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Dialogue of Cultures
Translations of the Works of
Great Thinkers

Phaedon; Or,
The Death of Socrates

Moses Mendelssohn

For Related Articles

This is from a 1789 translation by Charles Cullen, published in London. The Schiller Institute translation of an earlier part of this Mendelssohn dialogue appeared in FIDELIO Magazine, Vol . 3 No.1 , Spring 1994, entitled, Phaedon, Or The Immortality of the Soul, and was translated by John Chambless.

Because of the emphasis that Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. has put on the importance of this work, we are making available online the only extant English translation, published 22 years after the German original. The complete Schiller Institute translation, now in progress, will be online only after it is published in print. Click Here for Related Articles, incuding

The Life of Socrates by Moses Mendelssohn

Phaedon, Or The Immortality of the Soul (short excerpt)


by David Shavin

I. Plato's "Phaedo"

In Plato's Phaedo dialogue, Echecrates of Philacea - said to be a Pythagorean and a student of Plato's geometer/statesman friend, Archytas - has come to Athens, and has asked Phaedo to relate for him the execution day of Socrates. Phaedo had been present that day with his fellow Athenians: Crito, Socrates' oldest friend and supporter; Crito's son, Critobulus; Antisthenes, a student of Socrates who set up a school in Athens that taught to different classes of Athenians; and about 8-12 other Athenians. Also, there were three Thebans, including Simmias and Cebes, students of the Pythagorean Philolaus; and two from Megara, including the philosopher Euclides, who would provide refuge for Plato and his friends, after Socrates's execution, when Athens was unsafe.

It took some courage to be counted as a friend of Socrates at that point, as the Eleven who oversaw Socrates' execution, and the Persian-controlled "Democratic" party of Athens who organized Socrates trial, would have noted who was prepared to carry on Socrates' work. Plato's sublime treatment of Socrates' life and death, willfully and deliberately created what we today call "classical" culture. By his dialogues, he recruited youth to Socrates' example of truth-seeking behavior, establishing the Platonic Academy that lasted a thousand years. Of note, his student Menaechmus taught Alexander the Great classical, non-linear thinking methods. Alexander's general, Ptolemy, established the Alexandrian Library in Egypt, around which the accomplishments of Archimedes and Eratosthenes in the third century BC would be the basis for the European Renaissance, and for the physical transformation of the globe.

Had Socrates flinched in the face of mortality, or Plato flinched in his clearly delineated mission, it were likely that you, dear reader, would not be here at this moment to be reading this


II. Mendelssohn's "Phaedon Project"

Moses Mendelssohn translated Plato's Phaedo into German, but recast Socrates with the advances that Leibniz had made from Plato's time. As Mendelssohn states, opening up his Preface:

The following work is written in imitation of the "Phaedon" of Plato; But the author "has recourse solely to the lights of the moderns, and makes Socrates speak as a philosopher of the eighteenth century."

Mendelssohn launched his Phaedon project in the decade before the American Revolution, because European culture, he argued, suffered from the suppression of Gottfried Leibniz's powerful thoughts and works. [1] Mendelssohn smashed the stranglehold over Leibniz's methods, even though for 50 years, his actual works had been under the lock and key of the first three King Georges of Great Britain, controlled by the Venetian Party there. At the same time, 1765, Mendelssohn's collaborators in Goettingen, Professors R. E. Raspe and Abraham Kaestner, published the first edition of Leibniz's New Essays on Human Understanding, decimating John Locke's feudal notions of man's mind and mission. (R.E. Raspe's 1766 dialogue with Benjamin Franklin, at Goettingen University, on the superiority of Leibniz's concept of felicity, or happiness over Locke's defense of property, certainly bore fruit a decade later. The "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" section of the American 1776 Declaration of Independence reflect these deliberations. [2]

In Mendelssohn's homeland of Prussia, the ruler, Frederick the Great, suffered from a Voltairean infection of the sophistical and cynical "Enlightenment." In 1759, Voltaire's sophomoric work, Candide had attempted to ridicule Leibniz's graceful development of Plato's notion that the world was bent toward the Good. Mendelssohn's re-working of Plato's Phaedo included specific arguments crafted to devastate such influences (including a section to counter David Hume's defense of suicide).

The reader will recognize in the following passage that we provide here, from the last quarter of the work, material very directly developed for Frederick the Great -and for any leader that would call his citizens to a higher cause. [3] Mendelssohn's love for his fellow man inspired him to transform the German language, making Leibniz's daunting and powerful ideas, the immediate concern of every mortal.

The result was his Phaedon movement, a movement that was at the core of the European support for the American Revolution, and that inspired Mozart, Schiller, and the German classical revival. Plato responded to the unjust execution of Socrates by going beyond his own destiny. Mendelssohn responded to the attempted second burial of Leibniz by taking courage from Socrates, and launching a beautiful pursuit of happiness. Listen in, as these great souls deliberate across the centuries.

click on footnote number to return to text

[1] See Philosophical Vignettes from the Political Life of Moses Mendelssohn in Fidelio, Summer, 1999.]

[2] See Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness--How the Natural Law Concept of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers by Robert Trout

]3[ See Lyndon LaRouche's passionate development of this, in his Memorial Day Speech, May 28, 2002

Section I

The Dialogue




Execrates, Phaedon, Appollodorus, Socrates, Cebes, Crito, and Simmias

EXECRATES: Were you, Phaedon, present when the fatal cup was administered to Socrates?

PHAEDON: I was present, Execrates.

EXECRATES: You can tell us, then, what were his last words, and how the wise man died-We long anxiously to hear it. Our Philacean citizens go seldom to Athens, and from thence we have seen no person who could give us intelligence of this event. Thus far we have heard; that Socrates has drunk poison, and is dead: but not a single circumstance more.

