Translated by Benjamin Jowett
The Cratylus has always been a source of perplexity to the student of
Plato. While in fancy and humour, and perfection of style and metaphysical
originality, this dialogue may be ranked with the best of the Platonic
writings, there has been an uncertainty about the motive of the piece,
which interpreters have hitherto not succeeded in dispelling.
We need not
suppose that Plato used words in order to conceal his thoughts, or
would have been unintelligible to an educated contemporary. In
Phaedrus and Euthydemus we also find a difficulty in determining the
precise aim of the author. Plato wrote satires in the form of
and his meaning, like that of other satirical writers, has often slept
the ear of posterity. Two causes may be assigned for this obscurity:
the subtlety and allusiveness of this species of composition; 2nd,
difficulty of reproducing a state of life and literature which has
away. A satire is unmeaning unless we can place ourselves back
persons and thoughts of the age in which it was written. Had
of Antisthenes upon words, or the speculations of Cratylus, or some
Heracleitean of the fourth century B.C., on the nature of language
preserved to us; or if we had lived at the time, and been 'rich enough
attend the fifty-drachma course of Prodicus,' we should have understood
Plato better, and many points which are now attributed to the extravagance
of Socrates' humour would have been found, like the allusions of
Aristophanes in the Clouds, to have gone home to the sophists and
grammarians of the day.
For the age was very busy with philological speculation; and many questions
were beginning to be asked about language which were parallel to other
questions about justice, virtue, knowledge, and were illustrated in
similar manner by the analogy of the arts. Was there a correctness
words, and were they given by nature or convention? In the presocratic
philosophy mankind had been striving to attain an expression of their
ideas, and now they were beginning to ask themselves whether the expression
might not be distinguished from the idea? They were also seeking
distinguish the parts of speech and to enquire into the relation of
and predicate. Grammar and logic were moving about somewhere
in the depths
of the human soul, but they were not yet awakened into consciousness
had not found names for themselves, or terms by which they might be
expressed. Of these beginnings of the study of language we know
and there necessarily arises an obscurity when the surroundings of
work as the Cratylus are taken away. Moreover, in this, as in
most of the
dialogues of Plato, allowance has to be made for the character of Socrates.
For the theory of language can only be propounded by him in a manner
is consistent with his own profession of ignorance. Hence his
the new school of etymology is interspersed with many declarations
knows nothing,' 'that he has learned from Euthyphro,' and the like.
the truest things which he says are depreciated by himself. He
to be guessing, but the guesses of Plato are better than all the other
theories of the ancients respecting language put together.
The dialogue hardly derives any light from Plato's other writings, and
still less from Scholiasts and Neoplatonist writers. Socrates
interpreted from himself, and on first reading we certainly have a
difficulty in understanding his drift, or his relation to the two other
interlocutors in the dialogue. Does he agree with Cratylus or
Hermogenes, and is he serious in those fanciful etymologies, extending
more than half the dialogue, which he seems so greatly to relish?
Or is he
serious in part only; and can we separate his jest from his earnest?--Sunt
bona, sunt quaedum mediocria, sunt mala plura. Most of them are
ridiculously bad, and yet among them are found, as if by accident,
principles of philology which are unsurpassed in any ancient writer,
even in advance of any philologer of the last century. May we
Plato, like Lucian, has been amusing his fancy by writing a comedy
form of a prose dialogue? And what is the final result of the
Plato an upholder of the conventional theory of language, which he
acknowledges to be imperfect? or does he mean to imply that a perfect
language can only be based on his own theory of ideas? Or if
explanation is refuted by his silence, then in what relation does his
account of language stand to the rest of his philosophy? Or may
we be so
bold as to deny the connexion between them? (For the allusion
to the ideas
at the end of the dialogue is merely intended to show that we must
words in the place of things or realities, which is a thesis strongly
insisted on by Plato in many other passages)...These are some of the
thoughts which arise in the mind of the reader of the Cratylus.
consideration of them may form a convenient introduction to the general
subject of the dialogue.
We must not expect all the parts of a dialogue of Plato to tend equally
some clearly-defined end. His idea of literary art is not the
proportion of the whole, such as we appear to find in a Greek temple
statue; nor should his works be tried by any such standard. They
often the beauty of poetry, but they have also the freedom of conversation.
'Words are more plastic than wax' (Rep.), and may be moulded into any
He wanders on from one topic to another, careless of the unity of his
not fearing any 'judge, or spectator, who may recall him to the point'
(Theat.), 'whither the argument blows we follow' (Rep.). To have
determined beforehand, as in a modern didactic treatise, the nature
limits of the subject, would have been fatal to the spirit of enquiry
discovery, which is the soul of the dialogue...These remarks are applicable
to nearly all the works of Plato, but to the Cratylus and Phaedrus
than any others. See Phaedrus, Introduction.
There is another aspect under which some of the dialogues of Plato may
more truly viewed:--they are dramatic sketches of an argument.
found that in the Lysis, Charmides, Laches, Protagoras, Meno, we arrived
no conclusion--the different sides of the argument were personified
different speakers; but the victory was not distinctly attributed to
them, nor the truth wholly the property of any. And in the Cratylus
have no reason to assume that Socrates is either wholly right or wholly
wrong, or that Plato, though he evidently inclines to him, had any
aim than that of personifying, in the characters of Hermogenes, Socrates,
and Cratylus, the three theories of language which are respectively
maintained by them.
The two subordinate persons of the dialogue, Hermogenes and Cratylus,
at the opposite poles of the argument. But after a while the
the Sophist and the follower of Heracleitus are found to be not so
removed from one another as at first sight appeared; and both show
inclination to accept the third view which Socrates interposes between
them. First, Hermogenes, the poor brother of the rich Callias,
the doctrine that names are conventional; like the names of slaves,
may be given and altered at pleasure. This is one of those principles
which, whether applied to society or language, explains everything
nothing. For in all things there is an element of convention;
admission of this does not help us to understand the rational ground
basis in human nature on which the convention proceeds. Socrates
all intimates to Hermogenes that his view of language is only a part
sophistical whole, and ultimately tends to abolish the distinction
truth and falsehood. Hermogenes is very ready to throw aside
sophistical tenet, and listens with a sort of half admiration, half
to the speculations of Socrates.
Cratylus is of opinion that a name is either a true name or not a name
all. He is unable to conceive of degrees of imitation; a word
the perfect expression of a thing, or a mere inarticulate sound (a
which is still prevalent among theorizers about the origin of language).
He is at once a philosopher and a sophist; for while wanting to rest
language on an immutable basis, he would deny the possibility of falsehood.
He is inclined to derive all truth from language, and in language he
reflected the philosophy of Heracleitus. His views are not like
Hermogenes, hastily taken up, but are said to be the result of mature
consideration, although he is described as still a young man.
tenacity characteristic of the Heracleitean philosophers, he clings
doctrine of the flux. (Compare Theaet.) Of the real Cratylus
nothing, except that he is recorded by Aristotle to have been the friend
teacher of Plato; nor have we any proof that he resembled the likeness
him in Plato any more than the Critias of Plato is like the real Critias,
or the Euthyphro in this dialogue like the other Euthyphro, the diviner,
the dialogue which is called after him.
Between these two extremes, which have both of them a sophistical
character, the view of Socrates is introduced, which is in a manner
union of the two. Language is conventional and also natural,
and the true
conventional-natural is the rational. It is a work not of chance,
art; the dialectician is the artificer of words, and the legislator
authority to them. They are the expressions or imitations in
things. In a sense, Cratylus is right in saying that things have
names; for nature is not opposed either to art or to law. But
imitation, like any other copy, may be imperfectly executed; and in
way an element of chance or convention enters in. There is much
accidental or exceptional in language. Some words have had their
meaning so obscured, that they require to be helped out by convention.
still the true name is that which has a natural meaning. Thus
chance, all combine in the formation of language. And the three
respectively propounded by Hermogenes, Socrates, Cratylus, may be described
as the conventional, the artificial or rational, and the natural.
of Socrates is the meeting-point of the other two, just as conceptualism
the meeting-point of nominalism and realism.
We can hardly say that Plato was aware of the truth, that 'languages
not made, but grow.' But still, when he says that 'the legislator
language with the dialectician standing on his right hand,' we need
infer from this that he conceived words, like coins, to be issued from
mint of the State. The creator of laws and of social life is
regarded as the creator of language, according to Hellenic notions,
philosopher is his natural advisor. We are not to suppose that
legislator is performing any extraordinary function; he is merely the
Eponymus of the State, who prescribes rules for the dialectician and
all other artists. According to a truly Platonic mode of approaching
subject, language, like virtue in the Republic, is examined by the
of the arts. Words are works of art which may be equally made
materials, and are well made when they have a meaning. Of the
which he thus describes, Plato had probably no very definite notion.
he means to express generally that language is the product of intelligence,
and that languages belong to States and not to individuals.
A better conception of language could not have been formed in Plato's
than that which he attributes to Socrates. Yet many persons have
that the mind of Plato is more truly seen in the vague realism of Cratylus.
This misconception has probably arisen from two causes: first,
to bring Plato's theory of language into accordance with the received
doctrine of the Platonic ideas; secondly, the impression created by
Socrates himself, that he is not in earnest, and is only indulging
fancy of the hour.
1. We shall have occasion to show more at length, in the Introduction
future dialogues, that the so-called Platonic ideas are only a semi-
mythical form, in which he attempts to realize abstractions, and that
are replaced in his later writings by a rational theory of psychology.
(See introductions to the Meno and the Sophist.) And in the Cratylus
gives a general account of the nature and origin of language, in which
Smith, Rousseau, and other writers of the last century, would have
substantially agreed. At the end of the dialogue, he speaks as
Symposium and Republic of absolute beauty and good; but he never supposed
that they were capable of being embodied in words. Of the names
ideas, he would have said, as he says of the names of the Gods, that
know nothing. Even the realism of Cratylus is not based upon
the ideas of
Plato, but upon the flux of Heracleitus. Here, as in the Sophist
Politicus, Plato expressly draws attention to the want of agreement
words and things. Hence we are led to infer, that the view of
not the less Plato's own, because not based upon the ideas; 2nd, that
Plato's theory of language is not inconsistent with the rest of his
2. We do not deny that Socrates is partly in jest and partly in
He is discoursing in a high-flown vein, which may be compared to the
'dithyrambics of the Phaedrus.' They are mysteries of which he
speaking, and he professes a kind of ludicrous fear of his imaginary
wisdom. When he is arguing out of Homer, about the names of Hector's
or when he describes himself as inspired or maddened by Euthyphro,
whom he has been sitting from the early dawn (compare Phaedrus and
Phaedr.) and expresses his intention of yielding to the illusion to-day,
and to-morrow he will go to a priest and be purified, we easily see
his words are not to be taken seriously. In this part of the
dread of committing impiety, the pretended derivation of his wisdom
another, the extravagance of some of his etymologies, and, in general,
manner in which the fun, fast and furious, vires acquirit eundo, remind
strongly of the Phaedrus. The jest is a long one, extending over
half the dialogue. But then, we remember that the Euthydemus
is a still
longer jest, in which the irony is preserved to the very end.
There he is
parodying the ingenious follies of early logic; in the Cratylus he
ridiculing the fancies of a new school of sophists and grammarians.
fallacies of the Euthydemus are still retained at the end of our logic
books; and the etymologies of the Cratylus have also found their way
later writers. Some of these are not much worse than the conjectures
Hemsterhuis, and other critics of the last century; but this does not
that they are serious. For Plato is in advance of his age in
conception of language, as much as he is in his conception of mythology.
When the fervour of his etymological enthusiasm has abated, Socrates
as he has begun, with a rational explanation of language. Still
preserves his 'know nothing' disguise, and himself declares his first
notions about names to be reckless and ridiculous. Having explained
compound words by resolving them into their original elements, he now
proceeds to analyse simple words into the letters of which they are
composed. The Socrates who 'knows nothing,' here passes into
the dialectician, the arranger of species. There is nothing in
of the dialogue which is either weak or extravagant. Plato is
of the Onomatopoetic theory of language; that is to say, he supposes
to be formed by the imitation of ideas in sounds; he also recognises
effect of time, the influence of foreign languages, the desire of euphony,
to be formative principles; and he admits a certain element of chance.
he gives no imitation in all this that he is preparing the way for
construction of an ideal language. Or that he has any Eleatic
to oppose to the Heracleiteanism of Cratylus.
The theory of language which is propounded in the Cratylus is in accordance
with the later phase of the philosophy of Plato, and would have been
regarded by him as in the main true. The dialogue is also a satire
philological fancies of the day. Socrates in pursuit of his vocation
detector of false knowledge, lights by accident on the truth.
guessing, he is dreaming; he has heard, as he says in the Phaedrus,
another: no one is more surprised than himself at his own discoveries.
And yet some of his best remarks, as for example his view of the derivation
of Greek words from other languages, or of the permutations of letters,
again, his observation that in speaking of the Gods we are only speaking
our names of them, occur among these flights of humour.
We can imagine a character having a profound insight into the nature
and things, and yet hardly dwelling upon them seriously; blending
inextricably sense and nonsense; sometimes enveloping in a blaze of
the most serious matters, and then again allowing the truth to peer
through; enjoying the flow of his own humour, and puzzling mankind
ironical exaggeration of their absurdities. Such were Aristophanes
Rabelais; such, in a different style, were Sterne, Jean Paul, Hamann,--
writers who sometimes become unintelligible through the extravagance
their fancies. Such is the character which Plato intends to depict
of his dialogues as the Silenus Socrates; and through this medium we
to receive our theory of language.
There remains a difficulty which seems to demand a more exact answer:
what relation does the satirical or etymological portion of the dialogue
stand to the serious? Granting all that can be said about the
irony of Socrates, about the parody of Euthyphro, or Prodicus, or
Antisthenes, how does the long catalogue of etymologies furnish any
to the question of Hermogenes, which is evidently the main thesis of
dialogue: What is the truth, or correctness, or principle of
After illustrating the nature of correctness by the analogy of the arts,
and then, as in the Republic, ironically appealing to the authority
Homeric poems, Socrates shows that the truth or correctness of names
only be ascertained by an appeal to etymology. The truth of names
is to be
found in the analysis of their elements. But why does he admit
which are absurd, based on Heracleitean fancies, fourfold interpretations
of words, impossible unions and separations of syllables and letters?
1. The answer to this difficulty has been already anticipated
Socrates is not a dogmatic teacher, and therefore he puts on this wild
fanciful disguise, in order that the truth may be permitted to appear:
as Benfey remarks, an erroneous example may illustrate a principle
language as well as a true one: 3. many of these etymologies,
example, that of dikaion, are indicated, by the manner in which Socrates
speaks of them, to have been current in his own age: 4. the philosophy
language had not made such progress as would have justified Plato in
propounding real derivations. Like his master Socrates, he saw
hollowness of the incipient sciences of the day, and tries to move
circle apart from them, laying down the conditions under which they
be pursued, but, as in the Timaeus, cautious and tentative, when he
speaking of actual phenomena. To have made etymologies seriously,
have seemed to him like the interpretation of the myths in the Phaedrus,
the task 'of a not very fortunate individual, who had a great deal
on his hands.' The irony of Socrates places him above and beyond
errors of his contemporaries.
The Cratylus is full of humour and satirical touches: the inspiration
which comes from Euthyphro, and his prancing steeds, the light admixture
quotations from Homer, and the spurious dialectic which is applied
the jest about the fifty-drachma course of Prodicus, which is declared
the best authority, viz. his own, to be a complete education in grammar
rhetoric; the double explanation of the name Hermogenes, either as
being in luck,' or 'being no speaker;' the dearly-bought wisdom of
the Lacedaemonian whose name was 'Rush,' and, above all, the pleasure
Socrates expresses in his own dangerous discoveries, which 'to-morrow
will purge away,' are truly humorous. While delivering a lecture
philosophy of language, Socrates is also satirizing the endless fertility
of the human mind in spinning arguments out of nothing, and employing
most trifling and fanciful analogies in support of a theory.
ancient as in modern times was a favourite recreation; and Socrates
merry at the expense of the etymologists. The simplicity of Hermogenes,
who is ready to believe anything that he is told, heightens the effect.
Socrates in his genial and ironical mood hits right and left at his
adversaries: Ouranos is so called apo tou oran ta ano, which,
philosophers say, is the way to have a pure mind; the sophists are
fanciful explanation converted into heroes; 'the givers of names were
some philosophers who fancy that the earth goes round because their
are always going round.' There is a great deal of 'mischief'
the following: 'I found myself in greater perplexity about justice
was before I began to learn;' 'The rho in katoptron must be the
of some one who cares nothing about truth, but thinks only of putting
mouth into shape;' 'Tales and falsehoods have generally to do
Tragic and goatish life, and tragedy is the place of them.' Several
philosophers and sophists are mentioned by name: first, Protagoras
Euthydemus are assailed; then the interpreters of Homer, oi palaioi
Omerikoi (compare Arist. Met.) and the Orphic poets are alluded to
way; then he discovers a hive of wisdom in the philosophy of Heracleitus;--
the doctrine of the flux is contained in the word ousia (= osia the
principle), an anticipation of Anaxagoras is found in psuche and selene.
