Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vol. 4 translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1926.

Hermogenes. Here is Socrates; shall we take him as a partner in our discussion?

Cratylus. If you like.

Hermogenes. Cratylus, whom you see here, Socrates, says that everything has a right name of its own, which comes by nature, and that a name is not whatever people call a thing by agreement, just a piece of their own voice applied to the thing, but that there is a kind of inherent correctness in names, which is the same for all men, both Greeks and barbarians. So I ask him whether his name is in truth Cratylus, and he agrees that it is. And what is Socrates’ name? I said. Socrates, said he. Then that applies to all men, and the particular name by which we call each person is his name? And he said, Well, your name is not Hermogenes,[*](i.e. you are no son of Hermes. Hermes was the patron deity of traders, bankers, and the like, and Hermogenes, as is suggested below, was not successful as a moneymaker.) even if all mankind call you so.

Hermogenes. Now, though I am asking him and am exerting myself to find out what in the world he means, he does not explain himself at all; he meets me with dissimulation, claiming to have some special knowledge of his own about it which would, if he chose to speak it out clearly, make me agree entirely with him. Now if you could interpret Cratylus’s oracular speech, I should like to hear you; or rather, I should like still better to hear, if you please, what you yourself think about the correctness of names.

Socrates. Hermogenes, son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying that knowledge of high things is hard to gain; and surely knowledge of names is no small matter. Now if I had attended Prodicus’s fifty-drachma course of lectures, after which, as he himself says, a man has a complete education on this subject, there would be nothing to hinder your learning the truth about the correctness of names at once; but I have heard only the one-drachma course, and so I do not know what the truth is about such matters. However, I am ready to join you and Cratylus in looking for it. But as for his saying that Hermogenes is not truly your name, I suspect he is making fun of you; for perhaps he thinks that you want to make money and fail every time. But, as I said, it is difficult to know such things. We must join forces and try to find out whether you are right, or Cratylus.

Hermogenes. For my part, Socrates, I have often talked with Cratylus and many others, and cannot come to the conclusion that there is any correctness of names other than convention and agreement. For it seems to me that whatever name you give to a thing is its right name; and if you give up that name and change it for another, the later name is no less correct than the earlier, just as we change the names of our servants; for I think no name belongs to any particular thing by nature, but only by the habit and custom of those who employ it and who established the usage. But if this is not the case, I am ready to hear and to learn from Cratylus or anyone else.

Socrates. It may be that you are right, Hermogenes; but let us see. Whatever name we decide to give each particular thing is its name?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Whether the giver be a private person or a state?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Well, then, suppose I give a name to some thing or other, designating, for instance, that which we now call man as horse and that which we now call horse as man, will the real name of the same thing be man for the public and horse for me individually, and in the other case horse for the public and man for me individually? Is that your meaning?

Hermogenes. Yes, that is my opinion.

Socrates. Now answer this question. Is there anything which you call speaking the truth and speaking falsehood?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Then there would be true speech and false speech?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Then that speech which says things as they are is true, and that which says them as they are not is false?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. It is possible, then, to say in speech that which is and that which is not?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. But is true speech true only as a whole, and are its parts untrue?

Hermogenes. No, its parts also are true.

Socrates. Are the large parts true, but not the small ones, or are all true?

Hermogenes. All, in my opinion.

Socrates. Is there, then, anything which you say is a smaller part of speech than a name?

Hermogenes. No, that is the smallest.

Socrates. And the name is spoken as a part of the true speech?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Then it is, according to you, true.

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And a part of false speech is false, is it not?

Hermogenes. It is.

Socrates. Then it is possible to utter either a false or a true name, since one may utter speech that is either true or false?

Hermogenes. Yes, of course.

Socrates. Then whatever each particular person says is the name of anything, that is its name for that person?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And whatever the number of names anyone says a thing has, it will really have that number at the time when he says it?

Hermogenes. Yes, Socrates, for I cannot conceive of any other kind of correctness in names than this; I may call a thing by one name, which I gave, and you by another, which you gave. And in the same way, I see that states have their own different names for the same things, and Greeks differ from other Greeks and from barbarians in their use of names.

Socrates. Now, Hermogenes, let us see. Do you think this is true of the real things, that their reality is a separate one for each person, as Protagoras said with his doctrine that man is the measure of all things—that things are to me such as they seem to me, and to you such as they seem to you—or do you think things have some fixed reality of their own?

Hermogenes. It has sometimes happened to me, Socrates, to be so perplexed that I have been carried away even into this doctrine of Protagoras; but I do not at all believe he is right.

Socrates. Well, have you ever been carried away so far as not to believe at all that any man is bad?