PHAEDON: Nothing of his condemnation?

EXECRATES: Yes; of that we have been told: but we wondered still why he was permitted to live so long, after he was condemned.

PHAEDON: Accident alone, Execrates , was the cause of it. The ship which the Athenians send annually to Delos, happened to receive her customary decorations of flowers, the very day before his condemnation.

EXECRATES: What ship is that?

PHAEDON: The same, as the Athenians tell, in which Theseus carried formerly the seven couple of tributary children to Crete, whose lives, as well as his own, he preserved there by destroying the Minotaur. Previous to their departure, it is said, the city made a vow to Apollo, that if the children, through his auspices, survived the expedition, she would send annually by this ship rich presents to him to Delos; and ever since her promise to the God has been kept inviolate.

When the sacred ship is ready to sail the priest of Apollo adorns her stern with garlands of flowers; at the same time the festival of the Theory commences, and continues from the departure of the ship for Delos, until her return to Athens. During the interval of its celebration the city abstains from all bloodshed, and the laws forbid any criminal to be publicly executed. If the ship should be detained, by contrary winds, those who have been condemned to die may gain a considerable respite. It was on account of this festival that so long a time elapsed between the condemnation and the death of Socrates.

EXECRATES: But the last day, Phaedon; how did it pass? How did he behave? What did he say? And what did he do? Who attended him in his last moments? Or would the Archons suffer no person to be present? And did he die without having a friend beside him?

PHAEDON: By no means; there were many present.

EXECRATES: Gratify us, then, my dear Phaedon, with the relation of what passed on that memorable occasion.

PHAEDON: I will endeavor to satisfy your wish. Nothing is more pleasing to me than to call Socrates to my mind, to speak of him myself, or to hear him spoken of by others.

EXECRATES: And we who are your hearers hold his memory in the same respect and veneration, and will be pleased to be informed as minutely and circumstantially as possible, how he bid his friends and the world farewell.

PHAEDON: I was present at that scene; but none that I had ever before witnessed affected me in the same manner. I did not feel that compassion or affliction for him which I had been used to do upon other occasions while a friend has departed in my arms. Socrates, when he drank the poison, appeared to be happy, and in a composure of mind that was enviable; so calm, so tranquil was his behavior in his last moments, so resigned were his last words. His looks and demeanor did not seem those of a mortal who descends prematurely to the shades, but rather those of an immortal who was confident, wherever he might go, he would be as happy as any one had ever been. It was impossible for me, therefore, to be impressed with that awe and melancholy which the fight of death usually awakes in the soul. At the same time we did not taste in the philosophical conversation of our teacher, that pure delight and satisfaction to which we had been before accustomed; but, on the contrary, an extraordinary and, till then, unknown mixture of pleasure with distress; our enjoyment being continually interrupted by the bitter consciousness and reflection, " that we were soon to lose him for ever."

Those alternate sensations of grief and joy agitated the minds of all who were present, but appeared still more strongly marked in our countenances. Sometimes we laughed, and sometimes we wept; a smile was often on our lips, and warm moisture in our eyes. But Apollodorus exceeded us all. You know him, and his sensibility of temper.


PHAEDON: His emotions were the most singular; every word and look of Socrates that day penetrated him deeply; what made us only smile, frequently threw him into rapture; and while drops were but gathering upon our fight, the eyes of Apollodorus appeared swimming in tears. We were almost as much affected at the sight of him, as with the contemplation of our dying friend.

EXECRATES: Who were all present?

PHAEDON: Of the inhabitants of this town-Apollodorus, Critobulus, and his father Crito; Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, Ctesiphon, Antisthenes, Menexenus, and some others. Plato, I believe, was sick.

EXECRATES: Were there any strangers amongst you?

PHAEDON: Yes; Simmias, Cebes, and Phaedondas, from Thebes; and Euclid and Terpsion, from Megara.

EXECRATES: What! Were not Aristippus and Cleombrotus there?

PHAEDON: No: it is said they were then residing at Aegina.

EXECRATES: No others were present?

PHAEDON: I do not recollect any other person who was there.

EXECRATES: Pray, then, inform us of the subject of your discourse.

PHAEDON: I will tell you every thing from beginning to end. We were in the habit of visiting Socrates daily while he was in prison. We used to assemble for this purpose in the court where his sentence was pronounced, which was close adjoining, and entertain ourselves with conversation there until the prison door was open, which did not usually happen early. As soon as it was unlocked we went in to Socrates, and generally spent the whole day with him. The morning of his departure we repaired to him sooner than usual. Having heard the evening before, as we were going home, that the ship was returned from Delos, we resolved to be with him the last day as early as possible. When we were all met, the jailor, who used to open the prison door, came up to us, and requested we would not go in just then, but wait till he should call us; for the eleven men, he said, are now taking the chains off Socrates, and acquainting him that this day he must die. Not long after he came and called us. When we went in we found Socrates, unbound, lying upon his bed. Xantippe, his wife, sat beside him in silent sorrow, and held her child in her lap. When she perceived us, she began like a woman to lament aloud, Ah, Socrates! thy friends see thee this day, and thou them for the last time; and a flood of tears interrupted her words.

Socrates turned to Crito, and begged of him to let her be conducted home. The servants of Crito led her out, crying and beating her breast in distress.

Socrates then raising himself up in the bed, bent his leg which had been fettered, and as he rubbed it with his hand, "Oh my friends" he said, "what a strange thing does that seem to be, which men call agreeable! At first thought we conceive it to be the opposite of disagreeable, as nothing can be at the same time agreeable and disagreeable to man: yet no person can feel either of these sensations by means of the senses without being immediately sensible of the other, as if they were joined at both ends together. Had Aesop made this remark, he would probably have written the following fable: -' The gods were willing to unite opposite sensations; but as they found it impossible, they tied them at both ends together, since which they have been constantly inseparable.' - This truth I have just experienced. These fetters gave me much pain; but they are no sooner removed than the most agreeable sensation ensues."

