Written c. 360 B.C.
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue:
PHAEDO, who is the narrator of the dialogue to ECHECRATES of Phlius
ATTENDANT OF THE PRISON
Scene: The Prison of Socrates.
Place of the Narration: Phlius.
Echecrates. Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with
Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?
Phaedo. Yes, Echecrates, I was.
Ech. I wish that you would tell me about his death. What did he
say in his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison, but
no one knew anything more; for no Phliasian ever goes to Athens now, and a
long time has elapsed since any Athenian found his way to Phlius, and
therefore we had no clear account.
Phaed. Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?
Ech. Yes; someone told us about the trial, and we could not
understand why, having been condemned, he was put to death, as appeared,
not at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?
Phaed. An accident, Echecrates. The reason was that the stern of
the ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned
on the day before he was tried.
Ech. What is this ship?
Phaed. This is the ship in which, as the Athenians say, Theseus
went to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the
saviour of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo
at the time, that if they were saved they would make an annual pilgrimage
to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the
voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the
stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed
to be polluted by public executions; and often, when the vessel is
detained by adverse winds, there may be a very considerable delay. As I
was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was
the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long
after he was condemned.
Ech. What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or
done? And which of his friends had he with him? Or were they not allowed
by the authorities to be present? And did he die alone?
Phaed. No; there were several of his friends with him.
Ech. If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me
what passed, as exactly as you can.
Phaed. I have nothing to do, and will try to gratify your wish.
For to me, too, there is no greater pleasure than to have Socrates brought
to my recollection, whether I speak myself or hear another speak of him.
Ech. You will have listeners who are of the same mind with you,
and I hope that you will be as exact as you can.
Phaed. I remember the strange feeling which came over me at
being with him. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death
of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him, Echecrates; his mien and
his language were so noble and fearless in the hour of death that to me he
appeared blessed. I thought that in going to the other world he could not
be without a divine call, and that he would be happy, if any man ever was,
when he arrived there, and therefore I did not pity him as might seem
natural at such a time. But neither could I feel the pleasure which I
usually felt in philosophical discourse (for philosophy was the theme of
which we spoke). I was pleased, and I was also pained, because I knew that
he was soon to die, and this strange mixture of feeling was shared by us
all; we were laughing and weeping by turns, especially the excitable
Apollodorus — you know the sort of man?
Phaed. He was quite overcome; and I myself and all of us were
Ech. Who were present?
Phaed. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus,
Critobulus and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, and
Antisthenes; likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus, and
some others; but Plato, if I am not mistaken, was ill.
Ech. Were there any strangers?
Phaed. Yes, there were; Simmias the Theban, and Cebes, and
Phaedondes; Euclid and Terpison, who came from Megara.
Ech. And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?
Phaed. No, they were said to be in Aegina.
Ech. Anyone else?
Phaed. I think that these were about all.
Ech. And what was the discourse of which you spoke?
Phaed. I will begin at the beginning, and endeavor to repeat the
entire conversation. You must understand that we had been previously in
the habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the
trial was held, and which is not far from the prison. There we remained
talking with one another until the opening of the prison doors (for they
were not opened very early), and then went in and generally passed the day
with Socrates. On the last morning the meeting was earlier than usual;
this was owing to our having heard on the previous evening that the sacred
ship had arrived from Delos, and therefore we agreed to meet very early at
the accustomed place. On our going to the prison, the jailer who answered
the door, instead of admitting us, came out and bade us wait and he would
call us. "For the Eleven," he said, "are now with Socrates;
they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die
to-day." He soon returned and said that we might come in. On entering
we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know,
sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she
uttered a cry and said, as women will: "O Socrates, this is the last
time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you."
Socrates turned to Crito and said: "Crito, let someone take her home."
Some of Crito's people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating
herself. And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch, began
to bend and rub his leg, saying, as he rubbed: "How singular is the
thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be
thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together,
and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the
other. They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem;
and I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had noticed them, he would have
made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and when he could
not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why when one
comes the other follows, as I find in my own case pleasure comes following
after the pain in my leg, which was caused by the chain."
Upon this Cebes said: I am very glad indeed, Socrates, that you
mentioned the name of Aesop. For that reminds me of a question which has
been asked by others, and was asked of me only the day before yesterday by
Evenus the poet, and as he will be sure to ask again, you may as well tell
me what I should say to him, if you would like him to have an answer. He
wanted to know why you who never before wrote a line of poetry, now that
you are in prison are putting Aesop into verse, and also composing that
hymn in honor of Apollo.
Tell him, Cebes, he replied, that I had no idea of rivalling him or his
poems; which is the truth, for I knew that I could not do that. But I
wanted to see whether I could purge away a scruple which I felt about
certain dreams. In the course of my life I have often had intimations in
dreams "that I should make music." The same dream came to me
sometimes in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the
same or nearly the same words: Make and cultivate music, said the dream.
And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort and
encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has always been the pursuit
of my life, and is the noblest and best of music. The dream was bidding me
to do what I was already doing, in the same way that the competitor in a
race is bidden by the spectators to run when he is already running. But I
was not certain of this, as the dream might have meant music in the
popular sense of the word, and being under sentence of death, and the
festival giving me a respite, I thought that I should be safer if I
satisfied the scruple, and, in obedience to the dream, composed a few
verses before I departed. And first I made a hymn in honor of the god of
the festival, and then considering that a poet, if he is really to be a
poet or maker, should not only put words together but make stories, and as
I have no invention, I took some fables of esop, which I had ready at hand
and knew, and turned them into verse. Tell Evenus this, and bid him be of
good cheer; that I would have him come after me if he be a wise man, and
not tarry; and that to-day I am likely to be going, for the Athenians say
that I must.
Simmias said: What a message for such a man! having been a frequent
companion of his, I should say that, as far as I know him, he will never
take your advice unless he is obliged.
Why, said Socrates, is not Evenus a philosopher?
I think that he is, said Simmias.
Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing to
die, though he will not take his own life, for that is held not to be
Here he changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to the
ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting.
Why do you say, inquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own
life, but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying?
Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are acquainted
with Philolaus, never heard him speak of this?
I never understood him, Socrates.
My words, too, are only an echo; but I am very willing to say what I
have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, I ought to be
thinking and talking of the nature of the pilgrimage which I am about to
make. What can I do better in the interval between this and the setting of
Then tell me, Socrates, why is suicide held not to be right? as I have
certainly heard Philolaus affirm when he was staying with us at Thebes:
and there are others who say the same, although none of them has ever made
me understand him.
But do your best, replied Socrates, and the day may come when you will
understand. I suppose that you wonder why, as most things which are evil
may be accidentally good, this is to be the only exception (for may not
death, too, be better than life in some cases?), and why, when a man is
better dead, he is not permitted to be his own benefactor, but must wait
for the hand of another.
By Jupiter! yes, indeed, said Cebes, laughing, and speaking in his
I admit the appearance of inconsistency, replied Socrates, but there may
not be any real inconsistency after all in this. There is a doctrine
uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door
of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite
understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that
we are a possession of theirs. Do you not agree?
Yes, I agree to that, said Cebes.
And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example took
the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no
intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry with
him, and would you not punish him if you could?
Certainly, replied Cebes.
Then there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not take
his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.
Yes, Socrates, said Cebes, there is surely reason in that. And yet how
can you reconcile this seemingly true belief that God is our guardian and
we his possessions, with that willingness to die which we were attributing
to the philosopher? That the wisest of men should be willing to leave this
service in which they are ruled by the gods who are the best of rulers is
not reasonable, for surely no wise man thinks that when set at liberty he
can take better care of himself than the gods take of him. A fool may
perhaps think this — he may argue that he had better run away from
his master, not considering that his duty is to remain to the end, and not
to run away from the good, and that there is no sense in his running away.
But the wise man will want to be ever with him who is better than himself.
Now this, Socrates, is the reverse of what was just now said; for upon
this view the wise man should sorrow and the fool rejoice at passing out
The earnestness of Cebes seemed to please Socrates. Here, said he,
turning to us, is a man who is always inquiring, and is not to be
convinced all in a moment, nor by every argument.
And in this case, added Simmias, his objection does appear to me to have
some force. For what can be the meaning of a truly wise man wanting to fly
away and lightly leave a master who is better than himself? And I rather
imagine that Cebes is referring to you; he thinks that you are too ready
to leave us, and too ready to leave the gods who, as you acknowledge, are
our good rulers.
Yes, replied Socrates; there is reason in that. And this indictment you
think that I ought to answer as if I were in court?
That is what we should like, said Simmias.
Then I must try to make a better impression upon you than I did when
defending myself before the judges. For I am quite ready to acknowledge,
Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were not
persuaded that I am going to other gods who are wise and good (of this I
am as certain as I can be of anything of the sort) and to men departed
(though I am not so certain of this), who are better than those whom I
leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I might have done, for I
have good hope that there is yet something remaining for the dead, and, as
has been said of old, some far better thing for the good than for the
But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said
Simmias. Will you not communicate them to us? — the benefit is one in
which we too may hope to share. Moreover, if you succeed in convincing us,
that will be an answer to the charge against yourself.
I will do my best, replied Socrates. But you must first let me hear what
Crito wants; he was going to say something to me.
Only this, Socrates, replied Crito: the attendant who is to give you the
poison has been telling me that you are not to talk much, and he wants me
to let you know this; for that by talking heat is increased, and this
interferes with the action of the poison; those who excite themselves are
sometimes obliged to drink the poison two or three times.
Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to give
the poison two or three times, if necessary; that is all.
I was almost certain that you would say that, replied Crito; but I was
obliged to satisfy him.
Never mind him, he said.
And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who has
lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is
about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest
good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will
endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple of philosophy is
likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is
ever pursuing death and dying; and if this is true, why, having had the
desire of death all his life long, should he repine at the arrival of that
which he has been always pursuing and desiring?
Simmias laughed and said: Though not in a laughing humor, I swear that I
cannot help laughing when I think what the wicked world will say when they
hear this. They will say that this is very true, and our people at home
will agree with them in saying that the life which philosophers desire is
truly death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the
death which they desire.
And they are right, Simmias, in saying this, with the exception of the
words "They have found them out"; for they have not found out
what is the nature of this death which the true philosopher desires, or
how he deserves or desires death. But let us leave them and have a word
with ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being dead
is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in herself, and
is parted from the body and the body is parted from the soul — that
Exactly: that and nothing else, he replied.
And what do you say of another question, my friend, about which I should
like to have your opinion, and the answer to which will probably throw
light on our present inquiry: Do you think that the philosopher ought to
care about the pleasures — if they are to be called pleasures —
of eating and drinking?
Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what do you say of the pleasures of love — should he care about
By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body —
for example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other
adornments of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather
despise anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
I should say the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not
with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of the body and
turn to the soul.
That is true.
In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be
observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the body.
That is true.
Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that a life which
has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having; but that
he who thinks nothing of bodily pleasures is almost as though he were
That is quite true.
What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge? —
is the body, if invited to share in the inquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I
mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as
the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? and yet, if even
they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other
senses? — for you will allow that they are the best of them?
Certainly, he replied.
Then when does the soul attain truth? — for in attempting to
consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
Yes, that is true.
Then must not existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of
these things trouble her — neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any
pleasure — when she has as little as possible to do with the body,
and has no bodily sense or feeling, but is aspiring after being?
That is true.
And in this the philosopher dishonors the body; his soul runs away from
the body and desires to be alone and by herself?
That is true.
Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an
Assuredly there is.
And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sense? (and I speak not
of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and
of the essence or true nature of everything). Has the reality of them ever
been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather, is not the
nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who
so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of
the essence of that which he considers?
And he attains to the knowledge of them in their highest purity who goes
to each of them with the mind alone, not allowing when in the act of
thought the intrusion or introduction of sight or any other sense in the
company of reason, but with the very light of the mind in her clearness
penetrates into the very fight of truth in each; he has got rid, as far as
he can, of eyes and ears and of the whole body, which he conceives of only
as a disturbing element, hindering the soul from the acquisition of
knowledge when in company with her — is not this the sort of man who,
if ever man did, is likely to attain the knowledge of existence?
There is admirable truth in that, Socrates, replied Simmias.
