translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: SOCRATES, HERMOGENES, CRATYLUS
Hermogenes . Suppose that we make Socrates a party to the argument?
Cratylus . If you please.
Her. I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend Cratylus has
been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not
conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use;
but that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same
for Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his own
name of Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers "Yes." And
Socrates? "Yes." Then every man's name, as I tell him, is that which
he is called. To this he replies- "If all the world were to call you
Hermogenes, that would not be your name." And when I am anxious to
have a further explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to
imply that he has a notion of his own about the matter, if he would
only tell, and could entirely convince me, if he chose to be
intelligible. Tell me, Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather
tell me, if you will be so good, what is your own view of the truth or
correctness of names, which I would far sooner hear.
Socrates. Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that
"hard is the knowledge of the good." And the knowledge of names is a
great part of knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard
the fifty-drachma course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete
education in grammar and language- these are his own words- and then I
should have been at once able to answer your question about the
correctness of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the
single-drachma course, and therefore, I do not know the truth about
such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the
investigation of them. When he declares that your name is not really
Hermogenes, I suspect that he is only making fun of you;- he means
to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always
looking after a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there
is a good deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and
therefore we had better leave the question open until we have heard
Her. I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus and
others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name
which you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change
that and give another, the new name is as correct as the old- we
frequently change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed
name is as good as the old: for there is no name given to anything
by nature; all is convention and habit of the users;- such is my view.
But if I am mistaken I shall be happy to hear and learn of Cratylus,
or of any one else.
Soc. I dare say that you be right, Hermogenes : let us see;- Your
meaning is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody
agrees to call it?
Her. That is my notion.
Soc. Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?
Her . Yes .
Soc. Well, now, let me take an instance;- suppose that I call a
man a horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be
rightly called a horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by
the rest of the world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man
by me and a horse by the world:- that is your meaning?
Her. He would, according to my view.
Soc. But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there
is in words a true and a false?
Soc. And there are true and false propositions?
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And a true proposition says that which is, and a false
proposition says that which is not?
Her. Yes; what other answer is possible?
Soc. Then in a proposition there is a true and false?
Soc. But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts
Her. No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
Soc. Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or
Her. I should say that every part is true.
Soc. Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?
Her. No; that is the smallest.
Soc. Then the name is a part of the true proposition?
Her . Yes .
Soc. Yes, and a true part, as you say.
Her . Yes .
Soc. And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?
Her . Yes .
Soc. Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may be
true and false?
Her. So we must infer.
Soc. And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be
Her . Yes .
Soc. And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody says
that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering
Her. Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other
than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities
and countries there are different names for the same things;
Hellenes differ from barbarians in their use of names, and the several
Hellenic tribes from one another.
Soc. But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ as the
names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras
tells us? For he says that man is the measure of all things, and
that things are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you
as they appear to you. Do you agree with him, or would you say that
things have a permanent essence of their own?
Her. There have been times, Socrates, when I have been driven in
my perplexity to take refuge with Protagoras; not that I agree with
him at all .
Soc. What! have you ever been driven to admit that there was no such
thing as a bad man?
Her. No, indeed; but I have often had reason to think that there are
very bad men, and a good many of them.
Soc. Well, and have you ever found any very good ones?
Her. Not many.
Soc. Still you have found them?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And would you hold that the very good were the very wise, and
the very evil very foolish? Would that be your view?
Her. It would.
Soc. But if Protagoras is right, and the truth is that things are as
they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of us
Soc. And if, on the other hand, wisdom and folly are really
distinguishable, you will allow, I think, that the assertion of
Protagoras can hardly be correct. For if what appears to each man is
true to him, one man cannot in reality be wiser than another.
Her. He cannot.
Soc. Nor will you be disposed to say with Euthydemus, that all
things equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for
neither on his view can there be some good and other bad, if virtue
and vice are always equally to be attributed to all.
Her. There cannot.
Soc. But if neither is right, and things are not relative to
individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same
moment and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper
and permanent essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced
by us, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent,
and maintain to their own essence the relation prescribed by nature.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.
Soc. Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves, or
equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also a
class of being?
Her. Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.
Soc. Then the actions also are done according to their proper
nature, and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for
example, we do not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument;
but we cut with the proper instrument only, and according to the
natural process of cutting; and the natural process is right and
will succeed, but any other will fail and be of no use at all.
Her. I should say that the natural way is the right way.
Soc. Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but the
right way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural
Soc. And this holds good of all actions?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And speech is a kind of action?
Soc. And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases? Will
not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural
way of speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the
natural instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error
Her. I quite agree with you.
Soc. And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men
Her. That is true.
Soc. And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to acts,
is not naming also a sort of action?
Soc. And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had
a special nature of their own?
Soc. Then the argument would lead us to infer that names ought to be
given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument,
and not at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with
Her. I agree.
Soc. But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with
Her . Yes .
Soc. And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or
pierced with something?
Soc. And that which has to be named has to be named with something?
Soc. What is that with which we pierce?
Her . An awl .
Soc. And with which we weave?
Her. A shuttle.
Soc. And with which we name?
Her. A name.
Soc. Very good: then a name is an instrument?
Soc. Suppose that I ask, "What sort of instrument is a shuttle?" And
you answer, "A weaving instrument."
Her . Well .
Soc. And I ask again, "What do we do when we weave?"- The answer is,
that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And may not a similar description be given of an awl, and of
instruments in general?
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names: will
you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do when
Her. I cannot say.
Soc. Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish
things according to their natures?
Her. Certainly we do.
Soc. Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of
distinguishing natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the
threads of the web.
Her . Yes .
Soc. And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?
Soc. Then the weaver will use the shuttle well- and well means
like a weaver? and the teacher will use the name well- and well
means like a teacher?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will he be
Her. That of the carpenter.
Soc. And is every man a carpenter, or the skilled only?
Her. Only the skilled.
Soc. And when the piercer uses the awl, whose work will he be
Her. That of the smith.
Soc. And is every man a smith, or only the skilled?
Her. The skilled only.
Soc. And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will he be
Her. There again I am puzzled.
Soc. Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?
Her. Indeed I cannot.
Soc. Does not the law seem to you to give us them?
Her. Yes, I suppose so.
Soc. Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the work of the
Her. I agree.
Soc. And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?
Her. The skilled only.
Soc. Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to give a name, but
only a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all
skilled artisans in the world is the rarest.
Soc. And how does the legislator make names? and to what does he
look? Consider this in the light of the previous instances: to what
does the carpenter look in making the shuttle? Does he not look to
that which is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?
Soc. And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will he make
another, looking to the broken one? or will he look to the form
according to which he made the other?
Her. To the latter, I should imagine.
Soc. Might not that be justly called the true or ideal shuttle?
Her. I think so.
SOC. And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture of
garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material,
ought all of them to have the true form of the shuttle; and whatever
is the shuttle best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the
form which the maker produces in each case.
Her . Yes .
Soc. And the same holds of other instruments: when a man has
discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work,
he must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in
the material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he
ought to know how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature
to their several uses?
Soc. And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature to
Soc. For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the
several kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.
Her . Yes .
Soc. Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also to know how to
put the true natural names of each thing into sounds and syllables and
to make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is
to be a namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different
legislators will not use the same syllables. For neither does every
smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same
purpose, make them all of the same iron. The form must be the same,
but the material may vary, and still the instrument may be equally
good of whatever iron made, whether in Hellas or in a foreign
country;- there is no difference.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian, is
not therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he
gives the true and proper form of the name in whatever syllables; this
or that country makes no matter.
Her. Quite true.
Soc. But who then is to determine whether the proper form is given
to the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used? the carpenter who
makes, or the weaver who is to use them?
Her. I should say, he who is to use them, Socrates.
Soc. And who uses the work of the lyremaker? Will not he be the
man who knows how to direct what is being done, and who will know also
whether the work is being well done or not?
Soc. And who is he?
Her. The player of the lyre.
Soc. And who will direct the shipwright?
Her. The pilot.
Soc. And who will be best able to direct the legislator in his work,
and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other
country? Will not the user be the man?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And this is he who knows how to ask questions?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And how to answer them?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call a
Her. Yes; that would be his name.
Soc. Then the work of the carpenter is to make a rudder, and the
pilot has to direct him, if the rudder is to be well made.
Soc. And the work of the legislator is to give names, and the
dialectician must be his director if the names are to be rightly
Her. That is true.
Soc. Then, Hermogenes, I should say that this giving of names can be
no such light matter as you fancy, or the work of light or chance
persons; and Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by
nature, and that not every man is an artificer of names, but he only
who looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is able to
express the true forms of things in letters and syllables.
Her. I cannot answer you, Socrates; but I find a difficulty in
changing my opinion all in a moment, and I think that I should be more
readily persuaded, if you would show me what this is which you term
the natural fitness of names.
Soc. My good Hermogenes, I have none to show. Was I not telling
you just now (but you have forgotten), that I knew nothing, and
proposing to share the enquiry with you? But now that you and I have
talked over the matter, a step has been gained; for we have discovered
that names have by nature a truth, and that not every man knows how to
give a thing a name.
Her. Very good.
Soc. And what is the nature of this truth or correctness of names?
That, if you care to know, is the next question.
Her. Certainly, I care to know.
Soc. Then reflect.
Her. How shall I reflect?
Soc. The true way is to have the assistance of those who know, and
you must pay them well both in money and in thanks; these are the
Sophists, of whom your brother, Callias, has- rather dearly- bought
the reputation of wisdom. But you have not yet come into your
inheritance, and therefore you had better go to him, and beg and
entreat him to tell you what he has learnt from Protagoras about the
fitness of names.
Her. But how inconsistent should I be, if, whilst repudiating
Protagoras and his Truth, I were to attach any value to what he and
his book affirm!
Soc. Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and the poets.
Her. And where does Homer say anything about names, and what does he
Soc. He often speaks of them; notably and nobly in the places
where he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give
to the same things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable
statement about the correctness of names? For the Gods must clearly be
supposed to call things by their right and natural names; do you not
Her. Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call them at
all. But to what are you referring?
Soc. Do you not know what he says about the river in Troy who had
a single combat with Hephaestus?
Whom the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander.
Her. I remember.
Soc. Well, and about this river- to know that he ought to be
called Xanthus and not Scamander- is not that a solemn lesson? Or
about the bird which, as he says,
The Gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis:
to be taught how much more correct the name Chalcis is than the name
Cymindis- do you deem that a light matter? Or about Batieia and
Myrina? And there are many other observations of the same kind in
Homer and other poets. Now, I think that this is beyond the
understanding of you and me; but the names of Scamandrius and
Astyanax, which he affirms to have been the names of Hector's son, are
more within the range of human faculties, as I am disposed to think;
and what the poet means by correctness may be more readily apprehended
in that instance: you will remember I dare say the lines to which I
Her. I do.
Soc. Let me ask you, then, which did Homer think the more correct of
the names given to Hector's son- Astyanax or Scamandrius?
Her. I do not know.
Soc. How would you answer, if you were asked whether the wise or the
unwise are more likely to give correct names?
Her. I should say the wise, of course.
Soc. And are the men or the women of a city, taken as a class, the
Her. I should say, the men.
Soc. And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called him
Astyanax (king of the city); but if the men called him Astyanax, the
other name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the
Her. That may be inferred.
Soc. And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than
Her. To be sure.
Soc. Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name
for the boy than Scamandrius?
Soc. And what is the reason of this? Let us consider:- does he not
himself suggest a very good reason, when he says,
For he alone defended their city and long walls?
This appears to be a good reason for calling the son of the saviour
king of the city which his father was saving, as Homer observes.
