PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
SCENE: Under a plane-tree, by the
banks of the Ilissus.
SOCRATES: My dear Phaedrus,
whence come you, and whither are you going?
PHAEDRUS: I come from Lysias the
son of Cephalus, and I am going to take a walk outside the wall,
for I have been sitting with him the whole morning; and our common
friend Acumenus tells me that it is much more refreshing to walk in
the open air than to be shut up in a cloister.
SOCRATES: There he is right.
Lysias then, I suppose, was in the town?
PHAEDRUS: Yes, he was staying
with Epicrates, here at the house of Morychus; that house which is
near the temple of Olympian Zeus.
SOCRATES: And how did he
entertain you? Can I be wrong in supposing that Lysias gave you a
feast of discourse?
PHAEDRUS: You shall hear, if you
can spare time to accompany me.
SOCRATES: And should I not deem
the conversation of you and Lysias 'a thing of higher import,' as I
may say in the words of Pindar, 'than any business'?
PHAEDRUS: Will you go on?
SOCRATES: And will you go on with
PHAEDRUS: My tale, Socrates, is
one of your sort, for love was the theme which occupied us—love
after a fashion: Lysias has been writing about a fair youth who was
being tempted, but not by a lover; and this was the point: he
ingeniously proved that the non-lover should be accepted rather
than the lover.
SOCRATES: O that is noble of him!
I wish that he would say the poor man rather than the rich, and the
old man rather than the young one;—then he would meet the case of
me and of many a man; his words would be quite refreshing, and he
would be a public benefactor. For my part, I do so long to hear his
speech, that if you walk all the way to Megara, and when you have
reached the wall come back, as Herodicus recommends, without going
in, I will keep you company.
PHAEDRUS: What do you mean, my
good Socrates? How can you imagine that my unpractised memory can
do justice to an elaborate work, which the greatest rhetorician of
the age spent a long time in composing. Indeed, I cannot; I would
give a great deal if I could.
SOCRATES: I believe that I know
Phaedrus about as well as I know myself, and I am very sure that
the speech of Lysias was repeated to him, not once only, but again
and again;—he insisted on hearing it many times over and Lysias was
very willing to gratify him; at last, when nothing else would do,
he got hold of the book, and looked at what he most wanted to
see,—this occupied him during the whole morning;—and then when he
was tired with sitting, he went out to take a walk, not until, by
the dog, as I believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire
discourse, unless it was unusually long, and he went to a place
outside the wall that he might practise his lesson. There he saw a
certain lover of discourse who had a similar weakness;—he saw and
rejoiced; now thought he, 'I shall have a partner in my revels.'
And he invited him to come and walk with him. But when the lover of
discourse begged that he would repeat the tale, he gave himself
airs and said, 'No I cannot,' as if he were indisposed; although,
if the hearer had refused, he would sooner or later have been
compelled by him to listen whether he would or no. Therefore,
Phaedrus, bid him do at once what he will soon do whether bidden or
PHAEDRUS: I see that you will not
let me off until I speak in some fashion or other; verily therefore
my best plan is to speak as I best can.
SOCRATES: A very true remark,
that of yours.
PHAEDRUS: I will do as I say; but
believe me, Socrates, I did not learn the very words—O no;
nevertheless I have a general notion of what he said, and will give
you a summary of the points in which the lover differed from the
non-lover. Let me begin at the beginning.
SOCRATES: Yes, my sweet one; but
you must first of all show what you have in your left hand under
your cloak, for that roll, as I suspect, is the actual discourse.
Now, much as I love you, I would not have you suppose that I am
going to have your memory exercised at my expense, if you have
Lysias himself here.
PHAEDRUS: Enough; I see that I
have no hope of practising my art upon you. But if I am to read,
where would you please to sit?
SOCRATES: Let us turn aside and
go by the Ilissus; we will sit down at some quiet spot.
PHAEDRUS: I am fortunate in not
having my sandals, and as you never have any, I think that we may
go along the brook and cool our feet in the water; this will be the
easiest way, and at midday and in the summer is far from being
SOCRATES: Lead on, and look out
for a place in which we can sit down.
PHAEDRUS: Do you see the tallest
plane-tree in the distance?
PHAEDRUS: There are shade and
gentle breezes, and grass on which we may either sit or lie
SOCRATES: Move forward.
PHAEDRUS: I should like to know,
Socrates, whether the place is not somewhere here at which Boreas
is said to have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the
SOCRATES: Such is the
PHAEDRUS: And is this the exact
spot? The little stream is delightfully clear and bright; I can
fancy that there might be maidens playing near.
SOCRATES: I believe that the spot
is not exactly here, but about a quarter of a mile lower down,
where you cross to the temple of Artemis, and there is, I think,
some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.
PHAEDRUS: I have never noticed
it; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this
SOCRATES: The wise are doubtful,
and I should not be singular if, like them, I too doubted. I might
have a rational explanation that Orithyia was playing with
Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring
rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have
been carried away by Boreas. There is a discrepancy, however, about
the locality; according to another version of the story she was
taken from Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite
acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to
be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be
required of him; and when he has once begun, he must go on and
rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged
steeds flow in apace, and numberless other inconceivable and
portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would
fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability,
this sort of crude philosophy will take up a great deal of time.
Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I
must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be
curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in
ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous. And therefore I bid
farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me. For, as
I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself: am I
a monster more complicated and swollen with passion than the
serpent Typho, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom
Nature has given a diviner and lowlier destiny? But let me ask you,
friend: have we not reached the plane-tree to which you were
PHAEDRUS: Yes, this is the
SOCRATES: By Here, a fair
resting-place, full of summer sounds and scents. Here is this lofty
and spreading plane-tree, and the agnus castus high and clustering,
in the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance; and the stream
which flows beneath the plane-tree is deliciously cold to the feet.
Judging from the ornaments and images, this must be a spot sacred
to Achelous and the Nymphs. How delightful is the breeze:—so very
sweet; and there is a sound in the air shrill and summerlike which
makes answer to the chorus of the cicadae. But the greatest charm
of all is the grass, like a pillow gently sloping to the head. My
dear Phaedrus, you have been an admirable guide.
PHAEDRUS: What an
incomprehensible being you are, Socrates: when you are in the
country, as you say, you really are like some stranger who is led
about by a guide. Do you ever cross the border? I rather think that
you never venture even outside the gates.
SOCRATES: Very true, my good
friend; and I hope that you will excuse me when you hear the
reason, which is, that I am a lover of knowledge, and the men who
dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the
country. Though I do indeed believe that you have found a spell
with which to draw me out of the city into the country, like a
hungry cow before whom a bough or a bunch of fruit is waved. For
only hold up before me in like manner a book, and you may lead me
all round Attica, and over the wide world. And now having arrived,
I intend to lie down, and do you choose any posture in which you
can read best. Begin.