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Georgia Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi

Playful Philosophy and Serious Sophistry

Untersuchungen zur antiken
Literatur und Geschichte

Herausgegeben von
Heinz-Gnther Nesselrath, Peter Scholz
und Otto Zwierlein

Band 115
Georgia Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi

Playful Philosophy
and Serious

A Reading of Platos Euthydemus

ISBN 978-3-11-036809-3
e-ISBN 978-3-11-036587-0
ISSN 1862-1112

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A CIP catalog record for this book has been applied for at the Library of Congress.

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie;
detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at http://dnb.dnb.de.

2014 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

Printing and binding: Strauss GmbH, Mrlenbach
Printed on acid-free paper
Printed in Germany

Nikolaos S. Tolias
This book is a substantially revised version of my doctoral dissertation, which
was submitted to the Department of Classics of the University of Virginia in
April 2012. My dissertation supervisor, Jenny Strauss Clay, read through numer-
ous drafts, always raising questions that pushed my arguments a step further.
For her incisive reading, as well as for her continuous support throughout my
years in Virginia, I am most grateful.
I would also like to thank the members of my dissertation committee: Daniel
Devereux was a most kind and encouraging reader, whose knowledge of Plato is
so profound that I am truly thankful for the opportunity to have worked with
him. David Kovacs read my work with meticulous care, and the final part of
my fourth chapter is the direct result of a question that he raised after reading
my first draft. Finally, Coulter George was a very thorough reader and exception-
ally generous with his time.
Special thanks must go to Diskin Clay, Spyridon Rangos, and Voula Tsouna
for sending me their feedback on parts of my first two chapters, and to Mary Mar-
garet McCabe for kindly sharing with me a draft of a chapter from her forthcom-
ing book on the Euthydemus.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Christos Tsagalis, who has provided
me with invaluable guidance and support since my undergraduate years. He has
set a model for what a dedicated scholar and an inspiring teacher ought to be.
In my time in Virginia I also benefited from discussions with Stacie Thyrion
and Douglass Reed. Courtney Evans spent endless hours thinking through the
Euthydemus with me, and dealt with all things practical while I was in Athens;
but, most importantly, he has honored me with his friendship.
Finally, I wish to thank the editors of the series Untersuchungen zur antiken
Literatur und Geschichte for accepting my manuscript for publication, and es-
pecially Heinz-Gnther Nesselrath and Otto Zwierlein for sending me their com-
ments, as well as Katharina Legutke and Katja Brockmann at De Gruyter.

Georgia Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi
Athens, January 2014
Introduction 1

Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes 9

. The First Protreptic 10
.. The Initial List of Goods 11
.. The Argument on Good Fortune 14
.. Using the Goods 21
.. Using the Goods Rightly 23
.. Knowledge / Wisdom 26
.. Appendix: Conventional Goods as Potential Evils 26
.. The Relation between Virtue and Knowledge 28
.. Providers of Wisdom 35
.. Evaluation of the Argument: The Relation between Wisdom and
Happiness 36
.. Socrates the Sophist: Similarities between the Socratic
and Eristic Method 44
.. Conclusion: The Aim of the First Protreptic 47
. The Second Protreptic 48
.. Redefining Knowledge: Production and Use 48
.. Which Form of Knowledge? 51
.. Critos Intervention 56
.. The Art of Politics 57
.. A Note on Socrates Method 64
.. Conclusion 65

Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes 67

. The Individual Scenes 68
.. The First Eristic Scene 68
.. The Second Eristic Scene 72
.. The Third Eristic Scene 88
. The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 103
.. Forms and Recollection in the Third Eristic Scene 103
.. The Continuum 105
.. Two Eristic Assumptions 110
.. Back to the Continuum 119
X Contents

Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes 125

. Introductory Framing Scene 125
. Interruption 134
. Final Framing Scene 136
.. Socrates Speech of Praise 136
.. Crito as a Student 137
.. Crito and Socrates 138
.. Conclusion: The Contribution of the Final Scene 152

Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness 155

. The Primary Theme of Laughter 156
. The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 163
. The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 173
. The Theme of Laughter in the Framing Scenes 182
. Summary and Interpretation 185

Conclusion: Overall Interpretation 188

Appendix: The Structure of the Euthydemus 191

Works Cited 192

Index of Proper Names 200

Greek Works Cited 201

General Index 202

The aim of this book is to provide an analysis of Platos Euthydemus as a unified
piece of literature, taking into account both its dramatic and its philosophical
aspects. On the whole, the dialogue is one of the least studied of Platos
works, and the authors of the few book-length studies often feel the need to ac-
count for this lack of interest. Except for the sections of the dialogue in which
Socrates presents an argument on the pursuit of eudaimonia, the work seems
to have been largely ignored by philosophers because it includes little in
terms of positive Platonic doctrine. Classicists, moreover, have ignored it almost
completely, though its literary merits are quite substantial. Thus the Euthydemus
has become a bit of a stepchild of the Platonic corpus.
Contemporary students of philosophy often study Platos arguments in their
abstraction from the surrounding dialogue within which they are couched, and
frequently compare them with similarly abstracted arguments from other dia-
logues. Classicists, on the other hand, come to Plato primarily to study the
drama, dealing with the arguments almost in passing. There are, of course, ex-
ceptions, and the number of scholars sensitive to both aspects of the dialogues
is increasing. But the old tendency is still prevalent, and it is no coincidence. In
fact it seems to be a direct result of the way in which scholars are trained. Phi-
losophers are not trained to analyze literary texts; moreover, they do not study
Greek epic or comedy, for example, though both inform Platos work too heavily
to be bypassed. Classicists, on the other hand, are not trained to undertake the
rigorous logical analysis that substantial portions of the Platonic works require;
moreover, they tend to read primarily works of indisputably great literary merits
like the Symposium or the Phaedrus. So it seems that our academic training, due
to its division into separate fields with separate methodologies, gives us insuffi-
cient tools to work with Plato and this is reflected in the scholarship. Academia
is divided in a way that can hardly do justice to the founder of the Academy.
Since I am part of this academic tradition, my training as a classicist rather
than a philosopher will become amply clear. But the Platonic corpus calls for an
interdisciplinary approach, and paying too little attention to the arguments is
just as problematic as paying too little attention to the drama and the unity of
each dialogue. The present discussion of the Euthydemus attempts to do justice
to both. Hence it runs the risk of being received with hesitation by classicists,
who will find much here that will seem out of place in a purely literary analysis;
it runs the further risk of being received with skepticism by philosophers, who
will find much that goes against standard views and methods in Platonic inter-
pretation. But it seems to me that the combined efforts of our two fields are nec-
2 Introduction

essary for a proper understanding of the Platonic texts. So I look at the Euthyde-
mus as a piece of literature, studying its characters, themes, and language side
by side with its philosophical argument. Such a literary consideration not only
enhances, but is critical to an understanding of the philosophical import of
the work.
While this approach can prove useful for the interpretation of any Platonic
dialogue, I hold it to be particularly illuminating in the case of the Euthydemus.
There is little in this dialogue that constitutes philosophical doctrine, as ex-
pressed by Socrates, so that an approach focusing solely on its arguments
would leave us with much of the text in need of further interpretation. The de-
tailed description of the setting of the dialogue, the long framing scenes between
Socrates and Crito, the extensive characterization of the interlocutors and the
multiple references to their actions or reactions all point to the need for a literary
reading in tandem with a philosophical one. A dramatic approach can offer rea-
sons why the work progresses in the way that it does, shifting between different
interlocutors, and interpret actions or comments which, though apparently not
directly related to the philosophical argumentation, are included in the work
for a reason. A better understanding of the context in which the arguments
are situated contributes to our understanding of the arguments themselves; liter-
ary and philosophical analysis in fact go hand in hand to offer an interpretation
of the work as a whole.
The problem of Platonic interpretation arises from the fact that the dialogues
are complex, in the sense that they are neither pure philosophy systematically
expounded in the form of treatises, nor purely literary works, like 5th-century
tragedies or comedies. Their complexity is also due to the fact that they include
a lot of ambiguity, gaps in the argumentation, and contradictions that become
clear when certain arguments in one dialogue are read side by side with similar
ones in another. So the very nature of the dialogues calls for a methodological
approach different from the one we use to interpret philosophy after Plato.
But scholars have tended to approach Plato with a view to the identification
of a systematic doctrine, as in fact became central in scholarly debates of the
19th and 20th century.
Schleiermacher claimed that a system existed in Plato, and Zeller sought to
identify it. The geneticists, endorsing the stylometric analyses of the Platonic
texts, argued for a development in Platos thought that was leading towards a
system. But Shorey rejected the idea of a rigid system, arguing that unity was

Schleiermacher (1836) 5 19; Zeller (1844 52) 562 569.

See, for example, Hermann (1839).
Introduction 3

to be found in a general, less strictly defined Platonic worldview. The esoterists

sought to identify a system not in the Platonic writings but in the oral tradition
about Plato, as it is preserved for us in Aristotle and other writers. Tigerstedts
critical survey of the trends in Platonic interpretation pointed out flaws in earlier
approaches and suggested that, instead of a dogma, what we find in Plato is an
Most recently Bowen has argued that Platonic philosophy is in fact a method
intended to make the reader a philosopher by engaging him in thinking about
certain philosophical issues. It is unclear whether he thinks that Plato also
held certain firm beliefs, for his purpose is to shift the focus from the author
to the text and the reader. Roochniks criticism of Irwin in the same volume in-
dicates that he too, like Bowen, is in favor of an approach to Plato which inter-
prets the arguments in light of the context in which they are situated rather than
in isolation. Roochnik, in other words, calls for a return to the approach initi-
ated by Strauss, in which careful attention is paid to the dramatic action of
the dialogues.
Strauss adoption of the dramatic approach to Plato has found a number of
followers in the past couple of decades. Klein (1965), Hyland (1981), Rosen
(1983), Burger (1984), Stokes (1986), Desjardins (1988), Arieti (1991), Halperin
(1992), Clay (2000), Capra (2001), Weiss (1998; 2001), Blondell (2002), Penner
and Rowe (2005), Rowe (2007), Bensen Cain (2007), McCabe (2008), Zuckert
(2009) and others have voiced concerns about the purely analytical approach
to Plato, or have themselves opted for an analysis of the dialogues which
takes into account both philosophical and dramatic elements. Capras analysis
of the Protagoras, for example, focuses more on the drama than the philosophy;
Weisss interpretation of the Meno strikes, I think, a good balance between the
two; Penner and Rowes examination of the Lysis deals with the drama but
pays closer attention to the arguments. But despite their varying degrees of in-
corporating both argument and drama into the interpretation of a single dia-
logue, such works provide examples of the approach I had in mind in setting
out to interpret the Euthydemus.

Shorey (1903).
Tigerstedt (1977).
Bowen (1988).
Roochnik (1988) criticizes Irwins approach in Irwin (1977).
See Strauss (1964) 50 62.
Arieti in fact takes the drama to be more important than the philosophical arguments in Plato.
Similar views are expressed in Rowe (1993).
Zuckert (2009) 6 7.
4 Introduction

My specific interest has not been to identify what Plato held to be true, or if
he put forth a specific doctrine, but to understand what the text of Plato as we
have it is saying or implying. In the course of my analysis I have worked on a
number of assumptions. First, I have not attempted to establish consistency in
the views presented by Socrates across a number of dialogues. Instead I have
tried to stay as close to the text as possible, so that if Socrates appears to present
a view in the Euthydemus that is inconsistent with views he clearly endorses in
other dialogues and even if those other dialogues are commonly thought to be-
long together with the Euthydemus in the same group I have nevertheless ac-
cepted the inconsistency and tried to account for it in its context, rather than ex-
plain it away.
Consequently, I have been careful in the use of other dialogues employed to
illuminate the Euthydemus. If they provide parallels to reinforce views already
found in the Euthydemus, I cite them as appropriate. If, however, there are pas-
sages in other dialogues that contradict views expressed in the Euthydemus, I do
not attempt to provide a reading that makes the views consistent. I take it, in-
stead, that each dialogue must be read and understood in its own right before
it is compared with others. Consistency need not be assumed in principle or
forced on the texts.
Moreover, I have been careful with the application of the so-called principle
of charity. If Socrates appears to commit a fallacy, I have assumed that he does
not need to be shown to be doing otherwise. Dramatic or even philosophical pur-
poses may be served through the employment of such fallacies. The view that
the character Socrates will not have employed fallacious arguments is an as-
sumption on the part of the interpreter which runs the risk of misreading the
With these views as my starting points, I have attempted to offer a reading of
the Euthydemus as a whole and in its own right. It is of course impossible to
study the Platonic dialogues in complete isolation, for it is equally impossible
to deny the connections between them. But it is beyond the scope of this work

I in fact agree with Strauss (1964) 50 51 that this is hardly possible, given the dialogic form
of the Platonic works and the use of irony; cf. Strauss (2001) 5.
Cf. Blondell (2002) 6 on the hermeneutic primacy of the individual work, which is however
also examined subsequently in its larger context.
Cf. Frede (1992), who argues that the arguments put forth in the Platonic dialogues need not
be endorsed by their author [cf. Blondell (2002) 18 21], and that the very use of the dialogue
form is in fact intended to undermine the direct attribution of specific views to Plato [cf. Blondell
(2002) 39]; for an interesting discussion of the use of dialogue by other philosophers see Be-
versluis (2000) 21 26.
Introduction 5

to examine in full certain philosophical issues that come up in this dialogue by

studying those other dialogues in which they resurface. Other Platonic works are
cited and discussed only when this is thought crucial for an understanding of the

The dialogue is structured as follows: there is an opening and a closing scene,
which I call the framing scenes; in these Socrates engages in conversation
with his friend Crito. Embedded in this framing dialogue is a series of five
scenes, which I call the internal dialogue; in this section Socrates reports the
conversation he held the day before in the Lyceum with the young Cleinias,
his lover Ctesippus, and two brothers, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, who
claimed to teach virtue. The five scenes of the internal dialogue show the follow-
ing structure: A B A B A. The A-scenes are those in which the sophists take the
lead and address different interlocutors at different times. The B-scenes are
those in which Socrates takes over and discusses with Cleinias. The second
B-scene includes an intervention by Crito, through which the framing dialogue
returns to interrupt the embedded one.
The A-scenes I call eristic because the sophists practice the art of eristic
within them. The B-scenes I call protreptic because, taken together, they con-
stitute a protreptic, or exhortation, to wisdom and virtue. My analysis of the Eu-
thydemus does not follow the order of the scenes as they appear in the text. In-
stead, it groups together the scenes that thematically belong together. This has
the advantage of facilitating the discussion of connections between the scenes
that might otherwise go unnoticed. First, the protreptic scenes inevitably form
a continuum: they present the internal audience and the reader with a single ar-
gument, and the second protreptic scene explicitly claims to pick up from where
the first one left off. Next, the eristic scenes might initially appear disconnected,
but I argue for underlying connections between them in the relevant chapter; I
therefore study them together to facilitate the grasping of these connections. Fi-
nally, the framing scenes too, when taken together, show how the relation be-
tween Socrates and Crito evolves in the course of the dialogue.
Chapter 1 discusses the two protreptic scenes of the Euthydemus. In the first
scene Socrates sets out to determine how an individual may reach happiness. His
argument is commonly understood to suggest that eudaimonia is attained
through the wise use of assets, i. e. that both wisdom and assets are necessary.
I argue instead that Socrates maintains that wisdom alone is sufficient for hap-
piness. This view has been proposed before, but it has been defended in a differ-
ent way. Socrates adds that wisdom is attained through philosophy, and so he
implies that philosophy alone can lead to happiness. In the course of the argu-
6 Introduction

ment, an interesting view of the relation between wisdom and the virtues is pro-
posed, which has been largely ignored in the scholarship. I argue that, contrary
to what is commonly assumed, the first protreptic does not understand virtue as
identical to knowledge or wisdom.
In the second protreptic scene Socrates attempts to identify the sort of wis-
dom or knowledge that leads to happiness. Based on the first protreptic, this
must also be the object of philosophy. This form of knowledge is understood
as an art combining production and use; but the concept of production is com-
plex: it initially involves the production of the materials intended for use, but
subsequently refers to the production of a secondary product, after the materials
necessary for it have been used. The secondary product is not identified, but the
scene ends with hints that it will itself be a form of knowledge capable of making
people virtuous. Socrates appears side-tracked in this second protreptic: while
initially seeking the specific form of knowledge that leads to happiness, he
ends in aporia because he fails to determine not that specific form of knowledge,
but its product. I argue that the scene in fact implies that philosophy is the pro-
vider of that sort of knowledge (or wisdom) which transforms value-neutral
properties of the soul into actual virtues, and politics undertakes to transmit
that same virtue-related knowledge to others.
In the course of the examination of the arguments I pay careful attention to
the language Socrates employs, showing how his occasional expression of hesi-
tation, the use of narrative pauses, and other dramatic aspects of the dialogue
are in fact significant for the way the argument itself is to be interpreted. But
my discussion of the structure of the scenes or of character depiction is more lim-
ited, because the protreptic scenes themselves are not as rich in dramatic action
as the eristic ones.
Part of the argument of this chapter is that Socrates use of fallacy brings
him and his method alarmingly close to that of the sophists. This is not some-
thing to be downplayed but to be acknowledged, since it alerts the reader to
both the similarities and the differences between the two parties. Flawed argu-
ments put in the mouth of Socrates point to certain similarities between him
and the sophists, which are responsible for the conflation between them in cer-
tain peoples minds. With varying degrees of explicitness, both parties essentially
propose to educate the young by imparting virtue. And while the Socratic meth-
od aims at a much higher purpose than mere verbal combat, there are still points
of contact between Socrates and the sophists. Put a different way, Socratic phi-
losophy can combine playfulness with seriousness.
Chapter 2 turns to the eristic scenes. First, I study each scene in its own
right; I analyze their individual structures, and the way in which the structural
pattern develops from one scene to the next. I show that the first eristic scene
Introduction 7

uses doubling as a structuring principle, which is retained in the second but

abandoned in the third in favor of greater structural complexity. At the same
time, I illustrate the techniques employed by the sophists, such as the use of
questions in the form of binary oppositions, the latching on to the words of
an interlocutor, and the addition or removal of a qualifier. Further, I combine
an analysis of the sophistic arguments and their problems with the interpretation
of the characterization provided by the narrator of the sophists and their inter-
At the end of the chapter I turn from the discussion of each individual scene
to a reading of the three scenes as a continuum. I argue that, despite the fact that
the sophistic arguments verge toward the ridiculous, they can be read with a
view to the philosophical matters that underlie them, such as knowledge or
being, and then the three scenes appear to tell a continuous story. Moreover, I
show that the so-called fallacy of the excluded middle lies at the heart of
the eristic strategy in the Euthydemus but is also a common Socratic strategy
in the early dialogues. Hence, I argue, the attentive reader is invited to take note
of yet another similarity between Socrates and the sophists. Seen in this light,
not only does philosophy appear playful, but eristic too, in a sense, appears
to be quite serious: for, unbeknownst to the sophists themselves, their discourse
raises issues examined rather seriously in other Platonic dialogues.
Chapter 3 is a discussion of the framing scenes of the dialogue and also of
the part of the second protreptic scene in which the situation of the framing dia-
logue appears afresh. My main focus here is on the relationship between Socra-
tes and Crito. I argue that each man appears disingenuous to and withholds in-
formation from the other. A puzzle is set up for the reader, who is called upon to
interpret the ambiguity of their relationship. I propose that Socrates is ironic to
Crito in an attempt to engage him actively in the effort to distinguish between
eristic and philosophy; moreover, the fact that Crito, a close friend and long-
time associate of Socrates, fails to grasp the distinction illustrates the danger
that practitioners of philosophy run of being grossly misunderstood. The paral-
lels between the Euthydemus and Aristophanes Clouds underscore the danger
involved in persistent misconceptions about the true nature of philosophy.
In the later part of the chapter I argue that Critos unnamed man, generally
agreed to be Isocrates, is not out of place in this dialogue, because his introduc-
tion provides an example of a man who committed the very mistake that the Eu-
thydemus seeks to correct: he used the term philosophy to refer to two practi-
ces his own art of persuasion and the art of eristic that are radically different
from what the Platonic works suggest that their author understood under it. At
the end of the dialogue the question is left open: what is properly to be identified
as philosophy?
8 Introduction

Chapter 4 argues that two interconnected motifs run through the Euthyde-
mus, bringing the individual scenes together. These are the motifs of laughter
on the one hand, play and seriousness on the other. I first show that references
to both take place at structurally significant moments in the dialogue. I then
argue that there is a reversal in each motif, in the sense that the laughing or play-
ful group of the early part of the dialogue, the eristics and their followers, is re-
placed by the opposite group, the Socratics, in the later part. I propose an ex-
planation for this reversal, and then discuss the final occurrence of laughter
in the Euthydemus at some length. I conclude by arguing that the motifs high-
light and give an implicit response to a central question of the dialogue,
which is of great philosophical import: in what way are philosophy and eristic
serious or playful, and, in the final analysis, is philosophy, properly defined,
worthy of ridicule?
The conclusion ties the individual chapters together to suggest an answer to
this core question: what is the Euthydemus finally about? It seems like a joke, but
it is a rather long one. If Plato simply wished to give his readers a good laugh, he
could have done so in a much more succinct way. Laughter itself is not innocent
in the Euthydemus, and Platos philosophical comedy has rather serious implica-
tions. The joke turns out to be no joke at all, but a matter of life and death.
1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes
The internal dialogue of the Euthydemus can be divided into five scenes, in
which the sophists and Socrates alternate in questioning an interlocutor. The
scenes in which the sophists are center-stage, as it were, I call eristic, while
the ones in which Socrates takes over protreptic. So the internal dialogue
takes the following form: First Eristic Scene, First Protreptic Scene, Second Eris-
tic Scene, Second Protreptic Scene, Third Eristic Scene. The five-part structure
and the alternation between scenes of different sorts clearly recall the structure
of a drama specifically, of tragedy in which dialogic and choral episodes
But the structure of a tragedy is surprising for a dialogue typically under-
stood as comic; why should a comedy be molded into the formal shape of a trag-
edy? One of the main aims of this book is to show that the tension between the
serious and the comic is at the very heart of the Euthydemus and this accounts
also for the structure of the work. But things are not as simple as one might orig-
inally think: it is not the case that the protreptic scenes are straightforwardly se-
rious and the eristic comic; in fact I aim to show that the Euthydemus lies in the
borderland between tragedy and comedy in the same way that the sophists, but
also Socrates, are presented as both serious (or tragic) and playful (or comic)

For the text of the Euthydemus I have used Burnets critical edition. All translations are my
In so doing I am adopting the terminology employed by Chance (1992) and others. The eristic
scenes are identified as such because Socrates attributes eristic wisdom to the brothers
(272b9 10). The protreptic scenes are so called because they are meant to serve as models for
the sophists in their attempt to convince Cleinias of the importance of philosophy and virtue
(275a5 6). Jordan (1986) provides a useful discussion of four ancient protreptics and subse-
quently addresses the question whether one may speak of a protreptic genre; he notes that, aside
from the existence of protreptics not only to philosophy but also to other things, such as music,
there is great variety even within the more limited group of philosophic protreptic; it thus seems
that there were no established features characteristic of a protreptic genre, to which authors of
protreptics felt obliged to adhere. For a discussion of the protreptic function not only of the
explicit parainesis but also of the elenchus see Gaiser (1959) 28 32.
See Palpacelli (2009) 239 246; the observation can be traced at least as far back as Gifford
(1905) 10. Now if Plato is writing a drama, he may appear inconsistent, given his criticism of the
genre in other dialogues. But I agree with Halliwell (1992) 63 64 that drama can prove be-
neficial provided it portrays what is morally fine.
There is a similar combination of tragic and comic elements in the Symposium; see Bacon
(1959); for a more recent discussion see Wardy (2002) 18 36.
10 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

In this chapter I look at the two protreptic scenes, which together form an
exhortation to wisdom and virtue. I provide a close reading of both, followed
by an evaluation of the arguments. I argue that Socrates employs a number of
fallacies, which contribute to his depiction as a potentially playful character. It
is my methodological principle, in other words, that Socrates may use fallacy,
which need not be explained away, but examined and interpreted in its dramatic
Moreover, drama and argument are read together throughout. The two pro-
treptic scenes are much less rich in dramatic action and characterization than
the three eristic scenes discussed in the next chapter; unlike those, the protrep-
tics proceed in a sober and quiet manner. But there is still reason to discuss why
this particular argument is directed at this particular addressee, or why the sec-
ond protreptic is interrupted by the intervention of Crito.

1.1 The First Protreptic

In the first protreptic Socrates sets out to prove to Cleinias what the sophists
failed to prove in the immediately preceding eristic scene: that one ought to en-
gage in philosophy and care for virtue (275a6; cf. 278d2 3). For this purpose he
puts forth the following argument:
(a) everyone wishes to prosper ( )
(b) in order to prosper, one needs good things ()
(c) good fortune () is not one of these good things, because wisdom
(, 279d6) suffices to guarantee it
(d) the (remaining) good things must be beneficial
(e) in order for them to be beneficial, one has to use them
(f) in fact, one has to use them rightly

When the same claim is repeated at 281b3, the term knowledge is used instead of wis-
dom, following up on the earlier uses of this term (281a3, 281a5, 281b2) in the examples
Socrates employed to illustrate the point that knowledge guarantees correct use of assets. But
notice that we return to wisdom at 281b6. In fact knowledge is of something specific, whereas
wisdom need not be; the second term is often much broader in scope, indeed all-encompassing.
The definition of in the LSJ includes both specific skill, as in a particular craft, and
wisdom. It seems that Socrates uses the two terms interchangeably here, as in other dialogues.
In the Theaetetus he gives the following brief argument to support the view that wisdom and
knowledge are identical: one becomes wiser through wisdom; men are wise about the things
they know; so wisdom and knowledge must be the same (145d7 e7). For a brief discussion of
this passage and further cases listed in which Socrates equates wisdom to knowledge see Sedley
(2004) 19.
1.1 The First Protreptic 11

(g) in order to know how to use them rightly, one needs knowledge ()
(h) so the things initially identified as good now prove to be not good in them-
selves, but only when they are guided by knowledge; when guided by igno-
rance they are evils
(i) only knowledge is good in itself; the initial goods are reduced to mere assets
(j) since knowledge provides good fortune and the correct use of assets, one
should try to become as wise as possible
(k) to become wise, one needs philosophy

In what follows I draw out the implications of the argument outlined above. I
show that there are a number of flaws in it, which have been regularly down-
played or fully ignored in scholarship on the Euthydemus. I then propose a
way in which the relation between wisdom and virtue and between wisdom
and happiness should be understood in the present dialogue. Finally, I argue
that the employment of fallacy in the protreptic serves the purpose of highlight-
ing not only the differences, but also certain similarities between the Socratic
and the eristic methods: Socrates too can be playful in a way that is dangerously
reminiscent of the play of the two brothers.

1.1.1 The Initial List of Goods

The argument begins with Socrates and Cleinias agreeing that everyone wants to
fare well or be happy ( , 278e6). To achieve this, people need certain
good things (279a2 3). It thus appears necessary to determine what these good
things are. Socrates makes a number of suggestions, and a list of good things is
The things he chooses to propose fall under four general categories. The first
involves material goods, such as wealth (279a7). The second includes bodily
goods, such as health and beauty (279a8 b1). The third consists of social

For an analysis of the differences between the two methods see, for example, Scolnicov
(1981), Murray (1994), Benson (2000) 85 90. Further, for a discussion of the differences in
purpose, but also certain similarities in method between the two see Zeppi (1969) lxiii-lxxi; but
Zeppi (pp. lxxi-lxxix) views the fact that the protreptics of the Euthydemus end in aporia and
are therefore, like the arguments of the sophists, not constructive in any way as indicative of
Platos criticism of his teacher. For a list of similarities between the Socratic and the eristic
methods see Scolnicov (2013) 71 74.
On Socrates eudaimonism see Vlastos (1991) 203; cf. Irwin (1995) 52 55. For a different view,
see Devereux (2008) 158 n. 26; 161 n. 31.
12 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

goods: noble birth, power, and honors (279b2 3). The final category is that of the
virtues, or moral goods: temperance, justice, and courage (279b5).
Evidence from other Platonic dialogues suggests that the things here identi-
fied as good are only conventionally so. In the Gorgias, for example, Callicles ad-
vocates that, according to nature, it is more shameful to suffer injustice than to
commit it. In this context he adds that philosophy harms people when practiced
at an advanced age, and directly accuses Socrates of showing no proper care for
what actually matters in life: A, ,
(Gorg. 485e6 7). Callicles apotreptic echoes Socrates protreptic to philosophy
in the Euthydemus, where he urges the sophists to convince the young Cleinias
that it is necessary to philosophize and attend to virtue (
, Euthyd. 275a6). According to Callicles, philosophy
puts a man at risk of losing his property and civic rights (Gorg. 486b4 c2).
Wealth and civic rights, i. e. what men like Callicles consider most worth pursu-
ing in life, are represented on Socrates list under the categories of material and
social goods. But these are explicitly rejected by Socrates in the Gorgias: at
513e5 514a3 the philosopher argues for the priority of virtue, while money
and any form of power are considered of no benefit.
Similarly at Gorg. 523c5 6 Socrates begins a about the way judgment
is passed on the dead in the underworld. In the reign of Cronos, he says, those
reaching the realm of the dead were not judged properly, because judgment was
passed on them while still alive; hence their beauty, noble birth, and wealth in-
fluenced the judges, until Zeus diagnosed the problem and changed the policy
(cf. , they are clothed
in beautiful bodies and families and wealth, Gorg. 523c5 6). In this brief list
of things influencing the judges of the underworld we find examples of bodily,
social, and material goods, which correspond to the first three categories of
good things in the Euthydemus. Yet as we approach the end of the Gorgias, Soc-
rates explicitly rejects these honors of the many (526d5 6), placing ones in-
dividual goodness above everything else; virtue is all that matters.
So the Platonic reader familiar with other dialogues may at least suspect that
the initial list of good things of the Euthydemus is used by Socrates only as a
working hypothesis likely to be rejected as the dialogue progresses. The protrep-
tic of the Euthydemus is, in a sense, an example of elenchus in the manner of the

Lesses (2000) notes the conspicuous absence of friendship from the list. His effort to rein-
state it, however, relies too heavily on inferences based on other dialogues; but, as a matter of
fact, the Euthydemus has nothing at all to say about friendship in its relation to happiness.
Cf. also Apology 30a b, where Socrates speaks of his repeated attempts to convince his
fellow citizens to care not for their bodies or for wealth, but for their souls and virtue.
1.1 The First Protreptic 13

early Socratic dialogues: Cleinias supplies answers to Socrates questions which

initially appear reasonable but are subsequently put under philosophic
scrutiny. The original admissions will be shown to be inconsistent with views
agreed upon as the argument progresses.
The language Socrates uses in the case of the first three categories of good
things indicates that these appear to everyone to be obviously good; note
(for anyone would tell us 279a7), and
(are clearly good 279b3). But when it comes to the virtues, Socrates becomes
much more cautious, asking his interlocutor: , , ,
, , ;
; (By Zeus, Cleinias, do you think we
will regard them correctly if we regard them as good things, or if we do not?
For perhaps one might doubt us. But how does it seem to you? 279b5 8).
Socrates tests the waters, seeking to determine Cleinias predisposition to-
ward the virtues, while at the same time Plato provides a careful characterization
of the young man. Not everyone would immediately grant that the virtues are
good; there are, in fact, Socratic interlocutors in other dialogues who, more or
less explicitly, reject the value of certain virtues, with Callicles in the Gorgias
and Thrasymachus in the Republic being among the most outspoken. Thus Soc-
rates sets out to determine where Cleinias stands. If he is willing to grant that the
virtues are good things, then he is likely to be convinced by the protreptic; his
predisposition toward virtue will work in the philosophers favor. As soon as
the young man acknowledges that the virtues are to be regarded as good things,
Socrates gets the green light to proceed with his argument.
So he asks Cleinias what he thinks about wisdom, in fact expressing the
same hesitation as he did for the virtues. But Cleinias grants that wisdom too
is a good thing, and at this point the preliminary stage of the argument is con-
cluded. Wisdom is deliberately reserved for the climactic position on the list,
since it is that whose importance Socrates will single out in the remainder of
the argument.
When the list appears completed, Socrates asks Cleinias if there might be
some good thing they have forgotten to include. The young man cannot think
of anything. But Socrates unexpectedly claims that they have forgotten the great-
est of goods ( , 279c6), emphatically adding that it is
something which everyone, even the most common people, regard as such (
, , , 279c7 8): good

Cf. Hinrichs (1951).

14 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

fortune. We thus revert to Socrates earlier approach: he no longer asks Cleinias

with hesitation if he thinks the suggestion is valid, as he did in the case of the
virtues and wisdom, but instead presents it as a widely held view, as he did in
the case of the first three categories of good things.
The philosopher will target the common view on good fortune first, before
returning to attack equally widely held views about other categories of goods.
The pattern is clear: what he originally presents as obvious he will reject,
while what he presents as doubtful he will forcefully espouse. An element of
the Socratic method is illustrated here: the philosopher does not give out
much information at the outset. Instead he withholds it, attempting to elicit
Cleinias own views. Whether he shares them or not remains unclear for the mo-
ment. Socrates aim is not to disclose what he truly believes, but to determine
first, and then examine, what Cleinias, and with him the average Athenian, does.

1.1.2 The Argument on Good Fortune

Socrates now begins to dismantle the edifice he set up in the first part of his pro-
treptic by introducing an argument which undermines his last claim about the
role of good fortune in the pursuit of happiness: is truly necessary
for the person wishing to be happy, and should it therefore be included in the
list of good things? Socrates will argue that it should not, because wisdom suf-
fices to provide it.
The claim is far from obvious, and yet it is presented as such. When we think
of a wise man, we do not necessarily also consider him fortunate; but Socrates
suggests that everyone should laugh at him and Cleinias for failing to notice
the practical equivalence of good fortune and wisdom, and thereby proposing

Socrates comment can be understood as ironic here: it really does not amount to much if, of
all people, the meanest, commonest, or most thoughtless (all definitions of in the LSJ)
hold good fortune to be the greatest good. When Socrates says that even such people recognize
its prime importance, as if they were the ones to be taken into account above all else, he
undermines his own statement. But there is yet another possibility: while the mean and
thoughtless might not agree that the virtues are good, they do agree that good fortune is, and the
general agreement over the value of the latter testifies to its goodness.
Cf. Szlezk (1999) 12 17; for this practice specifically attested in the Euthydemus see Szlezk
(2000) 340; for the same practice in a different context see Hawtrey (1981) 122.
The actual term eudaimonia appears for the first time at 280b6 along with eu prattein, with
which it is used interchangeably from that point on (cf. 280b7, 280c6, 280d3, etc.). I translate
eudaimonia as happiness for convenience, but see Mikalson (2010) 7 8.
1.1 The First Protreptic 15

to add to the list of good things something that has already been included in it
under a different name.
Notice Socrates method: we first saw him listing things conventionally held
to be good without hesitation; when it later came to things like virtue and wis-
dom, he appeared more cautious. It would only seem natural, then, that he show
a fair amount of hesitation now, before making a rather controversial claim
about good fortune. Instead, he presents it as so obvious that it should raise
the laughter of the sophists, adding that even a child would know it is true,
and blaming Cleinias young age for his apparent ignorance (279d1 8).
Why has Socrates changed tactics? It was useful for him to show hesitation
when examining whether Cleinias possessed the appropriate predisposition to
accept a protreptic speech; but once this has been established, it is no longer ad-
visable to express doubt in attempting to construct a protreptic speech. The
phase of the argument identified as the working hypothesis has been concluded
upon completion of the list of good things, and the remaining argument, starting
with the section on good fortune, aims to discredit precisely these originally pro-
posed views.
Whereas in the case of the first three categories of good things also present-
ed as obvious Socrates supplied no argument, he now offers one:
(1) In successful flute-playing ( , 279e1), the flute-play-
ers are the most fortunate.
(2) In (successful) writing and reading, the grammarians are the most fortunate.
(3) In sea dangers the wise pilots are the most fortunate.
(4) A soldier partakes in danger and fortune () more willingly (, 279e7)
with a wise rather than with an ignorant general.
(5) A sick man is willingly (, 280a2) in danger with a wise rather than with
an ignorant doctor.
(6) So it is more fortunate to act ( , 280a4 5) under the
guidance of a wise rather than an ignorant person.
(7) So wisdom always makes people fortunate ( , 280a6).
For wisdom does not lead to mistakes, or it would not be wisdom.

The original thesis of the argument, at least at the face of it, is that good fortune is identical
to wisdom (279d6). But this is later transformed into the thesis that wisdom provides good
fortune (280a6; cf. 281b2 3, where knowledge is said to provide good fortune). On this see Reeve
(1989) 137 138; cf. McPherran (2005) 53 54.
Clearly, the earlier views were not backed by argument because they represented the com-
mon opinion of the average Athenian. The present view, on the other hand, is followed by
argument because it is very much the opposite of that.
16 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

The argument begins with the term , which is employed to describe suc-
cess in a proposed activity: in successful flute-playing, we are told, the experts in
it are the most fortunate. The way Socrates phrases his first premise inseparably
links the knowledge/wisdom of the expert to success and good fortune, though
no justification is offered for this connection. The problem lies in the assumption
that, thanks to the expertise, good fortune and success will necessarily follow.
Further, the use of the term suggests an obvious connection to -
, employed at the very beginning of the protreptic, when Socrates had sug-
gested that all men want to prosper (278e3). So a direct link is established be-
tween success in a particular task (e. g. flute-playing) and the likelihood of the
expert in it to achieve happiness. and the noun derived from it
seem to be used in two different senses, but Socrates is not explicit about it. Un-
less happiness is to be understood only in terms of success, this is an instance
of Socratic use of verbal ambiguity.

Tarrant (1995) 15 17 argues that in this passage means success rather than good
fortune, and that, when the term is understood in this way, the argument appears sound; in his
words, There is nothing contentious, unreasonable, or non-serious about Euthydemus 279c-
280a (p. 17); cf. Tarrant (2003) 21 for the same view. Yet if the term is taken to mean success, a
number of difficulties arise: first, what does mean? Despite the fact that it picks up on
the earlier , it cannot simply mean happiness, because then the first premise of the
argument will run in achieving happiness with regard to flute-playing the flute-players are the
most successful, but happiness in flute-playing makes little sense. must mean
success, and so, following Tarrant, the first premise will run in successful flute-playing, the
flute-players are the most successful. This seems problematic, because two distinct terms in the
Greek (, ) are equated, and the statement sounds tautologous. Moreover, it is
clear that when Socrates introduces as an obvious and in fact the greatest good, he
clearly means it in the sense of good fortune. So even if it could be shown that the argument is
sound when is understood as success, Socrates would still be trading on the ambi-
guity of the term. Reshotko (2006) 142 148 does allow that Socrates here uses the term in two
different senses, but she favors success in her final interpretation of the argument (p. 148):
We are left with the statement that those who are wise are more successful than those who are
not (my emphasis). I argue below that Socrates in fact makes a much stronger claim than this
Dimas (2002) argues that Socrates conceives of happiness in terms of success. For his
Socrates what makes us happy is simply doing the right thing and in the right way in all our
actions (p. 21). He admits, however, that the Euthydemus does not make clear whether the
psychological aspect of happiness, rather than mere success in ones endeavors, is included in
Socrates concept of it (pp. 21 22). So he suggests that the proper deployment of ones practical
reason could be thought plausibly to be the source of supreme contentment, subtle perhaps, but
sufficient to ease the worry that this view is too offensive to common sense (p. 22).
Cf. Bensen Cain (2007) 72 74, who admits the ambiguity, and also cites examples of its
employment in other dialogues.
1.1 The First Protreptic 17

In premise 2 the term is understood. Premises 1 and 2 in fact make

the same point: in two specific, well-defined tasks, the people bringing the best
results because of their expertise are said to be the most fortunate, but no justi-
fication is given as to why expertise and good fortune must go together. In reality
expertise could justify the success (up to a certain point), but not necessarily the
good fortune of the agent.
In essence, it is the possession of a craft which is said to guarantee good for-
tune. But how are we to understand that a person is most fortunate when in pos-
session of a skill? When someone knows something, as a flute-player knows
flute-playing, or a grammarian reading and writing, he is certainly likely to
bring about good results (); but this is arbitrarily taken to mean that
such experts will also be most fortunate in successful flute-playing, reading, or
writing. Is it actually true that an expert in something is in a position always
to bring about the best results, regardless of fortune?
Consider this example: a man experienced in running is more likely to prove
to be the best in a competition with inexperienced runners. But is he in a posi-
tion completely to eliminate the role of fortune? One can imagine a situation in
which, during the competition, a rock falls off a mountain and hits the expert
runner on the leg. In this case he will fail to be the most successful among
his competitors, despite his knowledge; fortune can still affect the outcome of
his endeavors. But Socrates makes no mention of such possibilities. While he
could have argued that knowledge makes it more likely for its possessor to be
successful in his undertakings, he rather pushes for the complete elimination
of the role of fortune; the experts are described as .
The first two premises already take as a given what Socrates in fact ought to
prove, that success in something solely depends on expert knowledge and not on
fortune. Socrates simply mentions a few particular cases in which he assumes
that expertise leads to good fortune and success, presents them as premises,
and then draws a general conclusion. The argument is an example of the fallacy
known as petitio principii, or begging the question.

Note, however, that the factor influencing the outcome of the race is not related to running
itself. As far as running alone is concerned, and with all external factors potentially influencing
it aside, wisdom will bring about success. If the runner also had wisdom concerning mountain
rocks, he could prevent the accident and turn out to be successful. So in a state of perfect
wisdom all possible factors could be taken into account and success guaranteed. Yet to prove
that absolute wisdom would ensure absolute good fortune one would need to make the further
assumption that knowledge of all factors will be accompanied by the power or ability to control
18 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

With premise 3 the argument changes slightly. First, the idea of danger is in-
troduced; sea dangers, battles, and diseases the objects of premises 3 through
5 all involve high risk, and therefore fortune is likely to play a greater role in
them than in flute-playing, reading or writing. But yet another new element is
introduced by this premise: it is no longer simply the expert who is said to be
the most fortunate in successfully accomplishing a task within his field, but
the wise expert. This could suggest that there are different levels of knowledge
among the experts; some sea pilots are better than others, even though all of
them are sea pilots. Socrates goes on to contrast two specific cases. In premise
4 the wise expert is juxtaposed to the ignorant one.
This juxtaposition recalls the practice of the sophists who in the immediately
preceding first eristic scene admitted of only two possible cognitive statuses: full
knowledge or complete ignorance. They started out by asking Cleinias whether
the wise or the ignorant man learns, not taking into account that people are
often in a state between complete ignorance and absolute knowledge. For exam-
ple they may have some basic knowledge of mathematics and then build on it.
The same assumption underlies the question of the second set of arguments
in that scene: the sophists ask whether a man learns what he knows or what he
does not know. In reality a man may know, for example, some mathematics, but
need not be the absolute expert in it; so when he is in the process of learning, he
in one sense learns what he already knows, but in another what he does not
know, i. e. things with which he was previously unfamiliar, yet pertaining to
the same field of knowledge. Socrates appears to argue here in a way that is rem-
iniscent of his eristic opponents.
In premises 4 and 5 there is yet another shift in the argument. Socrates no
longer talks about the man in possession of knowledge (such as the flute-player,
the grammarian, or the sea pilot) but another man entrusting himself to the ex-
pert on account of his knowledge. So in premise 4 the soldier entrusts himself to
a wise general, and he does this more willingly than if he had entrusted himself
to an ignorant one. Similarly, in premise 5, the patient entrusts himself to a wise
doctor, and he does this (simply) willingly, which he would not do if he had en-
trusted himself to an ignorant doctor.
It follows from these last two premises that one person may not be able to
guarantee his own good fortune, but may have to rely on the guidance of some-
one else who possesses knowledge. I shall call the former the follower, the latter

Diotima identifies a similar flaw in Socrates reasoning in the Symposium (201e 202a),
pointing out to him that there are indeed intermediate states between beauty and ugliness, or
wisdom and ignorance. I return to this point in the following chapter.
1.1 The First Protreptic 19

the expert. It may be inferred that the relation between them in the pursuit of
happiness, as envisioned by Socrates, is one of interdependence. Yet there is
no explicit reference to the good fortune of the follower. Instead, reference is
made to the fact that he will be content to submit himself to the expert; notice
the terms / employed here for the first time. The implication
seems to be that he cannot be the most fortunate, for this state of absolute
good fortune is reserved only for the possessor of knowledge. But the follower
should at least submit himself more willingly to the guidance of a wise expert,
and apparently enjoy more good fortune than he would otherwise.
Is this actually true? Consider the case of a sick man who has entrusted him-
self to a wise doctor. He will be willing to be treated by such a doctor, who is
indeed more likely to be successful compared to an ignorant one. But how
does the doctors knowledge actually relate to good fortune? A great earthquake
could take place exactly at the moment that the wise doctor is operating on his
patient. It is thus conceivable that the wise doctor might be prevented from suc-
cessfully treating the patient through a chance event over which he has no con-
trol. In other words, the wisdom of the doctor may prove insufficient to eliminate
the role of fortune. Wisdom is indeed more likely than ignorance to lead the ex-
pert and his follower to success; but fortune can still influence the outcome.
Socrates conclusion follows [cf. (6) above]: one has better fortune (-
, 280a4 5) under the guidance of a wise rather than an ig-
norant expert. Through a process of epagoge, the expert in a particular branch of
knowledge, as described in the premises, is now replaced by the expert (or wise
man) without qualification.
An even more general concluding statement follows in (7): -
(so in every case wisdom makes people fortunate. For wisdom surely would
never err in any respect, but will necessarily act correctly and reach the goal; oth-
erwise it would no longer be wisdom, 280a6 8). Thus far things had been stat-
ed in relative terms: wisdom was said to guarantee more fortune than ignorance
would. But (7) transforms a relative claim to an absolute one: wisdom does not
simply guarantee better fortune (which could amount to less bad fortune), but
good fortune in general.
Perfect wisdom is indeed error-free. But given the human limitations, it is
also unattainable. Moreover, even in an ideal situation in which one would
have absolute knowledge, one would still lack the ability to control every single
factor likely to thwart ones efforts. Lack of error, then, does not guarantee suc-
cess except to the extent that the wise agent deals with things within his control,
20 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

while fortune determines those factors which lie precisely beyond it. While wis-
dom can eliminate a fair number of factors likely to prevent one from being suc-
cessful in his endeavors, a stroke of bad luck can still render him unable to ach-
ieve success in every case (, 280a6), and the wise man remains liable to
the whims of fortune. Yet Socrates clearly wants to deny unpredictability. He
takes an extreme view on the relation between wisdom and good fortune, seek-
ing to present the pursuit of happiness as lying entirely within control of the in-
dividual. Notice that the conflation between the two senses of allows
for further confusion: success in an endeavor depends on fortune, while happi-
ness need not. For example a student who fails a test will not be considered suc-
cessful in this particular task, but he may still be able to preserve the same levels
of happiness as he would if he had passed.
Had the argument been made only in relative terms (the wise man is more
likely to succeed than the ignorant), it would be sound. But Socrates pushes for
the extreme view, both at 280a6, discussed above, and when he restates his con-
clusion at 281b2 3: , , -

Cf. Irwin (1995) 55 56. For McPherran (2005), there are things lying beyond control of the
individual, but in Socrates view these are not determined by pure luck but by divine providence.
Although his argument is attractive, he does not account for his assumption that, for Socrates,
and the divine are equated. On p. 50 he cites evidence from the framing dialogue of the
Euthydemus to suggest that fortune is introduced already there, before the fortune argument,
and is meant to inform our reading of that. But in fact all the passages he mentions speak of the
divine and of god-sent things without ever equating them to fortune.
Jones (2010) 76 understands Socrates claim in a different way: wisdom is good fortune in
the sense that it provides whatever good fortune is possible given the circumstances. Jones
reaches this conclusion by arguing that cannot mean good fortune in a sense that
includes things beyond control of the individual, for (a) Socrates argument on good fortune is
placed within a protreptic, which is meant by definition to urge someone to pursue a certain
goal, yet nothing beyond ones control can be actively pursued (pp. 70 71); (b) if means
good luck also in the case of things beyond ones control, then it is a strange claim, with which
Socrates and Cleinias would not so readily agree (p. 75). But both of these points fail to pay due
attention to the literary aspect of the dialogue. First, the aim of persuasion may still be achieved
by means of bad arguments, and Cleinias is still urged to pursue wisdom when he is shown that
it will guarantee good fortune, even when the latter claim is not true. Second, the fact that
Socrates and Cleinias readily agree that wisdom guarantees good fortune is no proof that the
claim must be true; it may well be a literary device meant to suggest something about Socrates
method and Cleinias low resistance to intellectual manipulation.
Interestingly, if we understand in the sense of happiness rather than success,
Socrates point matches the conclusions of modern psychology: according to Haidt (2006) ch. 7,
people are able to adapt to unfavorable circumstances even after severe strokes of bad luck,
always returning to their average levels of happiness. So the influence of fortune on overall
happiness is thought to be minimal, if not practically eliminated.
1.1 The First Protreptic 21

(so knowledge, it
seems, provides people not only with good fortune but also with success in
every possession and action). The philosopher is explicit: when one possesses
wisdom, there is no need for good fortune.
However, Socrates shows awareness of the fact that he is pushing the argu-
ment too far. At 280b1 3 he on the one hand advocates the extreme position that
good fortune is completely unnecessary for happiness when wisdom is present,
but on the other hints at the fact that the argument he has provided is inade-
quate to prove his claim:
, , ,
. (We agreed at the end somehow that on the whole things are this way,
that when wisdom is present, to whomever it might be present, there is no need
for good fortune). The implications of this statement are discussed in the penul-
timate section of my analysis of the first protreptic.

1.1.3 Using the Goods

So far it has been established in the eyes of Cleinias that good fortune is not nec-
essary for happiness, because wisdom suffices to provide it. Socrates now re-
turns to the initial argumentative thread and summarizes: happiness requires
the possession of good things (280b5 6); this is the first time in the protreptic
that Socrates uses the term to refer to happiness, employing it
side by side with , the phrase consistently used for the same purpose
so far.
Socrates and Cleinias have already identified the good things necessary for
happiness. If the original claim (at 279a2 3; cf. 280b5 6), according to which
happiness arose from the mere possession of goods, were to hold, then the
way to achieve it would have already been identified. But Socrates now changes
his original position, arguing that the good things listed result in happiness only
when people draw some benefit from them; and if they must be used in order to

Brickhouse and Smith (1994) 134 appear not to take this argument into account when they
argue that though virtue is not sufficient for happiness, it does provide its possessor the ability
to transform all potential (dependent) goods into actual goods. It cannot by itself ensure hap-
piness, for catastrophes can befall even the virtuous person, so as to prevent him or her from
being able to make this transformation (my emphasis). This interpretation is inconsistent with
what I take Socrates to claim in the present argument.
Cf. Erler (1987) 224 225; Russell (2005) 42.
In defense of an alternative reading of the text here see Hawtrey (1977).
22 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

be beneficial, it is reasonable to ask whether the sorts of good things already list-
ed can actually be used.
Consider the material goods first. Can they be used, and is their use neces-
sary for benefiting from them? A person possessing a car, for example, needs to
drive it in order to benefit from it by not having to walk home from work in the
middle of a cold, rainy day. If he did not drive it, he would draw no obvious ben-
efit from the mere possession of it. Socrates claim about use applies well to ma-
terial goods.
Now consider the bodily goods which follow on Socrates list, such as health
and beauty. Can and must they be used in order to be beneficial? There is no ob-
vious way in which one can use health, for example, unless we understand it in a
loose sense, referring to the healthy body. That can be used to allow one to be
functional in everyday life. But the mere possession of a healthy body seems
beneficial in itself; even without use, its healthy condition benefits one through,
say, the absence of pain following disease. Yet in this context health is apparent-
ly viewed differently, as something which must be used if one is to draw any ben-
efit from it.
The social goods follow on the list. Can one use his noble birth, power, or
honors in pursuing happiness? Again use needs to be understood loosely: one
could use his noble birth and power in the city to achieve a personal goal, for
example, though this kind of use is quite different from the physical use of a ma-
terial good. Are social goods beneficial when not used, or is their use necessary?
One could argue that the mere possession of power suffices to provide the indi-
vidual with a sense of self-accomplishment, but even that can be understood as
use in a loose sense.
Next on the list Socrates has mentioned temperance, justice, and courage. It
seems that such virtues indeed become beneficial when the individual acts in ac-
cordance with them, and so their use can be understood to consist in virtuous
action. Finally wisdom is beneficial when one uses it to direct his actions,
while it is unclear how its mere possession could actually benefit the wise per-

For Brickhouse and Smith (2000) wisdom which they treat as identical to virtue not only
guarantees the proper use of things, thereby making them good, but also produces good things;
this interpretation, which I find unlikely at least in the case of the first protreptic of the Eu-
thydemus, is defended primarily in order to establish consistency with Apology 30a7 b4.
On the role of the goods in increasing activity in the agent see Dimas (2002) 15 17; his
argument can be used in support of Brickhouse and Smith (1994) 105, who understand Socratic
happiness to consist in virtuous activity.
1.1 The First Protreptic 23

son. Again, the use is obviously not physical, but consists in the application of
knowledge in guiding the activity of the wise agent.
So, all good things listed in the first section of the protreptic can be under-
stood as requiring use in order to prove beneficial. Notice, however, that the ex-
amples Socrates employs to illustrate his point involve only material goods
(280c1 d7): food, drink, or a craftsmans necessaries. The same is true of his
summary reference to the categories of good things when these examples are
concluded, in which he mentions wealth and all the good things of which we
were just now speaking (280d2). In this way he conveniently avoids discussing
in detail non-material goods, which fit less comfortably with the idea of use.
Such details are deemed unnecessary because, in introducing the need for use
of the goods, Socrates merely wants to make the further point, as will soon be-
come clear, that the conventional goods are not good in themselves. In this way
he can discredit them in the same way that he discredited good fortune just

1.1.4 Using the Goods Rightly

Once Socrates has established the need to use the good things, he qualifies: such
things must be used rightly. What rightly means does not get sufficiently ex-
plained in the present dialogue. But let us again examine whether right and
wrong use are applicable to all the categories of good things listed in the begin-
ning of the argument.
Material goods such as a carpenters tools can be used rightly, say, to pro-
duce a good, functional table, or wrongly to produce a bad, dysfunctional
one. How health and other bodily goods can be used rightly or wrongly is less
clear. Presumably right and wrong use are determined by their products, as
was the case with material goods. So if the product of the use of a healthy
body is good, then the use is right, otherwise wrong. Similarly in the case of so-
cial goods the implication must be that they can be used rightly to bring about
something good, or wrongly to bring about something bad. In all cases the right
use of a thing seems to be determined by its outcome, or product, and the fact

It seems that the Greek itself does not indicate strictly the conscious manipulation
of an instrument to perform a particular function, but can also convey the concept of use more
loosely in the sense of having dealings with, administering, treating etc. On the non-literal
use of the term in the Euthydemus see also Russell (2005) 28 29.
Cf. Roochnik (1990 91), who finds this premise particularly problematic.
24 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

that this is the criterion for right use employed in the second protreptic supports
this interpretation.
If the effort to accommodate Socrates claim about the right use of the first
three categories of good things can prove successful, the issue becomes more
complex when we turn to the virtues. What does it mean to use temperance, jus-
tice, or courage rightly? Earlier we assumed that the use of a given virtue consists
in action in accordance with it. But how can virtues be used wrongly, i. e. how
can virtuous actions be their bad products? If one possesses justice as a charac-
ter quality, he will act justly, and this seems to be the only possible (and right)
use of the virtue in his possession.
One explanation might be to assume that, in the context of a protreptic argu-
ment, Socrates is expressing not his own view but a commonly held one about
the possibility of misusing the virtues. Consider the following example: a crim-
inal may lack justice but still be thought to possess courage, which he may then
use to accomplish more successfully his evil projects. In this case courage will be
used wrongly, i. e. for the wrong reasons.
Yet we have already seen (and we will see further below) that Socrates pres-
ents conventional views about the goods in this argument only to discredit them
later. The fact that the possibility of misusing the virtues is never corrected in the
course of the argument suggests that a different explanation may be called for.
Consider this possibility: the virtues may be regarded as such only when guided
by wisdom, otherwise they are properly described not as actual virtues, but as
inferior forms of them. Support for such an interpretation comes from the
Meno, where Socrates presents an argument about the relation between virtue
and knowledge that bears significant similarities to the present one in the Euthy-
In that dialogue, Socrates and Meno start out by seeking a definition of vir-
tue, but they end in puzzlement; thereupon Meno asks how it is ever possible for
one to determine what he is looking for or that he has found it, if he does not
know anything about the object of his search; in response Socrates, posing ques-
tions to Menos slave-boy, demonstrates that even if one does not have full
knowledge of something, a process of question and answer helps him recollect
and reach the correct conclusion; so even if Socrates and Meno do not know al-
ready what virtue consists in, they can start from the working hypothesis that it
is a form of knowledge, and therefore teachable.