Again, he ridicules the arbitrary methods of pulling out and putting
letters which were in vogue among the philologers of his time; or slightly
scoffs at contemporary religious beliefs. Lastly, he is impatient
hearing from the half-converted Cratylus the doctrine that falsehood
neither be spoken, nor uttered, nor addressed; a piece of sophistry
attributed to Gorgias, which reappears in the Sophist. And he
demolish, with no less delight than he had set up, the Heracleitean
In the latter part of the dialogue Socrates becomes more serious, though
does not lay aside but rather aggravates his banter of the Heracleiteans,
whom here, as in the Theaetetus, he delights to ridicule. What
origin of this enmity we can hardly determine:--was it due to the natural
dislike which may be supposed to exist between the 'patrons of the
and the 'friends of the ideas' (Soph.)? or is it to be attributed to
indignation which Plato felt at having wasted his time upon 'Cratylus
the doctrines of Heracleitus' in the days of his youth? Socrates,
on some of the characteristic difficulties of early Greek philosophy,
endeavours to show Cratylus that imitation may be partial or imperfect,
that a knowledge of things is higher than a knowledge of names, and
there can be no knowledge if all things are in a state of transition.
Cratylus, who does not easily apprehend the argument from common sense,
remains unconvinced, and on the whole inclines to his former opinion.
profound philosophical remarks are scattered up and down, admitting
application not only to language but to knowledge generally; such as
assertion that 'consistency is no test of truth:' or again, 'If we
over-precise about words, truth will say "too late" to us as to the
traveller in Aegina.'
The place of the dialogue in the series cannot be determined with
certainty. The style and subject, and the treatment of the character
Socrates, have a close resemblance to the earlier dialogues, especially
the Phaedrus and Euthydemus. The manner in which the ideas are
at the end of the dialogue, also indicates a comparatively early date.
imaginative element is still in full vigour; the Socrates of the Cratylus
is the Socrates of the Apology and Symposium, not yet Platonized; and
describes, as in the Theaetetus, the philosophy of Heracleitus by
'unsavoury' similes--he cannot believe that the world is like 'a leaky
vessel,' or 'a man who has a running at the nose'; he attributes the
of the world to the swimming in some folks' heads. On the other
relation of thought to language is omitted here, but is treated of
Sophist. These grounds are not sufficient to enable us to arrive
precise conclusion. But we shall not be far wrong in placing
about the middle, or at any rate in the first half, of the series.
Cratylus, the Heracleitean philosopher, and Hermogenes, the brother
Callias, have been arguing about names; the former maintaining that
are natural, the latter that they are conventional. Cratylus
his own is a true name, but will not allow that the name of Hermogenes
equally true. Hermogenes asks Socrates to explain to him what
means; or, far rather, he would like to know, What Socrates himself
about the truth or correctness of names? Socrates replies, that
knowledge, and the nature of names is a considerable part of knowledge:
has never been to hear the fifty-drachma course of Prodicus; and having
only attended the single-drachma course, he is not competent to give
opinion on such matters. When Cratylus denies that Hermogenes
is a true
name, he supposes him to mean that he is not a true son of Hermes,
he is never in luck. But he would like to have an open council
and to hear
Hermogenes is of opinion that there is no principle in names; they may
changed, as we change the names of slaves, whenever we please, and
altered name is as good as the original one.
You mean to say, for instance, rejoins Socrates, that if I agree to
man a horse, then a man will be rightly called a horse by me, and a
the rest of the world? But, surely, there is in words a true
and a false,
as there are true and false propositions. If a whole proposition
or false, then the parts of a proposition may be true or false, and
least parts as well as the greatest; and the least parts are names,
therefore names may be true or false. Would Hermogenes maintain
anybody may give a name to anything, and as many names as he pleases;
would all these names be always true at the time of giving them?
Hermogenes replies that this is the only way in which he can conceive
names are correct; and he appeals to the practice of different nations,
of the different Hellenic tribes, in confirmation of his view.
asks, whether the things differ as the words which represent them differ:--
Are we to maintain with Protagoras, that what appears is? Hermogenes
always been puzzled about this, but acknowledges, when he is pressed
Socrates, that there are a few very good men in the world, and a great
very bad; and the very good are the wise, and the very bad are the
and this is not mere appearance but reality. Nor is he disposed
with Euthydemus, that all things equally and always belong to all men;
that case, again, there would be no distinction between bad and good
But then, the only remaining possibility is, that all things have their
several distinct natures, and are independent of our notions about
And not only things, but actions, have distinct natures, and are done
different processes. There is a natural way of cutting or burning,
natural instrument with which men cut or burn, and any other way will
fail;--this is true of all actions. And speaking is a kind of
naming is a kind of speaking, and we must name according to a natural
process, and with a proper instrument. We cut with a knife, we
an awl, we weave with a shuttle, we name with a name. And as
separates the warp from the woof, so a name distinguishes the natures
things. The weaver will use the shuttle well,--that is, like
a weaver; and
the teacher will use the name well,--that is, like a teacher.
will be made by the carpenter; the awl by the smith or skilled person.
who makes a name? Does not the law give names, and does not the
receive them from the legislator? He is the skilled person who
and of all skilled workmen he is the rarest. But how does the
make or repair the shuttle, and to what will he look? Will he
not look at
the ideal which he has in his mind? And as the different kinds
differ, so ought the instruments which make them to differ. The
kinds of shuttles ought to answer in material and form to the several
of webs. And the legislator ought to know the different materials
forms of which names are made in Hellas and other countries.
But who is to
be the judge of the proper form? The judge of shuttles is the
uses them; the judge of lyres is the player of the lyre; the judge
is the pilot. And will not the judge who is able to direct the
in his work of naming, be he who knows how to use the names--he who
and answer questions--in short, the dialectician? The pilot directs
carpenter how to make the rudder, and the dialectician directs the
legislator how he is to impose names; for to express the ideal forms
things in syllables and letters is not the easy task, Hermogenes, which
'I should be more readily persuaded, if you would show me this natural
correctness of names.'
Indeed I cannot; but I see that you have advanced; for you now admit
there is a correctness of names, and that not every one can give a
But what is the nature of this correctness or truth, you must learn
the Sophists, of whom your brother Callias has bought his reputation
wisdom rather dearly; and since they require to be paid, you, having
money, had better learn from him at second-hand. 'Well, but I
given up Protagoras, and I should be inconsistent in going to learn
him.' Then if you reject him you may learn of the poets, and
of Homer, who distinguishes the names given by Gods and men to the
things, as in the verse about the river God who fought with Hephaestus,
'whom the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander;' or in the lines
which he mentions the bird which the Gods call 'Chalcis,' and men
'Cymindis;' or the hill which men call 'Batieia,' and the Gods 'Myrinna's
Tomb.' Here is an important lesson; for the Gods must of course
in their use of names. And this is not the only truth about philology
which may be learnt from Homer. Does he not say that Hector's
son had two
'Hector called him Scamandrius, but the others Astyanax'?
Now, if the men called him Astyanax, is it not probable that the other
was conferred by the women? And which are more likely to be right--the
wiser or the less wise, the men or the women? Homer evidently
the men: and of the name given by them he offers an explanation;--the
was called Astyanax ('king of the city'), because his father saved
city. The names Astyanax and Hector, moreover, are really the
one means a king, and the other is 'a holder or possessor.' For
lion's whelp may be called a lion, or the horse's foal a foal, so the
of a king may be called a king. But if the horse had produced
a calf, then
that would be called a calf. Whether the syllables of a name
are the same
or not makes no difference, provided the meaning is retained.
the names of letters, whether vowels or consonants, do not correspond
their sounds, with the exception of epsilon, upsilon, omicron, omega.
name Beta has three letters added to the sound--and yet this does not
the sense of the word, or prevent the whole name having the value which
legislator intended. And the same may be said of a king and the
son of a
king, who like other animals resemble each other in the course of nature;
the words by which they are signified may be disguised, and yet amid
differences of sound the etymologist may recognise the same notion,
the physician recognises the power of the same drugs under different
disguises of colour and smell. Hector and Astyanax have only
alike, but they have the same meaning; and Agis (leader) is altogether
different in sound from Polemarchus (chief in war), or Eupolemus (good
warrior); but the two words present the same idea of leader or general,
like the words Iatrocles and Acesimbrotus, which equally denote a
physician. The son succeeds the father as the foal succeeds the
when, out of the course of nature, a prodigy occurs, and the offspring
longer resembles the parent, then the names no longer agree.
This may be
illustrated by the case of Agamemnon and his son Orestes, of whom the
former has a name significant of his patience at the siege of Troy;
the name of the latter indicates his savage, man-of-the-mountain nature.
Atreus again, for his murder of Chrysippus, and his cruelty to Thyestes,
rightly named Atreus, which, to the eye of the etymologist, is ateros
(destructive), ateires (stubborn), atreotos (fearless); and Pelops
is o ta
pelas oron (he who sees what is near only), because in his eagerness
Hippodamia, he was unconscious of the remoter consequences which the
of Myrtilus would entail upon his race. The name Tantalus, if
changed, offers two etymologies; either apo tes tou lithou talanteias,
apo tou talantaton einai, signifying at once the hanging of the stone
his head in the world below, and the misery which he brought upon his
country. And the name of his father, Zeus, Dios, Zenos, has an
meaning, though hard to be understood, because really a sentence which
divided into two parts (Zeus, Dios). For he, being the lord and
all, is the author of our being, and in him all live: this is
the double form, Dios, Zenos, which being put together and interpreted
di on ze panta. There may, at first sight, appear to be some
in calling him the son of Cronos, who is a proverb for stupidity; but
meaning is that Zeus himself is the son of a mighty intellect; Kronos,
quasi koros, not in the sense of a youth, but quasi to katharon kai
akeraton tou nou--the pure and garnished mind, which in turn is begotten
Uranus, who is so called apo tou oran ta ano, from looking upwards;
as philosophers say, is the way to have a pure mind. The earlier
of Hesiod's genealogy has escaped my memory, or I would try more
conclusions of the same sort. 'You talk like an oracle.'
I caught the
infection from Euthyphro, who gave me a long lecture which began at
and has not only entered into my ears, but filled my soul, and my intention
is to yield to the inspiration to-day; and to-morrow I will be exorcised
some priest or sophist. 'Go on; I am anxious to hear the rest.'
we have a general notion, how shall we proceed? What names will
most crucial test of natural fitness? Those of heroes and ordinary
often deceptive, because they are patronymics or expressions of a wish;
us try gods and demi-gods. Gods are so called, apo tou thein,
verb 'to run;' because the sun, moon, and stars run about the heaven;
they being the original gods of the Hellenes, as they still are of
Barbarians, their name is given to all Gods. The demons are the
race of Hesiod, and by golden he means not literally golden, but good;
they are called demons, quasi daemones, which in old Attic was used
daimones--good men are well said to become daimones when they die,
they are knowing. Eros (with an epsilon) is the same word as
eros (with an
eta): 'the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were
perhaps they were a species of sophists or rhetoricians, and so called
tou erotan, or eirein, from their habit of spinning questions; for
is equivalent to legein. I get all this from Euthyphro; and now
a new and
ingenious idea comes into my mind, and, if I am not careful, I shall
wiser than I ought to be by to-morrow's dawn. My idea is, that
we may put
in and pull out letters at pleasure and alter the accents (as, for
Dii philos may be turned into Diphilos), and we may make words into
sentences and sentences into words. The name anthrotos is a case
for a letter has been omitted and the accent changed; the original
being o anathron a opopen--he who looks up at what he sees. Psuche
thought to be the reviving, or refreshing, or animating principle--e
anapsuchousa to soma; but I am afraid that Euthyphro and his disciples
scorn this derivation, and I must find another: shall we identify
with the 'ordering mind' of Anaxagoras, and say that psuche, quasi
= e phusin echei or ochei?--this might easily be refined into psyche.
'That is a more artistic etymology.'
After psuche follows soma; this, by a slight permutation, may be either
(1) the 'grave' of the soul, or (2) may mean 'that by which the soul
signifies (semainei) her wishes.' But more probably, the word
and simply denotes that the body is the place of ward in which the
suffers the penalty of sin,--en o sozetai. 'I should like to
more explanations of the names of the Gods, like that excellent one
Zeus.' The truest names of the Gods are those which they give
but these are unknown to us. Less true are those by which we
them, as men say in prayers, 'May he graciously receive any name by
call him.' And to avoid offence, I should like to let them know
that we are not presuming to enquire about them, but only about the
which they usually bear. Let us begin with Hestia. What
did he mean who
gave the name Hestia? 'That is a very difficult question.'
O, my dear
Hermogenes, I believe that there was a power of philosophy and talk
the first inventors of names, both in our own and in other languages;
even in foreign words a principle is discernible. Hestia is the
esia, which is an old form of ousia, and means the first principle
things: this agrees with the fact that to Hestia the first sacrifices
offered. There is also another reading--osia, which implies that
(othoun) is the first principle of all things. And here I seem
a delicate allusion to the flux of Heracleitus--that antediluvian
philosopher who cannot walk twice in the same stream; and this flux
may accomplish yet greater marvels. For the names Cronos and
have been accidental; the giver of them must have known something about
doctrine of Heracleitus. Moreover, there is a remarkable coincidence
the words of Hesiod, when he speaks of Oceanus, 'the origin of Gods;'
in the verse of Orpheus, in which he describes Oceanus espousing his
Tethys. Tethys is nothing more than the name of a spring--to
kai ethoumenon. Poseidon is posidesmos, the chain of the feet,
cannot walk on the sea--the epsilon is inserted by way of ornament;
perhaps the name may have been originally polleidon, meaning, that
knew many things (polla eidos): he may also be the shaker, apo
seiein,--in this case, pi and delta have been added. Pluto is
with ploutos, because wealth comes out of the earth; or the word may
euphemism for Hades, which is usually derived apo tou aeidous, because
God is concerned with the invisible. But the name Hades was really
him from his knowing (eidenai) all good things. Men in general
foolishly afraid of him, and talk with horror of the world below from
no one may return. The reason why his subjects never wish to
even if they could, is that the God enchains them by the strongest
spells, namely by the desire of virtue, which they hope to obtain by
constant association with him. He is the perfect and accomplished
and the great benefactor of the other world; for he has much more than
wants there, and hence he is called Pluto or the rich. He will
nothing to do with the souls of men while in the body, because he cannot
work his will with them so long as they are confused and entangled
fleshly lusts. Demeter is the mother and giver of food--e didousa
tes edodes. Here is erate tis, or perhaps the legislator may
thinking of the weather, and has merely transposed the letters of the
aer. Pherephatta, that word of awe, is pheretapha, which is only
euphonious contraction of e tou pheromenou ephaptomene,--all things
motion, and she in her wisdom moves with them, and the wise God Hades
consorts with her--there is nothing very terrible in this, any more
the her other appellation Persephone, which is also significant of
wisdom (sophe). Apollo is another name, which is supposed to
dreadful meaning, but is susceptible of at least four perfectly innocent
explanations. First, he is the purifier or purger or absolver
secondly, he is the true diviner, Aplos, as he is called in the Thessalian
dialect (aplos = aplous, sincere); thirdly, he is the archer (aei ballon),
always shooting; or again, supposing alpha to mean ama or omou, Apollo
becomes equivalent to ama polon, which points to both his musical and
heavenly attributes; for there is a 'moving together' alike in music
the harmony of the spheres. The second lambda is inserted in
avoid the ill-omened sound of destruction. The Muses are so called--apo
tou mosthai. The gentle Leto or Letho is named from her willingness
(ethelemon), or because she is ready to forgive and forget (lethe).
Artemis is so called from her healthy well-balanced nature, dia to
or as aretes istor; or as a lover of virginity, aroton misesasa.
these explanations is probably true,--perhaps all of them. Dionysus
didous ton oinon, and oinos is quasi oionous because wine makes those
(oiesthai) that they have a mind (nous) who have none. The established
derivation of Aphrodite dia ten tou athrou genesin may be accepted
authority of Hesiod. Again, there is the name of Pallas, or Athene,
we, who are Athenians, must not forget. Pallas is derived from
dances--apo tou pallein ta opla. For Athene we must turn to the
allegorical interpreters of Homer, who make the name equivalent to
or possibly the word was originally ethonoe and signified moral
intelligence (en ethei noesis). Hephaestus, again, is the lord
tou phaeos istor. This is a good notion; and, to prevent any
into our heads, let us go on to Ares. He is the manly one (arren),
unchangeable one (arratos). Enough of the Gods; for, by the Gods,
afraid of them; but if you suggest other words, you will see how the
of Euthyphro prance. 'Only one more God; tell me about my godfather
Hermes.' He is ermeneus, the messenger or cheater or thief or
or o eirein momenos, that is, eiremes or ermes--the speaker or contriver
speeches. 'Well said Cratylus, then, that I am no son of Hermes.'
the son of Hermes, is speech or the brother of speech, and is called
because speech indicates everything--o pan menuon. He has two
true and a false; and is in the upper part smooth, and in the lower
shaggy. He is the goat of Tragedy, in which there are plenty
'Will you go on to the elements--sun, moon, stars, earth, aether, air,
fire, water, seasons, years?' Very good: and which shall
I take first?
