© 1997 Bernard SUZANNE Last updated November 22, 1998
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(4th tetralogy : The Soul - 3rd dialogue of trilogy)

Plan of the Phædo

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The seven stairs to... "the earth itself (autèn tèn gèn)"

For those who are mostly interested in Socrates words, and looking for his attempted demonstration of the soul's immortality, the plan of the Phædo might roughly look as something like this :


The "outer" dialogue between Phædo and Echecrates 57a-59c (72)
Beginning of Phædo's story of Socrates' last day 59c-60a (26)
Introductory dialogue between Socrates, Cebes and Simmias 60b-63e (157)
1. Life of philosopher prepares separation of soul from body (with Simmias)  63e-69e (247)
2. Generation from contraries (with Cebes) 69e-72e (122)
3. The "theory" of recollection (with Simmias) 72e-77a (177)
Transition : both arguments must be joined together 77a-78b (46)
4. Philosophy leads the soul from visible to invisible ("aeides") (with Cebes) 78b-84b (246)
Transition : remaining objections of Simmias and Cebes - Echecrates' interruption - mysology 84b-92a (306)
5. Answer to Simmias : refutation of theory of soul-harmony (with Simmias) 92a-95a (118)
6. Answer to Cebes : from physicists to "second course" (with Cebes) 95a-107a (477)
6a. Socrates intellectual history 96a-103c (230)
          Transition: from Echecrates' interruption to anonymous objection 102a-103c (65)
6b. Proof of soul's immortality by "theory" of forms 103c-107a (140)
Transition: agreement of Simmias and Cebes 107a-b (16)
7. The myth of the "form" of the earth ("tèn idean tès gès", 108e) (with Simmias) 107b-115a (299)
Conclusion : the last moments of Socrates 115a-118a (133)

The dialogue proper, the "meat" of it, that is, starts at 63e, after a failed attempt by Crito, upon request from the jailer, to keep Socrates silent, with what is not yet an attempt to demonstrate the soul's immortality, which, in this first discussion with Simmias, is, for all practical purposes, taken for granted, but is rather a first, or should we say, a new, "Apologia pro vita sua", an attempt by Socrates to justify his choice of a philosoper's life and his lack of fear in the face of death. It then unfolds, at the rythm of the changes of interlocutor between Simmias and Cebes, in seven steps down to 115a, where Crito, that has kept silent all through the discussion, takes over for the last moments of Socrates here on earth, while Simmias and Cebes keep definitely silent till the end. The discussion proper, that started with Simmias, ends with him, in what is mostly a monologue of Socrates telling his final myth, and it is surrounded by an introduction and a conclusion that report the more mundane details of Socrates' last day and death, including an initial dialogue between Socrates, Simmias and Cebes showing how the topic of the more "serious" discussion came about, itself preceeded by a live dialogue between Phædo and Echecrates setting the context of Phædo's retelling of the story.

The discussion with Simmias and Cebes that runs between 63e and 115a is split in two almost equal parts by a pause after the fourth section (84b-92a) that starts with a silence long enough to be worth noticing (84b) and then allows Simmias and Cebes to both state their remaining doubts and expose one objection each before Echecrates breaks into the story at the almost exact middle of the dialogue and Socrates is seen and heard conducting a short dialogue with Phædo himself about mysology.

Taking a closer look at the two parts thus delineated, we may notice that the first one (63e-84b) starts and ends with two sections of exactly the same lenght that seem to deal with the same topic, only from a different angle and at a different plane, probably owing to differences in the partner of Socrates in each discussion (Simmias the first time, Cebes the second time). The first piece, with Simmias, looks more like a succession of undemonstrated statements focusing on the philosopher (an individual) and his lifestyle, and starting with a joke that sends Simmias laughing (64a10), while the second one, with Cebes, looks more like a rational, "logical", chain of reasoning about different orders of reality, leading to philosophia (a "concept") and what it means to the way we should lead our lives (1), starting with a clearly stated plan that is followed to the end (78b). These first indications tend to side Simmias with "nature (phusis)", with that part of ourselves whose attention has to be caught by surprise (Socrates depicting philosophy as a preparation to death, 64a) and who reacts with its feelings (Simmias bursting in laughter) --and indeed, he is the one who calls upon the weakness (107a-b) and limits (85c) of human nature to explain his misgivings--, and to side Cebes with the more rational part of ourselves, the one at least which enjoys logous, as does Socrates himself at 63a, only to stress Cebes' difficulty to believe what he is told (2).