Hermogenes. Lord, no; but I have often been carried away into the belief that certain men, and a good many of them, are very bad.

Socrates. Well, did you never think any were very good?

Hermogenes. Very few.

Socrates. But you did think them so?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And what is your idea about that? Are the very good very wise and the very bad very foolish?

Hermogenes. Yes, that is my opinion.

Socrates. Now if Protagoras is right and the truth is as he says, that all things are to each person as they seem to him, is it possible for some of us to be wise and some foolish?

Hermogenes. No, it is not.

Socrates. And you are, I imagine, strongly of the opinion that if wisdom and folly exist, it is quite impossible that Protagoras is right, for one man would not in reality be at all wiser than another if whatever seems to each person is really true to him.

Hermogenes. Quite right.

Socrates. But neither do you believe with Euthydemus that all things belong equally to all men at the same time and perpetually,[*](The doctrine here attributed to Euthydemus is not expressly enunciated by him in the dialogue which bears his name, but it is little more than a comprehensive statement of the several doctrines there proclaimed by him and his brother Dionysodorus.) for on this assumption also some could not be good and others bad, if virtue and its opposite were always equally possessed by all.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Then if neither all things belong equally to all men at the same time and perpetually nor each thing to each man individually, it is clear that things have some fixed reality of their own, not in relation to us nor caused by us; they do not vary, swaying one way and another in accordance with our fancy, but exist of themselves in relation to their own reality imposed by nature.

Hermogenes. I think, Socrates, that is the case.

Socrates. Can things themselves, then, possess such a nature as this, and that of their actions be different? Or are not actions also a class of realities?

Hermogenes. Certainly they are.

Socrates. Then actions also are performed according to their own nature, not according to our opinion. For instance, if we undertake to cut anything, ought we to cut it as we wish, and with whatever instrument we wish, or shall we, if we are willing to cut each thing in accordance with the nature of cutting and being cut, and with the natural instrument, succeed in cutting it, and do it rightly, whereas if we try to do it contrary to nature we shall fail and accomplish nothing?

Hermogenes. I think the way is as you suggest.

Socrates. Then, too, if we undertake to burn anything, we must burn not according to every opinion, but according to the right one? And that is as each thing naturally burns or is burned and with the natural instrument?

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. And all other actions are to be performed In like manner?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And speaking is an action, is it not?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Then if a man speaks as he fancies he ought to speak, will he speak rightly, or will he succeed in speaking if he speaks in the way and with the instrument in which and with which it is natural for us to speak and for things to be spoken, whereas otherwise he will fail and accomplish nothing?

Hermogenes. I think the way you suggest is the right one.

Socrates. Now naming is a part of speaking, for in naming I suppose people utter speech.

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Then is not naming also a kind of action, if speaking is a kind of action concerned with things?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. But we saw that actions are not merely relative to us, but possess a separate nature of their own?

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Then in naming also, if we are to be consistent with our previous conclusions, we cannot follow our own will, but the way and the instrument which the nature of things prescribes must be employed, must they not? And if we pursue this course we shall be successful in our naming, but otherwise we shall fail.

Hermogenes. I think you are right.

Socrates. And again, what has to be cut, we said, has to be cut with something.

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And what has to be woven, has to be woven with something, and what has to be bored, has to be bored with something?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And then what has to be named, has to be named with something?

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. And what is that with which we have to bore?

Hermogenes. A borer.

Socrates. And that with which we weave?

Hermogenes. A shuttle.

Socrates. And that with which we must name?

Hermogenes. A name.

Socrates. Right. A name also, then, is a kind of instrument.

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Then if I were to ask What instrument is the shuttle? Is it not that with which we weave?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And what do we do when we weave? Do we not separate the mingled threads of warp and woof?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And you could give a similar answer about the borer and the rest, could you not?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And can you say something of the same kind about a name? The name being an instrument, what do we do with it when we name?

Hermogenes. I cannot tell.

Socrates. Do we not teach one another something, and separate things according to their natures?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. A name is, then, an instrument of teaching and of separating reality, as a shuttle is an instrument of separating the web?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. But the shuttle is an instrument of weaving?

Hermogenes. Of course.

Socrates. The weaver, then, will use the shuttle well, and well means like a weaver; and a teacher will use a name well, and well means like a teacher.

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Whose work will the weaver use well when he uses the shuttle?

Hermogenes. The carpenter’s.

Socrates. Is every one a carpenter, or he who has the skill?

Hermogenes. He who has the skill.

Socrates. And whose work will the hole-maker use when he uses the borer?

Hermogenes. The smith’s.

Socrates. And is every one a smith, or he who has the skill?