Let us begin with elios, or the sun. The Doric form elios helps
us to see
that he is so called because at his rising he gathers (alizei) men
together, or because he rolls about (eilei) the earth, or because he
variegates (aiolei = poikillei) the earth. Selene is an anticipation
Anaxagoras, being a contraction of selaenoneoaeia, the light (selas)
is ever old and new, and which, as Anaxagoras says, is borrowed from
sun; the name was harmonized into selanaia, a form which is still in
'That is a true dithyrambic name.' Meis is so called apo tou
from suffering diminution, and astron is from astrape (lightning),
an improvement of anastrope, that which turns the eyes inside out.
you explain pur n udor?' I suspect that pur, which, like udor
n kuon, is
found in Phrygian, is a foreign word; for the Hellenes have borrowed
from the barbarians, and I always resort to this theory of a foreign
when I am at a loss. Aer may be explained, oti airei ta apo tes
oti aei rei; or, oti pneuma ex autou ginetai (compare the poetic word
aetai). So aither quasi aeitheer oti aei thei peri ton aera:
quasi genneteira (compare the Homeric form gegaasi); ora (with an omega),
or, according to the old Attic form ora (with an omicron), is derived
tou orizein, because it divides the year; eniautos and etos are the
thought--o en eauto etazon, cut into two parts, en eauto and etazon,
di on ze into Dios and Zenos.
'You make surprising progress.' True; I am run away with, and
am not even
yet at my utmost speed. 'I should like very much to hear your
the virtues. What principle of correctness is there in those
words, wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest?' To explain
will be a serious business; still, as I have put on the lion's skin,
appearances must be maintained. My opinion is, that primitive
like some modern philosophers, who, by always going round in their
after the nature of things, become dizzy; and this phenomenon, which
really in themselves, they imagined to take place in the external world.
You have no doubt remarked, that the doctrine of the universal flux,
generation of things, is indicated in names. 'No, I never did.'
is only phoras kai rou noesis, or perhaps phoras onesis, and in any
connected with pheresthai; gnome is gones skepsis kai nomesis; noesis
neou or gignomenon esis; the word neos implies that creation is always
going on--the original form was neoesis; sophrosune is soteria phroneseos;
episteme is e epomene tois pragmasin--the faculty which keeps close,
neither anticipating nor lagging behind; sunesis is equivalent to sunienai,
sumporeuesthai ten psuche, and is a kind of conclusion--sullogismos
akin therefore in idea to episteme; sophia is very difficult, and has
foreign look--the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things,
may be illustrated by the poetical esuthe and the Lacedaemonian proper
Sous, or Rush; agathon is ro agaston en te tachuteti,--for all things
in motion, and some are swifter than others: dikaiosune is clearly
dikaiou sunesis. The word dikaion is more troublesome, and appears
the subtle penetrating power which, as the lovers of motion say, preserves
all things, and is the cause of all things, quasi diaion going through--the
letter kappa being inserted for the sake of euphony. This is
mystery which has been confided to me; but when I ask for an explanation
am thought obtrusive, and another derivation is proposed to me.
said to be o kaion, or the sun; and when I joyfully repeat this beautiful
notion, I am answered, 'What, is there no justice when the sun is down?'
And when I entreat my questioner to tell me his own opinion, he replies,
that justice is fire in the abstract, or heat in the abstract; which
very intelligible. Others laugh at such notions, and say with
that justice is the ordering mind. 'I think that some one must
you this.' And not the rest? Let me proceed then, in the
hope of proving
to you my originality. Andreia is quasi anpeia quasi e ano roe,
which flows upwards, and is opposed to injustice, which clearly hinders
principle of penetration; arren and aner have a similar derivation;
the same as gone; thelu is derived apo tes theles, because the teat
things flourish (tethelenai), and the word thallein itself implies
of youth, which is swift and sudden ever (thein and allesthai).
getting over the ground fast: but much has still to be explained.
is techne, for instance. This, by an aphaeresis of tau and an
of omicron in two places, may be identified with echonoe, and signifies
'that which has mind.'
'A very poor etymology.' Yes; but you must remember that all language
in process of change; letters are taken in and put out for the sake
euphony, and time is also a great alterer of words. For example,
business has the letter rho in the word katoptron, or the letter sigma
the word sphigx? The additions are often such that it is impossible
make out the original word; and yet, if you may put in and pull out,
like, any name is equally good for any object. The fact is, that
dictators of literature like yourself should observe the rules of
moderation. 'I will do my best.' But do not be too much
of a precisian,
or you will paralyze me. If you will let me add mechane, apo
which means polu, and anein, I shall be at the summit of my powers,
which elevation I will examine the two words kakia and arete.
The first is
easily explained in accordance with what has preceded; for all things
in a flux, kakia is to kakos ion. This derivation is illustrated
word deilia, which ought to have come after andreia, and may be regarded
o lian desmos tes psuches, just as aporia signifies an impediment to
(from alpha not, and poreuesthai to go), and arete is euporia, which
opposite of this--the everflowing (aei reousa or aeireite), or the
eligible, quasi airete. You will think that I am inventing, but
I say that
if kakia is right, then arete is also right. But what is kakon?
That is a
very obscure word, to which I can only apply my old notion and declare
kakon is a foreign word. Next, let us proceed to kalon, aischron.
latter is doubtless contracted from aeischoroun, quasi aei ischon roun.
The inventor of words being a patron of the flux, was a great enemy
stagnation. Kalon is to kaloun ta pragmata--this is mind (nous
dianoia); which is also the principle of beauty; and which doing the
of beauty, is therefore rightly called the beautiful. The meaning
sumpheron is explained by previous examples;--like episteme, signifying
that the soul moves in harmony with the world (sumphora, sumpheronta).
Kerdos is to pasi kerannumenon--that which mingles with all things:
lusiteloun is equivalent to to tes phoras luon to telos, and is not
taken in the vulgar sense of gainful, but rather in that of swift,
the principle which makes motion immortal and unceasing; ophelimon
tou ophellein--that which gives increase: this word, which is
of foreign origin. Blaberon is to blamton or boulomenon aptein
that which injures or seeks to bind the stream. The proper word
boulapteroun, but this is too much of a mouthful--like a prelude on
flute in honour of Athene. The word zemiodes is difficult; great
as I was saying, have been made in words, and even a small change will
alter their meaning very much. The word deon is one of these
words. You know that according to the old pronunciation, which
especially affected by the women, who are great conservatives, iota
delta were used where we should now use eta and zeta: for example,
now call emera was formerly called imera; and this shows the meaning
word to have been 'the desired one coming after night,' and not, as
often supposed, 'that which makes things gentle' (emera). So
is duogon, quasi desis duein eis agogen--(the binding of two together
the purpose of drawing. Deon, as ordinarily written, has an evil
signifying the chain (desmos) or hindrance of motion; but in its ancient
form dion is expressive of good, quasi diion, that which penetrates
through all. Zemiodes is really demiodes, and means that which
motion (dounti to ion): edone is e pros ten onrsin teinousa praxis--the
delta is an insertion: lupe is derived apo tes dialuseos tou
is from alpha and ienai, to go: algedon is a foreign word, and
called apo tou algeinou: odune is apo tes enduseos tes lupes:
is in its very sound a burden: chapa expresses the flow of soul:
is apo tou terpnou, and terpnon is properly erpnon, because the sensation
of pleasure is likened to a breath (pnoe) which creeps (erpei) through
soul: euphrosune is named from pheresthai, because the soul moves
harmony with nature: epithumia is e epi ton thumon iousa dunamis:
is apo tes thuseos tes psuches: imeros--oti eimenos pei e psuche:
the desire which is in another place, allothi pou: eros was anciently
esros, and so called because it flows into (esrei) the soul from without:
doxa is e dioxis tou eidenai, or expresses the shooting from a bow
The latter etymology is confirmed by the words boulesthai, boule, aboulia,
which all have to do with shooting (bole): and similarly oiesis
but the movement (oisis) of the soul towards essence. Ekousion
eikon--the yielding--anagke is e an agke iousa, the passage through
which impede motion: aletheia is theia ale, divine motion.
Pseudos is the
opposite of this, implying the principle of constraint and forced repose,
which is expressed under the figure of sleep, to eudon; the psi is
addition. Onoma, a name, affirms the real existence of that which
sought after--on ou masma estin. On and ousia are only ion with
broken off; and ouk on is ouk ion. 'And what are ion, reon, doun?'
way of explaining them has been already suggested--they may be of foreign
origin; and possibly this is the true answer. But mere antiquity
prevent our recognizing words, after all the complications which they
undergone; and we must remember that however far we carry back our
some ultimate elements or roots will remain which can be no further
analyzed. For example; the word agathos was supposed by us to
compound of agastos and thoos, and probably thoos may be further
resolvable. But if we take a word of which no further resolution
attainable, we may fairly conclude that we have reached one of these
original elements, and the truth of such a word must be tested by some
method. Will you help me in the search?
All names, whether primary or secondary, are intended to show the nature
things; and the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance
the primary. But then, how do the primary names indicate anything?
let me ask another question,--If we had no faculty of speech, how should
communicate with one another? Should we not use signs, like the
dumb? The elevation of our hands would mean lightness--heaviness
expressed by letting them drop. The running of any animal would
described by a similar movement of our own frames. The body can
express anything by imitation; and the tongue or mouth can imitate
as the rest of the body. But this imitation of the tongue or
voice is not
yet a name, because people may imitate sheep or goats without naming
What, then, is a name? In the first place, a name is not a musical,
secondly, a pictorial imitation, but an imitation of that kind which
expresses the nature of a thing; and is the invention not of a musician,
of a painter, but of a namer.
And now, I think that we may consider the names about which you were
asking. The way to analyze them will be by going back to the
primary elements of which they are composed. First, we separate
alphabet into classes of letters, distinguishing the consonants, mutes,
vowels, and semivowels; and when we have learnt them singly, we shall
to know them in their various combinations of two or more letters;
the painter knows how to use either a single colour, or a combination
colours. And like the painter, we may apply letters to the expression
objects, and form them into syllables; and these again into words,
the picture or figure--that is, language--is completed. Not that
literally speaking of ourselves, but I mean to say that this was the
which the ancients framed language. And this leads me to consider
the primary as well as the secondary elements are rightly given.
remark, as I was saying about the Gods, that we can only attain to
conjecture of them. But still we insist that ours is the true
method of discovery; otherwise we must have recourse, like the tragic
poets, to a Deus ex machina, and say that God gave the first names,
therefore they are right; or that the barbarians are older than we
that we learnt of them; or that antiquity has cast a veil over the
Yet all these are not reasons; they are only ingenious excuses for
I will freely impart to you my own notions, though they are somewhat
crude:--the letter rho appears to me to be the general instrument which
legislator has employed to express all motion or kinesis. (I
explain that kinesis is just iesis (going), for the letter eta was
to the ancients; and the root, kiein, is a foreign form of ienai:
kinesis or eisis, the opposite is stasis). This use of rho is
the words tremble, break, crush, crumble, and the like; the imposer
names perceived that the tongue is most agitated in the pronunciation
this letter, just as he used iota to express the subtle power which
penetrates through all things. The letters phi, psi, sigma, zeta,
require a great deal of wind, are employed in the imitation of such
as shivering, seething, shaking, and in general of what is windy.
letters delta and tau convey the idea of binding and rest in a place:
lambda denotes smoothness, as in the words slip, sleek, sleep, and
like. But when the slipping tongue is detained by the heavier
gamma, then arises the notion of a glutinous clammy nature: nu
from within, and has a notion of inwardness: alpha is the expression
size; eta of length; omicron of roundness, and therefore there is plenty
omicron in the word goggulon. That is my view, Hermogenes, of
correctness of names; and I should like to hear what Cratylus would
'But, Socrates, as I was telling you, Cratylus mystifies me; I should
to ask him, in your presence, what he means by the fitness of names?'
this appeal, Cratylus replies 'that he cannot explain so important
subject all in a moment.' 'No, but you may "add little to little,"
Hesiod says.' Socrates here interposes his own request, that
give some account of his theory. Hermogenes and himself are mere
sciolists, but Cratylus has reflected on these matters, and has had
teachers. Cratylus replies in the words of Achilles: '"Illustrious
you have spoken in all things much to my mind," whether Euthyphro,
Muse inhabiting your own breast, was the inspirer.' Socrates
he is afraid of being self-deceived, and therefore he must 'look fore
aft,' as Homer remarks. Does not Cratylus agree with him that
us the nature of things? 'Yes.' And naming is an art, and
the artists are
legislators, and like artists in general, some of them are better and
of them are worse than others, and give better or worse laws, and make
better or worse names. Cratylus cannot admit that one name is
another; they are either true names, or they are not names at all;
he is asked about the name of Hermogenes, who is acknowledged to have
luck in him, he affirms this to be the name of somebody else.
supposes him to mean that falsehood is impossible, to which his own
would be, that there has never been a lack of liars. Cratylus
with the old sophistical argument, that falsehood is saying that which
not, and therefore saying nothing;--you cannot utter the word which
Socrates complains that this argument is too subtle for an old man
understand: Suppose a person addressing Cratylus were to say,
Athenian Stranger, Hermogenes! would these words be true or false?
should say that they would be mere unmeaning sounds, like the hammering
a brass pot.' But you would acknowledge that names, as well as
are imitations, and also that pictures may give a right or wrong
representation of a man or woman:--why may not names then equally give
representation true and right or false and wrong? Cratylus admits
pictures may give a true or false representation, but denies that names
can. Socrates argues, that he may go up to a man and say 'this
picture,' and again, he may go and say to him 'this is your name'--in
one case appealing to his sense of sight, and in the other to his sense
hearing;--may he not? 'Yes.' Then you will admit that there
is a right or
a wrong assignment of names, and if of names, then of verbs and nouns;
if of verbs and nouns, then of the sentences which are made up of them;
comparing nouns to pictures, you may give them all the appropriate
or only some of them. And as he who gives all the colours makes
picture, and he who gives only some of them, a bad or imperfect one,
still a picture; so he who gives all the sounds makes a good name,
who gives only some of them, a bad or imperfect one, but a name still.
artist of names, that is, the legislator, may be a good or he may be
artist. 'Yes, Socrates, but the cases are not parallel; for if
subtract or misplace a letter, the name ceases to be a name.'
admits that the number 10, if an unit is subtracted, would cease to
but denies that names are of this purely quantitative nature.
there are two objects--Cratylus and the image of Cratylus; and let
imagine that some God makes them perfectly alike, both in their outward
form and in their inner nature and qualities: then there will
Cratyluses, and not merely Cratylus and the image of Cratylus.
image in fact always falls short in some degree of the original, and
images are not exact counterparts, why should names be? if they were,
would be the doubles of their originals, and indistinguishable from
and how ridiculous would this be! Cratylus admits the truth of
remark. But then Socrates rejoins, he should have the courage
acknowledge that letters may be wrongly inserted in a noun, or a noun
sentence; and yet the noun or the sentence may retain a meaning.
admit this, that we may not be punished like the traveller in Egina
goes about at night, and that Truth herself may not say to us, 'Too
And, errors excepted, we may still affirm that a name to be correct
have proper letters, which bear a resemblance to the thing signified.
must remind you of what Hermogenes and I were saying about the letter
accent, which was held to be expressive of motion and hardness, as
is of smoothness;--and this you will admit to be their natural meaning.
But then, why do the Eritreans call that skleroter which we call sklerotes?
We can understand one another, although the letter rho accent is not
equivalent to the letter s: why is this? You reply, because
letters are sufficiently alike for the purpose of expressing motion.
then, there is the letter lambda; what business has this in a word
hardness? 'Why, Socrates, I retort upon you, that we put in and
letters at pleasure.' And the explanation of this is custom or
we have made a convention that the rho shall mean s and a convention
indicate by the unlike as well as by the like. How could there
for all the numbers unless you allow that convention is used?
a poor thing, and has to be supplemented by convention, which is another
poor thing; although I agree with you in thinking that the most perfect
form of language is found only where there is a perfect correspondence
sound and meaning. But let me ask you what is the use and force
'The use of names, Socrates, is to inform, and he who knows names knows
things.' Do you mean that the discovery of names is the same
discovery of things? 'Yes.' But do you not see that there
is a degree of
deception about names? He who first gave names, gave them according
conception, and that may have been erroneous. 'But then, why,
language so consistent? all words have the same laws.' Mere consistency
no test of truth. In geometrical problems, for example, there
may be a
flaw at the beginning, and yet the conclusion may follow consistently.
And, therefore, a wise man will take especial care of first principles.
