Plato and Platonism
by Walter Horatio Pater
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1. Plato and the Doctrine of Motion: 5-26 2. Plato and the Doctrine of Rest: 27-50 3. Plato and the Doctrine of Number: 51-74 4. Plato and Socrates: 75-98 5. Plato and the Sophists: 99-123 6. The Genius of Plato: 124-149 7. The Doctrine of Plato— I. The Theory of Ideas: 150-173 II. Dialectic: 174-196 8. Lacedaemon: 197-234 9. The Republic: 235-266 10. Plato's Aesthetics: 267-283, end


[5] WITH the world of intellectual production, as with that of organic generation, nature makes no sudden starts. Natura nihil facit per saltum; and in the history of philosophy there are no absolute beginnings. Fix where we may the origin of this or that doctrine or idea, the doctrine of "reminiscence," for instance, or of "the perpetual flux," the theory of "induction," or the philosophic view of things generally, the specialist will still be able to find us some earlier anticipation of that doctrine, that mental tendency. The most elementary act of mental analysis takes time to do; the most rudimentary sort of speculative knowledge, abstractions so simple that we can hardly conceive the human mind without them, must grow, and with difficulty. Philosophy itself, mental and moral, has its preparation, its forethoughts, in the poetry that preceded it. A powerful generalisation thrown into some salient phrase, such as [6] that of Heraclitus—"Panta rhei,"+ all things fleet away—may startle a particular age by its novelty, but takes possession only because all along its root was somewhere among the natural though but half- developed instincts of the human mind itself.

Plato has seemed to many to have been scarcely less than the creator of philosophy; and it is an immense advance he makes, from the crude or turbid beginnings of scientific enquiry with the Ionians or the Eleatics, to that wide range of perfectly finished philosophical literature. His encyclopaedic view of the whole domain of knowledge is more than a mere step in a progress. Nothing that went before it, for compass and power and charm, had been really comparable to it. Plato's achievement may well seem an absolutely fresh thing in the morning of the mind's history. Yet in truth the world Plato had entered into was already almost weary of philosophical debate, bewildered by the oppositions of sects, the claims of rival schools. Language and the processes of thought were already become sophisticated, the very air he breathed sickly with off-cast speculative atoms.

In the Timaeus, dealing with the origin of the universe he figures less as the author of a new theory, than as already an eclectic critic of older ones, himself somewhat perplexed by theory and counter-theory. And as we find there a [7] sort of storehouse of all physical theories, so in reading the Parmenides we might think that all metaphysical questions whatever had already passed through the mind of Plato. Some of the results of patient earlier thinkers, even then dead and gone, are of the structure of his philosophy. They are everywhere in it, not as the stray carved corner of some older edifice, to be found here or there amid the new, but rather like minute relics of earlier organic life in the very stone he builds with. The central and most intimate principles of his teaching challenge us to go back beyond them, not merely to his own immediate, somewhat enigmatic master—to Socrates, who survives chiefly in his pages—but to various precedent schools of speculative thought, in Greece, in Ionia, in Italy; beyond these into that age of poetry, in which the first efforts of philosophic apprehension had hardly understood themselves; beyond that unconscious philosophy, again, to certain constitutional tendencies, persuasions, forecasts of the intellect itself, such as had given birth, it would seem, to thoughts akin to Plato's in the older civilisations of India and of Egypt, as they still exercise their authority over ourselves.

The thoughts of Plato, like the language he has to use (we find it so again, in turn, with those predecessors of his, when we pass from him to them) are covered with the traces of previous labour and have had their earlier [8] proprietors. If at times we become aware in reading him of certain anticipations of modern knowledge, we are also quite obviously among the relics of an older, a poetic or half-visionary world. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that in Plato, in spite of his wonderful savour of literary freshness, there is nothing absolutely new: or rather, as in many other very original products of human genius, the seemingly new is old also, a palimpsest, a tapestry of which the actual threads have served before, or like the animal frame itself, every particle of which has already lived and died many times over. Nothing but the life-giving principle of cohesion is new; the new perspective, the resultant complexion, the expressiveness which familiar thoughts attain by novel juxtaposition. In other words, the form is new. But then, in the creation of philosophical literature, as in all other products of art, form, in the full signification of that word, is everything, and the mere matter is nothing.

There are three different ways in which the criticism of philosophic, of all speculative opinion whatever, may be conducted. The doctrines of Plato's Republic, for instance, may be regarded as so much truth or falsehood, to be accepted or rejected as such by the student of to-day. That is the dogmatic method of criticism; judging every product of human thought, however alien [9] or distant from one's self, by its congruity with the assumptions of Bacon or Spinoza, of Mill or Hegel, according to the mental preference of the particular critic. There is, secondly, the more generous, eclectic or syncretic method, which aims at a selection from contending schools of the various grains of truth dispersed among them. It is the method which has prevailed in periods of large reading but with little inceptive force of their own, like that of the Alexandrian Neo-Platonism in the third century, or the Neo- Platonism of Florence in the fifteenth. Its natural defect is in the tendency to misrepresent the true character of the doctrine it professes to explain, that it may harmonise thus the better with the other elements of a pre-conceived system.

Dogmatic and eclectic criticism alike have in our own century, under the influence of Hegel and his predominant theory of the ever-changing "Time-spirit" or Zeit-geist, given way to a third method of criticism, the historic method, which bids us replace the doctrine, or the system, we are busy with, or such an ancient monument of philosophic thought as The Republic, as far as possible in the group of conditions, intellectual, social, material, amid which it was actually produced, if we would really understand it. That ages have their genius as well as the individual; that in every age there is a peculiar ensemble of conditions which determines [10] a common character in every product of that age, in business and art, in fashion and speculation, in religion and manners, in men's very faces; that nothing man has projected from himself is really intelligible except at its own date, and from its proper point of view in the never-resting "secular process"; the solidarity of philosophy, of the intellectual life, with common or general history; that what it behoves the student of philosophic systems to cultivate is the "historic sense": by force of these convictions many a normal, or at first sight abnormal, phase of speculation has found a reasonable meaning for us. As the strangely twisted pine-tree, which would be a freak of nature on an English lawn, is seen, if we replace it, in thought, amid the contending forces of the Alpine torrent that actually shaped its growth, to have been the creature of necessity, of the logic of certain facts; so, beliefs the most fantastic, the "communism" of Plato, for instance, have their natural propriety when duly correlated with those facts, those conditions round about them, of which they are in truth a part.

In the intellectual as in the organic world the given product, its normal or abnormal characteristics, are determined, as people say, by the "environment." The business of the young scholar therefore, in reading Plato, is not to take his side in a controversy, to adopt or refute Plato's opinions, to modify, or make apology for, [11] what may seem erratic or impossible in him; still less, to furnish himself with arguments on behalf of some theory or conviction of his own. His duty is rather to follow intelligently, but with strict indifference, the mental process there, as he might witness a game of skill; better still, as in reading Hamlet or The Divine Comedy, so in reading The Republic, to watch, for its dramatic interest, the spectacle of a powerful, of a sovereign intellect, translating itself, amid a complex group of conditions which can never in the nature of things occur again, at once pliant and resistant to them, into a great literary monument. To put Plato into his natural place, as a result from antecedent and contemporary movements of Greek speculation, of Greek life generally: such is the proper aim of the historic, that is to say, of the really critical study of him.

At the threshold, then, of The Republic of Plato, the historic spirit impresses upon us the fact that some of its leading thoughts are partly derivative from earlier thinkers, of whom we happen to possess independent information. From that brilliant and busy, yet so unconcerned press of early Greek life, one here another there stands aside to make the initial act of conscious philosophic reflexion. It is done with something of the simplicity, the immediate and visible effectiveness, of the visible world in action all around. Among Plato's many intellectual [12] predecessors, on whom in recent years much attention has been bestowed by a host of commentators after the mind of Hegel, three, whose ideas, whose words even, we really find in the very texture of Plato's work, emerge distinctly in close connexion with The Republic: Pythagoras, the dim, half-legendary founder of the philosophy of number and music; Parmenides, "My father Parmenides," the centre of the school of Elea; Heraclitus, thirdly, author of the doctrine of "the Perpetual Flux": three teachers, it must be admitted after all, of whom what knowledge we have is to the utmost degree fragmentary and vague. But then, one way of giving that knowledge greater definiteness is by noting their direct and actual influence in Plato's writings.

Heraclitus, a writer of philosophy in prose, yet of a philosophy which was half poetic figure, half generalised fact, in style crabbed and obscure, but stimulant, invasive, not to be forgotten—he too might be thought, as a writer of prose, one of the "fathers" of Plato. His influence, however, on Plato, though himself a Heraclitean in early life, was by way of antagonism or reaction; Plato's stand against any philosophy of motion becoming, as we say, something of a "fixed idea" with him. Heraclitus of Ephesus (what Ephesus must have been just then is denoted by the fact that it was one of the twelve cities of the Ionian League) died about forty years before [13] Plato was born. Here then at Ephesus, the much frequented centre of the religious life of Ionia, itself so lately emancipated from its tyrants, Heraclitus, of ancient hereditary rank, an aristocrat by birth and temper, amid all the bustle of still undiscredited Greek democracy, had reflected, not to his peace of mind, on the mutable character of political as well as of physical existence; perhaps, early as it was, on the mutability of intellectual systems also, that modes of thought and practice had already been in and out of fashion. Empires certainly had lived and died around; and in Ephesus as elsewhere, the privileged class had gone to the wall. In this era of unrestrained youthfulness, of Greek youthfulness, one of the haughtiest of that class, as being also of nature's aristocracy, and a man of powerful intellectual gifts, Heraclitus, asserts the native liberty of thought at all events; becomes, we might truly say, sickly with "the pale cast" of his philosophical questioning. Amid the irreflective actors in that rapidly moving show, so entirely immersed in it superficial as it is that they have no feeling of themselves, he becomes self-conscious. He reflects; and his reflexion has the characteristic melancholy of youth when it is forced suddenly to bethink itself, and for a moment feels already old, feels the temperature of the world about it sensibly colder. Its very ingenuousness, its sincerity, will make the utterance of what comes [14] to mind just then somewhat shrill or overemphatic.