I am glad, said Cebes interrupting him, that you have mentioned Aesop, for you make me remember to ask you one question, Socrates: Whether it is true, as reported, that you have turned some of the fables of Aesop into poetry, and written a hymn in honor of Apollo? I am asked by many, and particularly by the poet Evenus, what has led your thoughts to write poems now, as you never did such a thing before. What answer shall I give when he asks me next? and ask me he certainly will: therefore say what shall I tell him.

Tell him, Cebes, replied Socrates, nothing but the truth: that I have not by any means written these poems in order to dispute rank with him in the art of poetry, for I know how difficult that is; but in compliance with an advice given me while asleep, to which I have endeavored to conform my life and actions in every possible manner. The occasion was as follows : - In times past a dream presented itself to me in various shapes, but constantly gave me the same admonition: " Socrates, apply yourself to music, and perfect yourself in that art." Hitherto I considered this exhortation merely as words of encouragement, such as we Grecians make use of to wager runners. The dream I have thought enjoins me nothing new, philosophy, which I have always studied, being the most excellent music. It only means, therefore, to keep up my zeal and love for wisdom, that I may not relax in the pursuit of it. Since my sentence has been pronounced however, as the festival of Apollo has delayed my death, in the leisure time it has afforded I have again deliberated upon my dream; and lest I may have been required to prosecute common music, I have written a song in praise of the God, whose feast we are celebrating: I recollected after, that in the works of a poet fictions were necessary; but as a song of praise contains no fiction, nor having any talent for original poetry myself, I therefore supplied my want of genius with the inventions of others; and the fables of Aesop coming first to my hands, I turned forth of them into verse. This Cebes, you may give for your answer to Evenus; salute him also on my part, and tell him, if he is wise, he will soon follow me. According to all appearances, by command of the Athenians, I shall this day take my departure.

And is this your wish to Evenus? said Simmias. I know him so well, that as far as I can judge, he will return you no thanks for the advice.

How! replied Socrates; is Evenus no philosopher?

Yes, Simmias answered, I think he is.

Why then, said Socrates, he will follow me cheerfully, and not only he, but all those who deserve the name. I do not mean, however, that he should lay violent hand on himself, for that is not permitted to any man, as we all know. And while he spoke this he put both his feet down from the bed to the ground, to continue the conversation in that posture.

How are you to be understood? said Cebes. You say we are not permitted to take away our own lives, and yet every philosopher should be willing to follow a dying man.

Cebes, said Socrates, you and Simmias have both attended the philosopher Philolaus. Did he never explain himself to you upon this point?

Not fully, Socrates.

I will freely, then impart my sentiments to you upon the subject. I think, if any person is going to travel, he ought to enquire well into the condition of the country which he is to visit, that he may form a just idea of it.

This conversation is much adapted to my present circumstances; for what could we propose more befitting this solemn day until the sun goes down?

How do you prove, said Cebes, that suicide is illicit? though Philolaus, and other teachers, have strongly impressed me with this opinion, I wish to be fully convinced of it.

Listen, then, to me, said Socrates- I maintain, that suicide, in every possible case, is absolutely inadmissable. We know there are persons existing, to whom life must be burdensome. It may seem strange to you, on this account, that the sacred duties of society should not permit the unhappy to relieve themselves by voluntary death, but should enjoin them to wait for another helping hand to release them; yet nothing is more consistent with the views of the Supreme Being.

Men are placed here on earth like sentinels, and therefore must not quit their post until they are relieved. As God is our proprietor, and we are his property, can we doubt whether his providence watches over our welfare?

We cannot, said Cebes.

Would not a bondsman, who lives under the protection of a good master, merit punishment, if he acted in opposition to his designs? And if here is a spark of rectitude in his bosom, must he not feel a sincere joy when he sees the wishes of his master fulfilled through his means, and the more so if he is convinced that it is his own interest to contribute to their accomplishment?


Then answer me, Cebes. When the uncreated work-master made the artificial structure of the human body, and implanted a rational soul in it, had he a good or bad design in doing so?

Undoubtedly a good one.

For he must deny his own being, its self-subsisting goodness, if he could associate an evil intention with his own works; what god can renounce his own nature?

A fabulous god only whom the credulous vulgar feign of various forms. I remember very well, Socrates, the arguments with which, on a former occasion, you combated this delusive error.

The same god, Cebes, who has constructed the body, has furnished it with powers which strengthen preserve, and defend it from too premature decay; shall we allow that this power of preservation was given with the most benevolent intention?

How can we do otherwise?

As faithful servants then, it is a sacred duty incumbent upon us to assist the views of our supreme disposer in their progress to maturity, not forcibly to counteract them, but rather to make all our actions tend to their completion.

For this reason, dear Cebes, I have said philosophy is the most excellent music, as it teaches us to direct our thoughts and actions so as to make them accord as perfectly as possible with the views of our master. If music is a science which unites the weak with the strong, the harsh with the soft, the agreeable with the disagreeable in harmony, then certainly no music can be more admirable and excellent than philosophy, which teaches us not only to bring our thoughts and actions into perfect and wonderful harmony among themselves, but also to make the conduct of a finite accord with the views of an infinite being, and the ideas of the inhabitants of earth to correspond with the sentiments of omniscience. O, Cebes! should a rash mortal attempt to destroy this complete harmony!

He would deserve the abhorrence both of gods and men.

But tell me, do not the powers of nature act as servants to the deity, and fulfil his commands?


