Phaedo by Plato

Phaedo by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Persons of the Dialogue

PHAEDO, who is the narrator of the dialogue to ECHECRATES of

The Prison of Socrates.


Echecrates. Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates
on the day when he drank the poison?

Phaedo. Yes, Echecrates, I was.

Ech. I wish that you would tell me about his death. What did he say
in his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison,
but no one knew anything more; for no Phliasian ever goes to Athens
now, and a long time has elapsed since any Athenian found his way
to Phlius, and therefore we had no clear account.

Phaed. Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?

Ech. Yes; someone told us about the trial, and we could not understand
why, having been condemned, he was put to death, as appeared, not
at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?

Phaed. An accident, Echecrates. The reason was that the stern of the
ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned
on the day before he was tried.

Ech. What is this ship?

Phaed. This is the ship in which, as the Athenians say, Theseus went
to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the saviour
of them and of himself. And they were said to have vowed to Apollo
at the time, that if they were saved they would make an annual pilgrimage
to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of
the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo
crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city
is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and often, when
the vessel is detained by adverse winds, there may be a very considerable
delay. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the
trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was
not put to death until long after he was condemned.

Ech. What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or done?
And which of his friends had he with him? Or were they not allowed
by the authorities to be present? And did he die alone?

Phaed. No; there were several of his friends with him.

Ech. If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me what
passed, as exactly as you can.

Phaed. I have nothing to do, and will try to gratify your wish. For
to me, too, there is no greater pleasure than to have Socrates brought
to my recollection, whether I speak myself or hear another speak of

Ech. You will have listeners who are of the same mind with you, and
I hope that you will be as exact as you can.

Phaed. I remember the strange feeling which came over me at being
with him. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death
of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him, Echecrates; his mien
and his language were so noble and fearless in the hour of death that
to me he appeared blessed. I thought that in going to the other world
he could not be without a divine call, and that he would be happy,
if any man ever was, when he arrived there, and therefore I did not
pity him as might seem natural at such a time. But neither could I
feel the pleasure which I usually felt in philosophical discourse
(for philosophy was the theme of which we spoke). I was pleased, and
I was also pained, because I knew that he was soon to die, and this
strange mixture of feeling was shared by us all; we were laughing
and weeping by turns, especially the excitable Apollodorus-you know
the sort of man?

Ech. Yes.

Phaed. He was quite overcome; and I myself and all of us were greatly

Ech. Who were present?

Phaed. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus, Critobulus
and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, and Antisthenes;
likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus, and some others;
but Plato, if I am not mistaken, was ill.

Ech. Were there any strangers?

Phaed. Yes, there were; Simmias the Theban, and Cebes, and Phaedondes;
Euclid and Terpison, who came from Megara.

Ech. And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?

Phaed. No, they were said to be in Aegina.

Ech. Anyone else?

Phaed. I think that these were about all.

Ech. And what was the discourse of which you spoke?

Phaed. I will begin at the beginning, and endeavor to repeat the entire
conversation. You must understand that we had been previously in the
habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the
trial was held, and which is not far from the prison. There we remained
talking with one another until the opening of the prison doors (for
they were not opened very early), and then went in and generally passed
the day with Socrates. On the last morning the meeting was earlier
than usual; this was owing to our having heard on the previous evening
that the sacred ship had arrived from Delos, and therefore we agreed
to meet very early at the accustomed place. On our going to the prison,
the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out
and bade us wait and he would call us. “For the Eleven,” he said,
“are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving
orders that he is to die to-day.” He soon returned and said that we
might come in. On entering we found Socrates just released from chains,
and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child
in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women
will: “O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse
with your friends, or they with you.” Socrates turned to Crito and
said: “Crito, let someone take her home.” Some of Crito’s people accordingly
led her away, crying out and beating herself. And when she was gone,
Socrates, sitting up on the couch, began to bend and rub his leg,
saying, as he rubbed: “How singular is the thing called pleasure,
and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the
opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he
who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other.
They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem;
and I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had noticed them, he would
have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and
when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the
reason why when one comes the other follows, as I find in my own case
pleasure comes following after the pain in my leg, which was caused
by the chain.”