Hermogenes. He who has the skill.

Socrates. And whose work will the teacher use when he uses the name?

Hermogenes. I cannot tell that, either.

Socrates. And can you not tell this, either, who gives us the names we use?

Hermogenes. No.

Socrates. Do you not think it is the law that gives them to us?

Hermogenes. Very likely.

Socrates. Then the teacher, when he uses a name, will be using the work of a lawgiver?

Hermogenes. I think so.

Socrates. Do you think every man is a lawgiver, or only he who has the skill?

Hermogenes. He who has the skill.

Socrates. Then it is not for every man, Hermogenes, to give names, but for him who may be called the name-maker; and he, it appears, is the lawgiver, who is of all the artisans among men the rarest.

Hermogenes. So it appears.

Socrates. See now what the lawgiver has in view in giving names. Look at it in the light of what has gone before. What has the carpenter in view when he makes a shuttle? Is it not something the nature of which is to weave?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Well, then, if the shuttle breaks while he making it, will he make another with his mind fixed on that which is broken, or on that form with reference to which he was making the one which he broke?

Hermogenes. On that form, in my opinion.

Socrates. Then we should very properly call that the absolute or real shuttle?

Hermogenes. Yes, I think so.

Socrates. Then whenever he has to make a shuttle for a light or a thick garment, or for one of linen or of wool or of any kind whatsoever, all of them must contain the form or ideal of shuttle, and in each of his products he must embody the nature which is naturally best for each?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And the same applies to all other instruments. The artisan must discover the instrument naturally fitted for each purpose and must embody that in the material of which he makes the instrument, not in accordance with his own will, but in accordance with its nature. He must, it appears, know how to embody in the iron the borer fitted by nature for each special use.

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And he must embody in the wood the shuttle fitted by nature for each kind of weaving.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. For each kind of shuttle is, it appears, fitted by nature for its particular kind of weaving, and the like is true of other instruments.

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Then, my dear friend, must not the law-giver also know how to embody in the sounds and syllables that name which is fitted by nature for each object? Must he not make and give all his names with his eye fixed upon the absolute or ideal name, if he is to be an authoritative giver of names? And if different lawgivers do not embody it in the same syllables, we must not forget this ideal name on that account; for different smiths do not embody the form in the same iron, though making the same instrument for the same purpose, but so long as they reproduce the same ideal, though it be in different iron, still the instrument is as it should be, whether it be made here or in foreign lands, is it not?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. On this basis, then, you will judge the law-giver, whether he be here or in a foreign land, so long as he gives to each thing the proper form of the name, in whatsoever syllables, to be no worse lawgiver, whether here or anywhere else, will you not?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Now who is likely to know whether the proper form of shuttle is embodied in any piece of wood? The carpenter who made it, or the weaver who is to use it ?

Hermogenes. Probably the one who is to use it, Socrates.

Socrates. Then who is to use the work of the lyre-maker? Is not he the man who would know best how to superintend the making of the lyre and would also know whether it is well made or not when it is finished?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Who is he?

Hermogenes. The lyre-player.

Socrates. And who would know best about the work of the ship-builder?

Hermogenes. The navigator.

Socrates. And who can best superintend the work of the lawgiver and judge of it when it is finished, both here and in foreign countries? The user, is it not?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And is not this he who knows how to ask questions?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. And the same one knows also how to make replies?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And the man who knows how to ask and answer questions you call a dialectician?

Hermogenes. Yes, that is what I call him.

Socrates. The work of the carpenter, then, is to make a rudder under the supervision of the steersman, if he rudder is to be a good one.

Hermogenes. Evidently.

Socrates. And the work of the lawgiver, as it seems, is to make a name, with the dialectician as his supervisor, if names are to be well given.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Then, Hermogenes, the giving of names can hardly be, as you imagine, a trifling matter, or a task for trifling or casual persons: and Cratylus is right in saying that names belong to things by nature and that not every one is an artisan of names, but only he who keeps in view the name which belongs by nature to each particular thing and is able to embody its form in the letters and syllables.

Hermogenes. I do not know how to answer you, Socrates; nevertheless it is not easy to change my conviction suddenly. I think you would be more likely to convince me, if you were to show me just what it is that you say is the natural correctness of names.

Socrates. I, my dear Hermogenes, do not say that there is any. You forget what I said a while ago, that I did not know, but would join you in looking for the truth. And now, as we are looking, you and I, we already see one thing we did not know before, that names do possess a certain natural correctness, and that not every man knows how to give a name well to anything whatsoever. Is not that true?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Then our next task is to try to find out, if you care to know about it, what kind of correctness that is which belongs to names.