But are words really consistent; are there not as many terms of praise
which signify rest as which signify motion? There is episteme,
connected with stasis, as mneme is with meno. Bebaion, again,
expression of station and position; istoria is clearly descriptive
stopping istanai of the stream; piston indicates the cessation of motion;
and there are many words having a bad sense, which are connected with
of motion, such as sumphora, amartia, etc.: amathia, again, might
explained, as e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia as e akolouthia
pragmasin. Thus the bad names are framed on the same principle
good, and other examples might be given, which would favour a theory
rest rather than of motion. 'Yes; but the greater number of words
motion.' Are we to count them, Cratylus; and is correctness of
names to be
determined by the voice of a majority?
Here is another point: we were saying that the legislator gives
therefore we must suppose that he knows the things which he names:
can he have learnt things from names before there were any names?
believe, Socrates, that some power more than human first gave things
names, and that these were necessarily true names.' Then how
giver of names to contradict himself, and to make some names expressive
rest, and others of motion? 'I do not suppose that he did make
Then which did he make--those which are expressive of rest, or those
are expressive of motion?...But if some names are true and others false,
can only decide between them, not by counting words, but by appealing
things. And, if so, we must allow that things may be known without
for names, as we have several times admitted, are the images of things;
the higher knowledge is of things, and is not to be derived from names;
though I do not doubt that the inventors of language gave names, under
idea that all things are in a state of motion and flux, I believe that
were mistaken; and that having fallen into a whirlpool themselves,
trying to drag us after them. For is there not a true beauty
and a true
good, which is always beautiful and always good? Can the thing
vanishing away from us while the words are yet in our mouths?
could not be known by any one if they are always passing away--for
are always passing away, the observer has no opportunity of observing
state. Whether the doctrine of the flux or of the eternal nature
truer, is hard to determine. But no man of sense will put himself,
education of his mind, in the power of names: he will not condemn
to be an unreal thing, nor will he believe that everything is in a
like the water in a leaky vessel, or that the world is a man who has
running at the nose. This doctrine may be true, Cratylus, but
is also very
likely to be untrue; and therefore I would have you reflect while you
young, and find out the truth, and when you know come and tell me.
thought, Socrates, and after a good deal of thinking I incline to
Heracleitus.' Then another day, my friend, you shall give me
'Very good, Socrates, and I hope that you will continue to study these
We may now consider (I) how far Plato in the Cratylus has discovered
true principles of language, and then (II) proceed to compare modern
speculations respecting the origin and nature of language with the
anticipations of his genius.
I. (1) Plato is aware that language is not the work of chance;
nor does he
deny that there is a natural fitness in names. He only insists
natural fitness shall be intelligibly explained. But he has no
language is a natural organism. He would have heard with surprise
languages are the common work of whole nations in a primitive or semi-
barbarous age. How, he would probably have argued, could men
devoid of art
have contrived a structure of such complexity? No answer could
given to this question, either in ancient or in modern times, until
nature of primitive antiquity had been thoroughly studied, and the
instincts of man had been shown to exist in greater force, when his
approaches more nearly to that of children or animals. The philosophers
the last century, after their manner, would have vainly endeavoured
trace the process by which proper names were converted into common,
would have shown how the last effort of abstraction invented prepositions
and auxiliaries. The theologian would have proved that language
had a divine origin, because in childhood, while the organs are pliable,
the intelligence is wanting, and when the intelligence is able to frame
conceptions, the organs are no longer able to express them. Or,
have said: Man is man because he has the gift of speech; and
he could not
have invented that which he is. But this would have been an 'argument
subtle' for Socrates, who rejects the theological account of the origin
language 'as an excuse for not giving a reason,' which he compares
introduction of the 'Deus ex machina' by the tragic poets when they
solve a difficulty; thus anticipating many modern controversies in
the primary agency of the divine Being is confused with the secondary
cause; and God is assumed to have worked a miracle in order to fill
lacuna in human knowledge. (Compare Timaeus.)
Neither is Plato wrong in supposing that an element of design and art
enters into language. The creative power abating is supplemented
mechanical process. 'Languages are not made but grow,' but they
as well as grow; bursting into life like a plant or a flower, they
capable of being trained and improved and engrafted upon one another.
change in them is effected in earlier ages by musical and euphonic
improvements, at a later stage by the influence of grammar and logic,
by the poetical and literary use of words. They develope rapidly
childhood, and when they are full grown and set they may still put
intellectual powers, like the mind in the body, or rather we may say
the nobler use of language only begins when the frame-work is complete.
The savage or primitive man, in whom the natural instinct is strongest,
also the greatest improver of the forms of language. He is the
maker of words, as in civilised ages the dialectician is the definer
distinguisher of them. The latter calls the second world of abstract
into existence, as the former has created the picture sounds which
represent natural objects or processes. Poetry and philosophy--these
are the two great formative principles of language, when they have
their first stage, of which, as of the first invention of the arts
general, we only entertain conjecture. And mythology is a link
them, connecting the visible and invisible, until at length the sensuous
exterior falls away, and the severance of the inner and outer world,
idea and the object of sense, becomes complete. At a later period,
and grammar, sister arts, preserve and enlarge the decaying instinct
language, by rule and method, which they gather from analysis and
(2) There is no trace in any of Plato's writings that he was acquainted
with any language but Greek. Yet he has conceived very truly
of Greek to foreign languages, which he is led to consider, because
finds that many Greek words are incapable of explanation. Allowing
deal for accident, and also for the fancies of the conditores linguae
Graecae, there is an element of which he is unable to give an account.
These unintelligible words he supposes to be of foreign origin, and
been derived from a time when the Greeks were either barbarians, or
close relations to the barbarians. Socrates is aware that this
is liable to great abuse; and, like the 'Deus ex machina,' explains
nothing. Hence he excuses himself for the employment of such
and remarks that in foreign words there is still a principle of
correctness, which applies equally both to Greeks and barbarians.
(3) But the greater number of primary words do not admit of derivation
from foreign languages; they must be resolved into the letters out
they are composed, and therefore the letters must have a meaning.
framers of language were aware of this; they observed that alpha was
adapted to express size; eta length; omicron roundness; nu inwardness;
accent rush or roar; lambda liquidity; gamma lambda the detention of
liquid or slippery element; delta and tau binding; phi, psi, sigma,
wind and cold, and so on. Plato's analysis of the letters of
shows a wonderful insight into the nature of language. He does
expressively distinguish between mere imitation and the symbolical
sound to express thought, but he recognises in the examples which he
both modes of imitation. Gesture is the mode which a deaf and
would take of indicating his meaning. And language is the gesture
tongue; in the use of the letter rho accent, to express a rushing or
roaring, or of omicron to express roundness, there is a direct imitation;
while in the use of the letter alpha to express size, or of eta to
length, the imitation is symbolical. The use of analogous or
sounds, in order to express similar analogous ideas, seems to have
In passing from the gesture of the body to the movement of the tongue,
Plato makes a great step in the physiology of language. He was
the first who said that 'language is imitative sound,' which is the
greatest and deepest truth of philology; although he is not aware of
laws of euphony and association by which imitation must be regulated.
was probably also the first who made a distinction between simple and
compound words, a truth second only in importance to that which has
been mentioned. His great insight in one direction curiously
with his blindness in another; for he appears to be wholly unaware
his derivation of agathos from agastos and thoos) of the difference
the root and termination. But we must recollect that he was necessarily
more ignorant than any schoolboy of Greek grammar, and had no table
inflexions of verbs and nouns before his eyes, which might have suggested
to him the distinction.
(4) Plato distinctly affirms that language is not truth, or 'philosophie
une langue bien faite.' At first, Socrates has delighted himself
discovering the flux of Heracleitus in language. But he is covertly
satirising the pretence of that or any other age to find philosophy
words; and he afterwards corrects any erroneous inference which might
gathered from his experiment. For he finds as many, or almost
words expressive of rest, as he had previously found expressive of
And even if this had been otherwise, who would learn of words when
learn of things? There is a great controversy and high argument
Heracleiteans and Eleatics, but no man of sense would commit his soul
such enquiries to the imposers of names...In this and other passages
shows that he is as completely emancipated from the influence of 'Idols
the tribe' as Bacon himself.
The lesson which may be gathered from words is not metaphysical or moral,
but historical. They teach us the affinity of races, they tell
something about the association of ideas, they occasionally preserve
memory of a disused custom; but we cannot safely argue from them about
right and wrong, matter and mind, freedom and necessity, or the other
problems of moral and metaphysical philosophy. For the use of
such subjects may often be metaphorical, accidental, derived from other
languages, and may have no relation to the contemporary state of thought
and feeling. Nor in any case is the invention of them the result
philosophical reflection; they have been commonly transferred from
to mind, and their meaning is the very reverse of their etymology.
there is or is not a name for a thing, we cannot argue that the thing
or has not an actual existence; or that the antitheses, parallels,
conjugates, correlatives of language have anything corresponding to
nature. There are too many words as well as too few; and they
the objects or ideas which they represent. The greatest lesson
philosophical analysis of language teaches us is, that we should be
language, making words our servants, and not allowing them to be our
Plato does not add the further observation, that the etymological meaning
of words is in process of being lost. If at first framed on a
intelligibility, they would gradually cease to be intelligible, like
of a foreign language, he is willing to admit that they are subject
changes, and put on many disguises. He acknowledges that the
creature' imitation is supplemented by another 'poor creature,'--
convention. But he does not see that 'habit and repute,' and
relation to other words, are always exercising an influence over them.
Words appear to be isolated, but they are really the parts of an organism
which is always being reproduced. They are refined by civilization,
harmonized by poetry, emphasized by literature, technically applied
philosophy and art; they are used as symbols on the border-ground of
knowledge; they receive a fresh impress from individual genius, and
with a new force and association to every lively-minded person.
fixed by the simultaneous utterance of millions, and yet are always
imperceptibly changing;--not the inventors of language, but writing
speaking, and particularly great writers, or works which pass into
hearts of nations, Homer, Shakespear, Dante, the German or English
Kant and Hegel, are the makers of them in later ages. They carry
the faded recollection of their own past history; the use of a word
striking and familiar passage gives a complexion to its use everywhere
else, and the new use of an old and familiar phrase has also a peculiar
power over us. But these and other subtleties of language escaped
observation of Plato. He is not aware that the languages of the
organic structures, and that every word in them is related to every
nor does he conceive of language as the joint work of the speaker and
hearer, requiring in man a faculty not only of expressing his thoughts
of understanding those of others.
On the other hand, he cannot be justly charged with a desire to frame
language on artificial principles. Philosophers have sometimes
a technical or scientific language, in words which should have fixed
meanings, and stand in the same relation to one another as the substances
which they denote. But there is no more trace of this in Plato
is of a language corresponding to the ideas; nor, indeed, could the
such a language be felt until the sciences were far more developed.
who would extend the use of technical phraseology beyond the limits
science or of custom, seem to forget that freedom and suggestiveness
the play of association are essential characteristics of language.
great master has shown how he regarded pedantic distinctions of words
attempts to confine their meaning in the satire on Prodicus in the
(5) In addition to these anticipations of the general principles of
philology, we may note also a few curious observations on words and
'The Eretrians say sklerotes for skleroter;' 'the Thessalians call
Amlos;' 'The Phrygians have the words pur, udor, kunes slightly changed;'
'there is an old Homeric word emesato, meaning "he contrived";' 'our
forefathers, and especially the women, who are most conservative of
ancient language, loved the letters iota and delta; but now iota is
into eta and epsilon, and delta into zeta; this is supposed to increase
grandeur of the sound.' Plato was very willing to use inductive
so far as they were within his reach; but he would also have assigned
large influence to chance. Nor indeed is induction applicable
in the same degree as to most of the physical sciences. For after
pushed our researches to the furthest point, in language as in all
other creations of the human mind, there will always remain an element
exception or accident or free-will, which cannot be eliminated.
The question, 'whether falsehood is impossible,' which Socrates
characteristically sets aside as too subtle for an old man (compare
Euthyd.), could only have arisen in an age of imperfect consciousness,
which had not yet learned to distinguish words from things. Socrates
replies in effect that words have an independent existence; thus
anticipating the solution of the mediaeval controversy of Nominalism
Realism. He is aware too that languages exist in various degrees
perfection, and that the analysis of them can only be carried to a
point. 'If we could always, or almost always, use likenesses,
the appropriate expressions, that would be the most perfect state of
language.' These words suggest a question of deeper interest
origin of language; viz. what is the ideal of language, how far by
correction of their usages existing languages might become clearer
expressive than they are, more poetical, and also more logical; or
they are now finally fixed and have received their last impress from
On the whole, the Cratylus seems to contain deeper truths about language
than any other ancient writing. But feeling the uncertain ground
which he is walking, and partly in order to preserve the character
Socrates, Plato envelopes the whole subject in a robe of fancy, and
his principles to drop out as if by accident.
II. What is the result of recent speculations about the origin
of language? Like other modern metaphysical enquiries, they end
at last in
a statement of facts. But, in order to state or understand the
metaphysical insight seems to be required. There are more things
language than the human mind easily conceives. And many fallacies
be dispelled, as well as observations made. The true spirit of
or metaphysics can alone charm away metaphysical illusions, which are
always reappearing, formerly in the fancies of neoplatonist writers,
the disguise of experience and common sense. An analogy, a figure
speech, an intelligible theory, a superficial observation of the
individual, have often been mistaken for a true account of the origin
Speaking is one of the simplest natural operations, and also the most
complex. Nothing would seem to be easier or more trivial than
a few words
uttered by a child in any language. Yet into the formation of
have entered causes which the human mind is not capable of calculating.
They are a drop or two of the great stream or ocean of speech which
been flowing in all ages. They have been transmitted from one
another; like the child himself, they go back to the beginnings of
human race. How they originated, who can tell? Nevertheless
imagine a stage of human society in which the circle of men's minds
narrower and their sympathies and instincts stronger; in which their
of speech were more flexible, and the sense of hearing finer and more
discerning; in which they lived more in company, and after the manner
children were more given to express their feelings; in which 'they
all together,' like a herd of wild animals, 'when they moved at all.'
Among them, as in every society, a particular person would be more
sensitive and intelligent than the rest. Suddenly, on some occasion
interest (at the approach of a wild beast, shall we say?), he first,
following him, utter a cry which resounds through the forest.
The cry is
almost or quite involuntary, and may be an imitation of the roar of
animal. Thus far we have not speech, but only the inarticulate
of feeling or emotion in no respect differing from the cries of animals;
for they too call to one another and are answered. But now suppose
some one at a distance not only hears the sound, but apprehends the
meaning: or we may imagine that the cry is repeated to a member
society who had been absent; the others act the scene over again when
returns home in the evening. And so the cry becomes a word.
The hearer in
turn gives back the word to the speaker, who is now aware that he has
acquired a new power. Many thousand times he exercises this power;
child learning to talk, he repeats the same cry again, and again he
answered; he tries experiments with a like result, and the speaker
hearer rejoice together in their newly-discovered faculty. At
would be few such cries, and little danger of mistaking or confusing
For the mind of primitive man had a narrow range of perceptions and
feelings; his senses were microscopic; twenty or thirty sounds or gestures
would be enough for him, nor would he have any difficulty in finding
Naturally he broke out into speech--like the young infant he laughed
babbled; but not until there were hearers as well as speakers did language
begin. Not the interjection or the vocal imitation of the object,
interjection or the vocal imitation of the object understood, is the
rudiment of human speech.
After a while the word gathers associations, and has an independent
existence. The imitation of the lion's roar calls up the fears
of the chase, which are excited by his appearance. In the moment
hearing the sound, without any appreciable interval, these and other
experiences wake up in the mind of the hearer. Not only does
he receive an
impression, but he brings previous knowledge to bear upon that impression.
Necessarily the pictorial image becomes less vivid, while the association
of the nature and habits of the animal is more distinctly perceived.
picture passes into a symbol, for there would be too many of them and
would crowd the mind; the vocal imitation, too, is always in process
being lost and being renewed, just as the picture is brought back again
the description of the poet. Words now can be used more freely
there are more of them. What was once an involuntary expression
voluntary. Not only can men utter a cry or call, but they can
and converse; they can not only use words, but they can even play with
them. The word is separated both from the object and from the
slowly nations and individuals attain to a fuller consciousness of
Parallel with this mental process the articulation of sounds is gradually
becoming perfected. The finer sense detects the differences of
begins, first to agglomerate, then to distinguish them. Times,
places, relations of all kinds, are expressed by modifications of them.
The earliest parts of speech, as we may call them by anticipation,
first utterances of children, probably partook of the nature of
interjections and nouns; then came verbs; at length the whole sentence
appeared, and rhythm and metre followed. Each stage in the progress
language was accompanied by some corresponding stage in the mind and
civilisation of man. In time, when the family became a nation,
growth of dialects passed into a language. Then arose poetry
literature. We can hardly realize to ourselves how much with
improvement of language the powers of the human mind were enlarged;
inner world took the place of outer; how the pictorial or symbolical
analogical word was refined into a notion; how language, fair and large
free, was at last complete.
So we may imagine the speech of man to have begun as with the cries
animals, or the stammering lips of children, and to have attained by
degrees the perfection of Homer and Plato. Yet we are far from
this or any other theory of language is proved by facts. It is
difficult to form an hypothesis which by a series of imaginary transitions
will bridge over the chasm which separates man from the animals.