Her. I see.
Soc. Why, Hermogenes, I do not as yet see myself; and do you?
Her. No, indeed; not I.
Soc. But tell me, friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector his
Her. What of that?
Soc. The name appears to me to be very nearly the same as the name
of Astyanax- both are Hellenic; and a king (anax) and a holder (ektor)
have nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king;
for a man is clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules,
and owns, and holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am
talking nonsense; and indeed I believe that I myself did not know what
I meant when I imagined that I had found some indication of the
opinion of Homer about the correctness of names.
Her. I assure you that I think otherwise, and I believe you to be on
the right track.
Soc. There is reason, I think, in calling the lion's whelp a lion,
and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary
course of nature, when an animal produces after his kind, and not of
extraordinary births;- if contrary to nature a horse have a calf, then
I should not call that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman
birth a man, but only a natural birth. And the same may be said of
trees and other things. Do you agree with me?
Her. Yes, I agree.
Soc. Very good. But you had better watch me and see that I do not
play tricks with you. For on the same principle the son of a king is
to be called a king. And whether the syllables of the name are the
same or not the same, makes no difference, provided the meaning is
retained; nor does the addition or subtraction of a letter make any
difference so long as the essence of the thing remains in possession
of the name and appears in it.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. A very simple matter. I may illustrate my meaning by the
names of letters, which you know are not the same as the letters
themselves with the exception of the four e, u, o (short), o (long);
the names of the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of
other letters which we add to them; but so long as we introduce the
meaning, and there can be no mistake, the name of the letter is
quite correct. Take, for example, the letter beta- the addition of
e, t, a, gives no offence, and does not prevent the whole name from
having the value which the legislator intended- so well did he know
how to give the letters names.
Her. I believe you are right.
Soc. And may not the same be said of a king? a king will often be
the son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble
sire; and similarly the off spring of every kind, in the regular
course of nature, is like the parent, and therefore has the same name.
Yet the syllables may be disguised until they appear different to
the ignorant person, and he may not recognize them, although they
are the same, just as any one of us would not recognize the same drugs
under different disguises of colour and smell, although to the
physician, who regards the power of them, they are the same, and he is
not put out by the addition; and in like manner the etymologist is not
put out by the addition or transposition or subtraction of a letter or
two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for this need not
interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the names of
Hector and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is t, and yet
they have the same meaning. And how little in common with the
letters of their names has Archepolis (ruler of the city)- and yet the
meaning is the same. And there are many other names which just mean
"king." Again, there are several names for a general, as, for example,
Agis (leader) and Polemarchus (chief in war) and Eupolemus (good
warrior); and others which denote a physician, as Iatrocles (famous
healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of mortals); and there are many others
which might be cited, differing in their syllables and letters, but
having the same meaning. Would you not say so?
Her . Yes .
Soc. The same names, then, ought to be assigned to those who
follow in the course of nature?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And what of those who follow out of the course of nature, and
are prodigies? for example, when a good and religious man has an
irreligious son, he ought to bear the name not of his father, but of
the class to which he belongs, just as in the case which was before
supposed of a horse foaling a calf.
Her. Quite true.
Soc. Then the irreligious son of a religious father should be called
Soc. He should not be called Theophilus (beloved of God) or
Mnesitheus (mindful of God), or any of these names: if names are
correctly given, his should have an opposite meaning.
Her. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. Again, Hermogenes, there is Orestes (the man of the
mountains) who appears to be rightly called; whether chance gave the
name, or perhaps some poet who meant to express the brutality and
fierceness and mountain wildness of his hero's nature.
Her. That is very likely, Socrates.
Soc. And his father's name is also according to nature.
Soc. Yes, for as his name, so also is his nature; Agamemnon
(admirable for remaining) is one who is patient and persevering in the
accomplishment of his resolves, and by his virtue crowns them; and his
continuance at Troy with all the vast army is a proof of that
admirable endurance in him which is signified by the name Agamemnon. I
also think that Atreus is rightly called; for his murder of Chrysippus
and his exceeding cruelty to Thyestes are damaging and destructive
to his reputation- the name is a little altered and disguised so as
not to be intelligible to every one, but to the etymologist there is
no difficulty in seeing the meaning, for whether you think of him as
ateires the stubborn, or as atrestos the fearless, or as ateros the
destructive one, the name is perfectly correct in every point of view.
And I think that Pelops is also named appropriately; for, as the
name implies, he is rightly called Pelops who sees what is near only
(o ta pelas oron) .
Her. How so?
Soc. Because, according to the tradition, he had no forethought or
foresight of all the evil which the murder of Myrtilus would entail
upon his whole race in remote ages; he saw only what was at hand and
immediate,- Or in other words, pelas (near), in his eagerness to win
Hippodamia by all means for his bride. Every one would agree that
the name of Tantalus is rightly given and in accordance with nature,
if the traditions about him are true.
Her. And what are the traditions?
Soc. Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened to him in
his life- last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after
his death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in
the world below- all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You
might imagine that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos
(the most weighted down by misfortune) , disguised the name by altering
it into Tantalus; and into this form, by some accident of tradition,
it has actually been transmuted. The name of Zeus, who is his
alleged father, has also an excellent meaning, although hard to be
understood, because really like a sentence, which is divided into
two parts, for some call him Zena, and use the one half, and others
who use the other half call him Dia; the two together signify the
nature of the God, and the business of a name, as we were saying, is
to express the nature. For there is none who is more the author of
life to us and to all, than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are
right in calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although
divided, meaning the God through whom all creatures always have life
(di on zen aei pasi tois zosin uparchei) . There is an irreverence,
at first sight, in calling him son of Cronos (who is a proverb for
stupidity) , and we might rather expect Zeus to be the child of a
mighty intellect. Which is the fact; for this is the meaning of his
father's name: Kronos quasi Koros (Choreo, to sweep), not in the sense
of a youth, but signifying to chatharon chai acheraton tou nou, the
pure and garnished mind (sc. apo tou chorein) . He, as we are
informed by tradition, was begotten of Uranus, rightly so called
(apo tou oran ta ano) from looking upwards; which, as philosophers
tell us, is the way to have a pure mind, and the name Uranus is
therefore correct. If I could remember the genealogy of Hesiod, I
would have gone on and tried more conclusions of the same sort on
the remoter ancestors of the Gods,- then I might have seen whether
this wisdom, which has come to me all in an instant, I know not
whence, will or will not hold good to the end.
Her. You seem to me, Socrates, to be quite like a prophet newly
inspired, and to be uttering oracles.
Soc. Yes, Hermogenes, and I believe that I caught the inspiration
from the great Euthyphro of the Prospaltian deme, who gave me a long
lecture which commenced at dawn: he talked and I listened, and his
wisdom and enchanting ravishment has not only filled my ears but taken
possession of my soul, and to-day I shall let his superhuman power work
and finish the investigation of names- that will be the way; but
to-morrow, if you are so disposed, we will conjure him away, and
make a purgation of him, if we can only find some priest or sophist
who is skilled in purifications of this sort.
Her. With all my heart; for am very curious to hear the rest of
the enquiry about names.
Soc. Then let us proceed; and where would you have us begin, now
that we have got a sort of outline of the enquiry? Are there any names
which witness of themselves that they are not given arbitrarily, but
have a natural fitness? The names of heroes and of men in general
are apt to be deceptive because they are often called after
ancestors with whose names, as we were saying, they may have no
business; or they are the expression of a wish like Eutychides (the
son of good fortune) , or Sosias (the Saviour) , or Theophilus (the
beloved of God), and others. But I think that we had better leave
these, for there will be more chance of finding correctness in the
names of immutable essences;- there ought to have been more care taken
about them when they were named, and perhaps there may have been
some more than human power at work occasionally in giving them names.
Her. I think so, Socrates.
Soc. Ought we not to begin with the consideration of the Gods, and
show that they are" rightly named Gods?
Her. Yes, that will be well.
Soc. My notion would be something of this sort:- I suspect that
the sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of
many barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal
Hellenes. Seeing that they were always moving and running, from
their running nature they were called Gods or runners (Theous,
Theontas); and when men became acquainted with the other Gods, they
proceeded to apply the same name to them all. Do you think that
Her. I think it very likely indeed.
Soc. What shall follow the Gods?
Her. Must not demons and heroes and men come next?
Soc. Demons! And what do you consider to be the meaning of this
word? Tell me if my view is right.
Her. Let me hear.
Soc. You know how Hesiod uses the word?
Her. I do not.
Soc. Do you not remember that he speaks of a golden race of men
who came first?
Her. Yes, I do.
Soc. He says of them-
But now that fate has closed over this race
They are holy demons upon the earth,
Beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.
Her. What is the inference?
Soc. What is the inference! Why, I suppose that he means by the
golden men, not men literally made of gold, but good and noble; and
I am convinced of this, because he further says that we are the iron
Her. That is true.
Soc. And do you not suppose that good men of our own day would by
him be said to be of golden race?
Her. Very likely.
Soc. And are not the good wise?
Her. Yes, they are wise.
Soc. And therefore I have the most entire conviction that he
called them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise),
and in our older Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and
other poets say truly, that when a good man dies he has honour and a
mighty portion among the dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name
given to him signifying wisdom. And I say too, that every wise man who
happens to be a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life
and death, and is rightly called a demon.
Her. Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you; but what is
the meaning of the word "hero"? (eros)
Soc. I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for the name
is not much altered, and signifies that they were born of love.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. Do you not know that the heroes are demigods?
Her. What then?
Soc. All of them sprang either from the love of a God for a mortal
woman, or of a mortal man for a Goddess; think of the word in the
old Attic, and you will see better that the name heros is only a
slight alteration of Eros, from whom the heroes sprang: either this is
the meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skilful as
rhetoricians and dialecticians, and able to put the question (erotan) ,
for eirein is equivalent to legein. And therefore, as I was saying, in
the Attic dialect the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and
questioners. All this is easy enough; the noble breed of heroes are
a tribe of sophists and rhetors. But can you tell me why men are
called anthropoi?- that is more difficult.
Her. No, I cannot; and I would not try even if I could, because I
think that you are the more likely to succeed.
Soc. That is to say, you trust to the inspiration of Euthyphro .
Her. Of course.
Soc. Your faith is not vain; for at this very moment a new and
ingenious thought strikes me, and, if I am not careful, before
tomorrow's dawn I shall be wiser than I ought to be. Now, attend to
me; and first, remember that we of put in and pull out letters in
words, and give names as we please and change the accents. Take, for
example, the word Dii Philos; in order to convert this from a sentence
into a noun, we omit one of the iotas and sound the middle syllable
grave instead of acute; as, on the other hand, letters are sometimes
inserted in words instead of being omitted, and the acute takes the
place of the grave.
Her. That is true.
Soc. The name anthropos, which was once a sentence, and is now a
noun, appears to be a case just of this sort, for one letter, which is
the a, has been omitted, and the acute on the last syllable has been
changed to a grave .
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. I mean to say that the word "man" implies that other animals
never examine, or consider, or look up at what they see, but that
man not only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which
he sees, and hence he alone of all animals is rightly anthropos,
meaning anathron a opopen .
Her. May I ask you to examine another word about which I am curious?
Her. I will take that which appears to me to follow next in order.
You know the distinction of soul and body?
Soc. Of course.
Her. Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous words.
Soc. You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness of
the word psnche (soul), and then of the word soma (body)?
Her . Yes .