They are also augurs which announce to us the will and views of the divinity with more fidelity than the entrails of victims; for the end at which the powers given by the Almightly aim is unquestionably the result of his decree?

It cannot be denied.

As long as these augurs certify to us that the preservation of our lives is consistent with the views of God, we are bound in duty to direct our free actions accordingly, and have neither right nor reason to oppose them with violence, or to obstruct the servants of supreme wisdom in the exercise of their functions; this is our duty until God, by the same augurs, sends us an express command to resign this life, as he has done to me this day.

Of that I am fully convinced, said Cebes. But I am now less able to comprehend, my dear Socrates, what you said before, that every philosopher must be willing to follow you out of this life; for if it is true, as you have just now maintained, that we are the property of God, and that he watches over us, how can such an assertion be just? Should not a prudent man regret to leave the service of a superior being, who is his best and most benevolent protector? And if he might hope by death to become free and his own master, how can the un-experienced minor flatter himself that he will be safer when left to his own guidance, than while under the care of a guardian mother? I should think it gross misunderstanding to choose rather to be totally at liberty, than to suffer the best of tutors to watch over us. Whoever reasons justly, will contentedly submit to the direction of another, whom he believes to be possessed of more understanding than himself. On this account I should draw a conclusion directly contrary to your opinion. The wise man, I should say, ought to be sad, and the fool happy at the prospect of death.

Socrates heard him attentively, and appeared to be pleased with his acuteness. He then turned towards us, and said, Cebes will give any person who opposes him in argument enough to do; he has so many doubts to be resolved before he is convinced.

But at present, said Simmias, Cebes does not appear to be in the wrong: for what can induce a wise man, without any discontent to withdraw himself from the providence of an all-seeing power; and if I am not deceived, Socrates, Cebes directs his objections principally against your present conduct- You who can with so much unconcern, not only take leave of all your friends, to whom your death is afflicting, but remove yourself also from under the superintendance of a governor, who you have taught us to believe is the wisest and most benevolent of beings.

I see, said Socrates, I am accused, and that I must defend myself in form.

But I will endeavor to do more justice to my present defense than I did to that which I made before my judges.

Hear Simmias and Cebes. In the first place, if I had not hopes where I am going to continue still under the care of the same all-kind providence, and to meet the spirits of the departed, whose society is preferable to any friendship we enjoy here upon earth, it would be weakness and folly to treat life with so much indifference, and run willingly into the arms of death; but I have the most comforting assurances that I shall be deceived in neither of my expectations. The latter I dare not so confidently insist on; but that the providence of God will always watch over me, I will maintain as firmly as ever I have maintained any truth in my life: for that reason I am not grieved to die, as I know that at death all is not over with our being; another life succeeds, and one, as has been said of old, which will prove happier for the virtuous than the wicked.

How, said Simmias, will you, dear Socrates, carry this comforting persuasion to the grave with you, nor deign to favor us with the communication of a doctrine which has so much consolation in it. It is but just to share so precious a gift with your friends; and if you persuade us to think as you do, then your defense is made.

I will attempt it; but let us first hear Crito, who has seemed desirous for some time past of saying something.

My friend, answered Crito, the man who is to bring you the poison begs of you not to talk so much: he says you will heat yourself to such a degree that the draft will not operate. He has often been obliged to prepare a second and third cup for those who would not refrain from talking.

In the name of God, said Socrates, let him do his duty: and have a second or a third draft ready, if he thinks proper.

This answer I expected, said Crito; but the fellow will not be silent.

Heed him not, replied Socrates. A man who has grown grey in the love of wisdom must be cheerful at the approach of death, because he can promise himself the greatest happiness after it. On what grounds I support this assertion, Simmias and Cebes, I shall endeavor to explain.

My friends, there are but a few who know, that he who gives himself up to the love of wisdom, employs the whole time of his life in making himself familiar with death, that he may learn to die. If this is the case, what an absurdity would it be if he, who points all his efforts here on earth at one single object, were to feel affliction, when the long-wished-for aim was at last accomplished.

Simmias smiled: by Heaven, Socrates, I must smile, although I am but little disposed to it. What you now say may not surprise the world so much as you think it should. The people of Athens in particular could tell you they know well that philosophers wish to learn to die, and for that reason they let them experience death as the recompense of their virtues.

Ah, Simmias! their penetration is not deep enough; they do not know what kind of death philosophers desire, nor how far they deserve it. But what are the Athenians at present to us. I am now in a discourse with my friends. Is not death something which can be described and explained?

Certainly, replied Simmias.

But is it anything else than the separation of the soul from the body? To die, is it not, when the soul leaves the body, or the body the soul, so as that they have no more communication with each other, and that each remains by itself? Or can you explain more clearly what death is?

No, my friend.

Do you think the true lover of wisdom is addicted to voluptuous living, and places his greatest enjoyment in the luxuries of eating and drinking?

Certainly not.

Is he the votary of love?

As little.

And with respect to other conveniences of life, does he, in his dress, for instance, affect pomp and extravagance, or does he content himself with what is barely necessary, and disregard superfluities?

Whatever man can dispense with, said Simmias, that the wise are never troubled to want.

May we not say then, continued Socrates, that the philosopher endeavors to make himself independent of every thing which is superfluous to the body, that he may be able to attend more constantly upon his soul.

Why not?

He distinguishes himself, therefore, from other men, by keeping his mind free of the fetters which the sensual passions lay upon it, endeavoring to wean his soul in part from her communication with the body.

Truly so.

The greater part of mankind will tell you, Simmias, that he who will not enjoy the pleasures of life does not deserve to live. They say a man longs after death, who denies himself sensual enjoyments, and abstains from all carnal pleasures.

They do so, Socrates.

