" soul, the one "converted" to Socrates' way of living and thinking, aspiring to become the logos of the Athenians, is being challenged (the catch by Polemarchus' slave) by the soul of the new democratic, business-oriented, rhetoric-driven, Athens where metics take advantage of their wealth to take over the reins of the city in front of passive sons of aristocratic families who don't know which way to go. This other "soul" has Cephalus as his "head", that is, a very "materialistic", biological logos that indeed is no logos at all in the sense Socrates understand logos; and this is precisely the point the discussion between Cephalus and Socrates is making. It shows how, in such a soul, the thumos (Polemarchus, "principle of fight") is prompt to take over the discussion, soon to be himself silenced by the passions, the epithumiai (here Thrasymachus), proud of their rhetoric. The same pattern has already been used in another dialogue, the Gorgias, with Gorgias-logos, Polos-thumos and Callicles-epithumiai.

In such reading, the Republic "enacts" what it "teaches" about justice, namely that justice is both an "internal", "private", and an "external", "social", attitude and behavior, in which the social side of it, justice as usually understood by most, whose purpose is unity and "harmony" within the city, has to be built upon unity and harmony within the self, that is, between the various parts of one's soul. Thus, the first part of the dialogue is the "external" discussion with the "democratic" soul (book I), the challenge to be delt with, whereas the remaining of the dialogue is the "internal" talk of the soul with itself showing how the logos goes about "teaching" and quieting its own thumos (Adeimantus) and epithumiai (Glacon), that is, how the logos should play its role of "philosopher-king" of the soul and become an example to the other souls.

To: plato-republic@freelance.com
Date: February19, 1997, 20:53:38
Subject: re: warlord - 331d-336a

On Feb. 18, 1997, Georges wrote:

>> [BS] All the "reasons" Cephalus was able to offer are indeed "borrowed" weapons themselves: they come from Sophocles, Themistocles and Pindar! So his son-thumos feels that his is being deprived of weapons of his own, of real reasons coming from within his self, from within his father-head.

> etc. and sequel. Much to comment on here, and the cross-proportionalities seem right on the mark. It gets to the generative underlying principle of the composition. Have you given any thought to the inversion or abberation entailed in the use of "borrowed weapons"? -- I.e., Cephalus "borrows" from Sophocles, Themistocles and Pindar in an effort to "shield" himself. Since he does not avail himself of weapons he has forged himself, he mis-uses those he borrows. Thus, the question is internally suggested: if one knows how Cephalus mis-uses these weapons, one would discover their proper use. That proper use would then be Plato's understanding of the history with which these names are associated. etc..

There may be some historical import here, but I think there is a much more obvious way of interpreting the choices and the quotations in light of the Republic itself. In fact, I think we can find there an anticipation of what is to come, a first brush at some of the most important themes of the Republic.

As I said in an earlier post, there is a contrary movement in the dialogue between Socrates and Cephalus, Socrates asking first to be taught about the future and the life in old age and being dragged by Cephalus' answers to eventually inquire about how the past explains the present, but being answered by Cephalus talking first about the past and the passions of youth and only in the end worrying about the future and the afterlife. But that's not all.

Cephalus' first answer deals with the ability to overcome the tyranny of passions, that is, read in light of what is to come, the "internal" dimension of justice, the harmony within the soul itself. And who is Cephalus calling as an "authority" on that matter? A poet, writer of tragedies, one of those guys Socrates will soon tell us are most eager to arouse our passions and to talk to our less rational feelings, to our epithumiai (would there be here some irony toward a soon to become famous theory upheld by a certain Aristotle according to which tragedy provides a catharsis, a "purification" of the soul?!...) Anyway, Cephalus doesn't even quote one of Sophocles' tragedies, but a private remark of his (more fitting to talk about "private" justice) in which the tragic poet seems to suggest that we only have to wait for nature to rid us of the tyranny of our passions with old age!... This doesn't seem to be what Socrates would recommend, does it?...