Hermogenes. To be sure I care to know.

Socrates. Then investigate.

Hermogenes. How shall I investigate?

Socrates. The best way to investigate, my friend, is with the help of those who know; and you make sure of their favour by paying them money. They are the sophists, [*](Truth was the title of a book written by Protagoras.) of Protagoras altogether, should desire what is said in such a Truth, as if it were of any value.

Socrates. Then if you do not like that, you ought to learn from Homer and the other poets.

Hermogenes. Why, Socrates, what does Homer say about names, and where?

Socrates. In many passages; but chiefly and most admirably in those in which he distinguishes between the names by which gods and men call the same things. Do you not think he gives in those passages great and wonderful information about the correctness of names? For clearly the gods call things by the names that are naturally right. Do you not think so?

Hermogenes. Of course I know that if they call things, they call them rightly. But what are these instances to which you refer?

Socrates. Do you not know that he says about the river in Troy which had the single combat with Hephaestus,[*](Hom. Il. 21.342-380)

  1. whom the gods call Xanthus, but men call Scamander
Hom. Il. 20.74?

Hermogenes. Oh yes.

Socrates. Well, do you not think this is a grand thing to know, that the name of that river is rightly Xanthus, rather than Scamander? Or, if you like, do you think it is a slight thing to learn about the bird which he says

  1. gods call chalcis, but men call cymindis,
Hom. Il. 14.291 that it is much more correct for the same bird to be called chalcis than cymindis? Or to learn that the hill men call Batieia is called by the gods Myrina’s tomb,[*](Hom. Il. 2.813 f) and many other such statements by Homer and other poets? But perhaps these matters are too high for us to understand; it is, I think, more within human power to investigate the names Scamandrius and Astyanax, and understand what kind of correctness he ascribes to these, which he says are the names of Hector’s son. You recall, of course: the lines which contain the words to which I refer.

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Which of the names of the boy do you imagine Homer thought was more correct, Astyanax or Scamandrius?

Hermogenes. I cannot say.

Socrates. Look at it in this way: suppose you were asked, Do the wise or the unwise give names more correctly?

Hermogenes.The wise, obviously, I should say.

Socrates. And do you think the women or the men of a city, regarded as a class in general, are the wiser?

Hermogenes. The men.

Socrates. And do you not know that Homer says the child of Hector was called Astyanax by the men of Troy;[*](Hom. Il. 22.506) so he must have been called Scamandrius by the women, since the men called him Astyanax?

Hermogenes. Yes, probably.

Socrates. And Homer too thought the Trojan men were wiser than the women?

Hermogenes. I suppose he did.

Socrates. Then he thought Astyanax was more rightly the boy’s name than Scamandrius?

Hermogenes. So it appears.

Socrates. Let us, then, consider the reason for this. Does he not himself indicate the reason most admirably? For he says—

  1. He alone defended their city and long walls.
Hom. Il. 22.507[*](But the verb is in the second person, addressed by Hecuba to Hector after his death.) Therefore, as it seems, it is right to call the son of the defender Astyanax (Lord of the city), ruler of that which his father, as Homer says, defended.

Hermogenes. That is clear to me.

Socrates. Indeed? I do not yet understand about it myself, Hermogenes. Do you?

Hermogenes. No, by Zeus, I do not.

Socrates. But, my good friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector his name?

Hermogenes. Why do you ask that?

Socrates. Because that name seems to me similar to Astyanax, and both names seem to be Greek. For lord (ἄναξ) and holder (ἕκτωρ) mean nearly the same thing, indicating that they are names of a king; for surely a man is holder of that of which he is lord; for it is clear that he rules it and possesses it and holds it. Or does it seem to you that there is nothing in what I am saying, and am I wrong in imagining that I have found a clue to Homer’s opinion about the correctness of names?

Hermogenes. No, by Zeus, you are not wrong, in my opinion; I think perhaps you have found a clue.

Socrates. It is right, I think, to call a lion’s offspring a lion and a horse’s offspring a horse. I am not speaking of prodigies, such as the birth of some other kind of creature from a horse, but of the natural offspring of each species after its kind. If a horse, contrary to nature, should bring forth a calf, the natural offspring of a cow, it should be called a calf, not a colt, nor if any offspring that is not human should be born from a human being, should that other offspring be called a human being; and the same applies to trees and all the rest. Do you not agree?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Good; but keep watch of me, and do not let me trick you; for by the same argument any offspring of a king should be called a king; and whether the same meaning is expressed in one set of syllables or another makes no difference; and if a letter is added or subtracted, that does not matter either, so long as the essence of the thing named remains in force and is made plain in the name.

Hermogenes. What do you mean?