But does not the body frequently interrupt the soul in her meditations? Can the man, then, who loves wisdom promise himself much progress in it, if he has not learnt to subdue the emotions which are occasioned by external objects? Let me explain this-The impressions on our eyes and ears are just as they are returned from the objects to us, mere simple sensations, not truths; for these must be inferred by the understanding-must they not?


As simple sensations also, they cannot be trusted to entirely; the poets, therefore, sing with justice, that the senses are delusive, and so not inform us distinctly. What we hear and see is full of labyrinth and darkness: but if both these senses cannot give us a clear idea, the other far less accurate senses deserve not to be mentioned.

Certainly not.

How must the soul proceed, then, if she would arrive at truth? If she depends upon the senses, she is deceived.


She must therefore exercise the powers of reasoning and reflection before she can discover and penetrate into the reality of things. But at what time is reflection most successful? Certainly at the time when we are lost, as it were, to all corporeal feeling of our existence, and the senses are blind to all external objects: then the soul loses her intimacy with the body, quits as much as she can their society, and, collected in herself, considers not the appearance of things to the senses, but their reality, not the impressions which objects make upon us, but that which they truly are.


But let us endeavor to make the matter still more clear. Is the all-perfect excellence a mere idea of the mind without external existence? Or does it mean a being whose existence is real and independent of us?

Certainly, Socrates, a real, unlimited, and, of us, independent being.

Are supreme goodness and wisdom also real?

Yes: these are the inseparable attributes of the all-perfect being.

But who has taught us to know this being? With our corporeal eyes we have never seen him. No external sense has led us to any conception of wisdom, goodness, perfection, beauty, power of thinking, etc.; and yet we know that these things exist without us, and exist actually in the highest degree. Can anybody explain to us how we came by those conceptions?

The voice of the gods, Socrates: I shall once more refer you to them.

How? My friends. If we heard in a neighboring chamber an exquisite flute-player, would we not be curious to know who was able to charm our ears so much?

When we admire a painting, do we not wish to know the masterly hand who executed it? There is in ourselves, notwithstanding the most excellent picture which gods or men have ever seen, the picture of supreme goodness, wisdom, and beauty; and yet we have never enquired after the artist who has left this perfect image on our minds.

Cebes replied, I remember once to have heard Philolaus give an explanation, which, I think, applies to this case.

Will not Cebes let his friends share this legacy of the happy Philolaus?

The soul obtains, Philolaus said, none of her conceptions of incorporeal things from the external senses, but by means of herself, while she observes her own operations and acquires the knowledge of her own nature and faculties. To make this more clear, I have heard him often put a fictitious case. Let us, he used to say, borrow from Homer the two tuns which stand in Jupiter's hall; but at the same time let us beg permission to fill them, not with prosperity and adversity, but the one with real essences, the other with defect and non-essences. As often as the Almighty Jupiter means to produce a spiritual being, he draws out a portion from each tun, casts a look on eternal fate, and, according to her decree, prepares such a mixture of both as is destined to the constitution of the future spirit. From hence a wonderful resemblance is found between the whole race of spiritual beings, as they are all produced from the same tuns, and differ only in the mixture. When our soul, therefore, which is nothing else than the result of such a mixture, contemplates herself, she acquires an idea of the nature of spirits, and their limits, of power and want of power, perfection, and imperfection, of understanding, wisdom, strength, design, beauty, justice, and a thousand other incorporeal things, concerning which the external senses, would leave her in the utmost ignorance.

How incomparable! replies Socrates. Yet how unkind in you, Cebes, while possessed of such a treasure, to suffer me almost to die without sharing it with you: but let us see how we can still enjoy it before the hour of death. Philolaus, said the soul, acquires a knowledge of kindred spirits, by contemplating herself-Does she not?


And she forms conceptions of immaterial things by developing her won faculties, and gives to each a particular name, in order to distinguish them more clearly from one another.


But if she would conceive a being superior to herself, what will supply her with this idea?

Cebes was silent, and Socrates continued. If I have comprehended Philolaus's meaning well, the soul can never form a just idea of a being higher than herself, or even of faculties superior to those which she herself possesses-but she can in general very well conceive the possibility of a being endowed with qualities that she has not, that is, a being more perfect than herself; or have you, perhaps, heard Philolaus say otherwise?


And she has only this glimpse of thought, this faint conception of the being of the highest perfection. She cannot comprehend the nature of essence in its full extent, but she thinks of the truth, goodness, and the degree of perfection in her own being, separates it in thought from the defects with which it is mixed, and gains by this means an idea of a being who is all purity, truth, goodness, and perfection.

Here Appollodorus, who had hitherto spoken every word in a low voice after Socrates, broke into rapture, and repeated aloud, "who is all purity, truth, goodness, and perfection."

Socrates continued. Do you see, my friends, how far the man, who loves wisdom, must remove himself from the senses and their objects, if he would comprehend the supreme and perfect being, the true knowledge of whom constitutes happiness?

In this pursuit of thought he must not only close his eyes and shut his ears, but banish from his mind all recollection of the pains or pleasures of the senses, and, if possible, forget his body entirely, that he may enter solitarily into himself, and contemplate the faculties of his soul and her operations.

The body is not only an unnecessary, but even a very inconvenient companion, to the mind in such enquiries; for she does not any longer search for colors, greatness, tones, or motions, but aspires to the conception of a being, who, in the most distinct manner, not only conceives but can produce all colors, greatness, tones, or motions, and, what is more, all possible spirits, in every imaginable arrangement or classification. What a helpless associate is the body in such an effort of the soul!

