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CRATYLUS by Plato, Part 13

Soc. Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which have been just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most surely indicated.

Her. No, indeed, I never thought of it.

Soc. Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is a name indicative of motion.

Her. What was the name? Soc. Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify Phoras kai rhou noesis (perception of motion and flux), or perhaps Phoras onesis (the blessing of motion), but is at any rate connected with Pheresthai (motion); gnome (judgment), again, certainly implies the ponderation or consideration (nomesis) of generation, for to ponder is the same as to consider; or, if you would rather, here is noesis, the very word just now mentioned, which is neou esis (the desire of the new); the word neos implies that the world is always in process of creation. The giver of the name wanted to express his longing of the soul, for the original name was neoesis, and not noesis. The word sophrosune is the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which we were just now considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and indicates that the soul which is good for anything follows (epetai) the motion of things, neither anticipating them nor falling behind them; wherefor the word should rather be read as epistemene, inserting en. Sunesis (understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind of conclusion; the word is derived from sunienai (to go along with), and, like epistasthai (to know), implies the progression of the soul in company with the nature of things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark, and appears not to be of native growth; the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things. You must remember that the poets, when they speak of the commencement of any rapid motion, often use the word esuthe (he rushed); and there was a famous Lacedaemonian who was named Sous (Rush), for by this word the Lacedaemonians signify rapid motion, and the touching (epaphe) of motion is expressed by sophia, for all things are supposed to be in motion. Good (agathon) is the name which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature; for, although all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some are swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable for their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called agathon. Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis (understanding of the just); but the actual word dikaion is more difficult: men are only agreed to a certain extent about justice, and then they begin to disagree.

For those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the greater part of nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that there is a penetrating power which passes through all this, and is the instrument of creation in all, and is the subtlest and swiftest element; for if it were not the subtlest, and a power which none can keep out, and also the swiftest, passing by other things as if they were standing still, it could not penetrate through the moving universe. And this element, which superintends all things and pieces (diaion) all, is rightly called dikaion; the letter k is only added for the sake of euphony. Thus far, as I was saying, there is a general agreement about the nature of justice; but I, Hermogenes, being an enthusiastic disciple, have been told in a mystery that the justice of which I am speaking is also the cause of the world: now a cause is that because of which anything is created; and some one comes and whispers in my ear that justice is rightly so called because partaking of the nature of the cause, and I begin, after hearing what he has said, to interrogate him gently: "Well, my excellent friend," say I, "but if all this be true, I still want to know what is justice." Thereupon they think that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping over the barriers, and have been already sufficiently answered, and they try to satisfy me with one derivation after another, and at length they quarrel. For one of them says that justice is the sun, and that he only is the piercing (diaionta) and burning (kaonta) element which is the guardian of nature. And when I joyfully repeat this beautiful notion, I am answered by the satirical remark, "What, is there no justice in the world when the sun is down?" And when I earnestly beg my questioner to tell me his own honest opinion, he says, "Fire in the abstract"; but this is not very intelligible. Another says, "No, not fire in the abstract, but the abstraction of heat in the fire." Another man professes to laugh at all this, and says, as Anaxagoras says, that justice is mind, for mind, as they say, has absolute power, and mixes with nothing, and orders all things, and passes through all things. At last, my friend, I find myself in far greater perplexity about the nature of justice than I was before I began to learn. But still I am of opinion that the name, which has led me into this digression, was given to justice for the reasons which I have mentioned.

Her. I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now; you must have heard this from some one else.

Soc. And not the rest?

Her. Hardly. Soc. Well, then, let me go on in the hope of making you believe in the originality of the rest. What remains after justice? I do not think that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),- injustice (adikia), which is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the penetrating principle (diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then, the name of andreia seems to imply a battle;- this battle is in the world of existence, and according to the doctrine of flux is only the counterflux (enantia rhon): if you extract the d from andreia, the name at once signifies the thing, and you may clearly understand that andreia is not the stream opposed to every stream, but only to that which is contrary to justice, for otherwise courage would not have been praised. The words arren (male) and aner (man) also contain a similar allusion to the same principle of the upward flux (te ano rhon). Gune (woman) I suspect to be the same word as goun (birth): thelu (female) appears to be partly derived from thele (the teat), because the teat is like rain, and makes things flourish (tethelenai).