Cf. 292a7 12 on the product of an art being useful because it produces something good.
A view of this sort is presented at Protag. 349d, where Protagoras argues that it is possible for
a man to lack justice, piety, temperance and knowledge but still be courageous. Socrates goes on
to doubt this view, showing that what Protagoras terms courage is in fact mere boldness.
1.1 The First Protreptic 25

To explore this hypothesis, the following argument is presented: convention-

al goods are sometimes beneficial, sometimes harmful, depending on the way in
which they are used; similarly, goods of the soul may turn out to be harmful if
used without sense (). In this context Socrates cites the example of courage:
when not guided by sense, it is merely a sort of boldness which proves harmful
(Meno 88b3 c3). So the properties of the soul must be guided by wisdom rather
than folly to prove beneficial.
The overall significance of this argument of the Meno for the Euthydemus I
return to discuss below, once the analysis of the argument of the first protreptic
is completed. But for my present purposes it suffices to show how the Meno may
provide an explanation for the claim of the Euthydemus that the virtues can be
used both rightly and wrongly: in the Meno courage, when it is understood as a
sort of boldness, is said to be beneficial or harmful, depending on whether wis-
dom guides it or not (88b3 c4). But the virtues are said to be always beneficial
(87d8 e4). Then the implication must be that courage only counts as a virtue if it
is boldness led by wisdom, otherwise it does not; boldness is a quality of the soul
potentially beneficial or harmful, which may only count as a virtue when guided
by wisdom. Note that the Meno does not call courage a virtue, but lists it among
other qualities of the soul (88a6 b1), which are neither beneficial nor harmful in
and of themselves (88c6 7); similarly the Euthydemus refrains from using the
general term virtue to describe qualities such as courage (279b4 7;
cf. 281c6 7). So then the accounts of the Euthydemus and the Meno are consis-
tent in this respect: in both the so-called virtues are not virtues in the proper
sense, i. e. good and beneficial, unless guided by wisdom. When not guided by
wisdom, properties of the soul like courage (properly called boldness in this
case) may indeed be misused.
Immediately after making the claim about the right use of ones good things,
Socrates adds that not using them rightly is bad, while not using them at all is
indifferent. For example, if a carpenter possesses tools and uses them wrongly,
he may cut himself; if he does not use them at all, he will not draw benefit from
the use by producing a table, but he will at least not harm himself. So no use
indeed proves to be neither good nor bad. Similarly in the cases of bodily and
social goods we saw that right use amounted to the production of something
good, while wrong use consisted in the production of something bad. In these
cases too, therefore, it is reasonable that no use whatsoever will prove to be nei-
ther good nor bad. Finally in the case of the virtues rash action as the inferior
form of a truly courageous action, for example, is viewed as worse than no ac-
tion. What the inferior form of virtues other than courage might be is not indicat-
ed here.
26 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

1.1.5 Knowledge / Wisdom

The right use of good things requires . So, Socrates concludes, knowl-
edge of the proper use of ones goods is necessary for ones success or happiness
(, 281b2 4). Since no good things can be beneficial without knowledge
of their proper use (281b5 6), wisdom, originally included among the good
things, is now clearly because of its relation to knowledge set apart from
them and regarded as the condition on which the goodness of the remaining
goods depends in order for them to be beneficial.
Socrates discredits the general view that one needs many good things to be
happy, and argues instead that none of the things conventionally regarded as
good deserves to be called that without the presence of wisdom. The non-mate-
rial goods did not fit well with the idea of correct use, but the introduction of the
very concept of use was necessary to allow Socrates to bring in and emphasize
the central role of wisdom in the pursuit of happiness.

1.1.6 Appendix: Conventional Goods as Potential Evils

At least one of the two points Socrates set out to prove has been shown to be
true: it has been demonstrated that philosophy, or the love of wisdom, is a
worthwhile pursuit. Now Socrates poses a new question: is it better for someone
to own many things and do many things when lacking intelligence, or to have
few things and do few things but have intelligence? In response to this, Socra-
tes presents the following argument:

(a) A man doing fewer things makes fewer mistakes.

(b) A man making fewer mistakes is less unsuccessful.
(c) A man who is less unsuccessful is less miserable.

A man possessing few things and doing few things (i. e. using his few things on
few occasions) is indeed likely to make few mistakes; he has few opportunities to
err, whereas the possibility of error would be higher if he possessed many things
and engaged in many activities. What is left unspoken, however, is that the same
person has equally few opportunities to act correctly and be successful. Socrates

Socrates shifts from wisdom to the newly introduced term or intelligence. This term
is used in the context of essentially the same argument in the Meno (see, e. g., 88b5); for a
discussion of the connection, see below.
1.1 The First Protreptic 27

does not take into account that minimal activity reduces the possibility not only
of error and wretchedness, but also of correct action, success, and happiness. In
other words, a person can be unsuccessful both when he errs and when he does
nothing to succeed. But an unwise man would still be better off with few assets,
since many would cause him greater harm.
Now a man less unsuccessful is indeed less miserable. But the problem of
premise (a) also applies here: is one more unsuccessful when he makes few mis-
takes, or when he does nothing which would offer him the possibility of succeed-
ing? Socrates answer would be that to err is worse than to refrain from any sort
of action, since using ones assets wrongly was earlier (280e5 281a1) said to be
worse than not using them at all.
Upon conclusion of the argument Socrates lists examples of cases in which a
person has and does few things: a poor man, a sick one, a man without honors, a
coward, an idle one, a slow one, and finally one who does not see or hear well.
This list initially follows the order in which good things are mentioned in the be-
ginning of the protreptic: the poor man corresponds to the first category of ma-
terial goods, since it is wealth which he lacks; similarly the sick man corresponds
to the category of bodily goods which had come second; the man without honors
corresponds to the social goods; and the coward to the virtues. By this point Soc-
rates has already given an example of each category of things earlier considered
good and has rejected them, finding their opposites preferable in the case that
wisdom is lacking. He continues with three more examples the idle, the
slow, and the physically impaired which appear merely to elaborate on the
point already made without following a specific order. This new list of conven-
tionally bad things here presented as preferable to conventionally good ones
serves to discredit the value of the previously listed goods by presenting even
their opposites as better than those. The earlier goods are now viewed merely
as conditional goods, therefore not good just by themselves, but only if guided
by wisdom, and potentially worse than things commonly regarded as evil.
The fact that wisdom is necessary for happiness had already been sufficient-
ly proved when Socrates showed that it alone was in a position to direct the right
use of good things. Then what does this appendix accomplish? Socrates clearly
wants to do more in this protreptic than simply prove that wisdom is necessary
for happiness; he wants to devalue the things commonly held to be good, just as
he rejected good fortune before. This final argument illustrates the danger in-
volved in possessing assets without wisdom, which not only guarantees happi-

Cf. Ferejohn (1984) 110; Reshotko (2006) 100 101 terms them neither-good-nor-bad and
defends their actually being so.
28 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

ness but also saves from wretchedness. The conventional goods, on the other
hand, are not only inferior to wisdom, but in fact harmful without it.

1.1.7 The Relation between Virtue and Knowledge

Socrates is now in a position to generalize: all things previously identified as

good can no longer be viewed as such in themselves ( ,
281d4 5). If they are guided by ignorance, they are worse evils than the evils
opposite to them: , ,
(if ignorance guides them,
they are worse evils than their opposites, to the extent that they are more capable
of serving their leader who is bad 281d6 7). So, for example, wealth will be
worse than poverty if guided by ignorance, health worse than disease, and so on.
The phrase slips into the argument almost imperceptibly. Who is
the leader here, and why is he/it said to be bad? The participle , with
which agrees, refers back to the verb of the conditional clause; so the bad
leader must be ignorance itself, or the ignorant agent. Dimas argues for igno-
rance, but is not in the feminine to match the noun . So I
am inclined to assume that Socrates here speaks of the agent. He first identifies
him as ignorant, and then adds without further ado that he is also evil.
On this reading of the text, a man lacking knowledge is bad, and it is better
for him not to possess many assets, because they will in fact turn out to be major
evils for him. The phrase appears to equate ignorance to evil (or vice), and so
wisdom to virtue. Yet the relation of wisdom to virtue is a complicated issue
in the Euthydemus. If the ignorant person is viewed as morally bad, there are
two possible explanations. It is either assumed that virtue (as a whole) is a
form of knowledge, so that when someone lacks it, he must by definition also
lack virtue and therefore be bad; or virtue depends on knowledge, so that
when someone lacks it, he cannot possess virtue either. In other words, the re-
lation between virtue and knowledge need not be one of identity, but of neces-
sity. One can acquire virtue if and only if one possesses wisdom; or wisdom is a
necessary condition for virtue.
A number of Platonic dialogues, the so-called Socratic ones, suggest that
virtue is a form of knowledge. For this reason scholars quite commonly assume

Cf. Dimas (2002) 17.

For Socrates intellectualist approach to the virtues and the related question of the Unity of
the Virtues see, for example, Irwin (1995) 38 44; Devereux (2008) 140 and 150 n. 14 with further
1.1 The First Protreptic 29

that this is the case also in the Euthydemus. Often no further argument in sup-
port of this view is presented except that this is the standard way in which the
relation between virtue and knowledge is understood in the early dialogues.
Compare Annas: Strictly speaking, the Euthydemus passage is not about virtue,
but about knowledge or wisdom. However, it has never been in doubt that the
wisdom being considered here is to be identified with virtue as Socrates under-
stands it. This is made clear in any case by Meno 87c 89a, where virtue is iden-
tified with knowledge. I argue instead that, in the present dialogue, the rela-
tionship between wisdom and virtue is different, i. e. that wisdom is necessary
for but not identical with virtue, and that evidence for this is interspersed
throughout the early part of the Euthydemus.
First, at 275a6, the purpose of the conversation with the sophists is deter-
mined: Cleinias is to be persuaded to philosophize (i. e. to pursue wisdom)

Wilamowitz (1919) 237, Guthrie (1975) 280, Strauss (1983) 72, Vlastos (1991) 216, Annas (1993),
Brickhouse and Smith (1994), Reshotko (2001) 326 32, Dimas (2002) 2 3, and Devereux (2008)
156 all assume or argue for the identity thesis. Schleiermacher (1836) 221 views the identity
thesis as equivalent to the one I argue for, since he first suggests that the search after wisdom
and the diligent endeavour to attain virtue are laid down as identical but then speaks of virtue
and statesmanship which proceed from wisdom (my emphasis). Sprague (1962) 12 takes no clear
position on the matter, though she appears inclined to adopt the identity thesis. Ferejohn (1984)
and Irwin (1995) 60 distinguish between wisdom and virtue. Brickhouse and Smith (2010) 173
still hold the identity view (cf. n. 20, where they point to their discussion of the unity of the
The assumption that what is true of the early dialogues must be true of the Euthydemus is
itself problematic, given that it is by no means clear whether this dialogue too belongs to the
early period; Annas (1993) 62 mentions the possibility that it may be written after the Republic,
and McCabe (2002a) argues extensively for this dating of the dialogue. Moreover, Brandwood
(1990) 252 notes that in the Euthydemus there are stylistic features suggesting proximity to the
later works of Plato. Note also that even Penner, who argues for the identity of the virtues on the
grounds that they all consist in knowledge of good and evil, explicitly denies that his inter-
pretation applies to the Euthydemus; see Penner (1999) 84 with his n. 11. Ausland (2000) argues
against the emphasis on chronology in general; his argument relies heavily on the point that
certain themes recurrent in Plato (such as the teachability of virtue), on which scholars rely to
establish the relative chronology of the dialogues, are in fact literary topoi found also outside
Plato; but this does not seem to me to exclude the possibility that allusions to such themes in a
given dialogue might encourage the reader to see connections with other dialogues, where the
same issues are treated more extensively; and in certain cases this parallel reading might allow
one to conclude also about the chronological priority of one to another.
Annas (1993) 53 54, n. 1.
Devereux (2008) 159 argues that already in the Gorgias we find positive evidence that virtue
and wisdom are no longer understood as identical; but he adds that the Euthydemus differs from
the Gorgias in this respect.
30 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

and to care for virtue. Wisdom and virtue are here juxtaposed and identified as
two distinct elements; the task assigned to the sophists is twofold. In the second
occurrence of the terms at 278d2 3 the initial goal of the discussion is repeated;
once again wisdom and virtue are presented as distinct from each other, and the
sophists are asked to prove that Cleinias ought to show proper care for both. The
proof, we are told, ought to follow the example of Socrates, who thereupon be-
gins his protreptic with the same two goals in mind.
Next, the virtues are included in the initial list of good things as separate
from wisdom. But if the goods on this list are soon to be discredited, why are
the virtues included among them? It must be because they too, like the conven-
tional goods, are viewed as conditioned upon wisdom. The list of conventional
evils forming part of the final argument of the protreptic supports this position;
it too includes references to the virtues through their opposites (cf. 281c6 7),
and shows that their goodness depends on wisdom.
The protreptic ends with the conclusion that wisdom is the only good in and
of itself, that is, the only unconditional good; conventional goods have the po-
tential to be truly good, but become so only when wisdom guides them. While
Socrates sets out to discuss virtue and wisdom in his protreptic, he reaches a
conclusion regarding wisdom only. Why does virtue completely fall out of the
picture? We will see that, despite its dependence on wisdom, virtue has a special
role to play in the pursuit of happiness, which is simply reserved for the second
protreptic. In the first protreptic it is only hinted at in the phrase dis-
cussed above.

It need not be significant that in the list of conventional evils only cowardice is mentioned as
preferable to courage, whereas the question about temperance receives no response from Clei-
nias, and justice, earlier included in the list of conventional goods, is now completely omitted.
The present list is much more concise than the initial one: there, multiple examples were given
to illustrate sufficiently what types of things one would include in each category, whereas here
the categories are already established and there is no need for many examples. Moreover, it is
not only the category of the virtues which is represented by fewer examples; under the category
of social goods on the first list three of them are mentioned, whereas only one appears on the
second list. But perhaps it is telling that courage is the one virtue singled out, and not justice or
temperance. It is this same virtue which is singled out in the Meno, as I have already discussed.
While courage can be described as boldness guided by wisdom, it is harder to identify (and
name) an inferior form of justice or temperance, which may or may not be guided by wisdom
and therefore prove beneficial or harmful respectively; in other words, it seems difficult to
explain how justice or temperance can be guided by folly and therefore be put to wrong use, and
the omission of their opposites on the second list perhaps suggests that Plato is aware of the
For a distinction between three types of goods see Republic 2. 357b4 d3.
1.1 The First Protreptic 31

The main argument of the first protreptic shows the dependence of the con-
ventional goods on wisdom, and the virtues, clearly included among those, must
also depend on it. Thus the virtues are not identical to wisdom, i. e. they are not
forms of knowledge themselves, but knowledge is the necessary prerequisite for
their existence.
One final point needs to be made. The question whether virtue is teach-
able is raised very early in the dialogue, at 274e2 3, as a Socratic follow-
up on the claim of the brothers that they teach it. This is clearly an allusion
to the discussion of the teachability of virtue in the Protagoras and the
Meno. This complex issue is quickly brushed aside by the sophists
(274d7 e7). But the question returns, this time addressed to Cleinias, and
in an altered version: at 282c1 8, upon conclusion of the first protreptic, Soc-
rates asks the young man whether wisdom is teachable. So the central ques-
tion is no longer whether virtue is teachable, but whether wisdom is, since
the latter is the basis on which virtue and all other conventional goods de-
pend. Indeed it seems reasonable that wisdom, consisting in knowledge,
should be teachable; this is taken for granted in the Protagoras and the
Meno, where showing that virtue consists in knowledge would suffice to
prove its teachability (Protag. 361b5 7; Meno 87c5 6).
It will be useful to examine a parallel argument on the relation between vir-
tue and knowledge in the Meno (87c11 89a4). The inquiry is on the nature of vir-
tue: is it knowledge or something other than knowledge? Socrates and Meno
both agree that virtue is a good thing; if it can be shown that there are good
things which are separate from knowledge, then virtue need not be a form of
knowledge; otherwise, virtue must be a form of knowledge. This is the working
hypothesis with which the inquiry begins.
Of course the working hypothesis itself is problematic: if something requires
knowledge in order to become good, it follows that knowledge will be part of
that good thing, but not necessarily the whole of it. So if virtue is good, and

The question is left open at the end of the Protagoras, with Socrates and Protagoras agreeing
to address it again in the future (361e5 6); but Socrates concluding thesis is that virtue is a
form of knowledge, and therefore teachable. The assumption that if virtue is a form of know-
ledge then it must be teachable also launches the inquiry into the relation between virtue and
knowledge in the Meno (87c1 6). For a general introduction to the issue of the teachability of
virtue see Devereux (2008) 141 144, who argues that Socrates must have held that the kind of
virtue the sophists claimed to teach, i. e. success in the political arena, was in fact not teachable,
while moral virtue probably was; however, indications in the Hippias Minor suggest that Soc-
rates himself had doubts that virtue was a skill, and therefore teachable in the way that skills
normally are. The questions raised by the Hippias Minor were initially pointed out by Gomperz
(1905) 296.
32 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

nothing good comes without knowledge, then virtue must involve knowledge,
but it does not need to be identical with it. With this in mind, let us return to
the argument.
Men become good through virtue. What is good is beneficial, so, it should
follow, good men are beneficial. Assuming that what makes one beneficial is it-
self beneficial, Socrates has Meno agree that virtue is beneficial. Now this admis-
sion opens the way for the two men to explore beneficial things. Socrates gives a
short list, in which he includes health, strength, beauty, and wealth; compare
the material and bodily goods of the Euthydemus list. But, he adds, these bene-
ficial things can occasionally prove harmful. They prove beneficial when guided
by right use, but harmful when guided by wrong use. The same applies to the
properties of the soul ( , 88a6), of which six are mentioned.
Among them three of the cardinal virtues are listed: temperance, justice, and
courage, in this order (88a7); in Euthyd. 279b5 the exact same virtues are men-
tioned in the exact same order.
Socrates picks courage as an example to illustrate his point. He says,
when courage is not (hence identifying courage with a form of
knowledge, 88b3 4), it is some sort of boldness. Now boldness without
(88b5) is harmful, whereas with it is beneficial. Notice that the
word occurs also in the Euthydemus (281b7, 281b8), in fact marking a
shift in the terms used in that dialogue to denote what was earlier, and
will also be later, identified as knowledge or wisdom. This shift is surpris-
ing, as it appears only within that section of the Euthydemus argument in
which the same point is made as in the Meno, namely that which turns
from the discussion of correct use of goods to their potential for evil, or
being harmful. It is also precisely in this context that the word ap-
pears for the first time, coupled with , in the Euthydemus, it being the
word of preference throughout in the parallel argument of the Meno. In fact
the two occurrences of the term in the Euthydemus (281a6, 281d8)
mark off, as it were, the same section as that in which was used, placed
at the beginning and end of that part of the protreptic argument which I ear-
lier called the appendix. The verbal echoing underlines the intimate con-
nection between the two dialogues; Plato does not simply construct a similar
argument in two different dialogues, but also alerts the reader to their simi-

Wisdom: 279c1, 279d6, 280a6, 280a7, 280b2 // 281b6, 281d8, 281e4, 282b3, 282c1, 282c8;
knowledge: 281a3, 281a5, 281a6 7, 281b2 // 282a4. I use // to distinguish between the occur-
rences of each term before and after the section in which appears (twice). It must be clear
that the first protreptic is consistent in its use of the terms and , so that the
change to is certainly noteworthy.
1.1 The First Protreptic 33

larities. It must be the Euthydemus that looks back to the Meno and not the
other way around, because it is the terminology of the former that changes
to match the dialogue which must have come before it.
The Meno argument proceeds as follows: (1) courage is one of the prop-
erties of the soul; (2) courage is beneficial, when guided by wisdom, or
harmful, when guided by ignorance; (3) virtue is one of the properties of
the soul; (4) virtue is beneficial. It would follow that, because of (3) and
(4), virtue must be guided by wisdom. Instead, Socrates concludes that
virtue must be . As in the working hypothesis, so too in this
final section of the argument the conclusion does not follow from the prem-
ises. What the premises do suggest is that is necessary for virtue,
but whether it is also sufficient for or indeed identical to virtue is by no
means proved. Socrates seems to be aware of this difficulty for, at the
end of his argument, he adds almost as a passing reference, not even hinted
at as a possibility before, that virtue consists in either in whole or
in part. Throughout, the argument was building up toward the full identifi-
cation of virtue with knowledge, but right at its end the conclusion is twist-
ed, leaving the question open whether some non-intellectual element is in-

There are further reasons to suppose that the Euthydemus is later than the Meno: as dis-
cussed in my next chapter on the eristic scenes, there are many references to the theory of
recollection in the Euthydemus, which would make no sense if the theory had not been in-
troduced before and that theory is introduced in the Meno for the first time. Moreover, the
Euthydemus does not clarify how a virtue might be used in the wrong way; if the Meno had
already been written, it would make sense for Plato not to repeat what had already been
explained in the earlier dialogue. This second point is of course weaker than the first one,
because Plato could be explaining an earlier ambiguity in a later dialogue, i. e. the ambiguity of
the Euthydemus in the Meno. But when the former argument (about recollection) is taken into
account, the latter explanation also appears more plausible. Soreth (1955) argues for the chro-
nological priority of the Euthydemus over the Meno on the grounds that the latter introduces a
distinction between wisdom and correct opinion which is not attested in the former; if the
Euthydemus were later than the Meno, Soreth explains, it would not suggest that wisdom alone
guarantees correct use of assets, for correct opinion could do the same, according to the Meno.
Yet drawing the distinction between wisdom and correct opinion afresh in the Euthydemus may
have seemed beyond the scope of this dialogue.
Cf. Meno 88c6 d1:
. It is clear in this passage that is understood as being added ()
to the properties of the soul to make them beneficial. So this premise clearly implies that
is an additional element turning the potential virtue into an actual one or, at most, a
part of that virtue, but certainly not the whole of it.
34 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

deed part of virtue. Recall that we noted the employment of the same tech-
nique of Socrates undermining his own argument at the end of the good
fortune argument of the Euthydemus.
The first protreptic of the Euthydemus essentially repeats and expands the
Meno argument. It does not draw an explicit conclusion on the relation be-
tween virtue and knowledge, yet it allows for such a conclusion to be inferred.
The concept of use of the virtues, as of the other goods, is essentially the under-
standing of virtue of the Republic, in which it does not consist solely in knowl-

Scott (2006) 146 149 notes the problem of identifying virtue with knowledge on the
basis of this argument, though he resists the conclusion that Socrates vacillates between
two ways of understanding the relation between virtue and knowledge: once we withdraw
the assumption that virtue must be sufficient for producing benefit, we can set the whole
argument in a much better light. This is not to return to the interpretation that sees
knowledge as a mere part of virtue. It is the whole of virtue. What that interpretation saw as
the other parts, e. g. daring and endurance, are not causes of benefit but conditions. Hence
they cannot count as parts of virtue itself (p. 149). Yet he too admits that the account of
virtue in the Meno is rather close to the concept of virtue in the Republic (p. 150). Cf. also p.
152: It is striking that Plato should consider it worth having Socrates develop a line of
thought that was later to be espoused in the Republic. Perhaps he was already tempted to
move in that direction while writing the Meno.
McCabe (2002b) 366 386 discusses the two arguments at length. She suggests that in
the Meno Socrates takes a consequentialist view of wisdom, which he reassesses in the
Euthydemus. In other words in the Meno the value of wisdom is derived from its good
results, and Socrates appears to be a consequentialist because he attributes value to wis-
dom on the basis of its consequences; in the Euthydemus, by contrast, wisdom is presented
as valuable in itself, not because of its consequences. This conclusion McCabe draws from
the section which I have called the appendix; she grants that the remaining of the
argument points to the same view of wisdom that we find in the Meno, but she argues that,
through the appendix, the Euthydemus poses a question about which things are truly
good, and so attacks the consequentialist view that our ends can easily be specified. As a
result it shifts our attention to the deeper metaphysical question: what is the source of
value? (p. 379). But even if the source of value becomes the focus here, that value is still
determined by the end results. And even if there is a difficulty in specifying the ends in the
Euthydemus, wisdom still derives its value and desirability from its good consequences. For
McCabe the Meno distinguishes between extrinsic value (e. g. health has extrinsic value
because something else is presupposed for its value) and instrumental value (e. g. wisdom
has instrumental value because it depends on its good products for its value), whereas the
Euthydemus distinguishes between extrinsic value (e. g. health has extrinsic value because
it requires wisdom) and intrinsic (e. g. wisdom has intrinsic value because it does not
require anything else). But does this difference deny consequentialism in the Euthydemus?
The focus in each dialogue might be different: in the Meno the value of wisdom depends on
its results, in the Euthydemus on its independence from anything else that makes it good
before it can produce good results. But in the Euthydemus too the results of wisdom give it
its value: as we will see, it is necessary and sufficient for happiness.
1.1 The First Protreptic 35

edge, but also involves non-cognitive elements. The acquisition of virtue is a life-
long process, requiring habituation through education, which is meant to help
the individual adhere to the orders of the rational part of the soul against the
opposing forces of the appetites.

1.1.8 Providers of Wisdom

Sandwiched between the conclusion that wisdom ought to be sought and the
question of its teachability, we find Socrates list of potential candidates from
whom the young Cleinias should expect assistance in his pursuit of wisdom.
First comes his father, whose mention is clearly important also for Crito, himself
a father, who, at the end of the dialogue, will express his interest in the educa-
tion of his son. So the protreptic works on two levels: as an encouragement both
of the young to seek wisdom and of the old to care for providing it. The fact that
wisdom is here prioritized over money (282a7 8) is echoed by Critos speech at
the end of the dialogue, where he lists the things he has already provided for his
children: good birth and wealth, but, as of yet, not education (306d6 e3). The
items on Critos list recall the conventional goods of the first protreptic, showing
that even he, Socrates long-term associate, only remembers the importance of
education every time he happens to be around Socrates (
, , 306d6 7), but otherwise, for the most part, ne-
glects it. The first protreptic aims to show that the majority of the Athenians, like
Crito, have their priorities wrong.
But Cleinias is also to seek wisdom from guardians, friends, and especially
lovers. This again points to Ctesippus, who will soon take over the argument (in
the second eristic scene), proposing to defend himself against Dionysodorus ac-
cusations and emphasizing precisely his love for Cleinias. Yet his involvement in
the discussion is not only a defense but, primarily, a demonstration of his own
intellectual abilities, and therefore of his suitability as a lover. This is an instance
of the familiar concept of homoerotic love between an older and a younger man
as an educational process, played out regularly in the Platonic corpus. Consid-
er, for example, the Alcibiades, in which Socrates comes back after a certain
lapse of time to associate with Alcibiades exactly when the latter has reached

Note, however, that Ctesippus cannot be much older than Cleinias; Socrates describes him
too as (273a7; cf. , 273b1), and later suggests that he is not all that wise either
(cf. 297d1 2). Hence the implication may be that, if a lovers duty is to impart wisdom, Ctesippus
may not be the best candidate for Cleinias favors; in the course of the dialogue Ctesippus will
show himself to be clever, but perhaps not wise.
36 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

the prime of his youth the crucial turning point into manhood, a time when
education becomes exceptionally important, before the young man embarks
on his active involvement in the city. It is the same turning point in Cleinias
own life which has originated the conversation of the Euthydemus; and the
same applies to Critos son Critoboulos.

1.1.9 Evaluation of the Argument: The Relation between Wisdom and Happiness

The argument of the first protreptic may be summarized as follows:

(a) We all wish to be happy (278e3 279a1).

(b) Happiness comes through conventional goods and wisdom (279a1 c2).
(c) Good fortune is unnecessary for happiness because it is provided by wisdom
(279c2 280b3).
(d) But conventional goods depend on wisdom; without it, they prove to be evils
(280b3 281e5).
(e) So knowledge, the only unconditional good, can make people happy
(282a1 c1).
(f) Because of (a) and (e), we should all try to be as wise as possible and seek
those who can transmit their wisdom.
(g) Wisdom is teachable (282c1 8).
(h) [It is implied that wisdom () comes through philosophy ()].
(i) So it is necessary to practice philosophy (282c8 d3, cf. 275a6).

The second protreptic will attempt to identify the kind of knowledge leading to
happiness; for the present we are told that happiness comes from wisdom in gen-
eral. The hotly debated issue in the scholarship is whether for Socrates the con-
ventional goods also play a part in individual happiness, or whether wisdom
alone suffices to guarantee it. In other words, do we need knowledge as an un-
conditional good and assets as conditional goods in order to be happy, or do we
need knowledge only, with the conditional goods completely dismissed? I will
argue for the second interpretation.

The Gorgias provides a parallel for the view that happiness is achieved through philosophy:
at 500b c Socrates introduces a contrast between the kind of life which Callicles advocates,
practicing rhetoric, and another which Socrates finds preferable, practicing philosophy. A long
section follows, in which the different aims of the two are explained. At 507c e Socrates draws
the conclusion that the virtuous life makes a man good and therefore happy. The implication,
then, is that the philosophical life aims at virtue and therefore happiness.
1.1 The First Protreptic 37

When Socrates gets Cleinias agreement that wisdom is teachable, he

gives his very final conclusion to the entire protreptic:

; (so now, since it appears to you to be teachable and the
only thing that makes a man happy and fortunate, would you not say that
it is necessary to practice philosophy, and that you yourself intend to do
the same? 282c8 d2). The conclusion is, I think, quite explicit. It was ar-
gued earlier that wisdom suffices to make one fortunate; what is now
added is that it suffices to make one happy; it alone of all things that exist
is said to be able to do that. Primarily on the basis of this statement I
argue that Socrates adopts the extreme view on the relation between wisdom
and happiness at the end of his protreptic: one does not need good fortune,
nor any other good except wisdom and so philosophy in order to be
happy. This is the great advertisement of philosophy in the Euthydemus, a
dialogue apt for this purpose, since it sets the art of dialectic against the
pseudo-art of the sophists.
There is further evidence in the text to support this interpretation. After Soc-
rates discredits good fortune first by equating it to wisdom, then by arguing
that wisdom provides it he discredits the conventional goods as well, and in
fact precisely in the same manner: both good fortune itself and the goodness
of the assets are provided by wisdom. So a tendency develops, which points to-
ward the extreme view on the relation between wisdom and happiness. Scholars
tend to point out the difficulties of the argument on good fortune, but do not ac-
count for its inclusion in the protreptic. Yet there must be a reason why an ob-
viously flawed argument is deemed worthy of forming a central part of Socrates
discussion with Cleinias. It is nothing less than good fortune, after all, that is dis-
credited, whose contribution to happiness is said to be generally agreed upon.
So, what the many regard as the most important good is discredited first; then
come the assets conventionally held to be good, which are first reduced to
mere dependent goods, then to potential evils, and eventually set completely

Scholars inclined to read Socrates argument as consistent might take its conclusion to mean
that wisdom is the only thing that can make one happy but not on its own. Any other
combination of assets will fail to make one happy, unless wisdom (and wisdom alone) is
included. Yet it seems rather difficult to read the Greek in a way that would not mean what it
seems to state pretty obviously: that wisdom alone makes one happy. This is indeed a bold
conclusion, which does not follow from the premises, but it should not completely surprise us;
see the discussion below.
38 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

It is clear that Socrates aims to minimize the significance of things convention-

ally considered good, and instead to emphasize the importance of wisdom or knowl-
edge. So a pattern develops in the course of the argument, which reaches its climax
right before the end of the first protreptic, with the claim that wisdom is not only
necessary for happiness as the argument was suggesting up to that point but
also sufficient. In place of what the average Athenian considered crucial for his hap-
piness Socrates places a single independent good: wisdom. The claim is revolution-
It is also rather fitting for his interlocutor. Cleinias is not a chance addressee for
this particular protreptic. He is a member of one of the most wealthy and prominent
but also most controversial Athenian families, a cousin of the notorious
Alcibiades; he is also exceptionally handsome (271b1 5), followed by a host of ad-
mirers (273a6 7). So he possesses the material, social, and bodily goods the average
Athenian considered of foremost importance in the pursuit of his happiness. Socra-
tes has then chosen to deliver a protreptic likely to prove useful to this particular
interlocutor, for it is a speech in which all the goods the young man already possess-
es are discredited, while the ones he is likely to lack are exalted. Given Cleinias cir-
cumstances, it is perhaps necessary for Socrates to supply even a radical argument,
which will alert the fortunate heir of the prestigious family to the fact that, if he is to
achieve happiness, the goods already in his possession will not suffice.
Moreover, Cleinias is likely to need such guidance rather urgently. Although
his family was distinguished, it was quite doubtful that it was also able to pro-
mote the young mans moral development. Much like Cleinias cousin Alci-
biades, his father Axiochus had been accused of impiety because of his involve-
ment in the profanation of the mysteries in 415. He had gone into exile, and had
had his property confiscated in 414/3, while Cleinias was still a mere youth. The
parallel set up between him and Critoboulos in the beginning of the dialogue
hints at a contrast: while the father of the latter, Crito, is present to show concern
for his son, the one of the former even in the case that he was already back
from exile is certainly less likely to show proper care for the moral education
of his son.

See Nails (2002) 12 for a stemma of the family of Alcibiades (III) and Cleinias; both men are
grandsons of Alcibiades (II), but from different fathers.
See Nails (2002) 63; 100.
The details of Axiochus return to Athens are uncertain.
1.1 The First Protreptic 39

But how exactly is one to achieve happiness? Interpretations of the way

Socrates understands the relation between wisdom and happiness abound:
for Brickhouse and Smith wisdom is neither necessary nor sufficient for
happiness; for Ferejohn, Santas (following Ferejohn), Reshotko,

I use the term wisdom throughout for reasons of consistency, but read virtue for those
scholars who hold that in the Euthydemus too, as in the early dialogues, Socrates views virtue as
identical to wisdom.
Brickhouse and Smith (1994) 103 136 argue that virtue, understood as a condition of the
soul, is neither sufficient for happiness nor even necessary. My initial difficulty with their
interpretation arises from the fact that they treat virtue and wisdom as identical; I have argued
against this view in the previous section of this chapter. Further, on the basis of Crito 47e3 5
and Gorgias 512a2 b2, they argue that virtue cannot be sufficient for happiness (p. 115). In the
Crito we read that life with a diseased body is not worth living, from which Brickhouse and
Smith conclude that health at least will be necessary for happiness, and therefore virtue/wisdom
will not be sufficient. But whereas in the relevant passage of the Euthydemus there is an entire
argument on the role of wisdom, we find no such thing in the Crito, where the statement relating
to health and disease is made almost in passing, and while making a completely different point.
So even if we were to expect consistency between the two dialogues, and therefore attempt to
interpret the one in light of the other, the Crito in particular would not do for this purpose. The
Gorgias passage suffers from the same problem: it comes from Socrates address to Callicles, in
which the philosopher explains why rhetoricians should not take on airs, since their work is not
all that much more important than, say, that of sea pilots, who save men from potentially
perishing at sea. Yet they do not grow arrogant, knowing that they might allow men to go on
living who, say, suffer from chronic diseases and are therefore wretched. Brickhouse and Smith
conclude that if disease makes one wretched, health will be necessary for happiness. But again,
the context is crucial, and should not be disregarded. Socrates is making an entirely different
point in the Gorgias; his reference to disease is again made in passing, and for a different
purpose. References of this sort I find unsuitable for enhancing our understanding of the Eu-
thydemus. In their most recent work [see Brickhouse and Smith (2010)] they still reject the view
that wisdom is sufficient for happiness in fact, that virtue is sufficient, since they equate that
to wisdom (p. 183).
Ferejohn (1984) 111 112 argues that wisdom and assets are both necessary for happiness:
wisdom is consistently presented as an exploitative form of knowledge whose function is to
put other things to correct use. On this understanding, however, wisdom would be every bit as
useless without things to direct and deploy as they would be without the benefit of its gui-
dance. Ferejohn is right in pointing out that it is not reasonable to exclude the assets, because
without them there would be nothing to which wisdom could be applied. But even if Socrates
appears inconsistent, one needs to examine only what is said, and not what ought to be said.
Socrates can use fallacy, and it is the work of interpretation to explain what reasons Plato might
have for putting it in the mouth of his character in each particular context.
Santas (1993) 46.
Reshotko (2001) 330 331, cf. 333. She does not discuss 282c8 d2, but argues only on the
basis of the argument that comes before this unexpected conclusion. So Reshotko argues what is
indeed reasonable on the basis only of the first part of the argument on the role of the condi-
40 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

and Parry it is necessary but not sufficient; for Vlastos it is necessary and suf-
ficient, but conditional goods may enhance happiness in some small degree;
finally, for Irwin and Annas it is both necessary and sufficient. Difficulty aris-

tional goods, i. e. that they too must contribute to happiness, which is the ultimate good; cf.
Reshotko (2006) 122 124; 128. But the conclusion of the argument must also be accounted for. In
her later work [Reshotko (2006) 122 124] she continues to hold that the conditional goods are
necessary for happiness, but that virtue which she equates to wisdom is not (pp. 135 155).
In fact she argues that the questions regarding the necessity and sufficiency of virtue for
happiness are irrelevant to Socrates claims; for the exercise of virtue simply increases the
likelihood of reaching happiness, without guaranteeing it, in the same way that a childs parents
might choose to treat its illness regardless of whether the treatment will guarantee its health or
not (p. 139). On p. 149 she does discuss the passage which I take to be the strongest indication
for the sufficiency thesis, but quickly brushes it aside by arguing that there is no reason to read
this [i. e. Euthyd. 282c8 d1] as anything other than a strong causal claim. In other words, in her
view, when Socrates says wisdom is the only thing that makes one happy he need not mean
anything more than that wisdom is the only thing that increases ones chances of becoming
happy. But if Reshotko sees no reason why the sentence must suggest sufficiency, she also does
not suggest any reason why it should not and her reading of the sentence is not the obvious
Parry (2003).
Vlastos (1991) 216, cf. his n. 64: A virtuous person would be happy, regardless of possession
of non-moral goods, but happier with than without one or more of them (his emphasis). It is
beyond the scope of my work to examine the views of Socrates across dialogues; but at least for
the Euthydemus Vlastos general claim about the role of the conditional goods does not apply. In
his discussion of Apology 29e5 30a2 he concludes that Socrates is not saying that the non-
moral goods he has been talking about (money, reputation, prestige) have no value at all, but
that their value is vastly inferior to that of the most precious thing in life, perfection of soul (p.
220). But in the Euthydemus Socrates does in fact claim that the non-moral goods (and the so-
called virtues too, when not guided by wisdom) are of uncertain value, and potentially evil.
Cf. Irwin (1995) 56 60 , and esp. p. 57: The argument is meant to secure Socrates previous
claim that wisdom is necessary and sufficient for happiness, for it claims to show that wisdom is
the only good, and it has been agreed that happiness requires all the appropriate goods. Soc-
rates makes this clear in his summary of his argument (282a1 7), and he goes on to claim that
we should pursue wisdom to the exclusion of any other recognized good because it is the only
thing that makes a human being happy and fortunate (282c9 d1). Unlike Irwin, I believe that
the statement that wisdom is the only good does not yet make the extreme claim it appears to,
but actually does mean that wisdom is the only unconditional good. The sharp move is made at
the very end of the protreptic, when, postponed for quite a few lines (282a7 c8), the final
conclusion is stated. When the listener/reader has almost forgotten what was claimed before, the
extreme view on the role of wisdom and the assets is suddenly adopted and presented as
Annas (1993). Wisdom (for Annas identical to virtue) is both necessary and sufficient be-
cause, in her view, virtue is described as the only good (and not the only good in itself); so she
argues against Vlastos, who rejects that this view anticipates the later Stoic one. Cf. Annas (1999)
1.1 The First Protreptic 41

es from the fact that some of these scholars seek to establish consistency across
dialogues. So they attempt to show how the claims of the Euthydemus with re-
gard to wisdom/virtue should be interpreted in the light of other Platonic
works. In interpreting the Euthydemus, however, the relation between wisdom
and happiness that Socrates adopts in this particular dialogue and the way it
fits into the specific context in which the protreptic is situated must remain
It is argued here that the Socrates of the Euthydemus takes wisdom (not vir-
tue) to be both necessary and sufficient for happiness. This view has been put
forth before, but it has been defended on different grounds: Annas (1993) and
Irwin (1995) take wisdom to be the only good, rather than the only unconditional
good. I have already suggested a different interpretation, i. e. that Socrates shifts
from a mild to an extreme view on happiness. While he starts out by proposing
that one needs conventionally good things and good fortune to be happy, he
soon sets good fortune aside, and subsequently also the conventional goods.
The main argument used by those who oppose the sufficiency thesis is that
the good things of the initial list are merely reduced to conditional goods, but
not completely dismissed. These scholars fail to pay sufficient attention to the
final conclusion of the protreptic discussed above (282c9 d1). Before this con-
clusion is reached, Socrates indeed points in the direction of necessity but not
sufficiency. At the end of the protreptic, however, he claims to have convinced
Cleinias of the sufficiency thesis as well. In other words, I believe that Socrates
does not remain consistent throughout the protreptic. While he initially appears
to get Cleinias to agree that conventional goods and wisdom guarantee happi-
ness, he subsequently tries to downplay the role of the so-called goods and
then, almost imperceptibly, dismisses them completely.
Instead of explaining away the difficulty, I think it is safer to admit and try to
account for the inconsistency: Socrates intentionally misleads Cleinias by hav-

40 44. For a discussion of the implications of Annas interpretation of the protreptics for
Socratic dialectic in general see Gill (2000).
Jones (2010) 85 88 focuses solely on the Euthydemus to argue against the sufficiency thesis.
His main objection to it is that virtue (which he equates to wisdom) is not able to produce some
of the things which Socrates recognizes as good, e. g. health. But, as I have argued, these are
merely conventional goods, and Socrates only opens his protreptic by listing them in order to
reject them in the course of the argument. It is essential for the interpretation of the protreptic
that not everything Socrates says be taken at face value until it has been thoroughly examined in
the larger context. Moreover, Jones does not mention at all the final section 282c d, on which
my understanding of the protreptic rests heavily.
The underlying assumption of my interpretation here, and indeed of the one I employ
throughout my discussion of the Euthydemus, is that Plato can put in the mouth of Socrates
42 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

ing him agree that wisdom is not only necessary for happiness but also suffi-
cient. He has already shown a sign of awareness that he is misleading the
young man upon conclusion of the good fortune argument, when he stated
that agreement was reached in some way or another (280b1 3); the same is
true here, though the deception remains unspoken. A protreptic is meant to per-
suade, and this it does. Even if the means by which persuasion is achieved are
fallacious, the end is reached: Cleinias is convinced that he ought to practice phi-
The view that none of the conventional goods is necessary for happiness is
not unique to the Euthydemus; in fact it is quite close to a view expressed in the
Gorgias. At 470d e Socrates and Polus are discussing Archelaus, the ruler of
Macedonia. According to Polus, Archelaus is a prime example of a happy
man, despite the fact that he commits injustice. Socrates expresses doubts

flawed arguments, to which it is not advisable to apply the principle of charity. Instead, one
ought to account for the existence of such arguments by exploring their function in the given
context in which they are situated. For a similar approach to the Symposium and Gorgias, see
Landy (2007). With regard to the Gorgias he concludes (p. 91): The holes in Socrates logic are so
numerous, so broad, and so manifest that it is a wonder anyone ever took him for the
mouthpiece of a brilliant and original thinker. An unprejudiced reader should, it seems to me,
react either by considering Plato a blundering fool (on the assumption that he stands firmly
behind his character) or by regarding him as an exceptionally sophisticated literary craftsman
(on the assumption that he does not). I fully agree with Landys emphasis on the clear di-
stinction to be drawn between the character Socrates and the author Plato; the latter may well
assign to the former unsound arguments, and for a reason. See also Weiss (2001) 10 11, who
states it as her basic assumption in interpreting the Meno that the character Socrates is able to
deceive: the crucial difference between him and the sophists lies in the motive behind their
tactics not in their tactics (p. 11). In this chapter I aim to show that the same holds true of the
Euthydemus. Jackson (1990) 386 388 strongly resists the idea that Socrates could be deceitful,
even to the sophists. But, it seems to me, neither of the passages he cites (p. 386) in support of
his view actually commits Socrates to the complete avoidance of deception. In the first one,
Euthydemus 303d2 5, Socrates argues that the sophists arguments are appealing only to a few,
whereas most people would find them shameful. But this statement does not specify what
makes them shameful. The sophistic arguments do not simply use fallacy in the process of
establishing a certain view; they use fallacy constantly, without aiming to defend any particular
views that the sophists actually hold and this seems more likely to be what Socrates declares
as shameful. The second passage, Gorgias 458a1 b1, confirms that Socrates seeks to determine
the truth, but as the final product of his search. The means to that end need not be as trans-
parent, though, and Socrates makes no such commitment. While Jackson p. 387 equates the use
of sophistic tactics with disregard for truthfulness, I take it that fallacy may be employed in the
process of reaching a conclusion that Socrates holds to be true. See McCabe (2000) 25 32 for a
discussion of the role of sincerity in Socratic elenchus with the emphasis being on the sincerity
of the interlocutor rather than the questioner.
1.1 The First Protreptic 43

about this, whereupon Polus retorts that, for Socrates, perhaps not even the great
king of Persia might be considered happy. Socrates indeed argues that the hap-
piness of these men, or of any other man for that matter, is impossible to deter-
mine, unless one knows how they stand with respect to education and justice.
Utterly puzzled, Polus asks: What then? Does the whole of happiness amount
to this? (470e8). Socrates response is most explicit: Yes, at least as I say,
Polus; for the admirable and good man and woman I assert to be happy, whereas
the unjust and evil are wretched (470e9 11). At least in this instance, then, Soc-
rates clearly claims that virtue is perfectly sufficient for happiness: nothing else
whatsoever is necessary.
The claim of the Gorgias should be just as surprising as that of the Euthyde-
mus, in which wisdom, rather than virtue, is said to suffice for happiness. In
other words, if one refuses to admit that the Euthydemus takes this extreme
view on the relation between wisdom and happiness, one would also need to ac-
count for the equally extreme, and rather explicit, claim of the Gorgias. Now the
question might arise as to how we are to read the two claims together. Whether
we are entitled to do so at all is doubtful, for it presupposes that one assumes
that a fully consistent theory underlies the dialogues. But even if the requirement
for consistency across dialogues had to be met, nothing would prevent us from
interpreting the Euthydemus in the way that I propose, because the two claims
are not mutually exclusive: in the Euthydemus, wisdom is sufficient for happi-
ness; in the Gorgias, virtue is sufficient for happiness; and wisdom still need
not be identical to virtue, since the same result, happiness, can be produced
from two different sufficient conditions. But the Euthydemus suggests that wis-
dom is also necessary for happiness. How can both wisdom be necessary and
virtue sufficient for happiness?
The precise relation between virtue and happiness is left unclear in the Eu-
thydemus. When Socrates comes back to virtue at the end of the second protrep-
tic, he hints at it as the product of knowledge (by then treated as an art) but
how exactly it relates to happiness is not made explicit. Indeed if wisdom is suf-
ficient for happiness and wisdom is different from virtue, virtue does not appear
to be necessary for happiness in the Euthydemus. Moreover, the very final conclu-
sion of the first protreptic implies that wisdom is not only sufficient, but also
necessary, since it is said to be the only thing that can make one happy
(282c8 d2).
If, then, wisdom is both necessary and sufficient, virtue can only be part of
the equation leading to happiness if it is a necessary by-product of wisdom, i. e.
if virtue and wisdom are inseparable and indeed the end of the second protrep-
tic seems to point in that direction. The reasons why the two cannot be identical,
however, at least in the present dialogue, have already been presented. The path
44 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

to happiness is thus as follows: wisdom is necessary and sufficient, because it

turns the properties of the soul into actual virtues; for it ensures the right use
of these properties. Man therefore becomes virtuous, and this is the only neces-
sary and sufficient condition for his happiness. A good man is a happy man, re-
gardless of the assets in his possession, the healthy condition of his body, his
noble family and the respect he enjoys in the city, or the complete lack thereof.
Moreover, what else might be necessary for virtue, other than wisdom, is also
not indicated. In other words, knowledge is necessary for virtue, but is it also
sufficient? This question is not answered in the first protreptic, because the
focus shifts to the relation between wisdom and happiness. But a relationship
of dependence rather than identity between virtue and knowledge leaves room
enough for the appetites, whose existence is already acknowledged in a dialogue
as early as, say, the Protagoras, and whose influence on virtuous action is descri-
bed in the Republic.

1.1.10 Socrates the Sophist: Similarities between the Socratic

and Eristic Method

Irwin argues that in the first protreptic Socrates presents arguments full of gaps
because his views on virtue and happiness must have seemed so self-evident to
him that he did not see the need to justify them further. In other words, Irwins
Socrates does not use fallacy, but merely neglects to go into great detail in prov-
ing points which he regards as obvious. In my analysis above I tried to show that
what Socrates presents as obvious need not in fact be so, that he even occasion-
ally expresses doubts about the soundness of his arguments, and that he omits
to elaborate on precisely those points where it would be problematic for him to
do so. The cumulative evidence of these indications, then, calls for a different
Roochnik thinks that Socrates argument does not prove conclusively what it
purports to show, but is still effective in convincing Cleinias and anyone else
with the same predisposition toward wisdom. This again seems to offer only
a partial solution to the problem of why a protreptic should rely on a bad argu-
ment. Even if Cleinias is convinced, not every reader will be. In the final analysis,
why should Socrates be interested in convincing only those who will not scruti-

Here I am following Devereux (1995), who emphasizes that the existence of internal conflict
within the individual and of forces opposing his better judgment is fully admitted by Socrates.
Irwin (1995) 63.
Roochnik (1990 91) 213; cf. Roochnik (1996) 173.
1.1 The First Protreptic 45

nize his arguments in search of the truth, but have already decided for them-
selves that they agree with him in principle? I would like to suggest that Plato
sets out to accomplish more by putting in the mouth of Socrates an argument
which is not simply logically unsound but in fact sophistic in a number of ways.
The argument begins with a verbal ambiguity quite similar to those em-
ployed by the sophists in the first eristic scene. It was shown in the relevant
section above that was used in two different senses, without any dis-
tinction drawn between them. Similarly, was used in two senses, which

Guthrie (1975) 275 acknowledges the existence of Socratic equivocations in other dialogues
but not in the Euthydemus. For a full acknowledgement of Socrates use of fallacy see Klosko
(1987), Heitsch (1994), Gonzalez (1998) 102 104, Beversluis (2000); see also Bensen Cain (2007)
33 37, where she argues that Socrates employs ambiguity and other forms of fallacy to serve
dramatic purposes as well as to involve his readers in active engagement with the dialogues. Her
view is then illustrated in Chapters 3 and 4, and it fully supports my interpretative approach to
the Euthydemus. Cf. her conclusion, p. 111: It seems that the less satisfied one is with the
apparently unsuccessful results of SM [sc. the Socratic Method], the more inclined one may be to
look for other ways to account for the use of fallacy and other distasteful conduct on the part of
Socrates. There are at least two ways to go: one is to think that Plato not only recognized the
flaws and implicitly criticized SM, but that he abandoned it, or transformed it into the philo-
sophically promising methods of hypothesis and division which have new metaphysical and
epistemological groundings. Another way to go is to take the drama of the dialogues as relevant
to Platos motivations, and study the dramatic cues for an explanation in terms of his artistic
and pedagogical purposes. Hopefully, by now, it is clear that I favor the second approach. For
the deliberate employment of a fallacious Socratic argument in the Theaetetus, understood as an
attempt on Platos part to get his reader to engage actively with the text and think about views
more fully developed in the Sophist, see Burnyeat (2002) 43 50. For fallacy specifically in the
Euthydemus see Sprague (1962) 1 33, who, however, only discusses fallacy in the eristic scenes,
while she does not mention any problems whatsoever in the arguments of the Socratic scenes;
even the inconsistency in certain terms employed by Socrates in the first protreptic she inter-
prets as an indication of his interest in the things themselves rather than the words used to
describe them, and so as a distinguishing feature between him and the sophists (p. 10). Stewart
(1977) argues that Plato lacks a firm grasp on the exact workings of fallacy. In response, Sprague
(1977) suggests that Plato was simply not interested in the types of classification with which
Aristotle engaged; but the fact that he did not classify and expound fallacies in the form of a
treatise does not mean that he was not fully aware of them. Plato simply chose a different
vehicle to carry out his philosophic inquiry. Her analysis finds me very much in agreement.
Note, however, that Sprague plays down the difficulties of the protreptics themselves, arguing
that Socrates is just a little sloppy (p. 60); cf. Klosko (1987) 623, who does not ever mention the
possibility of fallacious arguments targeted at Cleinias. The reasons for this sloppiness I
attempt to identify in the present section, arguing that it isnt sloppiness at all.
For a use of in the sense of doing what is appropriate in each case and its
subsequent connection with happiness cf. Gorg. 507b8 c5.
46 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

were purposefully conflated. Then the whole argument on good fortune proved
flawed because it begged the question. Also, Socrates brought about slight
changes as he proceeded from one premise to the next, which escaped Cleinias
attention, but significantly altered the argument. For example he replaced his
reference to an expert by one to a wise expert, and then juxtaposed the latter
to the ignorant one. This juxtaposition overlooked the many intermediate stages
of the learning experience, and seemed to grant that a completely ignorant ex-
pert can exist. This practice recalls sophistic techniques, as will become clear
in the following chapter.
Yet it is necessary to take into account that by the end of the protreptic Soc-
rates tells Cleinias that everyone should try to become as wise as possible
which allows for the existence of those intermediate stages in learning which
the good fortune argument seems to deny. So is Socrates truly sophistic? It
seems that he is willing to use clearly sophistic techniques, such as verbal am-
biguity, to reach a certain goal, but his method is constructive as opposed to
that of the sophists in our dialogue, which has clearly been destructive. To the
extent that such techniques are useful for convincing a young man to live a phil-
osophical life, their employment appears legitimate. Further interaction with
Socrates would enable Cleinias to distinguish between linguistic tricks and
sound argumentation, but at this early stage it suffices to convince him to engage
in further philosophical inquiry.
More sophistic elements can be identified in the protreptic. The use of
at the conclusion of the good fortune argument
(280a4 5) took the place of the common idiom , so that the original
faring well was replaced by faring with better fortune. Moreover, the distinc-
tion drawn between conditional and unconditional goods followed from the
premises, but the complete rejection of the former in favor of the latter did
not; after all, without goods to which wisdom could be applied, its function
would be unclear. In other words, if wisdom is originally defined as the wise
use of assets, but then the assets are discredited, then what should wisdom
guide the use of? There is one possibility, though it is never spelled out: if the
virtues are properties of the soul guided by wisdom, then they are always inher-
ent in the individual. Even in the case that all the conventional goods are lack-
ing, wisdom may still be applied to these psychic properties and make a man vir-

McPherran (2005) 52 also points out the equivocation, arguing that this is Socrates way of
forcing the reader to think hard on the precise definition of good fortune, a way of engaging him
with the text.
Cf. Weiss (2000) 70 75.
1.1 The First Protreptic 47

It remains the case, however, that Socrates uses an argument that is flawed
at multiple levels. What is the purpose of his doing so, especially when Plato oc-
casionally shows him aware of it (cf. 280b1 3)? In other words, why should Soc-
rates be presented as playful? The whole purpose of the Euthydemus is to juxta-
pose two competing approaches to moral education. Naturally, the differences
between the sophists and Socrates become apparent. But the attentive reader
is invited to see also certain similarities between the two parties. Both can delib-
erately mislead their interlocutor; both can use controversial techniques, such as
verbal ambiguity and gradual alteration of the premises and it is the employ-
ment of such techniques that Socrates identifies as play in his critique of the
brothers. The distinguishing element between the two, however, lies in the pur-
pose each party aims to achieve. While the sophists seek to prove victorious over
their interlocutor merely for the sake of that victory, by crushing and reducing
him to silence, Socrates does not take pride in a victory but encourages his inter-
locutor to live a philosophical life. The employment of controversial techniques
is for the sophists a key to their own success. But for Socrates it is the key to the
intellectual development of interlocutors who may initially be convinced by
problematic arguments. Finally, Platos reader is invited to take up the challenge
of thinking harder, and on his own, about the issues raised by the discussion. In
this way, the dialogue between Socrates and his interlocutors also involves the
reader as both observer and participant.