The true philosophers, said Socrates, who weigh these reasons, cannot avoid being of this opinion, and saying to each other, here is a false path which leads us more and more out of our way, and fools all our hopes. We are certain that the knowledge of truth is our only wish; but as long as we are distempered by the gross appetites of the body, as long as our soul is still infected with this terrestrial contagion, we cannot possibly flatter ourselves that we shall see this wish entirely fulfilled. We ought to search for truth; but, alas! the body gives us very little leisure for this important duty. Today its support requires all our care, tomorrow it is attacked by sickness; then come other advocations of life, such as love, fear, desires, anxieties, reveries, and follies, which continually disquiet us, by alluring our senses from one vanity to another, and make us pine in vain after the true object of our wishes; that is, wisdom. What brings on war, sedition, quarrels, and discord, amongst men, but the body and its insatiable desires? For avarice is the mother of all troubles, and our soul would never be covetous of worldly possessions, if she had not always the care of the hungry appetites of the body.

In this way we are occupied almost all our time, and have little or no leisure left for philosophy. At last, should we find some vacant hours, and prepare ourselves to embrace wisdom, the disturber of our happiness, the body, comes again in our way, and presents to us a shadow instead of truth. The senses set before us against our will, their delusive images, and fill the soul with confusion, darkness, inactivity, and weakness: in this disturbed state can the soul think with solidity, and discover truth?


We must wait for those happy moments, when calmness without, and quiet within, make us totally inattentive to the body, and allow us to search for truth with the eyes of the soul. But how rare and how short are those desirable moments!

We clearly see, therefore, that we cannot reach the aim of our wishes, that is, wisdom, till after death. In the time of life it is in vain to hope for it. As the soul cannot, while she resides in the body, find out truth distinctly, we must therefore take one of these two things for granted; either we shall never be able to discover truth, or we shall find it after death, when the soul leaves the body, and, in all probability, will feel no obstacles to her progress in wisdom. But if we would prepare ourselves in this life for that happy knowledge, we must not grant more to the body than what is sufficient for its necessities, we must restrain its desires, abstain from sensual pleasures, and as often as possible exercise ourselves in meditation, until it shall please the Almighty to set us at liberty; then we may hope to be freed from the weakness of the body, to behold and contemplate the source of truth, the happiest and most complete being with pure and holy senses, while we, perhaps, see others near us enjoying the same happiness.

This is the kind of language, my dear Simmias, which the true lovers of knowledge may hold to each other when they converse about their nearest concerns; for I suppose they must all have the same sentiments; or do you think otherwise?

Not otherwise, dear Socrates.

Now if this is right, may not one who follows me today entertain great hopes, that where we are going we shall obtain better than elsewhere that which we have so long struggled for in this life.


I can therefore, look with cheerfulness on my journey today, and every lover of truth may do the same, when he considers that, without purification and preparation, no free entry is permitted into the mysteries of wisdom.

This cannot be denied, said Simmias.

But purification is nothing else than detaching the soul from the pleasures of the senses, and continual meditation on her own nature and faculties; without letting anything which does not belong to her disturb her, and, in short, endeavoring in this, as well as in a future life, to loose her from the chains of the body, that she may consider herself freely, and arrive at the knowledge of truth.


The separation of the body from the soul is called death?


The true lovers of wisdom, therefore take all possible pains to familiarize themselves with death, that they may learn to die-Do they not?


Would it not be very absurd, then, if he who has studied nothing all his life but how to die, should be afflicted when death approaches? Would it not be truly inconsistent?


Then, Simmias, death is never terrible to a true philosopher, but always welcome. The company of the body is troublesome to him on every occasion; for if he would fulfil the true end of his being, he must strive to separate his soul from his body, and collect her, as it were, in herself. Death is the separation, the long-wished-for deliverance from the society of the body. What absurdity, therefore, to tremble when that event arrives! We must rather set out with spirits and cheerfulness for the place where we hope to meet our love, that is, wisdom, and to get rid of the troublesome companion who has so long been our vexation.

Shall common and ignorant people, when death has robbed them of their mistresses, wives, or children, wish for nothing more ardently than to be able to descend to the objects of their affection? and yet they who have the certain hopes of meeting their loves nowhere in brightness but in the next life, tremble and be dismayed when they depart on such a journey? There can be nothing more inconsistent than a philosopher who fears death.

Excellent, by heaven, cried Simmias.

To be full of dread and anxiety when death calls us, may it not be taken for a certain mark that we do not love wisdom, but the body, wealth, and honors?

Most certainly.

To whom belongs the virtue, which we call fortitude, more than to philosophers?

To none more.

And should not sobriety, the virtue which consists in readiness to tame his desires, and in being circumspect and exemplary in his conduct, be particularly studied by him who does not take care of his body only, but lives according to the precepts of philosophy?

Necessarily so.

The fortitude and temperance of all other men, if nearly examined, will appear false and equivocal.

How so, dear Socrates?

You know that the generality of mankind consider death to be a very great evil.

I know it well.

If they die with apparent intrepidity, it is from the hope of escaping a still greater misery.

Most probably.

All such bravoes, then, are courageous only through fear: but intrepidity produced by fear, is certainly paradoxical.

Is truly absurd.

So it is with temperance. From intemperance they live soberly. This may seem to be impossible, but nothing is more literally true. They deny themselves certain pleasures, that they may enjoy others which they love to a greater excess. They master one passion, because they are slaves to another. Question them, and they will tell you, that to yield to the impulse of our desires, is intemperance; but the command which they have over certain desires has been obtained, by making themselves slaves to others still less governable. Thus may we not say, their temperance is in a manner the effect of intemperance?

Most certainly.

Oh, my dear Simmias! To exchange one pleasure, one pain, or one fear, for another, just as we exchange a piece of gold for many pieces of silver, is far from being the true road to virtue. The only money which has a true value, and for which we should give all the rest, is wisdom-by means of it we can acquire all the other virtues-valor, sobriety, justice, etc. In general wisdom is the source of all the virtues, and gives us the command of our desires, aversions, and passions; but without wisdom we embrace in exchange for our passions only a melancholy shadow of virtue which is still subservient to vice, and has nothing in it that is amiable or just.