Her. That is surely probable.

Soc. Yes; and the very word thallein (to flourish) seems to figure the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this is expressed by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of thein (running), and allesthai (leaping). Pray observe how I gallop away when I get on smooth ground. There are a good many names generally thought to be of importance, which have still to be explained.

Her. True.

Soc. There is the meaning of the word techne (art), for example.

Her. Very true.

Soc. That may be identified with echonoe, and expresses the possession of mind: you have only to take away the t and insert two o's, one between the ch and n, and another between the n and e.

Her. That is a very shabby etymology.

Soc. Yes, my dear friend; but then you know that the original names have been long ago buried and disguised by people sticking on and stripping off letters for the sake of euphony, and twisting and bedizening them in all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a share in the change. Take, for example, the word katoptron; why is the letter r inserted? This must surely be the addition of some one who cares nothing about the truth, but thinks only of putting the mouth into shape. And the additions are often such that at last no human being can possibly make out the original meaning of the word. Another example is the word sphigx, sphiggos, which ought properly to be phigx, phiggos, and there are other examples.

Her. That is quite true, Socrates.

Soc. And yet, if you are permitted to put in and pull out any letters which you please, names will be too easily made, and any name may be adapted to any object.

Her. True.

Soc. Yes, that is true. And therefore a wise dictator, like yourself, should observe the laws of moderation and probability.

Her. Such is my desire.

Soc. And mine, too, Hermogenes. But do not be too much of a precisian, or "you will unnerve me of my strength." When you have allowed me to add mechane (contrivance) to techne (art) I shall be at the top of my bent, for I conceive mechane to be a sign of great accomplishment- anein; for mekos the meaning of greatness, and these two, mekos and anein, make up the word mechane. But, as I was saying, being now at the top of my bent, I should like to consider the meaning of the two words arete (virtue) and kakia (vice) arete I do not as yet understand, but kakia is transparent, and agrees with the principles which preceded, for all things being in a flux (ionton), kakia is kakos ion (going badly); and this evil motion when existing in the soul has the general name of kakia or vice, specially appropriated to it. The meaning of kakos ienai may be further illustrated by the use of deilia (cowardice), which ought to have come after andreia, but was forgotten, and, as I fear, is not the only word which has been passed over. Deilia signifies that the soul is bound with a strong chain (desmos), for lian means strength, and therefore deilia expresses the greatest and strongest bond of the soul; and aporia (difficulty) is an evil of the same nature (from a not, and poreuesthai to go), like anything else which is an impediment to motion and movement. Then the word kakia appears to mean kakos ienai, or going badly, or limping and halting; of which the consequence is, that the soul becomes filled with vice. And if kakia is the name of this sort of thing, arete will be the opposite of it, signifying in the first place ease of motion, then that the stream of the good soul is unimpeded, and has therefore the attribute of ever flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore called arete, or, more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing), and may perhaps have had another form, airete (eligible), indicating that nothing is more eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete. I daresay that you will deem this to be another invention of mine, but I think that if the previous word kakia was right, then arete is also right.

Her. But what is the meaning of kakon, which has played so great a part in your previous discourse?

Soc. That is a very singular word about which I can hardly form an opinion, and therefore I must have recourse to my ingenious device.

Her. What device?

Soc. The device of a foreign origin, which I shall give to this word also.

Her. Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave these words and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.

Soc. The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon roes (always preventing from flowing), and this is in accordance with our former derivations. For the name-giver was a great enemy to stagnation of all sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to that which hindered the flux (aei ischon roun), and that is now beaten together into aischron.


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