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Friends Hold All Things in CommonTradition, Intellectual Property, and the Adages of Erasmus$

Kathy Eden

Print publication date: 2001

Print ISBN-13: 9780300087574

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: October 2013

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300087574.001.0001

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Plato on Proverbial Wisdom and the Philosophical Life

Plato on Proverbial Wisdom and the Philosophical Life

(p.56) 3 Plato on Proverbial Wisdom and the Philosophical Life
Friends Hold All Things in Common

Kathy Eden

Yale University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter shows how Plato, through the Symposium, gives philosophical attention to the question of traditionality and makes his case for the philosophical tradition as the best means of education. Grounded in friendship or philia, this tradition owes its genesis to its adversarial relation with poetry and sophistry. Prevailing over poet and sophist, Plato's philosopher, as characterized in this dialogue, passes on to his students not just an education but an educated way of life. The value of this way of life, the philosopher's role in passing it on and its compatibility with philosophia Christi echo throughout the Adages. In the 1508 Prolegomena to the Adages, Erasmus argues for the closest possible alignment between philosophy and proverbial statement. There he singles out Plato as not only the greatest philosopher but one without peer in the use of proverbs. Plato is, in Erasmus's words, paroimiodesteros—the master of proverbs.

Keywords:   traditionality, Plato, philosophical tradition, philia, poetry, sophistry

With the Symposium, as we have seen in the previous chapter, Plato both gives the question of traditionality philosophical attention and makes his case for the philosophical tradition as the best means of education. Grounded in friendship or philia, this tradition moreover owes its genesis to its adversarial relation with poetry and sophistry. Prevailing over poet and sophist, Plato's philosopher, as characterized in this dialogue, passes on to his students not just an education but an educated way of life. The value of this way of life, the philosopher's role in passing it on and its compatibility with philosophia Christi echo throughout the Adages. The “Sileni Alcibiadis”—to take not only the most famous example but one that explicitly amplifies a bit of the Symposium—chastises princes and even more so priests for choosing the wrong kind of life and thereby proving themselves lovers of wealth and power rather than wisdom and virtue. For their correction, as we have already seen in chapter 1, this adage adduces not only Christ but also the Socrates of the Symposium as archetypal sileni and just such lovers of wisdom.

In the 1508 Prolegomena to the Adages, as we have also seen in chapter 1, Erasmus argues for the closest possible alignment between philosophy and proverbial statement. There he singles out Plato as not only the greatest philosopher but one without peer in the use of proverbs. Plato is, in Erasmus' words, paroimiōdesteros—the master of proverbs (LB, II, 5C). Indeed, Plato's dialogues themselves are understood by Erasmus to amplify (p.57) a more remote ancient wisdom preserved in this most compressed literary form. While citing the Gorgias and the Republic as examples of such philosophical amplification of proverbial wisdom, Erasmus portrays throughout the Adages a Plato who fully appreciates the proverb as an instrument of philosophy.1

Erasmus' portrait of Plato finds particular confirmation in the Protagoras, another dialogue cited throughout the Adages. Here Plato has Socrates reflect his appreciation for proverbs in his own argument against the eponymous sophist; for Socrates claims not only that the Spartans were the most advanced philosophically but that they philosophized by means of sayings at once brief and memorable—brachea and axiomnēmoneuta (342D–343C). By way of illustration, Socrates adduces two of the best-known adages included side by side in Erasmus' collection: “Know thyself” and “Nothing overmuch” (I.vi.95 and I.vi.96; LB, II, 258D–259E; CWE, 32, 62–64).2

Alike in drawing attention to things axiomnēmoneuta, the Protagoras and Symposium share in turn the problematic of tradition that this unusual term signals and that Erasmus inherits as part of his own tradition. Indeed, this shared focus forms part of a constellation of commonalities linking these two dialogues and even encouraging us to read them together. So the hetairos who listens to Socrates' account of his recent conversation with Protagoras begins his own conversation with Socrates (p.58) by inquiring about his affair with Alcibiades. With the exception of Aristophanes, in fact, all of the principal speakers at Agathon's drinking party also play some role on this occasion (315C–316A). Agathon's particular status as the poet-sophist in the Symposium, moreover, pinpoints the very aspect of tradition that in the Protagoras demands our full attention.