Differences of kind may often be thus resolved into differences of
But we must not assume that we have in this way discovered the true
of them. Through what struggles the harmonious use of the organs
was acquired; to what extent the conditions of human life were different;
how far the genius of individuals may have contributed to the discovery
this as of the other arts, we cannot say: Only we seem to see
language is as much the creation of the ear as of the tongue, and the
expression of a movement stirring the hearts not of one man only but
many, 'as the trees of the wood are stirred by the wind.' The
consistent or not inconsistent with our own mental experience, and
some degree of light upon a dark corner of the human mind.
In the later analysis of language, we trace the opposite and contrasted
elements of the individual and nation, of the past and present, of
inward and outward, of the subject and object, of the notional and
relational, of the root or unchanging part of the word and of the changing
inflexion, if such a distinction be admitted, of the vowel and the
consonant, of quantity and accent, of speech and writing, of poetry
prose. We observe also the reciprocal influence of sounds and
on each other, like the connexion of body and mind; and further remark
although the names of objects were originally proper names, as the
grammarian or logician might call them, yet at a later stage they become
universal notions, which combine into particulars and individuals,
taken out of the first rude agglomeration of sounds that they may be
replaced in a higher and more logical order. We see that in the
sentences are contained grammar and logic--the parts of speech, the
philosophy and the Kantian categories. So complex is language,
expressive not only of the meanest wants of man, but of his highest
thoughts; so various are the aspects in which it is regarded by us.
again, when we follow the history of languages, we observe that they
always slowly moving, half dead, half alive, half solid, half fluid;
breath of a moment, yet like the air, continuous in all ages and
countries,--like the glacier, too, containing within them a trickling
stream which deposits debris of the rocks over which it passes.
happy moments, as we may conjecture, in the lives of nations, at which
came to the birth--as in the golden age of literature, the man and
seem to conspire; the eloquence of the bard or chief, as in later times
creations of the great writer who is the expression of his age, became
impressed on the minds of their countrymen, perhaps in the hour of
crisis of national development--a migration, a conquest, or the like.
picture of the word which was beginning to be lost, is now revived;
sound again echoes to the sense; men find themselves capable not only
expressing more feelings, and describing more objects, but of expressing
and describing them better. The world before the flood, that
is to say,
the world of ten, twenty, a hundred thousand years ago, has passed
left no sign. But the best conception that we can form of it,
imperfect and uncertain, is gained from the analogy of causes still
action, some powerful and sudden, others working slowly in the course
infinite ages. Something too may be allowed to 'the persistency
strongest,' to 'the survival of the fittest,' in this as in the other
realms of nature.
These are some of the reflections which the modern philosophy of language
suggests to us about the powers of the human mind and the forces and
influences by which the efforts of men to utter articulate sounds were
inspired. Yet in making these and similar generalizations we
may note also
dangers to which we are exposed. (1) There is the confusion of
facts--of mere possibilities, and generalities, and modes of conception
with actual and definite knowledge. The words 'evolution,' 'birth,'
development,' 'instinct,' 'implicit,' 'explicit,' and the like, have
false clearness or comprehensiveness, which adds nothing to our knowledge.
The metaphor of a flower or a tree, or some other work of nature or
often in like manner only a pleasing picture. (2) There is the
resolving the languages which we know into their parts, and then imagining
that we can discover the nature of language by reconstructing them.
There is the danger of identifying language, not with thoughts but
ideas. (4) There is the error of supposing that the analysis
and logic has always existed, or that their distinctions were familiar
Socrates and Plato. (5) There is the fallacy of exaggerating,
and also of
diminishing the interval which separates articulate from inarticulate
language--the cries of animals from the speech of man--the instincts
animals from the reason of man. (6) There is the danger which
enquiries into the early history of man--of interpreting the past by
present, and of substituting the definite and intelligible for the
dim outline which is the horizon of human knowledge.
The greatest light is thrown upon the nature of language by analogy.
have the analogy of the cries of animals, of the songs of birds ('man,
the nightingale, is a singing bird, but is ever binding up thoughts
musical notes'), of music, of children learning to speak, of barbarous
nations in which the linguistic instinct is still undecayed, of ourselves
learning to think and speak a new language, of the deaf and dumb who
words without sounds, of the various disorders of speech; and we have
after-growth of mythology, which, like language, is an unconscious
of the human mind. We can observe the social and collective instincts
animals, and may remark how, when domesticated, they have the power
understanding but not of speaking, while on the other hand, some birds
which are comparatively devoid of intelligence, make a nearer approach
articulate speech. We may note how in the animals there is a
want of that
sympathy with one another which appears to be the soul of language.
compare the use of speech with other mental and bodily operations;
speech too is a kind of gesture, and in the child or savage accompanied
with gesture. We may observe that the child learns to speak,
as he learns
to walk or to eat, by a natural impulse; yet in either case not without
power of imitation which is also natural to him--he is taught to read,
he breaks forth spontaneously in speech. We can trace the impulse
together the world in ideas beginning in the first efforts to speak
culminating in philosophy. But there remains an element which
explained, or even adequately described. We can understand how
or constructs consciously and by design; and see, if we do not understand,
how nature, by a law, calls into being an organised structure.
intermediate organism which stands between man and nature, which is
work of mind yet unconscious, and in which mind and matter seem to
and mind unperceived to herself is really limited by all other minds,
neither understood nor seen by us, and is with reluctance admitted
to be a
Language is an aspect of man, of nature, and of nations, the
transfiguration of the world in thought, the meeting-point of the physical
and mental sciences, and also the mirror in which they are reflected,
present at every moment to the individual, and yet having a sort of
or universal nature. When we analyze our own mental processes,
words everywhere in every degree of clearness and consistency, fading
in dreams and more like pictures, rapidly succeeding one another in
waking thoughts, attaining a greater distinctness and consecutiveness
speech, and a greater still in writing, taking the place of one another
when we try to become emancipated from their influence. For in
processes of the mind which are conscious we are talking to ourselves;
attempt to think without words is a mere illusion,--they are always
reappearing when we fix our thoughts. And speech is not a separate
faculty, but the expression of all our faculties, to which all our
powers of expression, signs, looks, gestures, lend their aid, of which
instrument is not the tongue only, but more than half the human frame.
The minds of men are sometimes carried on to think of their lives and
their actions as links in a chain of causes and effects going back
beginning of time. A few have seemed to lose the sense of their
individuality in the universal cause or nature. In like manner
think of the words which we daily use, as derived from the first speech
man, and of all the languages in the world, as the expressions or varieties
of a single force or life of language of which the thoughts of men
accident. Such a conception enables us to grasp the power and
languages, and is very natural to the scientific philologist.
For he, like
the metaphysician, believes in the reality of that which absorbs his
mind. Nor do we deny the enormous influence which language has
over thought. Fixed words, like fixed ideas, have often governed
world. But in such representations we attribute to language too
nature of a cause, and too little of an effect,--too much of an absolute,
too little of a relative character,--too much of an ideal, too little
Or again, we may frame a single abstract notion of language of which
existent languages may be supposed to be the perversion. But
we must not
conceive that this logical figment had ever a real existence, or is
anything more than an effort of the mind to give unity to infinitely
various phenomena. There is no abstract language 'in rerum natura,'
more than there is an abstract tree, but only languages in various
of growth, maturity, and decay. Nor do other logical distinctions
grammatical exactly correspond to the facts of language; for they too
attempts to give unity and regularity to a subject which is partly
We find, however, that there are distinctions of another kind by which
vast field of language admits of being mapped out. There is the
distinction between biliteral and triliteral roots, and the various
inflexions which accompany them; between the mere mechanical cohesion
sounds or words, and the 'chemical' combination of them into a new
there is the distinction between languages which have had a free and
development of their organisms, and languages which have been stunted
their growth,--lamed in their hands or feet, and never able to acquire
afterwards the powers in which they are deficient; there is the distinction
between synthetical languages like Greek and Latin, which have retained
their inflexions, and analytical languages like English or French,
have lost them. Innumerable as are the languages and dialects
there are comparatively few classes to which they can be referred.
Another road through this chaos is provided by the physiology of speech.
The organs of language are the same in all mankind, and are only capable
uttering a certain number of sounds. Every man has tongue, teeth,
palate, throat, mouth, which he may close or open, and adapt in various
ways; making, first, vowels and consonants; and secondly, other classes
letters. The elements of all speech, like the elements of the
scale, are few and simple, though admitting of infinite gradations
combinations. Whatever slight differences exist in the use or
these organs, owing to climate or the sense of euphony or other causes,
they are as nothing compared with their agreement. Here then
is a real
basis of unity in the study of philology, unlike that imaginary abstract
unity of which we were just now speaking.
Whether we regard language from the psychological, or historical, or
physiological point of view, the materials of our knowledge are
inexhaustible. The comparisons of children learning to speak,
nations, of musical notes, of the cries of animals, of the song of
increase our insight into the nature of human speech. Many observations
which would otherwise have escaped us are suggested by them.
But they do
not explain why, in man and in man only, the speaker met with a response
from the hearer, and the half articulate sound gradually developed
Sanscrit and Greek. They hardly enable us to approach any nearer
secret of the origin of language, which, like some of the other great
secrets of nature,--the origin of birth and death, or of animal life,--
remains inviolable. That problem is indissolubly bound up with
of man; and if we ever know more of the one, we may expect to know
the other. (Compare W. Humboldt, 'Ueber die Verschiedenheit des
menschlichen Sprachbaues;' M. Muller, 'Lectures on the Science of
Language;' Steinthal, 'Einleitung in die Psychologie und
It is more than sixteen years since the preceding remarks were written,
which with a few alterations have now been reprinted. During
the progress of philology has been very great. More languages
compared; the inner structure of language has been laid bare; the relations
of sounds have been more accurately discriminated; the manner in which
dialects affect or are affected by the literary or principal form of
language is better understood. Many merely verbal questions have
eliminated; the remains of the old traditional methods have died away.
study has passed from the metaphysical into an historical stage.
is no longer confused with language, nor the anatomy of words and sentences
with their life and use. Figures of speech, by which the vagueness
theories is often concealed, have been stripped off; and we see language
more as it truly was. The immensity of the subject is gradually
to us, and the reign of law becomes apparent. Yet the law is
seen; the traces of it are often lost in the distance. For languages
a natural but not a perfect growth; like other creations of nature
which the will of man enters, they are full of what we term accident
irregularity. And the difficulties of the subject become not
greater, as we proceed--it is one of those studies in which we seem
less as we know more; partly because we are no longer satisfied with
vague and superficial ideas of it which prevailed fifty years ago;
also because the remains of the languages with which we are acquainted
always were, and if they are still living, are, in a state of transition;
and thirdly, because there are lacunae in our knowledge of them which
never be filled up. Not a tenth, not a hundredth part of them
preserved. Yet the materials at our disposal are far greater
individual can use. Such are a few of the general reflections
present state of philology calls up.
(1) Language seems to be composite, but into its first elements
philologer has never been able to penetrate. However far he goes
never arrives at the beginning; or rather, as in Geology or in Astronomy,
there is no beginning. He is too apt to suppose that by breaking
existing forms of language into their parts he will arrive at a previous
stage of it, but he is merely analyzing what never existed, or is never
known to have existed, except in a composite form. He may divide
verbs into roots and inflexions, but he has no evidence which will
that the omega of tupto or the mu of tithemi, though analogous to ego,
either became pronouns or were generated out of pronouns. To
'pronouns, like ripe fruit, dropped out of verbs,' is a misleading
of speech. Although all languages have some common principles,
there is no
primitive form or forms of language known to us, or to be reasonably
imagined, from which they are all descended. No inference can
from language, either for or against the unity of the human race.
there any proof that words were ever used without any relation to each
other. Whatever may be the meaning of a sentence or a word when
primitive language, it is probable that the sentence is more akin to
original form than the word, and that the later stage of language is
result rather of analysis than of synthesis, or possibly is a combination
of the two. Nor, again, are we sure that the original process
to speak was the same in different places or among different races
It may have been slower with some, quicker with others. Some
have used shorter, others longer words or cries: they may have
or less inclined to agglutinate or to decompose them: they may
modified them by the use of prefixes, suffixes, infixes; by the lengthening
and strengthening of vowels or by the shortening and weakening of them,
the condensation or rarefaction of consonants. But who gave to
these primeval laws; or why one race has triliteral, another biliteral
roots; or why in some members of a group of languages b becomes p,
or d, t,
or ch, k; or why two languages resemble one another in certain parts
their structure and differ in others; or why in one language there
greater development of vowels, in another of consonants, and the like--are
questions of which we only 'entertain conjecture.' We must remember
length of time that has elapsed since man first walked upon the earth,
that in this vast but unknown period every variety of language may
been in process of formation and decay, many times over.
(Compare Plato, Laws):--
'ATHENIAN STRANGER: And what then is to be regarded as the origin
government? Will not a man be able to judge best from a point
of view in
which he may behold the progress of states and their transitions to
CLEINIAS: What do you mean?
ATHENIAN STRANGER: I mean that he might watch them from the point
of time, and observe the changes which take place in them during infinite
CLEINIAS: How so?
ATHENIAN STRANGER: Why, do you think that you can reckon the time
has elapsed since cities first existed and men were citizens of them?
ATHENIAN STRANGER: But you are quite sure that it must be vast
CLEINIAS: No doubt.
ATHENIAN STRANGER: And have there not been thousands and thousands
cities which have come into being and perished during this period?
not every place had endless forms of government, and been sometimes
and at other times falling, and again improving or waning?'
'And if a person should conceive the tales of mythology to mean only
men thought the gods to be the first essences of things, he would deem
reflection to have been inspired and would consider that, whereas probably
every art and part of wisdom had been DISCOVERED AND LOST MANY TIMES
such notions were but a remnant of the past which has survived to our
It can hardly be supposed that any traces of an original language still
survive, any more than of the first huts or buildings which were
constructed by man. Nor are we at all certain of the relation,
if any, in
which the greater families of languages stand to each other.
of individuals must always have been a disturbing element. Like
writers in later times, there may have been many a barbaric genius
taught the men of his tribe to sing or speak, showing them by example
to continue or divide their words, charming their souls with rhythm
accent and intonation, finding in familiar objects the expression of
confused fancies--to whom the whole of language might in truth be said
be a figure of speech. One person may have introduced a new custom
the formation or pronunciation of a word; he may have been imitated
others, and the custom, or form, or accent, or quantity, or rhyme which
introduced in a single word may have become the type on which many
words or inflexions of words were framed, and may have quickly ran
a whole language. For like the other gifts which nature has bestowed
man, that of speech has been conveyed to him through the medium, not
many, but of the few, who were his 'law-givers'--'the legislator with
dialectician standing on his right hand,' in Plato's striking image,
formed the manners of men and gave them customs, whose voice and look
behaviour, whose gesticulations and other peculiarities were instinctively
imitated by them,--the 'king of men' who was their priest, almost their
God...But these are conjectures only: so little do we know of
of language that the real scholar is indisposed to touch the subject
(2) There are other errors besides the figment of a primitive
language which it is time to leave behind us. We no longer divide
languages into synthetical and analytical, or suppose similarity of
structure to be the safe or only guide to the affinities of them.
not confuse the parts of speech with the categories of Logic.
Nor do we
conceive languages any more than civilisations to be in a state of
dissolution; they do not easily pass away, but are far more tenacious
life than the tribes by whom they are spoken. 'Where two or three
gathered together,' they survive. As in the human frame, as in
there is a principle of renovation as well as of decay which is at
all of them. Neither do we suppose them to be invented by the
wit of man.
With few exceptions, e.g. technical words or words newly imported from
foreign language, and the like, in which art has imitated nature, 'words
are not made but grow.' Nor do we attribute to them a supernatural
The law which regulates them is like the law which governs the circulation
of the blood, or the rising of the sap in trees; the action of it is
uniform, but the result, which appears in the superficial forms of
animals or in the leaves of trees, is an endless profusion and variety.
The laws of vegetation are invariable, but no two plants, no two leaves
the forest are precisely the same. The laws of language are invariable,
but no two languages are alike, no two words have exactly the same
No two sounds are exactly of the same quality, or give precisely the
It would be well if there were a similar consensus about some other
which appear to be still in dispute. Is language conscious or
In speaking or writing have we present to our minds the meaning or
sound or the construction of the words which we are using?--No more
the separate drops of water with which we quench our thirst are present:
the whole draught may be conscious, but not the minute particles of
it is made up: So the whole sentence may be conscious, but the
words, syllables, letters are not thought of separately when we are
uttering them. Like other natural operations, the process of
most perfect, is least observed by us. We do not pause at each
dwell upon the taste of it: nor has the speaker time to ask himself
comparative merits of different modes of expression while he is uttering
them. There are many things in the use of language which may
from without, but which cannot be explained from within. Consciousness
carries us but a little way in the investigation of the mind; it is
faculty of internal observation, but only the dim light which makes
observation possible. What is supposed to be our consciousness
is really only the analysis of it, and this analysis admits of innumerable
degrees. But would it not be better if this term, which is so
and yet has played so great a part in mental science, were either banished
or used only with the distinct meaning of 'attention to our own minds,'
such as is called forth, not by familiar mental processes, but by the
interruption of them? Now in this sense we may truly say that
we are not
conscious of ordinary speech, though we are commonly roused to attention
the misuse or mispronunciation of a word. Still less, even
in schools and
academies, do we ever attempt to invent new words or to alter the meaning
of old ones, except in the case, mentioned above, of technical or borrowed
words which are artificially made or imported because a need of them
felt. Neither in our own nor in any other age has the conscious
reflection in man contributed in an appreciable degree to the formation
language. 'Which of us by taking thought' can make new words
constructions? Reflection is the least of the causes by which
affected, and is likely to have the least power, when the linguistic
instinct is greatest, as in young children and in the infancy of nations.