In between these two sections, sections 2 (69e-72e) and 3 (72e-77a), that are explicitely mentioned by Socrates at the end as complementing each other (77c), are the only pieces of this first part that deserve the name, if not of "proofs", at least of arguments in favor of the soul's immortality. The first one, with Cebes, has a more physical dimension, talking as it does of generation from contraries in the world of becoming, while the second one, with Simmias, developing what is often called the "theory of reminiscence", brings us closer to the "forms", even though it stays within time and space (it looks at a supposed time before our birth for an explanation of our "logical" ability to deal with "forms"). And if this seems to immediately contradict what we just said of Simmias siding with phusis and Cebes with logos, there is another way to look at it which will start making us realize how careful Plato is all through this dialogue to keep the balance between all sides of man's being at the very time he looks like splitting apart those very parts to side exclusively with the higher part of the soul : Socrates is precisely trying to get quick-tempered and logous-fond Cebes to take into account the physical dimension of being within time and space, because he is too prone to jump into empty arguments for lack of referent, while he is trying soon after to raise down-to-earth and logos-wary Simmias to the level where he can appreciate that there is more to life than material being. We may find a "proof" of the fact that Cebes and Simmias have not switched "roles" in the transition from the discussion about contraries to the one about reminiscence : it is indeed Cebes who brings about the argument about reminiscence while Simmias is the one who asks to be reminded of it, and it is toward Cebes that he first turns to get such a reminder, as if to confirm up-front that Cebes is more familiar with the logos.

Looking at it this way, it turns out that sections 1 (with Simmias) and 2 (with Cebes) are both on the side of phusis (physical life of the philosopher here on earth and physical theory about change and its application to the soul), while sections 3 (with Simmias) and 4 (with Cebes) are both on the side of the logos (traces of the forms in our life and role of philosophy to lead us back to them), though it is a logos still deeply immersed within time and space and the world of becoming. But we may also group these sections by two in another way, taking section 1 (with Simmias) and 4 (with Cebes) as depicting the life of the philosopher from both a physical (section 1) and logical (section 4) standpoint, while section 2 (with Cebes) and 3 (with Simmias) offer arguments for the survival of the soul taken from both the physical world of change and becoming (section 2) and the logical "world" of the "forms" (section 3). In the end, this first half of the dialogue may be seen as made up of two parts in two different ways (1+2, 3+4 or 1+4, 2+3), or as made up of three parts (1, 2+3 taken as a whole, as asked for by Socrates at 77c, 4), or as made up of 4 building blocks (1, 2, 3, 4).

If we now turn to the second part (92a-115a), made up of the three remaining sections, we see that it is itself split in two almost equal parts by another intrusion of Echecrates in Phædo's story at 102a, soon to be followed by an anonymous objection breaking the flow of Socrates' discussion with Cebes. A closer look at the long discussion with Cebes shows that it may indeed by viewed as made up of two separate parts : before the break, what we get is mostly what we might call Socrates' intellectual autobiography, culminating with the description of the dialectical method he eventually developed as a "second course", while, after the break, the discussion moves to an application of this method to the problem of the soul's immortality. But then, we may view this long answer in two parts to Cebes' objection of 86e-88b as surrounded by an equal size answer to Simmias' objection of 85b-86e : while the answer to Cebes, split in two parts by Echecrates' interruption, starts with a "critical" section meant to show, from Socrates own experience with the "physicists", that there is no hope if we stay at the level of phusis (which doesn't say that we should ignore this level altogether, as the first part showed), then proceeds to offer an alternate "course" with the use of "forms" and the dialectical method it leads to, before moving, in a "constructive" section after the break, to a higher plane where stronger arguments (though no "proof") can be found, the answer to Simmias, split in two parts by the whole of the discussion with Cebes, starts with a critical section showing the weakness of a theory, that of the soul-harmony, which tries to explain the soul by a "concept" that, far from being "transcendant", is totally "immanent" to the world of becoming, that is in the realm of consequences, not of causes, then proceeds to confirm that the soul, far from being the harmony of a compound, is indeed itself a compound (3), before showing, in the myth told after the long "break" with Cebes that gives credence to the language of "forms", the kind of harmony the soul should achieve with the whole kosmos (4).