Soc. If I am to say what occurs to me at the moment, I should
imagine that those who first use the name psnche meant to express that
the soul when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power
of breath and revival (anapsuchon) , and when this reviving power fails
then the body perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken,
they called psyche. But please stay a moment; I fancy that I can
discover something which will be more acceptable to the disciples of
Euthyphro, for I am afraid that they will scorn this explanation. What
do you say to another?
Her. Let me hear.
Soc. What is that which holds and carries and gives life and
motion to the entire nature of the body? What else but the soul?
Her. Just that.
Soc. And do you not believe with Anaxagoras, that mind or soul is
the ordering and containing principle of all things?
Her. Yes; I do.
Soc. Then you may well call that power phuseche which carries and
holds nature (e phusin okei, kai ekei), and this may be refined away
Her. Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more scientific than
Soc. It is so; but I cannot help laughing, if I am to suppose that
this was the true meaning of the name.
Her. But what shall we say of the next word?
Soc. You mean soma (the body) .
Her . Yes .
Soc. That may be variously interpreted; and yet more variously if
a little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is the
grave (sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our
present life; or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives
indications to (semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were the
inventors of the name, and they were under the impression that the
soul is suffering the punishment of sin, and that the body is an
enclosure or prison in which the soul is incarcerated, kept safe
(soma, sozetai), as the name ooma implies, until the penalty is
paid; according to this view, not even a letter of the word need be
Her. I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this class of
words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the Gods,
like that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether
any similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
Soc. Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle
which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge,- that of the Gods we know
nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give
themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call
themselves, whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of
all principles; and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we
will call them by any sort of kind names or patronymics which they
like, because we do not know of any other. That also, I think, is a
very good custom, and one which I should much wish to observe. Let us,
then, if you please, in the first place announce to them that we are
not enquiring about them; we do not presume that we are able to do so;
but we are enquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these
names,- in this there can be small blame.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you are quite right, and I would like
to do as you say.
Soc. Shall we begin, then, with Hestia, according to custom?
Her. Yes, that will be very proper.
Soc. What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?
Her. That is another and certainly a most difficult question.
Soc. My dear Hermogenes, the first imposers of names must surely
have been considerable persons; they were philosophers, and had a good
deal to say.
Her. Well, and what of them?
Soc. They are the men to whom I should attribute the imposition of
names. Even in foreign names, if you analyze them, a meaning is
still discernible. For example, that which we term ousia is by some
called esia, and by others again osia. Now that the essence of
things should be called estia, which is akin to the first of these
(esia = estia), is rational enough. And there is reason in the
Athenians calling that estia which participates in ousia. For in
ancient times we too seem to have said esia for ousia, and this you
may note to have been the idea of those who appointed that
sacrifices should be first offered to estia, which was natural
enough if they meant that estia was the essence of things. Those again
who read osia seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus,
that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing
principle (othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is
therefore rightly called osia. Enough of this, which is all that we
who know nothing can affirm. Next in order after Hestia we ought to
consider Rhea and Cronos, although the name of Cronos has been already
discussed. But I dare say that I am talking great nonsense.
Her. Why, Socrates?
Soc. My good friend, I have discovered a hive of wisdom.
Her. Of what nature?
Soc. Well, rather ridiculous, and yet plausible.
Her. How plausible?
Soc. I fancy to myself Heracleitus repeating wise traditions of
antiquity as old as the days of Cronos and Rhea, and of which Homer
Her. How do you mean?
Soc. Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion
and nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and
says that you cannot go into the same water twice.
Her. That is true.
Soc. Well, then, how can we avoid inferring that he who gave the
names of Cronos and Rhea to the ancestors of the Gods, agreed pretty
much in the doctrine of Heracleitus? Is the giving of the names of
streams to both of them purely accidental? Compare the line in which
Homer, and, as I believe, Hesiod also, tells of
Ocean, the origin of Gods, and mother Tethys .
And again, Orpheus says, that
The fair river of Ocean was the first to marry, and he espoused
his sister Tethys, who was his mother's daughter.
You see that this is a remarkable coincidence, and all in the
direction of Heracleitus.
Her. I think that there is something in what you say, Socrates;
but I do not understand the meaning of the name Tethys.
Soc. Well, that is almost self-explained, being only the name of a
spring, a little disguised; for that which is strained and filtered
(diattomenon, ethoumenon) may be likened to a spring, and the name
Tethys is made up of these two words.
Her. The idea is ingenious, Socrates.
Soc. To be sure. But what comes next?- of Zeus we have spoken.
Her . Yes .
Soc. Then let us next take his two brothers, Poseidon and Pluto,
whether the latter is called by that or by his other name.
Her. By all means.
Soc. Poseidon is Posidesmos, the chain of the feet; the original
inventor of the name had been stopped by the watery element in his
walks, and not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler
of this element Poseidon; the e was probably inserted as an
ornament. Yet, perhaps, not so; but the name may have been
originally written with a double 1 and not with an s, meaning that the
God knew many things (Polla eidos) . And perhaps also he being the
shaker of the earth, has been named from shaking (seiein) , and then
p and d have been added. Pluto gives wealth (Ploutos) , and his name
means the giver of wealth, which comes out of the earth beneath.
People in general appear to imagine that the term Hades is connected
with the invisible (aeides) and so they are led by their fears to call
the God Pluto instead.
Her. And what is the true derivation?
Soc. In spite of the mistakes which are made about the power of this
deity, and the foolish fears which people have of him, such as the
fear of always being with him after death, and of the soul denuded
of the body going to him, my belief is that all is quite consistent,
and that the office and name of the God really correspond.
Her. Why, how is that?
Soc. I will tell you my own opinion; but first, I should like to ask
you which chain does any animal feel to be the stronger? and which
confines him more to the same spot,- desire or necessity?
Her. Desire, Socrates, is stronger far.
Soc. And do you not think that many a one would escape from Hades,
if he did not bind those who depart to him by the strongest of chains?
Her. Assuredly they would.
Soc. And if by the greatest of chains, then by some desire, as I
should certainly infer, and not by necessity?
Her. That is clear.
Soc. And there are many desires?
Her . Yes .
Soc. And therefore by the greatest desire, if the chain is to be the
Her . Yes .
Soc. And is any desire stronger than the thought that you will be
made better by associating with another?
Her. Certainly not.
Soc. And is not that the reason, Hermogenes, why no one, who has
been to him, is willing to come back to us? Even the Sirens, like
all the rest of the world, have been laid under his spells. Such a
charm, as I imagine, is the God able to infuse into his words. And,
according to this view, he is the perfect and accomplished Sophist,
and the great benefactor of the inhabitants of the other world; and
even to us who are upon earth he sends from below exceeding blessings.
For he has much more than he wants down there; wherefore he is
called Pluto (or the rich) . Note also, that he will have nothing to do
with men while they are in the body, but only when the soul is
liberated from the desires and evils of the body. Now there is a great
deal of philosophy and reflection in that; for in their liberated
state he can bind them with the desire of virtue, but while they are
flustered and maddened by the body, not even father Cronos himself
would suffice to keep them with him in his own far-famed chains.
Her. There is a deal of truth in what you say.
Soc. Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades, not
from the unseen (aeides)- far otherwise, but from his knowledge
(eidenai) of all noble things.
Her. Very good; and what do we say of Demeter, and Here, and Apollo,
and Athene, and Hephaestus, and Ares, and the other deities?
Soc. Demeter is e didousa meter, who gives food like a mother;
Here is the lovely one (erate) - for Zeus, according to tradition,
loved and married her; possibly also the name may have been given when
the legislator was thinking of the heavens, and may be only a disguise
of the air (aer) , putting the end in the place of the beginning. You
will recognize the truth of this if you repeat the letters of Here
several times over. People dread the name of Pherephatta as they dread
the name of Apollo- and with as little reason; the fear, if I am not
mistaken, only arises from their ignorance of the nature of names. But
they go changing the name into Phersephone, and they are terrified
at this; whereas the new name means only that the Goddess is wise
(sophe); for seeing that all things in the world are in motion
(pheromenon) , that principle which embraces and touches and is able to
follow them, is wisdom. And therefore the Goddess may be truly
called Pherepaphe (Pherepapha) , or some name like it, because she
touches that which is (tou pheromenon ephaptomene) , herein showing her
wisdom. And Hades, who is wise, consorts with her, because she is
wise. They alter her name into Pherephatta now-a-days, because the
present generation care for euphony more than truth. There is the
other name, Apollo, which, as I was saying, is generally supposed to
have some terrible signification. Have you remarked this fact?
Her. To be sure I have, and what you say is true.
Soc. But the name, in my opinion, is really most expressive of the
power of the God.
Her. How so?
Soc. I will endeavour to explain, for I do not believe that any
single name could have been better adapted to express the attributes
of the God, embracing and in a manner signifying all four of them, -
music, and prophecy, and medicine, and archery.
Her. That must be a strange name, and I should like to hear the
Soc. Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of Harmony.
In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors and
diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal,
as well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and
the same object, which is to make a man pure both in body and soul.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and the
absolver from all impurities?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then in reference to his ablutions and absolutions, as being
the physician who orders them, he may be rightly called Apolouon
(purifier) ; or in respect of his powers of divination, and his truth
and sincerity, which is the same as truth, he may be most fitly called
Aplos, from aplous (sincere), as in the Thessalian dialect, for all
the Thessalians call him Aplos; also he is Ballon (always shooting),
because he is a master archer who never misses; or again, the name may
refer to his musical attributes, and then, as in akolouthos, and
akoitis, and in many other words the a is supposed to mean "together,"
so the meaning of the name Apollo will be "moving together, " whether
in the poles of heaven as they are called, or in the harmony of
song, which is termed concord, because he moves all together by an
harmonious power, as astronomers and musicians ingeniously declare.
And he is the God who presides over harmony, and makes all things move
together, both among Gods and among men. And as in the words
akolouthos and akoitis the a is substituted for an o, so the name
Apollon is equivalent to omopolon; only the second 1 is added in order
to avoid the ill-omened sound of destruction (apolon) . Now the
suspicion of this destructive power still haunts the minds of some who
do not consider the true value of the name, which, as I was saying
just now, has reference to all the powers of the God, who is the
single one, the everdarting, the purifier, the mover together (aplous,
aei Ballon, apolouon, omopolon) . The name of the Muses and of music
would seem to be derived from their making philosophical enquiries
(mosthai); and Leto is called by this name, because she is such a
gentle Goddess, and so willing (ethelemon) to grant our requests; or
her name may be Letho, as she is often called by strangers- they
seem to imply by it her amiability, and her smooth and easy-going
way of behaving. Artemis is named from her healthy (artemes),
well-ordered nature, and because of her love of virginity, perhaps
because she is a proficient in virtue (arete) , and perhaps also as
hating intercourse of the sexes (ton aroton miseasa) . He who gave
the Goddess her name may have had any or all of these reasons.
Her. What is the meaning of Dionysus and Aphrodite?
Soc. Son of Hipponicus, you ask a solemn question; there is a
serious and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the
serious explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no
objection to your hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a
joke. Dionusos is simply didous oinon (giver of wine), as he might
be called in fun,- and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes
those who drink, think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when
they have none. The derivation of Aphrodite, born of the foam
(aphoros), may be fairly accepted on the authority of Hesiod.
Her. Still there remains Athene, whom you, Socrates, as an Athenian,
will surely not forget; there are also Hephaestus and Ares.
Soc. I am not likely to forget them.
Her. No, indeed.
Soc. There is no difficulty in explaining the other appellation of
Her. What other appellation?
Soc. We call her Pallas.
Her. To be sure.
Soc. And we cannot be wrong in supposing that this is derived from
armed dances. For the elevation of oneself or anything else above
the earth, or by the use of the hands, we call shaking (pallein) , or
Her. That is quite true.