1.1.11 Conclusion: The Aim of the First Protreptic

Socrates original aim was to show that philosophy is a worthwhile pursuit. To

do this, it would suffice to show that the acquisition of knowledge the object
of philosophy (-) is worthwhile. It would therefore be enough to
prove that knowledge contributes to happiness, or that it is necessary though
not necessarily sufficient for happiness. Socrates, in other words, does not
need to show that good fortune is completely unnecessary for happiness
(since it is provided by wisdom), nor that the conventional goods are equally un-
necessary. Then why does he attempt to do so? He clearly wants to make the
strong claim that, against the widely held view on the importance of good for-
tune and other assets, absolutely none of these is necessary for the student of
philosophy. The practice of philosophy itself is presented as the single way to
happiness. This is an especially important conclusion for the young, handsome

On this see Chapter 4.

48 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

and wealthy Cleinias, who is likely to value the assets in his possession much
more highly than the acquisition of knowledge. Cleinias himself does not notice
the flaws in the Socratic argumentation and this too indicates that he has
much benefit to draw from further association with the appropriate teachers.

1.2 The Second Protreptic

In the second protreptic Socrates sets out to identify the kind of knowledge that
is the object of philosophy. But, as the discussion progresses, he seems to get
carried away in a completely different direction, and ends up seeking the prod-
uct of the art of politics. Also, he starts out by seeking an art leading to happi-
ness, but ends up identifying an art which makes people good. In between he
examines a series of arts, or technai, likely to meet the criteria he has established
for the form of knowledge he originally sought. Although he comes closest to
identifying the sought-after art as politics, even that is eventually rejected be-
cause Socrates and his interlocutors fail to determine the product of the art: if
it is to be good, it ought to be knowledge but knowledge of what? Socrates
seems to have come back to the question with which the second protreptic
began: philosophy involved knowledge but of what? In what follows I attempt
to disentangle the thorny parts of this rather complex scene, paying attention to
both the argument and the dramatic context. I argue that the scene only osten-
sibly ends in aporia, but in fact entails hints for overcoming the puzzlement. I
also examine Socrates method, and argue that his principal aim is to establish
a particular kind of relationship between philosophy and politics: philosophy
provides the knowledge necessary for the acquisition of virtue and therefore
happiness, and politics is responsible for transmitting that knowledge. What
we find here implicitly we find in the Republic explicitly.

1.2.1 Redefining Knowledge: Production and Use

In the beginning of the scene Socrates reminds Cleinias where they left off be-
fore: they agreed that one ought to practice philosophy, which Socrates now de-
fines as the acquisition of knowledge (288d8). In the first protreptic, wisdom, pre-
sumably the state achieved through an accumulation of knowledge, was

Even if the terms wisdom and knowledge are used interchangeably in Plato, it is still
noteworthy that the switch back to knowledge in the beginning of this protreptic seems fitting,
1.2 The Second Protreptic 49

presented as necessary and sufficient for happiness. Philosophy, then, as the

sole path to wisdom, also appeared to be the single way to happiness. But
what does this wisdom consist in? In the second protreptic Socrates essentially
sets out to determine the object of philosophy.
As defined in the initial stage of the previous protreptic scene (i. e. before the
conditional goods are completely rejected), the wisdom leading to happiness
should consist in the acquired knowledge of the proper use of assets: if one
has a car, wisdom will provide him with the knowledge of how to drive it and
so draw benefit from it; if one has a healthy body, it will ensure that he use it
for a good purpose, etc. But, understood in this way, the knowledge required
for happiness appears endless, and so impossible to obtain; complete happiness,
then, would be equally impossible to achieve. Moreover, by the end of the first
protreptic, the conditional goods are completely removed from the equation
leading to happiness, so that wisdom no longer has anything specific to
which it could be applied. So in the present scene Socrates narrows down
his expectations, as it were, looking for a particular kind of knowledge, pos-
sessed by a single art, capable of leading to happiness. In addition, Socrates
will need to determine the new objects to which wisdom will be applied. Note,
however, that the change in the nature of the knowledge sought remains unspo-
We noted above that, in seeking to determine the kind of knowledge that
leads to happiness, Socrates at the same time attempts to determine the object
of philosophy. What kind of knowledge exactly does philosophy transmit?
Since the assets have been dismissed, it cannot be the knowledge of their proper
use that is sought here; and so philosophy cannot be the love of wisdom in the
sense of the knowledge presupposed by the common productive crafts. It is wis-
dom understood in a different way, which Socrates now attempts to specify.

because it facilitates the subsequent transition to craft in a way that wisdom would not: it
should be more natural for a speaker of Greek to assume that some specific kind of knowledge,
rather than wisdom in general, is the epistemic background of a craft, and so he would more
easily accept the substitution of for rather than .
The first protreptic speaks generally of knowledge of use which allows one to draw benefit
from his possessions. But it does not specify whether this is the technical knowledge of, say,
how to drive a car, or the knowledge of when to drive it, i. e. for a good purpose (e. g. not when it
facilitates the escape of a robber) though the latter explanation seemed necessary for the right
use of non-material goods to become comprehensible. It is precisely this question which the
second protreptic sets out to address, but it does not, because it shifts to a different one
concerning the product of the use.
Conditional goods are mentioned here in the example about gold, but, as we will see, this is
only done to allow for the introduction of the concept of production.
50 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

Whatever it might be, he says, it ought to be beneficial (288e1 2). But in what
respect would it benefit us? If the conditional goods had not been completely re-
jected, this knowledge would indicate their proper use, which would then guar-
antee our happiness, and so prove beneficial. But since the assets have been
abandoned, Socrates needs to provide a means of producing the things to
which knowledge will now be applied. For this reason he adds the knowledge
of production to the happiness equation.
To accomplish that he begins with an example: it would not benefit us to be
able to identify where the most gold is mined on earth; for even if we were to
acquire it all, or turn stones to gold, our knowledge would be worth nothing,
since we would not know how to use what we had acquired. This much is in ac-
cordance with the conclusions of the first protreptic: the possession of condition-
al goods does not suffice, precisely because these are conditioned upon knowl-
edge of their right use in order to be considered truly good. But a new element is
introduced: Socrates no longer talks about mere possession (or use) of assets, but
about the knowledge enabling one to identify or produce them (cf. finding gold
or producing it by turning stones into it, respectively).
Socrates asks Cleinias if he remembers these things (289a3 4, cf. 289b2 3),
thereby creating an appearance of continuity between the first and the second
protreptic. But in fact new elements have been introduced in the latter scene,
which significantly alter the conclusions of the former. Socrates argues that no
form of knowledge can be beneficial which makes something but does not
know how to use it. The knowledge of using things it does not itself produce
should still be a good candidate for the type of knowledge leading to happiness,
since what mattered up to now was knowing how to use ones possessions, not
how to produce them. But Socrates here focuses solely on the knowledge of mak-
ing certain things, emphasizing that this should be combined with the knowl-
edge of using them. All the productive arts, it seems to follow, are not beneficial,
because they produce things which they do not necessarily know how to put to
proper use.
This new understanding of knowledge is introduced slyly: is used for
the first time at 289a1 in the specific context of turning stones to gold, which is
mentioned as a mere addition to the primary example of identifying gold depos-
its. But what is said there for a specific case and almost in passing is repeated at
289a6 with regard to knowledge in general. It is then taken to an extreme at
289b1 with the example of knowing how to produce immortality: even that,
we are told, would be an unwanted product, if one did not know how to use
it. So what was introduced as a passing reference becomes a crucial first point
1.2 The Second Protreptic 51

in Socrates argumentation in the second protreptic: he and Cleinias need to

identify a kind of knowledge of both production and use (289b4 6).
With the introduction of the idea of production the way is opened for Socra-
tes to view the knowledge for which he was searching as an art with a specific
product; soon enough he will substitute for (289c1). Now the
products of this art are treated in the exact same way that the conditional
goods were in the first protreptic: it was not enough simply to possess them,
but one also had to use them rightly; the same is now applied to the products
of knowledge, which must be produced and used rightly. Socrates is trying to
deal with the difficulty arising from his complete rejection of the conditional
goods, which he now seeks to replace with the products of an art as of yet un-
specified. So there is a major difference between the kinds of knowledge sought
in each protreptic scene: the first is knowledge of the proper use of conditional
goods, the second knowledge of production of something and then proper use of
that. We will see that soon production itself will fall out of the picture, as Socra-
tes will focus on use understood in a very different way: it will involve a process
of determining the goodness of the products of all the other arts.

1.2.2 Which Form of Knowledge?

Since knowledge has been redefined, Socrates and Cleinias need to determine
some form of it that meets the new requirements. The art of making lyres is pre-
sented as a counter-example, because in it production is separated from use: the
maker of lyres is not the same as their player. In reality, it is not inconceivable for
a maker of lyres also to know how to play them; in fact some knowledge of play-
ing might be necessary, for example for tuning. But Socrates focuses on the fact
that the art of making itself is different from that of playing, the one not neces-
sarily presupposing the other. The same problems apply to the arts of making the

Production and use are joined together also in Rep. 10. 601d e, where Socrates points out
that the user of a product knows better how it is supposed to work, and so he is responsible for
telling the maker how to make it.
The general view seems to be that, while Aristotle drew a distinction between wisdom and
craft, Socrates did not. For Aristotle, wisdom is concerned with action but not production; on
this see Irwin (1995) 70 72. See also Woodruff (1990) 66 and 68 for the view that the terms
episteme and techne can be used interchangeably in early Plato; cf. Festugire (1973) 39. See
Annas (1995) for a discussion of the concept of virtue as a skill; see also Roochnik (1996) who, in
his introduction, gives a good overview of the current debate on the role of techne in Plato.
52 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

cithara or the flute. Thus far Socrates has supplied Cleinias with a thought-pat-
tern, which he can employ as he considers the following suggestions:

(a) Speeches
Socrates asks whether the art of composing speeches might be the one leading to
eudaimonia. Cleinias is ready by now to follow Socrates example: by no means,
he answers, for the makers of speeches do not know how to use them. Again, this
is not entirely true, for there are speech-writers who occasionally use their
speeches in court. But the crucial question is why Socrates and Cleinias should
have it be so. What purpose does it serve to present the art of speech-writing as
failing to meet the criteria for the form of knowledge we are seeking? I return to
this question in a moment.
Socrates approves of Cleinias answer. Yet he hastens to add that he was ex-
pecting to find the art they were looking for somewhere around here (289d10).
For speech-makers are considered most wise, he says, and their art itself is held
in very high regard; it is an art of charming judges, members of the assembly, etc.
(289e1 290a4). Speech-writing presupposes the art of rhetoric, whose practition-
ers were great antagonists of Socrates and Plato in the project of educating
young Athenians. It thus seems fitting for the philosopher to discuss this art ex-
tensively in the second protreptic, where, as argued above, he has set out to de-
fine the object of philosophy. This Socrates does by a process of elimination,
marking off its boundaries, juxtaposing it to and distinguishing it from its closest
The reference to the art of speech-writing is appropriate for yet another rea-
son: it applies well to the sophists of the present dialogue. Euthydemus and Dio-
nysodorus had started out as speech-writers before advancing, so to speak, to the
teaching of virtue: at 272a1 4 we are told that they prepare men for the battles of
the law-courts and teach them how to compose speeches appropriate for them.
This is repeated at 273c7 9. So the target of this section is not only the compet-

Notice that in this example we shift from (289c1) to (289c2). Socrates as-
sumes that the knowledge he seeks will have some systematic form and a specific product.
Cf. Hawtrey (1981) 123.
Such a process is followed also in the Statesman, where the method of division is applied in
order to distinguish the kingly art from other arts cooperating with it or claiming a share in it;
the art of the sophists is singled out as such a case. Compare also the Gorgias, where philosophy,
openly criticized by Callicles as dangerous for men past their early youth (484c4 486d1), is
juxtaposed to rhetoric; the latter Socrates defines as an empirical practice, rather than a real art,
because it pretends to be what in fact it is not, i. e. a branch of the political art (463a 465e).
1.2 The Second Protreptic 53

itors of philosophy in general, but also the very men now present before Socra-
tes, with whom he competes over the soul of Cleinias.
Socrates brings this particular art to the foreground precisely so that he
might emphatically reject it. The dramatic purpose served by redefining the
sought-after knowledge so as to include both production and use now becomes
clear: this change allows Socrates to discredit rhetoric by showing how it fails to
meet the criteria he has established for the art leading to eudaimonia. The art of
speech-writing is shown to be an inferior form of art, unable to guarantee hap-
piness. But would anyone claim that speech-writing leads to happiness? Appa-
rently so, for Socrates emphasizes the power of speech to influence courts of
law and the popular assembly, and so he must be pointing to those alleged
teachers of rhetoric who promised Athenian youths a successful future. But for
Socrates this sort of success does not bring about happiness.

(b) Generalship
Socrates now makes a new suggestion: could it be that the art of the general is
the one leading to eudaimonia? Cleinias quickly rejects this art too, for, while
generals take people captive which is apparently viewed as equivalent to pro-
ducing something they do not use them but hand them over to the politicians
instead. The art of the general is subsequently presented as only one branch of
the much broader art of hunting: actual hunters and fishermen hand over their
products to the cook for use; virtual hunters like the geometers, astronomers,
and arithmeticians to the dialecticians; and generals to the politicians. Hunters
in general are incapable of using their products, whereas Socrates and Cleinias
are looking for an art which knows how to use what it possesses by either pro-
ducing or catching it (290d5 6). With this last phrase Cleinias redefines the
form of knowledge sought. Production may now be seen more loosely as a
form of catching, or locating, the object to which knowledge will be applied.
Notice that while it is Cleinias, and not Socrates, who is responsible for the
change in the way the sought-after knowledge is to be understood, Critos up-

A further significance of this section is discussed in my analysis of the final framing scene of
the dialogue, in which the art of speech-writing comes up again; see Chapter 3.
One may compare the Gorgias, where, in his discussion with Callicles, Socrates proposes the
life of the philosopher as preferable to the life of the man skilled in rhetoric, arguing that the
former leads to eudaimonia.
Cf. the Statesman, where the art of the statesman is seen as a branch of the art of herdsmen.
It must be noted that in the initial example about gold, the case was one of finding or
catching, not producing. But since then, and up until this point in the protreptic, the emphasis
has been solely on producing (musical instruments, speeches). This is the first time we return to
the original, looser understanding of production.
54 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

coming intervention will hint that Socrates is in fact putting his own words into
the mouth of the young man; this is discussed further below.
The mention of the general is fitting because he conveniently leads on to the
politician, whom Socrates will need for the final part of his protreptic. Moreover
his art, like the art of speech-writing, applies well to Euthydemus and Dionyso-
dorus, who are associated first with fighting in general (271d1 3), and then with
the art of generalship in particular (273c4 8). What remains to be accounted for
is why the general is paralleled to hunters, and especially to that particular
category of geometers, astronomers, and arithmeticians. If all that was to be
shown were that the art of generalship is inadequate for the procurement of hap-
piness, it would have sufficed to say that the generals do not use the products
of their art. But the hunting parallels are introduced first to knock out one more
competitor to the philosophic throne, as it were, and second to draw a distinc-
tion between arts of different kinds.
The first of these competitors are the sophists. The generals are here descri-
bed as hunters of men, much in the same way that in the Sophist the sophists
are. There the example of the angler serves to illustrate the method of division
into classes by which a definition is reached; then in 221c6 223b6 this method
is applied in seeking a definition of the sophist, who is said to bear significant
similarities to the angler. Both practice a form of hunting (cf. Sophist 221d13), ex-
cept the sophist is defined as a hunter of men. The Euthydemus is probably an
earlier work than the Sophist; but the idea of the sophists as hunters of men
need not be new to the later dialogue. In fact the general, defined as a hunter
of men, easily brings to mind those other hunters, Euthydemus and Dionyso-
dorus, who fit both descriptions: they are former hunters of men in battle, and
they have been recently practicing the new type of hunting typical of the so-
Next come the scientists, if one may employ this term to refer summarily to
the geometers, astronomers, and arithmeticians of whom Cleinias speaks. These
are not typical Platonic targets; but their mention helps draw a useful distinc-
tion between inferior and superior forms of arts, the former producing what is
necessary for the latter. These sciences are discredited because they hand
over their products to the dialecticians for use (290b10 c6). This is reminis-

Skouteropoulos (1987) argues that the target here is mathematics as practiced by sophists, as
opposed to that practiced by philosophers, assuming some difference between the two.
Sprague (1976) 50 52 terms these first- and second-order arts.
Erler (1987) 235 236 argues that dialectic fits well Socrates criteria for an art that both
produces something and uses its product: it identifies the appropriate souls and knows how to
make them happy.
1.2 The Second Protreptic 55

cent of Republic 7, where the study of arithmetic, geometry, solid geometry, as-
tronomy and harmony is presented as a preparatory stage for the higher pursuit
of dialectic. A further allusion to that work arises from the fact that the arts of
politics and dialectic are here placed on the same level, as arts to which other
arts hand over their products for use. A link is thus established between the
statesman and the philosopher by their joint placement at a level higher than
ordinary arts. Moreover, in the beginning of the section on the art of politics,
which is soon to follow, the kingly and the political art are treated as the same,
which seems unnecessary unless one sees it as an allusion to the philosopher-
king of the Republic.
It is worth noting that, throughout, this has been Cleinias argument. In re-
sponse to the young mans growing eloquence, Socrates becomes all the more
laudatory: when the conversation is resumed in the beginning of the second pro-
treptic, Socrates addresses him with the simple (288d5); as soon as the
first stage of the argument is completed and agreement is reached on the form of
knowledge sought as that combining production and use, Socrates calls him
(289b5); the next time Cleinias is directly addressed is also the last
one in the scene, and indeed in the entire dialogue. This takes place during
the examination of the art of the general, when Cleinias offers the impressive ex-
planation that makes Crito raise an eyebrow. Socrates address to the young man
now reaches its peak of praise: (290c7). After
that, Crito takes over. Clearly, the direct addresses are not interspersed in the dis-
cussion at random, but function as structural pointers, marking significant mo-
ments. Critos intervention raises the question that is inevitably formulating in
the mind of the Platonic reader as the second protreptic scene proceeds: if Clei-
nias could not have made such tremendous progress so quickly, could Socrates
be making it all up? The excessive praise of the young man seems intended to

Cf. Hawtrey (1978) and (1981) 127 128; Narcy (1984) 146 147.
There is a similar distinction between superordinate and subordinate forms of arts in
Gorgias 517c7 518a5. Palpacelli (2009) 160 mentions the useful parallel of the Statesman, where
the military art and the art of rhetoric are described as cooperative with the art of ruling. The
connection between these three arts, as illustrated there, helps explain why the same three are
singled out in the present dialogue.
Dickey (1996) 75 76 notes that the vocative is commonly used in Plato and elsewhere to
address not only children but also young men. Far from being derogatory in sense, the address
expresses the affection of the speaker toward the addressee, but also indicates a particular
relation between them in which the speaker is superior (in age, wisdom, etc.) and the addressee
inferior. This account fits well the situation in the Euthydemus, in which the old Socrates is
showing caring affection for the young Cleinias.
56 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

alert the reader to Socrates irony an irony directed at none other than Crito.
The philosopher is clearly being playful.

1.2.3 Critos Intervention

Three types of arts have been examined so far as potential candidates leading to
happiness and have been subsequently rejected for failing to use their products.
Notice the transition from inanimate products (instruments, speeches) to ani-
mate ones (human captives). This change allows for the possibility that the prod-
uct to be used by the sought-after art be a living being.
We would expect Socrates to tell us where he and Cleinias turned next in
their search for the art leading to happiness, but instead Crito intervenes. His in-
tervention brings forcefully back to mind that this conversation is in its entirety
narrated to him. This is a rare moment for a Platonic dialogue; such interruptions
of the dramatic illusion are infrequent, and, when they occur, they mark impor-
tant moments in a discussion. Why, then, should this particular moment in the
protreptic be underlined? The crucial words dialectician and politician have
just been introduced and, after the interruption, Socrates will elaborate precisely
on the relation between their respective arts. The moment is marked before we
proceed to the conclusion of the argument, which will imply that no art other
than the art of politics ensures peoples happiness.
So continuity is interrupted right before we move on to the crucial moment
of establishing a relation between philosophy and politics, and once everything
competing with these two arts has been separated off. There is a climactic move-
ment from speech-writing and fighting or hunting, all of which the sophists are
able to practice, to the great art of politics, which is intrinsically connected to
philosophy, and from which the two brothers are kept firmly away. Hence Critos
interruption serves as the dividing line between arts accessible to them and
arts reserved only for those with the proper philosophical training.
So far I have suggested a reason why Crito interrupts here, in this particular
moment in the dialogue. But one also needs to explain why he interrupts in the
way that he does. Why does he doubt that Cleinias could have made the thought-
ful observations Socrates attributes to him? And if Cleinias was indeed not in a
position to make them, why does Socrates, at least initially, attribute them to
him? Further, what does the interruption suggest about the relationship between
Socrates and Crito? These questions are central to the interpretation of the dia-

Cf. Erler (1987) 236.

1.2 The Second Protreptic 57

logue as a whole, but they require extensive treatment. They are therefore ad-
dressed separately in Chapter 3, which treats the relation between the characters
Socrates and Crito. In what follows I return to discuss the remainder of the argu-

1.2.4 The Art of Politics

Crito eventually asks if Socrates and Cleinias managed to find the art they were
looking for. Socrates presents it as though much intervened which he now skips
over, and many suggestions about possible arts were made (291b2 4); but the
final point he and Cleinias are said to have reached is very close to where
they had left off right before Crito intervened. The final art they examined was
that of politics, which has already been introduced immediately before the inter-
lude. Socrates says that at that point he and Cleinias felt they had fallen into a
labyrinth; thinking at first that they were close to the end of their inquiry, they
eventually came to realize that they still needed to determine just as much as in
the beginning of their conversation (291b7 c2). The significance of this sense of
entrapment in a labyrinth will be discussed shortly.
From now on Crito becomes Socrates interlocutor, essentially taking the
place of Cleinias. The transition from the youth to the old man, which will be no-
ticed also in the eristic scenes, takes place here too. Socrates tells Crito that,
first, he and Cleinias assumed that the art of politics was the same as the art of
the king. This kingly/political art knows how to use what other arts produce, and
so, Socrates says, it appeared to be the art they were seeking (291c7 9). The orig-
inal criterion for the sought-after art was that it know both how to produce some-
thing and use it. But the idea of production was broad enough to include finding,
rather than making, what it would later use; gold deposits could be identified,
rather than produced, and then used. Similarly the art of politics can have hand-
ed over to it, rather than itself produce, what it will subsequently use; the em-
phasis is eventually laid on the use of the raw materials of the art, no matter
how these are acquired.

Such changes in interlocutors are not rare in other dialogues. For example the young
Charmides is succeeded by the more mature Critias in the Charmides. But the opposite is also
possible, with the young Polemarchus taking the place of his father Cephalus in Republic 1. What
is significant for our purposes is the pattern observed in the Euthydemus in particular, i. e. a
transition from young to old, which creates the expectation that more thoughtful discussion will
58 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

So what does the art of politics use? It can no longer be conventional goods
like those listed early in the first protreptic, for they have been completely put
aside by the end of that scene. Instead, the goods here are men; it is they
who will be used. Remember that men were also the objects of production
and use in the final example (of the general) before Critos intervention. So a
new suggestion is on the table as to the type of knowledge ensuring happiness.
Crito asks how it was evaluated; instead of responding, Socrates gets him in-
volved in the search (291d5).
If politics is the art to which all others hand over their products for use, it
meets the requirements for a happiness-producing art because it knows how
to use things. But the question still remains: what does this art of politics consist
in, i. e. what kind of knowledge do statesmen possess, which allows them to
use the men over whom they rule? This question is not posed again at the mo-
ment, even though it was the one which marked the transition from the first to
the second protreptic. But it is precisely this question which will return at the
end of this scene, thereby completing the aforementioned sense of a labyrinthine
For the present, a new question is introduced, which complicates things fur-
ther: what does politics itself produce after the use of the products of other arts?
Socrates gives the following examples to illustrate his point: medicine rules over
certain things to produce health, and agriculture to produce food; what does the
kingly art, itself ruling over certain things, produce? The triple repetition of the
phrase (291e5; 291e8 292a1; 292a4) emphasizes that
each art presupposes a specific kind of knowledge, concerning specific things.
The art we are looking for must use some material which it either itself produces
or acquires (and it may itself be the product of some other art, so let us call it
product A) in order to make product B. So the new question raised is what
this product B might be. In other words, if each art has a product as a result
of its use of other products, politics too must have one. According to the
first protreptic, product B (i. e. the benefit of the art using product A of some
other art correctly) would be happiness. But here for the first time there is the
implication that politics has some other product, while happiness falls into
the background.

The emphasis on the product of an art is attested, for example, also in the Gorgias, where
Socrates insists that Gorgias determine the product of the art of rhetoric, which he claims to
teach (see Gorg. 451d 452e).
This is only possible because politics is viewed no longer as mere knowledge but as
knowledge put to use for a specific purpose, i. e. art.
1.2 The Second Protreptic 59

In the beginning of the second protreptic we were looking for an art that
would produce and use something. So the political art would presumably pro-
duce (in fact, have produced for her/ handed over to her) people (say, product
A), whom it would use to produce something further. If politics produces prod-
uct B which is not happiness, then we need to determine what that product B
might be, which will then presumably lead to happiness. Socrates wants to create
space, as it were, for a product of the art of politics that precedes happiness.
But Crito cannot determine what the political art might produce. He grants
that, since the art must be beneficial, its product must be good (292a8 12). Ex-
actly the same process was followed in the first protreptic with regard to the con-
ventional goods; whatever they might be, they needed to be beneficial
(cf. 280b7 8). In the second protreptic Socrates essentially repeats the process
he followed in the first one, and so inevitably reaches the same conclusion. In
the first protreptic it was argued that only knowledge is good (292b1 2), so if
the product of the political art is to be good, it too must be knowledge.
Clearly, according to the first protreptic, knowledge is the only independent
good. But other things can also become good when guided by it. So the political
art could still use the knowledge it essentially consists in to produce something
other than itself, which would still be good. Yet in Socrates conception of poli-
tics, the art ought to produce no conditional goods whatsoever, as it is supposed to
do in ordinary cities, but the single unconditional good, which the citizens will
then presumably use as a guiding principle to reach happiness. This is in per-
fect agreement with the extreme conclusion of the first protreptic: the complete
rejection of all conditional goods there is mirrored by the acknowledgement of
knowledge as the only possible good product of the art of politics here.
If, then, politics provides knowledge, it makes people wise (292b7 8). But
this was earlier said to be the job of philosophy: at the end of the first protreptic
we concluded that people needed knowledge and therefore had to be made wise
(282a1 6), which had then sufficed to prove that they had to practice philosophy
(282c8 d2). It follows that if the political art has to make the citizens wise and

Those arguing that the conditional goods are still part of the equation leading to happiness
in the first protreptic would need to grant that knowledge, the only unconditional good, as the
epistemic background of the politician and his art, would enable people to use their conditional
goods correctly; so the politician would supply them with the means to live a happy life by
teaching them how to use their assets. But in fact the second protreptic takes us far away from
such a conclusion, thus lending further support to my view that the conditional goods are
completely rejected when it comes to the pursuit of happiness the way Socrates conceives of it.
Cf. Parry (2003) 17, who discusses the difficulties of requiring an independent good to be
the product of the political art.
60 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

transmit knowledge (292b7 8), it has to accomplish the very same task as phi-
losophy. In a sense, philosophy and politics are equated or are they? The as-
sumption that wisdom is provided by philosophy seems to be qualified in the
second protreptic, as Socrates and Cleinias essentially seek the particular sort
of wisdom that philosophy provides. And if philosophy provides the knowledge
that politics transmits, the same individual could be first a philosopher, in ac-
quiring the knowledge, and then a politician in transmitting it.
At 292c5 Socrates suddenly suggests that the kingly art makes people not
only wise but also good. Thus the product of the political art becomes twofold,
consisting in wisdom and virtue. For the first time, then, virtue, left out of the
picture since the first protreptic, returns, and it is identified as the product of
the art that leads to happiness. Now the question arises as to what kind of
knowledge is to be transmitted (292c7). The object of the inquiry is identified
as the knowledge by which we will make other people good i. e. the knowledge
by which people other than the statesman himself will become good (292d5 6).
The knowledge or wisdom which he will transmit must then produce virtue; the
relation between the two appears to be not one of identity, but of dependence:
the one (virtue) results from the other (wisdom), which is the same type of rela-
tion between the two as the one we observed in the first protreptic.
Now if the art of politics presupposes the knowledge that makes people wise
and therefore good, it presupposes philosophy. A similar view is expressed in
Gorgias 514b e, where Socrates emphasizes to Callicles that, before a man
can embark on a public career (, 514e7), he must acquire knowledge
and experience in the private sphere (514e3 9). The preparatory stage requires
that a man have a teacher to teach him the art and a worthwhile product to
which he can point as proof of his having acquired the knowledge. Once he is
past that stage, he may begin transmitting his knowledge to others.
It will be useful to consider how the art of politics itself is understood in the
Gorgias, for there are some striking similarities between that dialogue and the
Euthydemus. Toward the end of his discussion with Callicles (Gorg. 506c5
508c3), Socrates argues that a properly ordered soul is good; a man with such
a soul is temperate, just, pious, and brave, and these qualities ensure his happi-
ness. Socrates then takes it to be the duty of political men to make the citizens
good by producing order in their souls; on this criterion he proclaims himself to
be one of the few, if not the only man in Athens attempting to practice the true
art of politics (Gorg. 521d6 e2). So the aim of politics is to produce virtue in the
souls of the citizens and this account parallels the one hinted at in the end of
the second protreptic of the Euthydemus, where virtue is the implied product of
the art of politics. Philosophy, then, will provide the wisdom necessary for the
transformation of the properties of ones soul into actual virtues; once this has
1.2 The Second Protreptic 61

been achieved, one may engage in politics, aiming to transmit to others this par-
ticular form of knowledge that relates to the virtues.
Let us sum up. Socrates and Cleinias were originally expected to search for a
form of knowledge enabling its possessor to use certain things conventionally
held to be good. But since the conventional goods were abandoned, they
searched for a form of knowledge/art that used its own products or the products
of other arts. The art of politics seemed to meet these requirements because of its
use of the products of other arts. But that use itself demanded a product, which
proved hard to identify. Socrates and Crito eventually concluded that people (ap-
parently conceived of as the products of other arts, handed over to politics)
would be used by the political art in order to be made wise and good. So the prod-
uct of the political art appears to be wisdom and virtue in the souls of others.
It was thought that the art of politics had to produce not dependent goods,
but the single independent good that is wisdom. This seems reasonable: if it is to
be the art leading to happiness, it needs to be able to provide the independent
good that makes other things good. But, as a matter of fact, not much new has
been said since the first protreptic, and this creates the sense of a labyrinthine
inquiry (291b7); Socrates present conclusion is in fact quite similar to the con-
clusion of the first protreptic scene: that all we need is knowledge but now
the subject-matter of that knowledge has still not been determined. Progress
has only been made in two respects: the art most likely to provide the knowledge
has been identified, as well as the things (or rather, people) to which it will be
applied. While in the first protreptic we were looking for the knowledge of using
the dependent goods, a view much closer to the common opinion, in the second
we find ourselves searching for the art of producing the independent good, in fact
the knowledge/art that gives knowledge to others. This naturally brings us back
to philosophy, an art providing its practitioners with no dependent goods, but
with the only independent one.
At an initial stage, philosophy provides the knowledge which functions as
the necessary background for politics. We then switch from knowledge to an
art because politics involves application of the knowledge in real life, as well
as a product of that application. The initial philosopher becomes a politician
by transmitting his knowledge to others, so that the product of the political
art is the possession of knowledge by the citizens. Since they are said to be
made not only wise but also good, the implication must be that the knowledge
with which they are provided is the kind of knowledge necessary for them to be-
come virtuous. The only thing missing from the argument is the identification of
the particular sort of knowledge necessary for virtue.
The implication that virtue is a product of wisdom fulfils the second of the
two tasks originally assigned to the sophists and subsequently undertaken by
62 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

Socrates himself: to make the young Cleinias care for virtue. Notice that a tran-
sition is made at the end of the second protreptic from making people wise to
making them good. A moment ago (292c4 5) wisdom and virtue were linked,
but by the end of the scene (292c7, 292d5 6) it appears that wisdom is only
the means to the end that is virtue. Moreover, the end-goal that was happiness
is now completely out of sight, with virtue having taken its place. There is no fur-
ther indication in the dialogue as to what the relation between virtue and hap-
piness might be. But, given that the protreptics started with a search for the
means leading to happiness and ended with the means leading to virtue, with
any references to happiness left aside, it is rather tempting to assume that a
state of virtue will either be identical to a state of happiness, or will have hap-
piness as its necessary product.
Socrates suggests that neither he and Cleinias, nor he and Crito managed to
find the knowledge they were seeking. So he asked the sophists to identify it.
They of course failed to do so, and the central question of the dialogue was
left open: what kind of knowledge makes one happy? Is it the same as the knowl-
edge that makes one good? Because the knowledge originally sought was con-
ceived of as a techne, the discussion was in fact sidetracked toward seeking
the product of that techne, rather than the knowledge which the art itself consist-
ed in. The purpose of shifting to a techne seems to be that Socrates can now con-
nect philosophy and politics, both of which involve the same sort of knowledge.
In the end of the second protreptic the question as to the nature of that knowl-
edge recurs in a pressing way. Is there an answer to be found?
There seems to me to be no answer in the Euthydemus. But the picture paint-
ed here points to the Republic. There too knowledge is acquired by those who

Cf. Gorg. 470e, where Socrates claims that a good man is a happy man; hence virtue must
necessarily be identical to or produce happiness.
Sprague (1976) 52 notes that the aporia arises from the fact that Socrates views the
knowledge leading to happiness as an art with a product of the same sort as the products of
ordinary arts. Erler (1987) 213 256 undertakes to illustrate the meaning of aporiai in Plato, but
he skips over this central one in the Euthydemus, focusing instead on certain sophisms of the
eristic scenes, which he interprets as allusions to Platonic doctrine. Bruell (1999) 71 suggests that
the aporia of the Euthydemus was necessary; otherwise Socrates would have supplied to the
sophists exactly the material they needed to show that they possessed the wisdom which they
claimed to possess. He adds (pp. 72 73) that Socrates and Cleinias were unable to find the
knowledge necessary for happiness, because they were unable to distinguish between the aim of
politics or of the kingly art, on the one hand, and that of philosophy on the other (292b1 d9;
compare 306a4 b3).
Devereux (2008) 156 161 points out that in the Gorgias we may find an answer to the
question of what the product of the political art is. In that dialogue it is said to be virtue,
1.2 The Second Protreptic 63

practice philosophy and gain access to the Forms. It is then passed on to other
people (or brought back down into the cave, as it were) by the earlier philoso-
phers in their new role as politicians. The very division of the Socratic argument
of the Euthydemus into two halves, one dealing with philosophy, the other with
politics, illustrates the twofold role of the philosopher-king of the Republic. In
this context, the identification of politics with the kingly art in the Euthydemus
becomes comprehensible. The philosopher-king is to practice philosophy first,
and though his ascent to the Forms would be enough to provide him with eudai-
monia, he must be forced to transmit his knowledge to those left back in the
cave. He is compelled to engage in politics, so that others might be able to follow
his path. His art consists in the transmission of his own knowledge, and its
product is indeed distinct from the art itself: the knowledge that he possesses
leads to the knowledge possessed by others. Think of a teacher of Latin as a par-
allel: he possesses knowledge of the language, and passes on that same knowl-
edge to others. This does not suggest that his art lacks a product.
What form of knowledge, then, is the politician responsible for transmitting?
Socrates hints at the end of the Euthydemus that this knowledge is somehow re-
lated to virtue; it seems that it makes people good. Reading the Republic into the
Euthydemus, one may conclude that the knowledge to be transmitted is that of

understood as the proper ordering of the parts of the soul. This suggestion provides a sa-
tisfactory explanation for the fact that Socrates unexpectedly adds toward the end of his ar-
gument in the second protreptic of the Euthydemus that politics will have to make people not
only wise but also good.
Philosophy and politics are tied together also in the Gorgias, where the philosopher Soc-
rates claims to be the only man practicing the true art of statesmanship (521d6 8).
Annas (1993) 58 65 explains that the concept of virtue as a skill, valued for its product, is
incompatible with the view that virtue is the only good, for the product of virtue as a skill could
not be also a good. The fact that Annas speaks of virtue rather than wisdom does not si-
gnificantly alter the point she is making: if wisdom is a skill with a product, and wisdom is the
only good, then the product of wisdom cannot be good; cf. Gonzalez (1998) 114. But there is a
relatively easy solution to this problem: the product can be the same as the knowledge entailed
in the art itself, except that it is possessed first by the philosopher/politician, and then by other
people to whom he transmits his knowledge. So there is a way to understand Socrates point as
less problematic than he makes it sound. But why does Plato choose to shift from knowledge to
art, thereby making it possible for the problem to arise? Is he pointing out a problem in
conceiving of wisdom as an art? It seems to me that he simply intends to emphasize that the
possession of knowledge by the individual is not enough; it needs to be passed on, and so a
transition needs to be made from philosophy to politics. It is the same transition that is required
in the Republic.
64 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

the Form of the Good. Philosophy will be the tool employed by the politicians
first in acquiring that knowledge for themselves and subsequently in guiding
others to it. So the product of the art is good for the individual, for he or she be-
comes good, and also for others, for they are also shown the way toward the ac-
quisition of virtue. Even though the dialogue appears to end in aporia, a way out
of the puzzle is available: a relation of dependence between philosophy and pol-
itics is established, which points to the Republic, in which an answer to the apo-
ria may be found. Philosophy provides the wisdom, understood as the epistemic
background necessary for the transition to virtue; politics then disseminates the
knowledge possessed by the individual the philosopher in his new role as
king, as it were in order to lead to the virtue (and happiness?) of others.
This is Socrates answer, although he withholds the details that would illustrate
and reinforce his view. The Euthydemus is indeed a protreptic to wisdom and vir-
tue, but it is confined to useful hints. It is, after all, a protreptic, and not the com-
plete teaching. For a fuller picture, the Platonic reader is urged to read on.

1.2.5 A Note on Socrates Method

In my analysis of the first protreptic I argued that Socrates made extensive use of
eristic techniques. The analysis of the second protreptic points in the same direc-
tion. The misleading elements in the Socratic argumentation in the present scene
can be summed up as follows: first, knowledge is redefined as no longer the use

Others have made this suggestion, but as a passing reference, without offering reasons why
the Euthydemus and the Republic are to be connected: see Shorey (1933) 164; Festugire (1973) 31;
Guthrie (1975) 281; Hawtrey (1981) 119; Erler (1987) 237; Kahn (1996) 209 and 325. Parry (2003) 26
elaborates: In the first protreptic interlude, wisdom is an individual virtue whereby one ma-
nages his own assets; it confers an individual good. Then it becomes the craft of ruling over an
entire city; thus, it confers good on others. Yet it seems to keep the promise of conferring
individual good; Socrates and Cleinias continue to seek the individual good which wisdom
confers.The solution would be to have a ruling craft which both confers a good for others and
confers a good on the individual. One way to realize the solution is to make ruling in the city
analogous to ruling in the soul. What was missing in the Euthydemus was the means to realize
the analogy. What is needed is for the soul to have parts, one of which is fit to rule and the others
to obey i. e. parts analogous to the parts of the city. In the Euthydemus, of course, we find no
such moral psychology. The opposite view has also been put forth; McCabe (2002) argues that,
instead of looking forward to the Republic, the Euthydemus looks back at it and criticizes its
concept of the rule of reason as not intrinsically good.
I thus find myself in agreement with Kahns (1996) subtle interpretation of the aporia of the
Euthydemus as an opportunity to make the interlocutor ready and eager to learn (p. 324). Cf.
Taylor (1926) 99.
1.2 The Second Protreptic 65

of assets but the production of a certain product (or the acquisition of the prod-
uct of some other art) and the subsequent use of that; second, the examples used
to illustrate the point that certain arts do not combine production and use are
not always apposite; for example there are speech-writers who also deliver
their speeches; third, with the introduction of politics, the idea of production
falls completely out of sight; fourth, when looking for the product of the art of
politics (the product now being understood quite differently from the way it
was in the production and use argument), the self-evident suggestion that hap-
piness might be that product is not at all considered; finally, the secondary prod-
uct is expected to be an unconditional good on the assumption that conditional
goods will not do. Precisely this assumption generates the infinite regress: if the
sought-after knowledge or art must produce an unconditional good, it must pro-
duce itself. This is presented as problematic, but need not be so: it is in fact de-
sirable that the knowledge producing virtue be passed on from one individual to
another and then another, so that all can be made virtuous.
The accumulation of tricky moves in the argument of this scene suggests
that, once again, Socrates is willing to manipulate the conversation in order to
have Cleinias, or even Crito, accept positions that have not been fully argued
or satisfactorily proven. But this is perhaps the role of a protreptic to philosophy:
to provide reasons why one should pursue it, without spelling out all the an-
swers. Cleinias has a lot to learn, and philosophy takes time; it suffices at this
stage to convince him to invest it. In other words, it suffices to convince him
(and the reader) of the importance of knowledge both for his own sake and
for the sake of the pursuit of a political career. The relevant knowledge is said
to be the one pertaining to the virtues and this sort of knowledge is discussed
in a wealth of other dialogues.

1.2.6 Conclusion

When Socrates begins his second protreptic, he presents it as an illustration of

his method, and of a generally serious approach, which he encourages the play-
ful sophists to adopt (288c5 d4). In this way he juxtaposes his method to that
of the sophists, presenting his own as superior. Similarly, interpreters of the dia-
logue tend to conclude that the Euthydemus as a whole aims to illustrate the dif-

Such craftsmen may be understood as practicing two distinct arts, e. g. one that involves
writing speeches and another that involves delivering them.
66 1 Playful Philosophy: The Protreptic Scenes

ferences in method between Socrates and his eristic opponents. In this chapter
I have argued that, apart from these differences, there are also significant simi-
larities between the two approaches, which are prominent enough to deserve at-
tention; Plato seems to have wanted his reader to notice them.
Moreover, in choosing the particular topic that he does for the demonstra-
tion of his method, Socrates points to the similarities and differences not only
in method, but in the very objects and purposes of the two competing arts.
The dialogue begins with Crito repeatedly asking what the sophists teach, i. e.
what the object of their art is (271c1; 272d5 6). In the course of the dialogue,
the question develops to include not only what the sophists teach, but also
what the philosophers do. The second half of the question is implicit in the
search for the particular kind of wisdom that philosophy provides. Eventually,
both the object of eristic and the object of philosophy evade the reader. But use-
ful hints are supplied to illustrate both. Eristic, confined to a contest of words,
has no specific subject-matter, while philosophy aims at providing a particular
kind of knowledge related to virtue.
Moreover, philosophy is presented as the single path to happiness. Since ev-
eryone wants to be happy, as Socrates and Cleinias assume in the beginning of
the first protreptic, all should practice philosophy. But does philosophizing
mean acquiring any and every kind of knowledge? Socrates sets out to determine
a unifying piece of knowledge which alone is necessary for the procurement of
happiness. He fails to do so, but the reader of Plato can find it in the Republic, to
which the Euthydemus points in a number of ways. The Euthydemus is an elab-
orate advertisement of philosophy, emphasizing its crucial role in politics and
the happy life. The method employed by the art itself is occasionally not so
sharply distinguished from that of its eristic competitors, but the knowledge it
eventually provides is both necessary and sufficient for the achievement of eu-
daimonia. Clearly, the purpose it serves is much higher than the mere verbal vic-
tory over a chance eristic opponent.

See, for example, Sprague (1962) 3 4, or Chance (1992) 19 21, who characteristically calls
the eristic scenes apotreptic in terms of method and the Socratic ones protreptic.
2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes
Scholars have so far examined the structure of the Euthydemus only at a macro-
level. When they turn to each individual scene, they no longer study their respec-
tive structures, but only the quality of the arguments found in each of them.
What I propose to do in this chapter is, first, to study the structure of the eristic
scenes at a micro-level, i. e. within each individual eristic scene, and to show that
patterns emerge which have philosophical significance; second, I look at the dra-
matic aspects of the scenes, showing how they enhance the meaning of the argu-
ments. For it is my view that arguments cannot be examined in isolation, without
taking the dramatic structure into account.
In the first part of this chapter I examine each individual scene in its own
right. In the second part I argue that the three eristic scenes, taken together,
can be read as a continuum which runs parallel to and, in a sense, converses
with the two protreptic scenes. The order in which the arguments are presented is
meaningful, for it allows the author to show more than what his characters say.
Both the eristic and the protreptic scenes lay special emphasis on the question of
the object of the knowledge that leads to happiness, and both implicitly identify
it with the Forms; so the recurrent allusions to Forms and Recollection in the
third eristic scene are explained in light of the answer to this central question.
The sophists appear to be rather serious in this final scene, in the sense that
they inadvertently make claims which allude to Platonic theories; and while
the sophists of course do not mean their claims seriously, Plato would have
meant the views they allude to rather seriously.
Further, it is shown that, in the course of their argumentation, the two broth-
ers consistently commit the same fallacy: they assume the existence of opposites
between which no middle ground is allowed. The exclusion of this middle has
significant implications, which are illuminated by reference to passages in the
Symposium, Republic, Sophist, and Philebus. These middle and late dialogues in-
form our understanding of the eristic practice in the Euthydemus. But in many
early dialogues Socrates commits the very same fallacy; in fact in one instance
he is shown to do so also in the Euthydemus. Now if he too seems to ignore
the middle between opposites in questions or propositions that essentially mis-
lead his interlocutors, we are faced with yet another similarity between Socrates
and the sophists. As in the previous chapter, so too in this one, Socrates is shown
to be playful in a way reminiscent of his opponents.

See, for example, Keulen (1971), Chance (1992), Palpacelli (2009).

68 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

2.1 The Individual Scenes

2.1.1 The First Eristic Scene

Toward the end of the opening scene of the Euthydemus Socrates assigns the so-
phists their initial task:
(275a5 6). The two brothers are asked to convince the
young Cleinias to philosophize and cultivate virtue. So in the first eristic
scene, which follows immediately, the reader expects the sophists to demon-
strate the efficacy of their teaching method by proving to Cleinias that philoso-
phy and virtue are worthwhile pursuits.
The scene is divided into four sections. In the first one (275d2 276b5), Euthy-
demus addresses Cleinias. The question he puts to the young man is whether the
wise or the ignorant are the . Cleinias responds that it is the wise,
and he is refuted, as Euthydemus forces him to admit that the
are the ignorant. In the second section (276b6 276c7), Dionysodorus takes
over. He demonstrates to Cleinias that the exact opposite of what Euthydemus
had demonstrated is actually true; the wise, not the ignorant, are the
So far Euthydemus and Dionysodorus have alternated in the role of the ques-
tioner. They have both posed the same question. Moreover, the arguments of
both are based on the double meaning of . Euthydemus takes the
verb to mean to learn, and so it appears reasonable that the ignorant learn.
But Dionysodorus takes it to mean to understand, and therefore it is again rea-
sonable that the wise understand.

Praechter (1932) 130 points out the double meaning of the adjectives / , and
assumes that Plato is aware of both equivocations. Keulen (1971) 15 16 notes that fast alle
Begriffe, die von den Sophisten in ihrer Argumentation verwendet werden, sind doppeldeutig.
Following him, Hawtrey (1981) 58 59 lists a number of other possible ways of understanding
this argument, but concludes that the most likely interpretation of the passage is reached when
we understand as equivocal and / as univocal. Surprisingly,
Keulen p. 24 outright denies the existence of an equivocal in the first pair of arguments.
But since Socrates points out the double meaning of the verb rather than the adjectives (277e5
278a7), I consider that the primary basis of the argument, leaving aside the question whether
Plato was aware of the other equivocation too.
Note that the entire first eristic scene employs forms of only in the present stem,
so that the puzzle in meaning does not originate from changes of aspect (with the aorist stem
meaning to understand and the present to learn). Now Chance (1992) 31 argues, I think
convincingly, that the success of the sophistic arguments relies not on the employment of a
single linguistic trick, or the use of a single equivocal term but on an entire network of
2.1 The Individual Scenes 69

Cleinias first response, according to which the wise are the , is

refuted by Euthydemus; yet it proves to be correct when Dionysodorus takes
over, since the latter argues for the same position that Cleinias initially adopted.
In refuting Cleinias, then, Dionysodorus essentially refutes Euthydemus. Already
the first set of arguments makes clear that there is no definitive answer to which
the sophists aspire. Their sole interest is in refutation, rather than the pursuit of
truth, and this exactly corresponds to what Socrates says of them to Crito in the
opening scene of the dialogue (cf. 272a8 b1).
Euthydemus has presented a particular case in which the verb re-
fers to individuals still in the process of learning, i. e. students who do not yet
know the material they are being taught; Dionysodorus presents an alternative
case in which the same verb refers to children grasping what the teacher of gram-
mar teaches by dictation. The truth conveyed by language appears relative, since
it is presented as depending on the differing circumstances, when in fact the
problem lies in the ambiguity of the language itself.
In the third section (276d1 277b1) Euthydemus poses a new question: -
; (276d7 8).
The same linguistic trick as before applies here. If is taken to mean to
learn, then the question becomes do those learning learn what they know or
what they dont know? and the reasonable answer is that they learn what they
dont know. But if the same verb is taken to mean to understand, then the ques-
tion acquires a rather different meaning: Do those who understand understand
what they know or what they dont know? Then the reasonable answer is that
they understand what they know.
In the first section of this scene Euthydemus had adopted the first meaning
of . But in the third he opts for the second meaning. When Cleinias re-
sponds that people learn what they dont know, obviously taking to
mean to learn, as his present interlocutor had done before, Euthydemus re-
futes him by arguing that one who doesnt know letters , i. e.

argumentative techniques. Cf. also pp. 47 8: In this first eristic display Plato has pictured for
us the abuse of ambiguity. But a fact that never escaped him is that these first two sophisms
illustrate considerably more than just the ambiguous use of terms. They contain a host of other
perplexities as well, not the least of which are the psychological riddles involved in any account
of learning and knowing; and such knots cannot be unraveled simply by making a few verbal
distinctions. Although I agree with Chance, I am here primarily interested in that aspect of the
tricks that is recurrent in the arguments, namely the double meaning of certain key words.
Hence I omit full reference to all other techniques employed to make the arguments work. My
primary purpose is not to examine the validity of the arguments in isolation (which has been
done by Chance) but the structure of the scenes in which we find them, and the relation between
the dramatic and philosophic content of those scenes.
70 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

does not understand, what another person dictates to him. So he concludes

that those understanding understand what they know.
In the fourth section (277b3 277c7) Dionysodorus takes to mean
to learn, i. e. he adopts the opposite meaning of the one he had adopted in
the second section. So he reaches a conclusion opposite to the one Euthyde-
mus reached just before, in section three: those learning learn what they dont
know. Once again, Cleinias original answer proves to be correct in the differ-
ent circumstances that the second of his interlocutors presents, and so while the
young man remains consistent, the brothers refute one another.
Note the dramatic context in which the first set of arguments is situated. Of
the two brothers, Euthydemus takes the lead. He asks both questions, while Dio-
nysodorus takes the supporting role of providing an alternative response to the
one Euthydemus originally supplies. As soon as Euthydemus asks the first ques-
tion, Cleinias, blushing, looks at Socrates for support; Socrates provides it, but it
becomes amply clear even before the young man utters a word that he will prove
no match for the brothers. Dionysodorus, smiling, announces to Socrates that he
will not escape refutation, regardless of his answer. Both parties, the questioners
and the answerer alike, refer back to Socrates, who has set the rules and initiated
the performance.
Socrates qua narrator explains that he did not have time to warn Cleinias to
beware, for the young man rushed to give a response to Euthydemus first ques-
tion. The terms in which the beginning of the conversation is described suggest
that Cleinias is sent to do battle rather than to discuss: he must show courage
(275d7 e1) and caution (276a1) in conversing with the brothers, both of which

Hawtrey (1981) 60 objects to the meaning of suggested in the LSJ, arguing

that the word most likely means to recite from memory, rather than to dictate.
Keulen (1971) 16 also points out the double meaning of , understood as either
letters or written text.
Keulen (1971) 25 40 and, with him, Hawtrey (1981) 65 66 believe that already in this early
part of the dialogue there is an allusion to the theory of recollection. For example Hawtrey p. 66
argues that there is a sense in which Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are expressing what
Plato firmly believed, and the reader familiar with the Meno will pick this up: one learns (in the
sense of acquiring knowledge) neither what one knows already nor what one is entirely ignorant
of, but what one may recollect from prenatal experience. For the same view see Keulen, esp. p.
35. I am willing to accept that Platos answer to the questions raised by the sophists in the first
eristic scene of the Euthydemus is to be found in the Meno. But I am disinclined to accept any
overt or covert allusion to that dialogue at this point in the Euthydemus. There is nothing in the
words of the sophists here that directly alludes to the views on anamnesis expounded by
Socrates in other dialogues. In fact, as I will argue, such allusions are reserved for the final
eristic scene of the Euthydemus.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 71

would obviously be unnecessary for a student in his interaction with potential

teachers. Moreover, by the end of the first section, Cleinias barely manages to
take a breath before Dionysodorus takes over, as if beaten in a physical conflict.
The battle implications square well with the identification of the brothers as
fighters in the immediately preceding framing scene (cf. 271c7 272b1), where
and its cognates recur a number of times. It becomes clear right from
the start that the two sophists will fail to offer a protreptic, in which both they
and their interlocutors would proceed in the same direction; rather, they already
engage in an agon, in which they proceed each time in whichever direction is
opposite to that of their interlocutor.
The second set of questions appears to build on the first one, since the -
of the first set are part of the question of the second one:
; In other words, this
new question includes within itself the term which the sophists allegedly aimed
to define in the preceding set of arguments, so that an appearance of continuity
arises. But in fact the term was earlier left unclear. The sophists ask questions
about knowledge and its acquisition, which seem relevant to the task assigned
to them by Socrates, but which utterly fail to build up toward a meaningful pro-
Dionysodorus whispers to Socrates a second time, revealing that the second
set of arguments will resemble the first one. From the point of view of structure,
he does so at the same moment as before, i. e. once the question has been posed,
but no answer has yet been given. This time, however, he adds the generalizing
statement that all sophistic questions are of this sort: (inescapable,
276e5). After expounding the theory, he puts it to practice: when Euthydemus
completes his refutation in the third section, he takes over the argument as if
it were a ball to be aimed at Cleinias (277b4 5). The implication is again that
a competitive game takes place before the eyes of the audience. And when Eu-
thydemus prepares for a third round of fighting (cf. , 277d1), Socrates
intervenes to give [Cleinias] a rest (277d3). The fight has been exhausting, so
Cleinias takes a time out and Socrates enters the ring.

Whittington (2008) 1 5 and passim pushes his interpretation of the aggressive attitude of
the brothers a little too far by claiming that a parallelism is intended by Plato between the
sophists method and Athens itself as a city valuing competition and violence. Even if the spirit
of competition may be viewed as typically Athenian or Greek, no direct link is established or
even hinted at in the text between that and the practice of the eristic couple, so that Whit-
tingtons main interpretative axis seems to be superimposed on the Euthydemus rather than
elicited from it.
72 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

Let us sum up: there are two pairs of arguments in the first eristic scene, both
concerned with learning. A pair of sophists poses a pair of questions in alterna-
tion; the word , used in both questions, has a pair of possible meanings;
and each of the two questions posed by the sophists itself includes a double, or a
binary opposition, in the sense that there are only two possible answers to it, one
opposite to the other (wise/ignorant, what one knows/what one does not know).
It seems not far-fetched to add that even the double intervention of Dionysodorus
in the scene, each time alerting Socrates to the fact that there is a trick in the
argument, is pointed (275e3 6, 276d9 e7). The whole process is described
in terms of fighting, with the brothers in the role of aggressors, and Cleinias
mounting a flimsy defense. Though the eristic display was supposed to aim at
persuasion, this learning experiment cannot have convinced the young man of
anything except the inability to reach any sort of positive truth.