Here we should notice that Simmias' objection stems from his attempt to rise to a more conceptual level (the "concept" of harmony, at first glance an "immaterial" thing) but not rising high enough (an harmony, at least as conceived by the Pythagoreans, turns out to be, after all, quite an "immanent" thing, rooted in matter and the material things that give birth to it, and dying with them), whereas Cebes' objection stems from his staying entangled in the physical world of becoming, of time and space, he was asked to take into account (the "wearing" of the soul implies it has some sort of "material" nature and stays within time and space). And whereas the answer to Simmias starts on rather theoretical grounds and abstract discussions about harmony to end in a lively graphical myth full of marvelous images of the earth, the answer to Cebes starts with the history of a single individual, Socrates himself, caught in the here and now of the Athens of his time, to end in the most abstract discussion there can be about "forms". Yet, the history is the history of Socrates' logos, of the development of his mind and thoughts, whereas the lively myth is said to depict "the form of the earth (tèn idean tès gès)" (108e), a wording that cannot be fortuitous in such a context (5). Indeed, the best way Plato can think of to give us an "idea" of eternity, which is not time everlasting (the Timæus will tell us that "time is a moving icon of eternity" (Timæus, 37d)), is to tell us a geographical myth from which time is almost absent, because, in space, as in "eternity", all parts are "simultaneously" there (6). And the myth is meant to tell us that, as men, we are called to some sort of "eternal life", but a life that is made for "men", a pure earth for bodyless men, but an earth nonetheless where we stay men, in fact where we at last are men ; and that there is a place for each one of us in such an "eternity", but not the same for everybody : each one gets a place that is "consonant" with the "tune" of his soul here on earth, and becomes the man he contributed to build. The fact is, forms are worthless if they are only mathematical plays of the kind Socrates plays with Cebes to give food for thought to his logos ; man has access to the forms to "inform" his own soul, that is, his own being, in informing the earth itself, to make it pure by making his soul pure while still alive. If Socrates is about to depart, Simmias and Cebes are not, and they must go back in the cave, in the world, and spread the "idea of the earth" that Socrates has put in their minds. The last word of Socrates is the myth that may entice us to do something, for us and for our fellow citizens, not the intricacies of dialectic that cannot prove for sure that the soul is everlasting... And thus, unlike the first part, that starts with Simmias and ends with Cebes to raise our minds from phusis to logos, the second part starts and ends with Simmias, to remind us that we must not forget our very nature and the world we live in, even after climbing the highest slopes of dialectical logos.

Yet, aside from this difference, as was the case with the first part of the dialogue, we may see the second half as either made up of two parts, again in two different ways (5+7, the answer to Simmias, 6, the answer to Cebes, or 5+6a, the "critical" work, 6b+7, the "constructive" work), or of three parts (5, 6, 7) or of four parts when acknowledging the structuring role of Echecrates' intervention in the middle of the discussion with Cebes (5, 6a, 6b, 7).

Overall, we may conclude that the dialogue is split in two parts, a first one more deeply grounded in nature, the world of becoming, time and space, though it shows the traces and role of forms in this world, and a second one more heavily concerned with abstract theories and reasoning, forms and dialectic, though it "grounds" its reflexions in the unique history of a single individual (Socrates) and "culminates" in "the form of the earth".

The perfect balance

So far, we have focused almost exclusively on the different parts of the discussion with Simmias and Cebes, only amputated of a few introductory lines at the beginning, without taking into account what the remainder of the dialogue, and its setting and overall structure might have to tell us. It is now time to take into account what was left aside till now, if we want to realize how perfectly balanced the Phædo is.

In fact, the Phædo is made up of two dialogues : an "outer" dialogue between Phædo and Echecrates taking place in the Penopolesian town of Phlius leads to the story told by Phædo of another dialogue, the "inner" dialogue, which took place at some earlier time in Athens on the very day of Socrates' death. Thus, to deal with the fate of the soul in the afterlife, Plato throws us into the afterlife of Socrates, and to show that, once dead, he is no longer "prisonner" of a single city, he moves us in a distant city. Not only that, but, as one more reminder of the "universality" of Socrates, most characters of both dialogues are "foreigners" (with regard to Socrates' hometown, Athens) : Phædo is from Elis, Echecrates is from Phlius, and the two main interlocutors of Socrates in the inner dialogue, Simmias and Cebes, are from Thebes.