Socrates. Something quite simple. For instance, when we speak of the letters of the alphabet, you know, we speak their names, not merely the letters themselves, except in the case of four, ε, υ, ο, ω.[*](In Plato’s time the names epsilon, ypsilon, omicron, and omega were not yet in vogue. The names used were εἶ, ὖ, οὖ,andὦ.) We make names for all the other vowels and consonants by adding other letters to them; and so long as we include the letter in question and make its force plain, we may properly call it by that name, and that will designate it for us. Take beta, for instance, The addition of e(η), t(τ), a(α) does no harm and does not prevent the whole name from making clear the nature of that letter which the lawgiver wished to designate; he knew so well how to give names to letters.

Hermogenes. I think you are right.

Socrates. Does not the same reasoning apply to a king? A king’s son will probably be a king, a good man’s good, a handsome man’s handsome, and so forth; the offspring of each class will be of the same class, unless some unnatural birth takes place; so they should be called by the same names. But variety in the syllables is admissible, so that names which are the same appear different to the uninitiated, just as the physicians’ drugs, when prepared with various colors and perfumes, seem different to us, though they are the same, but to the physician, who considers only their medicinal value, they seem the same, and he is not confused by the additions. So perhaps the man who knows about names considers their value and is not confused if some letter is added, transposed, or subtracted, or even if the force of the name is expressed in entirely different letters. So, for instance, in the names we were just discussing, Astyanax and Hector, none of the letters is the same, except T, but nevertheless they have the same meaning. And what letters has Archepolis (ruler of the city) in common with them? Yet it means the same thing; and there are many other names which mean simply king. Others again mean general, such as Agis (leader), Polemarchus (war-lord), and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others indicate physicians, as Iatrocles (famous physician) and Acesimbrotus (healer of mortals); and we might perhaps find many others which differ in syllables and letters, but express the same meaning. Do you think that is true, or not?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. To those, then, who are born in accordance with nature the same names should be given.

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. And how about those who are born contrary to nature as prodigies? For instance, when an impious son is born to a good and pious man, ought he not, as in our former example when a mare brought forth a calf, to have the designation of the class to which he belongs, instead of that of his parent?

Hermogenes. Certainly.

Socrates. Then the impious son of a pious father ought to receive the name of his class.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Not Theophilus (beloved of God) or Mnesitheus (mindful of God) or anything of that sort; but something of opposite meaning, if names are correct.

Hermogenes. Most assuredly, Socrates.

Socrates. As the name of Orestes (mountain man) is undoubtedly correct, Hermogenes, whether it was given him by chance or by some poet who indicated by the name the fierceness, rudeness, and mountain-wildness of his nature.

Hermogenes. So it seems, Socrates.

Socrates. And his father’s name also appears to be in accordance with nature.

Hermogenes. It seems so.

Socrates. Yes, for Agamemnon (admirable for remaining) is one who would resolve to toil to the end and to endure, putting the finish upon his resolution by virtue. And a proof of this is his long retention of the host at Troy and his endurance. So the name Agamemnon denotes that this man is admirable for remaining. And so, too, the name of Atreus is likely to be correct; for his murder of Chrysippus and the cruelty of his acts to Thyestes are all damaging and ruinous (ἀτηρά) to his virtue. Now the form of his name is slightly deflected and hidden, so that it does not make the man’s nature plain to every one; but to those who understand about names it makes the meaning of Atreus plain enough; for indeed in view of his stubbornness (ἀτειρές) and fearlessness (ἄτρεστον) and ruinous acts (ἀτηρά) the name is correctly given to him on every ground. And I think Pelops also has a fitting name; for this name means that he who sees only what is near deserves this designation.

Hermogenes. How is that?

Socrates. Why it is said of him that in murdering Myrtilus he was quite unable to forecast or foresee the ultimate effects upon his whole race, and all the misery with which it was overwhelmed, because he saw only the near at hand and the immediate— that is to say, πέλας (near)—in his eagerness to win by all means the hand of Hippodameia. And any one would think the name of Tantalus was given rightly and in accordance with nature, if the stories about him are true.

Hermogenes. What are the stories?

Socrates. The many terrible misfortunes that happened to him both in his life, the last of which was the utter overthrow of his country, and in Hades, after his death, the balancing (ταλαντεία) of the stone above his head, in wonderful agreement with his name; and it seems exactly as if someone who wished to call him most wretched (ταλάντατον) disguised the name and said Tantalus instead; in some such way as that chance seems to have affected his name in the legend.