2.1.2 The Second Eristic Scene

The new task assigned to the sophists at the end of the first protreptic scene al-
lows them an option. They may continue to convince Cleinias of the same thing
that Socrates did in the immediately preceding protreptic scene, i. e. that one
must practice , since is the only thing that can make one
happy and fortunate (cf. 282c8 d1); alternatively, they may determine whether
the young man needs to acquire every form of knowledge in order to be a
happy and good man, or a single form, and which one (282d4 e6). The first
part of this task actually repeats the first part of the task initially assigned to
the sophists at the end of the introductory scene of the dialogue, which was to
convince Cleinias that it is necessary to philosophize (275a5 6). That task had
been twofold (pursuing philosophy and caring for virtue), and the sophists
had been asked to convince Cleinias of both. The second task is again twofold,
but the sophists are given an option as to which part they wish to fulfill.

Levenson (1999) 59 65 also notes the emphasis on the double, but only in the first eristic
scene; we will see that this emphasis actually persists in the second. Further, his explanation of
the doubling as an echo effect characteristic of the Dionysiac experience might initially seem
plausible, but his interpretation of the entire dialogue as an instance of initiation in the rites of
the Corybantes relies on some extremely speculative arguments and almost entirely free asso-
ciations between texts which lack any inherent connection between them (see especially
Chapters Six and Seven, which include his analysis of the second and third eristic scenes
2.1 The Individual Scenes 73

If they choose to accomplish the first part, they will be doing what Socrates
just did, for at the end of the first protreptic scene he proved to Cleinias that it is
necessary for the man who wants to be happy to practice philosophy. If on the
other hand they choose to determine which kind of knowledge he should seek,
they will be following up on the first protreptic (cf. 282e1), because at the end of
that discussion Socrates left precisely this question in need of an answer. It thus
becomes clear that Socrates tries to establish continuity in the discussion, while
the sophists have so far provided a fragmented series of arguments only seem-
ingly relevant to the task assigned them. It is also worthy of note that the assign-
ment of twofold tasks is persistent, which contributes to the impression gained
from the first eristic scene that the idea of the double is crucial to the dialogue.
The second eristic scene is divided into eight sections. It is thus twice as long
as the first one, which had only four. In response to Socrates request that the
sophists convince Cleinias to become wise and good (cf. 282e5 6, 283a4), Dio-
nysodorus, rather than Euthydemus, takes the lead. But instead of addressing
the young man, he addresses Socrates and the members of his group, so to
speak, by questioning their intentions: is their wish that Cleinias become wise
meant in earnest? A number of differences between the present eristic scene
and the first one are already evident. The addressee has changed, and the earlier
type of questions based on binary oppositions has been left aside. Instead, a new
method is employed, which will remain predominant throughout this scene (and
the next), and of which the fifth section (283b4 283d8) is the first instance: the
sophists will repeatedly latch on to the words of their interlocutor to formulate
an argument based on them. This technique reveals the lack of specific direction
in the sophistic argumentation: far from presenting arguments appropriate for
convincing Cleinias of particular views, the sophists are content to formulate ar-
guments out of any chance comment made by their interlocutors.
So Dionysodorus claims that wanting Cleinias to become wise is equivalent
to wanting him dead. Here too, as in all four sections of the previous eristic
scene, a linguistic trick is employed. The verb is typically followed by a
predicate, which, however, may often be omitted. Dionysodorus exploits this
possibility, claiming that wanting Cleinias to be wise is equivalent to wanting
him not to be what he is; for Socrates, responding on Cleinias behalf, has
granted that the young man would not be so arrogant as to claim that he is
wise. Dionysodorus then assumes that he must be ignorant. he binary opposi-

I have numbered the sections of the present scene in a continuous way, starting with
section five, in order to avoid confusion between the first section of the present scene and what I
called the first section in the preceding eristic scene.
74 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

tion / of the first eristic scene returns, this time not discussed in
general but applied specifically to Cleinias. By removing the predicate what he
is, Dionysodorus is able to claim that the Socratics want Cleinias not to be,
and then interprets that as not to exist.
At this point Ctesippus reacts fiercely against the sophist. He violently bursts
into the conversation to tell him that he is lying. Such an outburst is consistent
with the Socratic characterization of Ctesippus as insolent (, 273a8)
upon his first mention in the dialogue. Socrates singles him out among the
group of lovers following Cleinias upon his entrance to the Lyceum, and a little
later (274b6 c6) notes his effort to stand in full view of his beloved. Given how
fond of the young man Ctesippus is, Dionysodorus suggestion that those who
allegedly care for Cleinias in fact wish to ruin him inevitably provokes his reac-
tion. Yet his affection for Cleinias is portrayed in an exaggerated way, which con-
tributes to the comic quality of the dialogue.
So the fifth section is transitional: it leads the way toward Ctesippus active
involvement in the dialogue; Ctesippus in fact becomes the primary interlocutor
of the sophists in the second eristic scene, taking over from Cleinias, whom we
left dumbfounded at the end of the first one. But the opening section of the scene
also introduces the theme of being through the employment of the verb to be.
This verb and its cognates are used in three of the four eristic arguments of the
scene, thereby raising the question of being a question central among phi-
losophers in general, and for Plato in particular, as parts of the Theaetetus and
the central digression of the Sophist reveal. In brief, the question is this: how
should one conceive of being? Is it one, as Parmenides held, or is it infinitely
many, as the relativists, like Protagoras, believed? Moreover, what is non-
being? Is it the contrary of being, and so nothing at all, as the sophists claim
in our dialogue? And if non-being (or what is not) is nothing, then how
could one speak of it? Would speaking of nothing mean that one does not
speak at all? Sophists like our two brothers seem to have exploited the linguistic
ambiguity of the verb to be to create serious puzzles. While an explicit resolu-

Burnyeat (2002) 63 makes the nice observation that the discussion about the death of
Cleinias brings to mind the passage in the Phaedo in which Socrates maintains that the phi-
losopher in fact practices dying throughout life: there is a deeper Platonic sense in which to be
changed from ignorance to wisdom is to become dead: dead to this world and its bodily
I am here counting only the arguments of the second eristic scene which are put forth by
the sophists, and not their refutations by Socrates or the introductory argument of Dionyso-
dorus; cf. the schema of the structure below.
Denyer (1991) 24 43 provides a useful list of thinkers earlier than or roughly contemporary
with Plato, who held that it was impossible to speak of what is not.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 75

tion of these puzzles is reserved for the Sophist, the questions are clearly raised
Before I turn to an examination of the specific arguments in the Euthydemus
it will be useful to point out the difficulties arising from the ambiguity of the verb
to be. The verb admits of at least four senses. The following examples should
illustrate them: Socrates is (existential); Socrates is musical (predicative); That
my car is blue is the case (veridical); That is Socrates (identity). It will be
shown that the sophists shift without warning from one use of to be to anoth-
er, as they did in the case of in the first eristic scene.

I take it that the existential use of to be is employed in the Euthydemus; for the same view
see, for example, Hawtrey (1981) 95. The question whether Plato sees a semantic distinction
between the verb to be in its complete use (without a predicate) and its incomplete one
(followed by a predicate) is hotly debated. Owen (1970) acknowledges that Plato was generally
aware of an existential use (p. 438), but he rejects the view that this was implied in the central
arguments of the Sophist. Instead, the arguments can and should be understood as relying only
on a connective use, distributed between identity and predication (p. 443). Against the view
that Plato draws a distinction in the Sophist between different senses of to be see also Denyer
(1991) 130 135. [This view seems to me hard to maintain: in the Sophist the Eleatic Stranger sets
out to show the problem inherent in the assumption that what is not is equivalent to no-
thing (i.e. something that does not exist) (cf. 237b c); from his exposition it becomes clear that
he understands the Parmenidean claims as existential (244b 245d); the same is true of his
examination of other theories, all of which make claims about being in the sense of existence; so
it would be rather odd to provide an answer to the puzzle which excludes any reference to
existence. Indeed when the Stranger emphasizes at 257c 258d that not-beautiful contrasts
being with being, he does seem to be underlining a distinction between existential claims
(which he presents as irrelevant) and predicative; a distinction is inevitably implied between the
Parmenidean understanding of non-being and the Strangers own understanding of it.] Brown
(1986) takes a middle way between those who argue that Plato drew a distinstion between
existential and predicative uses and those who deny it by arguing that, in fact, there is conti-
nuity between the two senses. But to prove her point she relies only on examples drawn from the
English language, when examples of Greek usage would have been much more useful to make a
convincing case (see esp. pp. 458 462). Now, Brown (1994) takes the argument of the end of
Republic 5 to suggest that Plato (as Parmenides before him) failed to notice the difference
between the existential and predicative uses of the verb, thereby assuming that if X is F, then
X is; on this assumption, Socrates claims in that argument that (1) the object of knowledge is
what is, because what is not cannot be known (complete use of to be); (2) the object of
opinion is what is and is not (incomplete use of to be, followed by predicates). So, for
Brown (1994), the confusion in Rep. 5 arises from the fact that Plato and with him the average
Greek was not aware of the difference between the complete and incomplete uses of the verb,
which were inextricably related in his mind [cf. Kahn (1966)]; that distinction is drawn in the
Sophist, but not used further in the course of the arguments there, because Plato continues to
hold that one may infer the complete use from the incomplete one.
76 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

Let us, then, return to the arguments. In the sixth section (283e7 284b2)
Euthydemus comes to the fore, introducing a new round of questioning.
Since Ctesippus has just accused Dionysodorus of lying, the sophist asks
whether such a thing is possible. This is no longer a disjunctive question in
the manner of those posed in the first eristic scene. But it is the second instance
of latching on to the chance comment of an interlocutor and formulating a the-
sis based on it. Moreover, as Chance points out, the brothers now grant their
interlocutor the thesis that appears in agreement with common sense (e. g.
that lying is not impossible), and themselves defend the opposite one. Yet
the question posed here still admits of only two possible answers, yes or no,
and there is still a contrast between two opposite theses (lying is possible
vs. lying is impossible).
Ctesippus starts from the assumption that lying is possible. Euthydemus gets
him to agree that, in lying, one speaks of a particular thing ( ,
284a3), i. e. that specific one of all the things that are, about which he speaks.
Since it is said to be one of the things that are, speaking of it amounts to speak-
ing of something that is. But speaking of what is, Euthydemus adds, means say-
ing true things; he evidently takes what is to mean what is the case. In this
final step the sophist shifts from things that are in the sense of things that exist
in the world to things that are in the sense that they are true. The participle of
, just like the third person singular in the fifth section, is ambiguous. So
a person saying may be speaking either about one of the things
that exist, or about one of the things that are true. Now a lie may be a false
statement making reference to things that exist, without corresponding to the re-
ality of a particular situation. I can say, for example, that my car is blue and
refer to things that exist, i. e. cars and the color blue, but it may still not be
the case that my own car has that color. In other words, a statement can be

Chance (1992) 80.

Kahn (1966) argues that the semantic distinction between the existential and the predi-
cative to be is almost a new one in the 19th century, explicitly stated by John Stuart Mill; the
existential sense of the verb should not be assumed for ancient Greek, where the primary senses
are the predicative and the veridical. But I agree with Hawtrey (1981) 98 that Kahns suggestion
cannot apply here. Cf. Zeppi (1969) xxvii xxix, who also explains the linguistic ambiguity on
which the arguments of the second and part of the third eristic scenes rely as the result of a
confusion between two senses of to be; this is then used as an argument in favor of the
seriousness of the eristic scenes of the Euthydemus, which he interprets as intended to criticize
primarily Eleatic views (pp. xxxi xli).
2.1 The Individual Scenes 77

made about things that exist, and yet not be true. Euthydemus merely exploits
a linguistic ambiguity.
In the seventh section (284b3 284c6) the interlocutors are again Euthyde-
mus and Ctesippus, as in the sixth, and Euthydemus argues for the same thesis
as before, that it is impossible to lie. Ctesippus was not in a position to pinpoint
the fallacy in the argument of the sixth section, but he nevertheless stated upon
its conclusion that he remained unconvinced; in that respect his involvement in
the discussion with the sophists constitutes progress in comparison with the
young and timid Cleinias. The technique of latching on is employed here too:
Ctesippus had insisted at the end of the previous section that
(284b1 2), and Euthydemus introduces his new argument
by asking: ; (284b3 4).
So in the seventh section Euthydemus offers a second argument in defense
of the same thesis: the things that are not are not anywhere, and no one could
produce such things; but the public orators do something and produce some-
thing, i. e. speaking; speaking, then, must be a thing that is; so when one speaks,
one speaks of something that is and is true. The same linguistic trick is em-
ployed here as in the previous section: at the very end of the argument the so-
phist shifts the meaning of the phrase from things that exist, like
speeches, to things that are true. Of course, insofar as speech is the product
of rhetoric, it exists, but its content need not be true.
It seems significant that the particular argument Euthydemus chooses to
make in defense of the impossibility of lying concerns public orators. Rhetoric,
and its specific branch of speech-writing, is singled out not only here, but
also in the protreptic scene to follow, and further in the final framing scene of

Scolnicov (2000) introduces a useful distinction between statement and utterance; while
the former does not take into account a speaker, but only names an object or a state of affairs,
the latter does take into account the presence of a speaker, who may name correctly or falsely.
And he goes on to explain (p. 117): On Euthydemus and Dionysodorus theory of language,
nothing intervenes between the name and its reference. By contrast, the triadic model of
language puts great emphasis on the speaker, without whom naming (in the material world)
could not take place.
This issue comes up again in Theaetetus 188c10 189b9, where Socrates draws an analogy
between judging and seeing, hearing, or touching: in all the cases of sense-perception men-
tioned, a man perceives something that is; by analogy, a man will judge something that is; a man
judging what is not judges nothing, and so does not judge at all, Socrates continues; judging
falsely, then, must be different from judging what is not, since the latter amounts to not judging
at all. Burnyeat (2002) argues persuasively that the confusion in this argument does not imply
that Plato is unaware of the problem; he just lays out the puzzle to provoke the active eng-
agement of the reader with the text; cf. Burnyeat (1990) 77 81.
78 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

the dialogue. Euthydemus essentially claims that all public orators speak the
truth, and so denies the existence of deception in the public sphere.
The sixth and seventh sections are tied together into a pair. In both the ques-
tioner is Euthydemus and the answerer Ctesippus. Also in both, the matter at
hand is whether one can lie. The same trick is employed in both, based on the
ambiguity of the same phrase ( / ). Euthydemus originally concludes
that one who speaks can only tell the truth, and subsequently that no one can
tell lies, hence Dionysodorus must be speaking the truth. So the conclusion is
the same, but the way of arguing for it is in the former case affirmative, in the
second negative.
Ctesippus is still puzzled. Once again failing to grasp the linguistic ambigu-
ity, he grants that Dionysodorus speaks but not as they are (
, , 284c7 8). In so doing he provides
the segue, for in the eighth section (284c9 285a1) Dionysodorus asks whether
there are certain people that say things as they are (
; 284c9 d1). The technique of latching on, which he intro-
duced in section five and Euthydemus adopted in six and seven, is here em-
ployed afresh. Ctesippus responds that good men who speak the truth say things
as they are ( ); he agrees that good things are in a good condition ( )
and bad things in a bad one ( ); so good men speak of bad things as
they are, i. e. badly.
The argument is never concluded, because Euthydemus intervenes to ask an
additional question, intended to distort the meaning of the claim that good peo-
ple speak of things as they are. The claim properly means that good people tell
the truth about things, and not that they say things in the manner that these
things are. So if something is hot, saying things as they are properly means
saying that the thing is hot, and not saying something in a hot way. But this is
the direction in which Euthydemus wants to take the argument, relying on the
double meaning of the phrase .
Euthydemus intervenes because Ctesippus has just implied in his address to
Dionysodorus that the sophist runs the risk of being regarded as evil. Once
again, Ctesippus seems to have earned the characterization of which
Socrates attached to him in the opening scene (273a8); he does not hesitate to
speak his mind, however much that might provoke the sophists.

These occurrences are discussed in the relevant chapters.

2.1 The Individual Scenes 79

Euthydemus intervention implies abuse of Ctesippus, who shows clear signs

of irritation and is subsequently himself accused of being abusive. Socrates in-
tervenes to calm things down, urging Ctesippus to allow the sophists to ruin
Cleinias if they wish, provided that they lead him to virtue. Note that the philos-
opher here plays along with the sophists, since he appears willing to stretch the
meaning of , redefining it to mean to change someone. Socrates is
then himself willing to be ruined by the sophists so long as they make him
a good man. Along the same lines, Ctesippus offers himself to be skinned, pro-
vided that the process aims at virtue. This whole passage (285a2 c6) consti-
tutes a narrative pause, which serves to highlight a shift in the argumentation:
there is a transition here from a series of arguments designed to show the impos-
sibility of false statement to a new one intended to prove the impossibility of
Ctesippus argues that he merely contradicts Dionysodorus, rather than being
abusive. The sophist uses this as a transition to a new claim, and the technique
of latching on is repeated: in the ninth section (285c7 286b6) he manages to
convince Ctesippus that contradicting is impossible. He first gets him to agree
that there is an appropriate description for everything that is, as it is. No one
speaks of what is not, according to the preceding arguments (of sections six
and seven), so only speaking of what is needs to be considered in the case of
contradiction. Now, when two people give the description proper to a thing,
they must say the same things; if neither gives that proper description, neither
speaks of the thing in question; finally, if one gives the proper description and
the other does not, they necessarily speak of two different things. In none of
these cases does contradiction arise.
Dionysodorus uses as a premise for the present argument the conclusion of
the sixth and seventh sections, and an impression of continuity arises. A syntac-
tical transposition brings about the change in meaning:
(speaking about the same thing) is replaced by -
(giving the description of the thing), and the way is now open
for the sophist to claim that there is a single appropriate way of speaking about

Chance (1992) 94 points out that we have come full-circle back to the beginning: we started
with an accusation of Dionysodorus which offended Ctesippus, and now end with an accusation
of Ctesippus which offends Dionysodorus.
Chance (1992) 95 ff. calls it an interlude.
80 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

each thing ( ). It is on this false assumption that the argu-

ment relies.
The eighth and ninth sections constitute yet another pair, since in both Dio-
nysodorus is the primary questioner and Ctesippus the answerer. The fact that
we have two sections in which Dionysodorus takes the role of the questioner re-
peats the structure of sections six and seven, in both of which Euthydemus held
that role. So the structure of the first eristic scene, in which a single argument by
one sophist was followed by another single argument by the other, is here dou-
bled: we have a single questioner providing two arguments before the other takes
Ctesippus, the aggressive but unsuccessful interlocutor of the sophists for
the last four sections, is reduced to silence by the end of section nine. In the
tenth section (286c5 286e7), Socrates picks up the thread of the argument.
What does this change of interlocutor contribute to the scene? It serves to juxta-
pose the approaches of the two men. Ctesippus is passionate; he wants to defend
himself in the eyes of his beloved, but his aggression is not taking him very far.
Socrates, on the other hand, is composed, dispassionate; his refutations are
sharp and even witty while not openly provoking the sophists. Hence they
prove more effective.
Socrates takes the sophistic claim of the impossibility of false statement as a
working hypothesis and draws out its consequences to show that, even if it de-
feats the interlocutors, it eventually proves self-defeating. Note that the term
Socrates employs to comment on the sophistic argument comes from the field
of physical fighting. The argument is said to overturn opposing views; -
(286c4) preserves the metaphor employed to describe the sophists in
the beginning of the dialogue by using language appropriate for pancratiasts
and their opponents.
In conversing with Cleinias, Socrates used protreptic speech; but with the
sophist Dionysodorus he uses the method of refutation familiar from the early
Socratic dialogues: he grants the initial statements of his interlocutor and
then shows them to be inconsistent with what he subsequently agrees to. Essen-
tially, this is the method that the sophists themselves have been using through-
out the eristic scenes, and it is reasonable to assume that for this reason Socrates
is primarily assigned protreptic arguments rather than refutations in the Euthy-

Hawtrey (1981) 106 107 explains the argument on the basis of the double meaning of
Dionysodorus question. Ctesippus understands it to mean as they are, or as they are not?
whereas Dionysodorus implies that they are, or that they are not?
Socrates makes the same point in his summary speech of praise at the end of the
dialogue: see 303e1 4.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 81

demus. In a dialogue concerned with drawing a distinction between eristic and

dialectic, refutation is reserved for the opponents who claim to possess knowl-
edge; potential students, on the other hand, are only exhorted.
So the sophists have claimed that lying, or making false statements, is im-
possible; Dionysodorus now adds that holding false beliefs is impossible;
and, on the assumption that the latter amounts to being ignorant, ignorance
is impossible. The dichotomy between wisdom and ignorance, central to the
first eristic scene and picked up in the first protreptic, now resurfaces.
At the moment that Dionysodorus claims that no one is ignorant Socrates
pauses to ask him whether he truly believes what he claims (286d11 13):
, , , ,
; The question directly echoes
Dionysodorus similar question at the beginning of the scene, when he had
asked Socrates whether he truly wished Cleinias to be made wise (283b4 7):
, , ,
; Socrates had criticized the sophists for playing, Dio-
nysodorus had turned the criticism against the Socratics, and now Socrates pres-
ents the sophist with the same criticism, only phrased in a different way (
). The verbal correspondence, marked by the recurrence
of a disjunctive question and the repetition of , underlines the simi-
larity. But the difference is crucial: when Dionysodorus asks if Socrates means
his wish in earnest, Socrates reaffirms it; when Socrates asks the same of Diony-
sodorus, the sophist does not stick to his claims, but challenges Socrates to re-
fute him (286e1). A major difference between the two is highlighted here. More-
over, the sophist had earlier claimed that wanting Cleinias to be wise amounted
to wanting him dead; the same sophist now claims that no one is ignorant, so
everyone, including Cleinias, must be wise. The similarity between the two pas-
sages is structurally significant: it marks the shift from a set of sections in which
the sophists engaged in argument with Ctesippus to a new set in which Socrates
takes over; once again, argument and drama go hand in hand.
When Socrates asks Dionysodorus if he is serious in his claim that ignorance
is impossible, the sophist challenges him to prove him wrong. But how could
Socrates prove anyone wrong, if lying, understood as speaking what is false,
is impossible? This is the inconvenient position Dionysodorus would be forced
to admit, had Euthydemus not jumped in to correct him. Socrates reveals the in-

On the connection between false statement and false belief see Denyer (1999) 18 19.
Why this is important is explained in section 2.2 of this chapter.
82 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

consistencies in the sophists claims, but also the problems inherent in the main
claim of this scene, i. e. the impossibility of false statement. In the tenth section
he comes alarmingly close to a refutation of Dionysodorus and at the same time
of the Euthydemian claims of sections six and seven.
In the following, eleventh section (287a1 b1) Socrates turns to refute Euthy-
demus. If speaking falsely, holding false beliefs, and being ignorant are impos-
sible, then erring must be too; but if this is the case, then what is the need for
teachers like the two brothers? Socrates points to a contradiction between the
sophists original claim to teach virtue and their present claim that no one
errs. Just as Euthydemus earlier jumped into the discussion to save Dionysodo-
rus, the latter now intervenes to check what seems to be an inevitable refutation.
He upbraids Socrates for still remembering what the sophists had originally
claimed, and therefore vocalizes what has so far been shown only implicitly
by the technique of latching on: that there is no consistency in the views held
by the brothers, nor any direction toward a specific goal. Yet it seems reason-
able that a protreptic argument should both be consistent and have a goal.
In the twelfth section (287b6 288b2) Socrates asks Dionysodorus to clarify
what he means when saying that the philosopher will have nothing to say
against the present claims of the sophists: ;
(287c1 2). If Dionysodorus were to answer, he would have to admit that he
meant that Socrates would not be able to refute him; this he was almost forced
to admit in the tenth section, and for that reason Euthydemus had intervened. To
avoid the same inconvenient admission Dionysodorus latches on to Socrates
phrase . He attempts to prove that is a function only of living
beings, so one that a word cannot perform. But the verb can mean both to think,
to have the power of reasoning and to mean something. Of course a word is
incapable of thinking, but it can still mean something.
Socrates readily offers his final refutation. If the phrasing of his question is
right, then Dionysodorus objection is not valid. If his phrasing is wrong, then he

Hawtrey (1981) 114 suggests that Dionysodorus question about whether Socrates still re-
members what the brothers claimed in the beginning of their discussion, i. e. that they teach
virtue, might be though probably isnt a hint at the Platonic theory of recollection. But
Chance (1992) 103 seems to assume that there is indeed an allusion to the theory here. It seems
to me that any casual reference to remembering need not be an allusion to Platonic theory. The
fact that Socrates still remembers what the sophists had originally claimed is simply indicative
of his care for consistency and their complete disregard of it. But there is nothing further in the
text to hint at the theory of recollection, as there will be later, in the third eristic scene.
For the sophists emphasis on the present and their attitude toward time in general see
Mesch (2000).
See LSJ s.v. II and IV.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 83

has made a mistake; but the sophists have claimed (in section ten) that erring is
impossible, since it has been agreed to be a necessary consequence of the impos-
sibility of lying. In either case the sophists have been refuted, and on this note
the second eristic scene comes to an end.
The Socratic refutations of the sophists are framed by the same statement:
at 286c3 4, upon the silencing of Ctesippus and before Socrates first refutation,
the philosopher comments that the sophistic arguments on the impossibility of
contradiction were already employed by the followers of Protagoras and even
earlier sophists, and then adds that such arguments overturn others but even-
tually also themselves. Then the refutations follow. Upon their conclusion,
Socrates returns to his initial point: at 288a2 7, having already shown how
the arguments are self-defeating, he remarks that not even these sophists, active
presumably a long time after Protagoras, have managed to avoid self-defeat.
While Cleinias utterly failed to argue against the sophists, and Ctesippus,
though intuitively aware of the difficulties inherent in the sophistic claims,
also failed to demonstrate why they could not stand, Socrates delivers a series
of refutations in his very first direct confrontation with the brothers. It will be
useful to compare the respective structures of the first two eristic scenes:

First Eristic Scene Second Eristic Scene

5) (Dionysodorus Socrates)
1) Euthydemus Cleinias 6) Euthydemus Ctesippus
2) Dionysodorus Cleinias 7) Euthydemus Ctesippus

3) Euthydemus Cleinias 8) Dionysodorus Ctesippus

4) Dionysodorus Cleinias 9) Dionysodorus Ctesippus

10) Socratic Refutation #1, of Dionysodorus

11) Socratic Refutation #2, of Euthydemus
12) (Dionysodorus Socrates) Refutation #3

While in the first eristic scene the sophists take turns as questioners, with Euthy-
demus being the first to pose a question each time, in the second the pattern is
varied. Instead of a single argument by a single sophist, we have two arguments
by the one, followed by two by the other. Moreover, both arguments by Euthyde-
mus aim at proving the same point, and they both employ a linguistic trick based
on the ambiguity in meaning of a form of . So the idea of the double predom-
inant in the first eristic scene is here retained. The two subsequent arguments by

For an interpretation of the Euthydemus as the locus of a caricature version of Protagorean

teaching see Bucellato (1952).
84 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

Dionysodorus aim at proving two different things, but they can still be viewed as
a pair, not only because they are put forth by the same sophist but also because
they both intend to prove the impossibility of something taken to be true by Cte-
sippus. In every single argument presented by the sophists the technique of
latching on is employed.
Next, Socrates begins to be actively involved in the conversation. Almost en-
tirely absent from the first eristic scene, he now offers a series of three refuta-
tions to a pair of sophists who have each put forth a pair of arguments. But
the final section twelve structurally corresponds to the initial section five: the
same two interlocutors engage in verbal contest, providing a framework for
three pairs of arguments. The twelfth section differs from the preceding two Soc-
ratic refutations: even though it ends up as a refutation itself, it is initiated by
Dionysodorus, while the previous two refutations were specifically intended as
such (cf. 286c3 4, 286e10 287a1) and initiated by Socrates. Moreover, while
in the tenth and eleventh sections Socrates did not draw out the full implications
of his criticism, the final one is explicit. No reaction on the part of the sophists is
recorded: Socrates has the final word.
The schema should make clear that the first and second eristic scenes orig-
inally balance each other quite smoothly: in sections six through nine, i. e. the
first four of the second eristic scene not taking into account the transitional
section five the primary interlocutor of the sophists remains the same, Ctesip-
pus, and he engages in exactly the same number of arguments as Cleinias. But
the second eristic scene shows an increase in length: once Ctesippus is reduced
to silence, three refutations of the sophists by Socrates follow. In addition to the
increase in the number of sections, the double intervention of Socrates in sec-
tions eight and nine first to calm down Ctesippus, then to comment that the
impossibility of contradicting is a claim familiar from Protagoras is indicative
of this general tendency. The whole dialogue in fact seems to be structured as a
crescendo, with the eristic scenes becoming progressively longer and culminat-
ing in the last one, which, as we will see, is the longest, involves a greater variety
of topics, and presents the reader with some of the most absurd sophistic claims.
While in the first eristic scene a single sophist questions a single interlocutor
without interruption by a third speaker, things change in the second one. Euthy-
demus and Socrates intervene in sections eight and nine, in which Dionysodorus
had started out as the main questioner. In section ten, Euthydemus nervously
jumps in to save his brother from being refuted by Socrates, and in section elev-
en Dionysodorus does the same. Also, in sections six and seven, Euthydemus
gives two proofs of the same thesis; absolute balance would require that Diony-
sodorus also argue for a single thesis in his own pair of arguments that follows.
But in fact he first gives an incomplete proof of one point and then a full proof of
2.1 The Individual Scenes 85

a different one. So, while the structural pattern of the first eristic scene was re-
markably neat, that neatness is here disrupted.
Far from constituting a complete breakdown in the balanced structure, all
this is still suggestive of a certain change in the dialogue. In the first scene
the sophistic show meets with complete success, at least on a superficial
level; Cleinias is speechless by its end, without having even attempted to cast
a single blow against the two brothers. The balanced structure, which includes
no interruptions and unexpected changes in interlocutors, seems to reflect the
fact that initially the eristic victory over Cleinias is unquestioned. But the second
scene starts out with the forceful expression of disbelief on the part of Ctesippus.
There is already, then, a crack in the originally invincible image of the sophists.
The disruptions in the structure and the breakdown of the symmetry that be-
come evident in the rest of the scene are indications of a certain nervousness
on the part of the sophists, who impatiently interrupt each other and leave
their arguments incomplete. The brothers are losing ground, and this is artfully
portrayed also at the level of structure. The silencing of Ctesippus (286b7) does
not mark the end of the scene, which instead ends with the essential silencing of
the sophists themselves.
Ctesippus remains silent throughout Socrates active involvement in the dis-
cussion, only to speak up again when Dionysodorus has been defeated at the
end of the scene. There he returns briefly to share in Socrates success. As
soon as the philosopher tells the sophists that their arguments not only defeat
others but prove self-defeating, he jumps in to add: -

(288a8 b2). This intervention of an interlocutor formerly
reduced to silence at the moment of another interlocutors victory over the so-
phists is mirrored later in the dialogue when, in the third eristic scene, Cleinias
also joins Ctesippus in laughing at the defeated Dionysodorus (300d5 6).

In laying out the structure of the first two eristic scenes I have tried to show that
great emphasis is laid on doubles. What is the significance of the emerging
patterns? This recurrence of the double is employed to illustrate the very essence
of the sophistic practice. There is non-Platonic evidence that the sophists pro-

In my discussion of the Euthydemus I identify the double as characteristic of the sophists;

but for Socrates understood as essentially a double character in other Platonic dialogues,
combining high and low elements, or the philosophic and the comic, see Beltrametti (2000)
225 226.
86 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

fessed to teach their students how to argue both sides of an argument: one of
the two surviving examples of sophistic works, the a short work
written in Doric and dated to the 4th century BC illustrates this practice by pro-
viding arguments for both ethical relativism and its opposite, ethical
The danger Socrates saw in the sophistic teaching was that it denied the ex-
istence of absolute truth. Everything depended on ones perspective, or, as Pro-
tagoras put it, man was the measure of all things. Through the structure of the
eristic scenes Plato illustrates the duality characteristic of the sophistic argumen-
tation, and juxtaposes to it the Socratic pursuit of the single question. This is
why the protreptics show a continuous line of argument, rather than the frag-
mented image that emerges from the analysis of the eristic scenes.
The duality and duplicity of the sophists is already emphasized in the
opening scene of the dialogue. Notice the way Crito asks Socrates about the con-
versation he had the previous day at the Lyceum (271a1 5):

, , ;

, .

Who was it, Socrates, with whom you were holding a conversation yesterday at the Lyceum?
Indeed a great multitude of people was standing around you, so that I was not able to hear
anything clearly, even though I came close, wishing to hear. Yet leaning forward from above
I took a look, and it seemed to me that the person with whom you were holding a conver-
sation was a foreign man. Who was it?

Crito is very eager to know who Socrates interlocutor was (hence the repetition
of ), and clearly has the impression that it was a single individual. But Socra-
tes is careful to point out that the sophists were two: , -
; (271a6 7). Now Critos misunderstanding seems
too pointed and is placed in too emphatic a position the very beginning of the

Much of our evidence for the sophistic practices comes from Plato; but he clearly intended
to discredit the men whom he regarded as his opponents. How reliable, then, is his portrayal of
them? For a recent study of the sophists as presented in the Platonic dialogues and non-Platonic
sources, see Tell (2011). For discussions of the sophistic movement in general see De Romilly
(1992), Dillon and Gergel (2003), Gomperz (1965), Kerferd (1981), McCoy (2008), OGrady (2008),
Rankin (1983), Sprague (2001), Waterfield (2000); for a recent defense of the sophists, not all of
whom share the eristic tactics of the brothers of the Euthydemus, see Tindale (2010).
For a discussion of the see OGrady (2008) 138 151.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 87

dialogue to have been included just casually. In fact it serves the very purpose
of highlighting the existence of two interlocutors, whose method of argumenta-
tion will then be shown to correspond to their number.
The sophists are two, and the views they defend are also two, one opposed
to the other. If Plato merely wanted to demonstrate the fallacies inherent in the
eristic method, he could have achieved it by employing a single sophist as the
main interlocutor of Socrates, just as he does in the Protagoras, the Hippias
Major, etc. But a duet serves his dramatic purpose better. It enables him to ex-
ploit the possibilities created by a pair of actors whose role is roughly the
same, thus illustrating the duality so characteristic of actual sophistic practice.
The connection between the two is of course underlined by the fact that they are
presented not merely as two sophists working together, but as brothers: that too
reinforces the bond, the inextricability of the one from the other.
But then, why is the dialogue not named after them both? It becomes clear as
the dialogue progresses that Dionysodorus is inferior to Euthydemus. He re-
peatedly makes mistakes which his brother rushes to correct, both in the second
eristic scene and, as we will see, also in the third. In that final scene Dionysodo-
rus will blush out of embarrassment, in the same way that Cleinias does in the
first eristic scene. Dionysodorus is a necessary complement to Euthydemian
practice; but Euthydemus remains the primary initiator, and so he gives his
name to the dialogue.

Hsle (2004) 252 253 also notes the emphasis on duality in the Euthydemus, though he
relies on the existence of a pair of sophists and the use of the dual form alone to prove his point.
We have seen in the analysis of the individual eristic scenes that this point may be reinforced
substantially by noting the existence of pairs of arguments, pairs of contrary terms, pairs of
possible meanings of a given term, etc. Hsles explanation for the emphasis on the double is
also different (pp. 267 275): subscribing to Szlezks view that the Euthydemus points to Platos
unwritten doctrines, he argues that the two sophists function as the anti-philosophers, re-
flecting, as it were, the role of the philosopher in the reverse; the hidden meaning behind their
arguments points to the hidden meanings behind philosophical discourse, i. e. the unwritten
doctrines; more specifically, the emphasis on duality in the Euthydemus points to the notions of
unity and duality which were central to these doctrines, under the influence of the Pythagorean
Philolaus. On Philolaus see Barnes (1982) 297 311.
Post (1926) argues that our Dionysodorus is to be identified with the orator Lysias, and
Euthydemus with Lysias brother of the same name; the Euthydemus then becomes a satire
against Lysias (p. 30). The claim rests on rather thin ground, not least because Euthydemus, not
Dionysodorus, is the leading sophist in our dialogue. Of course a number of other objections can
be added: why would Lysias and his brother be presented as sophists of the eristic kind? Why
does Crito claim not to know them? Why are they from Chios? etc.
Hffmeier (2000) lists a number of reasons for naming the dialogue Euthydemus, such as
that, of the two brothers, Euthydemus is mentioned first in the dialogue; that Crito will not have
88 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

2.1.3 The Third Eristic Scene

The third eristic scene does not show the same care for patterning that was ob-
served in the preceding two. Rather, it moves relatively loosely from one thematic
section to the next, without any particular emphasis on the double as a structur-
ing principle. The individual sections, discussed below, grow progressively
shorter, and deal with a variety of topics that appear unrelated at first glance.
In what follows I analyze these sections, and then argue that, despite the struc-
tural looseness, there is a thematic connection that ties the scene together and
also with the previous two, so that all three scenes may be interpreted as telling
a single story. My aim is to show that the order in which the eristic scenes un-
fold is meaningful, with the first scene essentially posing a twofold question,
and the second and third offering a response to that question.
The task assigned by Socrates at the end of his second protreptic is that the
sophists either prove the same point as he did, that one ought to philosophize, or
identify the kind of knowledge that leads to happiness (282d4 e4). This is no
longer a twofold task, since the brothers are now given an option; but it pre-
serves the sense of continuity that the philosopher had tried to establish before,
as it essentially repeats his request made at the end of the first protreptic
(275a5 6). It is just that the two brothers are no longer expected to accomplish
both tasks; one will suffice. So Euthydemus takes the lead and responds. For the
first time in the dialogue, he too gives his interlocutor an option: does Socrates
want Euthydemus to teach him the knowledge he seeks, or to show that he al-
ready has it? In so doing, he mimics Socrates behavior.
Socrates wonders if it is within the sophists power to show such a thing, at
the same time addressing him as blessed (293b3). The use of here is
pointed. The same term is used in the second protreptic to indicate the person

been able to see or hear Dionysodorus; that Dionysodorus is seated on Socrates left, rather than
his right; that Euthydemus takes the lead in the first eristic scene; etc. But Dionysodorus
intellectual inferiority, as demonstrated repeatedly in the course of the eristic arguments, seems
to me a more crucial reason why Euthydemus is singled out as the one after whom the dialogue
is named.
I have therefore abandoned the method of numbering individual arguments, which I in-
stead treat in thematic groups.
In fact the actual term for happiness, eudaimonia, does not recur. This seems relevant to the
fact that happiness falls out of the picture by the end of the second protreptic, as the emphasis
shifts to virtue. Similarly, then, the form of knowledge to be identified by the sophists aims at a
good life, rather than a happy one (cf. 293a5 6). Might that suggest something about the
nature of a happy life? Cf. Chapter 1, in which I argue for the view that, in the Euthydemus, virtue
is sufficient for happiness; so a happy life will be a virtuous one.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 89

that becomes happy as a result of the practice of the sought-after art (cf. 290d7).
So when Euthydemus claims to be able to show that Socrates possesses that art,
Socrates immediately and ironically attributes to him its results: if the so-
phist can show that Socrates possesses the art, he must know it himself, and
so he must be blessed and happy.

(i) The Claim of Omniscience (293b1 297b8)

Socrates opts for the possession of the knowledge, rather than its acquisition,
for, he claims, he is an old man already. In so doing he returns to the motif of
his old age: in the introductory scene Crito had suggested that perhaps his friend
was too old to become a student of the sophists; in response, Socrates had em-
phasized that the sophists themselves had learnt in their old age. So the man
who has all along claimed that he wants to learn by becoming a student is
now told that he has nothing to learn, for he already knows everything. The in-
evitable implication that, in that case, the sophists have nothing to teach him is
left unspoken.
Euthydemus sets out to prove his claim: if Socrates knows certain things, as
he admits that he does, then he is ; he also grants that one of the
things that are cannot be both x and not x; so if Socrates is , he can-
not also be (i. e. not ). This is how the sophist wants the
argument to run, in order to show that, by virtue of Socrates being ,
he must also possess the in question. Socrates attempts to qualify his
responses multiple times: he only knows certain things, so he cannot be called
in an unqualified sense. Euthydemus resists the qualification. In
the end Socrates makes the argument himself: his knowing one thing makes
him know everything.
Socrates has clearly picked up on the technique of the sophists, which he is
now able to imitate, but Euthydemus merely comments that Socrates is refuting
himself! The reader may recall that refutation was taken to be impossible in the
second eristic scene and it was precisely Euthydemus who was denying its pos-
sibility in an effort to rescue Dionysodorus. Once again, the inconsistency in the
sophistic views is apparent. Moreover, refutation is not really applicable here,
since Socrates did not start out with a thesis which Euthydemus would prove
wrong; instead Euthydemus started out with the clear intention to prove a thesis
of his own. It is evident then that, for the sophists, any sort of positive proof soon
degenerates into conflict.
The main technique of the second eristic scene, employed in every single
one of the brothers arguments, was that of latching on to the final words of
the interlocutor and making an argument out of them. This method will continue
to be employed in the present scene, though, technically, the first section is not
90 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

an instance of it, as it necessarily follows from the task assigned by Socrates.

However, another element will prove characteristic of the third scene: the soph-
istic arguments will rely on the addition or removal of a qualifier, and the first
instance of this method is found right at the start: Socrates is described as a
knower, but the sophists do not allow that the object of his knowledge be speci-
fied; on this condition they can prove that their claim of omniscience holds.
Socrates questions the claim, asking the sophists whether they happen to
know certain things but not others. Taking over from Euthydemus, Dionysodorus
claims that not only Socrates, but indeed the sophists too, and the rest of the
world know everything. He gives no new proof, but simply repeats Euthydemus,
now applying it not specifically to Socrates but to everyone. The claim of univer-
sal omniscience is the boldest so far made by the brothers in the dialogue, pre-
paring the way for a series of absurd arguments.
It is at this point that Socrates for the first time acknowledges the serious
attitude of the sophists and, immediately thereafter, he fires questions at
them. He lists a number of arts and other pieces of knowledge, all of which
the sophists claim to possess. Ctesippus, silent during the latter part of the sec-
ond eristic scene and the beginning of the third, now returns to the foreground,
also asking the brothers to prove that they truly know what they claim to know:
could one of them tell how many teeth the other has? The sophists merely con-
tinue to claim knowledge of everything, and Ctesippus continues to ask ques-
tions, even the most shameful ones (294d4), which the narrator chooses to
omit. But at the end even Socrates asks if Dionysodorus knows how to dance.
This long section is not tightly knit in the manner of the arguments of the
previous two eristic scenes. Both sophists engage in argument at the same
time, rather than alternating, and they receive responses or provocations from
two interlocutors. Socrates repeated use of the dual in this scene emphasizes
the fact that, unlike the earlier scenes, the present one involves two men almost

I have here adopted Chances terminology [see Chance (1992) 137 ff.].
Cf. Chapter 4.
The dual is used for the first time in this scene at 293e5 6: Euthydemus has claimed
omniscience for Socrates, who now turns to question the claim, addressing not the sophist who
put forth the argument, but both of them at once. This is a wholly new practice, and it persists:
when Dionysodorus responds to the question, Socrates again does not address him specifically,
but insists on using the dual (293e8, 294a1; cf.294b2 3, 294b6). Ctesippus adopts this practice,
addressing both sophists at 294c1 2 ff.; cf. Socrates again: 294e6 ff. After Ctesippus intervention
Socrates engages in another argument with Euthydemus alone, but upon its completion he
again turns to involve Dionysodorus in the discussion and employs the dual (296d7 8). The dual
is of course used extensively elsewhere in the dialogue, but for reasons other than the present
one, i. e. not in order to engage both brothers in discussion at the same time.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 91

merged into one and arguing simultaneously. Socrates and Ctesippus are clearly
making fun of the sophists. Their long series of questions constitutes a narrative
pause, as the scene lingers on the point of universal omniscience a point which
renders the alleged teachers useless.
Socrates encourages the sophists to make a yet more extravagant claim by
asking whether they have only come to know things now, or have always
known them. He then follows up with another question, which prods them to
claim that they have known everything since the moment of their birth. The so-
phists do not resist either claim.
Next, Euthydemus attempts to prove that what the brothers claim for them-
selves is also true of Socrates. The sophist first makes him admit that he always
knows by means of something. Socrates asks if Euthydemus means the soul.
But the sophist allows no side-steps from the path set by his own questions. Soc-
rates is only permitted to answer, but not to ask for clarification. It suffices if he
responds on the basis of whatever he might take his interlocutor to mean. At this
point Socrates qua narrator comments that Euthydemus treats him like his prey;
in the role of the hunter, the sophist uses words as his nets. This hunting meta-
phor is significant, because it is used extensively also in the Sophist, a dialogue
with which the Euthydemus shows further connections. But in that dialogue
the situation is reversed, with the sophist in the role of the hunted rather than
the hunter. Instead of laying traps, he is himself trapped and his trickeries ex-
posed, so that he may not use them to deceive in the future. The hunters of
the sort that we find in the Euthydemus are hunted down in the Sophist, and ap-
propriately so, since some of the puzzles employed by the brothers in the former
dialogue are resolved in the latter.
Socrates eventually yields to Euthydemus commands, and another round of
questioning begins. The sophist asks if Socrates knows by means of something.
Socrates answers yes by means of the soul. Having just given the impression
that he would play along with the sophists, he returns to his initial claim, like
the buffoon in a comedy, who is chastised, appears to learn his lesson, and
then commits the same error all over again; Socrates does not appear willing
to learn the eristic method. Euthydemus of course objects afresh: Socrates

Compare, for example, the connection between the Sophist and the second Socratic scene,
as discussed in Chapter 1. Note, however, that while the hunting metaphor is quite predominant
in the Sophist, it is attested also in numerous other dialogues, discussed in Classen (1960); the
hunt typically represents the laborious search for knowledge and truth that lies at the heart of
Platonic thought (pp. 53 54). A useful survey in the first half of the book illustrates that the use
of the metaphor is traditional, attested from Homer onwards.
On this see my analysis of the second eristic scene above.
92 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

was earlier not allowed to ask clarifying questions, and he is now prevented from
giving full answers. The conversation with the sophist is a one-way street, and
the philosopher must conform: so Socrates grants that he knows by means of
that by which he knows.
Euthydemus, satisfied, moves on to the next question: does he always know
by means of that thing? Socrates is again cautious: when he knows, he always
knows by means of that thing. Euthydemus intends to shift the claim from al-
ways knowing by means of something to always knowing, by removing two
qualifications: first, the means by which one knows; second, the specific cases
in which one does know. Socrates voices his concern about the insertion of
this always in the argument and he playfully but explicitly indicates the
sorts of deceptive techniques employed by sophists of the Euthydemian sort.
The final qualifier to be removed follows: Socrates says that he always knows
all the things he knows by means of that same thing, but Euthydemus insists
on Socrates phrasing his claim as always knowing all things; he then rushes
to conclude that Socrates has admitted to know always and everything
Thus Socrates is supposedly shown to have always known everything even
before he was born (296d1 3). Though left unspoken, the same refutation ap-
plies here as the one made by Socrates at the end of the second eristic scene:
what is the point of having teachers like the sophists when everyone always
knows everything? Any further discussion seems pointless, and the dialogue
could easily end here.
Socrates sets out to disprove the sophistic claim of omniscience, taking it as
a working hypothesis that eventually leads to inconvenient conclusions. If Soc-
rates knows everything, does he know that good men are unjust? Euthydemus
responds that Socrates knows that good men are not unjust. Socrates of course
repeats his actual question and Dionysodorus intervenes to respond that Socra-
tes has not learnt that anywhere. But if he hasnt, then he does not know it, so he
is , and the sophistic claim of omniscience is shattered. As in the
second eristic scene (286e1 6), here too Dionysodorus seems to make the
sorts of mistakes that ruin the argument. Compared to his brother, he appears
not to have mastered the eristic technique fully, and Euthydemus chastises
him. But if he needs to do that, then it follows that Dionysodorus does not
know everything either.

Rather than focusing on the removal of qualifications, Hawtrey (1981) 149 explains the
argument on the basis of the double meaning of , which may be taken to mean either
always or on each relevant occasion (his translation). On this passage see also OSullivan
2.1 The Individual Scenes 93

When Socrates asks Euthydemus if he no longer thinks that his omniscient

brother knows everything, Dionysodorus seizes the opportunity to return to a
technique familiar from the second eristic scene: he latches on to Socrates men-
tion of brother to ask if he is indeed Euthydemus brother. Socrates takes this
as an attempt on Dionysodorus part to derail the argument which has been left
unfinished. In accusing Socrates of avoiding to respond, Dionysodorus projects
onto him what he himself is doing. The brothers impatience is expressed by their
interventions in each others arguments, and the impression of nervousness al-
ready gained in the second eristic scene is here intensified. It is suggestive of the
gradually more uncomfortable position in which they find themselves, as their
inconsistencies become more apparent to their progressively more thoughtful
and outspoken interlocutors.
Socrates yields again, attributing his inability to respond to his being a sin-
gle man engaged in discussion with two interlocutors of superior abilities. Cte-
sippus had participated in the discussion briefly, but Socrates seems not to
have found his intervention very helpful: at the end of this long section on om-
niscience he compares himself to Heracles, helped by Iolaus in his fight against
the Hydra and the Crab, but points out that, should his own helper intervene, he
would not make a significant contribution. Socrates metaphorical identification
of himself with Heracles, Ctesippus with Iolaus, Euthydemus with the Hydra,
and Dionysodorus with her assistant, the Crab, serves to mark an important
break in the scene, which takes place at 297d2. The section leading up to
the narrative pause (293a 297d) is concerned with knowing, while the following
(297d 299a) discusses family relations. I will propose a reason why a break is
appropriate at this point once the following sections have been considered
and a sense of the scene as a whole has been acquired.

(ii) Nephews, Brothers, Fathers, Mothers (297d3 298e10)

Since Socrates has just talked about Heracles and Iolaus, Dionysodorus grasps
the opportunity to ask whether the latter is Heracles or Socrates nephew; the
technique of latching on to the interlocutors chance statements is back in
place. Socrates naturally explains that Iolaus cannot be his own nephew, be-
cause Patrocles, Socrates brother, was not Iolaus father. When he adds that Pa-
trocles was his (Socrates) half-brother, Dionysodorus claims that Patrocles both
is and is not a brother. Finally, when Socrates explains that Patrocles is his broth-

For de Vries (1972) 51 Iolaus is not meant to be identified with Ctesippus or anyone else
present, but with an imaginary, potential helper of Socrates. Yet this seems unlikely, given the
importance of Ctesippus in the scene as indeed a less than helpful (from a philosophical
perspective) helper of Socrates.
94 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

er by a different father, Chaeredemus, Dionysodorus rushes to add that the latter

both is and is not a father. And if Sophroniscus is not a father, being other than
the father (of Socrates half-brother), Socrates turns out, for the sophists, to be
fatherless. It is time for Ctesippus to intervene.
His intervention has been anticipated in the narrative pause that led into the
present sophistic argument. Socrates reference to the help he might expect from
his Iolaus (297d1 2) has laid the groundwork for Ctesippus return, which will
allow the reader to juxtapose afresh the methods of the two men. We saw that in
the second eristic scene Ctesippus aggressive attitude did not get him very far;
he was soon reduced to silence by the two brothers, and the more self-restrained
Socrates had had to take over. But Ctesippus appears radically different in the
present scene.
He begins his spectacular come-back in the dialogue by asking whether Eu-
thydemus father is other than his own. The sophist responds that his father is
not only Ctesippus but everyones father, since a father cannot both be and
not be a father. Ctesippus draws out the implications of this claim, forcing the
sophist to accept that his father must also be the father of horses, his mother
a mother of sea-urchins, and he the brother of a hoard of other animals. Note
that the claim that Euthydemus father is everyones father entails the element
of universality predominant in the claims of omniscience of the first section of
the scene. The theme of fatherhood is retained in Dionysodorus claim that Cte-
sippus father is his dog, and by hitting it, he hits his father.

Rappe (2000) suggests, in my view unconvincingly, that fatherhood should be understood

here as pointing to philosophical succession (p. 284) and that the Euthydemus more broadly
opens up a conversation about the philosophical lineage of the Socratic movement (p. 285).
She takes the reference to a father of dogs as an allusion to Antisthenes, and then traces
additional material in the Euthydemus which she associates with him and the Cynics more
broadly. For example she cites the fact that Heracles was a Cynic icon, picked up by Socrates
in his metaphorical identification with the hero in our dialogue. But are Heracles associations
merely Cynic? Moreover, what does the association between the Platonic Socrates and a Cynic
icon suggest? Rappes conclusion (pp. 301 2) seems to focus on one main point: that the
Platonic presentation of Socrates is pluralistic so Socrates is potentially presented as an
Antisthenes? But the arguments against contradiction in the second eristic scene, which she also
identifies as Antisthenean in origin, are put forth by the sophists rather than Socrates. Does that
mean that the sophists too represent Cynic views? Even if one were to grant that there are proto-
Cynic views in the Euthydemus, it would still be unclear how they connect and what their
function is in the dialogue. Rappe does not answer these questions except by suggesting that the
Platonic Socrates need not be consistent and systematic, though still pursuing the question of
self-knowledge. Yet this seems an insufficient answer to the question of the potential presence of
Antisthenean material in the Euthydemus.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 95

There is a clear allusion here to Aristophanes Clouds. Toward the end of that
comedy, the son of Strepsiades, influenced by the teaching of the sophist Soc-
rates, beats his father. Similarly here Ctesippus, who has just shown the first
signs of his feigned conversion to eristic, is said by Dionysodorus to beat his
father. In the Clouds, Phidippides shows the effects of Socrates sophistic teach-
ing; the Euthydemus, on the other hand, reveals who the real sophists are.
There is a clear tendency in the Euthydemus to convert the allegedly serious
philosophic discussion into a riotous comedy, and Ctesippus, cast as a more pro-
vocative double of Socrates, functions as the character through which some of
the most comic elements in the dialogue are conveyed. Earlier in the scene, he
proposed to count the sophists teeth in order to confirm their omniscience
(294b11 c10), and kept asking piquant questions, to the point that even the
self-controlled Socrates was carried away (294d5 e1); he now ends up calling
Euthydemus father a boar and a dog. There is serious matter to be conveyed
through the eristic scenes too and to that I will turn shortly. Suffice it for
the moment to say that the escalating tension between two opposite tendencies,
the seriously philosophic and the comic, is carefully channeled through two dif-
ferent characters. Even if Socrates too occasionally verges toward the comic (or
the ironic), the most buffoonish and hilarious remarks are reserved for the phil-
osophically unhelpful but dramatically effective Ctesippus.

(iii) Goods (299a1 e9)

Ctesippus, laughing, says that he beats his dog because he cannot beat Dionyso-
dorus. When the sophist comments that, in doing so, Ctesippus beats his father,
the latter responds that he would rather beat the sophists father. It is time to
switch gears before the situation actually comes to blows: when Ctesippus points
out that the sophists father must have enjoyed many goods thanks to his sons
wisdom, Euthydemus latches onto this statement to claim that his father does
not in fact need many goods. So the argument shifts in a new direction. The ini-
tial goal seems to be to show that men in general do not need many goods; but as
the argument proceeds, the claim becomes that men do not need goods in great
quantities. Euthydemus asks Ctesippus whether it is good for a sick man to take
as much of a medication as possible, or for a man at war to have as many weap-
ons as possible. Ctesippus responds with what in fact constitutes a playful refu-
tation of the sophist. If one is as big as a huge male statue, then it makes sense
for him to take as much of a medication as possible. In a similar way, it is ap-
propriate for Geryones or Briareos to have as many weapons as possible. Neither

Further parallels between the Euthydemus and the Clouds are discussed in Chapter 3.
96 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

statues nor giants fit the description of men suggested in Euthydemus original
claim, but the sophist is nonetheless reduced to silence.
Picking up the silenced Euthydemus argument, Dionysodorus asks whether
one should have goods such as gold always and everywhere
; would it make one most happy to have gold in his stomach, skull, and
eyes? Ctesippus responds playfully: the Scythians drink out of skulls which they
use as cups, and they are said to be most happy! If Dionysodorus intended to
show that gold in a skull does not make one happy, Ctesippus can think of at
least one case in which its possession and perfect happiness are at least not mu-
tually exclusive.
All this seems like an endless joke. If Plato simply wanted to portray eristic
absurdity, has he not done so sufficiently thus far? A full answer to this question
must wait until the scene has been examined in its entirety. But one thing needs
to be pointed out here. The questions raised by the sophists are whether one
needs many good things and whether their possession is itself always a good
thing. These are very interesting questions to ask, given that the first protreptic
scene began with a list of things conventionally regarded as good, whose value it
later discredited, and the second protreptic scene questioned whether the mere
possession of those goods was sufficient for happiness, emphasizing the need
for an art which combined their production / acquisition and use.
There is more in this passage to reinforce the connection to the protreptics:
first, wisdom, goods, and happiness are tied together here, as they are in the pro-
treptics (cf. 299d7 e1; 299e4); second, the particular reference to gold in the
present passage picks up the example with which the second protreptic
began: in that scene Socrates was asking Cleinias whether it would be beneficial
to know where the most gold could be mined on earth (288e3 4). The Platonic
reader is encouraged to see beyond the mere jocular qualities of the scene.
Moreover, even if the sophists claim that it is unnecessary for one to possess
many goods, the mere reference to a great multitude of them, available always
and everywhere, preserves the element of universality and extravagance already
observed in previous sections (universal omniscience, being the father of every-
one, etc.). The emphasis is laid on things big, universal, and available through-
out time and it is worth noting that such are the objects of philosophic inquiry.

