||| Study Tools |||
Search Port ||| Mail Pages ||| Blog ||| Donations
Do I need to read a lot of books - or even one?
Plato: Books can be your worst enemies
From: Plato, Phaedrus, translated by Benjamin Jowett * Plato Home Page
Soc. And now the play is played out; and of rhetoric enough. Go and tell Lysias that to the fountain and school of the Nymphs we went down, and were bidden by them to convey a message to him and to other composers of speeches-to Homer and other writers of poems, whether set to music or not; and to Solon and others who have composed writings in the form of political discourses which they would term laws-to all of them we are to say that if their compositions are based on knowledge of the truth, and they can defend or prove them, when they are put to the test, by spoken arguments, which leave their writings poor in comparison of them, then they are to be called, not only poets, orators, legislators, but are worthy of a higher name, befitting the serious pursuit of their life.
Phaedr. What name would you assign to them?
Soc. Wise, I may not call them; for that is a great name which belongs to God alone,-lovers of wisdom or philosophers is their modest and befitting title.
Phaedr. Very suitable.
Soc. And he who cannot rise above his own compilations and compositions, which he has been long patching, and piecing, adding some and taking away some, may be justly called poet or speech-maker or law-maker.
Soc. Now go and tell this to your companion.
Phaedr. But there is also a friend of yours who ought not to be forgotten.
Soc. Who is he?
Phaedr. Isocrates the fair:-What message will you send to him, and how shall we describe him?
Soc. Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus; but I am willing to hazard a prophecy concerning him.
Phaedr. What would you prophesy?
Soc. I think that he has a genius which soars above the orations of Lysias, and that his character is cast in a finer mould. My impression of him is that he will marvelously improve as he grows older, and that all former rhetoricians will be as children in comparison of him. And I believe that he will not be satisfied with rhetoric, but that there is in him a divine inspiration which will lead him to things higher still. For he has an element of philosophy in his nature. This is the message of the gods dwelling in this place, and which I will myself deliver to Isocrates, who is my delight; and do you give the other to Lysias, who is yours.
Phaedr. I will; and now as the heat is abated let us depart.
Soc. Should we not offer up a prayer first of all to the local deities?
Phaedr. By all means.
Soc. Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one. May I reckon the wise to be the wealthy, and may I have such a quantity of gold as a temperate man and he only can bear and carry. - Anything more? The prayer, I think, is enough for me.
Phaedr. Ask the same for me, for friends should have all things in common.
Soc. Let us go.
Cf. Knowing Plato * Music or philosophy? * Always singing * Laws of music * Time Reflects Eternity * Plotinus and his Circle * Guthrie, Life of Plato and philosophical influences * Plato Home Page
Cf. Rilke, Letter to a Young Poet | Kierkegaard, My work as an author
Emerson, Self-knowledge | Gibson - McRury, Discovering one's face | Emerson, We differ in art, not in wisdom