And when they consider all this, must not true philosophers make a
reflection, of which they will speak to one another in such words as
these: We have found, they will say, a path of speculation which seems to
bring us and the argument to the conclusion that while we are in the body,
and while the soul is mingled with this mass of evil, our desire will not
be satisfied, and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of
endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and also
is liable to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after
truth: and by filling us so full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and
fancies, and idols, and every sort of folly, prevents our ever having, as
people say, so much as a thought. For whence come wars, and fightings, and
factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are
occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake
and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the
time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost. Moreover, if there is
time and an inclination toward philosophy, yet the body introduces a
turmoil and confusion and fear into the course of speculation, and hinders
us from seeing the truth: and all experience shows that if we would have
pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body, and the soul in
herself must behold all things in themselves: then I suppose that we shall
attain that which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers, and
that is wisdom, not while we live, but after death, as the argument shows;
for if while in company with the body the soul cannot have pure knowledge,
one of two things seems to follow — either knowledge is not to be
attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then,
the soul will be in herself alone and without the body. In this present
life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have
the least possible concern or interest in the body, and are not saturated
with the bodily nature, but remain pure until the hour when God himself is
pleased to release us. And then the foolishness of the body will be
cleared away and we shall be pure and hold converse with other pure souls,
and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere; and this is surely the
light of truth. For no impure thing is allowed to approach the pure. These
are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of wisdom cannot
help saying to one another, and thinking. You will agree with me in that?
But if this is true, O my friend, then there is great hope that, going
whither I go, I shall there be satisfied with that which has been the
chief concern of you and me in our past lives. And now that the hour of
departure is appointed to me, this is the hope with which I depart, and
not I only, but every man who believes that he has his mind purified.
Certainly, replied Simmias.
And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body,
as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting
herself into herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling in
her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she
can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
Very true, he said.
And what is that which is termed death, but this very separation and
release of the soul from the body?
To be sure, he said.
And the true philosophers, and they only, study and are eager to release
the soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body
their especial study?
That is true.
And as I was saying at first, there would be a ridiculous contradiction
in men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death, and yet
repining when death comes.
Then, Simmias, as the true philosophers are ever studying death, to
them, of all men, death is the least terrible. Look at the matter in this
way: how inconsistent of them to have been always enemies of the body, and
wanting to have the soul alone, and when this is granted to them, to be
trembling and repining; instead of rejoicing at their departing to that
place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they
loved (and this was wisdom), and at the same time to be rid of the company
of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below in
the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing
with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is persuaded in
like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still
repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, my friend,
if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there
only, and nowhere else, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be
true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were to fear death.
He would, indeed, replied Simmias.
And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not
his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a lover of wisdom, but a
lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money
or power, or both?
That is very true, he replied.
There is a virtue, Simmias, which is named courage. Is not that a
special attribute of the philosopher?
Again, there is temperance. Is not the calm, and control, and disdain of
the passions which even the many call temperance, a quality belonging only
to those who despise the body and live in philosophy?
That is not to be denied.
For the courage and temperance of other men, if you will consider them,
are really a contradiction.
How is that, Socrates?
Well, he said, you are aware that death is regarded by men in general as
a great evil.
That is true, he said.
And do not courageous men endure death because they are afraid of yet
That is true.
Then all but the philosophers are courageous only from fear, and because
they are afraid; and yet that a man should be courageous from fear, and
because he is a coward, is surely a strange thing.
And are not the temperate exactly in the same case? They are temperate
because they are intemperate — which may seem to be a contradiction,
but is nevertheless the sort of thing which happens with this foolish
temperance. For there are pleasures which they must have, and are afraid
of losing; and therefore they abstain from one class of pleasures because
they are overcome by another: and whereas intemperance is defined as "being
under the dominion of pleasure," they overcome only because they are
overcome by pleasure. And that is what I mean by saying that they are
temperate through intemperance.
That appears to be true.
Yet the exchange of one fear or pleasure or pain for another fear or
pleasure or pain, which are measured like coins, the greater with the
less, is not the exchange of virtue. O my dear Simmias, is there not one
true coin for which all things ought to exchange? — and that is
wisdom; and only in exchange for this, and in company with this, is
anything truly bought or sold, whether courage or temperance or justice.
And is not all true virtue the companion of wisdom, no matter what fears
or pleasures or other similar goods or evils may or may not attend her?
But the virtue which is made up of these goods, when they are severed from
wisdom and exchanged with one another, is a shadow of virtue only, nor is
there any freedom or health or truth in her; but in the true exchange
there is a purging away of all these things, and temperance, and justice,
and courage, and wisdom herself are a purgation of them. And I conceive
that the founders of the mysteries had a real meaning and were not mere
triflers when they intimated in a figure long ago that he who passes
unsanctified and uninitiated into the world below will live in a slough,
but that he who arrives there after initiation and purification will dwell
with the gods. For "many," as they say in the mysteries, "are
the thyrsus bearers, but few are the mystics," — meaning, as I
interpret the words, the true philosophers. In the number of whom I have
been seeking, according to my ability, to find a place during my whole
life; whether I have sought in a right way or not, and whether I have
succeeded or not, I shall truly know in a little while, if God will, when
I myself arrive in the other world: that is my belief. And now, Simmias
and Cebes, I have answered those who charge me with not grieving or
repining at parting from you and my masters in this world; and I am right
in not repining, for I believe that I shall find other masters and friends
who are as good in the world below. But all men cannot believe this, and I
shall be glad if my words have any more success with you than with the
judges of the Athenians.
Cebes answered: I agree, Socrates, in the greater part of what you say.
But in what relates to the soul, men are apt to be incredulous; they fear
that when she leaves the body her place may be nowhere, and that on the
very day of death she may be destroyed and perish — immediately on
her release from the body, issuing forth like smoke or air and vanishing
away into nothingness. For if she could only hold together and be herself
after she was released from the evils of the body, there would be good
reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say is true. But much persuasion
and many arguments are required in order to prove that when the man is
dead the soul yet exists, and has any force of intelligence.
True, Cebes, said Socrates; and shall I suggest that we talk a little of
the probabilities of these things?
I am sure, said Cebes, that I should gready like to know your opinion
I reckon, said Socrates, that no one who heard me now, not even if he
were one of my old enemies, the comic poets, could accuse me of idle
talking about matters in which I have no concern. Let us, then, if you
please, proceed with the inquiry.
Whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below,
is a question which may be argued in this manner: The ancient doctrine of
which I have been speaking affirms that they go from this into the other
world, and return hither, and are born from the dead. Now if this be true,
and the living come from the dead, then our souls must be in the other
world, for if not, how could they be born again? And this would be
conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born
from the dead; but if there is no evidence of this, then other arguments
will have to be adduced.
That is very true, replied Cebes.
Then let us consider this question, not in relation to man only, but in
relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything of which
there is generation, and the proof will be easier. Are not all things
which have opposites generated out of their opposites? I mean such things
as good and evil, just and unjust — and there are innumerable other
opposites which are generated out of opposites. And I want to show that
this holds universally of all opposites; I mean to say, for example, that
anything which becomes greater must become greater after being less.
And that which becomes less must have been once greater and then become
And the weaker is generated from the stronger, and the swifter from the
And the worse is from the better, and the more just is from the more
And is this true of all opposites? and are we convinced that all of them
are generated out of opposites?
And in this universal opposition of all things, are there not also two
intermediate processes which are ever going on, from one to the other, and
back again; where there is a greater and a less there is also an
intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that which grows is
said to wax, and that which decays to wane?
Yes, he said.
And there are many other processes, such as division and composition,
cooling and heating, which equally involve a passage into and out of one
another. And this holds of all opposites, even though not always expressed
in words — they are generated out of one another, and there is a
passing or process from one to the other of them?
Very true, he replied.
Well, and is there not an opposite of life, as sleep is the opposite of
True, he said.
And what is that?
Death, he answered.
And these, then, are generated, if they are opposites, the one from the
other, and have there their two intermediate processes also?
Now, said Socrates, I will analyze one of the two pairs of opposites
which I have mentioned to you, and also its intermediate processes, and
you shall analyze the other to me. The state of sleep is opposed to the
state of waking, and out of sleeping waking is generated, and out of
waking, sleeping, and the process of generation is in the one case falling
asleep, and in the other waking up. Are you agreed about that?
Then suppose that you analyze life and death to me in the same manner.
Is not death opposed to life?
And they are generated one from the other?
What is generated from life?
And what from death?
I can only say in answer — life.
Then the living, whether things or persons, Cebes, are generated from
That is clear, he replied.
Then the inference is, that our souls are in the world below?
That is true.
And one of the two processes or generations is visible — for surely
the act of dying is visible?
Surely, he said.
And may not the other be inferred as the complement of nature, who is
not to be supposed to go on one leg only? And if not, a corresponding
process of generation in death must also be assigned to her?
Certainly, he replied.
And what is that process?
And revival, if there be such a thing, is the birth of the dead into the
world of the living?
Then there is a new way in which we arrive at the inference that the
living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and if
this is true, then the souls of the dead must be in some place out of
which they come again. And this, as I think, has been satisfactorily
Yes, Socrates, he said; all this seems to flow necessarily out of our
And that these admissions are not unfair, Cebes, he said, may be shown,
as I think, in this way: If generation were in a straight line only, and
there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return into one
another, then you know that all things would at last have the same form
and pass into the same state, and there would be no more generation of
What do you mean? he said.
A simple thing enough, which I will illustrate by the case of sleep, he
replied. You know that if there were no compensation of sleeping and
waking, the story of the sleeping Endymion would in the end have no
meaning, because all other things would be asleep, too, and he would not
be thought of. Or if there were composition only, and no division of
substances, then the chaos of Anaxagoras would come again. And in like
manner, my dear Cebes, if all things which partook of life were to die,
and after they were dead remained in the form of death, and did not come
to life again, all would at last die, and nothing would be alive —
how could this be otherwise? For if the living spring from any others who
are not the dead, and they die, must not all things at last be swallowed
up in death?
There is no escape from that, Socrates, said Cebes; and I think that
what you say is entirely true.
Yes, he said, Cebes, I entirely think so, too; and we are not walking in
a vain imagination; but I am confident in the belief that there truly is
such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead,
and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls
have a better portion than the evil.
Cebes added: Your favorite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply
recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which
we learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible
unless our soul was in some place before existing in the human form; here,
then, is another argument of the soul's immortality.
But tell me, Cebes, said Simmias, interposing, what proofs are given of
this doctrine of recollection? I am not very sure at this moment that I
One excellent proof, said Cebes, is afforded by questions. If you put a
question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer of
himself; but how could he do this unless there were knowledge and right
reason already in him? And this is most clearly shown when he is taken to
a diagram or to anything of that sort.
But if, said Socrates, you are still incredulous, Simmias, I would ask
you whether you may not agree with me when you look at the matter in
another way; I mean, if you are still incredulous as to whether knowledge
Incredulous, I am not, said Simmias; but I want to have this doctrine of
recollection brought to my own recollection, and, from what Cebes has
said, I am beginning to recollect and be convinced; but I should still
like to hear what more you have to say.
This is what I would say, he replied: We should agree, if I am not
mistaken, that what a man recollects he must have known at some previous
And what is the nature of this recollection? And, in asking this, I mean
to ask whether, when a person has already seen or heard or in any way
perceived anything, and he knows not only that, but something else of
which he has not the same, but another knowledge, we may not fairly say
that he recollects that which comes into his mind. Are we agreed about
What do you mean?
I mean what I may illustrate by the following instance: The knowledge of
a lyre is not the same as the knowledge of a man?
And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre, or a
garment, or anything else which the beloved has been in the habit of
using? Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind's eye an image
of the youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection: and in
the same way anyone who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and there are
endless other things of the same nature.
Yes, indeed, there are — endless, replied Simmias.
And this sort of thing, he said, is recollection, and is most commonly a
process of recovering that which has been forgotten through time and
Very true, he said.
Well; and may you not also from seeing the picture of a horse or a lyre
remember a man? and from the picture of Simmias, you may be led to
Or you may also be led to the recollection of Simmias himself?
True, he said.
And in all these cases, the recollection may be derived from things
either like or unlike?
That is true.
And when the recollection is derived from like things, then there is
sure to be another question, which is, whether the likeness of that which
is recollected is in any way defective or not.
Very true, he said.
And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such a
thing as equality, not of wood with wood, or of stone with stone, but
that, over and above this, there is equality in the abstract? Shall we
Affirm, yes, and swear to it, replied Simmias, with all the confidence
And do we know the nature of this abstract essence?
To be sure, he said.
And whence did we obtain this knowledge? Did we not see equalities of
material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather from them
the idea of an equality which is different from them? — you will
admit that? Or look at the matter again in this way: Do not the same
pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another time
That is certain.
But are real equals ever unequal? or is the idea of equality ever
That surely was never yet known, Socrates.
Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of
I should say, clearly not, Socrates.
And yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality,
you conceived and attained that idea?
Very true, he said.
Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
But that makes no difference; whenever from seeing one thing you
conceived another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an
act of recollection?
But what would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other
material equals? and what is the impression produced by them? Are they
equals in the same sense as absolute equality? or do they fall short of
this in a measure?
Yes, he said, in a very great measure, too.
And must we not allow that when I or anyone look at any object, and
perceive that the object aims at being some other thing, but falls short
of, and cannot attain to it — he who makes this observation must have
had previous knowledge of that to which, as he says, the other, although
similar, was inferior?
And has not this been our case in the matter of equals and of absolute
Then we must have known absolute equality previously to the time when we
first saw the material equals, and reflected that all these apparent
equals aim at this absolute equality, but fall short of it?
That is true.
And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only been known,
and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of some
other sense. And this I would affirm of all such conceptions.
Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is the
same as the other.
And from the senses, then, is derived the knowledge that all sensible
things aim at an idea of equality of which they fall short — is not
Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must have
had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred to
that the equals which are derived from the senses — for to that they
all aspire, and of that they fall short?
That, Socrates, is certainly to be inferred from the previous
And did we not see and hear and acquire our other senses as soon as we
Then we must have acquired the knowledge of the ideal equal at some time
previous to this?
That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
And if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born
having it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of
birth not only equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas; for
we are not speaking only of equality absolute, but of beauty, goodness,
justice, holiness, and all which we stamp with the name of essence in the
dialectical process, when we ask and answer questions. Of all this we may
certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?
That is true.
But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten that which we
acquired, then we must always have been born with knowledge, and shall
always continue to know as long as life lasts — for knowing is the
acquiring and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting,
Simmias, just the losing of knowledge?
Quite true, Socrates.
But if the knowledge which we acquired before birth was lost by us at
birth, and afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered that which we
previously knew, will not that which we call learning be a process of
recovering our knowledge, and may not this be rightly termed recollection
For this is clear, that when we perceived something, either by the help
of sight or hearing, or some other sense, there was no difficulty in
receiving from this a conception of some other thing like or unlike which
had been forgotten and which was associated with this; and therefore, as I
was saying, one of two alternatives follows: either we had this knowledge
at birth, and continued to know through life; or, after birth, those who
are said to learn only remember, and learning is recollection only.
Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
And which alternative, Simmias, do you prefer? Had we the knowledge at
our birth, or did we remember afterwards the things which we knew
previously to our birth?
I cannot decide at the moment.
At any rate you can decide whether he who has knowledge ought or ought
not to be able to give a reason for what he knows.
Certainly, he ought.
But do you think that every man is able to give a reason about these
very matters of which we are speaking?
I wish that they could, Socrates, but I greatly fear that to-morrow at
this time there will be no one able to give a reason worth having.
Then you are not of opinion, Simmias, that all men know these things?
Then they are in process of recollecting that which they learned before.
But when did our souls acquire this knowledge? — not since we were
born as men?
And therefore previously?
Then, Simmias, our souls must have existed before they were in the form
of man — without bodies, and must have had intelligence.
Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions were given us at
the moment of birth; for this is the only time that remains.
Yes, my friend, but when did we lose them? for they are not in us when
we are born — that is admitted. Did we lose them at the moment of
receiving them, or at some other time?
No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
Then may we not say, Simmias, that if, as we are always repeating, there
is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and essence in general, and to this,
which is now discovered to be a previous condition of our being, we refer
all our sensations, and with this compare them — assuming this to
have a prior existence, then our souls must have had a prior existence,
but if not, there would be no force in the argument? There can be no doubt
that if these absolute ideas existed before we were born, then our souls
must have existed before we were born, and if not the ideas, then not the
Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity
for the existence of the soul before birth, and of the essence of which
you are speaking: and the argument arrives at a result which happily
agrees with my own notion. For there is nothing which to my mind is so
evident as that beauty, goodness, and other notions of which you were just
now speaking have a most real and absolute existence; and I am satisfied
with the proof.
Well, but is Cebes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
I think, said Simmias, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the most
incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is convinced of the
existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul will
continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction. I cannot
get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring — the
feeling that when the man dies the soul may be scattered, and that this
may be the end of her. For admitting that she may be generated and created
in some other place, and may have existed before entering the human body,
why after having entered in and gone out again may she not herself be
destroyed and come to an end?
Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; that our soul existed before we were
born was the first half of the argument, and this appears to have been
proven; that the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is
the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has to be
But that proof, Simmias and Cebes, has been already given, said
Socrates, if you put the two arguments together — I mean this and the
former one, in which we admitted that everything living is born of the
dead. For if the soul existed before birth, and in coming to life and
being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death
continue to exist, since she has to be born again? surely the proof which
you desire has been already furnished. Still I suspect that you and
Simmias would be glad to probe the argument further; like children, you
are haunted with a fear that when the soul leaves the body, the wind may
really blow her away and scatter her; especially if a man should happen to
die in stormy weather and not when the sky is calm.
Cebes answered with a smile: Then, Socrates, you must argue us out of
our fears — and yet, strictly speaking, they are not our fears, but
there is a child within us to whom death is a sort of hobgoblin; him too
we must persuade not to be afraid when he is alone with him in the dark.
Socrates said: Let the voice of the charmer be applied daily until you
have charmed him away.
And where shall we find a good charmer of our fears, Socrates, when you
Hellas, he replied, is a large place, Cebes, and has many good men, and
there are barbarous races not a few: seek for him among them all, far and
wide, sparing neither pains nor money; for there is no better way of using
your money. And you must not forget to seek for him among yourselves too;
for he is nowhere more likely to be found.
The search, replied Cebes, shall certainly be made. And now, if you
please, let us return to the point of the argument at which we digressed.
By all means, replied Socrates; what else should I please?
Very good, he said.
Must we not, said Socrates, ask ourselves some question of this sort? —
What is that which, as we imagine, is liable to be scattered away, and
about which we fear? and what again is that about which we have no fear?
And then we may proceed to inquire whether that which suffers dispersion
is or is not of the nature of soul — our hopes and fears as to our
own souls will turn upon that.
That is true, he said.
Now the compound or composite may be supposed to be naturally capable of
being dissolved in like manner as of being compounded; but that which is
uncompounded, and that only, must be, if anything is, indissoluble.
Yes; that is what I should imagine, said Cebes.
And the uncompounded may be assumed to be the same and unchanging, where
the compound is always changing and never the same?
That I also think, he said.
Then now let us return to the previous discussion. Is that idea or
essence, which in the dialectical process we define as essence of true
existence — whether essence of equality, beauty, or anything else:
are these essences, I say, liable at times to some degree of change? or
are they each of them always what they are, having the same simple,
self-existent and unchanging forms, and not admitting of variation at all,
or in any way, or at any time?
They must be always the same, Socrates, replied Cebes.
And what would you say of the many beautiful — whether men or
horses or garments or any other things which may be called equal or
beautiful — are they all unchanging and the same always, or quite the
reverse? May they not rather be described as almost always changing and
hardly ever the same either with themselves or with one another?
The latter, replied Cebes; they are always in a state of change.
And these you can touch and see and perceive with the senses, but the
unchanging things you can only perceive with the mind — they are
invisible and are not seen?
That is very true, he said.
Well, then, he added, let us suppose that there are two sorts of
existences, one seen, the other unseen.
Let us suppose them.
The seen is the changing, and the unseen is the unchanging.
That may be also supposed.
And, further, is not one part of us body, and the rest of us soul?
To be sure.
And to which class may we say that the body is more alike and akin?
Clearly to the seen: no one can doubt that.
And is the soul seen or not seen?
Not by man, Socrates.
And by "seen" and "not seen" is meant by us that
which is or is not visible to the eye of man?
Yes, to the eye of man.
And what do we say of the soul? is that seen or not seen?
Then the soul is more like to the unseen, and the body to the seen?
That is most certain, Socrates.
And were we not saying long ago that the soul when using the body as an
instrument of perception, that is to say, when using the sense of sight or
hearing or some other sense (for the meaning of perceiving through the
body is perceiving through the senses) — were we not saying that the
soul too is then dragged by the body into the region of the changeable,
and wanders and is confused; the world spins round her, and she is like a
drunkard when under their influence?
But when returning into herself she reflects; then she passes into the
realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness,
which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by
herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways,
and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state
of the soul is called wisdom?
That is well and truly said, Socrates, he replied.
And to which class is the soul more nearly alike and akin, as far as may
be inferred from this argument, as well as from the preceding one?
I think, Socrates, that, in the opinion of everyone who follows the
argument, the soul will be infinitely more like the unchangeable even the
most stupid person will not deny that.
And the body is more like the changing?
Yet once more consider the matter in this light: When the soul and the
body are united, then nature orders the soul to rule and govern, and the
body to obey and serve.
Now which of these two functions is akin to the divine? and which to the
mortal? Does not the divine appear to you to be that which naturally
orders and rules, and the mortal that which is subject and servant?
And which does the soul resemble?
The soul resembles the divine and the body the mortal — there can
be no doubt of that, Socrates.
Then reflect, Cebes: is not the conclusion of the whole matter this? —
that the soul is in the very likeness of the divine, and immortal, and
intelligible, and uniform, and indissoluble, and unchangeable; and the
body is in the very likeness of the human, and mortal, and unintelligible,
and multiform, and dissoluble, and changeable. Can this, my dear Cebes, be
But if this is true, then is not the body liable to speedy dissolution?
and is not the soul almost or altogether indissoluble?
And do you further observe, that after a man is dead, the body, which is
the visible part of man, and has a visible framework, which is called a
corpse, and which would naturally be dissolved and decomposed and
dissipated, is not dissolved or decomposed at once, but may remain for a
good while, if the constitution be sound at the time of death, and the
season of the year favorable? For the body when shrunk and embalmed, as is
the custom in Egypt, may remain almost entire through infinite ages; and
even in decay, still there are some portions, such as the bones and
ligaments, which are practically indestructible. You allow that?
And are we to suppose that the soul, which is invisible, in passing to
the true Hades, which like her is invisible, and pure, and noble, and on
her way to the good and wise God, whither, if God will, my soul is also
soon to go — that the soul, I repeat, if this be her nature and
origin, is blown away and perishes immediately on quitting the body as the
many say? That can never be, dear Simmias and Cebes. The truth rather is
that the soul which is pure at departing draws after her no bodily taint,
having never voluntarily had connection with the body, which she is ever
avoiding, herself gathered into herself (for such abstraction has been the
study of her life). And what does this mean but that she has been a true
disciple of philosophy and has practised how to die easily? And is not
philosophy the practice of death?
That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible worldto
the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss
and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild
passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the
initiated, in company with the gods. Is not this true, Cebes?
Yes, said Cebes, beyond a doubt.
But the soul which has been polluted, and is impure at the time of her
departure, and is the companion and servant of the body always, and is in
love with and fascinated by the body and by the desires and pleasures of
the body, until she is led to believe that the truth only exists in a
bodily form, which a man may touch and see and taste and use for the
purposes of his lusts — the soul, I mean, accustomed to hate and fear
and avoid the intellectual principle, which to the bodily eye is dark and
invisible, and can be attained only by philosophy — do you suppose
that such a soul as this will depart pure and unalloyed?
That is impossible, he replied.
She is engrossed by the corporeal, which the continual association and
constant care of the body have made natural to her.
And this, my friend, may be conceived to be that heavy, weighty, earthy
element of sight by which such a soul is depressed and dragged down again
into the visible world, because she is afraid of the invisible and of the
world below — prowling about tombs and sepulchres, in the
neighborhood of which, as they tell us, are seen certain ghostly
apparitions of souls which have not departed pure, but are cloyed with
sight and therefore visible.
That is very likely, Socrates.
Yes, that is very likely, Cebes; and these must be the souls, not of the
good, but of the evil, who are compelled to wander about such places in
payment of the penalty of their former evil way of life; and they continue
to wander until the desire which haunts them is satisfied and they are
imprisoned in another body. And they may be supposed to be fixed in the
same natures which they had in their former life.
What natures do you mean, Socrates?
I mean to say that men who have followed after gluttony, and wantonness,
and drunkenness, and have had no thought of avoiding them, would pass into
asses and animals of that sort. What do you think?
I think that exceedingly probable.
And those who have chosen the portion of injustice, and tyranny, and
violence, will pass into wolves, or into hawks and kites; whither else can
we suppose them to go?
Yes, said Cebes; that is doubtless the place of natures such as theirs.
And there is no difficulty, he said, in assigning to all of them places
answering to their several natures and propensities?
There is not, he said.
Even among them some are happier than others; and the happiest both in
themselves and their place of abode are those who have practised the civil
and social virtues which are called temperance and justice, and are
acquired by habit and attention without philosophy and mind.