As we have seen, the Symposium dramatizes not only the agōn between competing ways of life, but also that between the professionals who would teach us how to live this best kind of life. The Protagoras, in turn, targets both the sophistic program of education—in contrast to the philosophical—that claims to prepare us for the best life and the foundational role of poetry in this program. For in the distant past, according to Protagoras, sophists such as Homer, Hesiod, and Simonides clothed their wisdom in verse (316D). Accordingly, Protagoras insists that “the greatest part of a man's education is to be skilled in the matter of verses; that is, to be able to apprehend, in the utterances of the poets, what has been rightly and wrongly composed” (338E–339A; cf. 325E–326A).3 And for this same reason he challenges Socrates to a contest of literary exegesis.4

Socrates, in contrast, identifies the earliest wisdom literature with the philosophers, and especially with those who practiced the brachylogia most characteristic of the proverb (cf. Gorgias 449BC). Although willing to take up Protagoras' challenge—if only to consider the insight that Plato will explore more fully in the Symposium that each profession finds its own presuppositions (p.59) in its literary interpretations5—Socrates nevertheless compares the exercise of literary exegesis, the cornerstone of Protagorean pedagogy, to the wrong kind of symposium (347CE):

For it seems to me that arguing about poetry is comparable to the wine-parties of common marketfolk. These people, owing to their inability to carry on a familiar conversation over their wine by means of their own voices and discussions—such is their lack of education—put a premium on flute girls by hiring the extraneous voice of the flute at a high price, and carry on their intercourse by means of its utterance. But where the party consists of thorough gentlemen who have had a proper education, you will see neither flute-girls nor dancing-girls nor harp-girls…. And so a gathering like this of ours, when it includes such men as most of us claim to be, requires no extraneous voices, not even of the poets, whom one cannot question on the sense of what they say; when they are adduced in discussion we are generally told by some that the poet thought so and so, and by others, something different, and they go on arguing about a matter which they are powerless to determine.

Addressing issues central to the Symposium as well as the Gorgias and the Phaedrus, the Protagoras sets in opposition two competing educational programs, each advertising itself as preparation for the best kind of life and each passed on from generation to generation by a specially trained teacher.6 In the Protagorean (p.60) program, that teacher is the sophist; in the Socratic, he is the philosopher. Here as in the Symposium, moreover, this competition between sophistic and philosophical training or education is simultaneously a competition for control over human desire, over what we should love and hold worthy of value. Accordingly, it is up to the teacher to transform our desires, to turn them toward the most worthwhile objects (cf. 318B and 348E–349D).

In the Protagoras as in the Symposium, in other words, Socrates questions both the traditionary value of poetry and the traditional role of the poet—and following him, the sophist—as the teacher of men. And in the Protagoras, as in the Symposium, Socrates freely uses the weapons of the poets in raising these questions. So the same proverbial line of Diomedes from the Iliad (10.224) that encouraged Aristodemus in the Symposium to join Agathon's party (174DE) serves here to chide the faltering Protagoras into persevering in his conversation with Socrates. In both cases, not incidentally, the philosopher invokes this proverb—“When two go together, one observes before the other”—to advocate communal life.7 For however they may disagree (p.61) about the means and ends of the best life, that life—poet, sophist, and philosopher would agree—is communal: a koinōnia.And disagreement (amphisbētein) itself, as Prodicus distinguishes it from the wrangling (erizein) of enemies, belongs to friendship as the basis of community (337AB). So, Socrates reflects aloud, it is not just words and deeds but even thinking that benefits from such koiōdnia (348CD). On this issue of community, Homer's words spoken by Diomedes do indeed convey some proverbial wisdom.

Like the Protagoras and the Symposium, the Gorgias too takes as its task investigating the best—most valuable—way of life. As we have seen in the previous chapter, tradition attributes the earliest impulse to make such an inquiry to Pythagoras, the first philosopher. Whereas the Symposium, as we have also seen, outlines all three choices supposedly set out by the Italian philosopher, the Gorgias, explicitly invoking his authority, concentrates attention on the opposition between two of the three lives: the political and the philosophical. Choosing between them, Socrates insists, is the common focus of his conversation with all three interlocutors in this dialogue (500C):8

For you see that our debate is upon a question which has the highest conceivable claims to the serious interest even of a person who has but little intelligence—namely, what course of life is best; whether it should be that to which you invite me, with all those manly pursuits of speaking in Assembly and (p.62) practicing rhetoric (rhētorikēn askounta) and going in for politics after the fashion of you modern politicians, or this life of philosophy; and what makes the difference between the two.