Yet Heraclitus, thus superbly turning aside from the vulgar to think, so early in the impetuous spring-tide of Greek history, does but reflect after all the aspect of what actually surrounds him, when he cries out—his philosophy was no matter of formal treatise or system, but of harsh, protesting cries—Panta chorei kai ouden menei.+ All things give way: nothing remaineth. There had been enquirers before him of another sort, purely physical enquirers, whose bold, contradictory, seemingly impious guesses how and of what primary elements the world of visible things, the sun, the stars, the brutes, their own souls and bodies, had been composed, were themselves a part of the bold enterprise of that romantic age; a series of intellectual adventures, of a piece with its adventures in unknown lands or upon the sea. The resultant intellectual chaos expressed the very spirit of gifted and sanguine but insubordinate youth (remember, that the word neotes,+ youth, came to mean rashness, insolence!) questioning, deciding, rejecting, on mere rags and tatters of evidence, unbent to discipline, unmethodical, irresponsible. Those opinions too, coming and going, those conjectures as to what under-lay the sensible world, were themselves but fluid elements on the changing surface of existence.

[15] Surface, we say; but was there really anything beneath it? That was what to the majority of his hearers, his readers, Heraclitus, with an eye perhaps on practice, seemed to deny. Perpetual motion, alike in things and in men's thoughts about them,—the sad, self-conscious, philosophy of Heraclitus, like one, knowing beyond his years, in this barely adolescent world which he is so eager to instruct, makes no pretence to be able to restrain that. Was not the very essence of thought itself also such perpetual motion? a baffling transition from the dead past, alive one moment since, to a present, itself deceased in turn ere we can say, It is here? A keen analyst of the facts of nature and mind, a master presumably of all the knowledge that then there was, a vigorous definer of thoughts, he does but refer the superficial movement of all persons and things around him to deeper and still more masterful currents of universal change, stealthily withdrawing the apparently solid earth itself from beneath one's feet. The principle of disintegration, the incoherency of fire or flood (for Heraclitus these are but very lively instances of movements, subtler yet more wasteful still) are inherent in the primary elements alike of matter and of the soul. Legei pou Herakleitos, says Socrates in the Cratylus, hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei.+ But the principle of lapse, of waste, was, in fact, in one's self. "No one has ever passed [16] twice over the same stream." Nay, the passenger himself is without identity. Upon the same stream at the same moment we do, and do not, embark: for we are, and are not: eimen te kai ouk eimen.+ And this rapid change, if it did not make all knowledge impossible, made it wholly relative, of a kind, that is to say, valueless in the judgment of Plato. Man, the individual, at this particular vanishing-point of time and place, becomes "the measure of all things."

To know after what manner (says Socrates, after discussing the question in what proportion names, fleeting names, contribute to our knowledge of things) to know after what manner we must be taught, or discover for ourselves, the things that really are (ta onta)+ is perhaps beyond the measure of your powers and mine. We must even content ourselves with the admission of this, that not from their names, but much rather themselves from themselves, they must be learned and looked for. . . . For consider, Cratylus, a point I oft-times dream on—whether or no we may affirm that what is beautiful and good in itself, and whatever is, respectively, in itself, is something?

Cratylus. To me at least, Socrates, it seems to be something.

Socrates. Let us consider, then, that 'in-itself'; not whether a face, or anything of that kind, is beautiful, and whether all these things seem to flow like water. But, what is beautiful in itself—may we say?—has not this the qualities that define it, always?

Cratylus. It must be so.

Socrates. Can we then, if it is ever passing out below, predicate about it; first, that it is that; next, that it has this or that quality; or must it not be that, even as we speak, it should straightway become some other thing, and go out under on its way, and be no longer as it is? Now, how could that which is never in the same state be a thing at all? . . .

[17] Socrates. Nor, in truth, could it be an object of knowledge to any one; for, even as he who shall know comes upon it, it would become another thing with other qualities; so that it would be no longer matter of knowledge what sort of a thing it is, or in what condition. Now, no form of knowing, methinks, has knowledge of that which it knows to be no-how.

Cratylus. It is as you say.

Socrates. But if, Cratylus, all things change sides, and nothing stays, it is not fitting to say that there is any knowing at all. . . . And the consequence of this argument would be, that there is neither any one to know, nor anything to be known. If, on the other hand, there be always that which knows, and that which is known; and if the Beautiful is, and the Good is, and each one of those things that really are, is, then, to my thinking, those things in no way resemble that moving stream of which we are now speaking. Whether, then, these matters be thus, or in that other way as the followers of Heraclitus affirm and many besides, I fear may be no easy thing to search out. But certainly it is not like a sensible man, committing one's self, and one's own soul, to the rule of names, to serve them, and, with faith in names and those who imposed them, as if one knew something thereby, to maintain (damaging thus the character of that which is, and our own) that there is no sound ring in any one of them, but that all, like earthen pots, let water. Cratylus, 439.+

Yet from certain fragments in which the Logos is already named we may understand that there had been another side to the doctrine of Heraclitus; an attempt on his part, after all, to reduce that world of chaotic mutation to cosmos, to the unity of a reasonable order, by the search for and the notation, if there be such, of an antiphonal rhythm, or logic, which, proceeding uniformly from movement to movement, as in some intricate musical theme, might link together in one those contending, infinitely diverse [18] impulses. It was an act of recognition, even on the part of a philosophy of the inconsecutive, the incoherent, the insane, of that Wisdom which, "reacheth from end to end, sweetly and strongly ordering all things." But if the "weeping philosopher," the first of the pessimists, finds the ground of his melancholy in the sense of universal change, still more must he weep at the dulness of men's ears to that continuous strain of melody throughout it. In truth, what was sympathetic with the hour and the scene in the Heraclitean doctrine, was the boldly aggressive, the paradoxical and negative tendency there, in natural collusion, as it was, with the destructiveness of undisciplined youth; that sense of rapid dissolution, which, according to one's temperament and one's luck in things, might extinguish, or kindle all the more eagerly, an interest in the mere phenomena of existence, of one's so hasty passage through the world.

The theory of the perpetual flux was indeed an apprehension of which the full scope was only to be realised by a later age, in alliance with a larger knowledge of the natural world, a closer observation of the phenomena of mind, than was possible, even for Heraclitus, at that early day. So, the seeds of almost all scientific ideas might seem to have been dimly enfolded in the mind of antiquity; but fecundated, admitted to their full working prerogative, one by one, in after ages, by good favour of the special [19] intellectual conditions belonging to a particular generation, which, on a sudden, finds itself preoccupied by a formula, not so much new, as renovated by new application.

It is in this way that the most modern metaphysical, and the most modern empirical philosophies alike have illustrated emphatically, justified, expanded, the divination (so we may make bold to call it under the new light now thrown upon it) of the ancient theorist of Ephesus. The entire modern theory of "development," in all its various phases, proved or unprovable,—what is it but old Heracliteanism awake once more in a new world, and grown to full proportions?

Panta chorei, panta rhei+—It is the burden of Hegel on the one hand, to whom nature, and art, and polity, and philosophy, aye, and religion too, each in its long historic series, are but so many conscious movements in the secular process of the eternal mind; and on the other hand of Darwin and Darwinism, for which "type" itself properly is not but is only always becoming. The bold paradox of Heraclitus is, in effect, repeated on all sides, as the vital persuasion just now of a cautiously reasoned experience, and, in illustration of the very law of change which it asserts, may itself presently be superseded as a commonplace. Think of all that subtly disguised movement, latens processus, Bacon calls it (again as if by a kind of anticipation) which [20] modern research has detected, measured, hopes to reduce to minuter or ally to still larger currents, in what had seemed most substantial to the naked eye, the inattentive mind. To the "observation and experiment" of the physical enquirer of to-day, the eye and the sun it lives by reveal themselves, after all, as Heraclitus had declared (scarcely serious, he seemed to those around him) as literally in constant extinction and renewal; the sun only going out more gradually than the human eye; the system meanwhile, of which it is the centre, in ceaseless movement nowhither. Our terrestrial planet is in constant increase by meteoric dust, moving to it through endless time out of infinite space. The Alps drift down the rivers into the plains, as still loftier mountains found their level there ages ago. The granite kernel of the earth, it is said, is ever changing in its very substance, its molecular constitution, by the passage through it of electric currents. And the Darwinian theory—that "species," the identifying forms of animal and vegetable life, immutable though they seem now, as of old in the Garden of Eden, are fashioned by slow development, while perhaps millions of years go by: well! every month is adding to its evidence. Nay, the idea of development (that, too, a thing of growth, developed in the progress of reflexion) is at last invading one by one, as the secret of their explanation, all the products of mind, the very [21] mind itself, the abstract reason; our certainty, for instance, that two and two make four. Gradually we have come to think, or to feel, that primary certitude. Political constitutions, again, as we now see so clearly, are "not made," cannot be made, but "grow." Races, laws, arts, have their origins and end, are themselves ripples only on the great river of organic life; and language is changing on our very lips.