Soc. Then that is the explanation of the name Pallas?
Her. Yes; but what do you say of the other name?
Her . Yes .
Soc. That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern
interpreters of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of
the ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet,
assert that he meant by Athene "mind" (nous) and "intelligence"
(dianoia) , and the maker of names appears to have had a singular
notion about her; and indeed calls her by a still higher title,
"divine intelligence" (Thou noesis), as though he would say: This is
she who has the mind of God (Theonoa) ;- using a as a dialectical
variety e, and taking away i and s. Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe
may mean "she who knows divine things" (Theia noousa) better than
others. Nor shall we be far wrong in supposing that the author of it
wished to identify this Goddess with moral intelligence (en ethei
noesin) , and therefore gave her the name ethonoe; which, however,
either he or his successors have altered into what they thought a
nicer form, and called her Athene.
Her. But what do you say of Hephaestus?
Soc. Speak you of the princely lord of light (Phaeos istora) ?
Soc. Ephaistos is Phaistos, and has added the e by attraction;
that is obvious to anybody.
Her. That is very probable, until some more probable notion gets
into your head.
Soc. To prevent that, you had better ask what is the derivation of
Her. What is Ares?
Soc. Ares may be called, if you will, from his manhood (arren) and
manliness, or if you please, from his hard and unchangeable nature,
which is the meaning of arratos : the latter is a derivation in every
way appropriate to the God of war.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And now, by the Gods, let us have no more of the Gods, for I am
afraid of them; ask about anything but them, and thou shalt see how
the steeds of Euthyphro can prance.
Her. Only one more God! I should like to know about Hermes, of
whom I am said not to be a true son. Let us make him out, and then I
shall know whether there is any meaning in what Cratylus says.
Soc. I should imagine that the name Hermes has to do with speech,
and signifies that he is the interpreter (ermeneus) , or messenger,
or thief, or liar, or bargainer; all that sort of thing has a great
deal to do with language; as I was telling you the word eirein is
expressive of the use of speech, and there is an often-recurring
Homeric word emesato, which means "he contrived"- out of these two
words, eirein and mesasthai, the legislator formed the name of the God
who invented language and speech; and we may imagine him dictating
to us the use of this name: "0 my friends," says he to us, "seeing
that he is the contriver of tales or speeches, you may rightly call
him Eirhemes." And this has been improved by us, as we think, into
Hermes. Iris also appears to have been called from the verb "to
tell" (eirein), because she was a messenger.
Her. Then I am very sure that Cratylus was quite right in saying
that I was no true son of Hermes (Ermogenes) , for I am not a good hand
at speeches .
Soc. There is also reason, my friend, in Pan being the double-formed
son of Hermes.
Her. How do you make that out?
Soc. You are aware that speech signifies all things (pan), and is
always turning them round and round, and has two forms, true and
Soc. Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred form which
dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below,
and is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have
generally to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the
place of them?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan) and
the perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called
aipolos (goat-herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth
in his upper part, and rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And,
as the son of Hermes, he is speech or the brother of speech, and
that brother should be like brother is no marvel. But, as I was
saying, my dear Hermogenes, let us get away from the Gods.
Her. From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates. But why should
we not discuss another kind of Gods- the sun, moon, stars, earth,
aether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year?
Soc. You impose a great many tasks upon me. Still, if you wish, I
will not refuse.
Her. You will oblige me.
Soc. How would you have me begin? Shall I take first of all him whom
you mentioned first- the sun?
Her. Very good.
Soc. The origin of the sun will probably be clearer in the Doric
form, for the Dorians call him alios, and this name is given to him
because when he rises he gathers (alizoi) men together or because he
is always rolling in his course (aei eilein ion) about the earth; or
from aiolein, of which meaning is the same as poikillein (to
variegate), because he variegates the productions of the earth.
Her. But what is selene (the moon)?
Soc. That name is rather unfortunate for Anaxagoras .
Her. How so?
Soc. The word seems to forestall his recent discovery, that the moon
receives her light from the sun.
Her. Why do you say so?
Soc. The two words selas (brightness) and phos (light) have much the
Her . Yes .
Soc. This light about the moon is always new (neon) and always old
(enon) , if the disciples of Anaxagoras say truly. For the sun in his
revolution always adds new light, and there is the old light of the
Her. Very true.
Soc. The moon is not unfrequently called selanaia.
Soc. And as she has a light which is always old and always new (enon
neon aei) she may very properly have the name selaenoneoaeia; and this
when hammered into shape becomes selanaia.
Her. A real dithyrambic sort of name that, Socrates. But what do you
say of the month and the stars?
Soc. Meis (month) is called from meiousthai (to lessen), because
suffering diminution; the name of astra (stars) seems to be derived
from astrape, which is an improvement on anastphope, signifying the
upsetting of the eyes (anastrephein opa) .
Her. What do you say of pur (fire) and udor (water)?
Soc. I am at a loss how to explain pur; either the muse of Euthyphro
has deserted me, or there is some very great difficulty in the word.
Please, however, to note the contrivance which I adopt whenever I am
in a difficulty of this sort.
Her. What is it?
Soc. I will tell you; but I should like to know first whether you
can tell me what is the meaning of the pur?
Her. Indeed I cannot.
Soc. Shall I tell you what I suspect to be the true explanation of
this and several other words?- My belief is that they are of foreign
origin. For the Hellenes, especially those who were under the dominion
of the barbarians, often borrowed from them.
Her. What is the inference?
Soc. Why, you know that any one who seeks to demonstrate the fitness
of these names according to the Hellenic language, and not according
to the language from which the words are derived, is rather likely
to be at fault.
Her. Yes, certainly.
Soc. Well then, consider whether this pur is not foreign; for the
word is not easily brought into relation with the Hellenic tongue, and
the Phrygians may be observed to have the same word slightly
changed, just as they have udor (water) and kunes (dogs), and many
other words .
Her. That is true.
Soc. Any violent interpretations of the words should be avoided; for
something to say about them may easily be found. And thus I get rid of
pur and udor. Aer (air), Hermogenes, may be explained as the element
which raises (airei) things from the earth, or as ever flowing (aei
pei), or because the flux of the air is wind, and the poets call the
winds "air-blasts," (aetai) ; he who uses the term may mean, so to
speak, air-flux (aetorroun) , in the sense of wind-flux
(pneumatorroun) ; and because this moving wind may be expressed by
either term he employs the word air (aer = aetes rheo) . Aither
(aether) I should interpret as aeitheer; this may be correctly
said, because this element is always running in a flux about the air
(aei thei peri tou aera ron) . The meaning of the word ge (earth) comes
out better when in the form of gaia, for the earth may be truly called
"mother" (gaia, genneteira) , as in the language of Homer (Od. ix. 118;
xiii. 160) gegaasi means gegennesthai .
Soc. What shall we take next?
Her. There are orai (the seasons), and the two names of the year,
eniautos and etos .
Soc. The orai should be spelt in the old Attic way, if you desire to
know the probable truth about them; they are rightly called the orai
because they divide (orizousin) the summers and winters and winds
and the fruits of the earth. The words eniautos and etos appear to
be the same,- "that which brings to light the plants and growths of
the earth in their turn, and passes them in review within itself (en
eauto exetazei)": this is broken up into two words, eniautos from en
eauto, and etos from etazei, just as the original name of Zeus was
divided into Zena and Dia; and the whole proposition means that his
power of reviewing from within is one, but has two names, two words
etos and eniautos being thus formed out of a single proposition.
Her. Indeed, Socrates, you make surprising progress.
Soc. I am run away with.
Her. Very true.
Soc. But am not yet at my utmost speed.
Her. I should like very much to know, in the next place, how you
would explain the virtues. What principle of correctness is there in
those charming words- wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest
Soc. That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring;
still, as I have put on the lion's skin, I must not be faint of heart;
and I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis)
and understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge
(episteme) , and all those other charming words, as you call them?
Her. Surely, we must not leave off until we find out their meaning.
Soc. By the dog of Egypt I have not a bad notion which came into
my head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of
names were undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers,
who, in their search after the nature of things, are always getting
dizzy from constantly going round and round, and then they imagine
that the world is going round and round and moving in all
directions; and this appearance, which arises out of their own
internal condition, they suppose to be a reality of nature; they think
that there is nothing stable or permanent, but only flux and motion,
and that the world is always full of every sort of motion and
change. The consideration of the names which I mentioned has led me
into making this reflection.
Her. How is that, Socrates?
Soc. Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which have been
just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most
Her. No, indeed, I never thought of it.
Soc. Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly that is
a name indicative of motion.
Her. What was the name?
Soc. Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify Phoras kai rhou noesis
(perception of motion and flux) , or perhaps Phoras onesis (the
blessing of motion) , but is at any rate connected with Pheresthai
(motion); gnome (judgment), again, certainly implies the ponderation
or consideration (nomesis) of generation, for to ponder is the same as
to consider; or, if you would rather, here is noesis, the very word
just now mentioned, which is neou esis (the desire of the new); the
word neos implies that the world is always in process of creation. The
giver of the name wanted to express his longing of the soul, for the
original name was neoesis, and not noesis. The word sophrosune is
the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which we were
just now considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and
indicates that the soul which is good for anything follows (epetai)
the motion of things, neither anticipating them nor falling behind
them; wherefor the word should rather be read as epistemene, inserting
en. Sunesis (understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind
of conclusion; the word is derived from sunienai (to go along with),
and, like epistasthai (to know) , implies the progression of the soul
in company with the nature of things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark,
and appears not to be of native growth; the meaning is, touching the
motion or stream of things. You must remember that the poets, when
they speak of the commencement of any rapid motion, often use the word
esuthe (he rushed) ; and there was a famous Lacedaemonian who was named
Sous (Rush) , for by this word the Lacedaemonians signify rapid motion,
and the touching (epaphe) of motion is expressed by sophia, for all
things are supposed to be in motion. Good (agathon) is the name
which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature; for, although
all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some are
swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable
for their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called
agathon. Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis
(understanding of the just); but the actual word dikaion is more
difficult: men are only agreed to a certain extent about justice,
and then they begin to disagree.
For those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the
greater part of nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that
there is a penetrating power which passes through all this, and is the
instrument of creation in all, and is the subtlest and swiftest
element; for if it were not the subtlest, and a power which none can
keep out, and also the swiftest, passing by other things as if they
were standing still, it could not penetrate through the moving
universe. And this element, which superintends all things and pieces
(diaion) all, is rightly called dikaion; the letter k is only added
for the sake of euphony. Thus far, as I was saying, there is a general
agreement about the nature of justice; but I, Hermogenes, being an
enthusiastic disciple, have been told in a mystery that the justice of
which I am speaking is also the cause of the world: now a cause is
that because of which anything is created; and some one comes and
whispers in my ear that justice is rightly so called because partaking
of the nature of the cause, and I begin, after hearing what he has
said, to interrogate him gently: "Well, my excellent friend," say I,
"but if all this be true, I still want to know what is justice."
Thereupon they think that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping
over the barriers, and have been already sufficiently answered, and
they try to satisfy me with one derivation after another, and at
length they quarrel. For one of them says that justice is the sun, and
that he only is the piercing (diaionta) and burning (kaonta) element
which is the guardian of nature. And when I joyfully repeat this
beautiful notion, I am answered by the satirical remark, "What, is
there no justice in the world when the sun is down?" And when I
earnestly beg my questioner to tell me his own honest opinion, he
says, "Fire in the abstract"; but this is not very intelligible.