Whereas Callicles, according to Socrates, resembles Alcibiades in being in love with the admiration of the people and the power that their esteem confers, Socrates, on his own account, loves Alcibiades and, even more so, philosophy (481D; cf. 513C). And whereas Callicles must continually change to suit his ever-shifting beloved, the people (481E), Socrates not only need not shift about in serving his beloved but also, recalling the office of the philosopher in the Symposium, must on the contrary labor to reorient others, including Alcibiades, to desiring objects at once more stable and more worthy of love (493CD). It is in the starkest contrast to Socrates, then, that Callicles considers philosophy worthwhile only for the young and only then as a preparation for political life (485C–486D).9

The last of three conversations structuring the Gorgias, the debate between Socrates and Callicles does most to advance the agōn between the two competing ways of life. As the last and most formidable of Socrates' interlocutors, moreover, Callicles also delivers in the opening words of the dialogue the very first blow of the competition. Not incidentally, his weapon in this brief skirmish is a proverb. Managing to duck Callicles' assault with a deadly saying—that he has conveniently arrived, like the coward of the adage, too late for the battle—Socrates disarms his opponent by substituting another, less provocative (p.63) adage: not too late for the fight, Socrates spars, but for the feast (447A).10 Introducing both the agonistic and culinary analogies that will pervade the conversation, Plato also has Socrates introduce more particularly the context for his later argument with Callicles. For fighting differs from feasting in that the former activity brings enemies together, the latter, friends. Here as in the Symposium, that is, friendship or philia provides a framework for examining not only the rhetorical art but the political life it claims to foster. Without explicitly invoking the Pythagorean proverb about philia and koinōnia, as we shall see, Plato grounds his refutation of the Calliclean way of life in an examination of these and other unmistakably Pythagorean principles.

It is imperative, moreover, that Socrates refute Callicles. For the “natural justice” that Callicles promotes authorizes each individual to claim for himself as much as he can hope to retain by force (483E–484B). As we have already seen in Erasmus' discussion of the Hesiodic proverb about halves and wholes, Plato and his contemporaries called this taking more than one's fair share pleonexia; and, as we have also seen, pleonexia stands in direct opposition to isotēs or equality, the principle at the root not only of justice, as Plato understands it, but of such related qualities (p.64) as taxis and kosmos.11 Indeed, the aretē or excellence of political koinōnia, like that of the human psychē, depends on these very qualities. Here as in the Republic Socrates constructs the analogy between the well-ordered city and the well-ordered soul on the basis of their common characteristics (504AD, 506DE, 507D). The individual who lacks these qualities will inevitably be incapable of taking part appropriately in the life of the community (507E-508A):

For neither to any of his fellowmen can such a one be dear (prosphilēs), nor to God; since he cannot commune (koinōnein) with any, and where there is no communion (koinōnia), there can be no friendship (philia). And wise men tell us, Callicles, that heaven and earth and gods and men are held together by communion (koinōnian) and friendship (philian), by orderliness (kosmiotēta), temperance, and justice; and that is the reason, my friend, why they call the whole (to holon) of this world by the name of order (kosmon), not of disorder or dissoluteness. Now you, as it seems to me, do not give proper attention to this, for all your cleverness, but have failed to observe the great power of geometrical equality (he isotēs hē geōmetrikē) amongst both gods and men: (p.65) you hold that self-advantage (pleonexian) is what one ought to practice, because you neglect geometry (geōmetrias).

In keeping with his views about subordinating philosophical education to political ambition, Callicles himself lacks the intellectual training that would prepare him to appreciate either these underlying commonalities or their consequences for living the best life.

Instead, in the company of his friends—the so-called koinōnia sophias or “wise-guys club” (487B)—Callicles spends his time considering just how much philosophy the politician needs. Consequently, he neglects the teachings of another group of “wise guys,” the Pythagoreans, whose students, on the contrary, spend their time learning to recognize in themselves and the world kosmos, taxis and isotēs. For the Pythagoreans, whose parable of the ordered life or kosmios bios Socrates invokes (493A–494A), understand the universe or cosmos itself to be held together by an attractive force or philia that binds not only mortal creatures to one another, but mortal to immortal in correspondence with a model of mathematics that is rooted in turn in these principles.12 Callicles' misguided pursuit of rhetoric as popularly (p.66) practiced, instead of philosophy, follows like all wrong action from ignorance, and specifically from ignorance of Pythagorean discipline, including mathematics. Even the rhetorician, if properly trained, invests his compositions with these qualities (503E–504A).

Unschooled in the doctrines of Pythagoras, Callicles not surprisingly also misunderstands the relation between the politician and his audience. For it too, Socrates claims, derives from an old Pythagorean saying: like to like (510B).13 Only by really befriending (eis philian) the Athenian people—that is, only by becoming profoundly like them—can any politician hope to persuade them (513B; cf. Laws 716B–717D). After much argumentation, in other words, Socrates returns to a claim advanced much earlier in the dialogue with his first interlocutor. Far from being an art or technē grounded in knowledge of a subject matter, rhetoric is a kind of know-how, an empeiria, by which the ignorant gratify others like themselves (462C, 465A; cf. 448C). “So he who does not know,” Socrates puts the case to Gorgias at the outset, “will be more convincing to those who do not know than he who knows” (459B).