Why are they the happiest?
Because they may be expected to pass into some gentle, social nature
which is like their own, such as that of bees or ants, or even back again
into the form of man, and just and moderate men spring from them.
That is not impossible.
But he who is a philosopher or lover of learning, and is entirely pure
at departing, is alone permitted to reach the gods. And this is the
reason, Simmias and Cebes, why the true votaries of philosophy abstain
from all fleshly lusts, and endure and refuse to give themselves up to
them — not because they fear poverty or the ruin of their families,
like the lovers of money, and the world in general; nor like the lovers of
power and honor, because they dread the dishonor or disgrace of evil
No, Socrates, that would not become them, said Cebes.
No, indeed, he replied; and therefore they who have a care of their
souls, and do not merely live in the fashions of the body, say farewell to
all this; they will not walk in the ways of the blind: and when philosophy
offers them purification and release from evil, they feel that they ought
not to resist her influence, and to her they incline, and whither she
leads they follow her.
What do you mean, Socrates?
I will tell you, he said. The lovers of knowledge are conscious that
their souls, when philosophy receives them, are simply fastened and glued
to their bodies: the soul is only able to view existence through the bars
of a prison, and not in her own nature; she is wallowing in the mire of
all ignorance; and philosophy, seeing the terrible nature of her
confinement, and that the captive through desire is led to conspire in her
own captivity (for the lovers of knowledge are aware that this was the
original state of the soul, and that when she was in this state philosophy
received and gently counseled her, and wanted to release her, pointing out
to her that the eye is full of deceit, and also the ear and other senses,
and persuading her to retire from them in all but the necessary use of
them and to be gathered up and collected into herself, and to trust only
to herself and her own intuitions of absolute existence, and mistrust that
which comes to her through others and is subject to vicissitude) —
philosophy shows her that this is visible and tangible, but that what she
sees in her own nature is intellectual and invisible. And the soul of the
true philosopher thinks that she ought not to resist this deliverance, and
therefore abstains from pleasures and desires and pains and fears, as far
as she is able; reflecting that when a man has great joys or sorrows or
fears or desires he suffers from them, not the sort of evil which might be
anticipated — as, for example, the loss of his health or property,
which he has sacrificed to his lusts — but he has suffered an evil
greater far, which is the greatest and worst of all evils, and one of
which he never thinks.
And what is that, Socrates? said Cebes.
Why, this: When the feeling of pleasure or pain in the soul is most
intense, all of us naturally suppose that the object of this intense
feeling is then plainest and truest: but this is not the case.
And this is the state in which the soul is most enthralled by the body.
How is that?
Why, because each pleasure and pain is a sort of nail which nails and
rivets the soul to the body, and engrosses her and makes her believe that
to be true which the body affirms to be true; and from agreeing with the
body and having the same delights she is obliged to have the same habits
and ways, and is not likely ever to be pure at her departure to the world
below, but is always saturated with the body; so that she soon sinks into
another body and there germinates and grows, and has therefore no part in
the communion of the divine and pure and simple.
That is most true, Socrates, answered Cebes.
And this, Cebes, is the reason why the true lovers of knowledge are
temperate and brave; and not for the reason which the world gives.
Certainly not! For not in that way does the soul of a philosopher
reason; she will not ask philosophy to release her in order that when
released she may deliver herself up again to the thraldom of pleasures and
pains, doing a work only to be undone again, weaving instead of unweaving
her Penelope's web. But she will make herself a calm of passion and follow
Reason, and dwell in her, beholding the true and divine (which is not
matter of opinion), and thence derive nourishment. Thus she seeks to live
while she lives, and after death she hopes to go to her own kindred and to
be freed from human ills. Never fear, Simmias and Cebes, that a soul which
has been thus nurtured and has had these pursuits, will at her departure
from the body be scattered and blown away by the winds and be nowhere and
When Socrates had done speaking, for a considerable time there was
silence; he himself and most of us appeared to be meditating on what had
been said; only Cebes and Simmias spoke a few words to one another. And
Socrates observing this asked them what they thought of the argument, and
whether there was anything wanting? For, said he, much is still open to
suspicion and attack, if anyone were disposed to sift the matter
thoroughly. If you are talking of something else I would rather not
interrupt you, but if you are still doubtful about the argument do not
hesitate to say exactly what you think, and let us have anything better
which you can suggest; and if I am likely to be of any use, allow me to
Simmias said: I must confess, Socrates, that doubts did arise in our
minds, and each of us was urging and inciting the other to put the
question which he wanted to have answered and which neither of us liked to
ask, fearing that our importunity might be troublesome under present
Socrates smiled and said: O Simmias, how strange that is; I am not very
likely to persuade other men that I do not regard my present situation as
a misfortune, if I am unable to persuade you, and you will keep fancying
that I am at all more troubled now than at any other time. Will you not
allow that I have as much of the spirit of prophecy in me as the swans?
For they, when they perceive that they must die, having sung all their
life long, do then sing more than ever, rejoicing in the thought that they
are about to go away to the god whose ministers they are. But men, because
they are themselves afraid of death, slanderously affirm of the swans that
they sing a lament at the last, not considering that no bird sings when
cold, or hungry, or in pain, not even the nightingale, nor the swallow,
nor yet the hoopoe; which are said indeed to tune a lay of sorrow,
although I do not believe this to be true of them any more than of the
swans. But because they are sacred to Apollo and have the gift of prophecy
and anticipate the good things of another world, therefore they sing and
rejoice in that day more than they ever did before. And I, too, believing
myself to be the consecrated servant of the same God, and the fellow
servant of the swans, and thinking that I have received from my master
gifts of prophecy which are not inferior to theirs, would not go out of
life less merrily than the swans. Cease to mind then about this, but speak
and ask anything which you like, while the eleven magistrates of Athens
Well, Socrates, said Simmias, then I will tell you my difficulty, and
Cebes will tell you his. For I dare say that you, Socrates, feel, as I do,
how very hard or almost impossible is the attainment of any certainty
about questions such as these in the present life. And yet I should deem
him a coward who did not prove what is said about them to the uttermost,
or whose heart failed him before he had examined them on every side. For
he should persevere until he has attained one of two things: either he
should discover or learn the truth about them; or, if this is impossible,
I would have him take the best and most irrefragable of human notions, and
let this be the raft upon which he sails through life — not without
risk, as I admit, if he cannot find some word of God which will more
surely and safely carry him. And now, as you bid me, I will venture to
question you, as I should not like to reproach myself hereafter with not
having said at the time what I think. For when I consider the matter
either alone or with Cebes, the argument does certainly appear to me,
Socrates, to be not sufficient.
Socrates answered: I dare say, my friend, that you may be right, but I
should like to know in what respect the argument is not sufficient.
In this respect, replied Simmias: Might not a person use the same
argument about harmony and the lyre — might he not say that harmony
is a thing invisible, incorporeal, fair, divine, abiding in the lyre which
is harmonized, but that the lyre and the strings are matter and material,
composite, earthy, and akin to mortality? And when someone breaks the
lyre, or cuts and rends the strings, then he who takes this view would
argue as you do, and on the same analogy, that the harmony survives and
has not perished; for you cannot imagine, as we would say, that the lyre
without the strings, and the broken strings themselves, remain, and yet
that the harmony, which is of heavenly and immortal nature and kindred,
has perished — and perished too before the mortal. The harmony, he
would say, certainly exists somewhere, and the wood and strings will decay
before that decays. For I suspect, Socrates, that the notion of the soul
which we are all of us inclined to entertain, would also be yours, and
that you too would conceive the body to be strung up, and held together,
by the elements of hot and cold, wet and dry, and the like, and that the
soul is the harmony or due proportionate admixture of them. And, if this
is true, the inference clearly is that when the strings of the body are
unduly loosened or overstrained through disorder or other injury, then the
soul, though most divine, like other harmonies of music or of the works of
art, of course perishes at once, although the material remains of the body
may last for a considerable time, until they are either decayed or burnt.
Now if anyone maintained that the soul, being the harmony of the elements
of the body, first perishes in that which is called death, how shall we
Socrates looked round at us as his manner was, and said, with a smile:
Simmias has reason on his side; and why does not some one of you who is
abler than myself answer him? for there is force in his attack upon me.
But perhaps, before we answer him, we had better also hear what Cebes has
to say against the argument — this will give us time for reflection,
and when both of them have spoken, we may either assent to them if their
words appear to be in consonance with the truth, or if not, we may take up
the other side, and argue with them. Please to tell me then, Cebes, he
said, what was the difficulty which troubled you?
Cebes said: I will tell you. My feeling is that the argument is still in
the same position, and open to the same objections which were urged
before; for I am ready to admit that the existence of the soul before
entering into the bodily form has been very ingeniously, and, as I may be
allowed to say, quite sufficiently proven; but the existence of the soul
after death is still, in my judgment, unproven. Now my objection is not
the same as that of Simmias; for I am not disposed to deny that the soul
is stronger and more lasting than the body, being of opinion that in all
such respects the soul very far excels the body. Well, then, says the
argument to me, why do you remain unconvinced? When you see that the
weaker is still in existence after the man is dead, will you not admit
that the more lasting must also survive during the same period of time?
Now I, like Simmias, must employ a figure; and I shall ask you to consider
whether the figure is to the point. The parallel which I will suppose is
that of an old weaver, who dies, and after his death somebody says: He is
not dead, he must be alive; and he appeals to the coat which he himself
wove and wore, and which is still whole and undecayed. And then he
proceeds to ask of someone who is incredulous, whether a man lasts longer,
or the coat which is in use and wear; and when he is answered that a man
lasts far longer, thinks that he has thus certainly demonstrated the
survival of the man, who is the more lasting, because the less lasting
remains. But that, Simmias, as I would beg you to observe, is not the
truth; everyone sees that he who talks thus is talking nonsense. For the
truth is that this weaver, having worn and woven many such coats, though
he outlived several of them, was himself outlived by the last; but this is
surely very far from proving that a man is slighter and weaker than a
coat. Now the relation of the body to the soul may be expressed in a
similar figure; for you may say with reason that the soul is lasting, and
the body weak and short-lived in comparison. And every soul may be said to
wear out many bodies, especially in the course of a long life. For if
while the man is alive the body deliquesces and decays, and yet the soul
always weaves her garment anew and repairs the waste, then of course, when
the soul perishes, she must have on her last garment, and this only will
survive her; but then again when the soul is dead the body will at last
show its native weakness, and soon pass into decay. And therefore this is
an argument on which I would rather not rely as proving that the soul
exists after death. For suppose that we grant even more than you affirm as
within the range of possibility, and besides acknowledging that the soul
existed before birth admit also that after death the souls of some are
existing still, and will exist, and will be born and die again and again,
and that there is a natural strength in the soul which will hold out and
be born many times — for all this, we may be still inclined to think
that she will weary in the labors of successive births, and may at last
succumb in one of her deaths and utterly perish; and this death and
dissolution of the body which brings destruction to the soul may be
unknown to any of us, for no one of us can have had any experience of it:
and if this be true, then I say that he who is confident in death has but
a foolish confidence, unless he is able to prove that the soul is
altogether immortal and imperishable. But if he is not able to prove this,
he who is about to die will always have reason to fear that when the body
is disunited, the soul also may utterly perish.
All of us, as we afterwards remarked to one another, had an unpleasant
feeling at hearing them say this. When we had been so firmly convinced
before, now to have our faith shaken seemed to introduce a confusion and
uncertainty, not only into the previous argument, but into any future one;
either we were not good judges, or there were no real grounds of belief.
Ech. There I feel with you — indeed I do, Phaedo, and when
you were speaking, I was beginning to ask myself the same question: What
argument can I ever trust again? For what could be more convincing than
the argument of Socrates, which has now fallen into discredit? That the
soul is a harmony is a doctrine which has always had a wonderful
attraction for me, and, when mentioned, came back to me at once, as my own
original conviction. And now I must begin again and find another argument
which will assure me that when the man is dead the soul dies not with him.
Tell me, I beg, how did Socrates proceed? Did he appear to share the
unpleasant feeling which you mention? or did he receive the interruption
calmly and give a sufficient answer? Tell us, as exactly as you can, what
Phaed. Often, Echecrates, as I have admired Socrates, I never
admired him more than at that moment. That he should be able to answer was
nothing, but what astonished me was, first, the gentle and pleasant and
approving manner in which he regarded the words of the young men, and then
his quick sense of the wound which had been inflicted by the argument, and
his ready application of the healing art. He might be compared to a
general rallying his defeated and broken army, urging them to follow him
and return to the field of argument.