But, at the same time Plato creates some distance between the dialogue with Socrates and the story of it, he is careful to offset it : the very first words of the dialogues ascertain that the teller was an eyewitness to the event, even a participant to it. Indeed, the Phædo is the only "indirect" dialogue reported by someone other than Socrates, which is reported directly by a participant to it (7). But then, it is also the only one where the story, once started, is interrupted by the participants to the outer dialogue : at 88b, a remark by Echecrates splits the dialogue in two almost equal parts. But if this interruption, as we have seen already, marks a separation between a first part that is mostly concerned with a view of the life of the soul that stays within time and space, even after death, and a second part taking a more "conceptual" approach based on the "forms", it also creates a bridge between the inner and outer stories and preludes to an intervention of Phædo himself in the inner dialogue, both "physically" (Phædo tells us of his physical location in the room and shows us Socrates combing his beautiful hair with his hand, 89a-b) and "logically" (there ensues a dialogue between Socrates and Phædo about misology, the fear of logos, that is key to help us realize that the logos, as the noblest part of his soul, is indeed man, and that, by listening to Socrates' own logos, we are listening to him across death).

Then again, at 102a, another interruption by Echecrates splits the second part in two. And similarly, this break, as was already mentioned, separates the second, more "formal" part of the Phædo in a first section which, after dismissing a purely "immanent" conception of the soul as an harmony, deals with the "history" of the forms in Socrates' life (still then somewhat involved with time and space), and a second section which develops the "theory" of "forms" and its application to the soul before picturing an image of the "form of the earth". But this new break has also a "linking" purpose : it preludes to an objection by an unknown listener (in the realm of forms, objections are not from this or that person, they are "anonymous", which is akin to saying "universal") which builds a bridge between the first and second parts and offers Socrates an opportunity to clearly mark the difference between the generation of contraries from contraries (within time and space) discussed in the first part and the incompatibility between contrary forms (in the "intelligible" realm) discussed inthe second part.

Unable to escape time and space within a written speech and to "stage" eternity, Plato uses all the tools of his art to show that what looks to us as breaks, ruptures, and chief among these, death, is indeed the required condition of a broader communion, not only of each man with the kosmos he is a part of (as we will see in the description of the philsophic life), but of men with one another : once dead, Socrates is no longer confined to Athens but "belongs" to everybody, illuminates Athenians and foreigners alike. As an "image" of this, breaks in the story of Socrates' last day are as many means of bringing a deeper unity to it and making it closer to us.

Along these lines, a closer look at the detailed structure of the introduction will show us that the transition from the outer to the inner dialogue is not clear cut, but is rather a progressive move from the present of the outer dialogue to the past of the inner dialogue, and much more than that. Similarly, we'll see in due time that, at the other end of the story, the name of Echecrates crops up one more time (in Phædo's mouth, not through another interruption) at the exact center of the retelling of Socrates' last moments (116b5-118a14, from the setting of the sun and the arrival of the executioner down to the closing of Socrates' eyes and mouth by Crito ; the mention of Echecrates comes at 117b3), as if to bring him once again closer to the facts and to stitch one last time the inner and outer dialogues together, before the closing statement that brings us back to Echecrates (118a15) to praise Socrates as the best of men.

(To detailed structure of the introduction)

If we now weave together all the strings we have been pulling so far, we come up with a more refined structure for the Phædo that looks like this :