Without explicitly alluding to the Pythagorean proverb about friendship and common property, as we have seen, the Gorgias characterizes its own rhetorical and political theory, in stark contrast to that both practiced and preached by Gorgias and Callicles, as grounded in the Pythagorean principle of koinōnia (p.67) and its attendant qualities of taxis and kosmos. In addition to incorporating an elaborate myth of psychic migration that boldly advertises Plato's pedigree in the earlier Italian school, this dialogue also betrays its Pythagorean heritage in its reliance on proverbial statement, and especially on proverbs about friendship.14 Alongside this legacy of myth and proverb, moreover, it inherits the Pythagorean homology between politics, rhetoric and theology, an homology rooted in a cosmic philia, rooted in turn in koinōnia. Fully appreciating the commonalities between the right kind of rhetorical and philosophical training or askēsis, Socrates nevertheless subordinates practicing rhetoric (askountes rhētorikēn) to practicing virtue (askountes aretēn) (500C, 527DE).15

Whereas the Gorgias, as one of the two Platonic dialogues explicitly concerned with rhetoric, begins with a proverb, the Phaedrus, as the other, ends with one, and more precisely with our Pythagorean proverb. Phaedrus himself invokes the adage, moreover, in response to Socrates' closing prayer for philia or friendship between the inner and outer man, between his intellectual store and his material possessions—only such wealth, Socrates prays, as the self-possessed man, the sōphrōn, can handle (279C). Hoping for a full share in the prayer of his philos or friend, Phaedrus' amen takes proverbial form: friends hold all things (including their prayers) in common.16

(p.68) Phaedrus' call for commonality in friendship in response to Socrates' final prayer to Pan echoes Socrates' earlier prayer to Erōs as philos (257A) at the end of his palinode. This prayer, not incidentally, calls for Lysias' conversion to the philosophical life (257B). Aimed directly at the orator, however, Socrates' protreptic actually targets Phaedrus, who, the philosopher understands all too well, will imitate his much-admired model for better or for worse (257B, Cobb, 113):17

If Phaedrus and I said anything harsh about you in the earlier speech, blame Lysias as the father of that speech. Make him cease from such speeches and turn him toward friendship with wisdom, as his brother Polemarchus has been turned, so that his lover here will no longer be ambivalent, as he is now, but rather will dedicate his life entirely to love through speeches that are characterized by friendship with wisdom.

(p.69) Unlike his full participation in Socrates' closing prayer, in other words, Phaedrus' amen here is contingent, and for the very reasons that Socrates has just disclosed. Phaedrus has yet to choose between the life of philosophia and that of philotimia—between Socrates and Lysias. Indeed, Phaedrus himself identifies the much-imitated Lysias as a philotimos, one who writes or refrains from writing as reputation demands (257C).18

Like the Protagoras, the Gorgias, and the Symposium, then, the Phaedrus takes as a point of departure the agōn between competing ways of life, a competition traditionally associated with Pythagoras. Like the Gorgias, moreover, the Phaedrus fortifies this Pythagorean association through its myth of psychic migration. Shaping Socrates' second, recantatory speech, this myth elaborates the rewards and punishments attending the choices we make concerning the kinds of lives we live—lives ranging from the philosophical to the tyrannical (248DE). In particular, Socrates' myth features the very choice facing not only Phaedrus but presumably also many of Plato's earliest readers.

For only the soul that consistently chooses the life of philosophia finally escapes the repetition of judgment and reembodiment (248E–249A). Only these philosophoi prevail in the ferocious psychological struggles that threaten the orderly life—the kosmios bios (256AB). The philotimoi, on the other hand, often through what Socrates calls ameleia or carelessness (256C), succumb to their baser impulses, thus straining the integrity of a relation characterized almost indifferently as friendship or love (256CD):

These two [i.e. the philotimoi] are also friends, then, though less so than the other pair [i.e. the philosophoi], and remain together both while they are (p.70) in love and after love has departed, for they believe they have each given and received the strongest vows, which it would be unlawful to break by ever becoming enemies.

Like the Symposium, in other words, the Phaedrus asks us to consider not only the relation between erōs and logos, as students of Plato regularly note, but also that between erōs and philia.19 Whereas Socrates' recantatory second speech sets in high relief the commonalities between friendship and love, Socrates' first speech challenges Lysias' oration on behalf of the nonlover without challenging its underlying assumption, to the contrary, of an antagonism or enmity between friendship and love. And Socrates' demonstration of this antagonism assumes with the Pythagorean adage the holding in common of friendship.