Ech. How was that?
Phaed. You shall hear, for I was close to him on his right hand,
seated on a sort of stool, and he on a couch which was a good deal higher.
Now he had a way of playing with my hair, and then he smoothed my head,
and pressed the hair upon my neck, and said: To-morrow, Phaedo, I suppose
that these fair locks of yours will be severed.
Yes, Socrates, I suppose that they will, I replied.
Not so if you will take my advice.
What shall I do with them? I said.
To-day, he replied, and not to-morrow, if this argument dies and cannot
be brought to life again by us, you and I will both shave our locks; and
if I were you, and could not maintain my ground against Simmias and Cebes,
I would myself take an oath, like the Argives, not to wear hair any more
until I had renewed the conflict and defeated them.
Yes, I said, but Heracles himself is said not to be a match for two.
Summon me then, he said, and I will be your Iolaus until the sun goes
I summon you rather, I said, not as Heracles summoning Iolaus, but as
Iolaus might summon Heracles.
That will be all the same, he said. But first let us take care that we
avoid a danger.
And what is that? I said.
The danger of becoming misologists, he replied, which is one of the very
worst things that can happen to us. For as there are misanthropists or
haters of men, there are also misologists or haters of ideas, and both
spring from the same cause, which is ignorance of the world. Misanthropy
arises from the too great confidence of inexperience; you trust a man and
think him altogether true and good and faithful, and then in a little
while he turns out to be false and knavish; and then another and another,
and when this has happened several times to a man, especially within the
circle of his most trusted friends, as he deems them, and he has often
quarreled with them, he at last hates all men, and believes that no one
has any good in him at all. I dare say that you must have observed this.
Yes, I said.
And is not this discreditable? The reason is that a man, having to deal
with other men, has no knowledge of them; for if he had knowledge he would
have known the true state of the case, that few are the good and few the
evil, and that the great majority are in the interval between them.
How do you mean? I said.
I mean, he replied, as you might say of the very large and very small,
that nothing is more uncommon than a very large or a very small man; and
this applies generally to all extremes, whether of great and small, or
swift and slow, or fair and foul, or black and white: and whether the
instances you select be men or dogs or anything else, few are the
extremes, but many are in the mean between them. Did you never observe
Yes, I said, I have.
And do you not imagine, he said, that if there were a competition of
evil, the first in evil would be found to be very few?
Yes, that is very likely, I said.
Yes, that is very likely, he replied; not that in this respect arguments
are like men — there I was led on by you to say more than I had
intended; but the point of comparison was that when a simple man who has
no skill in dialectics believes an argument to be true which he afterwards
imagines to be false, whether really false or not, and then another and
another, he has no longer any faith left, and great disputers, as you
know, come to think, at last that they have grown to be the wisest of
mankind; for they alone perceive the utter unsoundness and instability of
all arguments, or, indeed, of all things, which, like the currents in the
Euripus, are going up and down in never-ceasing ebb and flow.
That is quite true, I said.
Yes, Phaedo, he replied, and very melancholy too, if there be such a
thing as truth or certainty or power of knowing at all, that a man should
have lighted upon some argument or other which at first seemed true and
then turned out to be false, and instead of blaming himself and his own
want of wit, because he is annoyed, should at last be too glad to transfer
the blame from himself to arguments in general; and forever afterwards
should hate and revile them, and lose the truth and knowledge of
Yes, indeed, I said; that is very melancholy.
Let us, then, in the first place, he said, be careful of admitting into
our souls the notion that there is no truth or health or soundness in any
arguments at all; but let us rather say that there is as yet no health in
us, and that we must quit ourselves like men and do our best to gain
health — you and all other men with a view to the whole of your
future life, and I myself with a view to death. For at this moment I am
sensible that I have not the temper of a philosopher; like the vulgar, I
am only a partisan. For the partisan, when he is engaged in a dispute,
cares nothing about the rights of the question, but is anxious only to
convince his hearers of his own assertions. And the difference between him
and me at the present moment is only this — that whereas he seeks to
convince his hearers that what he says is true, I am rather seeking to
convince myself; to convince my hearers is a secondary matter with me. And
do but see how much I gain by this. For if what I say is true, then I do
well to be persuaded of the truth, but if there be nothing after death,
still, during the short time that remains, I shall save my friends from
lamentations, and my ignorance will not last, and therefore no harm will
be done. This is the state of mind, Simmias and Cebes, in which I approach
the argument. And I would ask you to be thinking of the truth and not of
Socrates: agree with me, if I seem to you to be speaking the truth; or if
not, withstand me might and main, that I may not deceive you as well as
myself in my enthusiasm, and, like the bee, leave my sting in you before I
And now let us proceed, he said. And first of all let me be sure that I
have in my mind what you were saying. Simmias, if I remember rightly, has
fears and misgivings whether the soul, being in the form of harmony,
although a fairer and diviner thing than the body, may not perish first.
On the other hand, Cebes appeared to grant that the soul was more lasting
than the body, but he said that no one could know whether the soul, after
having worn out many bodies, might not perish herself and leave her last
body behind her; and that this is death, which is the destruction not of
the body but of the soul, for in the body the work of destruction is ever
going on. Are not these, Simmias and Cebes, the points which we have to
They both agreed to this statement of them.
He proceeded: And did you deny the force of the whole preceding
argument, or of a part only?
Of a part only, they replied.
And what did you think, he said, of that part of the argument in which
we said that knowledge was recollection only, and inferred from this that
the soul must have previously existed somewhere else before she was
enclosed in the body? Cebes said that he had been wonderfully impressed by
that part of the argument, and that his conviction remained unshaken.
Simmias agreed, and added that he himself could hardly imagine the
possibility of his ever thinking differently about that.
But, rejoined Socrates, you will have to think differently, my Theban
friend, if you still maintain that harmony is a compound, and that the
soul is a harmony which is made out of strings set in the frame of the
body; for you will surely never allow yourself to say that a harmony is
prior to the elements which compose the harmony.
No, Socrates, that is impossible.
But do you not see that you are saying this when you say that the soul
existed before she took the form and body of man, and was made up of
elements which as yet had no existence? For harmony is not a sort of thing
like the soul, as you suppose; but first the lyre, and the strings, and
the sounds exist in a state of discord, and then harmony is made last of
all, and perishes first. And how can such a notion of the soul as this
agree with the other?
Not at all, replied Simmias.
And yet, he said, there surely ought to be harmony when harmony is the
theme of discourse.
There ought, replied Simmias.
But there is no harmony, he said, in the two propositions that knowledge
is recollection, and that the soul is a harmony. Which of them, then, will
I think, he replied, that I have a much stronger faith, Socrates, in the
first of the two, which has been fully demonstrated to me, than in the
latter, which has not been demonstrated at all, but rests only on probable
and plausible grounds; and I know too well that these arguments from
probabilities are impostors, and unless great caution is observed in the
use of them they are apt to be deceptive — in geometry, and in other
things too. But the doctrine of knowledge and recollection has been proven
to me on trustworthy grounds; and the proof was that the soul must have
existed before she came into the body, because to her belongs the essence
of which the very name implies existence. Having, as I am convinced,
rightly accepted this conclusion, and on sufficient grounds, I must, as I
suppose, cease to argue or allow others to argue that the soul is a
Let me put the matter, Simmias, he said, in another point of view: Do
you imagine that a harmony or any other composition can be in a state
other than that of the elements out of which it is compounded?
Or do or suffer anything other than they do or suffer?
Then a harmony does not lead the parts or elements which make up the
harmony, but only follows them.
For harmony cannot possibly have any motion, or sound, or other quality
which is opposed to the parts.
That would be impossible, he replied.
And does not every harmony depend upon the manner in which the elements
I do not understand you, he said.
I mean to say that a harmony admits of degrees, and is more of a
harmony, and more completely a harmony, when more completely harmonized,
if that be possible; and less of a harmony, and less completely a harmony,
when less harmonized.
But does the soul admit of degrees? or is one soul in the very least
degree more or less, or more or less completely, a soul than another?
Not in the least.
Yet surely one soul is said to have intelligence and virtue, and to be
good, and another soul is said to have folly and vice, and to be an evil
soul: and this is said truly?
But what will those who maintain the soul to be a harmony say of this
presence of virtue and vice in the soul? — Will they say that there
is another harmony, and another discord, and that the virtuous soul is
harmonized, and herself being a harmony has another harmony within her,
and that the vicious soul is inharmonical and has no harmony within her?
I cannot say, replied Simmias; but I suppose that something of that kind
would be asserted by those who take this view.
And the admission is already made that no soul is more a soul than
another; and this is equivalent to admitting that harmony is not more or
less harmony, or more or less completely a harmony?
And that which is not more or less a harmony is not more or less
And that which is not more or less harmonized cannot have more or less
of harmony, but only an equal harmony?
Yes, an equal harmony.
Then one soul not being more or less absolutely a soul than another, is
not more or less harmonized?
And therefore has neither more nor less of harmony or of discord?
She has not.
And having neither more nor less of harmony or of discord, one soul has
no more vice or virtue than another, if vice be discord and virtue
Not at all more.
Or speaking more correctly, Simmias, the soul, if she is a harmony, will
never have any vice; because a harmony, being absolutely a harmony, has no
part in the inharmonical?
And therefore a soul which is absolutely a soul has no vice?
How can she have, consistently with the preceding argument?
Then, according to this, if the souls of all animals are equally and
absolutely souls, they will be equally good?
I agree with you, Socrates, he said.
And can all this be true, think you? he said; and are all these
consequences admissible — which nevertheless seem to follow from the
assumption that the soul is a harmony?
Certainly not, he said.
Once more, he said, what ruling principle is there of human things other
than the soul, and especially the wise soul? Do you know of any?
Indeed, I do not.
And is the soul in agreement with the affections of the body? or is she
at variance with them? For example, when the body is hot and thirsty, does
not the soul incline us against drinking? and when the body is hungry,
against eating? And this is only one instance out of ten thousand of the
opposition of the soul to the things of the body.
But we have already acknowledged that the soul, being a harmony, can
never utter a note at variance with the tensions and relaxations and
vibrations and other affections of the strings out of which she is
composed; she can only follow, she cannot lead them?
Yes, he said, we acknowledged that, certainly.
And yet do we not now discover the soul to be doing the exact opposite —
leading the elements of which she is believed to be composed; almost
always opposing and coercing them in all sorts of ways throughout life,
sometimes more violently with the pains of medicine and gymnastic; then
again more gently; threatening and also reprimanding the desires,
passions, fears, as if talking to a thing which is not herself, as Homer
in the "Odyssey" represents Odysseus doing in the words,
"He beat his breast, and thus reproached his heart:
Endure, my heart; far worse hast thou endured!" Do you think that
Homer could have written this under the idea that the soul is a harmony
capable of being led by the affections of the body, and not rather of a
nature which leads and masters them; and herself a far diviner thing than
Yes, Socrates, I quite agree to that.
Then, my friend, we can never be right in saying that the soul is a
harmony, for that would clearly contradict the divine Homer as well as
True, he said.
Thus much, said Socrates, of Harmonia, your Theban goddess, Cebes, who
has not been ungracious to us, I think; but what shall I say to the Theban
Cadmus, and how shall I propitiate him?
I think that you will discover a way of propitiating him, said Cebes; I
am sure that you have answered the argument about harmony in a manner that
I could never have expected. For when Simmias mentioned his objection, I
quite imagined that no answer could be given to him, and therefore I was
surprised at finding that his argument could not sustain the first onset
of yours; and not impossibly the other, whom you call Cadmus, may share a
Nay, my good friend, said Socrates, let us not boast, lest some evil eye
should put to flight the word which I am about to speak. That, however,
may be left in the hands of those above, while I draw near in Homeric
fashion, and try the mettle of your words. Briefly, the sum of your
objection is as follows: You want to have proven to you that the soul is
imperishable and immortal, and you think that the philosopher who is
confident in death has but a vain and foolish confidence, if he thinks
that he will fare better than one who has led another sort of life, in the
world below, unless he can prove this; and you say that the demonstration
of the strength and divinity of the soul, and of her existence prior to
our becoming men, does not necessarily imply her immortality. Granting
that the soul is longlived, and has known and done much in a former state,
still she is not on that account immortal; and her entrance into the human
form may be a sort of disease which is the beginning of dissolution, and
may at last, after the toils of life are over, end in that which is called
death. And whether the soul enters into the body once only or many times,
that, as you would say, makes no difference in the fears of individuals.