Upon this Cebes said: I am very glad indeed, Socrates, that you mentioned
the name of Aesop. For that reminds me of a question which has been
asked by others, and was asked of me only the day before yesterday
by Evenus the poet, and as he will be sure to ask again, you may as
well tell me what I should say to him, if you would like him to have
an answer. He wanted to know why you who never before wrote a line
of poetry, now that you are in prison are putting Aesop into verse,
and also composing that hymn in honor of Apollo.

Tell him, Cebes, he replied, that I had no idea of rivalling him or
his poems; which is the truth, for I knew that I could not do that.
But I wanted to see whether I could purge away a scruple which I felt
about certain dreams. In the course of my life I have often had intimations
in dreams “that I should make music.” The same dream came to me sometimes
in one form, and sometimes in another, but always saying the same
or nearly the same words: Make and cultivate music, said the dream.
And hitherto I had imagined that this was only intended to exhort
and encourage me in the study of philosophy, which has always been
the pursuit of my life, and is the noblest and best of music. The
dream was bidding me to do what I was already doing, in the same way
that the competitor in a race is bidden by the spectators to run when
he is already running. But I was not certain of this, as the dream
might have meant music in the popular sense of the word, and being
under sentence of death, and the festival giving me a respite, I thought
that I should be safer if I satisfied the scruple, and, in obedience
to the dream, composed a few verses before I departed. And first I
made a hymn in honor of the god of the festival, and then considering
that a poet, if he is really to be a poet or maker, should not only
put words together but make stories, and as I have no invention, I
took some fables of esop, which I had ready at hand and knew, and
turned them into verse. Tell Evenus this, and bid him be of good cheer;
that I would have him come after me if he be a wise man, and not tarry;
and that to-day I am likely to be going, for the Athenians say that
I must.

Simmias said: What a message for such a man! having been a frequent
companion of his, I should say that, as far as I know him, he will
never take your advice unless he is obliged.

Why, said Socrates,-is not Evenus a philosopher?
I think that he is, said Simmias.
Then he, or any man who has the spirit of philosophy, will be willing
to die, though he will not take his own life, for that is held not
to be right.

Here he changed his position, and put his legs off the couch on to
the ground, and during the rest of the conversation he remained sitting.

Why do you say, inquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own
life, but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying?

Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are acquainted
with Philolaus, never heard him speak of this?

I never understood him, Socrates.
My words, too, are only an echo; but I am very willing to say what
I have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, I ought
to be thinking and talking of the nature of the pilgrimage which I
am about to make. What can I do better in the interval between this
and the setting of the sun?

Then tell me, Socrates, why is suicide held not to be right? as I
have certainly heard Philolaus affirm when he was staying with us
at Thebes: and there are others who say the same, although none of
them has ever made me understand him.

But do your best, replied Socrates, and the day may come when you
will understand. I suppose that you wonder why, as most things which
are evil may be accidentally good, this is to be the only exception
(for may not death, too, be better than life in some cases?), and
why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted to be his own
benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another.

By Jupiter! yes, indeed, said Cebes, laughing, and speaking in his
native Doric.

I admit the appearance of inconsistency, replied Socrates, but there
may not be any real inconsistency after all in this. There is a doctrine
uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open
the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which
I do not quite understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our
guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs. Do you not agree?

Yes, I agree to that, said Cebes.
And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example took
the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no
intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry
with him, and would you not punish him if you could?

Certainly, replied Cebes.
Then there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not
take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.