Another says, "No, not fire in the abstract, but the abstraction of
heat in the fire." Another man professes to laugh at all this, and
says, as Anaxagoras says, that justice is mind, for mind, as they say,
has absolute power, and mixes with nothing, and orders all things, and
passes through all things. At last, my friend, I find myself in far
greater perplexity about the nature of justice than I was before I
began to learn. But still I am of opinion that the name, which has led
me into this digression, was given to justice for the reasons which
I have mentioned.
Her. I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now; you must
have heard this from some one else.
Soc. And not the rest?
Soc. Well, then, let me go on in the hope of making you believe in
the originality of the rest. What remains after justice? I do not
think that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),- injustice
(adikia) , which is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the
penetrating principle (diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then,
the name of andreia seems to imply a battle;- this battle is in the
world of existence, and according to the doctrine of flux is only
the counterflux (enantia rhon) : if you extract the d from andreia, the
name at once signifies the thing, and you may clearly understand
that andreia is not the stream opposed to every stream, but only to
that which is contrary to justice, for otherwise courage would not
have been praised. The words arren (male) and aner (man) also
contain a similar allusion to the same principle of the upward flux
(te ano rhon) . Gune (woman) I suspect to be the same word as goun
(birth) : thelu (female) appears to be partly derived from thele (the
teat) , because the teat is like rain, and makes things flourish
Her. That is surely probable.
Soc. Yes; and the very word thallein (to flourish) seems to figure
the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this is
expressed by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of
thein (running), and allesthai (leaping) . Pray observe how I gallop
away when I get on smooth ground. There are a good many names
generally thought to be of importance, which have still to be
Soc. There is the meaning of the word techne (art), for example.
Her. Very true.
Soc. That may be identified with echonoe, and expresses the
possession of mind: you have only to take away the t and insert two
o's, one between the ch and n, and another between the n and e.
Her. That is a very shabby etymology.
Soc. Yes, my dear friend; but then you know that the original
names have been long ago buried and disguised by people sticking on
and stripping off letters for the sake of euphony, and twisting and
bedizening them in all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a
share in the change. Take, for example, the word katoptron; why is the
letter r inserted? This must surely be the addition of some one who
cares nothing about the truth, but thinks only of putting the mouth
into shape. And the additions are often such that at last no human
being can possibly make out the original meaning of the word.
Another example is the word sphigx, sphiggos, which ought properly
to be phigx, phiggos, and there are other examples.
Her. That is quite true, Socrates.
Soc. And yet, if you are permitted to put in and pull out any
letters which you please, names will be too easily made, and any
name may be adapted to any object.
Soc. Yes, that is true. And therefore a wise dictator, like
yourself, should observe the laws of moderation and probability.
Her. Such is my desire.
Soc. And mine, too, Hermogenes . But do not be too much of a
precisian, or "you will unnerve me of my strength." When you have
allowed me to add mechane (contrivance) to techne (art) I shall be
at the top of my bent, for I conceive mechane to be a sign of great
accomplishment- anein; for mekos the meaning of greatness, and these
two, mekos and anein, make up the word mechane. But, as I was
saying, being now at the top of my bent, I should like to consider the
meaning of the two words arete (virtue) and kakia (vice) arete I do
not as yet understand, but kakia is transparent, and agrees with the
principles which preceded, for all things being in a flux (ionton),
kakia is kakos ion (going badly) ; and this evil motion when existing
in the soul has the general name of kakia or vice, specially
appropriated to it. The meaning of kakos ienai may be further
illustrated by the use of deilia (cowardice), which ought to have come
after andreia, but was forgotten, and, as I fear, is not the only word
which has been passed over. Deilia signifies that the soul is bound
with a strong chain (desmos), for lian means strength, and therefore
deilia expresses the greatest and strongest bond of the soul; and
aporia (difficulty) is an evil of the same nature (from a not, and
poreuesthai to go) , like anything else which is an impediment to
motion and movement. Then the word kakia appears to mean kakos
ienai, or going badly, or limping and halting; of which the
consequence is, that the soul becomes filled with vice. And if kakia
is the name of this sort of thing, arete will be the opposite of it,
signifying in the first place ease of motion, then that the stream
of the good soul is unimpeded, and has therefore the attribute of ever
flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore called arete, or,
more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing) , and may perhaps have had
another form, airete (eligible) , indicating that nothing is more
eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete. I daresay
that you will deem this to be another invention of mine, but I think
that if the previous word kakia was right, then arete is also right.
Her. But what is the meaning of kakon, which has played so great a
part in your previous discourse?
Soc. That is a very singular word about which I can hardly form an
opinion, and therefore I must have recourse to my ingenious device.
Her. What device?
Soc. The device of a foreign origin, which I shall give to this word
Her. Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave these
words and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.
Soc. The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon
roes (always preventing from flowing) , and this is in accordance
with our former derivations . For the name-giver was a great enemy to
stagnation of all sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to
that which hindered the flux (aei ischon roun) , and that is now beaten
together into aischron.
Her. But what do you say of kalon?
Soc. That is more obscure; yet the form is only due to the quantity,
and has been changed by altering ou into o.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. This name appears to denote mind.
Her. How so?
Soc. Let me ask you what is the cause why anything has a name; is
not the principle which imposes the name the cause?
Soc. And must not this be the mind of Gods, or of men, or of both?
Her . Yes .
Soc. Is not mind that which called (kalesan) things by their
names, and is not mind the beautiful (kalon)?
Her. That is evident.
Soc. And are not the works of intelligence and mind worthy of
praise, and are not other works worthy of blame?
Soc. Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering does
the works of a carpenter?
Soc. And the principle of beauty does the works of beauty?
Her. Of course.
Soc. And that principle we affirm to be mind?
Her. Very true.
Soc. Then mind is rightly called beauty because she does the works
which we recognize and speak of as the beautiful?
Her. That is evident.
Soc. What more names remain to us?
Her. There are the words which are connected with agathon and kalon,
such as sumpheron and lusiteloun, ophelimon, kerdaleon, and their
Soc. The meaning of sumpheron (expedient) I think that you may
discover for yourself by the light of the previous examples,- for it
is a sister word to episteme, meaning just the motion (pora) of the
soul accompanying the world, and things which are done upon this
principle are called sumphora or sumpheronta, because they are carried
round with the world.
Her. That is probable.
Soc. Again, cherdaleon (gainful) is called from cherdos (gain),
but you must alter the d into n if you want to get at the meaning; for
this word also signifies good, but in another way; he who gave the
name intended to express the power of admixture (kerannumenon) and
universal penetration in the good; in forming the word, however, he
inserted a d instead of an n, and so made kerdos .
Her. Well, but what is lusiteloun (profitable)?
Soc. I suppose, Hermogenes, that people do not mean by the
profitable the gainful or that which pays (luei) the retailer, but
they use the word in the sense of swift. You regard the profitable
(lusitelou), as that which being the swiftest thing in existence,
allows of no stay in things and no pause or end of motion, but always,
if there begins to be any end, lets things go again (luei), and
makes motion immortal and unceasing: and in this point of view, as
appears to me, the good is happily denominated lusiteloun- being
that which looses (luon) the end (telos) of motion. Ophelimon (the
advantageous) is derived from ophellein, meaning that which creates
and increases; this latter is a common Homeric word, and has a foreign
Her. And what do you say of their opposites?
Soc. Of such as mere negatives I hardly think that I need speak.
Her. Which are they?
Soc. The words axumphoron (inexpedient), anopheles (unprofitable),
alusiteles (unadvantageous) , akerdes (ungainful) .
Soc. I would rather take the words blaberon (harmful), zemiodes
Soc. The word blaberon is that which is said to hinder or harm
(blaptein) the stream (roun) ; blapton is boulomenon aptein (seeking to
hold or bind) ; for aptein is the same as dein, and dein is always a
term of censure; boulomenon aptein roun (wanting to bind the stream)
would properly be boulapteroun, and this, as I imagine, is improved
Her. You bring out curious results, Socrates, in the use of names;
and when I hear the word boulapteroun I cannot help imagining that you
are making your mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some prelude
to Athene .
Soc. That is the fault of the makers of the name, Hermogenes; not
Her. Very true; but what is the derivation of zemiodes?
Soc. What is the meaning of zemiodes?- let me remark, Hermogenes,
how right I was in saying that great changes are made in the meaning
of words by putting in and pulling out letters; even a very slight
permutation will sometimes give an entirely opposite sense; I may
instance the word deon, which occurs to me at the moment, and
reminds me of what I was going to say to you, that the fine
fashionable language of modern times has twisted and disguised and
entirely altered the original meaning both of deon, and also of
zemiodes, which in the old language is clearly indicated.
Her. What do you mean?
Soc. I will try to explain. You are aware that our forefathers loved
the sounds i and d, especially the women, who are most conservative of
the ancient language, but now they change i into e (long) or e
(short), and d into z; this is supposed to increase the grandeur of
Her. How do you mean?
Soc. For example, in very ancient times they called the day either
imera or emera (short e) , which is called by us emera (long e) .
Her. That is true.
Soc. Do you observe that only the ancient form shows the intention
of the giver of the name? of which the reason is, that men long for
(imeirousi) and love the light which comes after the darkness, and
is therefore called imera, from imeros, desire.
Soc. But now the name is so travestied that you cannot tell the
meaning, although there are some who imagine the day to be called
emuera because it makes things gentle (emera) .
Her. Such is my view.
Soc. And do you know that the ancients said dougon and not zugon?
Her. They did so.
Soc. And zugon (yoke) has no meaning,- it ought to be duogon,
which word expresses the binding of two together (duein agoge) for the
purpose of drawing;- this has been changed into zugon, and there are
many other examples of similar changes.
Her. There are.
Soc. Proceeding in the same train of thought I may remark that the
word deon (obligation) has a meaning which is the opposite of all
the other appellations of good; for deon is here a species of good,
and is, nevertheless, the chain (desmos) or hinderer of motion, and
therefore own brother of blaberon.
Her. Yes, Socrates; that is quite plain.
Soc. Not if you restore the ancient form, which is more likely to be
the correct one, and read dion instead of deon; if you convert the e
into an i after the old fashion, this word will then agree with
other words meaning good; for dion, not deon, signifies the good,
and is a term of praise; and the author of names has not
contradicted himself, but in all these various appellations, deon
(obligatory) , ophelimon (advantageous) , lusiteloun (profitable) ,
kerdaleon (gainful), agathon (good), sumpheron (expedient), euporon
(plenteous), the same conception is implied of the ordering or
all-pervading principle which is praised, and the restraining and
binding principle which is censured. And this is further illustrated
by the word zemiodes (hurtful), which if the z is only changed into
d as in the ancient language, becomes demiodes; and this name, as
you will perceive, is given to that which binds motion (dounti ion) .
Her. What do you say of edone (pleasure), lupe (pain), epithumia
(desire) , and the like, Socrates?