For any man, who is not devoid of natural feeling, has reason to fear, if
he has no knowledge or proof of the soul's immortality. That is what I
suppose you to say, Cebes, which I designedly repeat, in order that
nothing may escape us, and that you may, if you wish, add or subtract
But, said Cebes, as far as I can see at present, I have nothing to add
or subtract; you have expressed my meaning.
Socrates paused awhile, and seemed to be absorbed in reflection. At
length he said: This is a very serious inquiry which you are raising,
Cebes, involving the whole question of generation and corruption, about
which I will, if you like, give you my own experience; and you can apply
this, if you think that anything which I say will avail towards the
solution of your difficulty.
I should very much like, said Cebes, to hear what you have to say.
Then I will tell you, said Socrates. When I was young, Cebes, I had a
prodigious desire to know that department of philosophy which is called
Natural Science; this appeared to me to have lofty aims, as being the
science which has to do with the causes of things, and which teaches why a
thing is, and is created and destroyed; and I was always agitating myself
with the consideration of such questions as these: Is the growth of
animals the result of some decay which the hot and cold principle
contracts, as some have said? Is the blood the element with which we
think, or the air, or the fire? or perhaps nothing of this sort — but
the brain may be the originating power of the perceptions of hearing and
sight and smell, and memory and opinion may come from them, and science
may be based on memory and opinion when no longer in motion, but at rest.
And then I went on to examine the decay of them, and then to the things of
heaven and earth, and at last I concluded that I was wholly incapable of
these inquiries, as I will satisfactorily prove to you. For I was
fascinated by them to such a degree that my eyes grew blind to things that
I had seemed to myself, and also to others, to know quite well; and I
forgot what I had before thought to be self-evident, that the growth of
man is the result of eating and drinking; for when by the digestion of
food flesh is added to flesh and bone to bone, and whenever there is an
aggregation of congenial elements, the lesser bulk becomes larger and the
small man greater. Was not that a reasonable notion?
Yes, said Cebes, I think so.
Well; but let me tell you something more. There was a time when I
thought that I understood the meaning of greater and less pretty well; and
when I saw a great man standing by a little one I fancied that one was
taller than the other by a head; or one horse would appear to be greater
than another horse: and still more clearly did I seem to perceive that ten
is two more than eight, and that two cubits are more than one, because two
is twice one.
And what is now your notion of such matters? said Cebes.
I should be far enough from imagining, he replied, that I knew the cause
of any of them, indeed I should, for I cannot satisfy myself that when one
is added to one, the one to which the addition is made becomes two, or
that the two units added together make two by reason of the addition. For
I cannot understand how, when separated from the other, each of them was
one and not two, and now, when they are brought together, the mere
juxtaposition of them can be the cause of their becoming two: nor can I
understand how the division of one is the way to make two; for then a
different cause would produce the same effect — as in the former
instance the addition and juxtaposition of one to one was the cause of
two, in this the separation and subtraction of one from the other would be
the cause. Nor am I any longer satisfied that I understand the reason why
one or anything else either is generated or destroyed or is at all, but I
have in my mind some confused notion of another method, and can never
Then I heard someone who had a book of Anaxagoras, as he said, out of
which he read that mind was the disposer and cause of all, and I was quite
delighted at the notion of this, which appeared admirable, and I said to
myself: If mind is the disposer, mind will dispose all for the best, and
put each particular in the best place; and I argued that if anyone desired
to find out the cause of the generation or destruction or existence of
anything, he must find out what state of being or suffering or doing was
best for that thing, and therefore a man had only to consider the best for
himself and others, and then he would also know the worse, for that the
same science comprised both. And I rejoiced to think that I had found in
Anaxagoras a teacher of the causes of existence such as I desired, and I
imagined that he would tell me first whether the earth is flat or round;
and then he would further explain the cause and the necessity of this, and
would teach me the nature of the best and show that this was best; and if
he said that the earth was in the centre, he would explain that this
position was the best, and I should be satisfied if this were shown to me,
and not want any other sort of cause. And I thought that I would then go
and ask him about the sun and moon and stars, and that he would explain to
me their comparative swiftness, and their returnings and various states,
and how their several affections, active and passive, were all for the
best. For I could not imagine that when he spoke of mind as the disposer
of them, he would give any other account of their being as they are,
except that this was best; and I thought when he had explained to me in
detail the cause of each and the cause of all, he would go on to explain
to me what was best for each and what was best for all. I had hopes which
I would not have sold for much, and I seized the books and read them as
fast as I could in my eagerness to know the better and the worse.
What hopes I had formed, and how grievously was I disappointed! As I
proceeded, I found my philosopher altogether forsaking mind or any other
principle of order, but having recourse to air, and ether, and water, and
other eccentricities. I might compare him to a person who began by
maintaining generally that mind is the cause of the actions of Socrates,
but who, when he endeavored to explain the causes of my several actions in
detail, went on to show that I sit here because my body is made up of
bones and muscles; and the bones, as he would say, are hard and have
ligaments which divide them, and the muscles are elastic, and they cover
the bones, which have also a covering or environment of flesh and skin
which contains them; and as the bones are lifted at their joints by the
contraction or relaxation of the muscles, I am able to bend my limbs, and
this is why I am sitting here in a curved posture: that is what he would
say, and he would have a similar explanation of my talking to you, which
he would attribute to sound, and air, and hearing, and he would assign ten
thousand other causes of the same sort, forgetting to mention the true
cause, which is that the Athenians have thought fit to condemn me, and
accordingly I have thought it better and more right to remain here and
undergo my sentence; for I am inclined to think that these muscles and
bones of mine would have gone off to Megara or Boeotia — by the dog
of Egypt they would, if they had been guided only by their own idea of
what was best, and if I had not chosen as the better and nobler part,
instead of playing truant and running away, to undergo any punishment
which the State inflicts. There is surely a strange confusion of causes
and conditions in all this. It may be said, indeed, that without bones and
muscles and the other parts of the body I cannot execute my purposes. But
to say that I do as I do because of them, and that this is the way in
which mind acts, and not from the choice of the best, is a very careless
and idle mode of speaking. I wonder that they cannot distinguish the cause
from the condition, which the many, feeling about in the dark, are always
mistaking and misnaming. And thus one man makes a vortex all round and
steadies the earth by the heaven; another gives the air as a support to
the earth, which is a sort of broad trough. Any power which in disposing
them as they are disposes them for the best never enters into their minds,
nor do they imagine that there is any superhuman strength in that; they
rather expect to find another Atlas of the world who is stronger and more
everlasting and more containing than the good is, and are clearly of
opinion that the obligatory and containing power of the good is as
nothing; and yet this is the principle which I would fain learn if anyone
would teach me. But as I have failed either to discover myself or to learn
of anyone else, the nature of the best, I will exhibit to you, if you
like, what I have found to be the second best mode of inquiring into the
I should very much like to hear that, he replied.
Socrates proceeded: I thought that as I had failed in the contemplation
of true existence, I ought to be careful that I did not lose the eye of my
soul; as people may injure their bodily eye by observing and gazing on the
sun during an eclipse, unless they take the precaution of only looking at
the image reflected in the water, or in some similar medium. That occurred
to me, and I was afraid that my soul might be blinded altogether if I
looked at things with my eyes or tried by the help of the senses to
apprehend them. And I thought that I had better have recourse to ideas,
and seek in them the truth of existence. I dare say that the simile is not
perfect — for I am very far from admitting that he who contemplates
existence through the medium of ideas, sees them only "through a
glass darkly," any more than he who sees them in their working and
effects. However, this was the method which I adopted: I first assumed
some principle which I judged to be the strongest, and then I affirmed as
true whatever seemed to agree with this, whether relating to the cause or
to anything else; and that which disagreed I regarded as untrue. But I
should like to explain my meaning clearly, as I do not think that you
No, indeed, replied Cebes, not very well.
There is nothing new, he said, in what I am about to tell you; but only
what I have been always and everywhere repeating in the previous
discussion and on other occasions: I want to show you the nature of that
cause which has occupied my thoughts, and I shall have to go back to those
familiar words which are in the mouth of everyone, and first of all assume
that there is an absolute beauty and goodness and greatness, and the like;
grant me this, and I hope to be able to show you the nature of the cause,
and to prove the immortality of the soul.
Cebes said: You may proceed at once with the proof, as I readily grant
Well, he said, then I should like to know whether you agree with me in
the next step; for I cannot help thinking that if there be anything
beautiful other than absolute beauty, that can only be beautiful in as far
as it partakes of absolute beauty — and this I should say of
everything. Do you agree in this notion of the cause?
Yes, he said, I agree.
He proceeded: I know nothing and can understand nothing of any other of
those wise causes which are alleged; and if a person says to me that the
bloom of color, or form, or anything else of that sort is a source of
beauty, I leave all that, which is only confusing to me, and simply and
singly, and perhaps foolishly, hold and am assured in my own mind that
nothing makes a thing beautiful but the presence and participation of
beauty in whatever way or manner obtained; for as to the manner I am
uncertain, but I stoutly contend that by beauty all beautiful things
become beautiful. That appears to me to be the only safe answer that I can
give, either to myself or to any other, and to that I cling, in the
persuasion that I shall never be overthrown, and that I may safely answer
to myself or any other that by beauty beautiful things become beautiful.
Do you not agree to that?
Yes, I agree.
And that by greatness only great things become great and greater
greater, and by smallness the less becomes less.
Then if a person remarks that A is taller by a head than B, and B less
by a head than A, you would refuse to admit this, and would stoutly
contend that what you mean is only that the greater is greater by, and by
reason of, greatness, and the less is less only by, or by reason of,
smallness; and thus you would avoid the danger of saying that the greater
is greater and the less by the measure of the head, which is the same in
both, and would also avoid the monstrous absurdity of supposing that the
greater man is greater by reason of the head, which is small. Would you
not be afraid of that?
Indeed, I should, said Cebes, laughing.
In like manner you would be afraid to say that ten exceeded eight by,
and by reason of, two; but would say by, and by reason of, number; or that
two cubits exceed one cubit not by a half, but by magnitude? — that
is what you would say, for there is the same danger in both cases.
Very true, he said.
Again, would you not be cautious of affirming that the addition of one
to one, or the division of one, is the cause of two? And you would loudly
asseverate that you know of no way in which anything comes into existence
except by participation in its own proper essence, and consequently, as
far as you know, the only cause of two is the participation in duality;
that is the way to make two, and the participation in one is the way to
make one. You would say: I will let alone puzzles of division and addition
— wiser heads than mine may answer them; inexperienced as I am, and
ready to start, as the proverb says, at my own shadow, I cannot afford to
give up the sure ground of a principle. And if anyone assails you there,
you would not mind him, or answer him until you had seen whether the
consequences which follow agree with one another or not, and when you are
further required to give an explanation of this principle, you would go on
to assume a higher principle, and the best of the higher ones, until you
found a resting-place; but you would not refuse the principle and the
consequences in your reasoning like the Eristics — at least if you
wanted to discover real existence. Not that this confusion signifies to
them who never care or think about the matter at all, for they have the
wit to be well pleased with themselves, however great may be the turmoil
of their ideas. But you, if you are a philosopher, will, I believe, do as
What you say is most true, said Simmias and Cebes, both speaking at
Ech. Yes, Phaedo; and I don't wonder at their assenting. Anyone
who has the least sense will acknowledge the wonderful clear. of Socrates'
Phaed. Certainly, Echecrates; and that was the feeling of the
whole company at the time.
Ech. Yes, and equally of ourselves, who were not of the company,
and are now listening to your recital. But what followed?
Phaedo. After all this was admitted, and they had agreed about
the existence of ideas and the participation in them of the other things
which derive their names from them, Socrates, if I remember rightly, said:
This is your way of speaking; and yet when you say that Simmias is
greater than Socrates and less than Phaedo, do you not predicate of
Simmias both greatness and smallness?
Yes, I do.
But still you allow that Simmias does not really exceed Socrates, as the
words may seem to imply, because he is Simmias, but by reason of the size
which he has; just as Simmias does not exceed Socrates because he is
Simmias, any more than because Socrates is Socrates, but because he has
smallness when compared with the greatness of Simmias?
And if Phaedo exceeds him in size, that is not because Phaedo is Phaedo,
but because Phaedo has greatness relatively to Simmias, who is
That is true.
And therefore Simmias is said to be great, and is also said to be small,
because he is in a mean between them, exceeding the smallness of the one
by his greatness, and allowing the greatness of the other to exceed his
smallness. He added, laughing, I am speaking like a book, but I believe
that what I am now saying is true.
Simmias assented to this.