Detailed structure of the Phædo

Introduction 57a-61d (158)
A. Prologue: the dialogue between Phædo and Echecrates 57a-59c (72)
1. Context of the story, in Phlius and in Athens : the request 57a-58d (43)
2. Prelude to the story  "logical" and chronological setting - the disciples 58e-60a (56)
   2.1. From a "logical" standpoint : feelings and names of the disciples 58e-59c (30)
B. Beginning of the story of Socrates' last day 59c-61d (86)
   2.2. From a chronological standpoint : habits and spiritual filiation of the disciples 59c-60a (26)
3. Prologue to the discussion : from feelings to philosophy - the topic 60b-61d (60)
   3.1. Socrates' feelings - pleasant and painful -  muthos and  logos 60b-c (15)
   3.2. Socrates' justification for his behavior - hymn to Apollo and verses on Æsop (with Cebes) 60c-61c (36)
   3.3. Socrates' logos : to be a  philosophos (with Simmias) 61c-d (9)
I. Life in the visible realm 61d-84b (935)
A. Facts of life and "physical" theories 61d-72e (466)
     Introduction : mastered body and free spirit in jailed soul 61d-63e (97)
           Cebes and suicide - where are the best masters ? - "diaskopein te kai muthologein" (61e1) 61d-62e (57)
           Simmias' request for a new apology - Socrates strongest belief 62e-63d (29)
           The jailer's failed attempt to quiet Socrates'  logos with Crito's help 63d-e (11)
1. Life of philosopher prepares separation of soul from body (with Simmias) 63e-69e (247)
2. "Mythology" of forms within time and space 69e-78b (345)
2.1. Generation from contraries (with Cebes) 69e-72e (122)
B. Traces of "forms" in the world of becoming 72e-84b (469)
2.2. The theory of recollection (with Simmias) 72e-77a (177)
     Conclusion : both arguments must be joined together 77a-78b (46)
3. Philosophy leads the soul from visible to invisible ("aeides") (with Cebes) 78b-84b (246)
Transition 84b-92a (305)
1. Conclusion of first part 84b-88b (160)
1.1. Remaining doubts of Simmias and Cebes - The swan song 84b-85b (40)
1.2. Simmias' objection : the soul-harmony 85b-86e (60)
1.3. Cebes' objection : the wearing of the soul 86e-88b (60)
2. Introduction of second part 88b-92a (145)
2.1. Interruption by Echecrates 88b-89a (30)
2.2. Dialogue with Phædo on mysology 89a-91c (94)
2.3. Summary of Simmias and Cebes' objections 91c-92a (22)
II. "Theôria" in the intelligible realm  92a-115a (908)
A. From critique of wrong theories to proposal of new approaches 92a-103c (454)
1. From soul-harmony to composite soul (answer to Simmias, parts 1 & 2) 92a-95a (118)
1.1. Criticism of theory of soul-harmony 91a-92e (33)
1.2. From the soul as harmony to the soul as composite 92e-95a (85)
2. From physics to "forms" : Socrates' intellectual history (answer to Cebes, parts 1 & 2) 95a-107a (476)
     Introduction : reformulation of Cebes' objection by Socrates 95a-96a (42)
2.1.  Socrates "physicist" and his disappointment with Anaxagoras  96a-99d (140)
2.2.  Socrates' "second course" : "forms" as causes and the method it leads to 99d-102a (90)
     Transition: incompatibility of contraries and anonymous objection 102a-103c (65)
          Joined approval of Simmias and Cebes and interruption by Echecrates 102a (5)
          Incompatibilities of contraries (with Cebes) 102a-103a (37)
          The anonymous objection 103a-c (23)
B. Application and limits of new approaches 103c-115a (454)
2.3. Application of "theory of forms" to problem of soul's immortality (answer to Cebes, part 3) 103c-107a (145)
3. The final myth : cosmic harmony (answer to Simmias, part 3) 107a-115a (310)
     Simmias' remaining doubts - The "terrible venture (deinos kindunos)" 107a-d (24)
Myth of the "form" of the earth ("tèn idean tès gès", 108e) 107d-114c (262)
     Socrates' "beautiful venture (kalos kindunos)" - His firmness in the face of death 114c-115a (24)
Conclusion 115a-118a (133)
1. Dialogue with Crito : care of the self vs. care of the body 115a-116b (46)
2. The death of Socrates : parting of body and soul 116b-118a (84)
3. Epilogue : Socrates, the best, most sensible and most just of men 118a (3)

Note : the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate number of full lines of text in each section or subsection, in the Greek text of the Budé edition. It is only intended to give an indication on the relative size of the sections with regard to one another.