Soc. I do not think, Hermogenes, that there is any great
difficulty about them- edone is e onesis, the action which tends to
advantage; and the original form may be supposed to have been eone,
but this has been altered by the insertion of the d. Lupe appears to
be derived from the relaxation (luein) which the body feels when in
sorrow; ania (trouble) is the hindrance of motion (a and ienai);
algedon (distress), if I am not mistaken, is a foreign word, which
is derived from aleinos (grievous); odune (grief) is called from the
putting on (endusis) sorrow; in achthedon (vexation) "the word too
labours," as any one may see; chara (joy) is the very expression of
the fluency and diffusion of the soul (cheo); terpsis (delight) is
so called from the pleasure creeping (erpon) through the soul, which
may be likened to a breath (pnoe) and is properly erpnoun, but has
been altered by time into terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and
epithumia explain themselves; the former, which ought to be
eupherosune and has been changed euphrosune, is named, as every one
may see, from the soul moving (pheresthai) in harmony with nature;
epithumia is really e epi ton thumon iousa dunamis, the power which
enters into the soul; thumos (passion) is called from the rushing
(thuseos) and boiling of the soul; imeros (desire) denotes the
stream (rous) which most draws the soul dia ten esin tes roes- because
flowing with desire (iemenos), and expresses a longing after things
and violent attraction of the soul to them, and is termed imeros
from possessing this power; pothos (longing) is expressive of the
desire of that which is not present but absent, and in another place
(pou) ; this is the reason why the name pothos is applied to things
absent, as imeros is to things present; eros (love) is so called
because flowing in (esron) from without; the stream is not inherent,
but is an influence introduced through the eyes, and from flowing in
was called esros (influx) in the old time when they used o (short) for
o (long), and is called eros, now that o (long) is substituted for o
(short) . But why do you not give me another word?
Her. What do you think of doxa (opinion), and that class of words?
Soc. Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses the
march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting of
a bow (toxon) ; the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis
(thinking) , which is only oisis (moving) , and implies the movement
of the soul to the essential nature of each thing- just as boule
(counsel) has to do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish)
combines the notion of aiming and deliberating- all these words seem
to follow doxa, and all involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia,
absence of counsel, on the other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or
mistaking of the mark, or aim, or proposal, or object.
Her. You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
Soc. Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however, until I
have explained anagke (necessity) , which ought to come next, and
ekousion (the voluntary) . Ekousion is certainly the yielding (eikon)
and unresisting- the notion implied is yielding and not opposing,
yielding, as I was just now saying, to that motion which is in
accordance with our will; but the necessary and resistant being
contrary to our will, implies error and ignorance; the idea is taken
from walking through a ravine which is impassable, and rugged, and
overgrown, and impedes motion- and this is the derivation of the
word anagkaion (necessary) an agke ion, going through a ravine. But
while my strength lasts let us persevere, and I hope that you will
persevere with your questions .
Her. Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest, such
as aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not
forgetting to enquire why the word onoma (name) , which is the theme of
our discussion, has this name of onoma.
Soc. You know the word maiesthai (to seek)?
Her. Yes;- meaning the same as zetein (to enquire) .
Soc. The word onoma seems to be a compressed sentence, signifying on
ou zetema (being for which there is a search) ; as is still more
obvious in onomaston (notable) , which states in so many words that
real existence is that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma) ;
aletheia is also an agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering) ,
implying the divine motion of existence; pseudos (falsehood) is the
opposite of motion; here is another ill name given by the legislator
to stagnation and forced inaction, which he compares to sleep
(eudein) ; but the original meaning of the word is disguised by the
addition of ps; on and ousia are ion with an i broken off; this agrees
with the true principle, for being (on) is also moving (ion), and
the same may be said of not being, which is likewise called not
going (oukion or ouki on = ouk ion) .
Her. You have hammered away at them manfully; but suppose that
some one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon
and doun?- show me their fitness.
Soc. You mean to say, how should I answer him?
Her . Yes .
Soc. One way of giving the appearance of an answer has been
Her. What way?
Soc. To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign
origin; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of
this kind may be true of them; but also the original forms of words
may have been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in
all manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language
when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands our earnest
attention and we must not flinch. For we should remember, that if a
person go on analysing names into words, and enquiring also into the
elements out of which the words are formed, and keeps on always
repeating this process, he who has to answer him must at last give
up the enquiry in despair.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And at what point ought he to lose heart and give up the
enquiry? Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are the
elements of all other names and sentences; for these cannot be
supposed to be made up of other names? The word agathon (good), for
example, is, as we were saying, a compound of agastos (admirable)
and thoos (swift) . And probably thoos is made up of other elements,
and these again of others. But if we take a word which is incapable of
further resolution, then we shall be right in saying that we have at
last reached a primary element, which need not be resolved any
Her. I believe you to be in the right.
Soc. And suppose the names about which you are now asking should
turn out to be primary elements, must not their truth or law be
examined according to some new method?
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Quite so, Hermogenes; all that has preceded would lead to
this conclusion. And if, as I think, the conclusion is true, then I
shall again say to you, come and help me, that I may not fall into
some absurdity in stating the principle of primary names.
Her. Let me hear, and I will do my best to assist you.
Soc. I think that you will acknowledge with me, that one principle
is applicable to all names, primary as well as secondary- when they
are regarded simply as names, there is no difference in them.
Her. Certainly not.
Soc. All the names that we have been explaining were intended to
indicate the nature of things.
Her. Of course.
Soc. And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the
secondary names, is implied in their being names.
Soc. But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance
from the primary.
Her. That is evident.
Soc. Very good; but then how do the primary names which precede
analysis show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown;
which they must do, if they are to be real names? And here I will
ask you a question: Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted
to communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and
dumb, make signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body?
Her. There would be no choice, Socrates.
Soc. We should imitate the nature of the thing; the elevation of our
hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness; heaviness and
downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground; if
we were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal, we
should make our bodies and their gestures as like as we could to them.
Her. I do not see that we could do anything else.
Soc. We could not; for by bodily imitation only can the body ever
Her. Very true.
Soc. And when we want to express ourselves, either with the voice,
or tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of
that which we want to express.
Her. It must be so, I think.
Soc. Then a name is a vocal imitation of that which the vocal
imitator names or imitates?
Her. I think so.
Soc. Nay, my friend, I am disposed to think that we have not reached
the truth as yet.
Her. Why not?
Soc. Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that the people
who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which they
Her. Quite true.
Soc. Then could I have been right in what I was saying?
Her. In my opinion, no. But I wish that you would tell me, Socrates,
what sort of an imitation is a name?
Soc. In the first place, I should reply, not a musical imitation,
although that is also vocal; nor, again, an imitation of what music
imitates; these, in my judgment, would not be naming. Let me put the
matter as follows: All objects have sound and figure, and many have
Soc. But the art of naming appears not to be concerned with
imitations of this kind; the arts which have to do with them are music
Soc. Again, is there not an essence of each thing, just as there
is a colour, or sound? And is there not an essence of colour and sound
as well as of anything else which may be said to have an essence?
Her. I should think so.
Soc. Well, and if any one could express the essence of each thing in
letters and syllables, would he not express the nature of each thing?
Her. Quite so.
Soc. The musician and the painter were the two names which you
gave to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called?
Her. I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or
name-giver, of whom we are in search.
Soc. If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition to
consider the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention),
about which you were asking; and we may see whether the namer has
grasped the nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner
as to imitate the essence or not.
Her. Very good.
Soc. But are these the only primary names, or are there others?
Her. There must be others.
Soc. So I should expect. But how shall we further analyse them,
and where does the imitator begin? Imitation of the essence is made by
syllables and letters; ought we not, therefore, first to separate
the letters, just as those who are beginning rhythm first
distinguish the powers of elementary, and then of compound sounds, and
when they have done so, but not before, they proceed to the
consideration of rhythms?
Her . Yes .
Soc. Must we not begin in the same way with letters; first
separating the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, into
classes, according to the received distinctions of the learned; also
the semivowels, which are neither vowels, nor yet mutes; and
distinguishing into classes the vowels themselves? And when we have
perfected the classification of things, we shall give their names, and
see whether, as in the case of letters, there are any classes to which
they may be all referred; hence we shall see their natures, and see,
too, whether they have in them classes as there are in the letters;
and when we have well considered all this, we shall know how to
apply them to what they resemble- whether one letter is used to
denote one thing, or whether there is to be an admixture of several of
them; just, as in painting, the painter who wants to depict anything
sometimes uses purple only, or any other colour, and sometimes mixes
up several colours, as his method is when he has to paint flesh colour
or anything of that kind- he uses his colours as his figures appear to
require them; and so, too, we shall apply letters to the expression of
objects, either single letters when required, or several letters;
and so we shall form syllables, as they are called, and from syllables
make nouns and verbs; and thus, at last, from the combinations of
nouns and verbs arrive at language, large and fair and whole; and as
the painter made a figure, even so shall we make speech by the art
of the namer or the rhetorician, or by some other art. Not that I am
literally speaking of ourselves, but I was carried away- meaning to
say that this was the way in which (not we but) the ancients formed
language, and what they put together we must take to pieces in like
manner, if we are to attain a scientific view of the whole subject,
and we must see whether the primary, and also whether the secondary
elements are rightly given or not, for if they are not, the
composition of them, my dear Hermogenes, will be a sorry piece of
work, and in the wrong direction.
Her. That, Socrates, I can quite believe.
Soc. Well, but do you suppose that you will be able to analyse
them in this way? for I am certain that I should not.
Her. Much less am I likely to be able.
Soc. Shall we leave them, then? or shall we seek to discover, if
we can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability,
saying by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the
truth about them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions
of them. And in this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves,
before we proceed, that the higher method is the one which we or
others who would analyse language to any good purpose must follow; but
under the circumstances, as men say, we must do as well as we can.
What do you think?
Her. I very much approve.
Soc. That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and
so find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot
be avoided- there is no better principle to which we can look for
the truth of first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to
divine help, like the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have their
Gods waiting in the air; and must get out of our difficulty in like
fashion, by saying that "the Gods gave the first names, and
therefore they are right." This will be the best contrivance, or
perhaps that other notion may be even better still, of deriving them
from some barbarous people, for the barbarians are older than we
are; or we may say that antiquity has cast a veil over them, which
is the same sort of excuse as the last; for all these are not
reasons but only ingenious excuses for having no reasons concerning
the truth of words. And yet any sort of ignorance of first or
primitive names involves an ignorance of secondary words; for they can
only be explained by the primary. Clearly then the professor of
languages should be able to give a very lucid explanation of first
names, or let him be assured he will only talk nonsense about the
rest. Do you not suppose this to be true?
Her. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. My first notions of original names are truly wild and
ridiculous, though I have no objection to impart them to you if you
desire, and I hope that you will communicate to me in return
anything better which you may have.
Her. Fear not; I will do my best.
Soc. In the first place, the letter r; appears to me to be the
general instrument expressing all motion (kinesis) . But I have not yet
explained the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis
(going); for the letter e (long) was not in use among the ancients,
who only employed e (short); and the root is kiein, which is a foreign
form, the same as ienai . And the old word kinesis will be correctly
given as iesis in corresponding modern letters. Assuming this
foreign root kiein, and allowing for the change of the e and the
insertion of the n, we have kinesis, which should have been kieinsis
or eisis; and stasis is the negative of ienai (or eisis) , and has been
improved into stasis. Now the letter r, as I was saying, appeared to
the imposer of names an excellent instrument for the expression of
motion; and he frequently uses the letter for this purpose: for
example, in the actual words rein and roe he represents motion by r;
also in the words tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged); and again,
in words such as krouein (strike), thrauein (crush), ereikein
(bruise), thruptein (break), kermatixein (crumble), rumbein (whirl) :
of all these sorts of movements he generally finds an expression in
the letter r, because, as I imagine, he had observed that the tongue
was most agitated and least at rest in the pronunciation of this
letter, which he therefore used in order to express motion, just as by
the letter i he expresses the subtle elements which pass through all
things. This is why he uses the letter i as imitative of motion,
ienai, iesthai . And there is another class of letters, ph, ps, s,
and x, of which the pronunciation is accompanied by great
expenditure of breath; these are used in the imitation of such notions
as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething), seiesthai, (to be shaken),
seismos (shock), and are always introduced by the giver of names
when he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy) . He seems to have
thought that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance
of d and t was expressive of binding and rest in a place: he further
observed the liquid movement of 1, in the pronunciation of which the
tongue slips, and in this he found the expression of smoothness, as in
leios (level), and in the word oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon
(sleek), in the word kollodes (gluey), and the like: the heavier sound
of g detained the slipping tongue, and the union of the two gave the
notion of a glutinous clammy nature, as in glischros, glukus,
gloiodes . The n he observed to be sounded from within, and therefore
to have a notion of inwardness; hence he introduced the sound in endos
and entos : a he assigned to the expression of size, and n of length,
because they are great letters: o was the sign of roundness, and
therefore there is plenty of o mixed up in the word goggulon
(round) . Thus did the legislator, reducing all things into letters and
syllables, and impressing on them names and signs, and out of them
by imitation compounding other signs. That is my view, Hermogenes,
of the truth of names; but I should like to hear what Cratylus has
more to say.