A kindred error is the separation of the phonetic from the mental element
of language; they are really inseparable--no definite line can be drawn
between them, any more than in any other common act of mind and body.
is true that within certain limits we possess the power of varying
by opening and closing the mouth, by touching the palate or the teeth
the tongue, by lengthening or shortening the vocal instrument, by greater
or less stress, by a higher or lower pitch of the voice, and we can
substitute one note or accent for another. But behind the organs
and their action there remains the informing mind, which sets them
motion and works together with them. And behind the great structure
human speech and the lesser varieties of language which arise out of
many degrees and kinds of human intercourse, there is also the unknown
over-ruling law of God or nature which gives order to it in its infinite
greatness, and variety in its infinitesimal minuteness--both equally
inscrutable to us. We need no longer discuss whether philology
is to be
classed with the Natural or the Mental sciences, if we frankly recognize
that, like all the sciences which are concerned with man, it has a
aspect,--inward and outward; and that the inward can only be known
the outward. Neither need we raise the question whether the laws
language, like the other laws of human action, admit of exceptions.
answer in all cases is the same--that the laws of nature are uniform,
though the consistency or continuity of them is not always perceptible
us. The superficial appearances of language, as of nature, are
but we do not therefore deny their deeper uniformity. The comparison
the growth of language in the individual and in the nation cannot be
discarded, for nations are made up of individuals. But in this,
as in the
other political sciences, we must distinguish between collective and
individual actions or processes, and not attribute to the one what
to the other. Again, when we speak of the hereditary or paternity
language, we must remember that the parents are alive as well as the
children, and that all the preceding generations survive (after a manner)
in the latest form of it. And when, for the purposes of comparison,
form into groups the roots or terminations of words, we should not
how casual is the manner in which their resemblances have arisen--they
not first written down by a grammarian in the paradigms of a grammar
learned out of a book, but were due to many chance attractions of sound
of meaning, or of both combined. So many cautions have to be
mind, and so many first thoughts to be dismissed, before we can proceed
safely in the path of philological enquiry. It might be well
lay aside figures of speech, such as the 'root' and the 'branches,'
'stem,' the 'strata' of Geology, the 'compounds' of Chemistry, 'the
fruit of pronouns dropping from verbs' (see above), and the like, which
always interesting, but are apt to be delusive. Yet such figures
are far nearer the truth than the theories which attribute the invention
and improvement of language to the conscious action of the human
mind...Lastly, it is doubted by recent philologians whether climate
supposed to have exercised any influence worth speaking of on a language:
such a view is said to be unproven: it had better therefore not
'Natural selection' and the 'survival of the fittest' have been applied
the field of philology, as well as in the other sciences which are
concerned with animal and vegetable life. And a Darwinian school
philologists has sprung up, who are sometimes accused of putting words
the place of things. It seems to be true, that whether applied
or to other branches of knowledge, the Darwinian theory, unless very
precisely defined, hardly escapes from being a truism. If by
selection' of words or meanings of words or by the 'persistence and
survival of the fittest' the maintainer of the theory intends to affirm
nothing more than this--that the word 'fittest to survive' survives,
adds not much to the knowledge of language. But if he means that
or the meaning of the word or some portion of the word which comes
or drops out of use is selected or rejected on the ground of economy
parsimony or ease to the speaker or clearness or euphony or expressiveness,
or greater or less demand for it, or anything of this sort, he is affirming
a proposition which has several senses, and in none of these senses
assisted to be uniformly true. For the laws of language are precarious,
and can only act uniformly when there is such frequency of intercourse
among neighbours as is sufficient to enforce them. And there
reasons why a man should prefer his own way of speaking to that of
unless by so doing he becomes unintelligible. The struggle for
among words is not of that fierce and irresistible kind in which birds,
beasts and fishes devour one another, but of a milder sort, allowing
usage to be substituted for another, not by force, but by the persuasion,
or rather by the prevailing habit, of a majority. The favourite
this, as in some other uses of it, has tended rather to obscure than
explain the subject to which it has been applied. Nor in any
case can the
struggle for existence be deemed to be the sole or principal cause
changes in language, but only one among many, and one of which we cannot
easily measure the importance. There is a further objection which
urged equally against all applications of the Darwinian theory.
animal life and likewise in vegetable, so in languages, the process
change is said to be insensible: sounds, like animals, are supposed
pass into one another by imperceptible gradation. But in both
newly-created forms soon become fixed; there are few if any vestiges
intermediate links, and so the better half of the evidence of the change
(3) Among the incumbrances or illusions of language may be reckoned
of the rules and traditions of grammar, whether ancient grammar or
corrections of it which modern philology has introduced. Grammar,
law, delights in definition: human speech, like human action,
far from being a mere chaos, is indefinite, admits of degrees, and
always in a state of change or transition. Grammar gives an erroneous
conception of language: for it reduces to a system that which
is not a
system. Its figures of speech, pleonasms, ellipses, anacolutha,
semainomenon, and the like have no reality; they do not either make
conscious expressions more intelligible or show the way in which they
arisen; they are chiefly designed to bring an earlier use of language
conformity with the later. Often they seem intended only to remind
great poets like Aeschylus or Sophocles or Pindar or a great prose
like Thucydides are guilty of taking unwarrantable liberties with
grammatical rules; it appears never to have occurred to the inventors
them that these real 'conditores linguae Graecae' lived in an age before
grammar, when 'Greece also was living Greece.' It is the anatomy,
physiology of language, which grammar seeks to describe: into
and higher life of words it does not enter. The ordinary Greek
gives a complete paradigm of the verb, without suggesting that the
or treble forms of Perfects, Aorists, etc. are hardly ever contemporaneous.
It distinguishes Moods and Tenses, without observing how much of the
of one passes into the other. It makes three Voices, Active,
Middle, but takes no notice of the precarious existence and uncertain
character of the last of the three. Language is a thing of degrees
relations and associations and exceptions: grammar ties it up
rules. Language has many varieties of usage: grammar tries
to reduce them
to a single one. Grammar divides verbs into regular and irregular:
does not recognize that the irregular, equally with the regular, are
subject to law, and that a language which had no exceptions would not
natural growth: for it could not have been subjected to the influences
which language is ordinarily affected. It is always wanting to
ancient languages in the terms of a modern one. It has a favourite
that one word is put in the place of another; the truth is that no
ever put for another. It has another fiction, that a word has
omitted: words are omitted because they are no longer needed;
omission has ceased to be observed. The common explanation of
kata or some
other preposition 'being understood' in a Greek sentence is another
of the same kind, which tends to disguise the fact that under cases
comprehended originally many more relations, and that prepositions
only to define the meaning of them with greater precision. These
are sufficient to show the sort of errors which grammar introduces
language. We are not considering the question of its utility
beginner in the study. Even to him the best grammar is the shortest
that in which he will have least to unlearn. It may be said that
explanations here referred to are already out of date, and that the
of Greek grammar has received a new character from comparative philology.
This is true; but it is also true that the traditional grammar has
great hold on the mind of the student.
Metaphysics are even more troublesome than the figments of grammar,
they wear the appearance of philosophy and there is no test to which
can be subjected. They are useful in so far as they give us an
into the history of the human mind and the modes of thought which have
existed in former ages; or in so far as they furnish wider conceptions
the different branches of knowledge and of their relation to one another.
But they are worse than useless when they outrun experience and abstract
the mind from the observation of facts, only to envelope it in a mist
words. Some philologers, like Schleicher, have been greatly influenced
the philosophy of Hegel; nearly all of them to a certain extent have
under the dominion of physical science. Even Kant himself thought
first principles of philosophy could be elicited from the analysis
proposition, in this respect falling short of Plato. Westphal
there are three stages of language: (1) in which things were
independently, (2) in which they were regarded in relation to human
thought, and (3) in relation to one another. But are not such
an anachronism? for they imply a growth of abstract ideas which never
existed in early times. Language cannot be explained by Metaphysics;
it is prior to them and much more nearly allied to sense. It
is not likely
that the meaning of the cases is ultimately resolvable into relations
space and time. Nor can we suppose the conception of cause and
of the finite and infinite or of the same and other to be latent in
language at a time when in their abstract form they had never entered
the mind of man...If the science of Comparative Philology had possessed
'enough of Metaphysics to get rid of Metaphysics,' it would have made
(4) Our knowledge of language is almost confined to languages which
fully developed. They are of several patterns; and these become
admixture in various degrees,--they may only borrow a few words from
another and retain their life comparatively unaltered, or they may
a struggle for existence until one of the two is overpowered and retires
from the field. They attain the full rights and dignity of language
they acquire the use of writing and have a literature of their own;
pass into dialects and grow out of them, in proportion as men are isolated
or united by locality or occupation. The common language sometimes
upon the dialects and imparts to them also a literary character.
of language can be best discerned in the great crises of language,
especially in the transitions from ancient to modern forms of them,
in Europe or Asia. Such changes are the silent notes of the world's
history; they mark periods of unknown length in which war and conquest
running riot over whole continents, times of suffering too great to
endured by the human race, in which the masters became subjects and
subject races masters, in which driven by necessity or impelled by
instinct, tribes or nations left their original homes and but slowly
a resting-place. Language would be the greatest of all historical
monuments, if it could only tell us the history of itself.
(5) There are many ways in which we may approach this study. The
of all is to observe our own use of language in conversation or in
how we put words together, how we construct and connect sentences,
the rules of accent and rhythm in verse or prose, the formation and
composition of words, the laws of euphony and sound, the affinities
letters, the mistakes to which we are ourselves most liable of spelling
pronunciation. We may compare with our own language some other,
we have only a slight knowledge of it, such as French or German.
little Latin will enable us to appreciate the grand difference between
ancient and modern European languages. In the child learning
to speak we
may note the inherent strength of language, which like 'a mountain
is always forcing its way out. We may witness the delight in
repetition, and some of the laws by which sounds pass into one another.
may learn something also from the falterings of old age, the searching
words, and the confusion of them with one another, the forgetfulness
proper names (more commonly than of other words because they are more
isolated), aphasia, and the like. There are philological lessons
be gathered from nicknames, from provincialisms, from the slang of
cities, from the argot of Paris (that language of suffering and crime,
pathetically described by Victor Hugo), from the imperfect articulation
the deaf and dumb, from the jabbering of animals, from the analysis
sounds in relation to the organs of speech. The phonograph affords
visible evidence of the nature and divisions of sound; we may be truly
to know what we can manufacture. Artificial languages, such as
Bishop Wilkins, are chiefly useful in showing what language is not.
study of any foreign language may be made also a study of Comparative
Philology. There are several points, such as the nature of irregular
verbs, of indeclinable parts of speech, the influence of euphony, the
or loss of inflections, the elements of syntax, which may be examined
well in the history of our own language as of any other. A few
selected questions may lead the student at once into the heart of the
mystery: such as, Why are the pronouns and the verb of existence
more irregular than any other parts of speech? Why is the number
so small in which the sound is an echo of the sense? Why does
of words depart so widely from their etymology? Why do substantives
differ in meaning from the verbs to which they are related, adverbs
adjectives? Why do words differing in origin coalesce in the
though retaining their differences of meaning? Why are some verbs
impersonal? Why are there only so many parts of speech, and on
principle are they divided? These are a few crucial questions
us an insight from different points of view into the true nature of
(6) Thus far we have been endeavouring to strip off from language the
appearances in which grammar and philology, or the love of system
generally, have clothed it. We have also sought to indicate the
our knowledge of it and the spirit in which we should approach it,
now proceed to consider some of the principles or natural laws which
created or modified it.
i. The first and simplest of all the principles of language, common
to the animals, is imitation. The lion roars, the wolf howls
solitude of the forest: they are answered by similar cries heard
distance. The bird, too, mimics the voice of man and makes answer
Man tells to man the secret place in which he is hiding himself; he
remembers and repeats the sound which he has heard. The love
becomes a passion and an instinct to him. Primitive men learnt
from one another, like a child from its mother or nurse. They
course a rudimentary, half-articulate language, the cry or song or
which was the expression of what we now call human thoughts and feelings.
We may still remark how much greater and more natural the exercise
power is in the use of language than in any other process or action
ii. Imitation provided the first material of language: but
'without form and void.' During how many years or hundreds or
years the imitative or half-articulate stage continued there is no
possibility of determining. But we may reasonably conjecture
was a time when the vocal utterance of man was intermediate between
now call language and the cry of a bird or animal. Speech before
was a rudis indigestaque materies, not yet distributed into words and
sentences, in which the cry of fear or joy mingled with more definite
sounds recognized by custom as the expressions of things or events.
the principle of analogy which introduced into this 'indigesta moles'
and measure. It was Anaxagoras' omou panta chremata, eita nous
diekosmese: the light of reason lighted up all things and at
once began to
arrange them. In every sentence, in every word and every termination
word, this power of forming relations to one another was contained.
was a proportion of sound to sound, of meaning to meaning, of meaning
sound. The cases and numbers of nouns, the persons, tenses, numbers
verbs, were generally on the same or nearly the same pattern and had
same meaning. The sounds by which they were expressed were rough-hewn
first; after a while they grew more refined--the natural laws of euphony
began to affect them. The rules of syntax are likewise based
Time has an analogy with space, arithmetic with geometry. Not
musical notes, but in the quantity, quality, accent, rhythm of human
speech, trivial or serious, there is a law of proportion. As
in things of
beauty, as in all nature, in the composition as well as in the motion
all things, there is a similarity of relations by which they are held
It would be a mistake to suppose that the analogies of language are
uniform: there may be often a choice between several, and sometimes
and sometimes another will prevail. In Greek there are three
of nouns; the forms of cases in one of them may intrude upon another.
Similarly verbs in -omega and -mu iota interchange forms of tenses,
completed paradigm of the verb is often made up of both. The
may be partly declinable and partly indeclinable, and in some of their
cases may have fallen out of use. Here are rules with exceptions;
not however really exceptions, but contain in themselves indications
other rules. Many of these interruptions or variations of analogy
pronouns or in the verb of existence of which the forms were too common
therefore too deeply imbedded in language entirely to drop out.
verbs in the same meaning may sometimes take one case, sometimes another.
The participle may also have the character of an adjective, the adverb
either of an adjective or of a preposition. These exceptions
regular as the rules, but the causes of them are seldom known to us.
Language, like the animal and vegetable worlds, is everywhere intersected
by the lines of analogy. Like number from which it seems to be
the principle of analogy opens the eyes of men to discern the similarities
and differences of things, and their relations to one another.
these are such as lie on the surface only; after a time they are seen
men to reach farther down into the nature of things. Gradually
they arrange themselves into a sort of imperfect system; groups of
and case endings are placed side by side. The fertility of language
produces many more than are wanted; and the superfluous ones are utilized
by the assignment to them of new meanings. The vacuity and the
are thus partially compensated by each other. It must be remembered
in all the languages which have a literature, certainly in Sanskrit,
Latin, we are not at the beginning but almost at the end of the linguistic
process; we have reached a time when the verb and the noun are nearly
perfected, though in no language did they completely perfect themselves,
because for some unknown reason the motive powers of languages seem
ceased when they were on the eve of completion: they became fixed
crystallized in an imperfect form either from the influence of writing
literature, or because no further differentiation of them was required
the intelligibility of language. So not without admixture and
and displacement and contamination of sounds and the meanings of words,
lower stage of language passes into a higher. Thus far we can
see and no
further. When we ask the reason why this principle of analogy
all the vast domain of language, there is no answer to the question;
other answer but this, that there are innumerable ways in which, like
number, analogy permeates, not only language, but the whole world,
visible and intellectual. We know from experience that it does
arise from any conscious act of reflection that the accusative of a
noun in 'us' should end in 'um;' nor (b) from any necessity of being
understood,--much less articulation would suffice for this; nor (c)
greater convenience or expressiveness of particular sounds. Such
were certainly far enough away from the mind of primitive man.
speak of a latent instinct, of a survival of the fittest, easiest,
euphonic, most economical of breath, in the case of one of two competing
sounds; but these expressions do not add anything to our knowledge.
try to grasp the infinity of language either under the figure of a
limitless plain divided into countries and districts by natural boundaries,
or of a vast river eternally flowing whose origin is concealed from
may apprehend partially the laws by which speech is regulated:
but we do
not know, and we seem as if we should never know, any more than in
parallel case of the origin of species, how vocal sounds received life
grew, and in the form of languages came to be distributed over the
iii. Next in order to analogy in the formation of language or
to it comes the principle of onomatopea, which is itself a kind of
or similarity of sound and meaning. In by far the greater number
it has become disguised and has disappeared; but in no stage of language
it entirely lost. It belongs chiefly to early language, in which
were few; and its influence grew less and less as time went on.