All we have seen so far shows how careful Plato was in the Phædo to hold a perfect balance between both sides of man's "nature" (in the broadest sense), the requirements of his bodily nature while on earth, upheld by Simmias, and the longing for understanding and rest in the realm of pure thought, examplified in Cebes, at the very time he was depicting Socrates claiming that a philosopher should have little care for his body and accepting an unjust death without a blink (8). And this is no contradiction : this balance doesn't mean that we should spend as much time caring for the body as we do caring for the soul (as we have seen when talking about the third part of the introduction), but that we must be fair to all dimensions of our being and that the logos as part of his role of leader, should spend whatever time is required to convince each one of the other two parts of the soul to stay at its due place. It's no use hiding conflicts and denying nature (biological nature, that is) its rights, because it will have its way no matter what. Quite the contrary, to tame it, we must acknowledge it and "talk" with it. And talk with it in a way that is understandable to it, which doesn't necessarily means using "rational" arguments (hence the "myths"). The philosopher according to Plato/Socrates is not a pure spirit living in an ivory tower without eating, drinking and having sex, but a man living in the middle of the city with body and soul, eating, drinking, and having wife and children, yet doing all that with moderation and not letting the pleasures of the body so much overwhelm him that his soul falls in love with its material enveloppe and forgets its divine origin and destiny, and the fact that its association with a body is only temporary.

(back to Phædo's home page)

(1) The word philosophos is found 10 times in the discussion with Simmias (63e-69e) against 4 uses of philosophia, while the later is found 6 times in the discussion with Cebes (78b-84b) against only 2 uses of the word philosophos.The proportion is more than reversed.  (back)

(2) A closer look at the dialogue will show that Cebes, which is quick to look for an argument, is also the one who most willingly concedes he is convinced at the end of it (see 72d-e, and the ensuing lines, where he even goes as far as playing the bright student by bringing forth the argument of "reminiscence" ; 107a), only to fall again in doubts a while later, shaken by Simmias' misgivings. And it is in fact Simmias who is hardest to "rein in", less capable of "memorizing" an argument (see 73a, where he asks to be reminded of the "theory of reminiscence"), quick to see the limits of what has been said and to reawaken Cebes' doubts (see 77a-b, at the end of the section on reminiscence), first to talk when not satisfied (see 84c-d, at the start of the central pause) and prone to call on human weakness to justifie his misgivings (see 85c, 107a-b). Thus, a better qualification of the role Cebes and Simmias "play" in the dialoge would be to see Cebes as "playing the part" of a thumos, the middle part of the soul, willing to listen to the logos, but not quite yet freed from his ties with the epithumiai, while Simmias would "play the part", if not really of all the wild epithumiai, at least of those desires and calls from his bodily "nature" the philosopher is willing to listen to. (back)

(3) For all practical purposes, Simmias' objection is overcome by 92c, when he admits that the principle of the soul-harmony is inconsistent with the "theory" of recollection, which seems more firmly established to him, and yet, we are only 33 lines into a discussion that keeps going for another 85 lines or so. And all the remainder of the discussion has precisely to do with the composite structure of the soul. The fact is, Socrates, who assumes from the outset the composite nature of an harmony ("harmony being a compound thing (harmonian men einai suntethon pragma)", 92a), and restates it at the beginning of the second part of the discussion, after he has "killed" Simmias' objection ( "do you think it belongs to an harmony or any compound... (harmonia è allè tini xunthesei)", 92e), never uses the easy way out that would consist in saying that the soul, not being a compound, cannot be an harmony. In this second part, Socrates objects that an harmony is a result whereas the soul is principle, principle of harmony or of disorder, of virtue or of vice. The soul is no harmony, though there may be, more, there should be, harmony in it. And precisely because there should be harmony in it, it implies that it is made up of "parts". It is true that some expressions used by Socrates there seem to leave doubt as to whether the soul is actually made up of parts : at 94c, Socrates says that if a soul were an harmony, it might never sing in opposition with the conditions experienced by "those things it might happen to be made of (ekeina ex hôn tugchanoi ousa)" ; a few lines later, he says that the soul now appears leading "all those things it is said to be itself made of (ekeinôn pantôn ex hôn phèsi tis autèn einai)". But such a hypothetical way of talking is customary to Socrates as a means to draw the reader's attention and doesn't necessarily implies that he no longer holds the hypothesis of a compound soul ; rather it may be a means to remind us (after all, we have been reminded of the theory of reminiscence only moments ago...) of the earlier theory of the Republic, if we assume, as I do, that the Phædo comes after the Republic. This is made clear toward the end (Phædo, 94b-e), where Socrates uses the same examples he uses in the Republic to introduce the parts of the soul (see Republic, IV, 439b-440a), except that, in the Phædo, he doesn't explicitely draw the conclusion, leaving that for us to "remember"... The fact is,  there is nothing in what is said in this section (or anywhere else in the Phædo for that matter) that is incompatible with the assumption of a compound soul, and the whole discussion about the soul being an harmony should rather remind us, once we have disposed of Simmias' objection with a call to the "theory" of reminiscence, of the definition of justice as harmony between the three parts of the soul in the Republic (Republic, IV, 443c-444a ; the word harmonia is at 443d6, along with the verb "xunarmosanta, having harmonized together...").