In Plato's day, the Heraclitean flux, so deep down in nature itself— the flood, the fire—seemed to have laid hold on man, on the social and moral world, dissolving or disintegrating opinion, first principles, faith, establishing amorphism, so to call it, there also. All along indeed the genius, the good gifts of Greece to the world had had much to do with the mobility of its temperament. Only, when Plato came into potent contact with his countrymen (Pericles, Phidias, Socrates being now gone) in politics, in literature and art, in men's characters, the defect naturally incident to that fine quality had come to have unchecked sway. From the lifeless background of an unprogressive world—Egypt, Syria, frozen Scythia—a world in which the unconscious social aggregate had been everything, the conscious individual, his capacity and rights, almost nothing, the Greek had stepped forth, like the young prince in the fable, to set things going. To the philosophic eye however, [22] about the time when the history of Thucydides leaves off, they might seem to need a regulator, ere the very wheels wore themselves out.

Mobility! We do not think that a necessarily undesirable condition of life, of mind, of the physical world about us. 'Tis the dead things, we may remind ourselves, that after all are most entirely at rest, and might reasonably hold that motion (vicious, fallacious, infectious motion, as Plato inclines to think) covers all that is best worth being. And as for philosophy—mobility, versatility, the habit of thought that can most adequately follow the subtle movement of things, that, surely, were the secret of wisdom, of the true knowledge of them. It means susceptibility, sympathetic intelligence, capacity, in short. It was the spirit of God that moved, moves still, in every form of real power, everywhere. Yet to Plato motion becomes the token of unreality in things, of falsity in our thoughts about them. It is just this principle of mobility, in itself so welcome to all of us, that, with all his contriving care for the future, he desires to withstand. Everywhere he displays himself as an advocate of the immutable. The Republic is a proposal to establish it indefectibly in a very precisely regulated, a very exclusive community, which shall be a refuge for elect souls from an ill-made world.

That four powerful influences made for the political unity of Greece was pointed out by [23] Grote: common blood, common language, a common religious centre, the great games in which all alike communicated. He adds that they failed to make the Greeks one people. Panhellenism was realised for the first time, and then but imperfectly, by Alexander the Great. The centrifugal tendency had ever been too much for the centripetal tendency in them, the progressive elements for the element of order. Their boundless impatience, that passion for novelty noted in them by Saint Paul, had been a matter of radical character. Their varied natural gifts did but concentrate themselves now and then to an effective centre, that they might be dissipated again, towards every side, in daring adventure alike of action and of thought. Variety and novelty of experience, further quickened by a consciousness trained to an equally nimble power of movement, individualism, the capacities, the claim, of the individual, forced into their utmost play by a ready sense and dexterous appliance of opportunity,—herein, certainly, lay at least one half of their vocation in history. The material conformation of Greece, a land of islands and peninsulas, with a range of sea-coast immense as compared with its area, and broken up by repellent lines of mountain this way and that, nursing jealously a little township of three or four thousand souls into an independent type of its own, conspired to the same effect. Independence, local and personal,—it was the Greek ideal!

[24] Yet of one side only of that ideal, as we may see, of the still half-Asiatic rather than the full Hellenic ideal, of the Ionian ideal as conceived by the Athenian people in particular, people of the coast who have the roaming thoughts of sailors, ever ready to float away anywhither amid their walls of wood. And for many of its admirers certainly the whole Greek people has been a people of the sea-coast. In Lacedaemon, however, as Plato and others thought, hostile, inaccessible in its mountain hollow where it had no need of any walls at all, there were resources for that discipline and order which constitute the other ingredient in a true Hellenism, the saving Dorian soul in it. Right away thither, to that solemn old mountain village, now mistress of Greece, he looks often, in depicting the Perfect City, the ideal state. Perfection, in every case, as we may conceive, is attainable only through a certain combination of opposites, Attic aleipha with the Doric oxos;+ and in the Athens of Plato's day, as he saw with acute prevision, those centrifugal forces had come to be ruinously in excess of the centripetal. Its rapid, empiric, constitutional changes, its restless development of political experiment, the subdivisions of party there, the dominance of faction, as we see it, steadily increasing, breeding on itself, in the pages of Thucydides, justify Plato's long-drawn paradox that it is easier to wrestle against many than against one. The soul, [25] moreover, the inward polity of the individual, was the theatre of a similar dissolution; and truly stability of character had never been a prominent feature in Greek life. Think of the end of Pausanias failing in his patriotism, of Themistocles, of Miltiades, the saviours of Greece, actually selling the country they had so dearly bought to its old enemies.

It is something in this way that, for Plato, motion and the philosophy of motion identify themselves with the vicious tendency in things and thought. Change is the irresistible law of our being, says the Philosophy of Motion. Change, he protests, through the power of a true philosophy, shall not be the law of our being; and it is curious to note the way in which, consciously or unconsciously, that philosophic purpose shapes his treatment, even in minute detail, of education, of art, of daily life, his very vocabulary, in which such pleasant or innocent words, as "manifold," "embroidered," "changeful," become the synonyms of what is evil. He, first, notes something like a fixed cycle of political change; but conceives it (being change) as, from the very first, backward towards decadence. The ideal city, again, will not be an art-less place: it is by irresistible influence of art, that he means to shape men anew; by a severely monotonous art however, such art as shall speak to youth, all day long, from year to year, almost exclusively, of the loins girded about.

[26] Stimulus, or correction,—one hardly knows which to ask for first, as more salutary for our own slumbersome, yet so self-willed, northern temperaments. Perhaps all genuine fire, even the Heraclitean fire, has a power for both. "Athens," says Dante,

—Athens, aye and Sparta's state That were in policy so great, And framed the laws of old, How small a place they hold, How poor their art of noble living Shews by thy delicate contriving, Where what October spun November sees outrun! Think in the time thou canst recall, Laws, coinage, customs, places all, How thou hast rearranged, How oft thy members changed! Couldst thou but see thyself aright, And turn thy vision to the light, Thy likeness thou would'st find In some sick man reclined; On couch of down though he be pressed, He seeks and finds not any rest, But turns and turns again, To ease him of his pain. Purgatory: Canto VI: Shadwell's Translation.

Now what Dante says to Florence, contrasting it with Athens and Sparta as he conceives them, Plato might have said to Athens, in contrast with Sparta, with Lacedaemon, at least as he conceived it.


6. +Transliteration: Panta rhei. Translation: "All things give way [or flow]." Plato, Cratylus 402 A, cites Heraclitus' fragment more fully— Legei pou Herakleitos hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei, or "Heracleitus says somewhere that all things give way, and nothing remains." Pater cites the same fragment in The Renaissance, Conclusion. The verb rheo means "flow," while the verb choreo means "give way."

14. +Transliteration: Panta chorei kai ouden menei. Pater's translation: "All things give way: nothing remaineth." Plato, Cratylus 402A.

14. +Transliteration: neotes. Liddell and Scott definition: "youth: also ... youthful spirit, rashness."

15. +Transliteration: Legei pou Herakleitos hoti panta chorei kai ouden menei. Pater's translation in The Renaissance, Conclusion: "[Herakleitos says somewhere that] All things give way; nothing remains." Plato, Cratylus 402a.

16. +Transliteration: eimen te kai ouk eimen. E-text editor's translation: "We are and are not." Heraclitus, Fragments. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 326. Ed. F.W.A. Mullach. Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of the Paris, 1860 edition). In the same fragment, Heraclitus is described as having said, Potamois tois autois embainomen te kai ouk embainomen, which translates as "we go into the same river, and [yet] we do not go into the same river." Plato cites that thought in the passage alluded to above, Cratylus 402a.

16. +Transliteration: ta onta. Definition: "the things that are."

17. +Rather than retain the original's very small print for such quotations, I have indented them throughout Plato and Platonism. As Pater indicates, the source of his quotation is the Cratylus, 439.

19. +Transliteration: Panta chorei, panta rhei. See above, notes for pages 6, 14, 15, and 16. The verb rheo means "flow," while the verb choreo means "give way."

24. +Transliteration: aleipha . . . oxos. Liddell and Scott definition: "unguent, oil . . . sour wine, vinegar."


[27] OVER against that world of flux,

Where nothing is, but all things seem,

it is the vocation of Plato to set up a standard of unchangeable reality, which in its highest theoretic development becomes the world of "eternal and immutable ideas," indefectible outlines of thought, yet also the veritable things of experience: the perfect Justice, for instance, which if even the gods mistake it for perfect Injustice is not moved out of its place; the Beauty which is the same, yesterday, to-day and for ever. In such ideas or ideals, "eternal" as participating in the essential character of the facts they represent to us, we come in contact, as he supposes, with the insoluble, immovable granite beneath and amid the wasting torrent of mere phenomena. And in thus ruling the deliberate aim of his philosophy to be a survey of things sub specie eternitatis, the reception of a kind of absolute and independent knowledge [28] (independent, that is, of time and position, the accidents and peculiar point of view of the receiver) Plato is consciously under the influence of another great master of the Pre- Socratic thought, Parmenides, the centre of the School of Elea.