Socrates. And his father also, who is said to be Zeus, appears to have a very excellent name, but it is not easy to understand; for the name of Zeus is exactly like a sentence; we divide it into two parts, and some of us use one part, others the other; for some call him Zena (Ζῆνα), and others Dia (Δία); but the two in combination express the nature of the god, which is just what we said a name should be able to do. For certainly no one is so much the author of life (ζῆν) for us and all others as the ruler and king of all. Thus this god is correctly named, through whom (διʼ ὅν) all living beings have the gift of life (ζῆν). But, as I say, the name is divided, though it is one name, into the two parts, Dia and Zena. And it might seem, at first hearing, highly irreverent to call him the son of Cronus and reasonable to say that Zeus is the offspring of some great intellect; and so he is, for κόρος (for Κρόνος) signifies not child, but the purity (καθαρόν) and unblemished nature of his mind. And Cronus, according to tradition, is the son of Uranus; but the upward gaze is rightly called by the name urania (οὐρανία), looking at the things above (ὁρῶ τὰ ἄνω), and the astronomers say, Hermogenes, that from this looking people acquire a pure mind, and Uranus is correctly named. If I remembered the genealogy of Hesiod and the still earlier ancestors of the gods he mentions, I would have gone on examining the correctness of their names until I had made a complete trial whether this wisdom which has suddenly come to me, I know not whence, will fail or not.

Hermogenes. Indeed, Socrates, you do seem to me to be uttering oracles, exactly like an inspired prophet.

Socrates. Yes, Hermogenes, and I am convinced that the inspiration came to me from Euthyphro the Prospaltian. For I was with him and listening to him a long time early this morning. So he must have been inspired, and he not only filled my ears but took possession of my soul with his superhuman wisdom. So I think this is our duty: we ought today to make use of this wisdom and finish the investigation of names, but tomorrow, if the rest of you agree, we will conjure it away and purify ourselves, when we have found some one, whether priest or sophist, who is skilled in that kind of purifying.

Hermogenes. I agree, for I should be very glad to hear the rest of the talk about names.

Socrates. Very well. Then since we have outlined a general plan of investigation, where shall we begin, that we may discover whether the names themselves will bear witness that they are not at all distributed at haphazard, but have a certain correctness? Now the names of heroes and men might perhaps prove deceptive; for they are often given because they were names of ancestors, and in some cases, as we said in the beginning, they are quite inappropriate; many, too, are given as the expression of a prayer, such as Eutychides (fortunate), Sosias (saviour), Theophilus (beloved of God), and many others. I think we had better disregard such as these; but we are most likely to find the correct names in the nature of the eternal and absolute; for there the names ought to have been given with the greatest care, and perhaps some of them were given by a power more divine than is that of men.

Hermogenes. I think you are right, Socrates.

Socrates. Then is it not proper to begin with the gods and see how the gods are rightly called by that name?

Hermogenes. That is reasonable.

Socrates. Something of this sort, then, is what I suspect: I think the earliest men in Greece believed only in those gods in whom many foreigners believe today— sun, moon, earth, stars, and sky. They saw that all these were always moving in their courses and running, and so they called them gods (θεούς) from this running (θεῖν) nature; then afterwards, when they gained knowledge of the other gods, they called them all by the same name. Is that likely to be true, or not?

Hermogenes. Yes, very likely.

Socrates. What shall we consider next?

Hermogenes. Spirits, obviously.

Socrates. Hermogenes, what does the name spirits really mean? See if you think there is anything in what I am going to say.

Hermogenes. Go on and say it.

Socrates. Do you remember who Hesiod says the spirits are?

Hermogenes. I do not recall it.

Socrates. Nor that he says a golden race was the first race of men to be born?

Hermogenes. Yes, I do know that.

Socrates. Well, he says of it:

  1. But since Fate has covered up this race,
  1. They are called holy spirits under the earth,
  2. Noble, averters of evil, guardians of mortal men.
Hes. WD 122 ff

Hermogenes. What of that?

Socrates. Why, I think he means that the golden race was not made of gold, but was good and beautiful. And I regard it as a proof of this that he further says we are the iron race.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Don’t you suppose that if anyone of our day is good, Hesiod would say he was of that golden race?

Hermogenes. Quite likely.

Socrates. But the good are the wise, are they not?

Hermogenes. Yes, they are the wise.

Socrates. This, then, I think, is what he certainly means to say of the spirits: because they were wise and knowing (δαήμονες) he called them spirits (δαίμονες) and in the old form of our language the two words are the same. Now he and all the other poets are right, who say that when a good man dies he has a great portion and honor among the dead, and becomes a spirit, a name which is in accordance with the other name of wisdom. And so I assert that every good man, whether living or dead, is of spiritual nature, and is rightly called a spirit.