True virtue is a sanctification of manners, a purification of the heart, no exchange of passions. Justice, sobriety, intrepidity, wisdom, do not consist in the abandonment of one vice for another. Our forefathers, who instituted the Teletes, or the feasts of perfect expiation, must, according to all appearances, have been very wise men; for they have given us to understand by these rites, that he who leaves the world unexpiated and unsanctified must suffer the severest punishment; but that he who is purified and reconciled will, after his death, dwell amongst the gods. Those who superintend these expiatory mysteries are accustomed to say, "there are many Thyrsis hearers, but few are inspired; " and, in my opinion, we understand by the inspired, those who have dedicated their life to wisdom. I have left nothing undone on my part to become one of that number. Whither my efforts have been fruitless, or how far they have succeeded, if God is willing, I shall know in a very short time. This is my defense, Simmias and Cebes, and my justification why I leave the best friends I have on earth without grief, and feel so little dread of my approaching departure. I believe I shall find where I am going a better life and better friends than those I leave here. If my present defense has made a stronger impression upon you than that which I used before the Judges of Athens, I shall die satisfied.

Socrates ceased speaking, and Cebes began. It is true, Socrates, you have fully justified yourself; but what you maintain with respect to the soul must seem incredible to many; for in general men believe the soul cannot exist after she has left the body, but is immediately after their separation dissolved and annihilated; that she rise like a vapor out of the body into the air above where she dissipates, and entirely ceases to be. Were it proved that the soul was not at all indebted for her being to her union with the body, but could separately exist, then the hopes which you entertain would assume no little probability; because as certain as it were a better change for us to die, as certainly would the virtuous have just grounds to expect a happier life hereafter: but the possibility that the soul after death can still think, that she can still have a will and reasoning faculties, is difficult to be comprehended. This, therefore, Socrates, requires to be proved.

You are in the right, Cebes, replied Socrates. But what is to be done? Shall we try whether we can find arguments to establish such a proof?

I am very anxious, said Cebes, to know your sentiments on this subject.

At least, replied Socrates, no person who hears our conversation, were he even a comic poet, will reproach me for occupying myself in trifles, which are useless or unimportant. The enquiry which we are now to make is rather of so serious a nature, that every poet will willingly permit us to invoke the assistance of a Divinity to our undertaking.

Socrates was silent, and sat for some time absorbed in deep thought.

My friends, he said at last, an enquiry after truth with a pure heart is the most becoming worship of the only Deity who can give us assistance in it. To begin then.

Death, Cebes, is a natural change of human condition; we will therefore enquire what changes happen from it to the body, as well as the soul-Shall we?


Would it not be proper first to enquire what a natural change is, and how nature effects this change, not only in regard to man, but also with respect to animals, plants, and inanimate substances? I think in this way we shall come sooner to our aim.

We must therefore first look out for an explanation of what change is.

For my part, I think, said Socrates, we say a thing has changed when of two opposite determinations which belong to it, the one has ceased, and the other has actually began to be. For instance: beautiful and ugly, just and unjust, good and bad, day and night, sleep and waking; are not these opposite determinations which are possible to one and the same thing?


If a rose withers and loses its beautiful form, do we not say it has changed?


And if an unjust man should change his conduct, must he not assume an opposite character and become just?


Also, on the contrary, if by means of a change a thing shall begin to exist, then it follows that there must have been its opposite state; so it grows day after it has been night, and again night after it has been day. A thing grows beautiful, great, and heavy, after it has been ugly, little, or light; Does it not?

It does.

A change is in general nothing else than the successive existence of the opposite determinations which are possible to one thing. Will this explanation be sufficient? Cebes seems to be doubtful.

I have some doubt about the word opposite. I do not conceive that two directly opposite states can follow immediately after each other.

Very right, replied Socrates. We see that nature, in all her changes, knows how to find an intermediate state, which serves her as a passage from one state to another, that is opposite to it. The night, for instance follows the day by means of the evening twilight, so as the day follows the night by means of the morning twilight.


The great in nature becomes little by means of a gradual decrease, and the little becomes great by means of a gradual increase.


If in certain cases, also, we do not give this intermediate state or passage any particular name, yet there is no doubt that it must take place, whenever one state makes a change in a natural way to another which is opposite to it. For must not a change be natural while it is produced by powers that are in nature.

How can it otherwise be called natural?

But these original powers are always active, always at work; for if they were only to pause for one moment, omnipotence alone could wake them to activity again: but that which omnipotence alone can do, shall we call that natural?

How can we? said Cebes

What the natural powers therefore produce now, is the subject on which they have been at work from the beginning, for they were never idle, only that their operation has gradually become visible. The power of nature, for example, which changes the day, is now at work to bring the shade of night, after a few hours are past, upon our horizon; but she takes her way through midday and evening, which are her intermediate steps, from the birth of the day until its departure.


In sleep itself the action of the vital powers tend to occasion our future waking, as in a waking state they prepare us for returning sleep.

This is not to be doubted.

And in general, if a state shall, in a natural way, follow its opposite state, as appears to be the case in all natural changes, then the active powers of nature must have previously been at work, and gradually prepared, though imperceptibly, the foregoing state for the change to its successive one. Does it not follow from hence, that nature must make her passage through intermediate states, in changing one state to another, which is opposite to it?


Consider this well, my friend, that afterwards you may not think you granted too much in the beginning. We require, to every natural change, three things: a foregoing state of the thing which is to be changed; one which follows, and is opposite to it; and a passage, or intermediate state, lying between both, which leads nature the way from the one to the other. Is this granted?