About half a century before the birth of Plato, Socrates being then in all the impressibility of early manhood, Parmenides, according to the witness of Plato himself—Parmenides at the age of sixty-five—had visited Athens at the great festival of the Panathenaea, in company with Zeno the Eleatic, a characteristic specimen of Greek cleverness, of the acute understanding, personally very attractive. Though forty years old, the reputation this Zeno now enjoyed seems to have been very much the achievement of his youth, and came of a mastery of the sort of paradox youth always delights in. It may be said that no one has ever really answered him; the difficulties with which he played so nicely being really connected with those "antinomies," or contradictions, or inconsistencies, of our thoughts, which more than two thousand years afterwards Kant noted as actually inherent in the mind itself—a certain constitutional weakness or limitation there, in dealing by way of cold-blooded reflexion with the direct presentations of its experience. The "Eleatic Palamedes," Plato calls him, "whose dialectic art causes one and the same thing to appear both like and [29] unlike, one and many, at rest and in motion." Ah! you hear already the sort of words that seem sometimes so barren and unprofitable even in Plato.

It is from extant fragments of a work of his, not a poem, but, appropriately, To Syngramma,+ The Prose, of Zeno, that such knowledge as we have of his doctrine, independently of the Parmenides of Plato, is derived. The active principle of that doctrine then lies in the acuteness with which he unfolds the contradictions which make against the very conceivability of the fundamental phenomena of sense, in so far as those phenomena are supposed to be really existent independently of ourselves. The truth of experience, of a sensible experience, he seems to protest:—Why! sensible experience as such is logically inconceivable. He proved it, or thought, or professed to think, he proved it, in the phenomenon which covers all the most vivid, the seemingly irresistible facts, of such experience. Motion was indeed, as the Heracliteans said, everywhere: was the most incisive of all facts in the realm of supposed sensible fact. Think of the prow of the trireme cleaving the water. For a moment Zeno himself might have seemed but a follower of Heraclitus. He goes beyond him. All is motion: he admits.—Yes: only, motion is (I can show it!) a nonsensical term. Follow it, or rather stay by it, and it transforms itself, agreeably enough for the [30] curious observer, into rest. Motion must be motion in space, of course; from point to point in it,—and again, more closely, from point to point within such interval; and so on, infinitely; 'tis rest there: perpetual motion is perpetual rest:—the hurricane, the falling tower, the deadly arrow from the bow at whose coming you shake there so wretchedly, Zeno's own rapid word-fence—all alike at rest, to the restful eye of the pure reason! The tortoise, the creature that moves most slowly, cannot be overtaken by Achilles, the swiftest of us all; or at least you can give no rational explanation how it comes to be overtaken. Zeno had an armoury of such enigmas. Can a bushel of corn falling make a noise if a single grain makes none? Again, that motion should cease, we find inconceivable: but can you conceive how it should so much as begin? at what point precisely, in the moving body? Ubiquitous, tyrannous, irresistible, as it may seem, motion, with the whole so dazzling world it covers, is— nothing!

Himself so striking an instance of mobile humour in his exposure of the unreality of all movement, Zeno might be taken so far only for a master, or a slave, of paradox; such paradox indeed as is from the very first inherent in every philosophy which (like that of Plato himself, accepting even Zeno as one of its institutors) opposes the seen to the unseen as [31] falsehood to truth. It was the beginning of scholasticism; and the philosophic mind will perhaps never be quite in health, quite sane or natural, again. The objective, unconscious, pleasantly sensuous mind of the Greek, becoming a man, as he thinks, and putting away childish thoughts, is come with Zeno one step towards Aristotle, towards Aquinas, or shall we say into the rude scholasticism of the pedantic Middle Age? And we must have our regrets. There is always something lost in growing up.

The wholesome scepticism of Hume or Mill for instance, the scepticism of the modern world, beset now with insane speculative figments, has been an appeal from the preconceptions of the understanding to the authority of the senses. With the Greeks, whose metaphysic business was then still all to do, the sceptical action of the mind lay rather in the direction of an appeal from the affirmations of sense to the authority of newly-awakened reason. Just then all those real and verbal difficulties which haunt perversely the human mind always, all those unprofitable queries which hang about the notions of matter and time and space, their divisibility and the like, seemed to be stirring together, under the utterance of this brilliant, phenomenally clever, perhaps insolent, young man, his master's favourite. To the work of that grave master, nevertheless—of Parmenides—a very different person certainly from his rattling disciple, Zeno's [32] seemingly so fantastic doctrine was sincerely in service. By its destructive criticism, its dissipation of the very conceivability of the central and most incisive of sensible phenomena, it was a real support to Parmenides in his assertion of the nullity of all that is but phenomenal, leaving open and unoccupied space (emptiness, we might say) to that which really is. That which is, so purely, or absolutely, that it is nothing at all to our mixed powers of apprehension:—Parmenides and the Eleatic School were much occupied with the determination of the thoughts, or of the mere phrases and words, that belong to that.

Motion discredited, motion gone, all was gone that belonged to an outward and concrete experience, thus securing exclusive validity to the sort of knowledge, if knowledge it is to be called, which corresponds to the "Pure Being," that after all is only definable as "Pure Nothing," that colourless, formless, impalpable existence (ousia achromatos, aschematistos, anaphes)+ to use the words of Plato, for whom Parmenides became a sort of inspired voice. Note at times, in reading him, in the closing pages of the fifth book of The Republic for instance, the strange accumulation of terms derivative from the abstract verb "To be." As some more modern metaphysicians have done, even Plato seems to pack such terms together almost by rote. Certainly something of paradox may always be felt even in his [33] exposition of "Being," or perhaps a kind of paralysis of speech—aphasia.+

Parmenides himself had borrowed the thought from another, though he made it his own. Plato, in The Republic, as a critic of Homer, by way of fitting Homer the better for the use of the schoolboys of the ideal city, is ready to sacrifice much of that graceful polytheism in which the Greeks anticipated the dulia of saints and angels in the catholic church. He does this to the advantage of a very abstract, and as it may seem disinterested, certainly an uninteresting, notion of deity, which is in truth:—well! one of the dry sticks of mere "natural theology," as it is called. In this he was but following the first, the original, founder of the Eleatic School, Xenophanes, who in a somewhat scornful spirit had urged on men's attention that, in their prayers and sacrifices to the gods, in all their various thoughts and statements, graceful or hideous, about them, they had only all along with much fallacy been making gods after their own likeness, as horse or dog too, if perchance it cast a glance towards heaven, would after the same manner project thither the likeness of horse or dog: that to think of deity you must think of it as neither here nor there, then nor now; you must away with all limitations of time and space and matter, nay, with the very conditions, the limitation, of thought itself; apparently not [34] observing that to think of it in this way was in reality not to think of it at all:—That in short Being so pure as this is pure Nothing.

In opposition then to the anthropomorphic religious poetry of Homer, Xenophanes elaborates the notion, or rather the abstract or purely verbal definition, of that which really is (to on)+ as inconclusive of all time, and space, and mode; yet so that all which can be identified concretely with mode and space and time is but antithetic to it, as finite to infinite, seeming to being, contingent to necessary, the temporal, in a word, to the eternal. Once for all, in harshest dualism, the only true yet so barren existence is opposed to the world of phenomena—of colour and form and sound and imagination and love, of empirical knowledge. Objects, real objects, as we know, grow in reality towards us in proportion as we define their various qualities. And yet, from another point of view, definition, qualification, is a negative process: it is as if each added quality took from the object we are defining one or more potential qualities. The more definite things become as objects of sensible or other empirical apprehension, the more, it might be said from the logician's point of view, have we denied about them. It might seem that their increasing reality as objects of sense was in direct proportion to the increase of their distance from that perfect Being which is everywhere and at all times in every possible mode of being. A [35] thing visibly white is found as one approaches it to be also smooth to the touch; and this added quality, says the formal logician, does but deprive it of all other possible modes of texture; Omnis determinatio est negatio.+ Vain puerilities! you may exclaim:—with justice. Yet such are the considerations which await the mind that suffers itself to dwell awhile on the abstract formula to which the "rational theology" of Xenophanes leads him. It involved the assertion of an absolute difference between the original and all that is or can be derived from it; that the former annuls, or is exclusive of, the latter, which has in truth no real or legitimate standing-ground as matter of knowledge; that, in opposite yet equally unanswerable senses, at both ends of experience there is— nothing! Of the most concrete object, as of the most abstract, it might be said, that it more properly is not than is.