Chance (1992) 167 points out the double meaning of , originally meaning in ones
possession but subsequently employed to mean inside ones body.
2.1 The Individual Scenes 97

(iv) Seeing (300a1 8)

Picking up on Ctesippus statement that the Scythians look into skulls, Euthyde-
mus asks whether people see . The phrase is am-
biguous, meaning either things that one can or cannot see or things (them-
selves) capable or incapable of seeing. Indeed Euthydemus shifts from one
meaning to the next in the course of the argument. Ctesippus responds with a
similar binary opposition, whose members, however, he views as mutually exclu-
sive: if it were possible that Euthydemus could be saying nothing though speak-
ing, then that would describe well what he is doing. Juxtaposing two opposite
things has so far been the technique of the sophists, which Ctesippus now clev-
erly adopts. Of course, in telling Euthydemus that he says nothing while speak-
ing, Ctesippus gives the definition of nonsense; the sophists have been doing
nothing but talking nonsense.

(v) Speaking (300b1 d2)

Ctesippus makes clear that he holds it impossible that one could be speaking
and saying nothing at the same time. Latching on to this statement Dionysodorus
formulates a brief but rather complex argument. Ctesippus -
means that the sophist speaks but does not say anything of import, it
is implied.
Dionysodorus assumes that is actually possible, but at the
same time distorts the meaning of the phrase. Ctesippus originally used it in
the sense of speaking, yet being essentially silent but Dionysodorus shifts
the meaning to silent things like stones speaking, and then assumes
that the latter is possible. Ctesippus is willing to play along and claim that in
fact there are cases in which silent things do speak (or make a sound), as in
the case of tools in a smiths workshop. He then challenges Dionysodorus to
complete the argument by showing that speaking things may be silent; this
was, at any rate, what he had originally claimed, and not what Dionysodorus
tried to refute.
A narrative comment interrupts the argument: according to Socrates, Ctesip-
pus is in agony because of his young lover (300c1). The comment is made in
passing, yet it provides an insight into the motivations of Ctesippus, as presented
by the narrator: Socrates attributes his prolonged engagement with the sophists
as an expression of his wish to impress Cleinias, who is watching the contest.
Indeed Ctesippus is soon to reap the fruits of his labors: at 300d3 he will
laugh mockingly at the two sophists, and his lead will be followed by Cleinias
But Euthydemus takes over for the moment. He asks Ctesippus if, when one
is silent, one is also silent about speaking things. Ctesippus responds by suggest-
98 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

ing that all things are silent; there are no speaking things. Euthydemus thinks
this is not the case, and so Ctesippus assumes that all things must speak. In
the precise manner of the sophists, he jumps from one end of the spectrum to
the other: if it is not the case that all things are silent, it must be that all are
speaking. So he assumes the existence of two opposites with no middle ground
between them. It is Euthydemus who now attempts to qualify! He suggests that
all the things that speak do speak. Ctesippus insists: this is not what he is asking!
Euthydemus must respond about everything: are all things silent, or do they
Ctesippus has taken over all the attributes of the sophists: he is tyrannical,
demanding the answers he sees fitting, and allowing no middle ground between
two opposites. Meanwhile Euthydemus, the initiator of the argument, is reduced
to a responder. He even attempts to qualify his answers, exactly in the manner of
Socrates in the beginning of the scene. One may picture him cornered and whis-
pering, as Ctesippus builds up toward the upcoming moment of his sarcastic
laughter. Ctesippus and Euthydemus have momentarily exchanged roles. The
transformation is stunning.
The argument remains unfinished because Dionysodorus intervenes. To the
question whether everything is silent or everything speaks he gives the exasper-
ated answer o (300d1), which allows Ctesippus to exclaim
in triumph to Euthydemus that the sophist has been defeated. Throughout the
scene the sophists have refused to allow that two opposite and allegedly mu-
tually exclusive things may co-exist. But here Dionysodorus admits of a case in
which they do, and so he proves inconsistent.

(vi) Socrates and Dionysodorus: The Concluding Arguments (300e1 303a9)

Ctesippus role in the scene diminishes from this point on, as Socrates takes over
for the final encounter with the sophist. The exchange between him and Diony-
sodorus in the final section (300e1 301c5) is a marathon of an argument in
fact the longest stretch of text in which the interlocutors remain the same for
more than two consecutive arguments. The philosopher and the sophist engage
in an uninterrupted discussion, clearly in the form of a crescendo, for three argu-
ments in a row.
The transition to this final section of the internal dialogue is made through
Socrates question to Cleinias about the reason why he is laughing at the beau-
tiful things just said. Before the young man has the opportunity to give an an-
swer, however, Dionysodorus asks the philosopher if the beautiful things he is
referring to are different from the beautiful itself; the technique of latching on
is in place until the very end. Socrates responds after some moments of perplex-
ity that beautiful things are different from the absolute beautiful, though there is
2.1 The Individual Scenes 99

some beauty in each of them ( , 301a4).

Socrates perplexity alerts the reader to an interpretative possibility that lies
just beneath the surface of what is explicitly said: is Dionysodorus questioning
the Theory of Forms? Dionysodorus takes the verb to mean to be by
someone/ something, rather than present in someone/ something, and so
asks whether one becomes an ox when an ox sits beside him, or Dionysodorus
if Dionysodorus does; he then rephrases his question, asking how the different
might be different from the different by its being present by the different
(301a8 9). Let us call the two things that are different from each other A and
B. Then the question of Dionysodorus becomes: how might A be different
from B by Bs being present by A? Dionysodorus has essentially repeated his
original question in a more perplexing way: how might a beautiful particular
be different from the Beautiful by the presence of the Beautiful by the beautiful
It is at this point that Socrates states that he will try to imitate sophistic wis-
dom which seems rather appropriate, given what Dionysodorus has just said:
with the sophist by him, Socrates becomes a sophist himself. So he claims that
what is different is different, in the same way that the sophists earlier claimed
that whoever is a knower must be a knower, and similarly a father must be a fa-
ther in all cases. Socrates essentially avoids giving an answer, but instead turns
to praising the sophists for carrying out splendidly what is appropriate for
them as craftsmen of the art of conversing or dialectic (301c4 5). Socrates
ironically praises the sophists for carrying out proper dialectic exactly at the mo-
ment that he has started carrying out eristic.
Dionysodorus immediately loses all interest in the argument he initiated just
above, and like an easily distracted youth he now latches on to the new word
Socrates has used, , to ask which craftsman is appropriate for each
of a number of tasks he lists. Socrates patiently responds until Dionysodorus, ex-
ploiting a syntactical ambiguity, ends up claiming that it is appropriate to cut up
and cook a cook. (301d2 3) can either
mean that it is appropriate for a cook to cut up something, with
taken as the subject of the infinitive, or that it is appropriate that someone cut
up the cook, with taken as the object. Note the switch from search-
ing for the appropriate craftsman for each task to the appropriate task for a
particular craftsman.

I only mention this here to account for Socrates puzzlement, but I return to it in my
discussion of the scene below.
100 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

The final argument of the section follows. Socrates has said that, when it
comes to knowledge, everything must start (, 301e8) from Dionysodorus
and end with Euthydemus. Dionysodorus latches on to this statement to exploit
the double meaning of the word . While Socrates used it to mean to
start, Dionysodorus uses it to mean to rule, and shapes his argument as fol-
lows: Socrates grants that he rules over those living beings which are in his pos-
session, such as an ox or a sheep; by virtue of that possession he can also sac-
rifice them to the gods; if things were not so, the animals would not be his. But
animals are identified as those beings that have a soul; and only those animals
are Socrates, over which he has the power to rule; Dionysodorus feels confident
that he now has the premises necessary to launch his accusation against Socra-
tes. The latter claims to feel caught in a net (302b7), and the earlier hunting met-
aphor is employed again: the prey is now trapped or so the sophists are left to
think; but at the same time they themselves are identified as hunters of men, as
they were implicitly also in the second protreptic.
Dionysodorus now gives his verdict: Socrates has no ancestral Zeus, and he
is no real Athenian (302c1). But, alas, Dionysodorus once again projects onto
Socrates his own shortcomings; for he is himself no Athenian, and so he does
not seem to know much about Athenian religion. Socrates must correct him
by pointing out to the unfortunate foreigner that there is only an ancestral Apollo
for the Athenians, who are descended from his son Ion. The Athenian readers,
who took such exceptional pride in their autochthony and glorious ancestry,
will have laughed to their hearts content at Dionysodorus blunder yet another
in the ever-growing list.
But nothing intimidates Dionysodorus: having finally sorted out which gods
are appropriately described as Socrates ancestors, he proceeds with his argu-
ment. Socrates has certain ancestral gods; these gods have a soul and so they
are animals; those animals are Socrates own, which he can sacrifice. At this
point Socrates admits to Euthydemus that there is no escape left for him
(302e6); the text leaves unclear whether this is an aside comment which Diony-
sodorus ignores and continues, or whether Euthydemus himself finishes off the
final argument and with it the final eristic scene. Both brothers, at any rate, are
brought to the fore at the concluding moment.

Hawtrey (1981) 180 181 explains it on the basis of the double meaning of , different
when applied to gods than to animals. The same is true of , which can either mean any
living being or, more specifically, animal. But he doesnt point out the double meaning of
Cf. for example the praise of Athenian ancestry in the Thucydidean Funeral Oration of
2.1 The Individual Scenes 101

The implication is left unspoken: since the gods are living beings, and since
they are Socrates gods, he sacrifices them! Even at this unvoiced condemnation
the philosopher is left speechless. Ctesippus rushes to help, but his help con-
sists in exclamatory praise of the argument. Dionysodorus clearly does not know
where to stop: he latches on to Ctesippus exclamation bravo, Heracles! (-
, 303a6) to ask whether Heracles is a bravo or a bravo Heracles.
Ctesippus too, like Socrates, gives up. His earlier role as an unhelpful aide is
here echoed through the reference to Heracles, which recalls the interlude on
Heracles, Iolaus, the Hydra and the Crab; the broader section starting after
that interlude is here closed off neatly.
There are then two major sections in this final scene: the first one, from the
beginning of the scene to the interlude, makes the central point of universal om-
niscience; the second one, from the interlude to the end of the scene, builds on
that essential point in ways to be discussed extensively below. But let us first
take a look at a schema of the structure of the scene:

Euthydemus Socrates on omniscience
Dionysodorus Socrates on omniscience
*Ctesippus asks for proof
Euthydemus Socrates on omniscience

Socrates both sophists: Refutation of omniscience

Socrates Dionysodorus on nephews, fathers, mothers, brothers

Euthydemus Ctesippus on fathers

Dionysodorus Ctesippus on fathers

Euthydemus Ctesippus: Refutation #1 on having goods
Dionysodorus Ctesippus: Refutation #2 on having goods

Euthydemus Ctesippus: Refutation #3 on things capable of seeing

Dionysodorus Ctesippus: Refutation #4 on silent things speaking
Euthydemus Ctesippus/ Dionysodorus intervention: Ctesippus victory

Socrates Dionysodorus beautiful particulars vs. the absolute beautiful
cooking the cook
Socrates has no gods
102 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

It has been argued that the structural principle of the first two eristic scenes was
the double: arguments were organized in pairs, questions framed as binary op-
positions, proofs based on double meanings, etc. The same pattern might be ex-
pected in this final eristic scene. This is in fact the impression one originally gets
from the two initial arguments on omniscience, one building on the other. But
exactly at the point that the initial pair is concluded, Ctesippus jumps into the
discussion, and the structural basis of the scene shifts for the first time.
Section (i) argues for omniscience, progressively expanding the claim until it
acquires universal applicability in the past, present, and future. It is followed by
a refutation: Socrates proves that he himself doesnt know everything, and im-
plies that neither do the sophists. Section (ii) consists in claims about nephews,
brothers, fathers and mothers. Then follows a series of five refutations, with Cte-
sippus victory over the sophist reserved for the climactic position. Section (iii)
discusses whether possessing goods first in as great a quantity as possible,
then always and everywhere, is good, and so these two arguments, much like
the ones on omniscience and fatherhood, have implications of universality. Sec-
tion (iv) asks whether people can see what can be seen, and (v) whether speak-
ing and silence can go together. In the final section (vi) Ctesippus again recedes
to the background as Socrates returns to discuss with Dionysodorus, who re-
mains the sole questioner in a series of three arguments.
There is a gradual increase not only in the length of the eristic scenes, but
also in their complexity. The original purpose of the discussion with the sophists
was to convince Cleinias to pursue philosophy and virtue. But as the dialogue
progressed, the focus shifted away from Cleinias himself, questioned by the so-
phists only in the first eristic scene, and his role was taken up by Ctesippus.
Moreover, in the first scene Cleinias was the sole interlocutor of the sophists,
while in the second Ctesippus was followed by Socrates, who intervened to
calm him down and then for the first time refuted the sophists. In the third
scene Socrates is the new interlocutor of the brothers; soon Ctesippus reappears,
before Socrates returns for the finale.
Moreover, the opening scene of the internal dialogue created the expectation
that Cleinias would be the sole interlocutor of the sophists. But as we moved
from one eristic scene to the next there was a progression from the youngest
and least intellectually challenging interlocutor to the oldest and most intellec-
tually able. We would then expect the series to be completed with Socrates. But

This is not to say that doubles are entirely absent from the final eristic scene. We still find
disjunctive questions, or arguments based on the double meaning of words or phrases. But the
neat structuring in pairs of arguments is abandoned.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 103

in fact Ctesippus reappears right after the philosopher has refuted the sophists in
the final scene. Why? Ctesippus is quite different here than earlier in the dia-
logue. He challenges the sophists in five consecutive arguments, and seems to
have understood exactly what the proper way is to deal with them. His manner
is playful, since taking them seriously only led to a dead-end or almost to
blows before. Having learnt the sophistic tricks, he now uses them against
the sophists: Ctesippus takes eristic and turns it on its head. In so doing, he
demonstrates that it is actually possible to learn the technique of the sophists,
and indeed very fast. Learning about virtue, however, is a completely different

2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum

2.2.1 Forms and Recollection in the Third Eristic Scene

There is a concentration of central Platonic views familiar from other dialogues

put in the mouth of the sophists in this final scene. Scholars occasionally point
them out, but in passing, without accounting for them. For example Hawtrey ar-
gues that it is difficult to say why Plato puts his own doctrines into the despised
mouths of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus; I am inclined to suspect that he is en-
joying himself and entertaining his more intelligent readers. In what follows I
would like first to list these references, so that it might become clear that they are
concentrated in the final eristic scene, and then suggest an explanation for their
presence at this point in the dialogue.
First, as Friedlnder argues, the claim with which the third eristic scene
opens alludes to the Theory of Forms. The sophistic claim is that one knows

In taking this view I disagree with Jackson (1990) 381 385 and McCabe (2008) 114 115;
cf. 120, who see Ctesippus as captivated by the eristic method and therefore genuinely de-
veloping eristic tendencies.
Chance (1992) 154 notes a single occurrence of Platonic views presented by the sophists:
using the theory of recollection as the serious model from which this eristic travesty could
deviate, Plato has shown how his very own teaching, which is designed to make us dogged
workers and committed seekers after truth, can be warped by a philosophical mutant into an
eristic that can, in turn, obliterate all the benefits made possible by anamnesis. I agree
with this interpretation, but intend to show that such references to Platonic views in the Eu-
thydemus are recurrent and consistent.
Hawtrey (1981) 166. See also Erler (1987) 246 248 and 253.
Friedlnder (1964) 192; cf. Hawtrey (1981) 141. For a discussion of the Status der Ideen in
the Charmides, Euthydemus, and Lysis see Baltes (2000); even though he notes only the most
104 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

everything on account of knowing one thing; similarly the Theory implies that
one is capable of identifying a set of things as sharing a certain quality because
of the presence in them of a single Form. A multitude of things, then, becomes
knowable on account of ones knowledge of the corresponding Form. Moreover,
the emphasis in the early sections of the scene on the idea of universality has
already been noted; the Forms too are universal, in the sense that they constitute
the common property of all souls before they enter the body.
The section on omniscience also alludes to the Theory of Recollection. The
sophists claim that Socrates has known everything for all time even before he
was born. This is a clear echo of the theory expounded first in the Meno and later
in the Phaedo, according to which knowledge of certain things can be attested in
an individual who has not undergone the necessary training that would account
for its possession. The slave boy in the Meno is shown to have some knowledge
of mathematics, even though he has never been educated on the subject. So he
must have acquired this knowledge in a previous state of existence. He can be
induced to recall it through a process of question and answer, provided that
the right questions are put to him. This theory is used later in the Phaedo as
an argument in favor of the immortality of the soul.
It was noted above that in the Euthydemus it is Socrates who encourages the
sophists to expand their claim of omniscience to include knowledge throughout
time by himself posing the question whether they have possessed universal
knowledge all along. Socrates essentially urges the brothers to speak about
anamnesis. Keulens explanation is convincing: so macht Sokrates seinerseits
aber auch gleichzeitig darauf aufmerksam, unter welchen erschlichenen Bedin-
gungen es zu der berraschenden und unmglichen Schlufolgerung in jedem
einzelnen Fall kommen konnte. If the sophists want everyone to know every-
thing, then Socrates implicitly suggests that this is possible only through ac-
quaintance with the Forms.
In light of the allusion to the Theory of Forms in the first section of the scene,
it seems plausible to conclude that the subsequent reference to things that can
and cannot be seen points to the world of perception as opposed to that of the
Forms. Note that the metaphor employed in the Republic is precisely that of the
philosopher viewing the Forms, and having his eyes hurt, while those remaining
in the cave do not get to see them (Rep. 7. 515c e). The question posed by the
sophists whether one can see what is impossible for one to see acquires new

explicit allusion to Forms in the Euthydemus (at 300e), he provides a useful overview of how
Forms are understood in these dialogues, which he identifies as early.
Cf. Hawtrey (1981) 149.
Keulen (1971) 45.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 105

meaning: the Forms are presented in the Republic as entities that the philosopher
comes to see but they are in fact invisible, and only seen with the minds eye.
Through this metaphor the philosopher comes to see the invisible.
Finally in the closing section of the internal dialogue, Dionysodorus ques-
tion about the beautiful particulars as opposed to the absolute beautiful is a
very Socratic question to ask. One may think of the Hippias Major, for example,
where the philosopher tries to get Hippias to recognize that there is a difference
between beautiful particulars and the beautiful as an absolute (H. Maj. 286c
291d); similarly in the Theaetetus Socrates attempts to make the young man dis-
tinguish between various kinds of knowledge on the one hand and their common
quality on the other, which allows one to identify them all as knowledge, and so
as members of the same general category (Theaet. 146d e). But Dionysodorus
does not only ask whether the beautiful things are the same as the beautiful
(301a1). When Socrates argues that the beautiful things are different from the
beautiful itself (301a3 4), although there is some beauty in each of them, Diony-
sodorus follows up with a question regarding the way in which the presence of
the absolute beautiful might make something else beautiful. Dionysodorus is es-
sentially, and apparently unbeknownst to him, speaking of F-ness being present
in F and accounting for its being F. There seems to be not a mere reference to
definitions here, but yet another allusion to the Theory of Forms.
How, then, is one to account for the existence of this Platonic material as a
substratum of the eristic scene? The reasons why allusions to Platonic theories
are put in the mouth of the sophists and reserved for the final scene can be better
comprehended in the context of the entire dialogue. In what follows, therefore, I
show how the individual and seemingly disconnected scenes can be read as a
continuum, and how that helps explain the allusion to Platonic theories in the
third eristic scene.

2.2.2 The Continuum

So far I have discussed each eristic scene in its own right. I have focused on the
internal structure, the primary sophistic techniques, and the contribution of the

Jackson (1990) 388 394 discusses this section without making any mention of Forms; but
see Mohr (1984). For a general discussion of the transition from definitions to Forms in Plato see
Dancy (2006).
106 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

dramatic elements to a full understanding of the scenes. I now turn to examine

the three scenes taken together.
The sophists originally show some care in fulfilling the task assigned to
them by Socrates. The issue of learning, on which they focus in the first eristic
scene, is relevant to a discussion about virtue and philosophy, and it looks as
though asking a potential student like Cleinias who the person learning is and
what he learns are good preliminary questions leading in the right direction. It
is just that the potential student is so dismayed by the aggressive attitude of
his intended teachers that he cannot follow through; the sophists, on the
other hand, are not really interested in teaching.
In the second scene, in which the goal is either to convince Cleinias to prac-
tice philosophy or to show him which kind of knowledge he should seek to ac-
quire in order to become happy, the things the sophists set out to prove appear to
bear no relevance to these questions. They are presented as a mere response to
Ctesippus criticism in the beginning of the scene.
In the final scene, in which the aim is to determine the kind of knowledge
leading to happiness, the sophists do not identify it, but claim that everyone
has it; the remainder of the scene seems to consist of arguments apparently for-
mulated completely at random, as the sophists latch on to comments made by
their interlocutors to formulate their own arguments.

To my knowledge, no discussion of the connections between the eristic scenes has been
undertaken so far in scholarship on the Euthydemus, with the exception of Bonitz (1863) 105
115, who argues for a certain order underlying the eristic arguments.
The instances of this technique of latching on to a chance remark by an interlocutor to
formulate a new argument are recurrent throughout the final scene: when Socrates mentions
Iolaus, Dionysodorus introduces the argument about Iolaus being his nephew (297d1 ff.); when
Ctesippus claims that even a dog could be Euthydemus father, Dionysodorus argues that Cte-
sippus hits his own dog and hence his father (298d5 ff.); following up on Ctesippus remark that
the parents of the sophists will have enjoyed many goods on account of their childrens wisdom,
Euthydemus claims that no one needs many goods (299a1 ff.); when Ctesippus claims that the
Scythians look into the skulls they use as cups, Euthydemus asks whether they see what can be
seen or not (299e7 ff.); Ctesippus doubts that it is possible for one to say nothing and yet speak,
and thereupon Dionysodorus asks him if it is possible for silent things to speak (300a7 ff.); when
Socrates asks Cleinias why he is laughing at beautiful things, Dionysodorus asks if those are the
same as the beautiful itself or not (300e ff.); Socrates mention of what is an appropriate task for
the sophists allows Dionysodorus to argue that it is appropriate that a cook be cooked (301c3 ff.);
finally, when Socrates comments that everything ought to start from Euthydemus and end with
Dionysodorus, the latter shifts the meaning of the word Socrates employed from starting to
ruling over one and formulates the final argument of the dialogue. Even when Ctesippus
exclaims in alleged admiration of the sophist, Dionysodorus asks whether Heracles is
or Heracles (303a5 ff.).
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 107

Chance has argued that eristic is without an end or goal toward which its
inquiry advances, for it does not advance in any ordinary sense of that word
it just bounces back and forth between antinomous poles; and this is in-
deed the impression the reader gains even after a number of readings of the Eu-
thydemus. In a similar vein Rappe comments that the fallacies in the dialogue
make for an annoying read even if they do hold some kind of dialectical inter-
est Why does Plato bother us with these quibbling siblings? If Plato merely
aims to poke fun at men like his Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, the joke seems
to last a bit too long: why so much fuss when the absurdity is obvious? Scholars
have occasionally raised this question about the eristic scenes of the Euthyde-
mus, but no satisfactory answer has been proposed so far; students of the dia-
logue typically explain the fallacies in the eristic arguments and otherwise dis-
miss the scenes as a long joke. But in fact there is a serious puzzle here, to
which yet another must be added: the explanations so far proposed for the con-
centration of allusions to Platonic views in the final scene are not entirely satis-
fying either. These two factors suggest that there is something more to this dia-
logue, whose eristic scenes in particular have been treated at best as an
unsystematic handbook of fallacies. The sophists are indeed depicted as care-
lessly jumping from one point to the next, without any specific end in view.
But this character sketch is only part of what the author is up to.
In what follows I argue that there is much more than the fun and the falla-
cies to the three eristic scenes. There is in fact a way in which they can be read as
a continuum, telling, as it were, a single story; this story is related to the par-
allel one of the protreptic scenes; and so the dialogue must be read at two levels:
at surface level, the eristic scenes appear unrelated, the sophists latch on to the
chance comments of their interlocutors to formulate arguments, and the jocular
quality of the interactions is predominant; at a deeper level, however, the eristic
scenes are intricately connected, the arguments themselves have implications
relevant to Platonic theories, and very serious material lies available for the at-
tentive reader.

Chance (1992) 56.

Rappe (2000) 286.
But see Scolnicov (2013) 71 83 for a recent acknowledgement of the seriousness of the
eristic scenes.
Kahn (2000), for example, suggests that the references to Forms and Recollection serve as a
preview of issues with which Plato intends to grapple in later dialogues, sketching the main
areas with which philosophy is concerned. True though this might be, it still leaves open the
question of their function within the Euthydemus. Since the dialogue stands on its own, as an
individual work, it calls for interpretation not only in light of other dialogues, but also in its own
108 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

The first eristic scene essentially poses and attempts to answer a single (al-
beit twofold) question: who learns what? Since Socrates points out that -
is ambiguous, the question may be rephrased as who understands
what. In the context of the arguments, understanding arises from knowledge al-
ready acquired. The ambiguity of creates a conflation between learn-
ing as a process of coming to know and knowledge as a state of having come to
know. With knowledge placed at the center of attention, then, the attempt is to
identify its subject and object: who may acquire it, and what is it exactly that
one may acquire? Moreover, that knowledge is conceived of as possessed either
in full or not at all, for people may be either wise or ignorant, and no middle
ground between wisdom and ignorance is acknowledged. But in fact the acquis-
ition of knowledge occupies precisely that middle ground: a man who comes to
know progresses from ignorance to knowledge, from one thing to its opposite
and he must know that he does not know in order to learn. Since the sophists
reject both possible answers to their questions, the first eristic scene only man-
ages to pose the question with which the reader is left at its conclusion: who
comes to know/ has come to know what?
In the second eristic scene the sophists make two claims: false statement is
impossible, and refutation is impossible. But in fact the entire scene relies on a
single claim, the impossibility of falsehood. For, if no one can make a false state-
ment, there will be nothing for anyone to refute. Socrates draws out the con-
sequences of this claim: it amounts to the denial of ignorance. The second eristic
scene, then, responds to the question of the first one: if no one is ignorant, every-
one knows; the subject who knows is identified as everyone. The object has not
been explicitly determined yet: one may make no mistakes in the things he does
know, but need not know everything; put a different way, the things with respect
to which no one is ignorant have not been explicitly specified. Note that here too
the arguments on the impossibility of falsehood and contradiction rely on the
use of a set of notions presented as mutually exclusive and exhaustive: what
is and what is not. No middle ground is allowed between these two either, as
it was not between wisdom and ignorance, or the things one knows and the
things one does not know, in the first eristic scene.
As one might have come to expect, the third eristic scene turns to the ques-
tion that was left open at the end of the second eristic scene, i. e. the object of
knowledge. The scene starts with the long section on omniscience throughout

Of course the sophists could refute true statements. But they grant that no one can make a
false statement and no one can believe anything false (286d1 10); so everyone must believe and
say what is true; and if everyone believes what is true of things, there can be no difference of
opinion on any given topic, and therefore no contradiction.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 109

time, which provides the sophistic answer to the question of the object of knowl-
edge: it is everything. Again, this answer relies on a set of contraries, the knower
and the non-knower, with no middle status allowed between the two. The follow-
ing schema summarizes the links between the eristic scenes which I have pro-
posed so far:

1st eristic scene:

Question: who comes to know/ knows what
Question relies on: wisdom vs. ignorance (no middle)

2nd eristic scene:

Answer: everyone knows
Answer relies on: being vs. non-being (no middle)

3rd eristic scene:

Answer: knows everything
Answer relies on: knower vs. non-knower (no middle)

There is a break in the narrative after this point: Socrates compares himself to
Heracles, and the epistemological issues are dropped for good. The remaining
sections of the scene do not raise irrelevant issues. But before I show how
they may be read, I turn for a moment to the protreptics.
The first eristic scene had posed a question, which it left unanswered: what
is the object of knowledge? The first protreptic poses the same question, which it
too leaves unanswered: one needs knowledge to be happy but what form of
knowledge is that? What does it consist in? Albeit in very different ways, the
first eristic and the first protreptic scenes run parallel.
The second protreptic attempts to determine the object of the knowledge that
will make people happy and good, but fails to do so. If the object of that knowl-
edge, unspecified at the end of the second protreptic, is (as I argued in the pre-
vious chapter) identified as the Forms, is that relevant to the sophistic claims of
the immediately preceding and following eristic scenes?
In fact it is. The claim of the impossibility of falsehood and therefore igno-
rance in the second eristic scene prepares the way for the claim of omniscience
in the beginning of the third. When the sophists claim that they know everything,
Socrates urges them to add that they have always done so. So he forces on them
what sounds like the claim that they have had an acquaintance with the Forms
before they were born. The allusions to Forms and Recollection in the third eris-
tic scene now become meaningful; the Forms are the object of knowledge sought
ever since the first eristic and first protreptic scenes. The sophists response to
110 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

the question of the object of knowledge sought is everything, and the way in
which it is formulated points to the Forms; the response to the same question
implied in the second protreptic scene also points to the Forms; and so the eristic
and protreptic scenes continue to run parallel.
Sophists and philosophers are presented as mirror-images of each other: in
claiming that everyone knows everything, the sophists sound ridiculously ab-
surd; and yet in a sense they echo the very advocates of Recollection and the
Forms; for they too claim that, in a sense, everyone knows everything, i. e.
has an a priori knowledge of Forms, which he must recollect. The respective
views of the two parties may appear dangerously similar, and misconceptions
about what truly is philosophy are likely to arise. Moreover, the eristic scenes,
typically regarded as Platos long joke, accomplish much more than merely con-
tributing to the comic quality of the dialogue: properly read, they illustrate the
very real danger of conflation between philosophy and eristic. A way has thus
been suggested in which the eristic scenes can be taken quite seriously. In this
sense one may speak of serious sophistry being juxtaposed to the playful
philosophy of the protreptic scenes.

2.2.3 Two Eristic Assumptions

The third scene began with the claim of universal omniscience, which relied on
the removal of a qualifier: every man was a knower, but the of what question
was suppressed. The term is normally used to refer to a person that
possesses knowledge of something; despite the sophistic claims, it is not the case
that the term, when used without qualification, is employed to refer to the om-
niscient man. It remains an incomplete term, in need of qualification. The so-
phists rely on two assumptions: first, the term does not need that qualification;
second, the knower in an unqualified sense is opposite to the (equally unquali-
fiedly) non-knower, with no middle condition between the two.
The first assumption is evident also in the immediately following section on
fathers and other relatives: as in the opening series of arguments, so here a qual-
ification is omitted. The sophists would earlier not allow that one could be a
knower of something, and now that one could be a father of someone. The sec-

By resisting qualifications of this sort, the sophists essentially deny the possibility of things
relating to each other. They claim instead that the objects of inquiry are to be examined only in
their own right, and that all possible connections to things beyond them must be left aside.
McCabe (1999) comes to a similar conclusion but in the different context of a discussion of the
impossibility of contradiction (second eristic scene): the Euthd., investigating as it does the
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 111

ond assumption does not apply, for there is indeed no middle ground between
fatherhood and non-fatherhood, as there is in the case of knowledge and igno-
Now the of what question is crucial in the case of experts: it is only natural to
ask a person claiming to have knowledge what the object of that knowledge is.
This is what Crito asks Socrates in the beginning of the dialogue: what the wis-
dom of the sophists consists in. This is also what Socrates asks Cleinias in the
second protreptic: what the wisdom or knowledge or art that leads to happiness
and virtue consists in. Finally, the Euthydemus not only starts but also ends on
this note, through Socrates final advice to Crito to determine the object of phi-
losophy before seeking the appropriate teachers. A central concern of the dia-
logue, then, is to identify the object of the knowledge, or to answer the of what
question, as regards both the sophists and the philosophers. The answer implied
by both the protreptic and the eristic scenes is the Forms.
The identification of the specific object of knowledge is a central theme in
other dialogues too, in which sophists claim to possess some sort of knowledge.
When in the Protagoras, for example, Hippocrates appears convinced to become
a student of the famous sophist, Socrates urges him to determine what exactly it
is that he expects to learn from him (Protag. 311b 313c). Many may claim to have
knowledge, but determining its object is critical; and it is exactly this crucial
question that the sophists of the Euthydemus attempt to bypass.
So much for the first assumption on which the sophists rely in the third eris-
tic scene; now the second assumption, that there is no middle ground between
two opposites, such as the knower and the non-knower, is related to an issue

possibility of contradiction, is interested in the relations between different things, where those
relations are construed not only in terms of identity of one thing, but also in terms of its non-
identity from others (pp. 149 150); but the sophists hold that for any two concrete things, they
are either quite cut off from each other, or they collapse into one another, and there is only one
thing after all (p. 150); the sophists then present what they take to be true of things as equally
true of statements: So any statement that has a bearing on any other is the clone of that other;
any statement that is different from another has no bearing on it (p. 150). The practice McCabe
notes in the second eristic scene is in fact the same as the one I observe in the third. Zeyl (1999)
173 74 finds McCabes attribution of systematic principles to the sophists problematic, and I
share his concern. But it is still possible that Plato shows consistent interest in certain issues,
which find expression through characters themselves inconsistent. More significantly, Zeyl p. 173
doubts that there is enough textual evidence to suggest that the sophists deny the possibility of
relations between things; it is true that McCabe infers that statements cannot contain the objects
of other statements, otherwise contradiction would be possible but this seems to me a rea-
sonable way of understanding what is meant by the sophistic claim that each thing has its
proper description, which may not overlap with the description proper for a different thing.
For a full discussion of this see Chapter 3.
112 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

arising also in the previous two eristic scenes. We saw that in the second one
what is and what is not are presented as mutually exclusive and exhaustive,
i. e. with no middle ground between them. Similarly in the first one there is only
room for wisdom and ignorance, with no evident middle between the two ends
of the spectrum. So many eristic arguments can be shown to rely on such contra-
ries, between which no middle ground is allowed; the recurrent binary opposi-
tions of the first eristic scene set the tone for what follows less explicitly in
the remaining two scenes. But for learning, which is at the heart of this dialogue
and crucial for what sophists and philosophers profess to do, that middle ground
is necessary as a transition and testing ground on the path to knowledge.
The assumption that x and non-x are mutually exclusive and exhaustive is a
very familiar puzzle, lying at the center of the digression of the Sophist (237a
259d). There the Eleatic Stranger is at pains to show that the two are not in
fact contraries; non-x must be understood to mean different from x, rather
than contrary to x. Take x to be large, for example; what is not-large is
not necessarily small, but may well be something of average size, lying be-
tween large and small.
We saw that in all three eristic scenes the sophists deny any middle ground
between two extremes: between wisdom and ignorance in the first, what is (or
being) and what is not (or non-being) in the second, knowledge and ignorance
in the third. Clearly, the central issues here are knowledge and being. They might
seem unrelated; but in the Republic they are inextricably connected: what is
knowable is identified as what is, what is not knowable as what is not,
and there is middle ground between the two, that of opinion and of what is
and is not (Rep. 477d7 478e6).
The employment of mutually exclusive and exhaustive terms throughout the
sophistic argumentation is no mere joke or coincidence. It is rather a literary de-
vice put to philosophical use: the repeated occurrence of contraries relating to
knowledge and being first points to the connection between these two in the Re-
public; then the Sophist shows that such alleged contraries are not in fact mutu-
ally exclusive and exhaustive; taken together, these two intertexts illuminate the
sophistic arguments of the Euthydemus. The implication of these arguments is
that, in denying the existence of any middle ground between wisdom and igno-
rance, and in claiming to possess knowledge (or wisdom), the sophists place

There is in fact an example of learning as a process taking place within the dialogue in the
case of Ctesippus, who clearly learns the technique of the sophists.
For the intimate connection between knowledge and being or, more broadly, between
epistemology and metaphysics in Plato, see White (1992) 277 280; 284 285.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 113

themselves in the one end of the spectrum, instead of admitting their middle
The two brothers have barely gone through the intermediary period that we
call learning: the speed with which they acquired their knowledge is emphasized
early on in the dialogue. The Republic, on the other hand, proposes a full-scale
program through which the philosopher is to progress from opinion to knowl-
edge, which he is to acquire by viewing the Forms. So, while the sophists
claim to be teachers in possession of knowledge, their arguments are formulated
on the basis of a binary opposition which completely bypasses the process of
learning, and so essentially undermines this very claim.
The need to acknowledge the existence of the middle ground in the process
of learning comes up also in the Symposium (201e3 202b5). There Socrates re-
ports the speech on love he had heard from Diotima. Socrates had suggested
to the woman from Mantinea that Eros was a great god, but she had objected
to his identification of the god as fair and good. Socrates had rushed to ask
whether she then held him to be shameful and bad. Diotima explained that
whatever is not fair need not be shameful, and that the same applies also to wis-
dom and ignorance; in the middle ground between these two lies true opinion.
A little later in the dialogue Diotima places Eros, and the philosophers, among
those lying between wisdom and ignorance (204a8 b1). So, in the Symposium,
the philosopher is placed precisely in the middle between two extremes. And

In the Third Lecture of his recent book on the Euthydemus, Scolnicov (2013) also discusses
the two brothers rejection of middle ground between opposites, or their endorsement of the
Parmenidean Principle of Non-Contradiction; and he adds the insightful observation that, if
there is only one mode of being, in itself, and not relational, as the sophists would have it,
serious problems arise for the Platonic theory of participation. For [t]he idea is present in the
sensible thing, not as it is in itself but in a relational mode, i. e. as it is in relation to the sensible
medium in which it is reflected (pp. 52 53).
Cf. Rosen (1968) 227, who notes without further elaboration: [Socrates] attitude is re-
presented, in the initial exchange with Diotima, as an ignorance of the difference between
contraries and contradictories: a logical version of the ignorance of the intermediate. Sier
(1997) 22 makes the interesting observation that the representation of eros as neither simply good
nor simply bad in the Symposium provides a contrast to the speeches first in condemnation and
then in praise of eros in the Phaedrus.
See Scott and Welton (2008) 91 106 for an illuminating discussion of the placement of love
and philosophy in the middle between two opposites.
Wardy (2002) presents a very interesting structural analysis of the Symposium, in which he
identifies a number of polarities or opposites, collapsing, maintained, or simply pro-
blematized in the work. This technique he links to the Heraclitean theory of the unity of
opposites, according to which unity arises from tension between opposites. In his extensive
discussion he lists numerous such polarities, such as the public and the private, the male and
114 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

while a philosopher may only claim to be on the upward path to knowledge, Eu-
thydemus and Dionysodorus rush to claim full possession of it.
There are further connections between the two dialogues; Socrates discus-
sions with Agathon and Diotima in the Symposium in fact seem to state explicitly
a number of things which are only implicit in the Euthydemus. At Symp. 199c Soc-
rates seeks a definition of eros. So he asks Agathon if love is , i. e. if it is love
of something. To illustrate his point, he offers the example of a father (199d), who
is similarly a father of someone. Of course this of what (or of whom)
question has come up already in the third eristic scene of the Euthydemus,
where the very same example of the father was used. As in the Euthydemus
(298d), so too in the Symposium, the examples of the mother and brother follow.
These examples of family relations serve to illustrate in the Symposium the rela-
tion between love and its object, as they illustrate the relation between knowl-
edge and its object in the Euthydemus. In other words, the of what question
of the Euthydemus points to the need to specify the object of knowledge in the
same way that in the Symposium the same question points to the need to specify
the object of love. Soon, love and knowledge will be linked in the Symposium,
and the connection between that dialogue and our text will be further reinforced.
Once it has been determined that love requires an object, Socrates returns to
his initial investigation of the nature of eros (Symp. 199e 200a); in due course
he and Agathon identify that object by agreeing that love is of what one lacks,
i. e. the beautiful and good. Next, Socrates narrates his conversation with Dioti-
ma (201e ff.). In the beginning of this narration, his mistaken view on opposites
between which there is no middle ground is corrected and the very opposites
discussed here are wisdom and ignorance, just as in the Euthydemus.
Eros, no longer defined as a god but as , is placed in the middle
ground between gods and mortals. Lovers and philosophers are then placed in

the female, etc., which are for the most part implicit in the work, and only noticed by an attentive
reader; in the Euthydemus, I argue, similar polarities resurface in the eristic scenes, yet this time
they are much more explicit: the sophists consistently frame their questions as invitations to
their interlocutor to choose between oppposites. Pursuing the question of the larger significance
of the use of such polarities, implicit or explicit, across dialogues is beyond the scope of this
work, but certainly an issue worthy of closer examination.
Hunter (2004) 80 suggests that the emphasis on the relational character of eros is mea-
ningful within the context of the Symposium as a critical response to Agathons speech. Scott
and Welton (2008) 84 85 note that bringing up relations between family members point to yet
another kind of love, understood as philia, which had not been central to the discussion on love
in the dialogue thus far.
As Dover (1980) 133 134 notes, the Greek is convenient here because can be used for
both persons and objects.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 115

the middle ground between wisdom and ignorance. The object of love is here de-
fined as the good, which one wishes both to obtain and to retain forever for the
sake of happiness (204e 205a). A parallel is therefore drawn between love in
general and love of wisdom (or philosophy) in particular: generic lovers and lov-
ers of wisdom alike are placed in the middle between two extremes, wisdom and
ignorance. It is precisely this middle which the sophists of the Euthydemus claim
not to occupy in presenting themselves as teachers and possessors of knowledge.
The issue of the existence of middle ground between two extremes is raised
again, both repeatedly and explicitly, in the Philebus. In this dialogue Socrates
and Protarchus set out to define pleasure in order to determine whether it is a
good, or whether wisdom, thinking, and the like are better. Both men agree
that pleasure is of many kinds, which raises the familiar question of how a
thing can be both one and many. In this context Socrates identifies one with
unity, many with infinity, and then emphasizes that what is truly significant is
to determine the exact number between the one and the infinite. But he notes
that the wise men of today pay no attention to that middle ground, and in
so doing they practice an eristic method of argumentation (16c 17a). An ex-
ample follows to illustrate Socrates view: sound is one and at the same time in-
finite in number; one is not made wise by the mere acknowledgement of this
fact; instead, one is wise with respect to music when he is able to distinguish
the intervals between individual sounds and to determine their exact number
(17a e). So it becomes clear that, for Socrates, the eristic method fails to pay at-
tention to what actually makes one wise with respect to his particular field of
knowledge. For wisdom is in fact acquired through knowledge of the middle
ground between two opposites. As we have seen, this practice of denying the ex-
istence of the middle, described as eristic in the Philebus, is amply attested in the
eristic arguments of the Euthydemus.
A similar point is made at 43d 44d. Here Socrates argues for the existence
of three possible ways of life. Aside from a pleasant and a painful one, he insists
that there is also a middle way, which one may not identify with either the pleas-
ant or the painful. So pleasant and painful are not mutually exclusive and ex-
haustive, because there is a way of life understood as lying between these
two, and consisting in lack of both pain and pleasure. Now, we are told that phil-
osophical opponents of Philebus would dispute this claim, for they hold that
pleasure simply amounts to lack of pain. So, for them, there are only two op-
tions: a life of pain and a life of non-pain, which they identify with the life of

See Frede (1997) 144 145 for an analysis of how eristic sophists employ this fallacious
116 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

pleasure. While the opponents of Philebus take it that pain and non-pain are mu-
tually exclusive and exhaustive, Socrates argues that pain and pleasure (as dis-
tinct from non-pain) are the two ends of the spectrum, with non-pain (and non-
pleasure) placed in between these two. The relevance of this passage to the Eu-
thydemus lies in the fact that the Socrates of the Philebus argues for the existence
of middle ground between two opposites, which are thought by others to be mu-
tually exclusive and exhaustive.
To sum up: the Sophist shows the invalidity of the claim that x and non-x are
mutually exclusive and exhaustive, indicating that there is middle ground be-
tween the two; the Philebus specifies that the practice of rejecting the middle
is eristic, and argues against it; the Republic emphasizes the importance of the
middle ground of opinion between wisdom and ignorance; and the Symposium
places the philosopher precisely in that middle ground. The sophists of the Eu-
thydemus refuse to acknowledge that they too must at best occupy that middle
ground between wisdom and ignorance which, in the Republic, corresponds to
the realm of opinion.
Note that the fallacy of the excluded middle seems relevant to the account
Socrates gives of the unnamed logographer in his final address to Crito. Close
to the end of the Euthydemus, Socrates presents a whole theory about the
man in the middle. Whatever lies in the middle between two things is under-
stood to be composed of these two (306a2 3), and turns out to be one of
three things: a) if the two components are the one bad, the other good, then
the thing in the middle is better than the bad but worse than the good; b) if
the two components are both good but with respect to different things, then
the thing composed is worse than both components; c) if the two components
are both bad but with respect to different things, then the thing in the middle
is better than its components (306a3 b2).
Now take philosophy and politics to be both good, which is case b: then the
man practicing both is inferior to the men practicing just one of the two; if one
practice is good and the other bad, which is case a, then the man in the middle is
inferior to the practitioners of the one but superior to the practitioners of the

The additional complication of the Philebus is that the two opposites in Socrates view
(pain and pleasure) are not the same as the two opposites in the view of Philebus opponents
(pain and non-pain). But it remains the case that Socrates emphasizes here the need to ac-
knowledge middle ground between these opposites.
Note that there is an interesting conflation in the text between the practitioners of philo-
sophy or politics and the practices themselves; Socrates in fact compares the men who practice
both philosophy and politics not to men who practice just one of the two, but to the individual
practices themselves.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 117

other; and only if both are bad, then, according to case c, the man in the middle
is superior to both of the two others. But philosophy and politics must be both
good, and so the man in the middle finds himself in the worst possible position
(306b2 c5).
Students of the Euthydemus typically summarize this passage, essentially
without interpreting it and it is no surprise, for it seems to make no sense
in the context of the dialogue. Why is the anonymous critic of Socrates presented
as the man in the middle, and what purpose does this elaborate theory about
men and practices in the middle serve anyway? I do not propose to offer a full
explanation here, but at least some progress can be made if one takes into ac-
count the eristic tendency to formulate arguments on the basis of binary oppo-
sitions between which there is thought to be no middle ground, as discussed
In the case of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, but also of the philosophers,
the middle position between wisdom and ignorance was taken to indicate the
process of learning; by implication, both philosophers and sophists ought to ac-
knowledge that they themselves were in that process. So, if to be a man in the
middle comes to mean to be a learner, then our unnamed man of the end of the
Euthydemus, identified as a middle-man of sorts, also seems to qualify as a
learner rather than a teacher. He thus appears unjustified in presenting himself
as a critic of others, because he is neither in possession of knowledge nor enti-
tled to the confidence he seems to derive from it. Critos unnamed man is thought
to possess knowledge about speech-writing and is in fact rather eminent on ac-
count of that (305c1 4). But for Socrates he is still a man in the middle, and so
no better than a philosopher, who only claims to be on the path to knowledge,
but not in possession of it.
The question as to why the man should be placed in the middle between
philosophy and politics, rather than between wisdom and ignorance which
would make my argument much stronger still remains. The arguments of the
eristic scenes are formulated on the basis of opposites of the form x and non-
x, whereas philosophy and politics are not mutually exclusive and exhaustive
opposites. So the middle position here is of a different kind than the one dis-
cussed earlier. But even if the correspondence is not exact, we are still present-
ed with yet another man in the middle at the end of the dialogue, whose very
identification as such brings to mind those other men in the middle, hinted at
earlier in the text. Moreover, Socrates verdict on this man is the same as it would
have been if he had been placed in the middle between wisdom and ignorance:

I am thankful to Prof. S. Rangos for this observation.

118 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

the unnamed man thinks he knows more than he actually does (305c6 e2). And
why should this man be placed between philosophy and politics in particular? I
propose as a tentative solution to the puzzle that this serves the purpose of point-
ing the reader to the identification of the man as Isocrates.
There is one final, significant implication of the eristic rejection of the mid-
dle between two opposites. We have seen that in many dialogues the existence of
this middle ground is emphasized. But note that these are all dialogues generally
thought to belong to the middle or late period in Platos life. In the so-called Soc-
ratic ones, however, the situation is rather different: Socrates himself appears in
these dialogues to commit the same error that the eristics do in the Euthydemus.
Robinson has a very useful discussion of this: Fallacious question is common in
Platos early dialogues in the form of offering an inexhaustive set of alternatives:
Is A X or Y?, where the truth is that it is neither. Such a question can be made
especially plausible by a fallacious use of the law of excluded middle. If Socrates
asks us whether A is X or not-X we feel that it must be one or the other; and yet
the question whether justice itself is just or unjust is probably fallacious Soc-
rates often succeeds in getting a universal proposition accepted by representing
that the only alternative is the contrary (Is A X or not-X?), when the truth is that
Some A is X and some is not (e. g. Gorg. 507a7 9, Alc. I, 126c).
So if the Socrates of the early dialogues can be found guilty of the same log-
ical errors that the two brothers commit in the Euthydemus to which one must
add fallacious ambiguity, as also pointed out in Robinson what does this
suggest for our interpretation of the present dialogue? It appears that yet another
similarity is hinted at between the sophists and Socrates, which brings them
dangerously close to one another. The eristics are playful in a way in which
Socrates himself is also known to be, and this common practice suggests an ad-
ditional reason why the conflation between the two is likely to occur. Albeit for
very different purposes, the two parties employ rather similar, questionable tac-

A full discussion of the issue of the mans identity is reserved for Chapter 4.
Robinson (1942) 98. I should also like to thank Prof. V. Tsouna for independently making
the same observation upon reading an earlier draft of this chapter.
Robinson (1942) 98 99 and 106 114, where he presents arguments both in favor and
against Platos consciousness of the fallacy of ambiguity; whether Plato had a concept of am-
biguity as such, and whether he gave it a name or not, I think it is clear at least from the
Euthydemus that he was aware of certain instances of it. Robinsons position is not quite clear,
because he challenges his own arguments in favor of awareness, without eventually drawing a
detailed conclusion; but it seems that he too thinks that Plato is aware of this form of fallacy,
although perhaps not to the greatest possible extent.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 119

There is, in fact, an instance of the fallacy of the excluded middle in the Eu-
thydemus itself: as discussed in the relevant section of Chapter 1, Socrates juxta-
poses the wise and the ignorant man in the good-fortune argument of the first
protreptic (280a1 5) in a way that is rather reminiscent of the sophists practice.
Not only does he present Cleinias with two mutually exclusive and exhaustive
opposites, but he also singles out the very terms presented as mutually exclusive
and exhaustive by the sophists in the first, the beginning of the second, and es-
sentially also the third eristic scenes. It must be intended for the reader to notice
the similarity.
Yet does this suggest that Socrates too, like the two brothers, fails to ac-
knowledge that he occupies the middle ground between wisdom and ignorance?
Socrates may be spared this criticism, for, unlike the brothers, he does not claim
to be a teacher. It is not he who claims to possess and be able to transmit knowl-
edge in the Euthydemus; in fact, no matter how ironically, he still fashions him-
self as a potential student of the sophists. Of course this is in keeping with his
attitude in other dialogues as well, in which he emphatically presents himself
to his interlocutors merely as their fellow-inquirer into the truth. So if a philos-
opher is by definition a learner, then he must acknowledge in fact, fully em-
brace his middle position.