The reason why I say this is that I want you to agree with me in
thinking, not only that absolute greatness will never be great and also
small, but that greatness in us or in the concrete will never admit the
small or admit of being exceeded: instead of this, one of two things will
happen — either the greater will fly or retire before the opposite,
which is the less, or at the advance of the less will cease to exist; but
will not, if allowing or admitting smallness, be changed by that; even as
I, having received and admitted smallness when compared with Simmias,
remain just as I was, and am the same small person. And as the idea of
greatness cannot condescend ever to be or become small, in like manner the
smallness in us cannot be or become great; nor can any other opposite
which remains the same ever be or become its own opposite, but either
passes away or perishes in the change.
That, replied Cebes, is quite my notion.
One of the company, though I do not exactly remember which of them, on
hearing this, said: By Heaven, is not this the direct contrary of what was
admitted before — that out of the greater came the less and out of
the less the greater, and that opposites are simply generated from
opposites; whereas now this seems to be utterly denied.
Socrates inclined his head to the speaker and listened. I like your
courage, he said, in reminding us of this. But you do not observe that
there is a difference in the two cases. For then we were speaking of
opposites in the concrete, and now of the essential opposite which, as is
affirmed, neither in us nor in nature can ever be at variance with itself:
then, my friend, we were speaking of things in which opposites are
inherent and which are called after them, but now about the opposites
which are inherent in them and which give their name to them; these
essential opposites will never, as we maintain, admit of generation into
or out of one another. At the same time, turning to Cebes, he said: Were
you at all disconcerted, Cebes, at our friend's objection?
That was not my feeling, said Cebes; and yet I cannot deny that I am apt
to be disconcerted.
Then we are agreed after all, said Socrates, that the opposite will
never in any case be opposed to itself?
To that we are quite agreed, he replied.
Yet once more let me ask you to consider the question from another point
of view, and see whether you agree with me: There is a thing which you
term heat, and another thing which you term cold?
But are they the same as fire and snow?
Most assuredly not.
Heat is not the same as fire, nor is cold the same as snow?
And yet you will surely admit that when snow, as before said, is under
the influence of heat, they will not remain snow and heat; but at the
advance of the heat the snow will either retire or perish?
Very true, he replied.
And the fire too at the advance of the cold will either retire or
perish; and when the fire is under the influence of the cold, they will
not remain, as before, fire and cold.
That is true, he said.
And in some cases the name of the idea is not confined to the idea; but
anything else which, not being the idea, exists only in the form of the
idea, may also lay claim to it. I will try to make this clearer by an
example: The odd number is always called by the name of odd?
But is this the only thing which is called odd? Are there not other
things which have their own name, and yet are called odd, because,
although not the same as oddness, they are never without oddness? —
that is what I mean to ask — whether numbers such as the number three
are not of the class of odd. And there are many other examples: would you
not say, for example, that three may be called by its proper name, and
also be called odd, which is not the same with three? and this may be said
not only of three but also of five, and every alternate number — each
of them without being oddness is odd, and in the same way two and four,
and the whole series of alternate numbers, has every number even, without
being evenness. Do you admit that?
Yes, he said, how can I deny that?
Then now mark the point at which I am aiming: not only do essential
opposites exclude one another, but also concrete things, which, although
not in themselves opposed, contain opposites; these, I say, also reject
the idea which is opposed to that which is contained in them, and at the
advance of that they either perish or withdraw. There is the number three
for example; will not that endure annihilation or anything sooner than be
converted into an even number, remaining three?
Very true, said Cebes.
And yet, he said, the number two is certainly not opposed to the number
It is not.
Then not only do opposite ideas repel the advance of one another, but
also there are other things which repel the approach of opposites.
That is quite true, he said.
Suppose, he said, that we endeavor, if possible, to determine what these
By all means.
Are they not, Cebes, such as compel the things of which they have
possession, not only to take their own form, but also the form of some
What do you mean?
I mean, as I was just now saying, and have no need to repeat to you,
that those things which are possessed by the number three must not only be
three in number, but must also be odd.
And on this oddness, of which the number three has the impress, the
opposite idea will never intrude?
And this impress was given by the odd principle?
And to the odd is opposed the even?
Then the idea of the even number will never arrive at three?
Then three has no part in the even?
Then the triad or number three is uneven?
To return then to my distinction of natures which are not opposites, and
yet do not admit opposites: as, in this instance, three, although not
opposed to the even, does not any the more admit of the even, but always
brings the opposite into play on the other side; or as two does not
receive the odd, or fire the cold — from these examples (and there
are many more of them) perhaps you may be able to arrive at the general
conclusion that not only opposites will not receive opposites, but also
that nothing which brings the opposite will admit the opposite of that
which it brings in that to which it is brought. And here let me
recapitulate — for there is no harm in repetition. The number five
will not admit the nature of the even, any more than ten, which is the
double of five, will admit the nature of the odd — the double, though
not strictly opposed to the odd, rejects the odd altogether. Nor again
will parts in the ratio of 3:2, nor any fraction in which there is a half,
nor again in which there is a third, admit the notion of the whole,
although they are not opposed to the whole. You will agree to that?
Yes, he said, I entirely agree and go along with you in that.
And now, he said, I think that I may begin again; and to the question
which I am about to ask I will beg you to give not the old safe answer,
but another, of which I will offer you an example; and I hope that you
will find in what has been just said another foundation which is as safe.
I mean that if anyone asks you "what that is, the inherence of which
makes the body hot," you will reply not heat (this is what I call the
safe and stupid answer), but fire, a far better answer, which we are now
in a condition to give. Or if anyone asks you "why a body is
diseased," you will not say from disease, but from fever; and instead
of saying that oddness is the cause of odd numbers, you will say that the
monad is the cause of them: and so of things in general, as I dare say
that you will understand sufficiently without my adducing any further
Yes, he said, I quite understand you.
Tell me, then, what is that the inherence of which will render the body
The soul, he replied.
And is this always the case?
Yes, he said, of course.
Then whatever the soul possesses, to that she comes bearing life?
And is there any opposite to life?
There is, he said.
And what is that?
Then the soul, as has been acknowledged, will never receive the opposite
of what she brings. And now, he said, what did we call that principle
which repels the even?
And that principle which repels the musical, or the just?
The unmusical, he said, and the unjust.
And what do we call the principle which does not admit of death?
The immortal, he said.
And does the soul admit of death?
Then the soul is immortal?
Yes, he said.
And may we say that this is proven?
Yes, abundantly proven, Socrates, he replied.
And supposing that the odd were imperishable, must not three be
And if that which is cold were imperishable, when the warm principle
came attacking the snow, must not the snow have retired whole and unmelted
— for it could never have perished, nor could it have remained and
admitted the heat?
True, he said.
Again, if the uncooling or warm principle were imperishable, the fire
when assailed by cold would not have perished or have been extinguished,
but would have gone away unaffected?
Certainly, he said.
And the same may be said of the immortal: if the immortal is also
imperishable, the soul when attacked by death cannot perish; for the
preceding argument shows that the soul will not admit of death, or ever be
dead, any more than three or the odd number will admit of the even, or
fire or the heat in the fire, of the cold. Yet a person may say: "But
although the odd will not become even at the approach of the even, why may
not the odd perish and the even take the place of the odd?" Now to
him who makes this objection, we cannot answer that the odd principle is
imperishable; for this has not been acknowledged, but if this had been
acknowledged, there would have been no difficulty in contending that at
the approach of the even the odd principle and the number three took up
their departure; and the same argument would have held good of fire and
heat and any other thing.
And the same may be said of the immortal: if the immortal is also
imperishable, then the soul will be imperishable as well as immortal; but
if not, some other proof of her imperishableness will have to be given.
No other proof is needed, he said; for if the immortal, being eternal,
is liable to perish, then nothing is imperishable.
Yes, replied Socrates, all men will agree that God, and the essential
form of life, and the immortal in general, will never perish.
Yes, all men, he said — that is true; and what is more, gods, if I
am not mistaken, as well as men.
Seeing then that the immortal is indestructible, must not the soul, if
she is immortal, be also imperishable?
Then when death attacks a man, the mortal portion of him may be supposed
to die, but the immortal goes out of the way of death and is preserved
safe and sound?
Then, Cebes, beyond question the soul is immortal and imperishable, and
our souls will truly exist in another world!
I am convinced, Socrates, said Cebes, and have nothing more to object;
but if my friend Simmias, or anyone else, has any further objection, he
had better speak out, and not keep silence, since I do not know how there
can ever be a more fitting time to which he can defer the discussion, if
there is anything which he wants to say or have said.
But I have nothing more to say, replied Simmias; nor do I see any room
for uncertainty, except that which arises necessarily out of the greatness
of the subject and the feebleness of man, and which I cannot help feeling.
Yes, Simmias, replied Socrates, that is well said: and more than that,
first principles, even if they appear certain, should be carefully
considered; and when they are satisfactorily ascertained, then, with a
sort of hesitating confidence in human reason, you may, I think, follow
the course of the argument; and if this is clear, there will be no need
for any further inquiry.
That, he said, is true.
But then, O my friends, he said, if the soul is really immortal, what
care should be taken of her, not only in respect of the portion of time
which is called life, but of eternity! And the danger of neglecting her
from this point of view does indeed appear to be awful. If death had only
been the end of all, the wicked would have had a good bargain in dying,
for they would have been happily quit not only of their body, but of their
own evil together with their souls. But now, as the soul plainly appears
to be immortal, there is no release or salvation from evil except the
attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom. For the soul when on her
progress to the world below takes nothing with her but nurture and
education; which are indeed said greatly to benefit or greatly to injure
the departed, at the very beginning of its pilgrimage in the other world.
For after death, as they say, the genius of each individual, to whom he
belonged in life, leads him to a certain place in which the dead are
gathered together for judgment, whence they go into the world below,
following the guide who is appointed to conduct them from this world to
the other: and when they have there received their due and remained their
time, another guide brings them back again after many revolutions of ages.
Now this journey to the other world is not, as Aeschylus says in the "Telephus,"
a single and straight path — no guide would be wanted for that, and
no one could miss a single path; but there are many partings of the road,
and windings, as I must infer from the rites and sacrifices which are
offered to the gods below in places where three ways meet on earth. The
wise and orderly soul is conscious of her situation and follows in the
path; but the soul which desires the body, and which, as I was relating
before, has long been fluttering about the lifeless frame and the world of
sight, is after many struggles and many sufferings hardly and with
violence carried away by her attendant genius, and when she arrives at the
place where the other souls are gathered, if she be impure and have done
impure deeds, or been concerned in foul murders or other crimes which are
the brothers of these, and the works of brothers in crime — from that
soul everyone flees and turns away; no one will be her companion, no one
her guide, but alone she wanders in extremity of evil until certain times
are fulfilled, and when they are fulfilled, she is borne irresistibly to
her own fitting habitation; as every pure and just soul which has passed
through life in the company and under the guidance of the gods has also
her own proper home.
Now the earth has divers wonderful regions, and is indeed in nature and
extent very unlike the notions of geographers, as I believe on the
authority of one who shall be nameless.
What do you mean, Socrates? said Simmias. I have myself heard many
descriptions of the earth, but I do not know in what you are putting your
faith, and I should like to know.
Well, Simmias, replied Socrates, the recital of a tale does not, I
think, require the art of Glaucus; and I know not that the art of Glaucus
could prove the truth of my tale, which I myself should never be able to
prove, and even if I could, I fear, Simmias, that my life would come to an
end before the argument was completed. I may describe to you, however, the
form and regions of the earth according to my conception of them.
That, said Simmias, will be enough.
Well, then, he said, my conviction is that the earth is a round body in
the center of the heavens, and therefore has no need of air or any similar
force as a support, but is kept there and hindered from falling or
inclining any way by the equability of the surrounding heaven and by her
own equipoise. For that which, being in equipoise, is in the center of
that which is equably diffused, will not incline any way in any degree,
but will always remain in the same state and not deviate. And this is my
Which is surely a correct one, said Simmias.