From Xenophanes, as a critic of the polytheism of the Greek religious poets, that most abstract and arid of formulae, Pure Being, closed in indifferently on every side upon itself, and suspended in the midst of nothing, like a hard transparent crystal ball, as he says; "The Absolute"; "The One"; passed to his fellow-citizen Parmenides, seeking, doubtless in the true spirit of philosophy, for the centre of the universe, of his own experience of it, for some common measure of the experience of all men. To enforce a reasonable unity and order, to impress some larger likeness of reason, [36] as one knows it in one's self, upon the chaotic infinitude of the impressions that reach us from every side, is what all philosophy as such proposes. Kosmos;+ order; reasonable, delightful, order; is a word that became very dear, as we know, to the Greek soul, to what was perhaps most essentially Greek in it, to the Dorian element there. Apollo, the Dorian god, was but its visible consecration. It was what, under his blessing, art superinduced upon the rough stone, the yielding clay, the jarring metallic strings, the common speech of every day. Philosophy, in its turn, with enlarging purpose, would project a similar light of intelligence upon the at first sight somewhat unmeaning world we find actually around us:—project it; or rather discover it, as being really pre-existent there, if one were happy enough to get one's self into the right point of view. To certain fortunate minds the efficacious moment of insight would come, when, with delightful adaptation of means to ends, of the parts to the whole, the entire scene about one, bewildering, unsympathetic, unreasonable, on a superficial view, would put on, for them at least, kosmiotes,+ that so welcome expression of fitness, which it is the business of the fine arts to convey into material things, of the art of discipline to enforce upon the lives of men. The primitive Ionian philosophers had found, or thought they found, such a principle (arche)+ in the force of some omnipresent physical element, [37] air, water, fire; or in some common law, motion, attraction, repulsion; as Plato would find it in an eternally appointed hierarchy of genus and species; as the science of our day embraces it (perhaps after all only in fancy) in the expansion of a large body of observed facts into some all-comprehensive hypothesis, such as "evolution."

For Parmenides, at his early day, himself, as some remnants of his work in that direction bear witness, an acute and curious observer of the concrete and sensible phenomena of nature, that principle of reasonable unity seemed attainable only by a virtual negation, by the obliteration, of all such phenomena. When we have learned as exactly as we can all the curious processes at work in our own bodies or souls, in the stars, in or under the earth, their very definiteness, their limitation, will but make them the more antagonistic to that which alone really is, because it is always and everywhere itself, identical exclusively with itself. Phenomena!—by the force of such arguments as Zeno's, the instructed would make a clean sweep of them, for the establishment, in the resultant void, of the "One," with which it is impossible (para panta legomena)+ in spite of common language, and of what seems common sense, for the "Many"—the hills and cities of Greece, you and me, Parmenides himself, really to co-exist at all. "Parmenides," says one, "had stumbled upon [38] the modern thesis that thought and being are the same."

Something like this—this impossibly abstract doctrine—is what Plato's "father in philosophy" had had to proclaim, in the midst of the busy, brilliant, already complicated life of the recently founded colonial town of Elea. It was like the revelation to Israel in the midst of picturesque idolatries, "The Lord thy God is one Lord";+ only that here it made no claim to touch the affections, or even to warm the imagination. Israel's Greek cousin was to undergo a harder, a more distant and repressive discipline in those matters, to which a peculiarly austere moral beauty, at once self-reliant and submissive, the aesthetic expression of which has a peculiar, an irresistible charm, would in due time correspond.

It was in difficult hexameter verse, in a poem which from himself or from others had received the title—Peri physeos+ (De Natura Rerum) that Parmenides set forth his ideas. From the writings of Clement of Alexandria, and other later writers large in quotation, diligent modern scholarship has collected fragments of it, which afford sufficient independent evidence of his manner of thought, and supplement conveniently Plato's, of course highly subjective, presentment in his Parmenides of what had so deeply influenced him.— [39] "Now come!" (this fragment of Parmenides is in Proclus, who happened to quote it in commenting on the Timaeus of Plato) "Come! do you listen, and take home what I shall tell you: what are the two paths of search after right understanding. The one,

he men hopos estin te kai hos ouk esti me einai?+

"that what is, is; and that what is not, is not"; or, in the Latin of scholasticism, here inaugurated by Parmenides, esse ens: non esse non ens—

peithous esti keleuthos; aletheie gar opedei?+

"this is the path to persuasion, for truth goes along with it. The other—that what is, is not; and by consequence that what is not, is:— I tell you that is the way which goes counter to persuasion:

ten de toi phrazo panapeithea emmen atarpon? oute gar an gnoies to ge me eon ou gar ephikton?+

That which is not, never could you know: there is no way of getting at that; nor could you explain it to another; for Thought and Being are identical."—Famous utterance, yet of so dubious omen!—To gar auto voein estin te kai einai —-idem est enim cogitare et esse. "It is one to me," he proceeds, "at what point I begin; for thither I shall come back over again: tothi gar palin hixomai authis."

Yes, truly! again and again, in an empty circle, we may say; and certainly, with those [40] dry and difficult words in our ears, may think for a moment that philosophic reflexion has already done that delightfully superficial Greek world an ill turn, troubling so early its ingenuous soul; that the European mind, as was said, will never be quite sane again. It has been put on a quest (vain quest it may prove to be) after a kind of knowledge perhaps not properly attainable. Hereafter, in every age, some will be found to start afresh quixotically, through what wastes of words! in search of that true Substance, the One, the Absolute, which to the majority of acute people is after all but zero, and a mere algebraic symbol for nothingness. In themselves, by the way, such search may bring out fine intellectual qualities; and thus, in turn, be of service to those who can profit by the spectacle of an enthusiasm not meant for them; must nevertheless be admitted to have had all along something of disease about it; as indeed to Plato himself the philosophic instinct as such is a form of "mania."

An infectious mania, it might seem,—that strange passion for nonentity, to which the Greek was so oddly liable, to which the human mind generally might be thought to have been constitutionally predisposed; for the doctrine of "The One" had come to the surface before in old Indian dreams of self-annihilation, which had been revived, in the second century after Christ, in the ecstasies (ecstasies of the pure [41] spirit, leaving the body behind it) recommended by the Neo-Platonists; and again, in the Middle Age, as a finer shade of Christian experience, in the mystic doctrines of Eckhart and Tauler concerning that union with God which can only be attained by the literal negation of self, by a kind of moral suicide; of which something also may be found, under the cowl of the monk, in the clear, cold, inaccessible, impossible heights of the book of the Imitation. It presents itself once more, now altogether beyond Christian influence, in the hard and ambitious intellectualism of Spinoza; a doctrine of pure repellent substance—substance "in vacuo," to be lost in which, however, would be the proper consummation of the transitory individual life. Spinoza's own absolutely colourless existence was a practical comment upon it. Descartes; Malebranche, under the monk's cowl again; Leibnitz; Berkeley with his theory of the "Vision of all things in God"; do but present variations on the same theme through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By one and all it is assumed, in the words of Plato, that to be colourless, formless, impalpable is the note of the superior grade of knowledge and existence, evanescing steadily, as one ascends towards that perfect (perhaps not quite attainable) condition of either, which in truth can only be attained by the suppression of all the rule and outline of one's own actual experience and thought.

[42] Something like that certainly there had been already in the doctrine of Parmenides, to whom Plato was so willing to go to school. And in the nineteenth century, as on the one hand the philosophy of motion, of the "perpetual flux," receives its share of verification from that theory of development with which in various forms all modern science is prepossessed; so, on the other hand, the philosophy of rest also, of the perpetual lethargy, the Parmenidean assertion of the exclusive reign of "The One," receives an unlooked-for testimony from the modern physical philosopher, hinting that the phenomena he deals with—matter, organism, consciousness—began in a state of indeterminate, abstract indifference, with a single uneasy start in a sort of eternal sleep, a ripple on the dead, level surface. Increasing indeed for a while in radius and depth, under the force of mechanic law, the world of motion and life is however destined, by force of its own friction, to be restored sooner or later to equilibrium; nay, is already gone back some noticeable degrees (how desirably!) to the primeval indifference, as may be understood by those who can reckon the time it will take for our worn-out planet, surviving all the fret of the humanity it housed for a while, to be drawn into the sun.

But it is of Plato after all we should be thinking; of the comparatively temperate thoughts, the axiomata media, he was able to derive, by a [43] sort of compromise, from the impossible paradox of his ancient master. What was it, among things inevitably manifest on his pages as we read him, that Plato borrowed and kept from the Eleatic School!

Two essential judgments of his philosophy: The opposition of what is, to what appears; and the parallel opposition of knowledge to opinion; (heteron epistemes doxa; eph' hetero ara heteron ti dynamene hekatera auton pephyke? ouk enchorei gnoston kai doxaston tauton einai?)+ and thirdly, to illustrate that opposition, the figurative use, so impressed on thought and speech by Plato that it has come to seem hardly a figure of speech at all but appropriate philosophic language, of the opposition of light to darkness.—

Well, then (Socrates is made to say in the fifth book of The Republic) if what is, is the object of knowledge, would not something other than what is, be the object of opinion?

Yes! something else.

Does opinion then opine what is not; or is it impossible to have even opinion concerning what is not? Consider! does not he who has opinion direct his opinion upon something? or is it impossible, again, to have an opinion, yet an opinion about nothing?


But he who has an opinion has opinion at least about something; hasn't he? Yet after all what is not, is not a thing; but would most properly be denominated nothing.


Now to what is not, we assigned of necessity ignorance: to what is, knowledge.

Rightly: he said.

[44] Neither what is, then, nor what is not, is the object of opinion.


Opinion therefore would be neither ignorance nor knowledge.

It seems not.

Is it, then, beyond these; going beyond knowledge in clearness, beyond ignorance in obscurity?

Neither the one, nor the other.

But, I asked, opinion seems to you (doesn't it?) to be a darker thing than knowledge, yet lighter than ignorance.