For if friendship presumes both commonality and equality, lovers by contrast—at least in Socrates' first speech—deprive their beloveds of property and even other friends in an effort to ensure their inferiority and continued dependence (239E–240A). More damaging still, these same lovers turn their beloveds (p.71) away from the philosophical life, discouraging their “divine friendship with wisdom” (239B). This apotreptic intention is in direct conflict with Socrates' openly stated hopes for Phaedrus noted above (cf. 261A). Unlike the friend who freely shares his aspirations for intellectual progress, the so-called left-handed lover selfishly guards against any such progress for his beloved (cf. 266A).

The lover of Socrates' first speech, then, behaves in starkest opposition to the Pythagorean adage. The so-called right-handed lover of the palinode, in contrast, enacts the code of conduct proverbially endorsed. Not only does he not deprive the beloved of material property and social intercourse with other friends, but he himself grows neglectful of his own possessions and even of other people, so complete and sufficient is his association with the beloved—an association that Socrates, as we have already seen, characterizes most emphatically as philia or friendship. So Socrates insists that (255B)

it is fated that bad is never to be a friend (philon) to bad nor good not to be a friend (philon) to good. When he has accepted the lover and enjoyed his conversation and his company, the goodwill of the lover that is revealed in their close relationship amazes the beloved, and he discovers that all his other friends and relatives offer no friendship (philias) at all in comparison with this friend who is divinely inspired.

Bound to one another through a profound likeness or similarity, lover and beloved find equality in a friendship that both surpasses any they have ever experienced and endures throughout their lives (255E, 256CE).

Unquestionably about erōs and logos and arguably about erōs and philia, the Phaedrus is also, I would suggest, about logos and (p.72) philia, which at their best or most excellent share a commitment to koinōnia or commonality. For like friends after the Pythagorean fashion, discourse in the form of speaking, writing and even thinking assumes not only as its own standard of excellence the criterion of unity or wholeness (264C) but also in relation to its subject matter the task of apprehending what seemingly disparate things have in common. Suffering, like everyone else, from love-sickness, Socrates confesses his peculiar erotic attachment not only to this process of searching out such commonalities but even to those who practice the search most philosophically; and not, we can infer, in order to imitate them, as Phaedrus aspires to imitate Lysias, but rather in order to become profoundly like them, in the deeper philosophical sense of sharing their company (266BC):20

I, myself, Phaedrus, am a lover (erastēs) of these dividings and collectings as what enable me to speak and to think, and when I believe that someone else is able to see the natural unity and plurality of things, I follow him, “walking behind him in his footsteps as (p.73) in those of a god.” Moreover, up to now, I've called those who're able to do this dialecticians, though whether I address them correctly or not only a god knows.

And while the activity of apprehending commonality in multiplicity characterizes in particular the kind of discourse belonging to the philosophical life (261E, 265DE, 273D; cf. 259AB, 259E–260A), such apprehensions exercised even intermittently and more or less at random mark us as human (249BC). Whereas the Symposium, as we have seen, locates our humanity in our desire for the immortality we lack, the Phaedrus, frequently read as its companion piece, takes our immortality as given (245C), defining our humanity instead in terms of this peculiar cognitive process—a process that we hold in common with divinity (247DE).21

If remembering activates the kind of knowing we share with the gods, moreover, then the failure to remember that characterizes the ameleia or negligence of the philotimoi poses the gravest threat to living philosophically (248CE).22 So threatening to his philosophical agenda does Socrates find this negligence or carelessness—what he calls at the end of the Phaedrus ameletēsia (275A)—that he denies that writing is a philosophically serious practice precisely because it fosters this condition.

The opposite of ameleia and ameletēsia, on the other hand, is meletē, often translated as “practice”; and meletē figures prominently, (p.74) as we have seen, in Diotima's account of how human knowing can approach the stability and continuity of divine knowing. It also comprises the third ingredient with natural talent (physis) and knowledge (epistēmē) that, according to Socrates in conversation with Phaedrus, goes into making the consummate rhetorician (269D). When Socrates meets Phaedrus outside the city's walls, the would-be orator is engaged in just this kind of practice or meletē with Lysias' speech (228B).23

As Plato's other dialogue about rhetoric, then, the Phaedrus advances the conversation of the Gorgias by imagining an art or technē in place of an artless routine or atechnos tribē (260E; cf. 270B), one based not on a haphazard empeiria but on a more reflective meletē. In the Phaedrus, in other words, Socrates makes the case for a rhetorical training that is not only more practicable but also more fully integrated into the philosophical life. As we have seen, the Gorgias subordinates the askēsis or practice of rhetoric to that of virtue. So does the Phaedrus, but it does so while promoting a rhetorical praxis supported by a dialectical understanding of both dialectic itself and psychology (271C–272B).