2.2.4 Back to the Continuum

I have so far argued that a unifying principle underlies all five scenes of the in-
ternal dialogue, running at least until the beginning of the third eristic scene,
where the claim of omniscience is made: the first eristic scene asks who
comes to know what, just as the first protreptic scene identifies knowledge/ wis-
dom as the sole way to happiness, without, however, determining what it con-
sists in; the second eristic scene provides the first part of the answer to the ques-

If both the brothers and Socrates fail to acknowledge the existence of middle ground
between two opposites, if Socrates occasionally does the same in the early dialogues, and,
finally, if this very practice is corrected in the middle-late dialogues, then what does this
change suggest? Had Plato failed to notice the fallacy earlier, or was he aware of it? Is he
distancing himself from the Socrates of the early dialogues? Might he have wished to illustrate
an actual practice of the historical Socrates? An attempt to answer these complex questions
would take us too far afield. It would require a thorough examination of the passages in which
the fallacy is attested (and its function in context) as well as of the passages in which it is
corrected. Suffice it for the moment simply to raise the question, without attempting to ad-
dress an issue that, despite its overall significance, does not have direct bearing on the inter-
pretation of the Euthydemus itself.
120 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

tion posed in the first one by arguing that everyone knows; the third completes
the answer by claiming that everyone knows everything; the second protreptic
sandwiched between them implies that the knowledge sought consists in the
Forms. Now this kind of knowledge is latent in everyone, and by knowing the
Forms one may know everything. Socrates and the sophists appear to be saying
things that sound rather similar but are rather different: the arguments of both
point to the same object of knowledge (Forms, or everything); but while the
sophistic arguments imply that there is no middle ground of opinion, or process
through which one comes to acquire knowledge, evidence from other Platonic
dialogues suggests that this is precisely the path the philosopher and inevita-
bly also the sophist treads on. Despite the fact that the sophists do not make
their claims in a serious way, the eristic scenes can and ought to be taken seri-
Let us now examine the remainder of the final scene of the internal dialogue
and its role in the continuum for which I have argued. In the first part of this
scene the eristic claims of universal knowledge throughout time are challenged
by Socrates (296d8 297b8); the inconsistencies are of course exposed, but in
order to avoid direct confrontation Socrates introduces a mythological exem-
plum. The sophists latch on to it to formulate an argument about nephews, fa-
thers, mothers and brothers, in the course of which Ctesippus takes over from
Socrates as their interlocutor. What the sophists deny in this long argument is
the difference between, say, father in an absolute sense and the particular father
of someone. This may be understood as applicable also to Forms and the corre-
sponding perceptible objects: if a father in the absolute sense corresponds to the
Form of fatherhood, then the father of Socrates is a particular instance of that
Form and there is a difference between these two, which the sophists refuse
to acknowledge. The issue at hand, therefore, appears to be the relation between
universals and particulars.
The next section questions whether goods are appropriate in great quanti-
ties, always, everywhere, and whether they make one happy. In asking about
the need to possess many goods, the sophists echo Socrates. This section, in
fact, brings in the ethical questions raised in the protreptics: does one need
many good things to be happy or does one of them suffice? Platonic metaphysics
provides an answer to the central questions of Platonic ethics: if, in accordance
with the protreptics, wisdom suffices to make one happy, one does not need
many goods; indeed one only needs to acquire knowledge of the Forms.
But if knowledge of the Forms is the particular sort of wisdom that makes
one happy, what is the precise nature of these Forms? The section on seeing
what cannot be seen that follows points to the invisibility of these intelligible en-
tities, which one is to perceive with the minds eye.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 121

Once the philosophers have managed to view them, they are to transmit
their knowledge to others. In their role as rulers, they will make the citizens
good and for this purpose they will employ dialectic. So the section on speak-
ing that follows in the third eristic scene is fitting. In their attempt to transmit
knowledge, some people may speak and yet say nothing or talk nonsense;
clearly, the sophists as alleged teachers of wisdom fall under this category. At
this juncture Ctesippus imitates them by exploiting two particular elements of
their technique: their rejection of qualifications and of the middle ground be-
tween opposites. If all things are not silent, all things will necessarily speak,
he insists, and one may not qualify by distinguishing between certain things
that do speak and others that do not.
In the final section between Dionysodorus and Socrates the question of the
relation between the Forms and the sensible objects arises afresh: how are indi-
vidual objects made beautiful? This section points to the distinction between
beautiful particulars and the Form of the Beautiful, and seems to question the
theory of participation: how can a single, indivisible Form be in each particular
beautiful thing? Thus the implied answer to the central question of the dialogue,
concerning the object of the knowledge that leads to happiness, now appears to
be questioned: if the object of knowledge sought is the Forms, understood as
universals, it is unclear how they can be in the particulars.
Dionysodorus wonders about the precise way in which the presence of beau-
ty in a beautiful thing is to be understood, in the same way that in the Parme-
nides (130e 131e) Parmenides asks Socrates in what way a Form is present in
the particulars: is it present as a whole in each of them? If that were the
case, how could a single Form be present in multiple particulars at the same
time? Socrates proposes that the Form could be analogous to a single day,
which is present in many places at once, but Parmenides counters with the ex-
ample of a sail spread over many people, in which case only parts of it are set
over each individual.
If the third eristic scene indeed hints at second thoughts about the Forms of
the sort that we find in post-Republic dialogues, then we have good reason to
think that the Euthydemus too is written after the Republic. Its placement
among the late dialogues would also account for its connections with the
Sophist. Moreover, the aporia of the second protreptic would be appropriate,

See Sprague (1967b); more generally on the allusion to the Theory of Forms here see
Friedlnder (1964) 192, Guthrie (1975) 278 279, Hawtrey (1981) 174.
Cf. McCabe (2002).
For the close connection between the Euthydemus and the Sophist see also Smith (1975) 18
48. Smith makes the interesting observation that Euthydemus and Dionysodorus fit the defi-
122 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

for it would point to a real problem: if the Forms are the object of knowledge,
what is their exact nature? The of what question lingers at the end of the
first protreptic, is not answered in the second, and then recurs in the third eristic
scene; all this suggests that the way in which that question has been answered in
the metaphysics of the Republic may be problematic.
Socrates answer to Dionysodorus explains the theory of participation, which
the sophist misinterprets. His misinterpretation is likely to imply criticism of the
Forms. The sharp change in the narrative, with Socrates taking over from Ctesip-
pus before this argument, might also suggest a change in the underlying content:
if the answer to the central question of the object of knowledge has so far been
the Forms, their precise nature remains unclear. But, more significantly, in a gro-
tesquely distorted and comically outrageous way, the discussions of the sophists
mirror the Socratic discussions and the eristic versions of the Socratic themes
come after their more serious exploration.
Next, the discussion turns to objects appropriate for certain craftsmen; first,
Dionysodorus and Socrates seek the craftsmen appropriate for specific objects of
the respective crafts, but soon this is switched around to a search for the objects
appropriate for specific craftsmen. The argument concerns the central question
of an art, such as the one leading to happiness, and its appropriate teacher. It
may then be read as follows: if the Forms are the object of the knowledge to
be acquired, which craftsman is to transmit it? It cannot be the sophists, for
they can at best identify the object of cookery. Knowledge of the Forms, as
the particular sort of knowledge necessary and sufficient for happiness, can
be provided only by the philosophers.

nition of the sophist given in the Sophist better than any other sophist in the Platonic corpus; he
also discusses false statements, statements involving other than, and negative statements as
issues raised in both works. For the suggestion that behind the Late-Learners of the Sophist
(251b c) we are not meant to see Antisthenes, but rather Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, see
Brancacci (1999).
There is a possible connection with the Gorgias here (464b2 465e1): in his discussion with
Polus, Socrates identifies two arts that take care of the body, medicine and gymnastics, and two
corresponding arts for the soul, legislation and justice. For each of these he identifies also four
empirical practices, rather than arts, which aim at the pleasant rather than the good of the
body and the soul respectively, and yet mislead people into thinking them as better than the
corresponding arts. The empirical practice corresponding to legislation is sophistry, the one
corresponding to justice, rhetoric; parallel to sophistry in the case of the body is embellishment,
parallel to rhetoric is cookery. One could make a stronger case for the connection with the
Euthydemus if cookery corresponded to sophistry in the Gorgias. But it is still close enough to
merit attention.
2.2 The Three Eristic Scenes as a Continuum 123

Socrates expresses his admiration for the sophistic wisdom, which has
managed to identify the appropriate object of the art of cooking, and which he
expects Dionysodorus to be able to pass on to him (301e1 6). Right before its
close, the third eristic scene is played all over again, essentially in the same lab-
yrinthine way that the second protreptic scene had ended: in its beginning Soc-
rates had asked the sophists to identify the knowledge that was the object of the
art he sought, and they had claimed the ability to show that Socrates possessed
it; now Dionysodorus has just identified the object of the art of cooking, where-
upon Socrates reminds him of his professed ability to transmit that knowledge to
The final section of the scene focuses on ruling. This too is relevant, for
those in charge of transmitting their knowledge of the Forms will be the philos-
opher-rulers. But such men run the risk of displeasing their fellow-citizens back
in the cave. In fact, they run the risk of being accused of having no gods and
that by men who themselves know nothing about Athenian religion. The final ar-
gument, in which Socrates is accused of having no gods or sanctuaries or any-
thing good (302c1 2), is set apart from all others, as it is the last and indeed
the longest in the entire dialogue. Once again, it is not chosen at random. It re-
states one of the actual accusations raised against Socrates, to which he re-
sponds in the Apology. We are, I think, justified in thinking that Plato alludes
to that text here, as he mounts a defense of his teacher. In the course of the
third eristic scene the sophists have made the most provocative claims, have ech-
oed and distorted the views of Socrates, and they now pass final judgment. But
the reader should be able by now to read the philosophers silence in the appro-
priate way.
Let us sum up. Socrates and the sophists essentially give the same answer to
the question of knowledge: everyone knows everything. But the way in which
this is understood by each party is rather different. For the sophists, the claim
of omniscience marks the peak of their arrogance. For Socrates, omniscience re-
fers to the Forms, and is relevant to the question of a happy life, so that ethics
and metaphysics are inextricably linked. To be happy, one needs to come to
know the Forms. For this purpose he needs the guidance of an actual teacher,
who cannot be the sort of man who denies the very existence of the intermediate
path from ignorance to wisdom. Further, the precise nature of these Forms,
knowledge of which is to lead to eudaimonia, must be carefully determined.
The sophists are unaware of the serious implications of their words; they are
the tools in the hands of the author, who structures the arguments he assigns
them into a meaningful continuum. So their arguments point to invisible
Forms, which one comes to see through speech and dialectic, under the guid-
ance of the appropriate craftsmen-rulers; but the eristic arguments also raise
124 2 Serious Sophistry: The Eristic Scenes

some questions about the nature of the Forms and their relation to the particu-
lars. The entire third eristic scene can be read as an implicit description of the
nature of the Forms, their participation in the particulars, the transmission of
the knowledge about them and the danger involved in doing so.
This interpretation of the Euthydemus involves much reading between the
lines. But this should not be surprising for a Platonic dialogue, since, in one
way or another, all dialogues of Plato are essentially puzzles for the reader to
solve. The solution I propose for the puzzle of the Euthydemus may be sum-
marized as follows: the central question of the dialogue concerns the way in
which one may become happy; happiness is thought to be achieved through
the acquisition of knowledge alone; this knowledge is of a specific kind: knowl-
edge of the Forms; the nature of these Forms is relational with respect to percep-
tible objects; by acquiring it, one may speak of what truly is; but the transmis-
sion of this knowledge depends on the appropriate teachers, who run the risk
of being accused of questioning the existence of the traditional gods.

Cf. Rossetti (2000a), who argues that the Euthydemus requires the active engagement of the
reader in sorting out meaning which is only implicit in the text.
3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry:
The Framing Scenes
In this chapter I discuss the three scenes in which Socrates converses with Crito:
the introductory framing scene, with which the dialogue opens; the interruption
of the internal dialogue in the middle of the second protreptic scene, in which
the situation of the opening scene returns abruptly; and the final framing
scene, which concludes the dialogue. My main aim is to examine the relation-
ship between Socrates as narrator and Crito as addressee, or member of the au-
dience before which the internal dialogue takes place. I will argue that the rela-
tionship between Socrates and Crito is remarkably ambiguous, and I will
propose an explanation for that ambiguity. In the analysis of the final scene I
will discuss the related issues of the identity of the unnamed man introduced
by Crito, the function of his introduction in the Euthydemus, and his relevance
to the internal dialogue.

3.1 Introductory Framing Scene

Critos opening remarks set the scene. Socrates has had a conversation. The place
and time in which it occurred are specified: the Lyceum, the day before. The con-
tent of the conversation will soon be reported in the internal dialogue, but

For a discussion of the function of the framing dialogues in Plato (including a brief dis-
cussion of the frame in the Euthydemus) see Johnson (1988).
Some of the Platonic works are dramas, i. e. direct dialogues between a number of inter-
locutors; under this category fall the Euthyphro, the Crito, the Laches, the Alcibiades, the Gorgias,
the Meno, the Greater Hippias, the Lesser Hippias, the Ion, the Menexenus, the Cratylus, the
Phaedrus, the Timaeus, the Critias, the Sophist, the Statesman, the Philebus, and the Laws. Other
Platonic works are novels, i. e. we find in them a narrator present already at the beginning of the
work, reporting a dialogue that is interspersed with narrative comments; under this second
category fall the Charmides, the Lysis, the Republic and the Parmenides. In all four of these works
there is no internal addressee; instead, the character that takes on the role of the narrator
(Socrates in the first three, Cephalus in the final one) reports a dialogue addressed to the reader.
Finally, there is a third category of Platonic works, which we may called mixed; under this
category fall works that begin as dramas, i. e. direct dialogues, but have other dialogues em-
bedded in them, which are narrated by a character functioning as an internal narrator. This
internal narrator gives his narrative commentary on the dialogue he is reporting. Such works are
not pure dramas, but verge toward the novel, since they have internal narrators and addressees.
The Protagoras, the Symposium, the Phaedo and the Euthydemus meet these criteria. In the
beginning of the Protagoras Socrates and an unnamed friend converse in direct dialogue, but
126 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

Crito first focuses on the participants in the discussion or the dramatis perso-
nae. His primary interest is in one man, who will turn out to be Euthydemus, and
so his initial address to Socrates begins and ends with the same question:
(271a1, cf. 271a5).
Crito has only seen, but has not managed to hear, for there was a great
crowd gathered around the speakers. So the reader, with him, first visualizes
the scene as an image, before the actual discussion (i. e. what one would hear)
is reported. The reference to the crowd surrounding the interlocutors adds a
chorus to the dramatis personae, and the stage is set.
In response to Critos Socrates asks . So he emphasizes right from
the start that we are here concerned with two individuals rather than one.
Crito now becomes more specific; having sketched the big picture, he fills in
the details. Socrates is the point of reference; the man sitting second on his
right is the one Crito wants to know about, while in between the two is the
son of Axiochus. The picture is telling: a young man is placed between two op-
posite forces competing over him.
Now Crito points to a further reason why the discussion he wants to hear
about might be of significance to him. Cleinias, son of Axiochus, for whose
sake the entire internal dialogue is carried out, is compared to Critos own son
Critoboulos. It is perhaps telling that both young men are initially identified
as their fathers sons; in fact the actual name of Cleinias is not mentioned
until 273a5, when he is said to enter the Lyceum, and, so to speak, to appear
on stage. The discussion between Socrates and Crito is a discussion of the
older generation about the young; note that Socrates old age will soon figure

soon Socrates becomes the narrator of the story of his meeting with Protagoras; similarly in the
Symposium Apollodorus starts out by conversing with an unnamed friend, but soon reports on a
meeting at Agathons house, about which he has himself heard from Aristodemus; in the
Phaedo, Phaedo starts conversing with Echecrates, but soon reports to him the discussion on the
last day of Socrates; and in the Euthydemus the direct dialogue between Socrates and Crito
quickly gives way to the internal dialogue narrated by Socrates. Unlike the other three works,
which combine a direct framing dialogue and a narrated embedded one, the Euthydemus is the
only work in which the framing dialogue returns at the end of the work; in the Protagoras, the
Symposium, and the Phaedo the opening scene merely introduces the main discussion, which is
then narrated, whereas in the Euthydemus the opening scene is balanced by a closing one, in
which the situation of the framing narrative is picked up afresh. [The Theaetetus is a special
case: it includes an embedded dialogue, but that dialogue is read to the internal audience,
Euclides and Terpsion; it is not narrated, nor does it include narrative comments. So this work
should fall under the first category of direct dialogues, except that it includes two of those rather
than one.]
Cf. 276b6.
The significance of this is discussed in Chapter 2.
3.1 Introductory Framing Scene 127

prominently (e. g. 272b5 6). The son of Axiochus is said to have grown, and it is
precisely his age which alerts to the need for proper education. Cleinias is ap-
proximately of the same age as Critoboulos; and while the latter is slender, the
former is well-grown and fair and good-looking (271b4 5); as the reader will
soon find out, he already has a lover. So the issue of Critoboulos education
might wait for the moment, while that of Cleinias is urgent.
Socrates responds to Critos question, leaving the additional comments on
Cleinias and Critoboulos aside for the moment: his interlocutor of the previous
day was Euthydemus, sitting on Socrates right, with Cleinias in between; on Soc-
rates left was his brother, Dionysodorus. Crito says that he knows neither of the
two yet he appears to know enough to identify them as sophists (,
271c1). Whether he uses the term in its generic sense, to indicate possessors of
some form of knowledge, or more specifically in its technical sense, to refer to
professional sophists, remains unclear for the moment; it will become clear
in the course of the dialogue.
Crito now asks whence they came and what their wisdom is. He has al-
ready, then, made the assumption that they possess some sort of knowledge.
This foreshadows the fact that in the concluding scene of the dialogue he will
show himself to know much more than he originally admits to Socrates. His con-
versation with the unnamed man, reserved for the very end of the Euthydemus,
will have provided the information he would otherwise be unable to possess at
this early point in the discussion. But in this initial scene Crito is being disin-
genuous; he takes on the persona of a man who is entirely unaware of the con-
tent of the conversation to be reproduced in the internal dialogue. His interest

There is a parallel situation in the beginning of the Alcibiades, where Socrates takes up
again his association with the young man after a long period of absence, precisely when he has
reached the appropriate age to embark on public life and is in need of Socrates guidance. Due to
the emphasis on age in the Euthydemus, and the contrast between the old and the young, I find
de Vries view that the reference at 271b3 is to size rather than age hard to maintain; see de Vries
(1972) 42.
For a list of eight possible meanings of the word sophist in the 5th century see Edmunds
(2006) 418 421.
See my discussion of the final framing scene in this chapter.
When Socrates rephrases a little later in the dialogue (274d2 3), he speaks of the
of the sophists wisdom; on this see Benson (1997).
Narcy (1984) 140 141 makes two insightful observations about the fact that any mention of
the unnamed man is reserved for the end of the work: in this way the reader is forced at the end
of the dialogue to revert to its beginning, so that the end essentially marks a fresh start of the
inquiry; moreover, the narrative reproduces the actual order of events in the story: the comments
of the unnamed man, reserved for the end of the narrative, had also come at the end of the
discussion of the previous day.
128 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

has evidently been piqued by the comments of the unnamed man and so he
seeks to hear the details of the conversation, most likely for the sake of the edu-
cation of his son.
Socrates responds to Critos questions in the order that they were posed: the
men were originally from Chios, but they moved to Thurii, and they have been
around these lands (Athens and environs, presumably) for many years; but when
it comes to determining their wisdom, Socrates supplies excessive praise rather
than a concrete answer. He calls it (271c5), and describes the men
themselves by employing three consecutive -compounds, suggestive of the
omnipotence he attributes to them: , and
(271c6 7). Socrates associates the men with the art of the pancration, clearly un-
derstood on the basis of its etymology as an art of constant victory. But the pre-
cise knowledge the men possess still escapes us. Socrates waxes oratorical: he
bestows excessive praise on the sophists, which, however, lacks specific
content. This is already suggestive of the method Socrates will employ
throughout the dialogue: on the one hand he will praise the two brothers pro-
fusely, while on the other he will consistently undermine that praise.
Next, Socrates contrasts the two brothers to a pair of actual pancratiasts.
While the latter only fight with the body, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are
in possession of a threefold art: first, they fight physical battles and teach any-
one willing to pay them the same skill; second, they are the strongest (,
272a2) in the battle of the law-courts (, 272a2), and they teach others to
speak and compose forensic speeches; third, they have reached the climax of
their pancratiastic art by fighting with words and refuting any statement, wheth-
er true or false, and this too they are capable of teaching (272a6 272b1). Note the
emphasis on the ability of the brothers to transmit their threefold skill to others;
but the teachability of their professed art will be questioned later, when Euthy-
demus and Dionysodorus will claim to teach virtue. Note also that all three as-
pects of the skill Socrates attributes to the sophists are defined as forms of fight-
ing, and as subcategories of the pan-cratiastic, or all-winning, art. The art of the
brothers is essentially fighting; its product, victory.
So this is what Socrates tells Crito that the wisdom of the brothers consists
in, and it is important to bear in mind that he gives this account of the sophistic
art after the dialogue with the sophists has ended. In terms of dramatic time,

For a possible reason why the brothers, if historical, may have been expelled from Thurii
see Hawtrey (1981) 42.
Cf. a parallel move by Polus in Gorgias 448d1 10: Polus gives responses to Socrates
questions, which, however, are not to the point and Socrates attributes that to his rhetorical
3.1 Introductory Framing Scene 129

then, the introductory framing scene takes place after the internal dialogue,
which, however, comes later in the narrative. We are about to see the sophists
themselves defining their wisdom in very different terms. But regardless of
what Socrates will report that they claimed, and despite his profuse praise, he
has told Crito exactly what he holds their art to be: an art of fighting and refu-
tation, aiming at permanent victory, with complete disregard for the truth the
truth which Socrates in the Apology, for example, places above everything else.
So when he adds that he intends to become their student, the irony is amply
The question, however, is why Socrates ought to be ironic toward Crito. It
would make sense for him to praise the brothers ironically in their presence, but
it is not at all self-evident why he ought to keep up this pretense toward his old
associate and friend. Surprisingly, this question has not been addressed suffi-
ciently in scholarly work on the Euthydemus, but has been typically brushed
aside as part of the joke which the dialogue as a whole is often taken to
be. Yet the reason why Socrates remains ironic beyond the limits of the inter-

See Apology 29d1 e3 (esp. 29e2).

Socrates irony toward Crito is so puzzling that Palpacelli (2009) 152 deems it more rea-
sonable to conclude that Socrates in fact is not ironic, but actually believes in the wisdom of the
sophists: Non pu esserci ironia in questo intervento, non c dubio che Socrate ritenga la
sapienza dei due meravigliosa e importante, perch lo ha detto sia a Critone (addirittura il
giorno dopo aver incontrato i due, quando, dunque, non avrebbe pi senso fare dellironia) sia a
Clinia sia a Ctesippo e non pu certo ingannarli. In this chapter I argue instead that Socrates is
certainly ironic toward Crito, and I aim to provide an explanation for it.
An exception to this is Strauss (1983) 67, who raises the question, but does not answer it
explicitly. In fact the article as a whole is written in a very cryptic way. It reads almost like a
summary of the Euthydemus, interspersed with occasional comments, which, however, are not
developed into a coherent argument. Despite the fact that Strauss interpretation is almost as
complex as the Euthydemus itself, it alerts the reader to certain aspects of the dialogue that have
generally gone unnoticed by others. Strauss is one of the very few to acknowledge flaws in the
Socratic arguments; and if he merely hints at them, he certainly hits the mark. For example on p.
75, in his discussion of the good fortune argument of the first protreptic, where Socrates sets out to
show that good fortune is identical to wisdom, Strauss comments: He [sc. Socrates] indicated
most clearly that the wisdom in question does not always guarantee good luck. Kleinias who was
not supposed to notice this, did not notice it. He hints at another flaw on p. 76: Socrates has
claimed that a man without intelligence is better off without assets among which the moral
virtues have been included; Strauss comments: When Socrates asked next who would do less, a
courageous and moderate man or a coward, and therewith which of the two is better off without
intelligence, Kleinias replied the coward Socrates gave Kleinias no opportunity to decide
whether the unintelligent man is better off if he is just or if he is unjust; judging by the analogy of
the other cases the answer would have to be that he is better off if he is unjust. But this thought
verges on the absurd. But if Socrates arguments show similarities to the eristic ones, and if
130 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

nal dialogue and why Critos own attitude toward him is ambiguous are central
questions, to be addressed in full in this chapter, once all three scenes have been
discussed in which this interaction takes place. But let us, for the moment, re-
turn to complete the discussion of the first scene.

Socrates himself also praises the brothers, then perhaps he means it! Perhaps, in fact, he is not
ironic to Crito; this seems a possible way in which Strauss may have come to the conclusion he
states in the final paragraph of his article, that Socrates takes the side of the two brothers against
Ktesippos and Kriton (p. 88). Altman (2007) mounts a forceful attack on this interpretation. The
problem is that, to do so, he constructs a full argument for Strauss, which Strauss himself never
does. I agree with Altman in not understanding Strauss claim on p. 73 that, because in the first
eristic scene it is shown that neither the wise nor the ignorant learn, it turns out that learning is
impossible, hence presumably that wisdom proper is impossible, and hence that the only wisdom
possible is eristics; cf. the top of p. 77 for the same point. Strauss raises some important questions,
and hints at some real problems in the Euthydemus, but his proposed solutions are not as clear.
Even if his concluding paragraph supports that Socrates endorses eristic (and so, by implication,
that Socrates praise of the sophists to Crito is genuine), a number of questions are left open: why
exactly does Socrates endorse eristic? Which aspects of it does he endorse? If, as Strauss, I think,
argues (p. 78), Socrates view of the sophists changes as they grow serious in the course of the
internal dialogue, what is one to make of the mock-praise at its end? Altman himself does not
answer the puzzle of Socrates praise of the sophists to Crito; he merely shifts to a discussion of the
development of Ctesippus in the course of the dialogue, which seems rather off the mark; note, for
example, the following (p. 375): In the light of Socrates pedagogical purpose, Ctesippus victory
over the brothers becomes as delightfully uncomplicated as the laughter that crowns his triple
victory. Sweet though this victory is to the lovers themselves, it is sweeter still to Socrates. I argue
extensively against such an interpretation in Chapter 4.
The question why Socrates ought to appear to endorse the sophistic method has also been
raised by Gonzalez (1998) 127 128, who holds that there is some degree of seriousness in the praise
of eristic, for Socrates acknowledges that both eristic and philosophy often use the same means,
i.e. similar ways of arguing, despite aiming at different ends. See also Landy (1998), who argues
that Socrates in the Euthydemus does defend the sophists against their much inferior counterparts,
the speechwriters; for he evidently prefers such intellectuals because, in this circle, knowledge
seems to be sought for no end beyond what takes place in the conversation (p. 197). In Landys
view the sophists, like Socrates, seek wisdom as something valuable in and of itself, while the
logographers promise and men like Crito seek tangible benefits; yet nowhere in the text do the
sophists appear to value wisdom for its own sake. In fact they do not seem to value wisdom at all;
they merely seek victory over their interlocutors in what they perceive as verbal contests. Nor does
the Socrates of the Euthydemus appear disinterested in the practical application of the knowledge
philosophy is to provide, as Landy goes on to suggest; Socrates failure to determine the object of
the wisdom to be attained if philosophy is pursued need not, and in my view does not, imply a lack
of interest in that object and its applications. Landy p. 195 also claims that the Republic does not
and perhaps cannot acknowledgethat philosophy might be unable to determine what the good
is. But the Republic explicitly acknowledges and essentially repeats the very problem encountered
in the second protreptic of the Euthydemus, which consists in defining the good as knowledge of
the good; see Rep. 6 (505b c).
3.1 Introductory Framing Scene 131

Crito raises an objection to Socrates expressed intention to become a stu-

dent of the two brothers: isnt he too old to learn? Perhaps we would expect
him to raise a different objection: does Socrates really want to learn how to
fight with words, showing complete disregard for the truth? This question
does not arise, however; Crito merely focuses on Socrates age. As a character,
he is sketched with consistency: education earlier appeared to him to be appro-
priate for the young, and so it is reasonable that he finds the old Socrates an un-
likely candidate to be a student. He views education as limited to the young and
unnecessary for the old.
But there is a second level of possible interpretation: Crito too may be seen
as ironic; instead of asking Socrates what business he might have with sophists
of the worst sort, as he will implicitly suggest in the final framing scene, he puts
forward the less explicit obstacle supplied by the age of his interlocutor, and en-
courages him to reveal more. It may be objected that Crito has not yet seen the
sophists in action from Socrates perspective, i. e. he has not listened to the in-
ternal dialogue so how could he be ironic toward Socrates? Yet his response
to the unnamed man, recorded at the end of the Euthydemus (305a8 b3), but
in fact delivered before Crito had heard the internal dialogue, makes clear that
he already has a formed opinion about the quality of the sophistic teaching.
Of course such an interpretation of Critos attitude only becomes possible
when we come to the Euthydemus for a second reading; the dialogue itself
seems to require multiple readings for some of its implications to become appa-
Socrates shows no hesitation: the men themselves acquired their wisdom
only recently, in their old age. So, clearly, it does not seem to require the long
study of other arts. Indeed, as has been shown in Chapter 2, Ctesippus furnishes
an example of a man who learnt the art of eristic rather quickly. Note that Soc-
rates again describes the wisdom of the brothers as eristic (cf.
, , 272b9 10), an art of fighting by means of
words; when addressing Crito, he is consistent in his view of the limitations of
the two brothers, to whom he does not attribute the teaching of virtue.
But Socrates claims that there is something else that troubles him: he fears
he might attach opprobrium to the brothers themselves by becoming their stu-
dent. To clarify his point, he establishes the following parallelism: Connus teach-
es Socrates to play the cithara. The fellow-students laugh at Socrates, but they
also call Connus a teacher of the old. That, presumably, is the opprobrium attach-
ed to the teacher upon his admission of Socrates as a student. Now Socrates sug-
gests that the same thing might happen to the two brothers. If the situation is
transferred to the case of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, the fellow-student of
Socrates turns out to be none other than Crito, who will indeed, at the end of
132 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

the dialogue, laugh at Socrates by voicing implicit criticism against him for as-
sociating with the sophists. Moreover, if Socrates has the ability to make his
teachers appear worthy of reproach, his intended eristic teachers run that risk.
Socrates wishes to persuade Crito to join him in becoming a student of the
sophists, and encourages him to bring his sons along (272d1 2). It is hard not to
think of the parallel situation in Aristophanes Clouds, in which the old Strep-
siades fails to learn from the sophist Socrates because of his old age, and so
his younger son is encouraged to become a student himself. The issue of the
proper education of the young, played out in the Aristophanic comedy, is picked
up afresh in the Euthydemus, but the situation is reversed. The alleged teacher-
sophist of the Clouds is here cast in the role of the student, intending to learn
from the actual sophists.
Crito asks about the wisdom of the sophists yet again (272d5). The answers
Socrates has given so far pancratiastic art, art of fighting and refutation, and
eristic wisdom have not been specific enough. An illustration is called for, and
the internal dialogue will fill that gap. Socrates gives assurance that he can give
a detailed account of the conversation, for he paid careful attention. He thus be-
gins his narration of the discussion of the previous day at 272d7. The very first
thing he notes is that it was in accordance with the will of some god (272e1)
that he remained in the Lyceum; his prevented him from leaving, evi-
dently allowing for the ensuing discussion to take place. Socrates involvement
in the dialogue is portrayed as divinely sanctioned.
Soon enough, the two brothers and their students entered. Then came Clei-
nias and his admirers, among whom Ctesippus is singled out. The way they all
took their seats is specified once again (273b1 7, cf. 271a8 b1 and 271b6 8).
Note that, upon seeing Socrates, Cleinias moves in his direction; the brothers,
on the other hand, are attracted by the sight of Cleinias himself (273b3). Socrates
earlier suggestion to Crito that his sons should be used as to approach
the sophists is here confirmed: the sophists target the young. There is a hint
here that they are also consistently attracted by the handsome youth; the erotic
element will in fact prove to be an undercurrent throughout the dialogue, with
Ctesippus competing with the brothers for the admiration of the young Cleinias.

For the numerous parallels between the Euthydemus and the Clouds see, for example,
Palpacelli (2009) 243 245. I agree with her conclusion, p. 245: Allora l impressione che
Platone abbia presente in particolare questa commedia nel costruire la sua commedia che ha,
tra i propri obiettivi, quello di distinguere decisamente Socrate dagli eristi, il metodo dialettico
da quello eristico. Cf. Michelini (2000), who includes a more general discussion of Socrates
comic attributes in the Euthydemus and beyond.
3.1 Introductory Framing Scene 133

After the general introduction provided by the opening scene, the characters
appear on stage. As we glide into the internal dialogue, the introductory scene
is essentially repeated: not only the setting and seating arrangements but also
the question of the wisdom of the sophists recur, in fact in the same order as
that followed in the introductory framing scene. This time, however, there will
be some significant divergence from the original account. In the presence of
the sophists, Socrates informs Cleinias of the occupations of the brothers: things
pertaining to war, which the future general ought to know, and things pertaining
to the law-courts, such as the ability to protect oneself when suffering an injus-
tice (273c4 9; cf. 271d1 272b1). These two occupations of the sophists match the
corresponding references in the framing scene, but the third one does not: the
brothers themselves do not claim to practice the pancration, an art of fighting
and refutation, or anything else of the sort; instead they claim to teach virtue
(273d8 9). It now becomes clear that in the framing scene Socrates did not re-
produce to Crito exactly what he had heard from the sophists. The text itself pro-
vides evidence for the fact that what Socrates told Crito in the opening scene was
an interpretation rather than a simple repetition of the actual sophistic claims. In
other words, Socrates equates what the sophists claim to be their teaching of vir-
tue with the art of refutation.
So what does the first scene of the Euthydemus accomplish? First, it sets the
stage for the central discussion of the dialogue. Second, it sets up the relation
between Socrates and Crito as rather ambiguous. Socrates praises the sophists
to Crito, who responds by feigning complete ignorance of anything pertaining
to them. But there are indications sufficient to show that Socrates praise is iron-
ic; Crito is given enough information on the basis of which he can conclude that
the praise is not meant in earnest. The relation between the two characters will
become more intricate in the scenes discussed below, as Crito will fail to draw
this conclusion.

While the beginning of the internal dialogue does not form part of the first framing scene, it
is discussed here because of its clear relation to it, as will be argued presently.
I am here referring to the account that is original in terms of time in the narrative rather
than the story.
Mridier (1931) 123 misses this point when arguing that aujourdhui Euthydme et Dio-
nysodore tiennent pour accessoires leurs talents de nagure; la science quils professent est
lristique (272b). In fact it is not themselves who claim to practice eristic; 272b is Socrates
distorted version of what the sophists actually say.
Diop (2004) 126 argues that Socrates hides from Crito what he really thinks of the sophists
in the beginning of the dialogue to create a sense of suspense; but this cannot be the case, for
Socrates keeps up this pretense until the very end of the Euthydemus.
134 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

3.2 Interruption

The frame returns abruptly in the context of the second protreptic scene, in
which Socrates and Cleinias seek to identify the art leading to eudaimonia. Dur-
ing that process the following arts are considered: first, the art of speech-writing;
then, the art of generalship; and finally, after Critos intervention, the art of pol-
itics. These three options are not chosen at random, for they initially reproduce
the threefold art of the sophists, as presented in the original framing scene and
subsequently in the beginning of the internal dialogue. The structural divide be-
tween speech-writing and generalship on the one hand and politics on the other,
which is brought about through the intervention of Crito, points to a similar di-
vision between arts that the sophists are capable of practicing and others that
they are not. The brothers are not denied the ability to prove successful in the
first two arts; indeed they were earlier identified as teachers of forensic
speech-writing and generalship. But when it comes to the third, the art of states-
manship, things are significantly different. We saw that in the opening scene of
the dialogue Socrates attributed to the brothers the art of refutation as the third
branch of their pancratiastic art; but in the beginning of the internal dialogue
the sophists themselves substituted the teaching of virtue in the same climactic
position. Now the end of the second protreptic will imply that the teaching of
virtue or the transmission of the knowledge necessary for its acquisition by
each individual citizen is the product of the art of the statesman, and the
art itself is placed at the climax of the inquiry conducted by Socrates and Clei-
nias. So it appears that Crito interrupts the second protreptic scene at a point
which creates a division between arts to which the sophists indeed have access,
and that from which they are barred. They may claim to teach virtue, but for Soc-
rates that falls under politics; since he implicitly rejects that the sophists teach
virtue, he must also reject that they practice the relevant art. The intervention of
Crito reinforces this view also at the level of structure.
Crito interrupts Socrates narration because he finds it hard to believe that
Cleinias was capable of rejecting the art of the general in the sophisticated
way that he did. Is he justified in expressing disbelief? Cleinias is supposed to
have accomplished a number of difficult things: he has paralleled the art of
the general to the art of hunting; he has then mentioned other forms of hunting;
and he has referred to dialecticians as those to whom a certain type of hunters
hands over its catch. The mention of dialectic in particular is striking, especially
since it comes from the same young man who, just a moment ago, was battered
in argument by the sophists; Critos interruption seems justified. But, in doubt-
ing that Cleinias could make such an argument, Crito doubts Socrates trustwor-
3.2 Interruption 135

thiness as a narrator reproducing the actual conversation, and this highlights

afresh the puzzling relation between the two.
Socrates indeed seems to put in the mouth of Cleinias things that he would
not be able to say. But why should he attribute to the young man things he
would not be in a position to have said? In so doing, Socrates gives the lead
to Crito to interrupt. His intervention highlights the fact that, unlike eristic, sig-
nificant progress in philosophy cannot be made in such a short time. In the
second and third eristic scenes Ctesippus takes on a similarly active role as Clei-
nias does in the second protreptic, picking up on the technique of the sophists
and imitating it. In the mock-praise of the two brothers at the end of the internal
dialogue Socrates emphasizes the speed with which Ctesippus and any other
could learn the eristic method (303e5 8). The sophists themselves, after all,
take pride in their ability to transmit their knowledge most quickly in the begin-
ning of the Euthydemus (272b3 4, 273d9); they themselves acquired it in their
old age, and only within a year or two (272b8 c1). Socrates, on the other
hand, is still a student of music in his old age, and allegedly wants to become
a student of the sophists as well. So eristic is presented throughout the dialogue
as a skill that is quickly acquired and quickly transmitted to young students. Phi-
losophy, on the other hand, requires time and leisure.
This is emphasized, for example, in a digression in the Theaetetus, in which
we find a direct comparison between philosophers and forensic orators. While
the latter are always under time pressure, hurrying to convince an audience of
jurors before the water in the clock runs out, the philosophers enjoy leisure in
their discussions; their inquiries require time (Theaet. 172c3 173c6). Of course
the Theaetetus passage discusses the time available for inquiry to the philoso-
phers, and not the time within which they can teach their method to others; Soc-
rates himself does not claim to teach anything at all. In that respect it may seem
inappropriate to compare it to the Euthydemus passage, in which the issue at
hand is the speed with which the eristic method is transmitted. Yet it is still rel-
evant that the practice of philosophy is understood as a long-lasting process and
not a skill that can be picked up easily and quickly and then passed on to others.

Dawidowicz (1983) discusses the role of Socrates as narrator in the Euthydemus. Unfort-
unately, the article is written in Polish, which I cannot read. But as far as one can tell from the
English summary accompanying it, there is no discussion in it of the role of Socrates as a
narrator likely to misrepresent deliberately the conversation he reports.
But Hinrichs (1951) 181 and Jackson (1990) 394 hold that Cleinias did indeed say these
things and so made progress in the course of the dialogue. No argument is supplied in either
Cf. Michelini (2000) 526.
136 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

Socrates narration creates the circumstances necessary to elicit a response from

Crito that will bring to the foreground this crucial distinction between eristic and
We saw that in the introductory framing scene Socrates put on an ironic per-
sona by excessively praising the sophists to Crito. Crito seems to adopt the same
playful attitude toward his friend in the present scene. He doubts that Cleinias
could have said what Socrates attributes to him, but at the same time does
not go as far as to say explicitly that Socrates is putting his own words into
the mouth of the young man. Instead he plays along, granting that the words
were spoken by some superior being. This playful relation between Socrates
and Crito continues, as we will see, to the end of the Euthydemus.

3.3 Final Framing Scene

3.3.1 Socrates Speech of Praise

The final laughter, followed by Socrates praise of the sophists, marks the end of
the internal dialogue. Socrates now suggests that the reaction of the audience to
the sophistic display influenced him to such an extent that he too turned to
praising the brothers. He claims to be completely subdued by them (-
, 303c2), employing a term that suggests enslavement, and thereby reinforc-
ing a metaphor that runs throughout the Euthydemus: the sophists practice an
art of fighting, enslaving their opponents upon their victory.
The first word Socrates uses to address the brothers is (303c4), a
term formerly used to describe those who have achieved eudaimonia (290d7).
It is as if the victorious sophists have reached the pinnacle of happiness. Yet
Socrates eulogy is sharply biting: while the brothers are praised for having
achieved such a great thing (303c4), exactly what that is remains unspecified.
Socrates focuses on three aspects of the brothers success. First, they appear
not to care for the majority and the haughty, but only for those who are like
themselves. This is described as the most magnificent thing about their
speeches (303c7). And while it might indeed appear good to be indifferent to
the wishes of the multitude, Socrates immediately shifts the praise toward less
convenient ground. He adds that only a few men of the same sort as the two
brothers would appreciate the sophistic speeches, whereas the rest would prefer

Palpacelli (2009) 162 takes this to be a reference not to Socrates but to the author Plato.
For a discussion of the remaining part of this scene see Chapter 1.
3.3 Final Framing Scene 137

to be refuted. The most magnificent thing about such speeches is something

that men unlike the sophists would be ashamed of even uttering. The initial
praise ends as a whopping back-handed compliment.
The second praiseworthy element, described as popular and gentle
(303d6), concerns the ability of the sophists to reduce their interlocutors to si-
lence; the fact that the same happens to the sophists themselves is described
as graceful (, 303e4). Once again, the praise is twisted: the speeches
that are allegedly praised are at the same time described as burdensome and
self-defeating. Note also that the term graceful will be picked up in the final
scene of the dialogue by Crito, who will, however, apply it not to eristic but to
philosophy (304e6 7).
The final characteristic of the sophistic speeches, described as the greatest
(303e5) thing about them, is the short time within which anyone can learn how
to imitate them. But Socrates rushes to advise the sophists against displaying
their abilities in front of many people; they should keep such displays only
among the two of them, or anyone willing to pay them. Since it has been
shown that eristic requires little time, and therefore little money, its practitioners
are advised not to give it away.
The closing words of the speech reach a peak of sarcasm: in praising what is
rare, like the speeches of the sophists ought to be, Socrates contrasts it to water,
the cheapest thing; the sophists are encouraged to keep their speeches rare
and, by implication, expensive. But, in an explicit reference to the beginning
of Pindars Olympian 1, Socrates rushes to add that water is also the best. Of
course, if water is the best, the rare speeches of the sophists that are contrasted
to it are certainly not. In the same breath that Socrates mocks the two brothers,
he adds that he himself and Cleinias should be admitted as their students. He
does not seem to wait for an answer, however, for soon thereafter, he says,
they left (304b7); and on this note, the internal dialogue comes to a close.

3.3.2 Crito as a Student

At the end of the embedded narrative Socrates repeats the suggestion he made to
Crito at its beginning: he should join him in becoming a student of the two broth-
ers (304b7 c1, cf. 272d1 2). To reassure him that this is a fitting endeavor, he

Gonzalez (1998) 122 125 makes the attractive suggestion that all three elements of Socrates
praise essentially point to characteristics which his own practice shares with eristic; but espe-
cially the third element of praise, i. e. the speed with which the eristic skill may be transmitted,
seems directly opposed to dialectic, which requires time and leisure.
138 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

notes that students of all ages and natures are accepted, so long as they are will-
ing to pay the fee the sophists charge. This statement addresses Critos initial
concern with the age of Socrates, and also repeats the common criticism against
the sophists for requiring pay. Further, it raises the issue of the appropriate na-
ture required for certain intellectual activities; in the Theaetetus, for example, in
the section in which Socrates describes his art of midwifery, he emphasizes that
certain natures are appropriate for philosophical inquiry, while others are not.
Some may be deliberately led to miscarriage (149d3); others, while originally ac-
cepted, are not received back into association with Socrates after a period of dis-
engagement (151a2 4). At least the Socrates of the Theaetetus, then, is selective
in a way that the sophists are not. The Euthydemus emphasizes that consider-
ations of this sort do not come into play for the two brothers so long as the in-
tended student is able to pay up.
But Socrates makes a further point, which seems targeted specifically at
Crito: he reassures him that his engagement as a student will not prevent him
from transacting other business and making profit (304c3 4). This comment,
which creeps into Socrates protreptic to Crito almost surreptitiously, reveals
something about the way Socrates views his old-time friend: were Crito to
think that his money-making activities would be hindered by an engagement
in learning, he would much rather focus on those. This is sharp criticism, espe-
cially since it takes place in a dialogue in which Socrates has discussed exten-
sively the relation between wealth and wisdom, and the dangers involved in
the possession of the former without the latter. Crito is portrayed as a practical
man in whose philosophical predisposition Socrates puts little trust, even if he
frames the criticism in the odd context of a protreptic to eristic wisdom. With
this Socratic portrayal of Crito the internal dialogue ends, and he proceeds to
take center stage.

3.3.3 Crito and Socrates

In the opening scene of the Euthydemus Socrates is said to have had a conversa-
tion with someone the day before. In the final scene he finds out that Crito too
had had a conversation with someone precisely about Socrates conversation.
Crito is now about to report it in the same way that Socrates reported the internal
dialogue. But he mentioned nothing of the sort in the introductory scene, before

Even if in the relevant passage cited above Socrates attributes the selectivity to the god and
not to himself, it remains a fact that not everyone is deemed suitable for philosophical inquiry.
3.3 Final Framing Scene 139

having Socrates narrate the whole discussion to him. Instead he claimed that,
while he was present, he heard nothing. This is puzzling; it would not have
been out of place for him to mention at the beginning of his conversation with
Socrates that he had met a man who had criticized his friend for his interaction
with a pair of sophists. Moreover, if Crito was completely unaware of the content
of the conversation of the previous day, how would he be in a position to agree
with the unnamed mans criticism of Socrates for interacting with worthless
men, when in the introductory scene he does not even appear to know their
names? The fact that he waits until Socrates has narrated the whole discussion
to him before he even mentions the man suggests that his relation to Socrates is
more complex than one might be originally inclined to think.
But we saw that Socrates is not straightforward with Crito either. He keeps
up the pretense of praising the sophists throughout the dialogue, and encourag-
es Crito to join him in becoming their student, while at the same time completely
undermining his own suggestion; moreover, he appears occasionally to misrep-
resent the discussion, whereupon Crito feels obliged to interrupt him. So the am-
biguous attitude of Socrates toward Crito is paralleled by the equally ambiguous
attitude of Crito toward Socrates. Each withholds information from the other,
and it remains for the reader to interpret the dynamics of their relation.

(i) Crito, the Unnamed Man, and Socrates on Philosophy

First, Crito sets himself apart from his friend by proclaiming that he is one of
those whom Socrates in his speech of praise identified as unlike Euthydemus
(303d3 5, cf. 304c7 8). He then introduces a new character, whom, however,
he leaves unnamed, and reports to Socrates what that man had to say about
him and the two sophists. The identity of this man has been the primary focus
of scholarly attention in respect to this final scene. Yet scholars rarely go beyond
the identification itself to raise certain further questions about the scene, which
are in my view much more pressing. Whether the man is or is not Isocrates, as
most scholars assume, why is he brought in here, at the very end of the dialogue,
without any previous introduction? What is the function of this appendix, and
what does Isocrates specifically contribute to it if he is indeed the one mentioned
here? These questions I aim to address in what follows.
Echoing Socrates, the unnamed man himself starts out with a mock praise of
the sophists: he first calls them wise (304d7), then mentions that they were

So, for example, Gifford (1905) 15 20 reviews the scholarship on the question of the
identity of the man up until his time but does not even raise the much more important question
of his significance in the work.
140 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

worth listening to (304d9), and concludes that they are the wisest in this kind of
speeches (304e1 2); but immediately thereafter he calls them foolish, worthless
themselves, and pursuing a worthless study (304e3 5). The triple praise is fol-
lowed by triple criticism, which essentially repeats in briefer form Socrates
own triple mock-praise of the sophists.
In response to the mans criticism, Crito comments that philosophy is a grace-
ful thing (304e6 7). Notice that the unnamed man himself has attributed no
particular title to the sophists or their practice; it is Crito who identifies them
as philosophers. Why? The whole purpose of the internal dialogue was to distin-
guish between eristic and philosophy. Despite certain similarities, there were
major differences, which lay in the seriousness with which each party engaged
in conversation and the purpose it sought to accomplish. In calling the eristic
practice philosophy, Crito reveals that he has failed to grasp the main point of
the internal dialogue.
It is of course striking that this should be the case for a man as intimately
connected with Socrates as Crito. Crito is the very man who, in the dialogue
named after him, appears close to the philosopher in his final days, genuinely
caring for him, and offering to provide an escape from prison. Crito is also pres-
ent in Socrates final hours, as depicted in the Phaedo, and he is the one whom
Socrates appoints to take care of practical matters after his death (115b1 118a14).
Yet the fact that the Crito of the Euthydemus fails to grasp the deeper significance
of Socrates claims about the sophists matches the way he is represented in those
other dialogues. As Weiss convincingly argues, there too he is portrayed as a
practical man, who genuinely cares for Socrates, but does not fully understand
the extent of his commitment to his philosophical views; Critos own primary
concerns remain wealth and reputation, which bring him much closer to the
average Athenian. Crito is then appropriately chosen as the interlocutor of Soc-

One may object that, in terms of dramatic time, Crito gives his opinion here before listening
to what Socrates says in the internal dialogue. I have assumed, however, that Crito must know
more about the internal dialogue than he allows us to think at the beginning of the Euthydemus:
if Crito knew nothing about what was discussed between Socrates and the sophists, he could not
have agreed with the unnamed man that Socrates interlocutors were worthless men. So he must
feign complete ignorance of the content of the conversation, in order to hear Socrates version
first, before voicing his criticism. Notice, further, that Crito calls the practice of the eristic
brothers philosophy here in the final scene of the dialogue, but he calls the men sophists in
the first scene (271c1). This only makes sense if in that first scene he uses the term generically, to
mean men who possess some sort of knowledge/wisdom, about which he then inquires.
Weiss (1998) 43 49. Stokes (2005) 31 is, I think, justified in clarifying: Crito may be
unphilosophical, to the point of vagueness about what philosophy is; yet neither in the Eu-
thydemus nor elsewhere does Plato represent him as a fool.
3.3 Final Framing Scene 141

rates in the present dialogue, for he is the most likely of his associates to have
misconceptions about the role of philosophy.
While he realizes that there is some difference between the method of the
brothers and that of Socrates, and for this reason considers the interaction of
the latter with the former blameworthy when done in public, he cannot exactly
pinpoint the problems of the eristic approach. He terms that too philosophy,
lumping it together with the Socratic method, and calls it a graceful thing. Pre-
sumably his long association with Socrates has provided him with the belief that
philosophy is worthwhile; but what it really consists in escapes him. Crito holds
certain views, but cannot give an account for holding them; in reality, he appears
not to know what philosophy is even after the internal dialogue which has made
its distinctiveness its goal.
Now the unnamed man does not oppose Critos use of the term philoso-
phy: he responds that it is not at all graceful but instead worthless (304e7
305a1). But the following sentence makes clear that the unnamed mans criticism
is aimed at the sophists and not Socrates himself: he rejects those who do not
care at all for whatever they might say, but latch on to every word (305a3 4).
His only criticism of Socrates is for wanting to make himself agreeable to such
men. So the unnamed man clearly distinguishes between the two methods.
When he turns to rejecting the method of the sophists in his own words, he
calls it by the general term (305a6). The unnamed man appears at
least to respect Socrates more than the sophists, and to accuse only those of
their method. But, despite his awareness of the difference between the Socratic
and the eristic method, he does not oppose Critos misattribution of the term
philosophy to eristic.
The man fails to recognize the sharp irony behind Socrates praise of the
sophists and his apparent defeat in the contest. This is truly like theater of the
absurd: the sophists do not understand Socrates criticism of them, nor does
the audience, which bursts into laughter at the end of the performance; but
the same applies to Crito and the unnamed man, who criticize Socrates for flat-
tering worthless people. In essence, the unnamed man fails to appreciate Socra-
tes policy of non-confrontation. Direct conflict Socrates disapproves of also in
the case of Ctesippus, whom from the very start he characterizes as be-

For a different explanation for the selection of Crito as the appropriate interlocutor of
Socrates in the Euthydemus see Kato (2000) 130.
Could it be that the unnamed man in fact does not distinguish between the two methods,
but assumes they are just one and the same? This seems unlikely; if the unnamed man did not
distinguish between Socrates and the sophists methods, it would appear odd that he criticizes
only the sophists for their method, while Socrates only for interacting with such worthless men.
142 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

cause of his young age (273a8), thus foreshadowing his explicit and provocative
criticism of the sophists; Socrates is old enough to know better.
The unnamed man concludes his speech to Crito by saying that both the
thing itself and its practitioners are (305a8). The pursuit of
what Crito termed philosophy and the philosophers themselves, then, are
called laughable. But the man did not criticize the method of those whom Soc-
rates would identify as philosophers, and so it is unclear who in reality deserves
the ridicule. The term clearly picks up on the references to laughter
predominant in the internal dialogue. In the final scene it was still unclear to
the internal audience who is properly to be laughed at, and it befalls the reader
to determine for whom that is appropriate: what is to be termed philosophy, and
is that worthy of ridicule?
There is an utter confusion in terms and the contents to which they properly
apply in this final part of the dialogue. For the unnamed man, the thing that
Crito earlier termed philosophy is worthless because the sophists are. For Crito,
philosophy cannot be worthless, but the sophists must be, for he agrees with the
unnamed man that Socrates ought to avoid discussing with men of their sort in
public (305b1 3). Crito is clearly inconsistent, for he on the one hand rejects
the sophistic practice and on the other terms it philosophy. But Socrates is un-
willing to point out the inconsistency. Instead he adopts Critos term, asking
who the man was who blamed philosophy (305b6). As Thucydides would
put it, words have lost their usual meaning in this final scene of the
Euthydemus. Throughout the dialogue Socrates refrained from calling the
two brothers philosophers or their art philosophy. In the introductory framing
scene, he spoke of an art of refutation, or eristic wisdom; subsequently, when in-
troducing the first protreptic, he spoke of an initiation into the mysteries of the
Corybantes, and described the whole first eristic scene as the first part of the

See Chapter 4.
Apparently Crito does not regard it blameworthy if Socrates engages in private discussions
with men like the two brothers. But discussions held in public are likely to create wrong
impressions, especially when the irony of Socrates praise is not appreciated by the audience.
The case of the unnamed man illustrates the danger: the man criticizes Socrates not for his own
method but for his praise of the sophists.
We have seen in the analysis of the protreptic scenes that Socrates himself occasionally
indulges in similar practices; his use of certain terms can be ambiguous. Just as Crito uses
philosophy to talk about sophists, so Socrates uses eu prattein to talk about success and
happiness in the course of the same argument. But Socrates linguistic play is deliberate; there
is evidence in the Euthydemus to suggest that he is aware that he is misleading his interlocutor.
Crito, on the other hand, seems to be genuinely perplexed in his use of terms.
Cf. Thucyd. 3.82.4.
3.3 Final Framing Scene 143

sophistic ritual (277e3); when introducing the second protreptic scene he said
that the foreigners imitated Proteus, the Egyptian sophist (288b8). Not once be-
fore this final scene has Socrates called Euthydemus and Dionysodorus philos-
Why, then, does he call them philosophers now? If the whole internal dia-
logue did not suffice to drive home the point that there are essential differences
between philosophy and eristic, Socrates will not provide a ready-made answer
to Crito. Instead he allows for the ambiguity to persist. In the concluding lines of
the Euthydemus Socrates will encourage Crito to reflect further on the matter, in-
dicating that the question of the definition of philosophy as opposed to eristic
has not been addressed adequately. But for the time being he does not give
up his pose. As soon as he finds out that the man in question is a logographer,
he claims that men of his sort run into difficulties when conversing with people
engaging in philosophy (305d1 2); yet upon adding immediately thereafter that,
when logographers engage in private conversations with men around Euthyde-
mus they are checked, he makes clear that it is the sophists whom he identifies
as philosophers, adopting Critos term for them.