To the ear
which had a sense of harmony it became a barbarism which disturbed
and equilibrium of discourse; it was an excrescence which had to be
out, a survival which needed to be got rid of, because it was out of
keeping with the rest. It remained for the most part only as
principle, which used words and letters not as crude imitations of
natural sounds, but as symbols of ideas which were naturally associated
with them. It received in another way a new character; it affected
much single words, as larger portions of human speech. It regulated
juxtaposition of sounds and the cadence of sentences. It was
not of song, but of speech, in prose as well as verse. The old
of primitive language was refined into an onomatopea of a higher kind,
which it is no longer true to say that a particular sound corresponds
motion or action of man or beast or movement of nature, but that in
higher uses of language the sound is the echo of the sense, especially
poetry, in which beauty and expressiveness are given to human thoughts
the harmonious composition of the words, syllables, letters, accents,
quantities, rhythms, rhymes, varieties and contrasts of all sorts.
poet with his 'Break, break, break' or his e pasin nekuessi
kataphthimenoisin anassein or his 'longius ex altoque sinum trahit,'
produce a far finer music than any crude imitations of things or actions
sound, although a letter or two having this imitative power may be
element of beauty in such passages. The same subtle sensibility,
adapts the word to the thing, adapts the sentence or cadence to the
meaning or spirit of the passage. This is the higher onomatopea
banished the cruder sort as unworthy to have a place in great languages
We can see clearly enough that letters or collocations of letters do
various degrees of strength or weakness, length or shortness, emphasis
pitch, become the natural expressions of the finer parts of human feeling
or thought. And not only so, but letters themselves have a significance;
as Plato observes that the letter rho accent is expressive of motion,
letters delta and tau of binding and rest, the letter lambda of smoothness,
nu of inwardness, the letter eta of length, the letter omicron of
roundness. These were often combined so as to form composite
for example in tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged), thrauein (crush),
krouein (strike), thruptein (break), pumbein (whirl),--in all which
we notice a parallel composition of sounds in their English equivalents.
Plato also remarks, as we remark, that the onomatopoetic principle
from prevailing uniformly, and further that no explanation of language
consistently corresponds with any system of philosophy, however great
be the light which language throws upon the nature of the mind.
Greek and English we find groups of words such as string, swing, sling,
spring, sting, which are parallel to one another and may be said to
their vocal effect partly from contrast of letters, but in which it
impossible to assign a precise amount of meaning to each of the expressive
and onomatopoetic letters. A few of them are directly imitative,
example the omega in oon, which represents the round form of the egg
figure of the mouth: or bronte (thunder), in which the fulness
sound of the word corresponds to the thing signified by it; or bombos
(buzzing), of which the first syllable, as in its English equivalent,
the meaning of a deep sound. We may observe also (as we see in
the case of
the poor stammerer) that speech has the co-operation of the whole body
may be often assisted or half expressed by gesticulation. A sound
is not the work of the vocal organs only; nearly the whole of the upper
part of the human frame, including head, chest, lungs, have a share
creating it; and it may be accompanied by a movement of the eyes, nose,
fingers, hands, feet which contributes to the effect of it.
The principle of onomatopea has fallen into discredit, partly because
has been supposed to imply an actual manufacture of words out of syllables
and letters, like a piece of joiner's work,--a theory of language which
more and more refuted by facts, and more and more going out of fashion
philologians; and partly also because the traces of onomatopea in separate
words become almost obliterated in the course of ages. The poet
language cannot put in and pull out letters, as a painter might insert
blot out a shade of colour to give effect to his picture. It
ridiculous for him to alter any received form of a word in order to
it more expressive of the sense. He can only select, perhaps
out of some
dialect, the form which is already best adapted to his purpose.
onomatopea is not a creative, but a formative principle, which in the
stage of the history of language ceases to act upon individual words;
still works through the collocation of them in the sentence or paragraph,
and the adaptation of every word, syllable, letter to one another and
the rhythm of the whole passage.
iv. Next, under a distinct head, although not separable from the
preceding, may be considered the differentiation of languages, i.e.
manner in which differences of meaning and form have arisen in them.
their first creation we have ceased to enquire: it is their aftergrowth
with which we are now concerned. How did the roots or substantial
of words become modified or inflected? and how did they receive separate
meanings? First we remark that words are attracted by the sounds
senses of other words, so that they form groups of nouns and verbs
analogous in sound and sense to one another, each noun or verb putting
forth inflexions, generally of two or three patterns, and with exceptions.
We do not say that we know how sense became first allied to sound;
have no difficulty in ascertaining how the sounds and meanings of words
were in time parted off or differentiated. (1) The chief causes
regulate the variations of sound are (a) double or differing analogies,
which lead sometimes to one form, sometimes to another (b) euphony,
which is meant chiefly the greater pleasure to the ear and the greater
facility to the organs of speech which is given by a new formation
pronunciation of a word (c) the necessity of finding new expressions
new classes or processes of things. We are told that changes
of sound take
place by innumerable gradations until a whole tribe or community or
find themselves acquiescing in a new pronunciation or use of language.
no one observes the change, or is at all aware that in the course of
lifetime he and his contemporaries have appreciably varied their intonation
or use of words. On the other hand, the necessities of language
require that the intermediate sounds or meanings of words should quickly
become fixed or set and not continue in a state of transition.
of settling down is aided by the organs of speech and by the use of
and printing. (2) The meaning of words varies because ideas vary
number of things which is included under them or with which they are
associated is increased. A single word is thus made to do duty
more things than were formerly expressed by it; and it parts into different
senses when the classes of things or ideas which are represented by
themselves different and distinct. A figurative use of a word
pass into a new sense: a new meaning caught up by association
more important than all the rest. The good or neutral sense of
such as Jesuit, Puritan, Methodist, Heretic, has been often converted
a bad one by the malevolence of party spirit. Double forms suggest
different meanings and are often used to express them; and the form
accent of a word has been not unfrequently altered when there is a
difference of meaning. The difference of gender in nouns is utilized
the same reason. New meanings of words push themselves into the
spaces of language and retire when they are no longer needed.
equally abhors vacancy and superfluity. But the remedial measures
both are eliminated are not due to any conscious action of the human
nor is the force exerted by them constraining or necessary.
(7) We have shown that language, although subject to laws, is far from
being of an exact and uniform nature. We may now speak briefly
faults of language. They may be compared to the faults of Geology,
which different strata cross one another or meet at an angle, or mix
one another either by slow transitions or by violent convulsions, leaving
many lacunae which can be no longer filled up, and often becoming so
complex that no true explanation of them can be given. So in
there are the cross influences of meaning and sound, of logic and grammar,
of differing analogies, of words and the inflexions of words, which
come into conflict with each other. The grammarian, if he were
to form new
words, would make them all of the same pattern according to what he
conceives to be the rule, that is, the more common usage of language.
subtlety of nature goes far beyond art, and it is complicated by
irregularity, so that often we can hardly say that there is a right
wrong in the formation of words. For almost any formation which
is not at
variance with the first principles of language is possible and may
The imperfection of language is really due to the formation and correlation
of words by accident, that is to say, by principles which are unknown
us. Hence we see why Plato, like ourselves unable to comprehend
of language, was constrained to 'supplement the poor creature imitation
another poor creature convention.' But the poor creature convention
end proves too much for all the rest: for we do not ask what
is the origin
of words or whether they are formed according to a correct analogy,
what is the usage of them; and we are compelled to admit with Hermogenes
Plato and with Horace that usage is the ruling principle, 'quem penes
arbitrium est, et jus et norma loquendi.'
(8) There are two ways in which a language may attain permanence or
First, it may have been embodied in poems or hymns or laws, which may
repeated for hundreds, perhaps for thousands of years with a religious
accuracy, so that to the priests or rhapsodists of a nation the whole
the greater part of a language is literally preserved; secondly, it
written down and in a written form distributed more or less widely
the whole nation. In either case the language which is familiarly
may have grown up wholly or in a great measure independently of them.
The first of these processes has been sometimes attended by the result
the sound of the words has been carefully preserved and that the meaning
them has either perished wholly, or is only doubtfully recovered by
efforts of modern philology. The verses have been repeated as
a chant or
part of a ritual, but they have had no relation to ordinary life or
(2) The invention of writing again is commonly attributed to a particular
epoch, and we are apt to think that such an inestimable gift would
immediately been diffused over a whole country. But it may have
long time to perfect the art of writing, and another long period may
elapsed before it came into common use. Its influence on language
increased ten, twenty or one hundred fold by the invention of printing.
Before the growth of poetry or the invention of writing, languages were
only dialects. So they continued to be in parts of the country
writing was not used or in which there was no diffusion of literature.
most of the counties of England there is still a provincial style,
has been sometimes made by a great poet the vehicle of his fancies.
book sinks into the mind of a nation, such as Luther's Bible or the
Authorized English Translation of the Bible, or again great classical
like Shakspere or Milton, not only have new powers of expression been
diffused through a whole nation, but a great step towards uniformity
been made. The instinct of language demands regular grammar and
spelling: these are imprinted deeply on the tablets of a nation's
by a common use of classical and popular writers. In our own
day we have
attained to a point at which nearly every printed book is spelt correctly
and written grammatically.
(9) Proceeding further to trace the influence of literature on language
note some other causes which have affected the higher use of it:
(1) the necessity of clearness and connexion; (2) the fear of tautology;
(3) the influence of metre, rhythm, rhyme, and of the language of prose
verse upon one another; (4) the power of idiom and quotation; (5) the
relativeness of words to one another.
It has been usual to depreciate modern languages when compared with
ancient. The latter are regarded as furnishing a type of excellence
which the former cannot attain. But the truth seems to be that
languages, if through the loss of inflections and genders they lack
power or beauty or expressiveness or precision which is possessed by
ancient, are in many other respects superior to them: the thought
generally clearer, the connexion closer, the sentence and paragraph
better distributed. The best modern languages, for example English
French, possess as great a power of self-improvement as the Latin,
as the Greek. Nor does there seem to be any reason why they should
decline or decay. It is a popular remark that our great writers
beginning to disappear: it may also be remarked that whenever
writer appears in the future he will find the English language as perfect
and as ready for use as in the days of Shakspere or Milton. There
reason to suppose that English or French will ever be reduced to the
level of Modern Greek or of Mediaeval Latin. The wide diffusion
authors would make such a decline impossible. Nor will modern
easily broken up by amalgamation with each other. The distance
them is too wide to be spanned, the differences are too great to be
overcome, and the use of printing makes it impossible that one of them
should ever be lost in another.
The structure of the English language differs greatly from that of either
Latin or Greek. In the two latter, especially in Greek, sentences
joined together by connecting particles. They are distributed
on the right
hand and on the left by men, de, alla, kaitoi, kai de and the like,
deduced from one another by ara, de, oun, toinun and the like.
the majority of sentences are independent and in apposition to one
they are laid side by side or slightly connected by the copula.
the sentence the expression of the logical relations of the clauses
closer and more exact: there is less of apposition and participial
structure. The sentences thus laid side by side are also constructed
paragraphs; these again are less distinctly marked in Greek and Latin
in English. Generally French, German, and English have an advantage
the classical languages in point of accuracy. The three concords
accurately observed in English than in either Greek or Latin.
On the other
hand, the extension of the familiar use of the masculine and feminine
gender to objects of sense and abstract ideas as well as to men and
no doubt lends a nameless grace to style which we have a difficulty
appreciating, and the possible variety in the order of words gives
flexibility and also a kind of dignity to the period. Of the
effect of accent and quantity and of the relation between them in ancient
and modern languages we are not able to judge.
Another quality in which modern are superior to ancient languages is
freedom from tautology. No English style is thought tolerable
except for the sake of emphasis, the same words are repeated at short
intervals. Of course the length of the interval must depend on
character of the word. Striking words and expressions cannot
be allowed to
reappear, if at all, except at the distance of a page or more.
prepositions, conjunctions may or rather must recur in successive lines.
It seems to be a kind of impertinence to the reader and strikes
unpleasantly both on the mind and on the ear that the same sounds should
used twice over, when another word or turn of expression would have
new shade of meaning to the thought and would have added a pleasing
to the sound. And the mind equally rejects the repetition of
the word and
the use of a mere synonym for it,--e.g. felicity and happiness.
cultivated mind desires something more, which a skilful writer is easily
able to supply out of his treasure-house.
The fear of tautology has doubtless led to the multiplications of words
the meanings of words, and generally to an enlargement of the vocabulary.
It is a very early instinct of language; for ancient poetry is almost
free from tautology as the best modern writings. The speech of
children, except in so far as they are compelled to repeat themselves
the fewness of their words, also escapes from it. When they grow
have ideas which are beyond their powers of expression, especially
writing, tautology begins to appear. In like manner when language
'contaminated' by philosophy it is apt to become awkward, to stammer
repeat itself, to lose its flow and freedom. No philosophical
the exception of Plato, who is himself not free from tautology, and
Bacon, has attained to any high degree of literary excellence.
To poetry the form and polish of language is chiefly to be attributed;
the most critical period in the history of language is the transition
verse to prose. At first mankind were contented to express their
in a set form of words having a kind of rhythm; to which regularity
given by accent and quantity. But after a time they demanded
degree of freedom, and to those who had all their life been hearing
the first introduction of prose had the charm of novelty. The
romances into which the Homeric Poems were converted, for a while probably
gave more delight to the hearers or readers of them than the Poems
themselves, and in time the relation of the two was reversed:
which had once been a necessity of the human mind became a luxury:
were now superseded by prose, which in all succeeding ages became the
natural vehicle of expression to all mankind. Henceforward prose
poetry formed each other. A comparatively slender link between
also furnished by proverbs. We may trace in poetry how the simple
succession of lines, not without monotony, has passed into a complicated
period, and how in prose, rhythm and accent and the order of words
balance of clauses, sometimes not without a slight admixture of rhyme,
up a new kind of harmony, swelling into strains not less majestic than
those of Homer, Virgil, or Dante.
One of the most curious and characteristic features of language, affecting
both syntax and style, is idiom. The meaning of the word 'idiom'
which is peculiar, that which is familiar, the word or expression which
strikes us or comes home to us, which is more readily understood or
easily remembered. It is a quality which really exists in infinite
degrees, which we turn into differences of kind by applying the term
to conspicuous and striking examples of words or phrases which have
quality. It often supersedes the laws of language or the rules
or rather is to be regarded as another law of language which is natural
necessary. The word or phrase which has been repeated many times
more intelligible and familiar to us than one which is rare, and our
familiarity with it more than compensates for incorrectness or inaccuracy
in the use of it. Striking expressions also which have moved
the hearts of
nations or are the precious stones and jewels of great authors partake
the nature of idioms: they are taken out of the sphere of grammar
exempt from the proprieties of language. Every one knows that
we often put
words together in a manner which would be intolerable if it were not
idiomatic. We cannot argue either about the meaning of words
or the use of
constructions that because they are used in one connexion they will
legitimate in another, unless we allow for this principle. We
can bear to
have words and sentences used in new senses or in a new order or even
little perverted in meaning when we are quite familiar with them.
Quotations are as often applied in a sense which the author did not
as in that which he did. The parody of the words of Shakspere
or of the
Bible, which has in it something of the nature of a lie, is far from
unpleasing to us. The better known words, even if their meaning
perverted, are more agreeable to us and have a greater power over us.
of us have experienced a sort of delight and feeling of curiosity when
first came across or when we first used for ourselves a new word or
or figure of speech.
There are associations of sound and of sense by which every word is
to every other. One letter harmonizes with another; every verb
derives its meaning, not only from itself, but from the words with
is associated. Some reflection of them near or distant is embodied
In any new use of a word all the existing uses of it have to be considered.
Upon these depends the question whether it will bear the proposed extension
of meaning or not. According to the famous expression of Luther,
are living creatures, having hands and feet.' When they cease
this living power of adaptation, when they are only put together like
parts of a piece of furniture, language becomes unpoetical, in expressive,
Grammars would lead us to suppose that words have a fixed form and sound.
Lexicons assign to each word a definite meaning or meanings.
tend to obscure the fact that the sentence precedes the word and that
language is relative. (1) It is relative to its own context.
is modified by what has been said before and after in the same or in
other passage: without comparing the context we are not sure
whether it is
used in the same sense even in two successive sentences. (2)
relative to facts, to time, place, and occasion: when they are
known to the hearer or reader, they may be presupposed; there is no
allude to them further. (3) It is relative to the knowledge of
and reader or of the speaker and hearer. Except for the sake
of order and
consecutiveness nothing ought to be expressed which is already commonly
universally known. A word or two may be sufficient to give an
to a friend; a long or elaborate speech or composition is required
explain some new idea to a popular audience or to the ordinary reader
a young pupil. Grammars and dictionaries are not to be despised;
teaching we need clearness rather than subtlety. But we must
forget that there is also a higher ideal of language in which all is
relative--sounds to sounds, words to words, the parts to the whole--in
which besides the lesser context of the book or speech, there is also
larger context of history and circumstances.