Her. But, Socrates, as I was telling you before, Cratylus
mystifies me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never
explains what is this fitness, so that I cannot tell whether his
obscurity is intended or not. Tell me now, Cratylus, here in the
presence of Socrates, do you agree in what Socrates has been saying
about names, or have you something better of your own? and if you
have, tell me what your view is, and then you will either learn of
Socrates, or Socrates and I will learn of you.
Crat. Well, but surely, Hermogenes, you do not suppose that you
can learn, or I explain, any subject of importance all in a moment; at
any rate, not such a subject as language, which is, perhaps, the
very greatest of all.
Her. No, indeed; but, as Hesiod says, and I agree with him, "to
add little to little" is worth while. And, therefore, if you think
that you can add anything at all, however small, to our knowledge,
take a little trouble and oblige Socrates, and me too, who certainly
have a claim upon you.
Soc. I am by no means positive, Cratylus, in the view which
Hermogenes and myself have worked out; and therefore do not hesitate
to say what you think, which if it be better than my own view shall
gladly accept. And I should not be at all surprised to find that you
have found some better notion. For you have evidently reflected on
these matters and have had teachers, and if you have really a better
theory of the truth of names, you may count me in the number of your
Crat. You are right, Socrates, in saying that I have made a study of
these matters, and I might possibly convert you into a disciple. But I
fear that the opposite is more probable, and I already find myself
moved to say to you what Achilles in the "Prayers" says to Ajax-
Illustrious Ajax, son of Telamon, lord of the people,
You appear to have spoken in all things much to my mind.
And you, Socrates, appear to me to be an oracle, and to give answers
much to my whether you are inspired by Euthyphro, or whether some Muse
may have long been an inhabitant of your breast, unconsciously to
Soc. Excellent Cratylus, I have long been wondering at my own
wisdom; I cannot trust myself. And I think that I ought to stop and
ask myself What am I saying? for there is nothing worse than
self-deception- when the deceiver is always at home and always with
you- it is quite terrible, and therefore I ought often to retrace my
steps and endeavour to "look fore and aft," in the words of the
aforesaid Homer. And now let me see; where are we? Have we not been
saying that the correct name indicates the nature of the thing:- has
this proposition been sufficiently proven?
Crat. Yes, Socrates, what you say, as I am disposed to think, is
Soc. Names, then, are given in order to instruct?
Soc. And naming is an art, and has artificers?
Soc. And who are they?
Crat. The legislators, of whom you spoke at first.
Soc. And does this art grow up among men like other arts? Let me
explain what I mean: of painters, some are better and some worse?
Soc. The better painters execute their works, I mean their
figures, better, and the worse execute them worse; and of builders
also, the better sort build fairer houses, and the worse build them
Soc. And among legislators, there are some who do their work
better and some worse?
Crat. No; there I do not agree with you.
Soc. Then you do not think that some laws are better and others
Crat. No, indeed.
Soc. Or that one name is better than another?
Crat. Certainly not.
Soc. Then all names are rightly imposed?
Crat. Yes, if they are names at all.
Soc. Well, what do you say to the name of our friend Hermogenes,
which was mentioned before:- assuming that he has nothing of the
nature of Hermes in him, shall we say that this is a wrong name, or
not his name at all?
Crat. I should reply that Hermogenes is not his name at all, but
only appears to be his, and is really the name of somebody else, who
has the nature which corresponds to it.
Soc. And if a man were to call him Hermogenes, would he not be
even speaking falsely? For there may be a doubt whether you can call
him Hermogenes, if he is not.
Crat. What do you mean?
Soc. Are you maintaining that falsehood is impossible? For if this
is your meaning I should answer, that there have been plenty of
liars in all ages.
Crat. Why, Socrates, how can a man say that which is not?- say
something and yet say nothing? For is not falsehood saying the thing
which is not?
Soc. Your argument, friend, is too subtle for a man of my age. But I
should like to know whether you are one of those philosophers who
think that falsehood may be spoken but not said?
Crat. Neither spoken nor said.
Soc. Nor uttered nor addressed? For example: If a person, saluting
you in a foreign country, were to take your hand and say: "Hail,
Athenian stranger, Hermogenes, son of Smicrion"- these words,
whether spoken, said, uttered, or addressed, would have no application
to you but only to our friend Hermogenes, or perhaps to nobody at all?
Crat. In my opinion, Socrates, the speaker would only be talking
Soc. Well, but that will be quite enough for me, if you will tell me
whether the nonsense would be true or false, or partly true and partly
false:- which is all that I want to know.
Crat. I should say that he would be putting himself in motion to
no purpose; and that his words would be an unmeaning sound like the
noise of hammering at a brazen pot.
Soc. But let us see, Cratylus, whether we cannot find a
meeting-point, for you would admit that the name is not the same
with the thing named?
Crat. I should.
Soc. And would you further acknowledge that the name is an imitation
of the thing?
Soc. And you would say that pictures are also imitations of
things, but in another way?
Soc. I believe you may be right, but I do not rightly understand
you. Please to say, then, whether both sorts of imitation (I mean both
pictures or words) are not equally attributable and applicable to
the things of which they are the imitation.
Crat. They are.
Soc. First look at the matter thus: you may attribute the likeness
of the man to the man, and of the woman to the woman; and so on?
Soc. And conversely you may attribute the likeness of the man to the
woman, and of the woman to the man?
Crat. Very true.
Soc. And are both modes of assigning them right, or only the first?
Crat. Only the first.
Soc. That is to say, the mode of assignment which attributes to each
that which belongs to them and is like them?
Crat. That is my view.
Soc. Now then, as I am desirous that we being friends should have
a good understanding about the argument, let me state my view to
you: the first mode of assignment, whether applied to figures or to
names, I call right, and when applied to names only, true as well as
right; and the other mode of giving and assigning the name which is
unlike, I call wrong, and in the case of names, false as well as
Crat. That may be true, Socrates, in the case of pictures; they
may be wrongly assigned; but not in the case of names- they must be
Soc. Why, what is the difference? May I not go to a man and say to
him, "This is your picture," showing him his own likeness, or
perhaps the likeness of a woman; and when I say "show," I mean bring
before the sense of sight.
Soc. And may I not go to him again, and say, "This is your name"?-
for the name, like the picture, is an imitation. May I not say to him-
"This is your name"? and may I not then bring to his sense of
hearing the imitation of himself, when I say, "This is a man"; or of a
female of the human species, when I say, "This is a woman," as the
case may be? Is not all that quite possible?
Crat. I would fain agree with you, Socrates; and therefore I say,
Soc. That is very good of you, if I am right, which need hardly be
disputed at present. But if I can assign names as well as pictures
to objects, the right assignment of them we may call truth, and the
wrong assignment of them falsehood. Now if there be such a wrong
assignment of names, there may also be a wrong or inappropriate
assignment of verbs; and if of names and verbs then of the
sentences, which are made up of them. What do you say, Cratylus?
Crat. I agree; and think that what you say is very true.
Soc. And further, primitive nouns may be compared to pictures, and
in pictures you may either give all the appropriate colours and
figures, or you may not give them all- some may be wanting; or there
may be too many or too much of them- may there not?
Crat. Very true.
Soc. And he who gives all gives a perfect picture or figure; and
he who takes away or adds also gives a picture or figure, but not a
good one .
Soc. In like manner, he who by syllables and letters imitates the
nature of things, if he gives all that is appropriate will produce a
good image, or in other words a name; but if he subtracts or perhaps
adds a little, he will make an image but not a good one; whence I
infer that some names are well and others ill made.
Crat. That is true.
Soc. Then the artist of names may be sometimes good, or he may be
Soc. And this artist of names is called the legislator?
Soc. Then like other artists the legislator may be good or he may be
bad; it must surely be so if our former admissions hold good?
Crat. Very true, Socrates; but the case of language, you see, is
different; for when by the help of grammar we assign the letters a
or b, or any other letters to a certain name, then, if we add, or
subtract, or misplace a letter, the name which is written is not
only written wrongly, but not written at all; and in any of these
cases becomes other than a name.
Soc. But I doubt whether your view is altogether correct, Cratylus .
Crat. How so?
Soc. I believe that what you say may be true about numbers, which
must be just what they are, or not be at all; for example, the
number ten at once becomes other than ten if a unit be added or
subtracted, and so of any other number: but this does not apply to
that which is qualitative or to anything which is represented under an
image. I should say rather that the image, if expressing in every
point the entire reality, would no longer be an image. Let us
suppose the existence of two objects: one of them shall be Cratylus,
and the other the image of Cratylus; and we will suppose, further,
that some God makes not only a representation such as a painter
would make of your outward form and colour, but also creates an inward
organization like yours, having the same warmth and softness; and into
this infuses motion, and soul, and mind, such as you have, in a word
copies all your qualities, and places them by you in another form;
would you say that this was Cratylus and the image of Cratylus, or
that there were two Cratyluses?
Crat. I should say that there were two Cratyluses.
Soc. Then you see, my friend, that we must find some other principle
of truth in images, and also in names; and not insist that an image is
no longer an image when something is added or subtracted. Do you not
perceive that images are very far from having qualities which are
the exact counterpart of the realities which they represent?
Crat. Yes, I see.
Soc. But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names on things,
if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the doubles
of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names
and which were the realities.
Crat. Quite true.
Soc. Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one name
may be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that
the name shall be exactly the same with the thing; but allow the
occasional substitution of a wrong letter, and if of a letter also
of a noun in a sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a
sentence which is not appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge
that the thing may be named, and described, so long as the general
character of the thing which you are describing is retained; and this,
as you will remember, was remarked by Hermogenes and myself in the
particular instance of the names of the letters.
Crat. Yes, I remember.
Soc. Good; and when the general character is preserved, even if some
of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is signified; -
well, if all the letters are given; not well, when only a few of
them are given. I think that we had better admit this, lest we be
punished like travellers in Aegina who wander about the street late at
night: and be likewise told by truth herself that we have arrived
too late; or if not, you must find out some new notion of
correctness of names, and no longer maintain that a name is the
expression of a thing in letters or syllables; for if you say both,
you will be inconsistent with yourself.
Crat. I quite acknowledge, Socrates, what you say to be very
Soc. Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves whether
a name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters .
Soc. And the proper letters are those which are like the things?
Soc. Enough then of names which are rightly given. And in names
which are incorrectly given, the greater part may be supposed to be
made up of proper and similar letters, or there would be no
likeness; but there will be likewise a part which is improper and
spoils the beauty and formation of the word: you would admit that?
Crat. There would be no use, Socrates, in my quarrelling with you,
since I cannot be satisfied that a name which is incorrectly given
is a name at all .
Soc. Do you admit a name to be the representation of a thing?
Crat. Yes, I do.