(p.75) In considering what the rhetorician should know, moreover, the Phaedrus looks back to the Symposium, where, as we have seen, Eryximachus introduced the competition among the professions for the right to pass on to the next generation through education the “intellectual property” that enables the transformation of souls. Without rehearsing in full the agōn of this earlier dialogue, Plato does reengage the problematic of tradition there explored, drawing our attention to its bearing on the question at hand. For in the later dialogue Socrates adduces the testimony of Eryximachus to demonstrate the limitations of passing on a partial inheritance, one that trains the student how to effect certain changes in the body without teaching him when to effect such changes, on whom and why (Phaedrus 268AB):

Well, tell me, if someone came to your associate Eryximachus or to his father Acumenus and said, “I know how to apply certain sorts of things to people's bodies so as to induce warmth or coolness if I want to, and if I choose I can make them vomit or make their bowels move, and a great many other such things; and because I know these things I'm a competent physician and can make a physician out of anyone else to whom I transmit (paradō) knowledge of these things.” What do you think they'd say if they heard that?

Socrates, in other words, challenges Phaedrus to reflect on a complete as opposed to a partial rhetorical education. At the same time, he challenges his reader to recall Phaedrus' part in an earlier dialogue that addressed the very problematic of handing this knowledge on: what Plato, like those who follow him, will call paradosis. In the Phaedrus, moreover, Socrates claims that among the things handed down (paradosein) is virtue itself (270B).

(p.76) In the Protagoras, on the other hand, Socrates had questioned the sophist's promise to teach virtue. Indeed, he challenges just this aspect of the Protagorean program, calling Pericles to witness. For while the sons can inherit their father's property, his excellence or aretē as a citizen among citizens cannot be passed on. “[I]t is not only so with the service of the State (to koinon tēs poleōs),” Socrates argues (319E–320A),

but in private life our best and wisest citizens are unable to transmit (paradidonai) this excellence (aretēn) of theirs to others; for Pericles, the father of these young fellows here, gave them a first-rate training in the subjects for which he found teachers, but in those of which he is himself a master he neither trains (paideuei) them personally nor commits (paradidosin) them to another's guidance.

Unconvinced in the Protagoras of the sophistic claim that aretē can be taught, Socrates does not reject all aspects of sophistic training. just as Phaedrus studies the works of the orators, including Lysias, and Polus in the Gorgias (448E) is assumed to have studied (memeletēken) rhetoric, so Socrates, like the sophists and their students, studies poetry. Insofar as meletē belongs as much to a sophistic as to a rhetorical education, in other words, Socrates assures Protagoras that he has studied (memelēkos) the Simonidean ode under discussion (339B).

Socrates' attention in these dialogues to not only the most valuable way of life but also to the education that enables it brings into focus a training defined by the related activities of askēsis, meletē and paradosis.24 Each of these elements, as we have seen, figures prominently in Plato's characterization of the pedagogical (p.77) programs of the sophist and the rhetorician. Each of them, as we have also seen, comes to belong to the training for philosophy as the foundation of the best way of life. And each of them, as we will soon see in chapter 5, figures prominently in the late antique versions of Pythagoreanism, in early Christian koinōnia, and in Erasmian philosophia Christi.As the institutionalization of ancient koinōnia, moreover, cenobitic monasticism, Christianity at its most exalted, inherits not only these elements of the philosophical life but also the proverbial wisdom first attributed to Pythagoras at the very core of communal living: friends holding all things in common. As we will now see in the next chapter, ancient political philosophy contributes no small portion to this inheritance.


(1) . According to M. M. Phillips, only Aristophanes, Cicero, Homer, Horace, Plautus, and Plutarch, including pseudo-Plutarch, are cited more than Plato (393–403).

(2) . As discussed by Erasmus, both adages are attributed by somebody or other to Pythagoras.

On the confusion between Pythagoras and Protagoras see Charles Trinkaus, “Protagoras in the Renaissance: An Exploration,” Philosophy and Humanism: Renaissance Essays in Honor of Paul Oskar Kristeller, ed. Edward P. Mahoney (Leiden, 1976), 190–213.

(3) . Protagoras, trans. W. R. M. Lamb, LCL (Cambridge, Mass., 1924; rpt. 1977).

(4) . See my Hermeneutics and the Rhetorical Tradition, 21–23.

One crucial distinction between philosophical and sophistic training is that the sophist, like the poet, sometimes praises tyranny, the philosopher never (346BC).

(5) . See, for instance, 345DE, where Socrates asserts that both sophists and poets, including Simonides, presuppose that no one errs willingly.

(6) . There is in the Protagoras, most likely the earliest of the dialogues I am considering here, a third program of education that resembles the Pythagorean as it is more fully developed in the Gorgias and the Republic and that is compared very much in passing in this dialogue with the Protagorean. Of its teachers Protagoras says (318DE), “The generality of them maltreat the young; for when they have escaped from the arts they bring them back against their will and force them into arts, teaching them arithmetic and astronomy and geometry and music (and here he glanced at Hippias); whereas, if he applies to me, he will learn precisely and solely that for which he has come. That learning consists of good judgment in his own affairs, showing how best to order his own home; and in the affairs of his city, showing how he may have most influence on public affairs both in speech and in action.”