Very much so; he answered.

Does it lie within those two?


Opinion, then, would be midway, between these two conditions?

Undoubtedly so.

Now didn't we say in what went before that if anything became apparent such that it is, and is not, at the same time, a thing of that kind would lie between that which is in unmixed clearness, and that which wholly is not; and that there would be, in regard to that, neither knowledge nor ignorance; but, again, a condition revealing itself between ignorance and knowledge?


And now, between these two, what we call 'opinion' has in fact revealed itself.

Clearly so.

It would remain for us therefore, as it seems, to find that which partakes of both—both of Being and Not-being, and which could rightly be called by neither term distinctly; in order that, if it appear, we may in justice determine it to be the object of opinion; assigning the extremes to the extremes, the intermediate to what comes between them.

Or is it not thus?

Thus it is.

These points then being assumed, let him tell me! let him speak and give his answer—that excellent person, who on the one hand thinks there is no Beauty itself, nor any idea of Beauty itself, ever in the same condition in regard to the same things (aei kata tauta hosautos echousan)+ yet, on the other hand, holds [45] that there are the many beautiful objects:—that lover of sight (ho philotheamon)+ who can by no means bear it if any one says that the beautiful is one; the just also; and the rest, after the same way. For good Sir! we shall say, pray tell us, is there any one of these many beautiful things which will not appear ugly (under certain conditions) of the many just or pious actions which will not seem unjust or impious?

No! he answered. Rather it must be that they shall seem, in a manner, both beautiful and ugly; and all the rest you ask of.

Well! The many double things:—Do they seem to be at all less half than double?

Not at all.

And great, in truth, and little, and light, and heavy—will they at all more truly be called by these names which we may give them, than by the opposite names?

No! he said; but each of them will always hold of both.

Every several instance of 'The Many,' then—is it, more truly than it is not, that which one may affirm it to be?

It is like people at supper-parties he said (very Attic supper- parties!) playing on words, and the children's riddle about the eunuch and his fling round the bat—with what, and on what, the riddle says he hit it; for these things also seem to set both ways, and it is not possible, fixedly, to conceive any one of them either to be, or not to be; neither both, nor the one, nor the other.

Have you anything then you can do with them; or anywhere you can place them with fairer effect than in that position between being and the being not? For presumably they will not appear more obscure than what is not, so as not to be, still more; nor more luminous than what is, so as to be, even more than that. We have found then that the many customary notions of the many, about Beauty and the rest are revolved somewhere between not-being and being unmixedly.

So we have.

And agreed, at least, at the outset, that if anything of this sort presented itself, it must be declared matter not of knowledge, but of opinion; to be apprehended by the intermediate faculty; as it wanders unfixed, there, between. Republic, 478.

[46] Many a train of thought, many a turn of expression, only too familiar, some may think, to the reader of Plato, are summarised in that troublesome yet perhaps attractive passage. The influence then of Parmenides on Plato had made him, incurably (shall we say?) a dualist. Only, practically, Plato's richly coloured genius will find a compromise between the One which alone really is, is yet so empty a thought for finite minds; and the Many, which most properly is not, yet presses so closely on eye and ear and heart and fancy and will, at every moment. That which really is (to on)+ the One, if he is really to think about it at all, must admit within it a certain variety of members; and, in effect, for Plato the true Being, the Absolute, the One, does become delightfully multiple, as the world of ideas— appreciable, through years of loving study, more and more clearly, one by one, as the perfectly concrete, mutually adjusted, permanent forms of our veritable experience: the Bravery, for instance, that cannot be confused, not merely with Cowardice, but with Wisdom, or Humility. One after another they emerge again from the dead level, the Parmenidean tabula rasa, with nothing less than the reality of persons face to face with us, of a personal identity. It was as if the firm plastic outlines of the delightful old Greek polytheism had found their way back after all into a repellent monotheism. Prefer as he may in theory that [47] blank white light of the One—its sterile, "formless, colourless, impalpable," eternal identity with itself—the world, and this chiefly is why the world has not forgotten him, will be for him, as he is by no means colour-blind, by no means a colourless place. He will suffer it to come to him, as his pages convey it in turn to us, with the liveliest variety of hue, as in that conspicuously visual emblem of it, the outline of which (essentially characteristic of himself as it seems) he had really borrowed from the old Eleatic teacher who had tried so hard to close the bodily eye that he might the better apprehend the world unseen.—

And now (he writes in the seventh book of The Republic) take for a figure of human nature, as regards education and the lack thereof, some such condition as this. Think you see people as it were in some abode below-ground, like a cave, having its entrance spread out upwards towards the light, broad, across the whole cavern. Suppose them here from childhood; their legs and necks chained; so that there they stay, and can see only what is in front of them, being unable by reason of the chain to move their heads round about: and the light of a fire upon them, blazing from far above, behind their backs: between the fire and the prisoners away up aloft: and see beside it a low wall built along, as with the showmen, in front of the people lie the screens above which they exhibit their wonders.

I see: he said.

See, then, along this low wall, men, bearing vessels of all sorts wrought in stone and wood; and, naturally, some of the bearers talking, other silent.

It is a strange figure you describe: said he: and strange prisoners.—

They are like ourselves: I answered! Republic, 514.

[48] Metaphysical formulae have always their practical equivalents. The ethical alliance of Heraclitus is with the Sophists, and the Cyrenaics or the Epicureans; that of Parmenides, with Socrates, and the Cynics or the Stoics. The Cynic or Stoic ideal of a static calm is as truly the moral or practical equivalent of the Parmenidean doctrine of the One, as the Cyrenaic monochronos hedone+—the pleasure of the ideal now—is the practical equivalent of the doctrine of motion; and, as sometimes happens, what seems hopelessly perverse as a metaphysic for the understanding is found to be realisable enough as one of many phases of our so flexible human feeling. The abstract philosophy of the One might seem indeed to have been translated into the terms of a human will in the rigid, disinterested, renunciant career of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, its mortal coldness. Let me however conclude with a document of the Eleatic temper, nearer in its origin to the age of Plato: an ancient fragment of Cleanthes the Stoic, which has justly stirred the admiration of Stoical minds; though truly, so hard is it not to lapse from those austere heights, the One, the Absolute, has become in it after all, with much varied colour and detail in his relations to concrete things and persons, our father Zeus.

An illustrious athlete; then a mendicant dealer in water-melons; chief pontiff lastly of the sect of the Stoics; Cleanthes, as we see him in anecdote [49] at least, is always a loyal, sometimes a very quaintly loyal, follower of the Parmenidean or Stoic doctrine of detachment from all material things. It was at the most critical points perhaps of such detachment, that somewhere about the year three hundred before Christ, he put together the verses of his famous "Hymn." By its practical indifference, its resignation, its passive submission to the One, the undivided Intelligence, which dia panton phoita+—goes to and fro through all things, the Stoic pontiff is true to the Parmenidean schooling of his flock; yet departs from it also in a measure by a certain expansion of phrase, inevitable, it may be, if one has to speak at all about that chilly abstraction, still more make a hymn to it. He is far from the cold precept of Spinoza, that great re-assertor of the Parmenidean tradition: That whoso loves God truly must not expect to be loved by Him in return. In truth, there are echoes here from many various sources. Ek sou gar genos esmen+:—that is quoted, as you remember, by Saint Paul, so just after all to the pagan world, as its testimony to some deeper Gnosis than its own. Certainly Cleanthes has conceived his abstract monotheism a little more winningly, somewhat better, than dry, pedantic Xenophanes; perhaps because Socrates and Plato have lived meanwhile. You might even fancy what he says an echo from Israel's devout response to the announcement: "The Lord thy God is one Lord." The Greek [50] certainly is come very near to his unknown cousin at Sion in what follows:—

kydist', athanaton, polyonyme, pankrates aiei Zeu, physeos archege, nomou meta panta kybernon, chaire. se gar pantessi themis thnetoisi prosaudan, k.t.l.

Mullach, Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, I. p. 151.

Thou O Zeus art praised above all gods: many are Thy names and Thine is all power for ever.

The beginning of the world was from Thee: and with law Thou rulest over all things.

Unto Thee may all flesh speak: for we are Thy offspring.

Therefore will I raise a hymn unto Thee: and will ever sing of Thy power.

The whole order of the heavens obeyeth Thy word: as it moveth around the earth:

With little and great lights mixed together: how great art Thou, King above all for ever!

Nor is anything done upon earth apart from Thee: nor in the firmament, nor in the seas:

Save that which the wicked do: by their own folly.

But Thine is the skill to set even the crooked straight: what is without fashion is fashioned and the alien akin before Thee.

Thus hast Thou fitted together all things in one: the good with the evil:

That Thy word should be one in all things: abiding for ever.

Let folly be dispersed from our souls: that we may repay Thee the honour, wherewith Thou hast honoured us:

Singing praise of Thy works for ever: as becometh the sons of men.+


29. +Transliteration: To Syngramma. Translation: "The Prose."

32. +Transliteration: ousia achromatos, aschematistos, anaphes. E-text editor's translation: "the colorless, utterly formless, intangible essence." Plato, Phaedrus 247c. See also Appreciations, "Coleridge," where Pater uses the same quotation.

33. +Transliteration: aphasia. Liddell and Scott definition: "speechlessness."

34. +Transliteration: to on. Translation: "that which is."