(ii) The Identity of the Unnamed Man

Socrates wants to know whether the unnamed man introduced by Crito is an or-
ator or a composer of speeches (305b5 9). The issue has come up before; Soc-
rates clearly refers back to the distinction drawn in the second protreptic be-
tween, on the one hand, men who merely produce, and, on the other, men
who produce but also use their product. The emphasis on the fact that the un-
named man is no orator clearly serves to show his inferiority, at least by the cri-
terion of the second protreptic. Whoever he may be, and whatever his preten-
tions, the importance attached to his wisdom is questioned right from the start.
But there must be a further justification for the introduction in this final scene of

Peterson (2011) 200 briefly notes the conflation in terms in this final scene. But she holds
that Socrates adopts Critos terminology because he also understands that philosophy can
apply to the specialized conversational skills the brothers teach. On p. 201 she repeats the same
view: Socrates seems in a very deliberate way not to be reforming Critos or anyones voca-
bulary. He recognizes that there are a variety of ways to use the word philosophy. I find this
view difficult to accept because of the general purpose of the Euthydemus, which is precisely to
distinguish philosophy from its competitors. Moreover, Socrates has been playful throughout the
dialogue, and it seems that he keeps up this playful persona also in the present case, rather than
being open to the idea that philosophy may apply as a term also to the practice of the sophists.
Canto (1987) 219 makes the interesting observation that Isocrates, here described as a man
never present to deliver his speeches himself, is essentially depicted in exactly such a situation
in the Euthydemus: his words are reported by Crito, while he is absent.
144 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

a man emphatically identified as a logographer. Recall that this logographer

criticizes the sophistic method, but not the Socratic. Why, then, does Socrates re-
ject him in the most forceful way?
Note that Socrates only needs to hear that the man in question writes
speeches but does not deliver them in order to be in a position to conclude
that he stands between philosophy and politics. But in what sense is a forensic
speech-writer midway between a philosopher and a politician? This is explained
a little later, at 305d8: speech-writers know a bit of philosophy, a bit of politics,
but neither well enough. Yet it seems that they make claims to both. It is no
doubt striking that Socrates states that he was planning to talk about these
sorts of men before Crito brought them up (305c5 6): why should he consider
it appropriate in this context to do so? Remember that, in discussing speech-wri-
ting in the second protreptic, Socrates had emphasized that this art seemed like-
ly to be the one leading to eudaimonia (289d10 290a5). It was eventually reject-
ed, but the emphasis there in a sense prepares for its reappearance here. There
must be something about the art of speech-writing in particular, and about a
specific, but unnamed practitioner of it, which would justify the recurrence of
this issue in the final scene.
The man in question is a logographer who rejects eristic, but is himself re-
jected by a philosopher. The information Crito provides about him has led the
majority of scholars in the past two centuries to identify him with Platos contem-
porary Isocrates. The reasons why this identification is plausible have been

For the placement of speech-writers in the middle between philosophers and politicians
Socrates invokes Prodicus. Does he genuinely endorse the views of this sophist? Prodicus is cited
elsewhere too in cases where a distinction needs to be drawn between words whose precise
meaning must be identified. In Protag. 337a1 c4 we find a comic illustration of Prodicus
particular interest in the proper use of words; Prodicus is mentioned also in Charmides 163d1 4,
again in the context of determining the proper meaning of certain terms. It seems that this
sophist was regarded as an authority in questions of language. To that extent it is convenient
and playful for Socrates to invoke him, so long as this serves Socrates own purpose of
discrediting the speech-writer in question; the employment of the term (305c7) to
describe men like the unnamed man Socrates attributes to the expert at determining the ap-
propriate terminology for each category of things. But Socrates has presented his own views on
the relation between philosophy and politics in the protreptics, and it is unclear what middle
ground there might be for a speech-writer to occupy between these two.
Schleiermacher (1836) 228 takes Isocrates to be the obvious target; Thompson (1868) 179
182 lists reasons why Isocrates must be understood as implied here; Wilamowitz (1919) 235 holds
that the unnamed man stands for rhetoric in general; Taylor (1926) 101 2 argues against Iso-
crates and proposes Antiphon; Field (1930) 193 opts for Isocrates, arguing against Taylor; Ries
(1959) 40 44 provides an extensive list of previous, mainly German, scholarship on the issue,
and himself identifies the man as Isocrates; Bluck (1961) 115 n. 4 notes that the identification
3.3 Final Framing Scene 145

listed many a time. It is a common assumption that Plato and Isocrates were
rivals. They both ran schools in Athens, and both had views about Athenian pol-
itics and the proper education of the young. They also both sought to determine
what philosophy consisted in. But what each understood under the term was
rather different. For Isocrates, a practical man, philosophy was an art of persua-
sive speaking. Of course the real-life rivalry between Plato and Isocrates does not
suffice to account for a potential reference to the latter in the Euthydemus. How-
ever, surprisingly few scholars find it necessary to explain why he should fit the
context of the dialogue, and the occasional explanations offered tend to stay on
the surface of things. Why is a logographer in general, and Isocrates in partic-
ular, relevant in a dialogue entirely concerned so far with the rather different
topic of eristic? In what follows I argue against an explanation proposed by
Ries and, in the main, followed by Eucken, and then make an alternative sugges-

with Isocrates is problematic because the unnamed man of the Euthydemus rejects philosophy
wholesale, whereas Isocrates did not (I argue against this below); Friedlnder (1964) 194 sets
aside the question of the mans identity to raise the important question of his function in the
work; Zeppi (1969) lxxix lxxxiii proposes to identify the man as Callicles; Guthrie (1975) 282 3
agrees with those who argue for Isocrates, but does not discuss his function in the Euthydemus;
Hawtrey (1981) 189 regards Isocrates fitting simply because he too was an opponent of Plato, like
the eristics; in his view Plato rejects the eristic practice in the internal dialogue, and then
proceeds to attack speech-writing in the final scene. But if the greatest part of the Euthydemus
deals with eristics, it seems rather odd that Plato would add an irrelevant appendix at the end of
the work, merely to address an additional opponent. Duani (1999) assumes that the man is
Isocrates and takes a purely historical approach, arguing for political implications in the Pla-
tonic dialogue which, however, seem to lack any textual support; Heitsch (2000) also opts for
Isocrates and compares his mention in the Phaedrus; Kato (2000) 131, Michelini (2000) 530, and
Palpacelli (2009) 220 226 are also in favor of Isocrates.
Isocrates was a speech-writer who did not deliver his speeches in front of a law-court or
public assembly, he identified himself as a philosopher, had specific political suggestions, etc.
Eucken (1983) 48 53 proposes an explanation. See esp. p. 50: Der Abschlu des Euthydem
ist nicht in dem Sinn ein Epilog, da hier noch eines peripheren Problems gedacht wrde, als
vielmehr die Vollendung der Auseinandersetzung, da Platon nun den Gegner auf die Bhne
bringt, gegen den das Vorangehende entwickelt ist. This explanation is addressed in full below.
Palpacelli (2009) 232 does not offer any explanation but only says the following: In chiusura
Platone presenta un ulteriore proposta educativa rappresentata da Isocrate; egli, agli occhi di
Platone, sicuramente migliore rispetto agli eristi, perch, appunto, egli ha un programma in
cui crede, anche se ha un limite ed quello di credersi pi grande di quanto in realt non sia
But on this account it remains unclear why Isocrates alternative educational system should be
juxtaposed to that of the eristics in this context, just before the dialogue ends, and almost tacked
onto it for no obvious reason.
146 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

In the 390s Isocrates published his speech Against the Sophists, in which he
aimed to distinguish himself from the sophists of his time, whose practices he
condemned. This speech makes clear that the term sophist was not univocally
defined, nor did it apply to any one specific group of people. Early in the 5th cen-
tury, Isocrates complains, it was used to refer to any man considered wise, but
later on it acquired an almost derogatory sense. He then targets three groups
of sophists, from which he wishes to distinguish himself: the first are those
who practice eristic, engaging in disputation, and promising their students the
acquisition of virtue and happiness in return for small fees (1 8); the second
are teachers of political discourse, who undertake to make their students effec-
tive public orators without paying due attention to their respective natures and
experience (9 13); and the third consist in older sophists, who used to teach
their students how to defend themselves in the law-courts (19 20).
Ries has argued that in this speech Isocrates attacks Plato, collapsing his
philosophical method with that of the actual sophists. This, he continues, ini-
tiates a response on Platos part, laid out in the Euthydemus, in which he por-
trays the real sophists, and shows how their practice differs from dialectic.
It makes sense, then so the argument goes to have Isocrates appear at the
end of the internal dialogue, since it is in response precisely to his criticism
that Plato has written the Euthydemus; once the illustration of the two methods
has been completed, the man who instigated it is brought to the fore.

The view that the school of Isocrates did not make any distinction between philosophy and
sophistry, defended by Ries, is actually already to be found among Platonists in the 1830s; cf.
Schleiermacher (1836) 227 228. But the view is not backed by argument there.
Ries (1959) 25 35.
Why is he not identified as Isocrates? It is not at all rare, after all, for historical figures to be
identified by name in Platonic dialogues, and Isocrates in particular is explicitly mentioned in
the Phaedrus (278e8 279b3). One explanation may be that an explicit reference to Isocrates
would create an anachronism because of the dramatic date of the Euthydemus; such a potential
anachronism I take to be a good reason to keep the man unnamed and yet allude to him; cf.
Field (1930) 193. Now the dramatic date itself has been set by Taylor (1926) 90 91 on the basis of
the following arguments: a) Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are supposed to have left Thurii
many years before the time of the present discussion (271c3 4), and the foundation of that city
we know to have taken place at 444 BC; b) Cleinias is the son of Axiochus, who was involved in
the profanation of the Mysteries, and so Taylor assumes that the discussion of the Euthydemus
must have taken place before that time, at around 420 BC; c) in the mention of Connus in the
opening scene Taylor sees a potential reference to the play Connus by Ameipsias, put on in 423,
and he assumes that that play would have been recent. The second and third arguments I find
speculative. There is nothing in the dialogue to suggest what the fortune of Axiochus was at the
time, nor any clear reason why the play of Ameipsias should be both relevant and recent. So I
think that the dramatic date of the Euthydemus is hard to determine. Sometime after the
3.3 Final Framing Scene 147

This argument appears to explain convincingly why a logographer rather

reminiscent of Isocrates occupies center stage at the closing of the Euthydemus
and how he is relevant to the internal dialogue. But there are intra- as well as
extra-textual reasons to reject this view. First, the unnamed man of the Euthyde-
mus does seem to draw a distinction between Socrates and the sophists, where-
as, for Ries, Isocrates in the Against the Sophists does not. We saw above that the
unnamed man does not accuse both parties of the same things; he blames the
sophists for their complete lack of interest in sound method, but Socrates only
for not condemning them for that. But, more importantly, the real Isocrates
does not fail to distinguish between Socrates (or Plato) and the sophists in the
Against the Sophists either. Plato fits none of the three types of sophists con-
demned there: he is neither a teacher of disputation, nor of political, nor of for-
ensic discourse; indeed he does not teach men how to speak at all. What is more,
in this speech at least, Isocrates shows a friendly attitude toward Plato: he seems
to borrow the argument of the Gorgias about alleged teachers of virtue who, how-
ever, distrust the very students whom they claim to have made virtuous, fearing
that they will not pay them the fees for the teaching they underwent (4 6, cf.
Gorg. 459c8 461b2).
On what grounds, then, does Ries argue that Plato is treated as an eristic and
attacked by Isocrates in the Against the Sophists? His interpretation is based pri-
marily on Isocrates reference to the sophists of the first group, who promise to
lead their students to virtue and happiness. Ries holds that

In dieser vergrbernden Formulierung steckt doch deutlich Platonisches: ein normatives

Wissen von Gut und Bse als Vorbedingung rechten Handelns und zeitliches und ewiges
Glck als Lohn. Isokrates Kritik umrundet also wesentliche Gedanken Platons, auf die
im Grunde alle Frhdialoge hinweisen.

But there is no reason to think that Isocrates has Plato in mind here, for there
were indeed sophists who promised to teach virtue or excellence, as the Euthyde-
mus itself suggests (cf. Protag. 318e5 319a5; Gorg. 459c8 460a4; Sophist 223a4
11; 224c9 d2). Moreover, it is precisely this type of sophist that Isocrates mocks
for asking for small fees while promising such great rewards; but clearly Socrates

foundation of Thurii is all that can be said with any degree of certainty. Taylor thought that the
anachronism would ensue because in the 420s Isocrates was just a young man, without the
reputation he later acquired, and so the attack on him would be unjustified. But if he is wrong
about the dramatic date and therefore also about the anachronism, a puzzle remains as to why
Isocrates is not explicitly named.
Ries (1959) 28.
148 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

and Plato fail to meet this criterion for inclusion among the group. In response to
this potential objection to his interpretation, Ries argues that there were other
members of the Socratic circle who did receive money; but why that should
involve Plato or Socrates in particular in the Isocratean criticism remains entirely
unclear. Ries cites one final reason why he takes Isocrates to attack Plato in the
Against the Sophists: both men showed care for the souls of young men, but un-
derstood entirely different things under this task. But again, this is no evi-
dence that Isocrates regards and presents Plato or Socrates as eristics. On the
whole, Ries bases his view on very thin ground; there is no evidence in the
Against the Sophists that Isocrates lumps together Socrates or Plato and the eris-
Eucken defends the same view as Ries but he relies primarily on Isocrates
Helen for evidence. The proem of this epideictic speech targets three groups
of opponents: first, those who claim that it is impossible to utter falsehood or
to contradict; second, those who maintain that courage, wisdom, and justice
are identical, all involving one kind of knowledge; and finally, those who engage
in eristic disputations. All three are criticized for engaging in useless, absurd in-
The people in the first category resemble our sophists: claims against the ex-
istence of falsehood and contradiction are put forth in the second eristic scene of
the Euthydemus; but behind such claims Eucken sees Antisthenes, a man of the
Socratic circle. The issues raised in the second category sound very much like
claims made, for example, in the Protagoras, and typically associated with the
historical Socrates. So, then, if Plato shared the views he puts in the mouth
of Socrates in his dialogues, or was at least thought to do so by his contempo-
raries, he does appear to be attacked here. But there is still no evidence

Ries (1959) 29.

Ries (1959) 32.
Eucken (1983) 45 56; cf. Mridier (1931) 137 138.
Eucken (1983) 45. However, the fact that Antisthenes was Socrates associate does not prove
that Isocrates considered Plato an eristic.
See, for example, Irwin (1995) 8 9 and 38 44.
Eucken (1983) 45 47 argues that the second group targeted in the Helen proem does not
apply to Plato, but to Socrates and Antisthenes; Plato was not very old at the time of the
publication of the speech, but Isocrates says that men grew old making such claims. The
argument seems weak, for the reference to men having grown old arguing the same positions
may just be a way of emphasizing their long-term commitment to them, even if, technically, they
do not qualify as old. Compare Zajonz (2002) 86, however, who accepts Euckens point. At any
rate, what is puzzling is that a few pages later Eucken draws the following conclusion (p. 51): In
der Helena-Rede gibt es verschiedene Anzeichen dafr, da Isokrates in der Frage, was Eristik
3.3 Final Framing Scene 149

that Isocrates does not distinguish between eristics of the Euthydemian sort,
whose practices resemble those of both the first and the third category of the
Helen proem, and Socrates (or Plato), understood under the second category.
The fact that Isocrates is equally dismissive of all does not mean that he does
not acknowledge the difference between them. In fact he must, since he places
them into different groups, as is made clear through the use of
(Helen 1):

, , -

And people have grown old, some of them asserting that it is not possible to say what is
false or to contradict or to give two opposite accounts of the same things, others arguing
that courage and wisdom and justice are the same thing, and that we do not possess
any of them by nature, but that there is one kind of knowledge concerning them all, and
others yet spending their time with disputations which are not helpful at all, but which
can cause trouble to those who associate with them.

But Eucken argues that in Helen 6, where Isocrates speaks of philosophy of a

disputatious sort ( ), he refers back to all three cat-
egories distinguished in Helen 1, now lumped together. In fact, however, there
is no clear indication whether Isocrates here speaks of all three groups, treating
them as a single category, or of just one of them, i. e. the last, which is the only
one said to engage in disputation in Helen 1. And even if it could be shown that
Isocrates did refer to all of them together, this would still be rather scanty evi-
dence for ascribing the view to him that there is no essential distinction to be
drawn between Socratics and eristics. Eucken himself seems to hesitate, for a lit-
tle later he draws a milder conclusion: Die Sokratik insgesamt, nicht spezifisch
der Platonismus, ist von einer minderen Eristik abzusetzen. Beide aber sind For-
men der einen Streitrednerphilosophie, die ihren einheitlichen Charakter in der
Paradoxie ihrer Thesen beweist (my emphasis).

bedeutet, Platon geantwortet hat (my emphasis). Eucken sees it as gegen Platon gerichtet
that the views of Antisthenes, a Socratic, on virtue and knowledge are placed on the same level
(auf einer Stufe) as those of the eristics. So, then, Euckens main reason for thinking that Plato
is on the spot in the Helen proem seems to be that Socratic (but not Platonic) and eristic views
are treated as equal.
Eucken (1983) 47.
Eucken (1983) 51.
150 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

Eucken cites a few more passages in support of his view that Isocrates iden-
tifies the Socratics with the eristics. The first one is from the Speech to Nicocles
(39): Regard as wise not those who dispute with precision about little things,
but those who speak well about the greatest ones, nor the ones who promise eu-
daimonia to others but are themselves in many aporiai, but those who speak
moderately of themselves. Yet it seems clear that Isocrates here rejects two dif-
ferent practices, and so he must distinguish between them. The next passage
cited by Eucken comes from the Antidosis (258); but there too I see no good rea-
son to conclude that Isocrates has the Socratics in mind when he merely speaks
of zealous practitioners of disputation who blame useful speeches. The final
passage comes from the Letter to Alexander (3), whom Isocrates addresses as fol-
lows: (I hear that) of the philosophical systems you do not even reject the dis-
putatious kind. This passage too does not indicate any confusion between Soc-
ratics and eristics; what it does show is that Isocrates applies the term
philosophy to eristic, and this will become very relevant in a moment. But it
does not suggest that by philosophy Isocrates refers to Socrates, Plato, or
any other Socratic, to whom he attributes disputation.
So Isocrates does not appear to present Socrates or Plato as sophists. But
then one still needs to explain why the logographer of the final scene is relevant
to the rest of the Euthydemus. It is true that he sounds very much like the actual
Isocrates; but why should Isocrates be relevant here? Well, in a sense Isocrates
has done in the Against the Sophists what Plato does in the Euthydemus: he
has presented his art as superior to a group of sophists whom he attacks force-
fully, in the same way that Platos character Socrates implicitly distinguishes
himself and his method from that of his eristic opponents. Both the Against
the Sophists and the Euthydemus attack the sophists and propose better alterna-
tives to their methods. It might seem, then, that Isocrates and Plato are on a par.
Yet is the Isocratean criticism of the sophists enough to distinguish him from,
and establish him as superior to, the sophists whom he condemns? Socrates an-
swer is emphatically negative. Even if Isocrates criticizes the sophists, Socrates
presents him as no better than they are. In this way Isocrates is indeed relevant
to the internal dialogue and its central theme of eristic.
There is a further problem with Isocrates, which accounts for his relevance
here: the internal dialogue aimed to show what philosophy is not, but also
what it is. The problem with Isocrates is that he understood something complete-

Eucken (1983) 52 n. 29.

I am here assuming for the Against the Sophists a date earlier than the Euthydemus, whose
date is itself debated. Mandilaras (2003) 6, vol. 1, dates the speech to around 390.
3.3 Final Framing Scene 151

ly different under the name of philosophy. In Against the Sophists 11, 14, and
18, for example, he uses the term philosophy to describe his own art of speech
composition. This is also the case throughout the Antidosis (e. g. Antidosis 48
50, 176 77, 292), where he clearly responds to Plato and his understanding of
philosophy, for he fashions himself as the alter ego of Socrates and claims the
title of philosophy for himself. So the real Isocrates attributes the term philos-
ophy to a practice which Plato considers logography or, more broadly, rhetoric.
From Platos point of view, then, Isocrates has grave misconceptions about what
philosophy is, and this makes him relevant at the conclusion of a dialogue in
which even Crito has similar misconceptions.
There is also a third reason why Isocrates figures in the final scene: the am-
biguity in the use of terms attested at the end of the Euthydemus points to Iso-
crates own ambiguous use of terms. Ries and Eucken argued that Isocrates
does not distinguish between philosophers and eristics, whereas I argued
that he does; but despite drawing a distinction between the two with regard
to the actual methods they employ, he is much less careful in the use of
terms he applies to each of them. We saw above that in Helen 6 he speaks of
eristic philosophy, thus applying the name philosophy to a practice rather
different from what Socrates and Plato would understand under this term. So
there is evidence that Isocrates committed the same error as Crito and his un-
named man do in the Euthydemus. The unnamed man, like Isocrates, realizes
the difference between Socrates and the eristics, and yet terms the latter philos-

(iii) Crito and his Son

The unnamed man disappears in the same sudden way that he appeared. Crito
has nothing at all to comment on Socrates theory of the man in the middle.
Instead, he wants to know what he is to do with the education of his son.
After all, the dialogue began with him comparing Cleinias to Critoboulos, and
the comparison now becomes comprehensible. Critoboulos has come of age,
and needs someone to benefit him, but his father finds all potential educators

For a good discussion of the definition of the philosopher by Isocrates as entirely within
the socio-economic structure of the Athenian polis and that by Plato as conspicuously outside of
it, see Nightingale (1995) 13 59.
Too (2008) 24 argues that extensive literary citation of Platos work is in part the strategy
by which the rhetorician denies any distinction between sophist and philosopher In citing
Plato so extensively and obviously, Isocrates seeks to resist a categorical distinction that the
former is otherwise trying to establish, and as history demonstrates, succeeds in establishing.
152 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

rather odd (306e5), and is at a loss how to cultivate in his son an interest in
Socrates does not respond to the actual point Crito makes; he does not sug-
gest how Crito is to urge his son to practice philosophy. But he does have some-
thing to say about the rather odd philosophers. He argues that the art should
not be judged on the basis of its teachers, for most will be found to be laughable
(, 307b1). The last time this term was employed, it was by the un-
named man, who accused the practitioners of this thing in general (305a6 8);
Socrates echoes him here. The whole dialogue shows a special interest in deter-
mining who deserves the ridicule, which is indiscriminately applied left and
right. Of course Socrates has given his answer, but Crito has not realized it.
So Socrates urges him to disregard the teachers wholesale, whether good or
bad (!), and examine , the thing itself (307b6 c4). What is that
thing, really? Crito must examine for himself. If some people claim to practice
philosophy, whether they are sophists or Isocrates and they may well be laugh-
able what matters is the subject itself. Different things may be termed philo-
sophy by different people; but the question is what they actually teach. This is
what Crito needs to consider: what exactly it is that he wants his son to learn.
Notice that Socrates final advice is to focus on , and not the teach-
ers, when it is precisely the teachers that Crito asks about. Crito is already con-
vinced that the thing is worthwhile; but Socrates implicitly points out that he
only imagines that he understands and approves of philosophy, when in reality
he is not yet in a position to do so. He first has to think out for himself what the
differences are between eristic and philosophy, stop lumping them together, and
then seek the appropriate teacher. Just as in the Protagoras, the thing has to be
determined before the teacher is chosen (312b7 314b6).

3.3.4 Conclusion: The Contribution of the Final Scene

Why does the Euthydemus end as it does? The work aimed to distinguish be-
tween eristic and philosophy. Upon the end of the internal dialogue, Crito and
his interlocutor, to be identified with Isocrates, agree that Socrates is better
than the eristics, and that the latter are to be condemned. But Crito shows no
proper care for the terms he employs to refer to the two parties, which suggests,
beyond the confusion in names, a confusion in the contents to which the names
apply. Crito does not properly understand what philosophy is, and whether eris-
tic may be lumped together with it.
If the five scenes preceding the return of the framing narrative are to be un-
derstood as a comedy performed before him, Crito in a sense represents the au-
3.3 Final Framing Scene 153

dience of that comedy. Naturally, if this old friend of Socrates has failed to grasp
Socrates effort to draw a line between eristic and philosophy, it is quite likely
that others, less familiar with Socrates, present among the audience of the pre-
vious day, may also have failed to understand the difference between the two
The parallels between the Euthydemus and the Clouds imply that similar
misconceptions are likely to have arisen after the performance of that play
or, possibly, before it, providing the material for the play. In the Aristophanic
comedy Socrates was misrepresented as a sophist; according to the Socrates
of the Apology, this wrong impression persisted in the audience and created a
prejudice against him (18b4 d7). Similar misguided conclusions are represented
among the internal audience of the dialogue in the aftermath of the performance
written into the Euthydemus.
The unnamed man does not oppose Critos misattribution of terms, although
his own criticism targets the sophists. The real Isocrates, who also targeted the
sophists, might appear to be on a par with Socrates (and Plato), for he too con-
demns eristic. But Socrates presents him as inferior even to the sophists, whom
he continues to defend. Plato here targets both the old critics (and so he struc-
tures the work as an Aristophanic comedy) and the new ones (and so he adds
this particular epilogue to the performance, pointing to Isocrates). The orator
who rejected the sophists but claimed philosophy for himself had serious mis-
conceptions about the practice to which the term might apply.
Some concluding remarks on the relation between Socrates and Crito are
necessary. Socrates irony toward Crito is in effect an encouragement for the lat-
ter to think harder, and also a form of veiled criticism: Crito is urged to become a
student of the sophists, but has been given all the information he would need to
conclude that the suggestion is not meant seriously; he is then presented with a
Cleinias that makes tremendous progress within a short period in order to be
made to realize that such an achievement would not have been possible; finally,
he is told that he need not be concerned about running losses if he becomes a
student, in the hope that he might understand that he has his priorities
wrong. More than anything else, Socrates irony serves to characterize Crito as
little better than the average Athenian. But Socrates is no teacher of the ordinary
kind; instead of open criticism and positive advice, he has only hints to offer.

The risk of conflation between eristic and dialectic is emphasized also in the final eristic
scene, in which Ctesippus adopts eristic techniques, while the sophists become the mouthpiece
for distorted Platonic views.
For a similar connection with Aristophanic comedy in the case of the Protagoras see Capra
(2001) 59 95.
154 3 Conflating Philosophy and Sophistry: The Framing Scenes

Crito must become an active thinker; he needs to stand on his own two feet if he
is to benefit from his interaction with Socrates.
And what is to be made of Critos own ambiguous attitude toward Socrates?
Crito adopts his friends playfulness; without being explicit, he realizes that Clei-
nias did not learn as fast as Socrates presents it, and also reserves his criticism of
Socrates for the end of the performance. But the criticism itself and his confusion
in terms reveal that he is not just a witty interlocutor, who picks up on Socrates
playfulness and repays him the joke. Misconceptions persist, which add to the
light atmosphere of his interaction with Socrates a dark undercurrent: the end
of the dialogue underlines that not only among opponents but even among
the group of Socrates closest friends the question of the nature of philosophy
remains a matter of contention.
4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness
In this chapter I trace two interconnected motifs of the internal dialogue. The pri-
mary one is that of laughter, which occurs at structurally significant moments in
the text. There is a secondary motif of play and seriousness, which contributes to
the effect of the primary one, and is, I will argue, intrinsically connected to it.
After examining these motifs in the internal dialogue, I look at laughter in the
framing scenes, and finally attempt to show what interpretative conclusions
can be drawn from the pattern that emerges.
The study of these motifs will tie together the individual scenes of the Euthy-
demus, which have so far been studied only within thematically connected
groups, into a coherent and meaningful whole. More importantly, this final chap-
ter aims to reinforce an essential point of my analysis so far, i. e. the complex re-
lation between the playful (or comic) and the serious in the Euthydemus. It has
been argued that, in the protreptic scenes, Socrates argumentation is occasion-
ally playful; in the eristic scenes, the typically serious Socratics can prove
playful, while the typically non-serious sophists can point to some rather serious
issues; finally, in the framing scenes, the question is raised of what is, in the
final analysis, laughable. This undercurrent of the dialogue will be enhanced
through the study of a formal element: the repeated references to laughter,
play, and seriousness.
It seems appropriate to draw a distinction right at the start between two dif-
ferent kinds of laughter occurring in the internal dialogue. The first is the laugh-
ter of the sophists adherents, which takes place at the conclusion of refutations
by the sophists of their Socratic interlocutor Cleinias. It is taken up by the Soc-
ratics later in the dialogue, upon their own refutation of the sophists. The second
kind of laughter is that which Socrates fears for himself when about to ask a
question or put forth a position. This too is later taken up by the sophistic
party, suggesting a reversal of roles and attitudes toward laughter between so-
phists and Socratics.

What I propose to offer here is an analysis of laughter as a motif solely in the Euthydemus.
For a fuller discussion of laughter in Plato see Halliwell (2008) 276 302. Greene (1920) is a
perhaps too general survey of elements in the Platonic corpus broadly understood as comic.
Brock (1990) provides a list of comic techniques used by Plato. Migliori (2000) discusses se-
rious play in Plato as a technique employed to engage the reader actively in philosophical
inquiry (esp. pp. 185 187).
It becomes clear as the dialogue progresses that the followers of Cleinias, and especially
Ctesippus, adhere to Socrates, so I often call them Socratics or followers of Socrates.
156 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

The first kind of laughter actually occurs in the course of the dialogue, while
the second, while anticipated, does not. Moreover, the former is triumphant an
expression of arrogant superiority; the latter is an indication of modesty, self-
doubt, and fear that one might be accused of simple-mindedness. In other
words, while laughing at someone indicates that one assumes a position of
power, fearing that one may be laughed at suggests the opposite. Of course
the matter gets much more complicated when one takes into account the all-per-
vasive Socratic irony. Socrates is being playfully ironic when expressing fear that
he might raise a laugh in the eyes of his opponents. But at the same time he in-
sists on trying to check this reaction. How are we to understand his attitude to-
ward laughter? I return to address this question in the final section of this chap-

4.1 The Primary Theme of Laughter

(1) The Two Sophists Laugh

Socrates begins the narration by explaining to Crito that, though he was intend-
ing to leave the Lyceum, his urged him to stay an indication that
something of importance was about to take place. Soon thereafter Euthydemus
and Dionysodorus entered along with their students. Then came Cleinias with
his following of admirers, among them Ctesippus. Cleinias approached Socrates,
and soon the sophists did the same.
Thus the internal dialogue is set in terms of time and place, and the dialogic
action is about to begin. Socrates starts out by informing Cleinias that the two
sophists are wise men. He then intensifies the statement, explaining that they
are wise in matters of importance and not in trivial ones. They know about
war and about speeches delivered at law-courts.
The reaction of the sophists to Socrates praise is remarkable: they burst into
laughter (273d1). Note that this is the very first thing they do (as a pair) in the
dialogue. So far we have seen them arrive and sit, first further away, then closer
to Socrates. Now, before ever uttering a word, they join in laughter. The brothers
treat the philosopher with condescension: Euthydemus explains to Socrates that
their activities relating to war and the law-courts are , things they just do

This kind of laughter is an expression of Schadenfreude; for a discussion of this emotion in

ancient literature and its particular association with philosophy see Rcke (2009) 277 289.
Cf. Mader (1977) 31 32 for the same distinction.
4.1 The Primary Theme of Laughter 157

on the side, and not their primary tasks. Their principal job is the teaching of

(2) Dionysodorus Smiles

Socrates asks the sophists to demonstrate their ability to teach virtue by convinc-
ing Cleinias to pursue wisdom and a virtuous life. The young man is then
brought in and the first round of questioning begins. Euthydemus asks the
first question: is it the wise or the ignorant that learn?
Before anyone answers, Plato, through Socrates narration, pauses to inform
his reader of the reactions of each distinct group of listeners, like a film director
who turns the camera consecutively in three different directions before returning
to the main action. We first zoom in on Cleinias, who blushes. Next we turn to
Socrates, who urges the young man to be bold. Finally we see Dionysodorus,
who, smiling (, 275e4), tells Socrates in a low voice that Cleinias will
be proven wrong no matter what answer he gives. The characterization here is
implicit, yet significant: Cleinias blush suggests a moment of weakness. To
this Socrates responds with encouragement, Dionysodorus with a hint of self-sat-
isfaction. The contrast between the two parties Socrates and the sophists is
already set up.
Dionysodorus quiet smile is not the same as the laughter of the two brothers
that came before; it anticipates an expected triumph rather than celebrating it.
But it is in the same vein, and it sets the tone for what is to follow. Dionysodorus
first involvement in the educational project undertaken by him and his brother is
suggestive of their approach, which proves not creative but destructive, negative
rather than positive. Plato is already painting his characters with broad strokes.

(3) The Followers of the Sophists Laugh

Euthydemus eventually has Cleinias agree that it is the ignorant who learn, and
not the wise. As soon as this first showpiece of the sophistic method comes to an
end, the followers of the sophists laugh (276b6 c1):

, -

So when he had said these things, just like a chorus when the chorus leader gives the sig-
nal, those followers of Dionysodorus and Euthydemus shouted in applause and laughed at
the same time.

Laughter here functions as a structural pointer, marking the end of the first so-
phism. The audience is conceived of as divided into two groups, with the follow-
158 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

ers of the sophists on the one hand and those of Cleinias on the other. The nar-
rator is careful to point out that up to now it is only the former that laugh.

(4) The Followers of the Sophists Laugh Again

In the next scene Dionysodorus gets Cleinias to accept the opposite of what Eu-
thydemus had gotten him to accept: it is the wise, not the ignorant, that learn.
Laughter ensues at the conclusion of the argument (276d1). But the reaction
here is much stronger than before. In the earlier passage we read that the audi-
ence shouted in applause and laughed ( ,
276b7). Here (276d1) is added to emphasize the intensity of the re-
action. Moreover, while the people laughing are the same as earlier, i. e. the ad-
herents of the sophists, the way in which they are identified is significantly dif-
ferent. In the first passage they were called the followers of Dionysodorus and
Euthydemus ( ,
276b7 c1). But in the second they are identified as their lovers (
, 276d2). The connection between the sophists and their adherents
is thus progressively described as closer. Finally, a justification is added for
the audience reaction in the second passage: these people are laughing because
of their amazement at the wisdom of the sophists (
, 276d2).
The cumulative effect of these three elements suggests a progressive intensi-
fication of the reaction. We will see that this is only the first indication of a gen-
eral build-up in the reaction of the audience, culminating in the final laughter at
the end of the internal dialogue. The intensification noticed here is, in other
words, part of a general tendency that reaches a climax later on in the Euthyde-
What happens with the other half of the audience, the adherents of Socra-
tes? Their reaction when Euthydemus earlier defeated Cleinias was not recorded,
but this time it is: they are silent from amazement, and their surprise is further
underlined through verbal repetition (276d2 5):

, , .

And we, the other group, were remaining silent in our amazement. And Euthydemus, real-
izing that we were amazed, in order that we might admire him even more, was not letting
go of the young man, but continued to question him.

For a general discussion of the different types of listening (and audience roles) in the works
of Plato see Usener (1994) 150 173.
4.1 The Primary Theme of Laughter 159

Not only is this part of the audience struck with amazement, but Euthydemus
notices it and attempts to impress them further. The process of augmentation
is clear: while in the first scene only half the audience reacted, and in fact in
a comparatively mild way, in the second the one group of listeners reacts
much more intensely than before and the other is stupefied.
As the first pair of sophisms comes to an end, the method of the sophists has
been clearly portrayed as a spectacle. Euthydemus and Dionysodorus in the role
of performers have each given an example of their art. They have made the
young man agree first that x is true, and then that its opposite is. Once they
have completely frustrated him, the part of the audience that consists of their fol-
lowers and lovers bursts into triumphant laughter. One cannot help but think of
the modern parallel of a sit-com; at the end of each scene the laugh-track is in-
troduced except that the laughter here is progressively more intense, and at the
expense of Cleinias.

(5) Socrates Points out that the Sophists Laugh

The first round of exposition consisted of two scenes: in the first, longer one, Eu-
thydemus questions Cleinias; in the second, shorter one Dionysodorus is the
questioner. The second round that immediately follows also consists of two
scenes structurally balancing the first pair.
Euthydemus begins by questioning Cleinias, and he has the boy conclude
that the one who knows is the one who learns (276d7 277b2). No audience reac-
tion is recorded. Dionysodorus takes over, demonstrating that the one who does
not know is the one who learns (277b3 c7). The reaction of the larger audience is
again omitted. Instead the focus is on Socrates, who sets out to encourage Clei-
nias lest he grow fearful.

Note that the reference to the stupefaction of the audience remains ambiguous. It could
refer to their admiration for the skills of the sophists (which is the way Euthydemus takes it,
according to the narrator), but much more likely indicates their total surprise at and disap-
proval of the way in which the two brothers have so far handled the discussion.
The language of fear (and boldness as its opposite) runs through the early part of the
dialogue. When Euthydemus was about to begin questioning Cleinias in the first round, the
narrator Socrates had commented that the sophist was speaking
(275b8). Then Socrates had addressed Cleinias using vocabulary that directly echoed the lang-
uage he had used to describe Euthydemus: , , ,
(275d7 e1). This verbal echoing helps correlate the attitudes of the two men. It is an expression
of Socrates wish for a balance of power between them. Once the first two rounds of questioning
have been concluded, Socrates feels the need for an intervention in order to restore the courage
and manly spirit of the young man. Realizing that Cleinias is losing the battle ( -
, 277d2 3), he fears lest he turn cowardly, and so addresses him: -
160 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

Socrates intervention is divided into two parts. In the first he explains to

Cleinias what the method of the sophists and its results have been. In the second
he illustrates his own method, which he will then encourage the sophists to fol-
low. This whole section is Socrates first granting of the benefit of the doubt to
the two brothers.
In the first part, Socrates summary and evaluation of what has taken place
so far, we find a new reference to laughter. It has been the method of the soph-
ists, Socrates tells Cleinias, to trip someone, make him fall, and then laugh at
him (278b2 c1). This sums up well the preceding action. Cleinias had indeed
been tripped, he had fallen twice, and the followers of the sophists had burst
into laughter. One notes that their laughter is not treated as something trivial,
a mere decorative element in the dialogue. Instead, Socrates describes it as
the climax of the sophistic performance, each time capping a given argument.
But he underlines that this type of performance may only be a prologue to
more serious engagement with the questions raised by the sophists.

(6) Socrates Urges his Listeners Not to Laugh

In the second part of the protreptic scene the philosopher begins the demonstra-
tion of his own method with a series of disclaimers. He asks the sophists to re-
frain from laughing, should he seem to them to be speaking in a rather simple
fashion (278d5 e2):


, A, .

And if I seem to you to be doing this in an amateurish and laughable way, do not laugh at
me. For I will find the courage to improvise in your presence because of my eagerness to
listen to your wisdom. So have the courage to listen without laughing, both you and
your students. And you, son of Axiochus, answer me.

There is much verbal repetition in this passage. Socrates fears he is likely to

speak in a ridiculous manner (), and so the sophists are asked not to
laugh at him ( ). Once this request has been made, it is almost
immediately repeated in similar terms. But the first request is addressed only to

, , (277d3 4). The co-

wardice suggested by would be the exact opposite of the boldness recommended
earlier. The language employed here makes plain that what the audience is watching is a
competitive spectacle; Socrates is urging his side on.
4.1 The Primary Theme of Laughter 161

the sophists; the second is originally addressed to them, as the dual suggests
( ), but their adherents are added right be-
fore the sentence comes to an end, almost in the form of an appendix (
Socrates request that the audience refrain from laughing is in direct re-
sponse to the dialogic action so far. Following the example set by the sophists
in the beginning of the dialogue (273d1), the audience has laughed twice at
the failures of Cleinias. It is precisely this reaction that Socrates aims to check
but also to highlight through its repeated mention. Notice that the references
to laughter discussed under (1) through (5) above deal with what we may call the
eristic laughter, i. e. laughter that occurs upon the defeat of an interlocutor of
the sophists as an indication of their sense of superiority. The references to
laughter discussed in the present section, on the other hand, are of a different
sort. They are suggestive of an attitude which is essentially opposite to that of
the sophists and their followers: Socrates takes on the role of the simple-minded
speaker who fears ridicule in the eyes of his audience. In the first case, then, we
are dealing with eristic laughter; in the second, with the fear thereof.
The actual exposition of the Socratic method begins at 277e with the ques-
tion whether all men want to prosper. The ensuing discussion is of significant
length, ending at 282d. References to laughter are present in the beginning,
but they recede as Socrates continues with his argumentation. The philosopher
poses his first question to Cleinias and immediately undercuts himself, fearing
that his words might induce laughter because the answer is so obvious:
; (or is this
question one of these laughable ones I was afraid of just now? 278e4 5). He
soon adds a second disclaimer: ; (or is this
even sillier than that? 279a3).
All this is of course in keeping with Socrates standard claim of ignorance,
well-known from other Platonic dialogues. But given the accumulation of refer-
ences to laughter in the Euthydemus, these too need to be regarded in the context
of this particular dialogue. In claiming to be afraid of being laughed at, Socrates
is in fact striking a blow against the sophists, indirectly criticizing them for
laughing first at him (273d1), then also at Cleinias (276b7, 276d1) earlier in the
work. Note that he pretends to fear lest his questions appear laughable, whereas
the sophists laugh at the responses of their interlocutors. In other words, Socra-
tes claims to be afraid that his method of philosophical inquiry may appear
laughable, whereas the sophists express no such doubts about the quality of
their own teaching method. Laughter is not aimed at themselves but at their in-
tended students.
162 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

(7) Socrates Again Urges his Listeners Not to Laugh

The philosopher lists a number of goods of different types which are generally
thought to lead to (279a4 c8). Some of these goods have to do
with the body, others with society, and others yet are moral virtues. At the
end Socrates adds wisdom. He then pauses for a moment to ask Cleinias if
there is anything good they have forgotten to include in their list. Soon he him-
self adds good fortune, and immediately undercuts himself (279c9 d5):

A. , , ; -
; , ,

We almost made ourselves laughable in the eyes of these foreign men, you and I, son of
Axiochus. Why is this? he said. Because having added good fortune to the list we
made before, we were now again speaking about the same thing. And what does this
mean? It is of course quite laughable to put forward again what is already lying before
us and to say the same thing twice.

The double use of here picks up the language used in the begin-
ning of the section (cf. , 278d6). Fear of ridicule is expressed
again, as it was in the beginning of Socrates exposition of his method (278d).
But why is a reference to laughter included here? This is a crucial moment in
the dialogue. The philosopher is about to introduce a tricky argument, in
which he at least originally purports to show that wisdom is equivalent to
good fortune. He will thus suggest that adding to the list of goods lead-
ing to happiness would mean to say the same thing twice, since wisdom has al-
ready been included. So, Socrates concludes, it is unnecessary to mention good
fortune; wisdom is enough.
Laughter then functions once again as a structural pointer in the dialogue,
marking off the end of a section in this case, the one listing the goods. But it
does more than that: it gives a warning of sorts to the audience and the reader
that an important, though possibly controversial, statement is about to be
made. It is indeed far from obvious that a wise person will have no need of
good fortune if he is to fare well. Laughter is Platos way of highlighting this
significant moment in the discussion. So far the sophists have performed and
their audience has laughed; Socrates has intervened to explain that this reaction

Hawtrey (1981) 76 defines them as external, physical, and spiritual.

For a full discussion of the argument and relevant bibliography see Chapter 1.
4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 163

was like laughter when someone slips and falls, and to request that it not be re-
peated. His first request comes at the beginning of his exposition; the second
comes now that the most significant moment in the argumentation has been
Moreover, Socrates initial point about the identity of wisdom and good for-
tune is not only far from obvious; it is also not the point he eventually makes.
For, as was discussed in the first chapter, at the conclusion of the argument Soc-
rates claim is that wisdom guarantees good fortune. By saying that his point is
laughably obvious when it is not, Socrates is portrayed as slyly clever perhaps
even more so than the sophists.

4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness

(a) The Sophists Have Not Been Serious

I have so far discussed a number of cases in which the sophists or their followers
laugh or are urged to refrain from so doing. Laughter has thus developed into a
motif, parallel to which runs a new one. This is the motif of play as opposed to
seriousness. It will be seen that, as this new theme develops, the earlier one
recedes, only to return when the new theme has been abandoned. At first
there seems to be some overlap in the first protreptic scene between the two mo-
tifs I have been discussing. Alongside references to seriousness and the lack
thereof we find references to laughter, already discussed above in section (5).
But the distinguishing element between the two is that, once transition has
been made to the motif of seriousness, laughter does not actually take place
in the action, but is only referred to in an evaluation of the action that came be-
fore. Socrates discusses the action prior to his intervention, and so mentions that
the sophists and their followers laughed. But, as we will see, no one will laugh
again in the dialogue until the motif of seriousness has definitively receded.
The two motifs are interconnected and supplementary to each other, not
only because they develop in succession, but also for a further, thematic reason.
A playful attitude is likely to provoke laughter, and requests for seriousness are

For a detailed discussion of play in Plato see De Vries (1949). See also Ardley (1967) 226
244, whose main argument is that play is central to Platonic thought and a necessary guiding
principle for the life of the philosopher; but his discussion is rather brief and many of his claims
in need of further textual support. For play in connection with eros and as an early stage in the
learning process, see Plass (1967) 343 364. For play and laughter as distancing strategies (i. e.
establishing distance between the author and his text) in the Symposium and Republic, see Long
(2007) 174 192.
164 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

meant to curb such a response to the argumentation. The laughter of the earlier
sections leads to demands for seriousness in the present one. So laughter and
play go hand in hand, while seriousness is their opposite.
A hint that the sophistic approach lacks seriousness is to be found quite
early in the dialogue. When the two sophists first appear on stage, they
laugh at the description Socrates offers of their professional activities
(273d1 2). Then Euthydemus speaks for the first time, responding to the philos-
opher: , , (We no longer seriously en-
gage in these matters, Socrates 273d3). The here refers to activities relat-
ing to war and the law-courts, which Socrates has attributed to the sophists. So
the subject-matter formerly pursued by the sophists is different from the teach-
ing of virtue, which becomes the main topic of the rest of the discussion. But it is
still telling that the first thing the sophists say in the dialogue is o -
. It sets the tone for their subsequent attitude, prepares for the motif
which now unfolds for the first time, and hints at the question of their serious-
ness overall. It will be taken up again a number of times in the dialogue, dis-
cussed under (b) through (g) below.
In the beginning of his intervention Socrates points out to Cleinias that the
method adopted by the sophists up to that point has been mere play, reminiscent
of the rites of the Corybantes (277d6 e2). After this general description of their
method he proceeds to explain the specific difficulties in their argumentation,
revealing the way in which they had trapped Cleinias. He then returns to his orig-
inal point that the sophists had engaged in a game, and makes it again, this time
quite emphatically. The repetition of both language and thought is revealing
(278b2 d3):

, , ,
, -
, -

For play in association with the sophists see, for example, the end of Gorgias Helen, where
Gorgias presents his speech as an example of play, composed for pleasure rather than for any
practical purpose; for a review of the literature on this, and for the juxtaposition of play and
seriousness in Plato, see Cffaro (1995) 73 78.
Linforth (1946) usefully lists all references to the Corybantes in Plato, though his main aim
is to discover as much as possible regarding the rites themselves, rather than to suggest reasons
for their repeated mention in the Platonic corpus.
4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 165

. ,
, . ,
, ,

These parts of learning are a game hence my claim that these men are playing with you
and I call it a game for this reason, that even if one should learn many or even all such
things, he would know no better how things are in reality, but he would only be in a posi-
tion to play with people because of the differences in the meaning of words, tripping and
overturning them, just like those who, taking away the stools from those about to sit, re-
joice and laugh when they have seen someone fallen on his back. So consider that these
things done to you by them have been a game. After these things it is clear that these
two will show you the serious things, and I will instruct them so that they might give
me what they promised. For they said they would demonstrate their protreptic wisdom.
But as things are, it seems to me, they thought they first had to play with you. Let these
things, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, be enough play for you; they are perhaps sufficient.
But now show by your urging how the young man ought to attend to wisdom and virtue.

Repetition aside, the essential ideas are the following: the method employed by
the sophists is a game, a preliminary stage in their educational project; so these
men played with Cleinias, and they merely taught him to play with other people;
but from now on they will be serious. A progression may be noted from a gen-
eralizing manner of speaking (this method is generally a game) to a more con-
crete one, referring to the past (this particular exposition was a game), and
finally to the very specific, referring to the future (stop playing from now on,
Euthydemus and Dionysodorus!). But the pattern is not absolutely neat. Socra-
tes seems less interested in establishing a progression from the general to the
particular and more in underlining the importance seriousness holds in his
eyes in the treatment of the matter at hand. This he makes sure to emphasize
through verbal repetition in the beginning of his intervention.
Just as we distinguished between two different kinds of laughter one of
sophistic arrogance, another of Socratic (mock?)-modesty it will be useful to
distinguish also between two kinds of play. While Socrates appears opposed to
the sophistic playfulness, his attitude toward the brothers is itself playful. His
subtle or, at times, less than subtle irony is a clear indication of this.
Then there must be (at least) two different kinds of play, one of which is explic-
itly condemned, the other implicitly endorsed. How do they differ, and what
exactly is it about the sophistic kind of play that the philosopher finds at
odds with the educational process?
Socrates himself can be playful toward his interlocutors in this and other
dialogues. He is, for example, capable of asking questions based on equivoca-
tions of the same sort as that of employed by the sophists in the Eu-
thydemus; and he too, like them, does not bother to alert his interlocutors to the
166 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

multi-faceted meaning of a word. Take for example the use of in the Lysis
(212a8 213d5). The word means both kindly disposed toward someone (in the
active sense) and a friend of someone (in the passive). Socrates exploits this
verbal ambiguity to lead Menexenus to admit and then reject a series of four dif-
ferent answers to the same question: who becomes of whom when A loves
B? The philosopher too, like the sophists, is, on occasion, capable of exploiting
the ambiguity of language.
He is also capable of merely refuting an interlocutor, without offering any-
thing positive in place of the refuted positions. All the elenchic dialogues end
in aporia, or at least they appear to do so, even when something positive can
be teased out. So in this respect too the Socratic method resembles that of the
sophists: both the philosopher in other dialogues and the brothers in the present
one guide their interlocutors through a series of questions, only to show them at
the end that their original views are flawed.
What then is the difference between Socrates and the sophists, when their
methods seem so strikingly similar, and when Socrates not only is playful in
other dialogues but also explicitly endorses play as a legitimate part of philo-
sophical teaching in the Euthydemus? Indeed in the first protreptic scene
the philosopher employs the analogy of an initiation into the mysteries to sug-
gest that play is an acceptable part of the sophistic exposition to the extent
that it functions as a preliminary stage to something more serious but it re-
mains necessary that something more serious follow. The difficulty arises

Examples of this practice in our own dialogue, such as the ambiguous use of in
the first protreptic, are discussed in the first chapter.
Halliwell (2008) 287 usefully draws a distinction between two kinds of laughter, which
essentially amounts to the same thing as my distinction between two kinds of play in the
Euthydemus: he argues that the explicit laughter of the sophists is paralleled by the implicit
laughter of Socratic irony.
Adkins (1970) provides a very useful list of references to initiation in the Platonic corpus,
highlighting the fact that they are used as a running metaphor in various dialogues to describe
both sophistic and philosophical learning; some of his reservations about whether initiation
language is applied to philosophy already in the early dialogues are countered by Hawtrey
(1976) 22 24. Adkins also notes that the motif is picked up from Aristophanes Clouds, where
Socrates students undergo initiation. Various other connections between the Euthydemus and
the Clouds have already been discussed in my analyses of the introductory framing scene and
the third eristic scene; since, then, the Euthydemus is in many ways a response to the Clouds, it
makes perfect sense to have the Socrates of the Euthydemus reverse the sophistic depiction of
Socrates in Aristophanes by attributing mock-initiation to the real sophists. The sophistic ini-
tiation is supposed to be the first stage of a learning process, but is shown to be rather different
from the corresponding philosophical one. Thus, both a similarity and a difference between
4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 167

from the fact that the sophists fail to show themselves capable of such a serious
engagement with the questions they pose.
The difference between the two parties must also lie in the purpose for
whose sake each employs play. The sophists, on the one hand, exult in demon-
strating the ignorance of their interlocutors, laughing at their failures and reaf-
firming their own alleged omniscience. Socrates, on the other hand, is the first
to admit ignorance, and the second protreptic ends in aporia. But even in dia-
logues in which Socrates engages in conversation with interlocutors who, unlike
Cleinias, appear confident in their knowledge, the philosopher does not aim at
self-aggrandizement but at their reduction to the same admission of ignorance
as himself. This will be a necessary first step, clearing the way for further phil-
osophical inquiry.
A couple of examples will suffice. At the end of the Lysis Socrates calls him-
self just as much as he does Lysis and Menexenus for having
failed to sketch out clearly their views on friendship (223b3 8). Even though
one suspects that Socrates knows much better than his younger friends, the phi-
losopher never assumes the position of power that the sophists so eagerly seek.
Think also of the end of the Laches, where the failure of Socrates, Nicias, and
Laches to define courage satisfactorily is only a starting-point for further discus-
sion. Lysimachus invites Socrates to come to his house on the following day to
pursue the inquiry further (201b8 c3). So while for the sophists the play of ref-
utation is an end in itself, for Socrates it is only the beginning. The methods of
the two parties might have the use of play in common. But for Socrates this is
only the initiation into the mysteries; for the sophists it is not just a prelimina-
ry stage in their teaching, but all of it.

(b) Dionysodorus Wonders If Socrates Has Been Serious

By 282d3 Socrates has convinced Cleinias to practice philosophy (which was the
task he had originally assigned to the sophists at 275a5 6) because it leads to
wisdom and therefore happiness. At the end of the Socratic exposition Dionyso-
dorus asks Socrates and his adherents about their wish that Cleinias become
wise: ;
(are you joking when you say these things or do you truly desire them and are
being serious? 283b5 7). Thus the section that started with Socrates emphatic
request for seriousness on the part of the sophists is closed off with one of them

sophists and philosophers are indicated and this, as argued in Chapter 1, is a technique
employed quite frequently in the Euthydemus.
168 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

asking whether Socrates himself is serious. The ring composition emphasizes

the miscommunication between the two parties. Socrates had given the sophists
the task of persuading Cleinias to pursue wisdom, which they failed to accom-
plish. Now Socrates has himself succeeded in this task, but the sophists are
still wondering if his original intentions were meant seriously.

(c) Socrates Is Playful

Ctesippus becomes the protagonist in the second eristic scene, taking over from
Cleinias the role of being questioned by the sophists. He joins the discussion for
the first time at 283e1 when, upset by Dionysodorus bold claim that the lovers of
Cleinias want to ruin him, he wishes that ruin befall Dionysodorus himself for
falsely attributing evil intentions to those who love Cleinias. Euthydemus gives
Ctesippus two consecutive proofs that lying is impossible. Dionysodorus gets in-
volved in the discussion again, and the situation comes close to a fight. So a sec-
ond intervention by Socrates is called for.
In the first intervention Socrates urged the sophists to become serious. Here,
however, he is willing to become playful, if he is to avert a fight:
(I was playing with Ctesippus and said 285a3). He
tells Ctesippus that he should allow the sophists to ruin Cleinias if they wish,
provided that they show him the path to virtue. But Socrates allegedly playful
attitude is in fact quite serious. He still wants the sophists to demonstrate
their abilities in moral education. He is willing to let them follow any method
they opt for, so long as they lead their student in the direction of virtue. His play-
fulness is no compromise, but an attempt to deflect the hostility the brothers had
aroused in Ctesippus and to give them another chance to demonstrate their
educational abilities.

(d) The Sophists Are Not Serious

Ctesippus explains that he is not upset with Dionysodorus but merely disagree-
ing with him. The sophist latches on to this statement to claim that disagreeing
with someone is impossible. So he begins questioning Ctesippus, bringing him
to a point where he has nothing more to say. Ctesippus remains silent. It was
in a similar situation earlier in the dialogue that Socrates had intervened to en-
courage Cleinias (277d). He now does the same for Ctesippus. This time, however,

So also Hawtrey (1981) 96.

Even if the sophists wonder only superficially about the intention of Socrates, they still
raise an interesting question about the quality of the argument Socrates has just put forth. If he
is indeed serious, why is his argument in the first protreptic scene so full of holes? This crucial
question is addressed in Chapter 1.
4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 169

he is not demonstrating a method alternative to that of the sophists, but instead

playing their game.
He takes Dionysodorus claim as a working hypothesis and suggests that, if
disagreeing is impossible, then lying, thinking wrongly, and being ignorant are
also impossible. Dionysodorus is willing to agree that no one is ignorant, at
which point Socrates asks him if he really believes what he is saying:
, , , ,
; (Are you saying this thing for the
sake of talking, Dionysodorus, in order to say something paradoxical, or do
you really think that no one is ignorant? 286d11 13). Socrates question does
not specifically employ the language of play and seriousness. Yet it implies
that the sophists are not serious enough, since they prove willing to agree to
any claims, however extravagant, merely to say something interesting or shock-
Even on the assumption that their claims hold true, Socrates is in a position
to lead them to inconvenient conclusions. Full of pretended navet, he asks
what the need is for teachers like them when no one in the world is ignorant
(287a6 b1). The point is remarkably crucial, but Dionysodorus makes little of
it. He shows surprise that Socrates still remembers what the brothers had claim-
ed in the beginning of the conversation, i. e. that they are teachers of virtue. It
seems that for the sophists virtue is merely the ability to refute.
Socrates chooses to pass this over, but for the reader the matter is amply
clear: the sophists have been asked for seriousness, but they fail to show consis-
tency even with their former claims. Ctesippus had been encouraged to play
along with the sophists, and this is what Socrates himself has just done. He
has taken their thesis as a working hypothesis and shown it to be inconsistent
with one of their earlier claims. While his first intervention in the internal dia-
logue had been a demonstration of his own method, the second one is a refuta-
tion of the sophists. Socrates is, in a sense, paving the way for Ctesippus series
of playful refutations in the final eristic scene. But Ctesippus will take his refu-
tations a step further, and will be significantly more playful than Socrates,
being less careful about the general validity of his claims. His responses to the
sophists will themselves exploit verbal ambiguity or stretch the meaning of
words. For example in 300b , properly used of speaking, is used by Ctesip-
pus of the sound a smiths iron tools make when struck against something.