Hermogenes. And I, Socrates, believe I quite agree with you in that. But what is the word hero?

Socrates. That is easy to understand; for the name has been but slightly changed, and indicates their origin from love (ἔρως).

Hermogenes. What do you mean?

Socrates. Why, they were all born because a god fell in love with a mortal woman, or a mortal man with a goddess. Now if you consider the word hero also in the old Attic pronunciation,[*](The old Attic alphabet was officially given up in favour of the Ionic alphabet in 404 or 403 B.C. The Attic for of the word hero is ἥρος, that of Eros ἔρως. Plato seems to think there was a change in pronunciation, as well as in spelling, and indeed that is quite possible. Or Plato may simply be confusing pronunciation with spelling, as he seems to do in several passages of this dialogue (cf. especially 410).) you will understand better; for that will show you that it has been only slightly altered from the name of love (Eros), the source from which the heroes spring, to make a name for them. And either this is the reason why they are called heroes, or it is because they were wise and clever orators and dialecticians, able to ask questions (ἐρωτᾶν), for εἴρειν is the same as λέγειν (speak). Therefore, when their name is spoken in the Attic dialect, which I was mentioning just now, the heroes turn out to be orators and askers of questions, so that the heroic race proves to be a race of orators and sophists. That is easy to understand, but the case of men, and the reason why they are called men (ἄνθρωποι), is more difficult. Can you tell me what it is?

Hermogenes. No, my friend, I cannot; and even if I might perhaps find out, I shall not try, because I think you are more likely to find out than I am.

Socrates. You have faith in the inspiration of Euthyphro, it seems.

Hermogenes. Evidently.

Socrates. And you are right in having it; for just at this very moment I think I have had a clever thought, and if I am not careful, before the day is over I am likely to be wiser than I ought to be. So pay attention. First we must remember in regard to names that we often put in or take out letters, making the names different from the meaning we intend, and we change the accent. Take, for instance, Διὶ φίλος; to change this from a phrase to a name, we took out the second iota and pronounced the middle syllable with the grave instead of the acute accent (Diphilus). In other instances, on the contrary, we insert letters and pronounce grave accents as acute.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Now it appears to me that the name of men (ἄνθρωπος) underwent a change of that sort. It was a phrase, but became a noun when one letter, alpha, was removed and the accent of the last syllable was dropped.

Hermogenes. What do you mean?

Socrates. I will tell you. The name man (ἄνθρωπος) indicates that the other animals do not examine, or consider, or look up at (ἀναθρεῖ) any of the things that they see, but man has no sooner seen—that is, ὄπωπε—than he looks up at and considers that which he has seen. Therefore of all the animals man alone is rightly called man (ἄνθρωπος), because he looks up at (ἀναθρεῖ) what he has seen (ὄπωπε).

Hermogenes. Of course. May I ask you about the next word I should like to have explained?

Socrates. Certainly.

Hermogenes. It seems to me to come naturally next after those you have discussed. We speak of man’s soul and body.

Socrates. Yes, of course.

Hermogenes. Let us try to analyze these, as we did the previous words.

Socrates. You mean consider soul (ψυχή) and see why it is properly called by that name, and likewise body (σῶμα)?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. To speak on the spur of the moment, I think those who gave the soul its name had something of this sort in mind: they thought when it was present in the body it was the cause of its living, giving it the power to breathe and reviving it (ἀναψῦχον), and when this revivifying force fails, the body perishes and comes to an end therefore, I think, they called it ψυχή. But—please keep still a moment. I fancy I see something which will carry more conviction to Euthyphro and his followers; for I think they would despise this attempt and would consider it cheap talk. Now see if you like the new one.

Hermogenes. I am listening.

Socrates. Do you think there is anything which holds and carries the whole nature of the body, so that it lives and moves, except the soul?

Hermogenes. No; nothing.

Socrates. Well, and do you not believe the doctrine of Anaxagoras, that it is mind or soul which orders and holds the nature of all things?

Hermogenes. I do.

Socrates. Then there would be an admirable fitness in calling that power which carries and holds (ἔχει) nature (φύσιν) φυσέχη and this may be refined and pronounced ψυχή.

Hermogenes. Certainly; and I think this is a more scientific explanation than the other.

Socrates. Yes, it is. But it seems actually absurd that the name was given with such truth.

Hermogenes. Now what shall we say about the next word?

Socrates. You mean body (σῶμα)?