With his second answer, we move to the central question of the Republic: what relationship there is between man and the city, between the "private", "internal", justice , and the "public", "social", justice. This comes as an answer to a question by Socrates regarding the relationship between tropon (way of life, character, habits, or also musical mode) and ousian (substance, being, but also wealth). There, Cephalus calls upon a politician, but what that politician (called upon to answer a question at the intermediate level of conflict, not at the higher level of leadership and telos, where it is Sophocles that was called upon, to answer at the level of feelings) has to say deals only with fame and is transposed to wealth by Cephalus! What a leadership! Themistocles is there to tell us that it is hard to become famous in an unknown city, but that it is not sufficient to be born in a famous city to become famous. We should notice that the word used for "famous" is "onomastos", which means litterally "having a name, onoma". Not even a logos, but only an onoma! Cephalus is not a logos, only a "head", and he doesn't even strive for an onoma, but only for a "fitting (epieikès)" use of his wealth.

This leads us to the third answer and third quotation. After inquiring about the source of Cephalus' wealth (in the background is the question of acquired versus innate qualities and capabilities, another dimension of the problem of nature versus education, self versus society), Socrates wants to know what is the greater good resultinf from Cephalus' ousia. This leads at last to considerations about (social) justice in its relationship with the afterlife and, to help him in this area Cephalus calls upon another poet, Pindar, who was writing poems on order from wealthy families or cities to praise whomever would pay him for that. So, in order to praise social justice, Cephalus is kind of "stealing" a poem he didn't have to pay for himself! And the quotation talks heart (kardian) and intelligence (gnôman) instead of soul and sophia.

(Though this post was earlier than the previous ones, it is not needed to understand them and it rather provides a good transition with another set of posts relating to the discussion with Polemarchus)

To: plato-republic <plato-republic@freelance.com>
Date : February 16, 1997, 13:58:21
Subject : Re: warlord - 331d-336a

Lloyd makes some (wild?...) assumptions about the relevancy of Socrates' example (returning a borrowed weapon to its owner turned mad) with regard to a possible allusion to something that actually happened to Cephalus and Polemarchus in the past. Let me try to suggest that, based on my own interpretive assumptions (characters "playing" parts of a soul), we might have the very incident right under our noses and yet not see it.

In this reading, Cephalus, "head", stands at the level of the higher part of the soul, the logos, while Polemarchus, "principle of fight", stands at the level of the intermediate part of the soul, the thumos. And the thumos is in the soul the counterpart of the "guardians", the "fighters", in the city. But guardians need weapons! Could it be that the weapons the thumos should have are the logoi, the reasons that the logos hands him over? In order to fight against the temptations from inside and outside, the active part of the soul, the deciding one, needs strong reasons coming from the rational one.

So, here we are: Polemarchus-thumos "willed" to get hold of Socrates (the "logos" of another "soul" made up of him, Adeimantus-thumos and Glaucon- epithumiai), in order, among other things, to enjoy good "logoi" (328a-b: "we'll get together with many a youth there and dialogue --dialexometha"). But as soon as Socrates gets to his place, he starts talking, not with him, but with his father-logos. Polemarchus has thus handed over the logoi to Cephalus, and now, he wants them back. Whether he is in his right mind remains to be seen, but the fact is, at that level, Cephalus hands him the logoi over by leaving the room.

But is he really handing him over his own "weapons"? And what kind of weapons are they? What kind of a "logos" is Cephalus? All the "reasons" Cephalus was able to offer are indeed "borrowed" weapons themselves: they come from Sophocles, Themistocles and Pindar! So his son-thumos feels that his is being deprived of weapons of his own, of real reasons coming from within his self, from within his father-head. And when taking over, he will be left with using himself borrowed weapons, from Simonides in his case. Thus, at this level of reading, Cephalus is not handing Polemarchus over the weapons a good guardian should "inherit", weapons which are "his", being the logoi of a soul he is a part of.

All Cephalus can do is pray the gods, before and after, and hope that his "ousia" will buy him a "virtue". Rather than using his head and "manufacturing" logoi for the soul he is a part of, he is absorbed in rites, trying to "shield" himself from ill consequences of his acts. And it is a fact that, far from being a manufacturer of weapons, he was the owner of a shield factory!...

(To comments on the discussion with Polemarchus).

(1) See, in these archives, the pages called Symbolic roles and names in Plato's Republic and Keys to Republic's prolog. This post makes advances with regard to those earlier posts. (back)

Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.

First published February 24, 1997 ; Last updated November 21, 1998
© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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