(e) The Sophists Must Become Serious

There are similarities of structure and content between the first (277d1 282e6)
and second (288b3 293a6) protreptic scenes. The earlier one is divided into
two sections, of which I call the first explanatory, the second expository. In
170 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

the explanatory section Socrates discusses and evaluates the method of his op-
ponents. In the expository one he puts forth his own. More specifically, he first
explains to Cleinias the difficulties of the sophistic method, and then illustrates
his own way of questioning the young man, hoping that a similar method will be
adopted by the sophists. The same bipartite structure is identifiable in the sec-
ond protreptic scene (288b d). Socrates first explains to Ctesippus what the
sophists have done: they have imitated Proteus in trying to escape. The philos-
opher then puts forth his own method for a second time and concludes with a
request for seriousness on the part of the sophists.
It is in fact Socrates himself who points to the thematic connection between
this intervention and the earlier one by telling Ctesippus: -
, (and the things I was just now tell-
ing Cleinias, the same I am telling you too 288b4 5). In the explanatory part of
the first protreptic scene (277d 278e) the emphasis was on being playful;
and other words etymologically related to it were used seven times in very close
proximity in the text. In the corresponding part of the second protreptic scene
(288b4 d4) the language is not that of but of its opposite, .
Once again one notices a high concentration of words etymologically related
to seriousness repeated multiple times within the space of a few lines of text. Be-
fore turning to address Cleinias, Socrates briefly addresses Ctesippus, explaining
to him that the sophists are promising teachers so long as they abandon their
playful attitude and become serious:
. (You do

Note that in the former explanation to Cleinias, Socrates had pointed out the specific flaws
of the sophistic argumentation, while in this one to Ctesippus he speaks more generally, using
the Proteus metaphor. Proteus seems an appropriate choice because, once caught, he must
speak the truth (cf. Odyssey 4.347 572); the sophists should be forced to do the same. McCabe
(2008) argues that, while the sophists are Protean in the sense that they require effort on the part
of a Menelaus to reveal their truth, the metaphor becomes equally applicable to Socrates when
the other aspect of Proteus, that of the wise old man, is taken into account; moreover the figure
of Proteus, understood as the man who persists through change, i. e. who remains the same man
despite his many transformations, is Platos answer to the puzzle raised by the sophists in the
beginning of the second eristic scene, when they assume that wanting Cleinias to become wise is
wanting him dead (see esp. pp. 115 119). But there is no reference in the text to the fact that
Proteus changes and yet remains essentially the same, and so no indication that Proteus is
meant to provide an answer to the puzzle of persistence and change. It seems more plausible
that the introduction of Proteus serves the more limited purpose of highlighting the difficulty of
eliciting anything serious from the sophists because nothing serious is to be found in them. In
other words, I take Socrates brief reference to Proteus (288b7 c1) to be just another example of
the all-pervasive Socratic irony, couched as it is between two instances of profuse praise of the
sophists (288b4 6 and c3 4).
4.2 The Secondary Theme of Play and Seriousness 171

not perceive that the wisdom of the foreigners is wonderful. But the two of them
do not wish to demonstrate it to us in earnest 288b6 7). So the philosopher in-
sists that they must be convinced to demonstrate their wisdom in a serious man-
, (Let us
not let the two men go until they reveal themselves to us under the condition
that they be serious; for I think that something extremely beautiful will be re-
vealed by them, once they start being serious 288c1 4). Socrates soon adds an-
other request for seriousness: ,
, , ,

(from where I left off earlier I will attempt, in whatever way I am able, to go
through what follows after these, in case I might call on them somehow, and
they themselves, both showing mercy and feeling pity for me being earnest
and serious, might also be serious 288c6 d4). The term is used
five times within a few lines, which clearly suggests the emphasis Socrates in-
tends to lay on a serious approach to the issue under discussion. This is no
time for games like those the sophists played before, nor for the laughter that
ensued (cf. 278b c).
Socrates and Cleinias have sought to identify the kind of knowledge that
leads to happiness, but they have reached a dead-end. So the philosopher
asks the sophists to help them answer the same question: what is the knowledge
one should acquire and use as a guiding principle to live a happy life? He under-
lines that he needs the sophists to be serious in pursuing this question (292e8
293a6, esp. , ). Thus the sec-
ond protreptic scene both begins and ends with requests for seriousness.

(f) he Sophists re Serious

In the beginning of the third eristic scene Euthydemus shifts the question by
claiming that he is in a position not only to teach the kind of knowledge that
leads to happiness but to prove that Socrates already possesses it. Dionysodorus
gets involved and the two brothers make the outrageous claim that everyone
knows everything, so that they themselves do too. At this point Socrates states
that he is convinced: the brothers are indeed serious (294b1 3).
Hawtrey comments on this as follows: Socrates cries out in excitement, be-
cause the claim of omniscience is indeed a serious one, and to this extent his
appeals for seriousness have been successful. An otherwise insightful com-

Hawtrey (1981) 145.

172 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

mentator is here misled by the double meaning of the English word serious,
which can either mean not joking or important. He seems to be suggesting
that the claim of omniscience is serious in the sense that it is important, and not
in the sense that it is meant seriously. But the Greek word only in-
volves being earnest in ones engagement in something, or paying serious atten-
tion to it (see LSJ s.v.). So I am inclined to interpret the passage in a different way:
Socrates has been requesting seriousness, but the claim of the sophists is defi-
nitely not a serious one, in the sense that no rational human being could ever
truly believe that he or she knows everything. Socrates must then be ironic in
claiming that the sophists have become serious precisely when they have lost
all sense of seriousness.
If to talk about serious things is being serious, then the brothers are serious;
but in fact they do not talk seriously about the serious matters they undertake to
teach. Thus far Socrates has given them the benefit of the doubt, but when they
make their most outrageous claim, he gives up trying to convince them to adopt
a different attitude. He is no doubt ironic in calling them serious, but he is not
sarcastic, avoiding conflict in much the same way as when he intervened to
check Ctesippus aggression and prevent direct confrontation. For this reason
he grants that the brothers are serious precisely when it has become clear as day
that they have no intention of being so.

(g) The Sophists Think that the Socratics Are Not Serious
Ctesippus asks the sophists to prove their claim that they know everything. Now
the two brothers think that they are made fun of (294d1), and so they refuse to
respond. We recall that it was Socrates who earlier expressed the fear that he
would be ridiculed by the sophists and their audience because of the improvisa-
tional character of his argumentation (cf. 278d5 9). The sophists now find them-
selves in the same position. Moreover, Socrates was earlier requesting serious-
ness, while it is now the sophists that refuse to participate in a discussion in
which the other party appears to them not to be serious enough. Clearly, a rever-
sal has taken place.
The beginning of the first Socratic intervention in the internal dialogue had
marked the beginning of the occurrence of references to play and seriousness. It

Cf. Narcy (2000) 286 287, who points out that Socrates is himself not serious in calling the
sophists serious.
The brothers have based their argument merely on games of language, and so they are
naturally afraid of being exposed when asked to illustrate their claims by giving a real-life
example. This is different from Socrates earlier fear lest his views be considered overly sim-
plistic or obvious.
4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 173

had also been the first point at which Socrates had expressed fear of ridicule in
the eyes of the sophists. Once they have expressed the same fear, the references
to seriousness disappear, and are not to be found in the rest of the dialogue.
Plato seems to have found an elaborate way of marking off the beginning and
end of a section in which the motif of play and seriousness is predominant.
He has also hinted that the Socratics are switching roles with the sophists,
which will become much more evident in the final eristic scene.
We saw that the shift to the motif of play and seriousness takes place in the
central part of the internal dialogue. The two protreptic scenes emphasize that
laughter, the initial sophistic reaction to the failed attempts of Cleinias to
carry through with his original position, is inadvisable. Indeed these scenes,
as well as the eristic scene sandwiched between them, are laughter-free. In
other words, Socrates intervention brings about the shift to the new motif, as
he urges the sophists and their followers to refrain from laughter, an explicit
sign of their lack of seriousness. Yet the playful attitude of the sophists remains
evident in the way they handle the discussion; the explicitness disappears along
with their laughter, but the attitude is still the same. The Socratics react to it
through laughter of their own in the final eristic scene, and we thus return to
the original motif.

4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter

(8) Ctesippus Laughs

At 295a1 Euthydemus sets out to prove that Socrates too, like the sophist, not
only knows everything but has always known it. The philosopher plays his
game, assuming that his claims are valid, and then turns the tables on him.
His refutation of the two brothers (297a) makes Dionysodorus blush in a way
that recalls Cleinias earlier blush at 275d5 6, when Euthydemus had asked
him his first question. Socrates had tried to encourage the young man, where-

It might seem that blushing is a sign of good character, and so it may appear hard to
reconcile that with Dionysodorus general attitude in the dialogue. But the aspect of blushing
which I wish to emphasize here is its function as an indication of embarrassment. There is a
parallel for that in Platos Protagoras (312a): Hippocrates has come to Socrates before dawn to
ask for his help in becoming a student of Protagoras, which he wishes very eagerly. Socrates asks
him what he expects to become if he undergoes the teaching Protagoras has to offer; if studying
with a doctor would make Hippocrates a doctor, and studying with a sculptor would make him a
sculptor, what would studying with a sophist like Protagoras make him? Hippocrates blushes,
for he realizes that the obvious answer is a sophist, and yet he finds it shameful for one to
claim to be one. So Hippocrates blush is due to a sense of shame arising from the recognition of
174 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

as Dionysodorus had bragged that Cleinias would be refuted no matter what an-
swer he would give. It is Dionysodorus again on that earlier occasion smiling in
self-satisfaction (275e4) who now finds himself in the same position as Clei-
nias. There is a clear role reversal between the two men, the questioning one
and the questioned; the intervention of Socrates causes the sophists the same
sense of shame that they had caused Cleinias before.
From this point on the conversation between Socrates and the sophists be-
comes progressively more and more absurd (297b2 298b3): Euthydemus ends
up claiming that his own father is everyones father by virtue of being a father;
Dionysodorus attempts to prove to Ctesippus that his dog is his father, and that

a blunder; this is also the case with Cleinias and Dionysodorus in the Euthydemus. For further
parallels see Lysis 204b, and Rep. 350d3; on Thrasymachus blush in the Republic see Annas
(1981) 52.
Blushing and being reduced to silence are in fact employed as motifs in the Euthydemus.
The first eristic scene opens with Cleinias blushing at the sound of the first question of the
sophists (275d5 6). While he is not explicitly reduced to silence, the scene comes to a close with
Socrates intervening to give him some rest (277d1 4). In the second eristic scene Ctesippus,
exasperated at what he interprets as offensive remarks on the part of the sophists, takes over
from Cleinias, but is reduced to silence this time explicitly (286b7). In the third eristic scene
Socrates plays along with the sophists, allowing them to make their first and most crucial
claim of universal omniscience, but immediately thereafter he begins to refute them. In his effort
to avoid the refutation, Dionysodorus makes a mistake, whereupon his brother reproaches him
for ruining the argument. As a result, Dionysodorus blushes (297a8). This is the first reversal in
the balance of power between the two sides: so far the Socratics have blushed and/or been
reduced to silence, but Dionysodorus blush is clearly intended as a counterweight to Cleinias.
Nor does Euthydemus prove invulnerable; for at 299c8, upon conclusion of Ctesippus refutation
of his claim that it is good to have as much of a good as possible, he is himself reduced to
silence. Note that the phrasing here is exactly the same as that reporting Ctesippus earlier
silence: (cf. 286b7: ). The final pair
of arguments between Ctesippus and the sophists concerns the possibility of silent things
speaking, and immediately after those Dionysodorus is silenced. We recall that in the second
eristic scene it was directly after the claim about the impossibility of contradicting that Socrates
had for the first time contradicted the sophists. A clear thematic link is established between the
sophistic claims and the actual practice in the drama of the dialogue. Finally, the third eristic
scene ends with Socrates qua narrator claiming that he lay speechless (303a5). Dionysodorus
makes one last attempt to keep the discussion going with his latching on to the exclamatory
. Clearly, he does not know where to stop, so Ctesippus must exclaim that he too gives
up. Notice the multiple reversals: in the opening scene of the internal dialogue Dionysodorus is
smiling and Cleinias blushing; but in the final scene it is the sophists turn to blush, while
Cleinias bursts into sarcastic laughter. Moreover, Cleinias and Ctesippus, initially silenced by the
sophists, eventually reduce them to silence. Yet the whole purpose of eristic is just to keep on
talking, and hence Socrates and Ctesippus have to feign defeat in order to bring the contest to a
4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 175

by hitting it he hits his father. Before the sophist has fully made his point, Cte-
sippus laughs and the theme of laughter returns: ,
, (And Ctesippus, laughing, said By the Gods 298e8 9).
The related theme of play and seriousness has already come to a close with Soc-
rates ironic acknowledgment that his interlocutors are serious (294b1 2). Once
his requests for seriousness reach an end-point, it is time for the first motif of the
dialogue to resurface. Yet it is not the sophists who laugh now, but Ctesippus,
a representative of the Socratic group.

(9) Ctesippus Laughs Again

Euthydemus and Dionysodorus take turns asking Ctesippus whether one should
have as much of a good as possible and whether he should have it everywhere,
whether clothes can see, and finally whether it is possible for someone silent to
speak or someone speaking to be silent. In response to this series of absurd
claims Ctesippus laughs again. This time his reaction is much stronger than be-
fore. The earlier (298e9) is replaced by (300d3).
The verb itself is stronger than , suggesting a guffaw and a mock-
ing attitude. This strong term is then reinforced by , and further intensi-
fied by the adverb .
The reaction of Ctesippus mirrors a similar one in the early part of the dia-
logue, where the students of the sophists had also laughed on two occasions. In
the earlier case the simple was used (276b7), while in the later the re-
action is described with more detail ( ,
276d1). Balance arises not only from the fact that both reactions are progressively
intensified, but also through a verbal echo: is found in both intensi-
fied reactions. Moreover, the occurrence of laughter at this point is once again
structurally significant: it marks the end of Ctesippus direct engagement in argu-
ment with the sophists, as Socrates takes over for the final series of arguments
that bring the third eristic scene to a close (300e1 303a9).

Of course we saw above [under (f), p. 171] that Socrates had declared that the sophists were
serious, although they were not; the fact that the requests for seriousness do not recur does not
mean that the serious attitude of the brothers has been established.
On the differences between the three words employed for laughter in Greek see Lopez Eire
(2000); for as a verb indicative of laughter associated with hybris see p. 22; cf. p. 28. For
this laughter of insolence in Platos Republic and Euthydemus see pp. 29 31.
Jout-Pastr (1998) 274 argues that such excessive laughter is condemned in the Republic as
an indication of lack of measure and subordination of the rational part of the soul to the
176 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

Satisfied with himself for the defeat of an opponent, Ctesippus laughs out of
a sense of arrogant superiority. The sophists who had trapped Cleinias earlier
find themselves trapped here, and Ctesippus takes over their role in laughing de-
risively at their situation. His laughter is of the same kind as that of the sophists
and their followers earlier in the dialogue.

(10) Cleinias Laughs

At 300d5 6 Cleinias laughs in unison with Ctesippus. Socrates asks the boy why
he is laughing: , , ;
(Why are you laughing, Cleinias, at such important and beautiful things?
300e1 2). Hawtrey suggests that this sentence has little purpose beyond the
usual irony and the fact that it gives, in , a cue to Dionysodorus for the
next sophism and so provides a link with it. I am inclined to think that the
matter is somewhat more complicated. Between the laughter of Cleinias and Soc-
rates asking about it there is a section in which the narrator (Socrates again) in-
serts an important comment (300d7 9):

, ,

And that one seems to me, on account of the fact that he is a rogue I mean Ctesippus to
have overheard these very things from these very men. For no such wisdom exists among
any other of the men of our times.

It would make more sense to have the question about the purpose of Cleinias
laughter immediately follow the statement that he had laughed. Instead, Platos
Socrates has inserted an ambiguous narrative comment: which things exactly
has Ctesippus learnt from the two brothers? Has he learnt to win the battles of
words, or to brag about victories of this sort? Note Ctesippus words accompany-
ing his laughter: , , ,
. (Euthydemus, he said, your brother has both sides of
the argument at once, and he has both perished and been defeated. 300d4 5).
Hawtrey explains that the word is a technical term, meaning to
have both sides of the argument at once. This constitutes a contradiction, and
so Ctesippus laughs at the failed answer of Dionysodorus. At the same time,
however, great emphasis is laid on Dionysodorus defeat through the use of
and . The sophist is curiously treated by a (former?) Socratic
as an opponent in a contest. So when Socrates says that Ctesippus must have

Hawtrey (1981) 173.

Hawtrey (1981) 173.
4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 177

learnt these very things from the sophists, he seems to be referring not only to
his ability to defeat the sophists by means of eristic argument but, primarily, to
his bragging and laughing at a fallen opponent.
Seen this way, it makes sense that the seemingly irrelevant narrative com-
ment is inserted between the two references to Cleinias laughter: through his
question to Cleinias, Socrates intends to criticize Ctesippus for his bragging,
and for having taken up the ways of the sophists. They (273d1) and their follow-
ers (276b7, 276d1) were the ones, after all, who laughed at Socrates and Cleinias
respectively, though the philosopher repeatedly requested that they refrain from
laughter. Ctesippus has now adopted their manners, tripping them and laughing
over their failures. Finally, he has set an example for Cleinias, who imitates his
laughter, just as the adherents of the sophists earlier followed the example set by
the two brothers. Socrates, consistent with his earlier views, can only be disap-
proving of this attitude. Hawtrey is, I think, right in pointing out the irony in
Socrates question, since the things the sophists said are neither important nor
beautiful. But to brag and laugh at them is to become one of them.

(11) Everybody Laughs

Socrates takes over from Ctesippus and engages in a discussion with Dionysodo-
rus that ends at 303a5 with the philosopher completely dumbfounded. Ctesippus
also states that he finds it impossible to fight against the two sophists. As the
discussion comes to an end everyone is laughing, clapping hands, and almost
dying of laughter (303b1 3). At the end of the performance, as it were, the audi-
ence gives its final applause. No one present refrains from participating in the
general exultation. So the motif of laughter, earlier progressively intensifying,
now reaches its highpoint.
Socrates himself notes that things are different than before, for now even the
columns of the Lyceum are shaking. But, interestingly, he misrepresents the ear-
lier situation, only mentioning that the followers of Euthydemus laughed before
(303b4 5), and thus playing down the fact that Ctesippus and Cleinias followed
the sophistic example. Earlier the sophists and their followers had laughed at the
difficulties of the Socratics; then the Socratics had laughed at the difficulties of
the sophists. But in the final section Socratics and sophists are in unison. They
all experience a perverse kind of pleasure, which remains essentially unjustified.

For the opposite view, that Socrates actually endorses Ctesippus laughter, see Halliwell
(2008) 290. See also Rossetti (2000b), who reads the Platonic Socrates as a provocative figure,
with an air of superiority, bringing about the ridicule of his interlocutors.
178 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

The final laugh occurs when Socrates and Ctesippus present the sophists
with an admission of defeat. What exactly is it that each part of the audience
finds funny at this point? The sophists and their adherents must take the
statement at face value. Assuming that their interlocutors are indeed defeat-
ed in argument, they rejoice in what they perceive as their partys victory.
How about the Socratics? It only makes sense that they laugh mockingly at
the sophists and their group who fail to grasp that the admission of defeat
is not meant in earnest; the conversation of the final eristic scene, so far
from being serious, has turned out to be hilarious. But in mocking the soph-
istic party, the Socratics too take up the wrong attitude, against which Socra-
tes repeatedly advised.
Note that laughter and death are tied together through the use of the verb
(and laughing and clapping and rejoicing they almost died 303b3). What is
the significance of the morbid undertones introduced here for the first time in
association with laughter? The first protreptic scene argued that the way to
happiness was through knowledge, which proved to be the only uncondition-
al good. The second protreptic scene attempted to determine exactly what
kind of knowledge that was. When Socrates and Cleinias failed to identify
it, they handed the question over to the sophists, who claimed that Socrates
and everyone else possessed that knowledge without ever attempting to de-
termine its nature. As the final scene progresses, Socratics and sophists alike
seem less interested in finding an answer to this crucial question and more in

This verb is an interesting word-choice. According to the LSJ, its first meaning is to stretch
out beside, and, by extension, to torture. It also has more technical meanings (to apply a
figure to a right line, to lengthen in pronunciation, etc.), all of which are extensions of the
basic meaning of . In the passive the verb can mean to be half-dead, worn out. The
association with death will perhaps appear not explicit enough; one would make a better case
for reading morbid undertones into the final laugh of the Euthydemus if Plato had used a form of
. Let us consider the occurrences of in the Platonic corpus: in Rep. 7.
527a8 and Men. 87a5 and 87a6 it is used in its various other meanings, but in Symp. 207b5 it is
employed in the sense of tormenting, and juxtaposed with . It is used in this
sense also in Lys. 204c6. In Protag. 333e3 the case is unclear because the codex has
< , which Kock emends to < ; if his emen-
dation is correct, then the context calls for a meaning along the lines of having great difficulty.
So the relevant cases (Symposium, Lysis, and possibly Protagoras) point in the direction of a
distortion of the body, exertion, and torment. Even if this does not amount to death, it is still a
rather negative connotation for the effects of laughter, and quite close to the description of such
an effect on the suitors in Odyssey 20, on which see more below. Hence I am inclined to think
that in the Euthydemus too the final laugh is to be understood, if not as equivalent to death, then
at least as a torment.
4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 179

striking a blow against their opponents. So when they join in laughter at the
end of the scene, they have completely lost sight of their original aim, and yet
seem to rejoice in their ignorance. In other words, what was originally per-
ceived as a comedy only by the sophists became a comedy for the Socratics
If laughter is an expression of happiness, and happiness is directly relat-
ed to knowledge, then the laughter of ignorance is an expression of the wrong
kind of happiness, a mere sense of self-satisfaction for the defeat of some-
one treated as an opponent when he should in fact be a fellow-inquirer into
the truth. The fact that Ctesippus and Cleinias laugh at the sophists at the end
of the internal dialogue suggests that they have fallen into the sophistic trap.
No doubt they have learnt to beat the sophists at their own game; but exactly
here lies the danger in associating with the brothers. Philosophy becomes a
mere contest of words able to raise thoughtless laughter. The sophists manage
to turn not only their own students but also the Socratics away from the pur-
suit of truth; the latter too appear satisfied by their victory in the verbal com-
bat and rejoicing in the ignorance of their opponents. Precisely that brings
about the intellectual death of them all.
One point must be clarified: if the final occurrence of laughter is an indica-
tion of intellectual death which involves the Socratics just as much as their op-
ponents, are Ctesippus and Cleinias presented as permanently corrupted? More
specifically, is Ctesippus portrayed as having definitively deserted the Socratic
camp through his employment of eristic tactics? This seems unlikely. What he
has shown is that the sophistic technique is easily imitated and the speed
with which it can be picked up will soon be emphasized by Socrates in his
final mock-praise of the sophists. Moreover, Ctesippus has shown that employing
such tactics is the only way of interacting with the sophists that can prove effec-
tive. But then how do we account for Socrates implicit condemnation of the
laughter, through its association with death? What Socrates condemns is not Cte-
sippus temporary adoption of eristic methods, but his mocking attitude toward
the sophists. Ctesippus does not switch to the dark side, for he does not endorse
eristic as a path to knowledge, but only uses it when nothing else seems to work
with the brothers. Yet at the same time he assumes that explicit attitude of supe-
riority which Socrates consistently avoids and it is this further step against
which the philosopher cautions. The final laugh is associated with death because
it suggests a kind of confidence in ones powers which in fact matters little. For
the point is not to prove victorious over a perceived opponent, but to pursue a
180 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

philosophical question to the end and reach the truth. Unless this is achieved,
arrogant self-satisfaction seems out of place.
I have so far suggested a way of understanding the association of the final
laugh with death in the context of the Platonic dialogue only. This understanding
may be further enhanced when this last laugh is seen in connection with a par-
allel situation in the Odyssey. Halliwell notes without further elaboration that the
climactic laughter of the Euthydemus is an echo of the laughter of the suitors in
Odyssey 18.100. There too laughter and death are tied together: -
/ (18.99 100). In what follows I
draw out the implications of this observation, arguing for further connections be-
tween the Euthydemus and the epic, which create a parallelism that goes far be-
yond the verbal echo of a single line. Plato in fact seems to have worked laughter
into the Euthydemus with a view to the fate of the suitors in the Odyssey.
In Odyssey 18 we find Odysseus, disguised as a beggar, in his palace in Itha-
ca. Provoked by Irus, he violently confronts and defeats him, in a way that pre-
figures his ultimate confrontation with the suitors. The suitors themselves take
an interest in the fight between the two men, which they treat as a spectacle. An-
tinous is the first to laugh at them (18.35), soon followed by the rest of the suitors
in unison (18.40); the audience cheers on. Upon Irus defeat in the hands of
Odysseus, the suitors almost die of laughter (18.100). Odysseus mocks the defeat-
ed man, and the suitors do the same, laughing once again (18.111). Next, the
beggar turns to Amphinomus with a speech that highlights the issue of the
change of fortune in human affairs he too once used to be a happy man
and warns him of the inescapable bloodshed that will accompany Odysseus re-
turn. Hence the upcoming death of the suitors, earlier dying of laughter, is now
explicitly mentioned. At 18.320 the unfaithful maidservants laugh at the beg-
gar, and Melantho threatens him that someone better than Irus might appear,
who will succeed in casting him out of the palace. The attitude of the maids re-
peats that of the suitors, who laugh one last time at 18.350.

For a discussion of a very similar function of laughter in Herodotus see Lateiner (1977), who
argues that such a fatal laughter is deliberately employed as a motif to alert the reader to the
upcoming fall of someone all too confident in his power. (I am grateful to Prof. John Dillery for
bringing this article to my attention.) On laughter in the Phaedo, shortly before Socrates actual
death, see Stella (2000).
Halliwell (2008) 290. For his analysis of the laughter of the suitors in Homer see pp. 86 97.
On this see also Levine (1980) and (1982 1983).
On the laughter of Penelope (18.164), different in kind from that of the suitors and
maidservants, see Levine (1983) and Clay (1984).
4.3 The Return of the Primary Theme of Laughter 181

Book 19 constitutes a break. There is no hint of laughter here, though the up-
coming doom of the suitors is prefigured all the more explicitly, e. g. in the dream
that Penelope narrates to the beggar. In Book 20 laughter returns along with
the suitors. While Odysseus is planning their death, he can hear the women
lying with them, laughing (20.8). A feast is prepared, during which a man inter-
estingly named Ctesippus throws a cow-foot at the beggar (20.300). Thereupon
Odysseus smiles a most sardonic smile (20.301 2). Telemachus rebukes Ctesip-
pus, but Agelaus tells him to urge his mother to marry. The young man responds
that he does not prevent her from so doing. At this point (20.346) Athena raises
unquenchable laughter among the suitors, which distorts their faces, while
they eat bloody meat and their eyes are filled with tears. Theoclymenus gives
a prophecy, foreseeing their doom. Yet the suitors remain unaware of what is
to come, and three more references to their laughter follow (20.358; 374; 390).
If it can be shown that the situation in the Euthydemus bears enough simi-
larities to the Homeric passage to establish a parallel, then the argument that the
final laugh in Plato is both indicative of (intellectual) death and not endorsed by
Socrates will be significantly strengthened. Let us compare. In both Odyssey 18
and the Euthydemus we have a contest between two parties: Irus competes with
Odysseus, and the sophists with the Socratics; in both the contest is viewed as
a spectacle, with an audience laughing regularly; also in both we notice a pro-
gressive intensification of the laughter: in Odyssey 18 the laughter of a single sui-
tor is followed by the laughter of them all, while in the Euthydemus the sophistic
party laughs harder and harder, and Ctesippus is joined by Cleinias; in both texts
there is a climactic laughter, louder than all earlier ones (for Homer also louder
than all the ones to follow); finally, the climactic unquenchable laughter of the
suitors comes shortly after the intervention of Ctesippus, which sounds rather
similar to the intervention of his namesake in the Euthydemus, leading to the cli-
mactic laughter there.

Further parallels, less strictly related to the motif of laughter, may be noted between the
Odyssey and the Euthydemus, including notably the comparison of the sophists to Proteus at
288b7 c2. The reference is clearly inspired by Odyssey 4; cf. McCabe (2008). It may be argued,
moreover, that Odysseus in his disguise as a beggar is primarily opposed by two suitors, Anti-
nous and Eurymachus, who are paired, for they both throw stools at him (Antinous: 17.462 64;
Eurymachus: 18.394 98); cf. the pair of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus. Further, this image of
the suitors throwing stools at Odysseus might be linked to the metaphor employed by Socrates
upon conclusion of the first eristic scene to describe the sophistic practice: the brothers pull the
seats away from those about to sit on them, and so make them fall (Euthyd. 278b).
It is even possible that the structure of the Platonic dialogue loosely repeats that of Homer.
In the Odyssey too we have a break (Book 19) between two laughter-filled sections (Books 18 and
182 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

Given the accumulation of similarities between the two texts, it is truly

tempting to assume that Plato is writing with Homer in mind. The Platonic reader
seems encouraged to view the sophists and their audience, but also the Socratics
who mock them, in the position of the Homeric suitors and maidservants, who
laugh in ignorance, failing to realize their upcoming death. A fate practically
equivalent to death seems to await those who yield to the temptation of eristic
laughter: sophists and misled Socratics alike laugh at each other, not realizing
that they are laughing at their very own misfortune, as they steer away from
the true purpose of any engagement in philosophical argument, i. e. the pursuit
of knowledge. But, like the English proverb, he who laughs last laughs best;
and the last to laugh in Homer will be Odysseus, upon his revenge. Socrates,
for his part, prefers the silent laughter of irony.

4.4 The Theme of Laughter in the Framing Scenes

The very first occurrence of a laughter-related word in the Euthydemus is not found
in connection with the sophists, Socrates intended teachers of virtue, but with Con-
nus, his music teacher. When the philosopher expresses his wish to become a stu-
dent of the sophists, Crito reminds him of his age: isnt he rather old for such an un-
dertaking? (272b5 6). The assumption seems to be that an old man might be a less
successful student than a young one. But Socrates responds that he isnt afraid, for
the sophists too acquired their eristic wisdom rather late in life.
This would have been enough of a response to Crito, but the philosopher
continues to add something curious. What he is afraid of is not that he might
be ridiculed himself, but that he might attach (reproach or blame
272c1) to the sophists, as he does to Connus. That is, others might reproach
the brothers for teaching an old man, as they reproach Connus while they
also laugh at Socrates (272c4). Socrates is evidently not prevented by this laugh-

20), just as in the Euthydemus. Moreover, in both works the laughter in the second of the two
sections comes shortly after the intervention of a Ctesippus.
If Socratic irony is a form of laughter and Socrates is indeed quite ironic toward the
sophists in the Euthydemus then why should he reject the explicit laughter of Ctesippus? In
other words, why should Socrates associate Ctesippus mocking attitude with death, if he too
essentially mocks the sophists? The difference is this: Socrates irony aims to alert an inter-
locutor to the possibility of his ignorance; Ctesippus laughter, on the other hand, is a cele-
bration of a personal triumph a triumph, in fact, which is unjustified, because it has not led to
the acquisition of the kind of knowledge that would actually matter to Socrates.
4.4 The Theme of Laughter in the Framing Scenes 183

ter from remaining a student, despite the fact that he is ridiculed in the eyes of
his fellow-students.
Now this seems to contradict Socrates fear of being laughed at by the soph-
ists, who profess to be teachers like Connus, and their own students. There is thus
an indication for the reader already in the introductory scene as to how he or she
ought to read Socrates later comments on laughter in the internal dialogue. Soc-
rates is not truly embarrassed when laughed at. But he assumes the role of the buf-
foon to avoid saying explicitly that the eristic laughter merely reveals arrogant con-
fidence in ones knowledge. In fact the sophists and their students, like the
students of Connus, may laugh at the philosopher as much as they see fit; he
will still not be discouraged from remaining a student, acquiring knowledge
throughout life, and at the same time calling into question the beliefs of others,
especially when these are presented as knowledge to be imparted to students.
The parallel introduced here between Connus and the sophists entails a fur-
ther implication: while others may laugh at Socrates, he potentially has the
power of attaching reproach to his intended teachers the term employed is
. Thus we anticipate that the Socratic response to the sophistic tricks
will be sharp criticism, but not laughter. This accounts for the fact that Ctesippus
and Cleinias laughter toward the end of the final eristic scene is neither en-
dorsed by the philosopher, nor even mentioned in his summary description of
earlier cases of laughter at 303b3 5. The laughter of superiority Socrates con-
demns throughout.
The parallel between Connus and the sophists is picked up again toward the
end of the dialogue: in 295d3 7 Euthydemus attitude reminds Socrates of Con-
nus, who does not like it when his student does not yield to him, and blames
Socrates inability to learn. The real problem, of course, is that the teachers in
each case cannot adequately defend their own positions, and so they get
angry at anyone who, by asking questions, exposes them. By admitting Socrates
in a discussion with them, the sophists, like Connus, run the risk of having him
reveal their intellectual impotence.
Let us turn to the final framing scene. At the end of the internal dialogue
Crito returns to the foreground to speak of a stranger present at the discussion
between Socrates and the sophists, who voices criticism against the philosopher
for engaging in conversation with the two brothers (305a1 4). Crito himself de-
scribes giving advice to Socrates as (304d2), but still mentions that the
stranger considers people engaging in what Crito has termed philosophy to be
(304e6 305a8):
184 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

, A , , . , , ,
; . ,
, . , ,
. , , ,

And I [sc. Crito] said, but philosophy is a graceful thing. My dear fellow, graceful? Hard-
ly, he said. It is of no worth. On the contrary, if you had been present then, I think you
would be very ashamed on behalf of your friend. So strange was he, wishing to make him-
self agreeable to people who do not care at all what they say, and who latch on to every
word. And these people, as I was saying just now, are the very ablest of our contemporaries.
But indeed, Crito, he said, both the thing itself and the men engaging in it are worthless
and laughable.

The conflation of terms in this final scene of the Euthydemus and the question
of what is properly to be called philosophy have already been discussed in
the previous chapter. The focus here is on the unnamed mans use of the
term . This term (or etymologically related ones) Socrates earlier
used of himself, when suggesting that his listeners might laugh at his argu-
ments (e. g. 278d6, 278e4, 279c9 d1, 279d4). It now becomes clear that, in
the eyes of this stranger at least, the arguments of the philosopher par excel-
lence did not appear as laughable for he drew a distinction between Socrates
and the sophists, condemning the former only for associating with the latter
but philosophy did.
The stranger discredits philosophy itself based on the abilities of those who
profess to be its teachers: in this case, the two brothers. The Euthydemus ends
with Socrates response precisely to this criticism: if some teachers, whether Soc-
rates himself or the sophists, are thought by others to be (307b1), it
does not follow that philosophy itself is of no value. This we can now read back
to the internal dialogue: whether the sophists and their followers laugh at Soc-
rates and the Socratics, or the Socratics at the sophists, and whether either side
deserves that or not, philosophy retains its intrinsic value.
The question raised in both the initial and the final framing scenes is essen-
tially the same: who is properly to be laughed at? Does Socrates deserve the
laughter of the students of Connus? Does he and do the sophists deserve the
laughter of the unnamed man? Finally, are the teachers of philosophy or is the
subject itself worthy of ridicule? Socrates answer is that in any case the object
of study does not deserve to be laughed at. Only unqualified teachers ought to
fear reproach, and it remains for the reader to determine who these are. The so-

For the use of with the superlative see Smyth 1089.

4.5 Summary and Interpretation 185

phists and Socrates follow methods which appear similar. But the question
whether they are truly the same, and can both be called philosophy, is left
for the reader to determine.

4.5 Summary and Interpretation

I have tried to show that the Euthydemus is permeated by two interrelated motifs.
On the one hand, various participants in the dialogue laugh at structurally sig-
nificant moments. On the other, there are multiple references to play and its op-
posite, seriousness, with Socrates and the sophists taking turns in their attempts
to identify whether the other party is serious or joking. The interrelation between
the two motifs becomes clear when one notices the progression from the pre-
dominance of the first one to that of the second, and then the return of the
first. Moreover, laughter frames the entire internal dialogue, occurring at its
very beginning and also concluding it.
Let us look more closely. In the beginning of the internal dialogue the phi-
losopher states that the two brothers are men good at war and the law-courts. In
response, the sophists laugh. At the end of the first showpiece of their method,
as presented by Euthydemus, his followers laugh. At the end of the second show-
piece, this time conducted by Dionysodorus, the same men laugh, harder than
before. The tension is escalating. The first Socratic intervention in the internal
dialogue takes place at this point. Socrates tells Cleinias that it has been the
practice of his interlocutors so far to trip him and then laugh at him. He adds
that he fears that they might do the same to him when he speaks. And when
he has reached a critical moment in his argumentation he again expresses
fear that the audience may laugh.
From here on the motif of laughter recedes. It is however replaced by repeat-
ed references to play as opposed to seriousness. In the beginning of the first pro-
treptic scene Socrates says that the sophists earlier played, but will now be se-
rious in their argumentation. But as soon as he has finished speaking,
Dionysodorus asks him if he seriously means what he is saying. In the second
protreptic scene Socrates once again asks the sophists to be serious, underlining
that he himself is very much so. When he fails to answer the philosophical ques-
tion he has posed, he calls himself ridiculous and asks the sophists to pursue it,
emphasizing the seriousness of his attitude. Following up on Socrates question,
Euthydemus claims that everyone knows everything, and Socrates concludes
that the sophist is indeed serious. There is no point in continuing a conversation
which started out as a protreptic to the pursuit of wisdom if the claim is made
186 4 Reversals: Laughter, Play, and Seriousness

that everyone is wise; it is time for Socrates to give up all effort, letting the so-
phists think that they have won the contest.
Now the motif of seriousness and its opposite recedes again, while the motif
predominant in the earlier part of the dialogue returns. But it is no longer the
sophists that laugh, nor their audience. It is rather Ctesippus, followed by Clei-
nias. At the end of the discussion everybody laughs. They laugh so hard they al-
most die, Socrates says. There is a final applause; the performance has come to
an end.
There are two kinds of laughter in the dialogue. One is the actual laughter,
first of the sophists and their followers, then of Ctesippus and Cleinias; the
other is that which Socrates fears for himself, though it never actually takes
place. In the first eristic scene the sophists and their adherents laugh mocking-
ly at the inability of their opponents to maintain their original position in a
given argument; Ctesippus and Cleinias adopt the same mocking attitude in
the final eristic scene. In the second and fourth scenes Socrates presents him-
self as vulnerable to the same sort of reaction that had followed Cleinias de-
feats. Were the laugher he claims to fear for himself substantiated, it would be
an expression of his interlocutors scornful attitude toward the positions he
puts forth in argument.
Much more than fearing ridicule in the eyes of the sophists, Socrates pre-
sents them with a mild warning against what indicates their own lack of serious-
ness in a matter as important as that of moral education. His alleged fear of
disapproval is in fact a denunciation of the sophists, and the motif of laughter
itself no mere literary embellishment but in fact directly related to the philosoph-
ical attitudes of the two parties. The sophists, on the one hand, laugh at their
interlocutors when they refute them. They show no interest in guiding them to-
ward the discovery of the truth which they claim to possess, but instead rejoice at
the utter frustration of their intended students. Socrates approach is directly op-
posed to that. His repeated attempts to check laughter indicate his disapproval of
the sophistic method of discourse, which transforms a discussion aiming at the
discovery of the truth into a contest of power. The motif of laughter is thus em-
ployed as one of the ways in which the philosophical (or pseudo-philosophical)

Socrates adopts the same method elsewhere (e. g. in the Ion), and in so doing he avoids
engaging in direct conflict with his interlocutor. But the audience (and the reader of Plato)
should be in a position to discern the irony and draw his own conclusions.
So also Halliwell (2008) 289.
4.5 Summary and Interpretation 187

approaches of the two parties are juxtaposed. This literary aspect of the dia-
logue serves to enhance its philosophical import.

There is an extensive analysis of laughter in Philebus 47d 50c, in the context of a dis-
cussion of how comedy causes a mixture of pleasure and pain in the soul. The ridiculous is
here defined as the attribute of a man who is both self-ignorant and weak. Comedy causes
laughter at the expense of such a man, which consists in a mixture of pleasure (because laughter
is taken to be an indication of pleasure) and pain (because this laughter involves envy, i. e.
taking pleasure in the misfortune specifically, the self-ignorance of a friend). So laughter in
an unqualified sense is understood as pleasure, but laughter at the misfortune/ self-ignorance of
a friend as envy, which is pain. Now, it is quite interesting that in the Philebus we find an explicit
condemnation of laughter at the expense of a weak person for this is precisely the sort of
laughter the sophists arouse in the Euthydemus. Moreover, it is consistent with the Euthydemus
that this mocking laughter is directed against someone who is specifically self-ignorant; I have
already discussed the connection between laughter and self-ignorance in our dialogue. Further,
the connection between the ridiculous and self-ignorance is also attested elsewhere in the
Philebus: at 19a Protarchus calls upon Philebus to respond to Socrates question instead of him
out of fear that he might appear ridiculous; Socrates question concerns the issue of pleasure
and its kinds, a topic about which Protarchus and Philebus claim to possess knowledge; so if
they are shown to be ignorant on this particular topic, this will essentially amount to self-
ignorance, i. e. thinking that one knows what he in fact does not know; finally, Protarchus
himself speaks of self-ignorance at 20a, when he is forced to admit that he does not have an
answer to Socrates question. For a discussion of laughter and ignorance in Philebus see
Schulthess (2000) 309 318, who argues that, in rejecting comedy, Plato seems to reject attacks
on self-ignorance; but in fact, he continues, Plato deems it permissible to expose the ridiculous
as indicative of ones self-ignorance when one does not actually laugh at it and this is what
Socrates typically does with his interlocutors (p. 317). This view matches the attitude I take
Socrates to adopt in the Euthydemus.
Conclusion: Overall Interpretation
This book set out to provide an interpretation of the Euthydemus as a whole,
showing the importance not only of the protreptic scenes but also of the eristic
and framing ones for a full appreciation of the philosophical theme of the work.
The first two chapters provided an analysis of the internal dialogue: while earlier
scholarship had focused on the differences illustrated in this part of the work be-
tween the Socratics and the sophists, it was here argued that the two parties also
share some significant similarities, both in the content of their arguments and in
their respective methods. The third chapter turned to the framing scenes, show-
ing how they both motivate and comment on the internal dialogue. Finally the
fourth chapter discussed the motifs of laughter and play, demonstrating that
they contribute significantly to the characterization of Socratics and sophists;
in fact, they reinforce the impression gained through the analysis of the argu-
ments about the methods of the two parties. It is now time to provide an overall
interpretation of the dialogue, drawing on both its philosophical and its dramat-
ic aspects: what is the Euthydemus finally about?
The work sets out to answer the following question, posed by Crito at its be-
ginning: in what does the wisdom of the two brothers, Euthydemus and Diony-
sodorus, consist? Socrates claims that, in order to answer fully, he must give an
account of his entire interaction with the sophists. So the internal dialogue is in-
tended to provide that answer. But this it never does in an explicit way: Socrates
never specifies exactly what the sophists teach. Implicitly, however, his narration
reveals a number of things about eristic wisdom: the first eristic scene shows
the brothers feigning concern for the identification of the proper student and the
object of learning, but in fact intimidating their current student and cancelling
out all possible answers to their own questions; in the second eristic scene
they claim that all statements are true, and so no one can refute anyone else
while all they have been shown to do is refute successive interlocutors; finally,
the central claim of the third eristic scene is that everyone knows everything
and so learning appears unnecessary. But if this is the case, the sophists are de-
nying the very possibility or usefulness of the transmission of the knowledge
which they claim to possess and be able to transmit. Moreover, if the illustration
of their method suggests that they teach refutation rather than virtue, they ex-
plicitly deny even the possibility of that. Thus the knowledge of the sophists ap-
pears to lack any particular object.
Now the protreptic scenes sandwiched between the eristic ones also aim to
identify an object of knowledge that of the philosophers and they also fail to
determine it explicitly. Here the epistemological question is connected with an
Conclusion: Overall Interpretation 189

ethical one: the central claim of the protreptic scenes is that knowledge is nec-
essary and sufficient for happiness. This knowledge is acquired through philos-
ophy and transmitted through politics; but the particular sort of knowledge to be
acquired and transmitted is not specified. In this respect, eristic wisdom and
philosophy seem to suffer from the same problem.
Yet the implication is that eristic simply lacks a specific object of knowledge,
whereas philosophy does have one, which, however, requires that the student be
prepared to undergo a longer process of inquiry: the sought-after form of knowl-
edge leading to happiness is implicitly identified as the one that will make the
individual a good man, and this knowledge, it is also implied, comes about
through recollection of the Forms. Moreover, the attitudes of the two parties to-
ward knowledge are radically different: while Socrates does not specify but
only appears in the process of searching for the sort of knowledge leading
to happiness, the sophists do not specify that sort of knowledge either, and
yet they claim omniscience. Philosophers are presented as learners, sophists
as knowers.
But the two parties show certain similarities in method: they both engage in
some sort of conversing or dialectic; they both use fallacious arguments, and
so they can both be viewed as playful; and in the final scene they almost ex-
change roles: the sophists, in a way, speak of Forms and Recollection, while Soc-
rates eventually starts speaking like a sophist; further, Ctesippus imitates the
eristic methods, while Euthydemus starts asking for permission to qualify his
statements. There are also reversals in certain motifs of the dialogue, emphasiz-
ing that roles have been temporarily exchanged between the two groups: in the
early part of the Euthydemus Cleinias blushes, the sophists and their followers
laugh at the Socratics, and the Socratics are reduced to silence; in the later
part of the dialogue Dionysodorus blushes, Ctesippus and Cleinias laugh at
the sophists, and the brothers are reduced to silence. As the practices of Socrat-
ics and sophists almost merge into one, certain audiences are likely to fail to
draw the dividing line between them.
In light of these similarities and role reversals, the repeated allusions to the
Clouds become meaningful: there Socrates was cast as a sophist; here, Socrates
still shares some traits with his philosophical opponents, while the sophists
themselves, at least in the final eristic scene, appear oddly reminiscent of philos-
ophers. The tragicomedy of the Euthydemus responds to the challenge of the
comedy of the Clouds: it both acknowledges the similarities and illustrates the
differences between philosophy and eristic, at the same time underlining the
danger of conflation between them. The Euthydemus shows how similar Socrates
and the sophists may appear, how grotesquely Socratic / Platonic views can be
distorted, and how such distortions can persist through time and lead to unjus-
190 Conclusion: Overall Interpretation

tified accusations of philosophy; it is of course telling that the internal dialogue

ends with Dionysodorus accusing Socrates of impiety, which is clearly evocative
of the actual accusations raised against the historical Socrates.
Now the final framing scene of the Euthydemus comments precisely on this
implication of the internal dialogue, that the similarities between the two meth-
ods can lead to conflation between them. They illustrate how the audience of a
comedy be it the audience of the Aristophanic comedy or the audience of the
comedy that is the internal dialogue can indeed fail to recognize what may
properly be termed philosophy, and what may not. Certain similarities between
Socratics and sophists are undeniable; but the distinction between them is
equally undeniable, and one ought to be able to make it. Yet even Crito hardly
manages. And so the Euthydemus ends with the assignment of this task to
him: he must first determine what philosophy is, before choosing an appropriate
teacher for his son.
Thus the Euthydemus begins with the aim of identifying the wisdom of the
sophists; in the course of the dialogue this is juxtaposed and even conflated
with the (sought-after) wisdom of the philosophers; and the question with
which the dialogue ends concerns the distinction between the two. The Euthyde-
mus is artfully crafted into an organic whole. It ends by raising the same ques-
tion with which it began, and with which the reader, in light of the internal dia-
logue, is invited to engage afresh.
Appendix: The Structure of the Euthydemus
Introductory Framing Scene: 271a1 272d6

Internal Dialogue:

First Eristic Scene 272d7 277c7

First Protreptic Scene 277d1 282e6
Second Eristic Scene 283a1 288b2
Second Protreptic Scene 288b3 293a6
Third Eristic Scene 293a7 303a9

Concluding Framing Scene 303b1 307c4

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Index of Proper Names
Antisthenes 94, 122, 148 149 121 123, 127 128, 131, 143, 146, 156
Archelaus 42 159, 165, 167 169, 171, 173 177, 181,
Aristotle 3, 45, 51 185, 188 190
Axiochus 38, 126 127, 146, 160, 162 Diotima 18, 113 114

Callicles 12 13, 36, 39, 52 53, 60, 145 Heracles 93 94, 101, 106, 109
Cephalus 57, 125 Hydra 93, 101
Chaeredemus 94
Cleinias 5, 9 15, 18, 20 21, 29 31, 35 Iolaus 93 94, 101, 106
38, 41 42, 44 46, 48, 50 57, 60 62, Isocrates 7, 118, 139, 143 153
64 66, 68 74, 77, 79 81, 83 85, 87,
96 98, 102, 106, 111, 119, 126 127, Lysias 87
132 137, 146, 151, 153 162, 164 165,
167 168, 170 171, 173 174, 176 179, Parmenides 74 75, 113, 121
181, 183, 185 186, 189 Patrocles 93
Connus 131, 146, 182 184 Phidippides 95
Crab 93, 101 Philolaus 87
Critias 57, 125 Pindar 137
Crito 2, 5, 7, 10, 35 36, 38, 53, 55 59, Polemarchus 57
61 62, 65 66, 69, 86 87, 89, 111, Polus 42 43, 122, 128
116 117, 125 144, 151 154, 156, 182 Prodicus 144
184, 188, 190 Protagoras 83 84, 86
Critoboulos 36, 38, 126 127, 151 Protarchus 115, 187
Ctesippus 5, 35, 74, 76 81, 83 85, 90 Proteus 143, 170, 181
91, 93 98, 101 103, 106, 112, 120
122, 130 132, 135, 141, 153, 155 156, Sophroniscus 94
168 170, 172 179, 181 183, 186, 189 Strepsiades 95, 132

Dionysodorus 5, 35, 52, 54, 68 74, 76 85, Thrasymachus 13, 174

87 90, 92 103, 105 107, 114, 117,
Greek Works Cited
ARISTOPHANES Hippias Major 87, 105, 125
Clouds 7, 95, 132, 153, 166, 189 Hippias Minor 31, 125
Ion 100, 125, 186
HOMER Laches 125, 167
Odyssey 170, 178, 180 182 Lysis 3, 103, 125, 166 167, 174, 178
Meno 3, 24 26,29 34, 42, 70, 104, 125
ISOCRATES Parmenides 121, 125
Against the Sophists 83, 103, 138, 146 Phaedo 74, 104, 125 126, 140, 180
148, 150 151, 161 Phaedrus 1, 113, 125, 145 146
Antidosis 150 151 Philebus 67, 115 116, 125, 187
Helen 148 149, 151, 164 Protagoras 3, 24, 31, 44, 74, 87, 111,
Letter to Alexander 150 125 126, 144, 147 148, 152 153, 173, 178
Speech to Nicocles 150 Republic 13, 29 30, 34, 44, 48, 51, 55,
57, 62 64, 66 67, 75, 104 105, 112 113,
PLATO 116, 121 122, 125, 130, 163, 174 175, 178
Alcibiades 35, 38, 125, 127 Sophist 45, 54, 67, 74 75, 91, 112, 116,
Apology 12, 22, 40, 123, 129, 153 121 122, 125, 147
Charmides 57, 103, 125, 144 Statesman 52 53, 55, 60, 125, 134
Crito 39, 125 Symposium 1, 9, 18,42, 67, 113 114, 116,
Gorgias 12 13, 29, 36, 39, 42 43, 45, 125 126
52 53, 55, 58, 60, 62 63, 118, 122, 125, Theaetetus 10, 45, 74, 77, 105, 126, 135,
128, 147, 164 138
General Index
agon 71 eudaimonia 1, 5, 14, 52 53, 63, 66, 88,
ambiguity 2, 7, 16, 33, 45 47, 69, 74 78, 123, 134, 136, 144, 150
83, 99, 108, 118, 125, 143, 151, 166, 169 eu prattein 14, 142
analytical approach 3
anamnesis 70, 103 104 fallacy 4, 6, 10 11, 17, 39, 42, 44 45, 67,
aporia 6, 11, 48, 62, 64, 121, 150, 166 167 77, 118 119
assets 5, 10 11, 27 28, 33, 36 37, 39 fallacy of the excluded middle 7, 116, 119
40, 44, 46 50, 59, 64 65, 129 false belief 81 82
audience 5, 71, 125 126, 135 136, 141 false statement 76, 79 82, 108, 122
142, 153, 157 162, 172, 177 178, 180 Form of the Good 64
182, 185 186, 189 190 Forms 24, 31, 45, 54 55, 63, 67 68, 99,
103 105, 107, 109 111, 113, 120 124,
binary opposition 7, 72 74, 97, 102, 112 128, 134, 189
113, 117 framing scenes 2, 5, 7, 125, 155, 182, 184,
blush 87, 157, 173 174, 189 188

comedy 1, 8 9, 91, 95, 132, 152 153, 179, generalship 53 54, 134
187, 189 190 geneticists 2
comic 9, 74, 85, 95, 110, 132, 144, 155 good fortune 10 11, 14 21, 23, 27, 34,
conditional good 27, 36, 40 41, 49 51, 36 37, 41 42, 46 47, 129, 162 163
59, 65
contradiction 2, 79, 82 83, 94, 108, 110 happiness 5 6, 11 12, 14, 16, 19 22, 26
111, 113, 148, 176 28, 30, 34, 36 45, 47 50, 53 54, 56,
conventional good 23, 25 26, 28, 30 31, 58 62, 64 67, 88, 96, 106, 111, 115,
35 37, 41 42, 46 47, 58 59, 61 119, 121 122, 124, 136, 142, 146 147,
courage 12, 22, 24 25, 30, 32 33, 70, 162, 167, 171, 178 179, 189
148 149, 159 160, 167 hunting 53 54, 56, 91, 100, 134

dating of the Euthydemus 29, 33 independent good 38, 59, 61

death 8, 74, 140, 178 182 internal dialogue 5, 9, 98, 102, 105, 119
dependent good 37, 61 120, 125 127, 129 138, 140 143, 145
dialectic 37, 41, 54 55, 81, 99, 121, 123, 147, 150, 152, 155 156, 158, 169, 172
134, 137, 146, 153, 189 174, 179, 183 185, 188, 190 191
doctrine 1 2, 4, 62, 87, 103 irony 4, 7, 14, 56, 95, 129 131, 133, 136,
drama 1, 3, 9 10, 45, 81, 125, 174 141 142, 153, 156, 165 166, 170, 172,
dramatic action 3, 6, 10 175 177, 182, 186
dramatic approach 2 3
justice 1, 12, 22, 24, 30, 32, 43, 118, 122,
education 35 36, 38, 43, 47, 127 128, 148 149
131 132, 145, 151, 168, 186
Eleatic 75 76, 112 kingly art 52, 58, 60, 62 63
elenchus 9, 12, 42 knowledge 6 7, 10 11, 15 19, 21, 23 24,
esoterists 3 26, 28 29, 31 36, 38 39, 43 44,
47 53, 55, 58 67, 70 73, 75, 81, 88
General Index 203

91, 94, 100, 104 106, 108 115, 117, refutation 69 71, 74, 80 84, 89, 92, 95,
119 124, 127 128, 130, 134 135, 140, 101 102, 108, 129, 132 134, 142, 155,
148 149, 167, 171, 178 179, 182 183, 167, 169, 173 174, 188
187 189 rhetoric 36, 52 53, 55, 58, 77, 122, 144, 151

logographer 116, 130, 143 145, 147, 150 silence 47, 80, 84 85, 94, 96, 102, 123,
love 5, 26, 35, 49, 97, 113 115, 127, 166, 137, 174, 189
168 soul 12, 25, 35, 39 40, 53 54, 60 61,
Lyceum 5, 74, 86, 125 126, 132, 156, 177 63 64, 91, 100, 104, 122, 148, 175, 187
speech-writing 52 54, 56, 77, 117, 134,
narrator 7, 70, 90 91, 97, 125 126, 135, 144 145
158 159, 174, 176 statesman 60, 134
non-being 74 75, 109, 112 success 16 17, 19 21, 26 27, 31, 47, 53,
68, 85, 136, 142
omnipotence 128
omniscience 89 96, 101 102, 104, 108 teachability of virtue 29, 31
110, 119, 123, 167, 171 172, 174, 189 techne 51, 62
opinion 15, 33, 61, 75, 108, 112 113, 116, temperance 12, 22, 24, 30, 32
120, 131, 140 Thurii 128, 146 147
tragedy 9
pain 22, 112, 115 116, 187
pancratiast 80, 128 unconditional good 30, 36, 40 41, 46, 59,
pancration 128, 133 65, 178
philosopher-king 55, 63 unnamed man 7, 117 118, 125, 127 128,
philosophy 1 3, 5 12, 26, 36 37, 42, 47 131, 139 145, 147, 151 153, 184
49, 52 53, 56, 59 66, 68, 72 73, 102,
106 107, 110 111, 113, 115 118, 125, virtue 5 6, 9 15, 21 22, 24 25, 27 36,
130, 135 137, 139 146, 149 154, 156, 39 41, 43 44, 46, 48, 52, 60 66, 68,
166 167, 179, 183 185, 189 190 72, 79, 82, 88 89, 100, 102 103, 106,
piety 24 111, 128 129, 131, 133 134, 146 147,
pleasure 115 116, 164, 177, 187 149, 157, 162, 164 165, 168 169, 174,
political art 6, 48, 52, 55 66, 116 118, 182, 188
134, 144 145, 189 virtue as a skill 51, 63
principle of charity 4, 42
properties of the soul 6, 25, 32 33, 44, 46 wisdom 5 6, 9 11, 13 22, 24 44, 46
49, 51, 55, 60 64, 66, 74, 81, 95 96,
recollection 33, 67, 70, 82, 103 104, 107, 99, 106, 108 109, 111 117, 119 121,
109 110, 189 123, 127 133, 138, 140, 142 143, 148
149, 157 158, 160, 162 163, 165, 167
168, 171, 176, 182, 185, 188 190