(7) . On this proverb, including Erasmus' discussion of it in the Adages, see chap. 2, above. On the special ability of the adage to accommodate changing contexts, see Erasmus, Prolegomena, LB, II, 7B–8B, CWE, 31, 15–17 and Aristotle, Rhetoric, 1.15, 1376a1, cited by Erasmus, and my “‘Between Friends All is Common’: The Erasmian Adage and Tradition,” 409.

(8) . Plato, Gorgias, trans. W. R. M. Lamb, LCL (Cambridge, Mass., 1925; rpt. 1983).

(9) . Whereas in the philosophical tradition, as we see in the Republic, the liberal arts, including rhetoric, serve as propaedeutic for philosophy, in the rhetorical tradition, philosophy serves as a propaedeutic for political life.

(10) . On this adage see Erasmus, Adages, I.ix.52, LB, II, 353DE; CWE, 32, 210; II.ix.52, LB, II, 674D–675A; CWE, 34, 110 and compare I.iii.97—septem convivium, novem convicium—where the similarity in sound of the Latin for “feast” and “fight” reinforces the sense, and also III.i.17, LB, II, 721BC, CWE, 34, 188–89. See also Plato, Gorgias, ed. E.R. Dodds (Oxford, 1959), 188 and Seth Benardete, The Rhetoric of Morality and Philosophy: Plato's “Gorgias” and “Phaedrus” (Chicago, 1991), 8–9.

On the agonistic elements—the dialogue as machē—see, for instance, 339E; for the culinary aspect—the dialogue as eortē—see 464D–465A. Both features are traditional. See also Michel Jeanneret, A Feast of Words: Banquets and Table Talk in the Renaissance, trans. Jeremy White and Emma Hughes (Chicago, 1991).

(11) . On the Pythagorean origin of the related concepts of kosmos, taxis, philia, and koinōnia, see C. J. De Vogel, Pythagoras and Early Pythagoreanism (Assen, 1966), 104–05, 116–19 and 192–218; E. R. Dodds, 337–40; Jean-Claude Fraisse, La notion d'amitié dans la philosophie antique (Paris, 1974), 55–67

For the Pythagoreanism of the Gorgias, including the parable, see Dodds, 20, 296–98 and J. S. Morrison, “Pythagoras of Samos,” Classical Quarterly, n.s. 6 (1956), 135–56 and “The Origins of Plato's Philosopher-Statesman,” Classical Quarterly, n.s. 8 (1958), 198–218.

(12) . See De Vogel, p. 194: “It is clear that the Wise men referred to are the Pythagoreans. Their cosmic and universal thought is used by Socrates-Plato as the very basis of the doctrine of man's social existence just as they had always done themselves. Human virtue must be an imitation of cosmic harmony; the principle of order implies restraint of desires and therefore unity, justice, inward peace and happiness. Thus the Pythagorean ethic inspires Plato's social ethic; we find its elaboration in the Republic finally confirmed in the Laws.

The principle of geometric equality, which not only occurs in this place in the Gorgias but is the leading principle in the Republic, where democracy is branded as the greatest injustice since it wishes to apply an arithmetic equality, may be found in Archytas, fr. 2.”

(13) . See also 507E, Phaedrus 240C and 255B, Lysis 214B and Dodds, 344. Erasmus notes the adage (I.ii.21) as homoion homoiōi philon (LB, II, 79E–80A). Although Erasmus doesn't mention Pythagoras on this particular occasion, this adage is related to amicitia aequalitas, the second of the Pythagorae symbola (LB, II, 14F-15C). See in addition Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. H. Rackham, LCL (Cambridge, Mass., 1926; rpt. 1975), 8.8.5: “Amity consists in equality (isotēs) and similarity (homoiōtēs), especially the similarity of those who are alike in virtue.”

(14) . On the Pythagorean origins of these myths of psychic migration see Iamblichus, De vita pythagorica, 179; De Vogel, 192–93 and Dodds, 297–99.

(15) . On the difference between ancient and medieval askēsis or “asceticism” see Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, trans. Michael Chase (Oxford, 1995), 128. See also Mary Carruthers, The Craft of Thought, 106–08. I will return to this topic below.