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. I think this admits of many explanations, if a little, even very little, change is made; for some say it is the tomb (σῆμα) of the soul, their notion being that the soul is buried in the present life; and again, because by its means the soul gives any signs which it gives, it is for this reason also properly called sign (σῆμα). But I think it most likely that the Orphic poets gave this name, with the idea that the soul is undergoing punishment for something; they think it has the body as an enclosure to keep it safe, like a prison, and this is, as the name itself denotes, the safe (σῶμα) for the soul, until the penalty is paid, and not even a letter needs to be changed.

Hermogenes. I think, Socrates, enough has been said about these words; but might we not consider the names of the gods in the same way in which you were speaking about that of Zeus a few minutes ago, and see what kind of correctness there is in them?

Socrates. By Zeus, Hermogenes, we, if we are sensible, must recognize that there is one most excellent kind, since of the gods we know nothing, neither of them nor of their names, whatever they may be, by which they call themselves, for it is clear that they use the true names. But there is a second kind of correctness, that we call them, as is customary in prayers, by whatever names and patronymics are pleasing to them, since we know no other. Now I think that is an excellent custom.

Socrates. So, if you like, let us first make a kind of announcement to the gods, saying that we are not going to investigate about them—for we do not claim to be able to do that—but about men, and let us inquire what thought men had in giving them their names; for in that there is no impiety.

Hermogenes. I think, Socrates, you are right; let us do as you say.

Socrates. Shall we, then, begin with Hestia, according to custom?

Hermogenes. That is the proper thing.

Socrates. Then what would you say the man had in mind who gave Hestia her name?

Hermogenes. By Zeus, I think that is no more easy question than the other.

Socrates. At any rate, my dear Hermogenes, the first men who gave names were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers.

Hermogenes. What then?

Socrates. I am sure the names were given by men of that kind; and if foreign names are examined, the meaning of each of them is equally evident. Take, for instance, that which we call οὐσία (reality, essence); some people call it ἐσσία, and still others ὠσία. First, then, in connection with the second of these forms, it is reasonable that the essence of things be called Hestia; and moreover, because we ourselves say of that which partakes of reality it is, (ἔστιν), the name Hestia would be correct in this connection also; for apparently we also called οὐσία (reality) ἐσσία in ancient times. And besides, if you consider it in connection with sacrifices, you would come to the conclusion that those who established them understood the name in that way; for those who called the essence of things ἐσσία would naturally sacrifice to Hestia first of all the gods. Those on the other hand, who say ὠσία would agree, well enough with Heracleitus that all things move and nothing remains still. So they would say the cause and ruler of things was the pushing power (ὠθοῦν), wherefore it had been rightly named ὠσία. But enough of this, considering that we know nothing. After Hestia it is right to consider Rhea and Cronus. The name of Cronus, however, has already been discussed. But perhaps I am talking nonsense.

Hermogenes. Why, Socrates?

Socrates. My friend, I have thought of a swarm of wisdom.

Hermogenes. What is it?

Socrates. It sounds absurd, but I think there is some probability in it.

Hermogenes. What is this probability?

Socrates. I seem to have a vision of Heracleitus saying some ancient words of wisdom as old as the reign of Cronus and Rhea, which Homer said too.

Hermogenes. What do you mean by that?

Socrates. Heracleitus says, you know, that all things move and nothing remains still, and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice into the same stream.

Hermogenes. True.

Socrates. Well, don’t you think he who gave to the ancestors of the other gods the names Rhea and Cronus had the same thought as Heracleitus? Do you think he gave both of them the names of streams merely by chance? Just so Homer, too, says—

  1. Ocean the origin of the gods, and their mother Tethys;
Hom. Il. 14.201, 302 and I believe Hesiod says that also. Orpheus, too, says—
  1. Fair-flowing Ocean was the first to marry,
  1. and he wedded his sister Tethys, daughter of his mother.
Orpheus FrSee how they agree with each other and all tend towards the doctrine of Heracleitus.

Hermogenes. I think there is something in what you say, Socrates; but I do not know what the name of Tethys means.

Socrates. Why, the name itself almost tells that it is the name of a spring somewhat disguised; for that which is strained (διαττώμενον) and filtered (ἠθούμενον) represents a spring, and the name Tethys is compounded of those two words.

Hermogenes. That is very neat, Socrates.

Socrates. Of course it is. But what comes next? Zeus we discussed before.

Hermogenes. Yes.

Socrates. Let us, then, speak of his brothers, Poseidon and Pluto, including also the other name of the latter.

Hermogenes. By all means.

Socrates. I think Poseidon’s name was given by him who first applied it, because the power the sea restrained him as he was walking and hindered his advance; it acted as a bond (δεσμός) of his feet (ποδῶν). So he called the lord of this power Poseidon, regarding him as a foot-bond (ποσί-δεσμον). The e is inserted perhaps for euphony.