Clearly, said Cebes. I do not imagine any person can doubt of these truths.

Let us see, replied Socrates, if the following propositions will appear as undeniable. I think that all changeable things cannot be one moment without changing, and that as time flies forward without stopping, and every moment presses rapidly on another, it changes at the same instant, all changeable things, and shows them under a rapid succession of new forms. Do you not agree with me in this opinion too, Cebes?

It is at least probable.

To me it appears incontrovertible; for every variable thing, if it is a reality, and not a mere idea,

must be capable of acting, and likewise susceptible of external impressions. Let it act or suffer, in either case change will be effected upon it: and as the powers of nature are never at rest, what could stem the stream of changes for one moment?

Now I am convinced.

That certain things seem for some time invariable, is a circumstance which by no means affects this truth; for does not flame seem always the same? And yet it is nothing but new streams of fire which issue, without intermission, from a burning body, and become invisible. Colors often appear to us to undergo no variation, and yet new streams of light are incessantly issuing from the sun. If we search for truth, however, we must consider things according to their reality, not according to their impression on our senses.

By heaven! replied Cebes, this truth opens to us a new and charming view of the nature of things. My friends, continued Cebes, as he turned towards us, the application of this doctrine to the nature of our souls, seems to promise the most flattering conclusions.

I have only one other principle to establish, said Socrates, before I come to that application. We have granted, that whatever is changeable cannot be one moment without changing: the series of changes, therefore, must keep an equal pace with the moments of time-Now consider well, Cebes: Does one moment of time follow another in an uninterrupted chain of succession, or not?

Your question I do not comprehend, said Cebes.

Examples will make my meaning more clear. The surface of a still water seems to be one continued thing, and every little particle of water appears to have limits which are common to those that surround it; whereas, on the contrary, a hill of sand consists of many separate grains, every one of which has its own particular limits-Is not this clear?

This is to be comprehended.

If I pronounce the word Cebes, does not one syllable follow another, between which there is no third to be found?

This is true.

The word Cebes, therefore, is not continued, but consists of two syllables, one of which follows the other in an interrupted connection, and each of them has its own limits.


But are there, in the idea which my mind forms of this word, any parts which have their own limits?

I think not.

And with truth; for the parts of a compound idea are so united together, that we can distinguish no limits between them so as to be able to say where one finishes, and another begins: they make, therefore, altogether one continued whole, as, on the contrary, every syllable has its distinct limits, and two or more of them, which form a word, follow in a discontinued series upon each other.

This is perfectly clear.

I ask, therefore, with respect to time. Is it to be compared with a word, or pronounced when with the idea of it? Do its moments follow in a continued, or in a discontinued series, upon each other?

In a continued series, replied Cebes.

Certainly, said Simmias: for by the succession of our ideas we learn what time is. How is it possible, therefore, that the nature of sequence in time, and in our ideas, should not be the same?

The parts of time, rejoined Socrates, exhibit, therefore, a continued series, and have common limits.


The smallest portion of time even, is such a series of moments, and may be subdivided into still smaller portions, which still preserve the same properties of time-May it not?

So it seems.

There are, therefore, no two moments so near to each other, between which there cannot be imagined a third.

This follows from what has already been granted.

Do not all the motions, and, in general, all changes in nature, keep an equal pace with time?

They do.

They follow, therefore, like time in a continued series, upon each other.

Very right.

There cannot be, therefore, two states so near to each other, between which there cannot be conceived a third?

So it seems.

It certainly appears to our senses as if the changes of things went backwards, for our senses do not perceive them but at intervals; nature, notwithstanding, never alters her course, but changes things gradually, and in a continued series, one after another: the smallest portion of this series is itself a series of changes; and however close the succession of one state may seem upon another, there is always an intermediate step, or passage, between them which links them together, as if it led nature the way from the one to the other.

I comprehend all this very well, said Cebes.

Now, my friends, said Socrates, it is time to draw nearer our aim. We have gathered together arguments to dispute for our eternity, and I promise myself a certain victory. But shall we not, like generals in war before an engagement, review our forces, that we may know where our strength or weakness lies?

Appollodorus begged earnestly for a short recapitulation.

The propositions, said Socrates, the truth of which we no longer doubt, are the following:

In the first place, to every natural change, three things are requisite: First, a state of a variable thing which shall cease; secondly, another state, which is to occupy its place; thirdly, an intermediate state, or the passage by which the variation does not suddenly, but gradually follow.

Second, What is changeable does not remain one moment without being actually changed.

Third, Time passes in a continued series of parts; and there are not two moments so near to each other, between which we cannot conceive a third.

Fourth, the succession of changes corresponds with the succession of the parts of time, and is therefore so continued that no two states are so near to each other, between which we cannot imagine a third.

Are we not agreed upon these points?


Life and death, my dear Cebes, said Socrates, are opposite states, are they not?


And dying is the transition from life to death?


This great change, probably, concerns the soul as well as the body; for in this life they have the most intimate connection with each other.

According to appearances, said Cebes, they have.

What happens to the body after this great revolution, is taught us by observation. For what has extension continues to be present to our senses; but how, where, or what the soul may be, after this life, can only be conjectured by reason, as the soul loses at death the means of being manifest to our senses.


Shall we not, my friend, first follow what is visible through all its changes, and afterwards compare it, as far as possible, with what is invisible?

This seems to be the best method which we can adopt, replied Cebes.

In every animal body there are combinations and separations continually taking place, which contribute partly to the preservation, partly to the destruction of the animal machine. Death and life, at the first breath of animals, begin a war with each other.

This daily experience shows us.

What appellation do we give to that state, Cebes, in which all changes that happen in the animal machine tend more to the preservation than the destruction of the body? Do we not call it health?


End of Section I

Go to Section II


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