35. +The principle is that of Baruch Spinoza.

36. +Transliteration: Kosmos. Liddell and Scott definition: "I. 1. order; 2. good order, good behaviour, decency; 3. a set form or order: of states, government; 4. the mode or fashion of a thing; II. an ornament...; III. the world or universe, from its perfect arrangement."

36. +Transliteration: kosmiotes. Liddell and Scott definition: "propriety, decorum, orderly behaviour."

36. +Transliteration: arche. Liddell and Scott definition: "I. beginning, first cause, origin. II. 1. supreme power, sovereignty, dominion; 2. office."

37. +Transliteration: para panta legomena. Pater's translation: "in spite of common language."

38. "The Lord thy God. . . ." Deuteronomy 6:4. "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: . . ." See also Mark 12:29: "And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: . . ."

38. +Transliteration: Peri physeos. E-text editor's translation: "Regarding Nature—i.e. the title De Natura Rerum."

39. +Transliteration: he men hopos estin te kai hos ouk esti me einai. Pater's translation: "that what is, is; and that what is not, is not." Parmenides, Epeon Leipsana [Fragmentary Song or Poem], line 35. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 117. Ed. F.W.A. Mullach. Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of the Paris, 1860 edition).

39. +Transliteration: peithous esti keleuthos; aletheie gar opedei. Pater's translation: "this is the path to persuasion, for truth goes along with it." Parmenides, Epeon Leipsana [Fragmentary Song or Poem], line 36. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118. Although I have left the quotation as Pater renders it, the semicolon should be a comma, as in the Mullach collection Pater used—otherwise the first half of the sentence would be a question, and that is not how Pater himself translates the verse.

39. +Transliteration: ten de toi phrazo panapeithea emmen atarpon; oute gar an gnoies to ge me eon ou gar ephikton. Pater's translation: "I tell you that is the way which goes counter to persuasion: That which is not, never could you know: there is no way of getting at that." Parmenides, Epeon Leipsana, lines 38-9. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

39. +Transliteration: To gar auto voein estin te kai einai. Pater's translation in Latin: "idem est enim cogitare et esse"; in English, that may be translated, "Thinking and being are identical." Parmenides, Epeon Leipsana, line 40. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

39. +Transliteration: tothi gar palin hixomai authis. Pater's translation: "at what point I begin; for thither I shall come back over again." Parmenides, Epeon Leipsana, line 42. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 118.

43. +Transliteration: heteron epistemes doxa; eph' hetero ara heteron ti dynamene hekatera auton pephyke; ouk enchorei gnoston kai doxaston tauton einai. E-text editor's translation: "opinion differs from scientific knowledge...To each of them belongs a different power, so to each falls a different is not possible for knowledge and opinion to be one and the same." Plato, Republic, 478a-b.

44. +Transliteration: aei kata tauta hosautos echousan. Pater's translation: "ever in the same condition in regard to the same things." Plato, Republic 478.

45. +Transliteration: ho philotheamon. Liddell and Scott definition "fond of seeing, fond of spectacles or shows." This word is from the same passage just cited, note for page 44.

46. +Transliteration: to on. Translation: "that which is."

48. Transliteration: monochronos hedone. Pater's definition "the pleasure of the ideal now." The adjective monochronos means, literally, "single or unitary time." See also Marius the Epicurean, Vol. 1, Cyrenaicism, and Vol. 2, Second Thoughts, where Pater quotes the same key Cyrenaic language.

49. +Transliteration: dia panton phoita. E-text editor's translation: "which courses through all things." Cleanthes (300-220 B.C.), Hymn to Zeus, lines 12-13. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151. Ed. F.W.A. Mullach. Darmstadt: Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1967 (reprint of the Paris, 1860 edition). Pater has translated Cleanthes' phrase koinos logos as "undivided Intelligence." The relevant verse reads, "su kateuthynes koinon logon, hos dia panton phoita," which may be translated, "You guide the Universal Thought that courses through all things." But the word logos is multivalent and subject to philosophical nuance, so any translation of it is bound to be limited.

49. +Transliteration: Ek sou gar genos esmen. E-text editor's translation: "For we are born of you." Cleanthes (300-220 B.C.), Hymn to Zeus, line 4. Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151. Pater alludes also to Saint Paul's words in Acts 17:28: "For in him we live, and move, and have our being."

50. +Here Pater provides a somewhat abbreviated translation of the Hymn to Zeus. As above, the Greek is from Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum, Vol. 1, 151.


[51] His devotion to the austere and abstract philosophy of Parmenides, its passivity or indifference, could not repress the opulent genius of Plato, or transform him into a cynic. Another ancient philosopher, Pythagoras, set the frozen waves in motion again, brought back to Plato's recognition all that multiplicity in men's experience to which Heraclitus had borne such emphatic witness; but as rhythm or melody now—in movement truly, but moving as disciplined sound and with the reasonable soul of music in it.

Pythagoras, or the founder of the Pythagorean philosophy, is the third of those earlier masters, who explain the intellectual confirmation of Plato by way of antecedent. What he said, or was believed to have said, is almost everywhere in the very texture of Platonic philosophy, as vera vox, an authority with prescript claim on sympathetic or at least reverent consideration, to be developed generously in the natural growth of Plato's own thoughts.

[52] Nothing remains of his writings: dark statements only, as occasion served, in later authors. Plato himself attributes those doctrines of his not to Pythagoras but to the Pythagoreans. But if no such name had come down to us we might have understood how, in the search for the philosophic unity of experience, a common measure of things, for a cosmical hypothesis, number and the truths of number would come to fill the place occupied by some omnipresent physical element, air, fire, water, in the philosophies of Ionia; by the abstract and exclusive idea of the unity of Being itself in the system of Parmenides. To realise unity in variety, to discover cosmos—an order that shall satisfy one's reasonable soul—below and within apparent chaos: is from first to last the continuous purpose of what we call philosophy. Well! Pythagoras seems to have found that unity of principle (arche)+ in the dominion of number everywhere, the proportion, the harmony, the music, into which number as such expands. Truths of number: the essential laws of measure in time and space:—Yes, these are indeed everywhere in our experience: must, as Kant can explain to us, be an element in anything we are able so much as to conceive at all. And music, covering all it does, for Pythagoras, for Plato and Platonism—music, which though it is of course much besides, is certainly a formal development of purely numerical laws: that too surely is something, [53] independently of ourselves, in the real world without us, like a personal intelligible soul durably resident there for those who bring intelligence of it, of music, with them; to be known on the favourite Platonic principle of like by like (homoion homoio)+ though the incapable or uninstructed ear, in various degrees of dulness, may fail to apprehend it.

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras parted early into dust (that seems strange, if they were ever really written in a book) and antiquity itself knows little directly about his doctrine. Yet Pythagoras is much more than a mere name, a term, for locating as well as may be a philosophical abstraction. Pythagoras, his person, his memory, attracted from the first a kind of fairy-tale of mystic science. The philosophy of number, of music and proportion, came, and has remained, in a cloud of legendary glory; the gradual accumulation of which Porphyry and Iamblichus, the fantastic masters of Neo-Platonism, or Neo-Pythagoreanism, have embodied in their so-called Lives of him, like some antique fable richly embossed with starry wonders. In this spirit there had been much writing about him: that he was a son of Apollo, nay, Apollo himself—the twilight, attempered, Hyperborean Apollo, like the sun in Lapland: that his person gleamed at times with a supernatural brightness: that he had exposed to those who loved him a golden thigh: how Abaris, the minister of that god, [54] had come flying to him on a golden arrow: of his almost impossible journeys: how he was seen, had lectured indeed, in different places at the same time. As he walked on the banks of the Nessus the river had whispered his name: he had been, in the secondary sense, various persons in the course of ages; a courtesan once, for some ancient sin in him; and then a hero, Euphorbus, son of Panthus; could remember very distinctly so recent a matter as the Trojan war, and had recognised in a moment his own old armour, hanging on the wall, above one of his old dead bodies, in the temple of Athene at Argos; showing out all along only by hints and flashes the abysses of divine knowledge within him, sometimes by miracle. For if the philosopher really is all that Pythagoras or the Pythagoreans suppose; if the material world is so perfect a musical instrument, and he knows its theory so well, he might surely give practical and sensible proof of that on occasion, by himself improvising music upon it in direct miracle. And so there, in Porphyry and Iamblichus, the appropriate miracles are.

If the mistaken affection of the disciples of dreamy Neo-Platonic Gnosis at Alexandria, in the third or fourth century of our era, has thus made it impossible to separate later legend from original evidence as to what he was, and said, and how he said it, yet that there was a brilliant, perhaps a showy, personality there, infusing the [55] most abstract truths with what would tell on the fancy, seems more than probable, and, though he would appear really to have had from the first much of mystery or mysticism about him, the thaumaturge of Samos, "whom even the vulgar might follow as a conjuror," must have been very unlike the lonely "weeping" philosopher of Ephesus, or the almost disembodied philosopher of Elea. In the very person and doings of this earliest master of the doctrine of harmony, people saw that philosophy is

Not harsh and crabbed, as dull fools suppose, But musical as is Apollo's lute.

And in turn he abounded in influence on the deeds, the persons, of others, as if he had really carried a magic lute in his hands to charm them.

