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Full text of "Ancient Classic Texts before 400 B.C."

360 BC 
CRATYLUS 
by Plato 
translated by Benjamin Jowett 



CRATYLUS 

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 
both sides. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

Soc. But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the parts 
untrue? 

Her. No; the parts are true as well as the whole. 

Soc. Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or 
every part? 

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 
the name? 

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 
them? 

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 
foolish? 

Her. Impossible. 

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 
instrument . 

Her. True. 

Soc. And this holds good of all actions? 

Her . Yes . 

Soc. And speech is a kind of action? 

Her. True. 

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 
and failure. 

Her. I quite agree with you. 

Soc. And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men 
speak. 

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? 

Her. True. 

Soc. And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but had 
a special nature of their own? 



Her. Precisely. 

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 
success . 

Her. I agree. 

Soc. But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with 
something? 

Her . Yes . 

Soc. And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be woven or 
pierced with something? 

Her. Certainly. 

Soc. And that which has to be named has to be named with something? 

Her. True. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

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 
we name? 

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? 

Her. Assuredly. 

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 
using well? 

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 
using well? 

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 
using? 

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 
legislator? 

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. 

Her. True. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

Soc. And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by nature to 
their uses? 

Her. True. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

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 
dialectician? 

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. 

Her. True. 

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 
given? 

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 
say? 

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 
think so? 

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 



refer? 

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 
wiser? 

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 
women . 

Her. That may be inferred. 

Soc. And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than 
their wives? 

Her. To be sure. 

Soc. Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name 
for the boy than Scamandrius? 

Her. Clearly. 

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 
name? 

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 
irreligious? 

Her. Certainly. 

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. 

Her. Clearly. 

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 
likely? 

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 
race . 

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? 

Soc. Certainly. 

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 
into psuche. 

Her. Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more scientific than 
the other. 

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 
changed. 

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 
also spoke. 



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 
greatest? 

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 
explanation . 

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 
Athene . 

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 
dancing . 

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? 

Soc. Athene? 

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) ? 

Her. Surely. 

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 
Ares . 

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 
false? 

Her. Certainly. 

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 
same meaning? 

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 
previous month. 



Her. Very true. 

Soc. The moon is not unfrequently called selanaia. 

Her. True. 

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 . 

Her. Good. 

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 
of them? 

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 
surely indicated. 



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? 

Her. Hardly. 

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 
(tethelenai) . 

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 
explained . 

Her. True. 

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. 

Her. True. 

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 



also . 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

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? 

Her. Certainly. 

Soc. Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering does 
the works of a carpenter? 

Her. Exactly. 

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 



opposites . 

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 
character . 

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) . 

Her. True. 

Soc. I would rather take the words blaberon (harmful), zemiodes 
(hurtful) . 

Her. Good. 

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 
into blaberon. 

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 
mine . 



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 
the sound. 

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. 

Her. Clearly. 

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 
already suggested. 

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 
barbarous tongue. 

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 
further . 

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. 

Her. Surely. 

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 
express anything. 

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 
imitate . 

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 
colour? 

Her. Certainly. 

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 
and drawing? 

Her. True. 

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 
disciples . 

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 
yourself . 



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 
quite true. 

Soc. Names, then, are given in order to instruct? 

Crat. Certainly. 

Soc. And naming is an art, and has artificers? 

Crat. Yes. 

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? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 
worse . 

Crat. True. 

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 
worse? 

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 
nonsense . 

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? 

Crat. Certainly. 

Soc. And you would say that pictures are also imitations of 
things, but in another way? 

Crat. Yes. 

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? 

Crat. Certainly. 



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 
wrong . 

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 
always right. 

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. 

Crat. Certainly. 

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, 
Granted. 

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 . 



Crat. Yes. 

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 
bad? 

Crat. Yes. 

Soc. And this artist of names is called the legislator? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 
reasonable . 

Soc. Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves whether 
a name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters . 

Crat. Yes. 

Soc. And the proper letters are those which are like the things? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 
derived? 

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? 

Crat. Impossible. 

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? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 
the like? 

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 
occasion . 



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? 

Crat. Yes. 

Soc. And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an indication 
given by me to you? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 



discovery . 

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? 

Crat. True. 

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 
legislator? 

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 
ignorant . 

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 
known them? 

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? 

Crat. Clearly. 

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? 

Crat. Yes. 

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 
beautiful . 

Crat. Certainly. 

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? 

Crat. Undoubtedly. 

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. 

Crat. True. 

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 
Heracleitus . 

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. 



-THE END-