Yes, Socrates, said Cebes, there is surely reason in that. And yet
how can you reconcile this seemingly true belief that God is our guardian
and we his possessions, with that willingness to die which we were
attributing to the philosopher? That the wisest of men should be willing
to leave this service in which they are ruled by the gods who are
the best of rulers is not reasonable, for surely no wise man thinks
that when set at liberty he can take better care of himself than the
gods take of him. A fool may perhaps think this-he may argue that
he had better run away from his master, not considering that his duty
is to remain to the end, and not to run away from the good, and that
there is no sense in his running away. But the wise man will want
to be ever with him who is better than himself. Now this, Socrates,
is the reverse of what was just now said; for upon this view the wise
man should sorrow and the fool rejoice at passing out of life.

The earnestness of Cebes seemed to please Socrates. Here, said he,
turning to us, is a man who is always inquiring, and is not to be
convinced all in a moment, nor by every argument.

And in this case, added Simmias, his objection does appear to me to
have some force. For what can be the meaning of a truly wise man wanting
to fly away and lightly leave a master who is better than himself?
And I rather imagine that Cebes is referring to you; he thinks that
you are too ready to leave us, and too ready to leave the gods who,
as you acknowledge, are our good rulers.

Yes, replied Socrates; there is reason in that. And this indictment
you think that I ought to answer as if I were in court?

That is what we should like, said Simmias.
Then I must try to make a better impression upon you than I did when
defending myself before the judges. For I am quite ready to acknowledge,
Simmias and Cebes, that I ought to be grieved at death, if I were
not persuaded that I am going to other gods who are wise and good
(of this I am as certain as I can be of anything of the sort) and
to men departed (though I am not so certain of this), who are better
than those whom I leave behind; and therefore I do not grieve as I
might have done, for I have good hope that there is yet something
remaining for the dead, and, as has been said of old, some far better
thing for the good than for the evil.

But do you mean to take away your thoughts with you, Socrates? said
Simmias. Will you not communicate them to us?-the benefit is one in
which we too may hope to share. Moreover, if you succeed in convincing
us, that will be an answer to the charge against yourself.

I will do my best, replied Socrates. But you must first let me hear
what Crito wants; he was going to say something to me.

Only this, Socrates, replied Crito: the attendant who is to give you
the poison has been telling me that you are not to talk much, and
he wants me to let you know this; for that by talking heat is increased,
and this interferes with the action of the poison; those who excite
themselves are sometimes obliged to drink the poison two or three

Then, said Socrates, let him mind his business and be prepared to
give the poison two or three times, if necessary; that is all.

I was almost certain that you would say that, replied Crito; but I
was obliged to satisfy him.

Never mind him, he said.
And now I will make answer to you, O my judges, and show that he who
has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when
he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the
greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and
Cebes, I will endeavor to explain. For I deem that the true disciple
of philosophy is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do
not perceive that he is ever pursuing death and dying; and if this
is true, why, having had the desire of death all his life long, should
he repine at the arrival of that which he has been always pursuing
and desiring?

Simmias laughed and said: Though not in a laughing humor, I swear
that I cannot help laughing when I think what the wicked world will
say when they hear this. They will say that this is very true, and
our people at home will agree with them in saying that the life which
philosophers desire is truly death, and that they have found them
out to be deserving of the death which they desire.

And they are right, Simmias, in saying this, with the exception of
the words “They have found them out”; for they have not found out
what is the nature of this death which the true philosopher desires,
or how he deserves or desires death. But let us leave them and have
a word with ourselves: Do we believe that there is such a thing as

To be sure, replied Simmias.
And is this anything but the separation of soul and body? And being
dead is the attainment of this separation; when the soul exists in
herself, and is parted from the body and the body is parted from the
soul-that is death?

Exactly: that and nothing else, he replied.
And what do you say of another question, my friend, about which I
should like to have your opinion, and the answer to which will probably
throw light on our present inquiry: Do you think that the philosopher
ought to care about the pleasures-if they are to be called pleasures-of
eating and drinking?

Certainly not, answered Simmias.
And what do you say of the pleasures of love-should he care about

By no means.
And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body-for
example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments
of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise
anything more than nature needs? What do you say?

I should say the true philosopher would despise them.
Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and
not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to be quit of
the body and turn to the soul.

Phaedo by Plato