As his fellow-citizens had all but identified Pythagoras with him, so Apollo remained the peculiar patron of the Pythagoreans; and we may note, in connexion with their influence on Plato, that as Apollo was the chosen ancestral deity, so Pythagoreanism became especially the philosophy, of the severely musical Dorian Greeks. If, as Plato was aware, or fancied, true Spartans knew more of philosophy than they let strangers suppose—turned them all out from time to time and feasted on it in secret, for the strengthening of their souls—it was [56] precisely the Pythagorean philosophy of music, of austere music, mastering, remoulding, men's very bodies, they would then have discussed with one another.

A native of Ionia, it is in one of the Dorian cities of Magna Graecia, at Crotona, that Pythagoras finds the fitting scene of his mysterious influence. He founds there something like an ideal republic, or rather a religious brotherhood, under a rule outwardly expressive of that inward idea of order or harmony, so dear to the Dorian soul, and, for it, as for him, ever the peculiar pledge of the presence of philosophic truth. Aletheian de ametria hegei syngene einai, e emmetria;+ asks one in The Republic; and Emmetria?+ of course, is the answer.

Recalling the student of Plato to penetrate as far as he can into that mysterious community, there, long before, in the imagination of Pythagoras is the first dream of the Perfect City, with all those peculiar ethical sympathies which the Platonic Republic enforces already well defined—the perfect mystic body of the Dorian soul, built, as Plato requires, to the strains of music. As a whole, and in its members severally, it would reproduce and visibly reflect to others that inward order and harmony of which each one was a part. As such, the Pythagorean order (it was itself an "order") expanded and was long maintained in those cities of Magna Graecia which had been the scene of the practical [57] no less than of the speculative activity of its founder; and in one of which, Metapontum, so late as the days of Cicero what was believed to be the tomb of Pythagoras was still shown. Order, harmony, the temperance, which, as Plato will explain to us, will convince us by the visible presentment of it in the faultless person of the youthful Charmides, is like a musical harmony,—that was the chief thing Pythagoras exacted from his followers, at least at first, though they were mainly of the noble and wealthy class who could have done what they liked—temperance in a religious intention, with many singular scruples concerning bodily purification, diet, and the like. For if, according to his philosophy, the soul had come from heaven, to use the phrase of Wordsworth reproducing the central Pythagorean doctrine, "from heaven," as he says, "trailing clouds of glory," so the arguments of Pythagoras were always more or less explicitly involving one in consideration of the means by which one might get back thither, of which means, surely, abstinence, the repression of one's carnal elements, must be one; in consideration also, in curious questions, as to the relationship of those carnal elements in us to the pilgrim soul, before and after, for which he was so anxious to secure full use of all the opportunities of further perfecting which might yet await it, in the many revolutions of its existence. In the midst of that aesthetically [58] so brilliant world of Greater Greece, as if anticipating Plato, he has, like the philosophic kings of the Platonic Republic, already something of the monk, of monastic ascesis, about him. Its purpose is to fit him for, duly to refine his nature towards, that closer vision of truth to which perchance he may be even now upon his way. The secrecy again, that characteristic silence of which the philosopher of music was, perhaps not inconsistently, a lover, which enveloped the entire action of the Pythagoreans, and had indeed kept Pythagoras himself, as some have thought, from committing his thoughts to writing at all, was congruous with such monkish discipline. Mysticism—the condition of the initiated—is a word derived, as we know, from a Greek verb which may perhaps mean to close the eye that one may better perceive the invisible, but more probably means to close the lips while the soul is brooding over what cannot be uttered. Later Christian admirers said of him, that he had hidden the words of God in his heart.

The dust of his golden verses perhaps, but certainly the gold-dust of his thoughts, lies scattered all along Greek literature from Plato to the latest of the Greek Fathers of the Church. You may find it serviceably worked out in the notes of Zeller's excellent work on Greek philosophy, and, with more sparing comment, in Mullach's Fragmenta Philosophorum Graecorum. No one of those Pre-Socratic philosophers has [59] been the subject of a more enthusiastic erudition. For his mind's health however, if in doing so he is not making a disproportionate use of his time, inconsistent certainly with the essential temper of the doctrine he seeks for, and such as a true Pythagorean would instantly condemn, the young scholar might be recommended to go straight to the pages of Aristotle—those discreet, unromantic pages, salutary therefore to listen to, concerning doctrines in themselves so fantastic.* In the Ethics, as you may know, in the Metaphysics, and elsewhere, Aristotle gives many not unsympathetic notices at least of the disciples, which, by way of sober contrast on a matter from the first profusely, perhaps cheaply, embroidered, is like quiet information from Pythagoras himself. Only, remember always in reading Plato—Plato, as a sincere learner in the school of Pythagoras—that the essence, the active principle of the Pythagorean doctrine, resides, not as with the ancient Eleatics, nor as with our modern selves too often, in the "infinite," those eternities, infinitudes, abysses, Carlyle invokes for us so often—in no cultus of the infinite (to apeiron) but in the finite (to peras).+ It is so indeed, with that exception of the Parmenidean sect, through all Greek philosophy, congruously with the proper vocation of the [60] people of art, of art as being itself the finite, ever controlling the infinite, the formless. Those famous systoichiai ton enantion,+ or parallel columns of contraries: the One and the Many: Odd and Even, and the like: Good and Evil: are indeed all reducible ultimately to terms of art, as the expressive and the inexpressive. Now observe that Plato's "theory of ideas" is but an effort to enforce the Pythagorean peras,+ with all the unity-in-variety of concerted music,—eternal definition of the finite, upon to apeiron,+ the infinite, the indefinite, formless, brute matter, of our experience of the world.

For it is of Plato again we should be thinking, and of Pythagoras or the Pythagoreans, only so far as they explain the actual conformation of Plato's thoughts as we find them, especially in The Republic. Let us see, as much as possible in his own words, what Plato received from that older philosophy, of which the two leading persuasions were; first, the universality, the ultimate truth, of numerical, of musical law; and secondly, the pre-existence, the double eternity, of the soul.

In spirit, then, we are certainly of the Pythagorean company in that most characteristic dialogue, the Meno, in which Plato discusses the nature, the true idea, of Virtue, or rather how one may attain thereto; compelled to this subordinate and accessory question by the intellectual [61] cowardice of his disciple, though after his manner he flashes irrepressible light on that other primary and really indispensable question by the way. Pythagoras, who had founded his famous brotherhood by way of turning theory into practice, must have had, of course, definite views on that most practical question, how virtue is to be attained by us; and Plato is certainly faithful to him in assigning the causation of virtue partly to discipline, forming habit (askesis)+ as enforced on the monk, the soldier, the schoolboy, as he is true to his own experience in assigning it partly also to a good natural disposition (physei)+ and he suggests afterwards, as I suppose some of us would be ready to do, that virtue is due also in part (theia moira)+ to the good pleasure of heaven, to un-merited grace. Whatever else, however, may be held about it, it is certain (he admits) that virtue comes in great measure through learning. But is there in very deed such a thing as learning? asks the eristic Meno, who is so youthfully fond of argument for its own sake, and must exercise by display his already well-trained intellectual muscle. Is not that favourite, that characteristic, Greek paradox, that it is impossible to be taught, and therefore useless to seek, what one does not know already, after all the expression of an empirical truth?—

Meno. After what manner Socrates will you seek for that which you do not know at all—what it is? For what sort of thing, among the things you know not, will you propose as your [62] object of search? Or even if you should have lighted full upon it, how will you know that it is this thing which you knew not?

Socrates. Ah! I understand the kind of thing you mean to say, Meno. Do you see what a contentious argument this is you are bringing down on our heads?—that forsooth it is not possible for a man to seek either for what he knows, or for what he knows not; inasmuch as he would not seek what he knows, at least; because he knows it, and to one in such case there is no need of seeking. Nor would he seek after what he knows not; for he knows not what he shall seek for. Meno, 80.

Well! that is true in a sense, as Socrates admits; not however in any sense which encourages idle acquiescence in what according to common language is our ignorance. There is a sense (it is exemplified in regard to sound and colour, perhaps in some far more important things) in which it is matter of experience that it is impossible to seek for, or be taught, what one does not know already. He who is in total ignorance of musical notes, who has no ear, will certainly be unaware of them when they light on him, or he lights upon them. Where could one begin? we ask, in certain cases where not to know at all means incapacity for receiving knowledge. Yes, certainly; the Pythagoreans are right in saying that what we call learning is in fact reminiscence- -: anamnesis + famous word! and Socrates proceeds to show in what precise way it is impossible or possible to find out what you don't know: how that happens. In full use of the dialogue, as itself the instrument most [63] fit for him of whatever what we call teaching and learning may really be, Plato, dramatic always, brings in one of Meno's slaves, a boy who speaks Greek nicely, but knows nothing of geometry: introduces him, we may fancy, into a mathematical lecture-room where diagrams are to be seen on the walls, cubes and the like lying on the table—particular objects, the mere sight of which will rouse him when subjected to the dialectical treatment, to universal truths concerning them. The problem required of him is to describe a square of a particular size: to find the line which must be the side of such a square; and he is to find it for himself. Meno, carefully on his guard, is to watch whether the boy is taught by Socrates in any of his answers; whether he answers anything at any point otherwise than by way of reminiscence and really out of his own mind, as the reasonable questions of Socrates fall like water on the seed-ground, or like sunlight on the photographer's negative.

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