Soc. But do you not allow that some nouns are primitive, and some
Crat. Yes, I do.
Soc. Then if you admit that primitive or first nouns are
representations of things, is there any better way of framing
representations than by assimilating them to the objects as much as
you can; or do you prefer the notion of Hermogenes and of many others,
who say that names are conventional, and have a meaning to those who
have agreed about them, and who have previous knowledge of the
things intended by them, and that convention is the only principle;
and whether you abide by our present convention, or make a new and
opposite one, according to which you call small great and great small-
that, they would say, makes no difference, if you are only agreed.
Which of these two notions do you prefer?
Crat. Representation by likeness, Socrates, is infinitely better
than representation by any chance sign.
Soc. Very good: but if the name is to be like the thing, the letters
out of which the first names are composed must also be like things.
Returning to the image of the picture, I would ask, How could any
one ever compose a picture which would be like anything at all, if
there were not pigments in nature which resembled the things imitated,
and out of which the picture is composed?
Soc. No more could names ever resemble any actually existing
thing, unless the original elements of which they are compounded
bore some degree of resemblance to the objects of which the names
are the imitation: And the original elements are letters?
Soc. Let me now invite you to consider what Hermogenes and I were
saying about sounds. Do you agree with me that the letter r is
expressive of rapidity, motion, and hardness? Were we right or wrong
in saying so?
Crat. I should say that you were right.
Soc. And that 1 was expressive of smoothness, and softness, and
Crat. There again you were right.
Soc. And yet, as you are aware, that which is called by us
sklerotes, is by the Eretrians called skleroter.
Crat. Very true.
Soc. But are the letters r and s, equivalents; and is there the same
significance to them in the termination r, which there is to us in
s, or is there no significance to one of us?
Crat. Nay, surely there is a significance to both of us.
Soc. In as far as they are like, or in as far as they are unlike?
Crat. In as far as they are like.
Soc. Are they altogether alike?
Crat. Yes; for the purpose of expressing motion.
Soc. And what do you say of the insertion of the 1? for that is
expressive not of hardness but of softness.
Crat. Why, perhaps the letter 1 is wrongly inserted, Socrates, and
should be altered into r, as you were saying to Hermogenes and in my
opinion rightly, when you spoke of adding and subtracting letters upon
Soc. Good. But still the word is intelligible to both of us; when
I say skleros (hard), you know what I mean.
Crat. Yes, my dear friend, and the explanation of that is custom.
Soc. And what is custom but convention? I utter a sound which I
understand, and you know that I understand the meaning of the sound:
this is what you are saying?
Soc. And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an indication
given by me to you?
Soc. This indication of my meaning may proceed from unlike as well
as from like, for example in the 1 of sklerotes. But if this is
true, then you have made a convention with yourself, and the
correctness of a name turns out to be convention, since letters
which are unlike are indicative equally with those which are like,
if they are sanctioned by custom and convention. And even supposing
that you distinguish custom from convention ever so much, still you
must say that the signification of words is given by custom and not by
likeness, for custom may indicate by the unlike as well as by the
like. But as we are agreed thus far, Cratylus (for I shall assume that
your silence gives consent) , then custom and convention must be
supposed to contribute to the indication of our thoughts; for
suppose we take the instance of number, how can you ever imagine, my
good friend, that you will find names resembling every individual
number, unless you allow that which you term convention and
agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names? I
quite agree with you that words should as far as possible resemble
things; but I fear that this dragging in of resemblance, as Hermogenes
says, is a shabby thing, which has to be supplemented by the
mechanical aid of convention with a view to correctness; for I believe
that if we could always, or almost always, use likenesses, which are
perfectly appropriate, this would be the most perfect state of
language; as the opposite is the most imperfect. But let me ask you,
what is the force of names, and what is the use of them?
Crat. The use of names, Socrates, as I should imagine, is to inform:
the simple truth is, that he who knows names knows also the things
which are expressed by them.
Soc. I suppose you mean to say, Cratylus, that as the name is, so
also is the thing; and that he who knows the one will also know the
other, because they are similars, and all similars fall under the same
art or science; and therefore you would say that he who knows names
will also know things.
Crat. That is precisely what I mean.
Soc. But let us consider what is the nature of this information
about things which, according to you, is given us by names. Is it
the best sort of information? or is there any other? What do you say?
Crat. I believe that to be both the only and the best sort of
information about them; there can be no other.
Soc. But do you believe that in the discovery of them, he who
discovers the names discovers also the things; or is this only the
method of instruction, and is there some other method of enquiry and
Crat. I certainly believe that the methods of enquiry and
discovery are of the same nature as instruction.
Soc. Well, but do you not see, Cratylus, that he who follows names
in the search after things, and analyses their meaning, is in great
danger of being deceived?
Crat. How so?
Soc. Why clearly he who first gave names gave them according to
his conception of the things which they signified- did he not?
Soc. And if his conception was erroneous, and he gave names
according to his conception, in what position shall we who are his
followers find ourselves? Shall we not be deceived by him?
Crat. But, Socrates, am I not right in thinking that he must
surely have known; or else, as I was saying, his names would not be
names at all? And you have a clear proof that he has not missed the
truth, and the proof is- that he is perfectly consistent. Did you ever
observe in speaking that all the words which you utter have a common
character and purpose?
Soc. But that, friend Cratylus, is no answer. For if he did begin in
error, he may have forced the remainder into agreement with the
original error and with himself; there would be nothing strange in
this, any more than in geometrical diagrams, which have often a slight
and invisible flaw in the first part of the process, and are
consistently mistaken in the long deductions which follow. And this is
the reason why every man should expend his chief thought and attention
on the consideration of his first principles:- are they or are they
not rightly laid down? and when he has duly sifted them, all the
rest will follow. Now I should be astonished to find that names are
really consistent. And here let us revert to our former discussion:
Were we not saying that all things are in motion and progress and
flux, and that this idea of motion is expressed by names? Do you not
conceive that to be the meaning of them?
Crat. Yes; that is assuredly their meaning, and the true meaning.
Soc. Let us revert to episteme (knowledge) and observe how ambiguous
this word is, seeming rather to signify stopping the soul at things
than going round with them; and therefore we should leave the
beginning as at present, and not reject the e, but make an insertion
of an instead of an i (not pioteme, but epiisteme) . Take another
example: bebaion (sure) is clearly the expression of station and
position, and not of motion. Again, the word istoria (enquiry) bears
upon the face of it the stopping (istanai) of the stream; and the word
piston (faithful) certainly indicates cessation of motion; then,
again, mneme (memory), as any one may see, expresses rest in the soul,
and not motion. Moreover, words such as amartia and sumphora, which
have a bad sense, viewed in the light of their etymologies will be the
same as sunesis and episteme and other words which have a good sense
(i.e., omartein, sunienai, epesthai, sumphersthai) and much the same
may be said of amathia and akolaia, for amathia may be explained as
e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia as e akolouthia tois pragmasin.
Thus the names which in these instances we find to have the worst
sense, will turn out to be framed on the same principle as those which
have the best. And any one I believe who would take the trouble
might find many other examples in which the giver of names
indicates, not that things are in motion or progress, but that they
are at rest; which is the opposite of motion.
Crat. Yes, Socrates, but observe; the greater number express motion.
Soc. What of that, Cratylus? Are we to count them like votes? and is
correctness of names the voice of the majority? Are we to say of
whichever sort there are most, those are the true ones?
Crat. No; that is not reasonable.
Soc. Certainly not. But let us have done with this question and
proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you
think with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first
givers of names in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the
legislators, and that the art which gave names was the art of the
Crat. Quite true.
Soc. Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the givers
of the first names, know or not know the things which they named?
Crat. They must have known, Socrates.
Soc. Why, yes, friend Cratylus, they could hardly have been
Crat. I should say not.
Soc. Let us return to the point from which we digressed. You were
saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the
things which he named; are you still of that opinion?
Crat. I am.
Soc. And would you say that the giver of the first names had also
a knowledge of the things which he named?
Crat. I should.
Soc. But how could he have learned or discovered things from names
if the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct in
our view, the only way of learning and discovering things, is either
to discover names for ourselves or to learn them from others.
Crat. I think that there is a good deal in what you say, Socrates.
Soc. But if things are only to be known through names, how can we
suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators
before there were names at all, and therefore before they could have
Crat. I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be,
that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that
the names which are thus given are necessarily their true names.
Soc. Then how came the giver of the names, if he was an inspired
being or God, to contradict himself? For were we not saying just now
that he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion?
Were we mistaken?
Crat. But I suppose one of the two not to be names at all.
Soc. And which, then, did he make, my good friend; those which are
expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion? This is a
point which, as I said before, cannot be determined by counting them.
Crat. No; not in that way, Socrates.
Soc. But if this is a battle of names, some of them asserting that
they are like the truth, others contending that they are, how or by
what criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other
names to which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be
had to another standard which, without employing names, will make
clear which of the two are right; and this must be a standard which
shows the truth of things.
Crat. I agree.
Soc. But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things may
be known without names?
Soc. But how would you expect to know them? What other way can there
be of knowing them, except the true and natural way, through their
affinities, when they are akin to each other, and through
themselves? For that which is other and different from them must
signify something other and different from them.
Crat. What you are saying is, I think, true.
Soc. Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged
that names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things
which they name?
Soc. Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn
things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can
learn them from the things themselves- which is likely to be the
nobler and clearer way to learn of the image, whether the image and
the truth of which the image is the expression have been rightly
conceived, or to learn of the truth whether the truth and the image of
it have been duly executed?
Crat. I should say that we must learn of the truth.
Soc. How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I
suspect, beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the
knowledge of things is not to be derived from names. No; they must
be studied and investigated in themselves .
Crat. Clearly, Socrates.
Soc. There is another point. I should not like us to be imposed upon
by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the
same direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did
really give them under the idea that all things were in motion and
flux; which was their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And
having fallen into a kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried
round, and want to drag us in after them. There is a matter, master
Cratylus, about which I often dream, and should like to ask your
opinion: Tell me, whether there is or is not any absolute beauty or
good, or any other absolute existence?
Crat. Certainly, Socrates, I think so.
Soc. Then let us seek the true beauty: not asking whether a face
is fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in
a flux; but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always
Soc. And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always passing
away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born
and retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
Soc. Then how can that be a real thing which is never in the same
state? I for obviously things which are the same cannot change while
they remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the
same state, and never depart from their original form, they can
never change or be moved.
Crat. Certainly they cannot.
Soc. Nor yet can they be known by any one; for at the moment that
the observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature,
so that you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state,
for you cannot know that which has no state.
Soc. Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge at
all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing
abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless
continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature of
knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no
knowledge; and if the transition is always going on, there will always
be no knowledge, and, according to this view, there will be no one
to know and nothing to be known: but if that which knows and that
which is known exist ever, and the beautiful and the good and every
other thing also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a
process or flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is
this eternal nature in things, or whether the truth is what
Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is a question
hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself or the
education of his mind in the power of names: neither will he so far
trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge
which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of
unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or
imagine that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This
may be true, Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and
therefore I would not have you be too easily persuaded of it.
Reflect well and like a man, and do not easily accept such a doctrine;
for you are young and of an age to learn. And when you have found
the truth, come and tell me.
Crat. I will do as you say, though I can assure you, Socrates,
that I have been considering the matter already, and the result of a
great deal of trouble and consideration is that I incline to
Soc. Then, another day, my friend, when you come back, you shall
give me a lesson; but at present, go into the country, as you are
intending, and Hermogenes shall set you on your way.
Crat. Very good, Socrates; I hope, however, that you will continue
to think about these things yourself.