Also I believe that the earth is very vast, and that we who dwell in the
region extending from the river Phasis to the Pillars of Heracles, along
the borders of the sea, are just like ants or frogs about a marsh, and
inhabit a small portion only, and that many others dwell in many like
places. For I should say that in all parts of the earth there are hollows
of various forms and sizes, into which the water and the mist and the air
collect; and that the true earth is pure and in the pure heaven, in which
also are the stars — that is the heaven which is commonly spoken of
as the ether, of which this is but the sediment collecting in the hollows
of the earth. But we who live in these hollows are deceived into the
notion that we are dwelling above on the surface of the earth; which is
just as if a creature who was at the bottom of the sea were to fancy that
he was on the surface of the water, and that the sea was the heaven
through which he saw the sun and the other stars — he having never
come to the surface by reason of his feebleness and sluggishness, and
having never lifted up his head and seen, nor ever heard from one who had
seen, this region which is so much purer and fairer than his own. Now this
is exactly our case: for we are dwelling in a hollow of the earth, and
fancy that we are on the surface; and the air we call the heaven, and in
this we imagine that the stars move. But this is also owing to our
feebleness and sluggishness, which prevent our reaching the surface of the
air: for if any man could arrive at the exterior limit, or take the wings
of a bird and fly upward, like a fish who puts his head out and sees this
world, he would see a world beyond; and, if the nature of man could
sustain the sight, he would acknowledge that this was the place of the
true heaven and the true light and the true stars. For this earth, and the
stones, and the entire region which surrounds us, are spoilt and corroded,
like the things in the sea which are corroded by the brine; for in the sea
too there is hardly any noble or perfect growth, but clefts only, and
sand, and an endless slough of mud: and even the shore is not to be
compared to the fairer sights of this world. And greater far is the
superiority of the other. Now of that upper earth which is under the
heaven, I can tell you a charming tale, Simmias, which is well worth
And we, Socrates, replied Simmias, shall be charmed to listen.
The tale, my friend, he said, is as follows: In the first place, the
earth, when looked at from above, is like one of those balls which have
leather coverings in twelve pieces, and is of divers colors, of which the
colors which painters use on earth are only a sample. But there the whole
earth is made up of them, and they are brighter far and clearer than ours;
there is a purple of wonderful luster, also the radiance of gold, and the
white which is in the earth is whiter than any chalk or snow. Of these and
other colors the earth is made up, and they are more in number and fairer
than the eye of man has ever seen; and the very hollows (of which I was
speaking) filled with air and water are seen like light flashing amid the
other colors, and have a color of their own, which gives a sort of unity
to the variety of earth. And in this fair region everything that grows —
trees, and flowers, and fruits — is in a like degree fairer than any
here; and there are hills, and stones in them in a like degree smoother,
and more transparent, and fairer in color than our highly valued emeralds
and sardonyxes and jaspers, and other gems, which are but minute fragments
of them: for there all the stones are like our precious stones, and fairer
still. The reason of this is that they are pure, and not, like our
precious stones, infected or corroded by the corrupt briny elements which
coagulate among us, and which breed foulness and disease both in earth and
stones, as well as in animals and plants. They are the jewels of the upper
earth, which also shines with gold and silver and the like, and they are
visible to sight and large and abundant and found in every region of the
earth, and blessed is he who sees them. And upon the earth are animals and
men, some in a middle region, others dwelling about the air as we dwell
about the sea; others in islands which the air flows round, near the
continent: and in a word, the air is used by them as the water and the sea
are by us, and the ether is to them what the air is to us. Moreover, the
temperament of their seasons is such that they have no disease, and live
much longer than we do, and have sight and hearing and smell, and all the
other senses, in far greater perfection, in the same degree that air is
purer than water or the ether than air. Also they have temples and sacred
places in which the gods really dwell, and they hear their voices and
receive their answers, and are conscious of them and hold converse with
them, and they see the sun, moon, and stars as they really are, and their
other blessedness is of a piece with this.
Such is the nature of the whole earth, and of the things which are
around the earth; and there are divers regions in the hollows on the face
of the globe everywhere, some of them deeper and also wider than that
which we inhabit, others deeper and with a narrower opening than ours, and
some are shallower and wider; all have numerous perforations, and passages
broad and narrow in the interior of the earth, connecting them with one
another; and there flows into and out of them, as into basins, a vast tide
of water, and huge subterranean streams of perennial rivers, and springs
hot and cold, and a great fire, and great rivers of fire, and streams of
liquid mud, thin or thick (like the rivers of mud in Sicily, and the
lava-streams which follow them), and the regions about which they happen
to flow are filled up with them. And there is a sort of swing in the
interior of the earth which moves all this up and down. Now the swing is
in this wise: There is a chasm which is the vastest of them all, and
pierces right through the whole earth; this is that which Homer describes
in the words,
"Far off, where is the inmost depth beneath the earth"; and
which he in other places, and many other poets, have called Tartarus. And
the swing is caused by the streams flowing into and out of this chasm, and
they each have the nature of the soil through which they flow. And the
reason why the streams are always flowing in and out is that the watery
element has no bed or bottom, and is surging and swinging up and down, and
the surrounding wind and air do the same; they follow the water up and
down, hither and thither, over the earth — just as in respiring the
air is always in process of inhalation and exhalation; and the wind
swinging with the water in and out produces fearful and irresistible
blasts: when the waters retire with a rush into the lower parts of the
earth, as they are called, they flow through the earth into those regions,
and fill them up as with the alternate motion of a pump, and then when
they leave those regions and rush back hither, they again fill the hollows
here, and when these are filled, flow through subterranean channels and
find their way to their several places, forming seas, and lakes, and
rivers, and springs. Thence they again enter the earth, some of them
making a long circuit into many lands, others going to few places and
those not distant, and again fall into Tartarus, some at a point a good
deal lower than that at which they rose, and others not much lower, but
all in some degree lower than the point of issue. And some burst forth
again on the opposite side, and some on the same side, and some wind round
the earth with one or many folds, like the coils of a serpent, and descend
as far as they can, but always return and fall into the lake. The rivers
on either side can descend only to the center and no further, for to the
rivers on both sides the opposite side is a precipice.
Now these rivers are many, and mighty, and diverse, and there are four
principal ones, of which the greatest and outermost is that called
Oceanus, which flows round the earth in a circle; and in the opposite
direction flows Acheron, which passes under the earth through desert
places, into the Acherusian Lake: this is the lake to the shores of which
the souls of the many go when they are dead, and after waiting an
appointed time, which is to some a longer and to some a shorter time, they
are sent back again to be born as animals. The third river rises between
the two, and near the place of rising pours into a vast region of fire,
and forms a lake larger than the Mediterranean Sea, boiling with water and
mud; and proceeding muddy and turbid, and winding about the earth, comes,
among other places, to the extremities of the Acherusian Lake, but mingles
not with the waters of the lake, and after making many coils about the
earth plunges into Tartarus at a deeper level. This is that
Pyriphlegethon, as the stream is called, which throws up jets of fire in
all sorts of places. The fourth river goes out on the opposite side, and
falls first of all into a wild and savage region, which is all of a
dark-blue color, like lapis lazuli; and this is that river which is called
the Stygian River, and falls into and forms the Lake Styx, and after
falling into the lake and receiving strange powers in the waters, passes
under the earth, winding round in the opposite direction to
Pyriphlegethon, and meeting in the Acherusian Lake from the opposite side.
And the water of this river too mingles with no other, but flows round in
a circle and falls into Tartarus over against Pyriphlegethon, and the name
of this river, as the poet says, is Cocytus.
Such is the name of the other world; and when the dead arrive at the
place to which the genius of each severally conveys them, first of all
they have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously
or not. And those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the
river Acheron, and mount such conveyances as they can get, and are carried
in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil
deeds, and suffer the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to
others, and are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds
according to their deserts. But those who appear to be incurable by reason
of the greatness of their crimes — who have committed many and
terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like —
such are hurled into Tartarus, which is their suitable destiny, and they
never come out. Those again who have committed crimes, which, although
great, are not unpardonable — who in a moment of anger, for example,
have done violence to a father or mother, and have repented for the
remainder of their lives, or who have taken the life of another under like
extenuating circumstances — these are plunged into Tartarus, the
pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of
the year the wave casts them forth — mere homicides by way of
Cocytus, parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon — and they are
borne to the Acherusian Lake, and there they lift up their voices and call
upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them,
and to receive them, and to let them come out of the river into the lake.
And if they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles;
but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into
the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have
wronged: for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges.
Those also who are remarkable for having led holy lives are released from
this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell
in the purer earth; and those who have duly purified themselves with
philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer
far than these, which may not be described, and of which the time would
fail me to tell.
Wherefore, Simmias, seeing all these things, what ought not we to do in
order to obtain virtue and wisdom in this life? Fair is the prize, and the
I do not mean to affirm that the description which I have given of the
soul and her mansions is exactly true — a man of sense ought hardly
to say that. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be
immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that
something of the kind is true. The venture is a glorious one, and he ought
to comfort himself with words like these, which is the reason why lengthen
out the tale. Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul,
who has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him,
and rather hurtful in their effects, and has followed after the pleasures
of knowledge in this life; who has adorned the soul in her own proper
jewels, which are temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and
truth — in these arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the
world below, when her time comes. You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other
men, will depart at some time or other. Me already, as the tragic poet
would say, the voice of fate calls. Soon I must drink the poison; and I
think that I had better repair to the bath first, in order that the women
may not have the trouble of washing my body after I am dead.
When he had done speaking, Crito said: And have you any commands for us,
Socrates — anything to say about your children, or any other matter
in which we can serve you?
Nothing particular, he said: only, as I have always told you, I would
have you look to yourselves; that is a service which you may always be
doing to me and mine as well as to yourselves. And you need not make
professions; for if you take no thought for yourselves, and walk not
according to the precepts which I have given you, not now for the first
time, the warmth of your professions will be of no avail.
We will do our best, said Crito. But in what way would you have us bury
In any way that you like; only you must get hold of me, and take care
that I do not walk away from you. Then he turned to us, and added with a
smile: I cannot make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who have
been talking and conducting the argument; he fancies that I am the other
Socrates whom he will soon see, a dead body — and he asks, How shall
he bury me? And though I have spoken many words in the endeavor to show
that when I have drunk the poison I shall leave you and go to the joys of
the blessed — these words of mine, with which I comforted you and
myself, have had, I perceive, no effect upon Crito. And therefore I want
you to be surety for me now, as he was surety for me at the trial: but let
the promise be of another sort; for he was my surety to the judges that I
would remain, but you must be my surety to him that I shall not remain,
but go away and depart; and then he will suffer less at my death, and not
be grieved when he sees my body being burned or buried. I would not have
him sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the burial, Thus we lay out Socrates,
or, Thus we follow him to the grave or bury him; for false words are not
only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Be of good
cheer, then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and
do with that as is usual, and as you think best.
When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into the bath chamber
with Crito, who bade us wait; and we waited, talking and thinking of the
subject of discourse, and also of the greatness of our sorrow; he was like
a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass the
rest of our lives as orphans. When he had taken the bath his children were
brought to him — (he had two young sons and an elder one); and the
women of his family also came, and he talked to them and gave them a few
directions in the presence of Crito; and he then dismissed them and
returned to us.
Now the hour of sunset was near, for a good deal of time had passed
while he was within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his
bath, but not much was said. Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the
Eleven, entered and stood by him, saying: To you, Socrates, whom I know to
be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I
will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me
when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison —
indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you
are aware, and not I, are the guilty cause. And so fare you well, and try
to bear lightly what must needs be; you know my errand. Then bursting into
tears he turned away and went out.
Socrates looked at him and said: I return your good wishes, and will do
as you bid. Then, turning to us, he said, How charming the man is: since I
have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he
would talk to me, and was as good as could be to me, and now see how
generously he sorrows for me. But we must do as he says, Crito; let the
cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let the attendant
Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hilltops, and many a one has
taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made to him,
he has eaten and drunk, and indulged in sensual delights; do not hasten
then, there is still time.
Socrates said: Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in doing
thus, for they think that they will gain by the delay; but I am right in
not doing thus, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking
the poison a little later; I should be sparing and saving a life which is
already gone: I could only laugh at myself for this. Please then to do as
I say, and not to refuse me.
Crito, when he heard this, made a sign to the servant, and the servant
went in, and remained for some time, and then returned with the jailer
carrying a cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are
experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to
proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are
heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he
handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner,
without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking at the man
with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said:
What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I,
or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we
deem enough. I understand, he said: yet I may and must pray to the gods to
prosper my journey from this to that other world — may this, then,
which is my prayer, be granted to me. Then holding the cup to his lips,
quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of
us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking,
and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear,
and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered
my face and wept over myself, for certainly I was not weeping over him,
but at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a companion. Nor
was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his
tears, had got up and moved away, and I followed; and at that moment.
Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud cry
which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What
is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order
that they might not offend in this way, for I have heard that a man should
die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience.
When we heard that, we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he
walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on
his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison
now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his
foot hard and asked him if he could feel; and he said, no; and then his
leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff.
And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart,
that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when
he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said (they were
his last words) — he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you
remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there
anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or
two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were
set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth.
Such was the death, Echecrates, of our friend, of whom I may truly say,
that, of all the men whom I have ever known, he was the wisest, and
justest, and best. 1
1. Reworded from Jowett's
translation, by the editor, for emphasis.