(16) . Among the other well-known proverbs in this dialogue are “Friendship is equality” and “A friend is another self,” both featured among the Pythagorae symbola that follow the opening adage (I.i.2, LB, II, 14F–15C, CWE, 31, 31), “The sweet elbow” (Phaedrus 257E, II.i.38, LB, II, 419F–420E, CWE, 33, 37–39), “The shadow of an ass” (Phaedrus 260C, I.iii.52, LB, II, 132C–133D, CWE, 31, 278–80) and “The garden of Adonis” (Phaedrus 276B, I.i.4, LB, II, 26C–27B, CWE, 31, 51–53).

On the Phaedrus, and especially its treatment of philia, see Plato's Erotic Dialogues, trans. with commentary William S. Cobb (Albany, 1993), 169–70; Eden, “‘Between Friends All is Common’: The Erasmian Adage and Tradition,” 405–19; Fraisse, 158–67; Charles L. Griswold, Self-Knowledge in Plato's “Phaedrus” (New Haven, 1986).

(17) . On Phaedrus' misguided use of imitation in place of the deeper relation of similarity, see Eden, “‘Between Friends All is Common’: The Erasmian Adage and Tradition,” 413–14. For later treatments of this distinction in the Platonic tradition see Wesley Trimpi, Muses of One Mind: The Literary Analysis of Experience and Its Continuity (Princeton, 1983), 164–240.

(18) . For the poet Simonides as similarly philotimos, see Protagoras 343C.

(19) . Indeed, as Socrates formulates the question under debate in the first part of the dialogue (237C), it is “whether one should enter into a friendship with one who loves or with one who does not” (Cobb, 96).

See, for instance, G. J. de Vries, A Commentary on the “Phaedrus” of Plato (Amsterdam, 1969), 22–24; G. R. F. Ferrari, Listening to the Cicadas: A Study of Plato's “Phaedrus” (Cambridge, 1987); Griswold, Self-Knowledge in Plato's “Phaedrus,” 138–201; Horst Hutter, Politics as Friendship: The origins of classical notions of politics in the theory and practice of friendship (Waterloo, Ontario, 1978), 64–102; Paul Plass, “The Unity of the Phaedrus,” Symbolae Osloenses, 43 (1968), 7–38; rpt. Plato: True and Sophistic Rhetoric, ed. Keith V. Erickson (Amsterdam, 1979), 193–221.

For another reading of the reciprocity between lovers idealized in the Phaedrus, see Helene Foley, “‘The Mother of the Argument’: Eros and the Body in Sappho and Plato's Phaedrus,” Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity, ed. Maria Wyke (Oxford, 1998), 39–70.

(20) . On the distinction between imitation and similarity, see above n. 17. On the role of koinōnia in discourse see Gorgias 464C and Statesman, trans. Harold N. Fowler, LCL (Cambridge, Mass., 1925; rpt. 1975), 285AB: “because people are not in the habit of considering things by dividing them into classes, they hastily put these widely different relations into the same category, thinking they are alike; and again they do the opposite of this when they fail to divide other things into parts. What they ought to do is this: when a person at first sees only the unity or common quality (koinōnian) of many things, he must not give up until he sees all the differences in them, so far as they exist in classes; and conversely, when all sorts of dissimilarities are seen in a large number of objects he must find it impossible to be discouraged or to stop until he has gathered into one circle of similarity (homōidtētos) all the things which are related to each other and has included them in some sort of class on the basis of their essential nature.” And see de Vries, 218–19.

(21) . At 245C Socrates associates the immortality of the soul with its perpetual motion. Aristotle attributes this theory of the soul's immortality to the Pythagorean Alcmaeon (De anima, 405a30).

(22) . At 259BD Socrates invokes the myth of the cicadas both as a warning against the dangers of ameleia and as an exhortation to the practice of philosophical discourse rewarded by Calliope and Urania. See ch. 2, n. 13. On Pythagorean anxiety over this threat see de Vries, 142.

(23) . For the role of meletē—Latin, meditatio—in the rhetorical tradition see De oratore 1.30.136, 1.32.147; Tacitus, Dialogus de oratoribus, 16.1, 30.2, 33.5 and Carruthers, The Craft of Thought, 105–08. On the study or meletē of poetry, especially as it corresponds to Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy, see Plutarch, Moralia 35F. For its role in the philosophical tradition as meditatio see Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, 59, 84–89 and 112, n. 38: “It is only after much hesitation that I have translated meletē by ‘meditation.’ In fact, meletē and its Latin equivalent meditatio designate ‘preparatory exercises,’ in particular those of rhetoricians. If I have finally resigned myself to adopting the translation ‘meditation,’ it is because the exercise designated by meletē corresponds, in the last analysis, rather well to what we nowadays term meditation: an effort to assimilate an idea, notion, or principle, and make them come alive in the soul.” For its possible early role in Pythagoreanism, see 116, n. 79.

(24) . Cf. Gorgias 456E and 457C. As we see at Symposium 175A, no less a part of this training is withdrawal or anachōrēsis.