In the end, this section may be read as an attempt by Plato to clearly mark the difference between him and the Pythagoreans when he talks about harmony within the soul where they talk about harmony being the soul, and to show that the notion of a soul-harmony is inconsistent with the hypothesis of the survival of the soul, even through metempsychosis. Going one step further in that direction, I suggest that Plato is also refining the very notion of "harmony" he inherited from the Pythagoreans, viewing "harmony" more in the unified result than in the composition itself, as seemed to be the case with the Pythagorean, if we can judge by the assumptions made by Socrates in his rebutal (of harmony being a compound) and the lack of contradiction on that point on the part of Simmias. (back)

(4) The language, the logoi, of harmony may not be used in the final myth, but the idea is there. The different parts of the earth compare to one another "ana logon" (110d3 and d5), proportionally, and the souls reveice punishment (dikas) and rewards (timas), and get assigned to a location and fate, "kata tèn axian hekastos (according to each one's worth)" (113d). It is even possible to view this three-tiered earth of the myth as a three string chord with which the three-tiered soul has to get in tune : the intermediate earth is the place where the intermediate part of the soul , the thumos, has to side, during the mixed life in a body, with either the logos to end up in the pure upper earth, or the epithumiai and pay the price in the underearth. (back)

(5)few lines later, at 109b7, Socrates talks about "autèn tèn gèn", the earth itself, with a formula that is reminiscent of the way he talks elsewhere of, for instance, "auto to kalon", the beautiful itself (100c5), another way of talking about the "forms". And there, the context shows that he is indeed opposing what is presented, in the "logic" of the myth, as different "parts" of the earth, but in a way that makes that "earth itself", "pure in the pure heaven", pretty close to an "idea of the earth" !..  Still later, at 109e, in an image that is reminiscent of both the climb out of the cave in Republic, VII, and the ascent of the winged chariots of the souls behind the gods in Phædrus, we are invited to "contemplate, threorize (theôrousa)", as much as our "nature (phusis)" allows, "the true earth (hè hôs alèthôs gè)". And, in the end, those that have properly been purified by philosophy during their life end up in that earth above "bodyless (aneu sômatôn) for the whole of time thereafter" (114c). So many hints at the language and imagery of "forms" cannot be mere chance... (back)

(6) Time is present in the myth mainly at the beginning and end to show the souls of the dead moving from this earth to another according to their merits. But most of the myth deals with the description of these various "parts" of the earth. (back)

(7) The other instances of indirect dialogues not reported by Socrates himself are the Symposium, the Parmenides, and the Theætetus (in fact, the whole trilogy Theætetus, Sophist, Statesman, if we consider that the introduction to the Theætetus is indeed an introduction to the whole trilogy). For more on the various forms of the dialogues, see the pages on "The Structure of the Introductions to Tetralogies". (back)

(8) The total fairness of Plato in this "trial" of man's life is obvious from the following figures showing the amount of time (in number of lines) spent with each of the two characters dialoguing with him, Simmias and Cebes.

  Introduction 1st Part Transition 2nd Part Total
Simmias 9 29 + 247 + 177 = 453 60 118 + 310 = 428 950
Cebes 36 57 + 122 + 246 = 425 60 230 + 37+ 145 = 412 933

As indicated elsewhere, this count of full lines in the Greek text of the Budè edition is only approximate with regard to what might have been the size of parts in Plato's "manuscripts" at a time when, among other things, there were no punctuation signs and no blanks between words in written texts. Besides, it is not always accurate in transitions, where it is not possible to fix with the utmost precision where one part ends and where the next one begins. But it should give apretty good idea of the relative proportion of the parts. And the result is quite eloquent ! (back)

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First published September 7, 1997 - Last updated November 22, 1998
© 1997 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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