The study of Comparative Philology has introduced into the world a new
science which more than any other binds up man with nature, and distant
ages and countries with one another. It may be said to have thrown
upon all other sciences and upon the nature of the human mind itself.
true conception of it dispels many errors, not only of metaphysics
theology, but also of natural knowledge. Yet it is far from certain
this newly-found science will continue to progress in the same surprising
manner as heretofore; or that even if our materials are largely increased,
we shall arrive at much more definite conclusions than at present.
some other branches of knowledge, it may be approaching a point at
can no longer be profitably studied. But at any rate it has brought
the philosophy of language from theory to fact; it has passed out of
region of guesses and hypotheses, and has attained the dignity of an
Inductive Science. And it is not without practical and political
importance. It gives a new interest to distant and subject countries;
brings back the dawning light from one end of the earth to the other.
Nations, like individuals, are better understood by us when we know
something of their early life; and when they are better understood
we feel more kindly towards them. Lastly, we may remember that
knowledge is valuable for its own sake; and we may also hope that a
insight into the nature of human speech will give us a greater command
it and enable us to make a nobler use of it. (Compare again W.
'Ueber die Verschiedenheit des menschlichen Sprachbaues;' M. Muller,
'Lectures on the Science of Language;' Steinthal, 'Einleitung in die
Psychologie und Sprachwissenschaft:' and for the latter part of the
Delbruck, 'Study of Language;' Paul's 'Principles of the History of
Language:' to the latter work the author of this Essay is largely
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Hermogenes, Cratylus.
HERMOGENES: Suppose that we make Socrates a party to the argument?
CRATYLUS: If you please.
HERMOGENES: I should explain to you, Socrates, that our friend
has been arguing about names; he says that they are natural and not
conventional; not a portion of the human voice which men agree to use;
that there is a truth or correctness in them, which is the same for
Hellenes as for barbarians. Whereupon I ask him, whether his
own name of
Cratylus is a true name or not, and he answers 'Yes.' And Socrates?
'Yes.' Then every man's name, as I tell him, is that which he
To this he replies--'If all the world were to call you Hermogenes,
would not be your name.' And when I am anxious to have a further
explanation he is ironical and mysterious, and seems to imply that
he has a
notion of his own about the matter, if he would only tell, and could
entirely convince me, if he chose to be intelligible. Tell me,
what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so good,
your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which I would far
SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, there is an ancient saying, that
'hard is the
knowledge of the good.' And the knowledge of names is a great
knowledge. If I had not been poor, I might have heard the fifty-drachma
course of the great Prodicus, which is a complete education in grammar
language--these are his own words--and then I should have been at once
to answer your question about the correctness of names. But,
have only heard the single-drachma course, and therefore, I do not
truth about such matters; I will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus
in the investigation of them. When he declares that your name
really Hermogenes, I suspect that he is only making fun of you;--he
to say that you are no true son of Hermes, because you are always looking
after a fortune and never in luck. But, as I was saying, there
is a good
deal of difficulty in this sort of knowledge, and therefore we had
leave the question open until we have heard both sides.
HERMOGENES: I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus
others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name
you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and
another, the new name is as correct as the old--we frequently change
names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good as the old:
there is no name given to anything by nature; all is convention and
of the users;--such is my view. But if I am mistaken I shall
be happy to
hear and learn of Cratylus, or of any one else.
SOCRATES: I dare say that you may be right, Hermogenes:
let us see;--Your
meaning is, that the name of each thing is only that which anybody
to call it?
HERMOGENES: That is my notion.
SOCRATES: Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a
SOCRATES: Well, now, let me take an instance;--suppose that I
call a man a
horse or a horse a man, you mean to say that a man will be rightly
horse by me individually, and rightly called a man by the rest of the
world; and a horse again would be rightly called a man by me and a
the world:--that is your meaning?
HERMOGENES: He would, according to my view.
SOCRATES: But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that
in words a true and a false?
SOCRATES: And there are true and false propositions?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And a true proposition says that which is, and a false
proposition says that which is not?
HERMOGENES: Yes; what other answer is possible?
SOCRATES: Then in a proposition there is a true and false?
SOCRATES: But is a proposition true as a whole only, and are the
HERMOGENES: No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
SOCRATES: Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones,
HERMOGENES: I should say that every part is true.
SOCRATES: Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than
HERMOGENES: No; that is the smallest.
SOCRATES: Then the name is a part of the true proposition?
SOCRATES: Yes, and a true part, as you say.
SOCRATES: And is not the part of a falsehood also a falsehood?
SOCRATES: Then, if propositions may be true and false, names may
HERMOGENES: So we must infer.
SOCRATES: And the name of anything is that which any one affirms
to be the
SOCRATES: And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody
that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names
than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities
countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ
from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes
SOCRATES: But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ
names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras tells
For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that things
me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear to
Do you agree with him, or would you say that things have a permanent
essence of their own?
HERMOGENES: There have been times, Socrates, when I have been
driven in my
perplexity to take refuge with Protagoras; not that I agree with him
SOCRATES: What! have you ever been driven to admit that there
was no such
thing as a bad man?
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; but I have often had reason to think that
are very bad men, and a good many of them.
SOCRATES: Well, and have you ever found any very good ones?
HERMOGENES: Not many.
SOCRATES: Still you have found them?
SOCRATES: And would you hold that the very good were the very
the very evil very foolish? Would that be your view?
HERMOGENES: It would.
SOCRATES: But if Protagoras is right, and the truth is that things
they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of us foolish?
SOCRATES: And if, on the other hand, wisdom and folly are really
distinguishable, you will allow, I think, that the assertion of Protagoras
can hardly be correct. For if what appears to each man is true
to him, one
man cannot in reality be wiser than another.
HERMOGENES: He cannot.
SOCRATES: Nor will you be disposed to say with Euthydemus, that
equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for neither
view can there be some good and others bad, if virtue and vice are
equally to be attributed to all.
HERMOGENES: There cannot.
SOCRATES: But if neither is right, and things are not relative
individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same
and always, they must be supposed to have their own proper and permanent
essence: they are not in relation to us, or influenced by us,
according to our fancy, but they are independent, and maintain to their
essence the relation prescribed by nature.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you have said the truth.
SOCRATES: Does what I am saying apply only to the things themselves,
equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions
class of being?
HERMOGENES: Yes, the actions are real as well as the things.
SOCRATES: Then the actions also are done according to their proper
and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for example,
not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument; but we cut with
proper instrument only, and according to the natural process of cutting;
and the natural process is right and will succeed, but any other will
and be of no use at all.
HERMOGENES: I should say that the natural way is the right way.
SOCRATES: Again, in burning, not every way is the right way; but
way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural instrument.
SOCRATES: And this holds good of all actions?
SOCRATES: And speech is a kind of action?
SOCRATES: And will a man speak correctly who speaks as he pleases?
not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural way
speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural
instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and
HERMOGENES: I quite agree with you.
SOCRATES: And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation
is not naming also a sort of action?
SOCRATES: And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves,
a special nature of their own?
SOCRATES: Then the argument would lead us to infer that names
ought to be
given according to a natural process, and with a proper instrument,
at our pleasure: in this and no other way shall we name with
HERMOGENES: I agree.
SOCRATES: But again, that which has to be cut has to be cut with
SOCRATES: And that which has to be woven or pierced has to be
pierced with something?
SOCRATES: And that which has to be named has to be named with
SOCRATES: What is that with which we pierce?
HERMOGENES: An awl.
SOCRATES: And with which we weave?
HERMOGENES: A shuttle.
SOCRATES: And with which we name?
HERMOGENES: A name.
SOCRATES: Very good: then a name is an instrument?
SOCRATES: Suppose that I ask, 'What sort of instrument is a shuttle?'
you answer, 'A weaving instrument.'
SOCRATES: And I ask again, 'What do we do when we weave?'--The
that we separate or disengage the warp from the woof.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And may not a similar description be given of an awl,
instruments in general?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And now suppose that I ask a similar question about
you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we
do when we
HERMOGENES: I cannot say.
SOCRATES: Do we not give information to one another, and distinguish
things according to their natures?
HERMOGENES: Certainly we do.
SOCRATES: Then a name is an instrument of teaching and of distinguishing
natures, as the shuttle is of distinguishing the threads of the web.
SOCRATES: And the shuttle is the instrument of the weaver?
SOCRATES: Then the weaver will use the shuttle well--and well
means like a
weaver? and the teacher will use the name well--and well means like
SOCRATES: And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will
HERMOGENES: That of the carpenter.
SOCRATES: And is every man a carpenter, or the skilled only?
HERMOGENES: Only the skilled.
SOCRATES: And when the piercer uses the awl, whose work will he
HERMOGENES: That of the smith.
SOCRATES: And is every man a smith, or only the skilled?
HERMOGENES: The skilled only.
SOCRATES: And when the teacher uses the name, whose work will
he be using?
HERMOGENES: There again I am puzzled.
SOCRATES: Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which
HERMOGENES: Indeed I cannot.
SOCRATES: Does not the law seem to you to give us them?
HERMOGENES: Yes, I suppose so.
SOCRATES: Then the teacher, when he gives us a name, uses the
work of the
HERMOGENES: I agree.
SOCRATES: And is every man a legislator, or the skilled only?
HERMOGENES: The skilled only.
SOCRATES: Then, Hermogenes, not every man is able to give a name,
a maker of names; and this is the legislator, who of all skilled artisans
in the world is the rarest.
SOCRATES: And how does the legislator make names? and to what
look? Consider this in the light of the previous instances:
to what does
the carpenter look in making the shuttle? Does he not look to
is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?
SOCRATES: And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will
another, looking to the broken one? or will he look to the form according
to which he made the other?
HERMOGENES: To the latter, I should imagine.
SOCRATES: Might not that be justly called the true or ideal shuttle?
HERMOGENES: I think so.
SOCRATES: And whatever shuttles are wanted, for the manufacture
garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material, ought
of them to have the true form of the shuttle; and whatever is the shuttle
best adapted to each kind of work, that ought to be the form which
maker produces in each case.
SOCRATES: And the same holds of other instruments: when
a man has
discovered the instrument which is naturally adapted to each work,
express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the
material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought
know how to put into iron the forms of awls adapted by nature to their
SOCRATES: And how to put into wood forms of shuttles adapted by
SOCRATES: For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to
several kinds of webs; and this is true of instruments in general.
SOCRATES: Then, as to names: ought not our legislator also
to know how to
put the true natural name of each thing into sounds and syllables,
make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is to
namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different
will not use the same syllables. For neither does every smith,
may be making the same instrument for the same purpose, make them all
the same iron. The form must be the same, but the material may
still the instrument may be equally good of whatever iron made, whether
Hellas or in a foreign country;--there is no difference.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian,
therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he gives
true and proper form of the name in whatever syllables; this or that
country makes no matter.
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: But who then is to determine whether the proper form
is given to
the shuttle, whatever sort of wood may be used? the carpenter who makes,
the weaver who is to use them?
HERMOGENES: I should say, he who is to use them, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And who uses the work of the lyre-maker? Will
not he be the man
who knows how to direct what is being done, and who will know also
the work is being well done or not?
SOCRATES: And who is he?
HERMOGENES: The player of the lyre.
SOCRATES: And who will direct the shipwright?
HERMOGENES: The pilot.
SOCRATES: And who will be best able to direct the legislator in
and will know whether the work is well done, in this or any other country?
Will not the user be the man?
SOCRATES: And this is he who knows how to ask questions?
SOCRATES: And how to answer them?
SOCRATES: And him who knows how to ask and answer you would call
HERMOGENES: Yes; that would be his name.
SOCRATES: Then the work of the carpenter is to make a rudder,
pilot has to direct him, if the rudder is to be well made.
SOCRATES: And the work of the legislator is to give names, and
dialectician must be his director if the names are to be rightly given?
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then, Hermogenes, I should say that this giving of names
no such light matter as you fancy, or the work of light or chance persons;
and Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by nature, and
not every man is an artificer of names, but he only who looks to the
which each thing by nature has, and is able to express the true forms
things in letters and syllables.
HERMOGENES: I cannot answer you, Socrates; but I find a difficulty
changing my opinion all in a moment, and I think that I should be more
readily persuaded, if you would show me what this is which you term
natural fitness of names.
SOCRATES: My good Hermogenes, I have none to show. Was I
not telling you
just now (but you have forgotten), that I knew nothing, and proposing
share the enquiry with you? But now that you and I have talked
matter, a step has been gained; for we have discovered that names have
nature a truth, and that not every man knows how to give a thing a
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: And what is the nature of this truth or correctness
That, if you care to know, is the next question.
HERMOGENES: Certainly, I care to know.
SOCRATES: Then reflect.
HERMOGENES: How shall I reflect?
SOCRATES: The true way is to have the assistance of those who
you must pay them well both in money and in thanks; these are the Sophists,
of whom your brother, Callias, has--rather dearly--bought the reputation
wisdom. But you have not yet come into your inheritance, and
had better go to him, and beg and entreat him to tell you what he has
learnt from Protagoras about the fitness of names.
HERMOGENES: But how inconsistent should I be, if, whilst repudiating
Protagoras and his truth ('Truth' was the title of the book of Protagoras;
compare Theaet.), I were to attach any value to what he and his book
SOCRATES: Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and
HERMOGENES: And where does Homer say anything about names, and
SOCRATES: He often speaks of them; notably and nobly in the places
he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give to the
things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable statement
the correctness of names? For the Gods must clearly be supposed
things by their right and natural names; do you not think so?
HERMOGENES: Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call
all. But to what are you referring?
SOCRATES: Do you not know what he says about the river in Troy
who had a
single combat with Hephaestus?
'Whom,' as he says, 'the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander.'
HERMOGENES: I remember.
SOCRATES: Well, and about this river--to know that he ought to
Xanthus and not Scamander--is not that a solemn lesson? Or about
which, as he says,
'The Gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis:'
to be taught how much more correct the name Chalcis is than the name
Cymindis--do you deem that a light matter? Or about Batieia and
(Compare Il. 'The hill which men call Batieia and the immortals the
the sportive Myrina.') And there are many other observations
of the same
kind in Homer and other poets. Now, I think that this is beyond
understanding of you and me; but the names of Scamandrius and Astyanax,
which he affirms to have been the names of Hector's son, are more within
the range of human faculties, as I am disposed to think; and what the
means by correctness may be more readily apprehended in that instance:
will remember I dare say the lines to which I refer? (Il.)
HERMOGENES: I do.
SOCRATES: Let me ask you, then, which did Homer think the more
the names given to Hector's son--Astyanax or Scamandrius?
HERMOGENES: I do not know.
SOCRATES: How would you answer, if you were asked whether the
wise or the
unwise are more likely to give correct names?
HERMOGENES: I should say the wise, of course.
SOCRATES: And are the men or the women of a city, taken as a class,
HERMOGENES: I should say, the men.
SOCRATES: And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called
Astyanax (king of the city); but if the men called him Astyanax, the
name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the women.
HERMOGENES: That may be inferred.
SOCRATES: And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct
the boy than Scamandrius?
SOCRATES: And what is the reason of this? Let us consider:--does
himself suggest a very good reason, when he says,
'For he alone defended their city and long walls'?
This appears to be a good reason for calling the son of the saviour
the city which his father was saving, as Homer observes.
HERMOGENES: I see.
SOCRATES: Why, Hermogenes, I do not as yet see myself; and do
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; not I.
SOCRATES: But tell me, friend, did not Homer himself also give
HERMOGENES: What of that?
SOCRATES: The name appears to me to be very nearly the same as
the name of
Astyanax--both are Hellenic; and a king (anax) and a holder (ektor)
nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king; for a
clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules, and owns,
holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am talking nonsense;
indeed I believe that I myself did not know what I meant when I imagined
that I had found some indication of the opinion of Homer about the
correctness of names.
HERMOGENES: I assure you that I think otherwise, and I believe
you to be
on the right track.
SOCRATES: There is reason, I think, in calling the lion's whelp
and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary
of nature, when an animal produces after his kind, and not of extraordinary
births;--if contrary to nature a horse have a calf, then I should not
that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman birth a man, but
natural birth. And the same may be said of trees and other things.
agree with me?
HERMOGENES: Yes, I agree.
SOCRATES: Very good. But you had better watch me and see
that I do not
play tricks with you. For on the same principle the son of a
king is to be
called a king. And whether the syllables of the name are the
same or not
the same, makes no difference, provided the meaning is retained; nor
the addition or subtraction of a letter make any difference so long
essence of the thing remains in possession of the name and appears
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: A very simple matter. I may illustrate my meaning
by the names
of letters, which you know are not the same as the letters themselves
the exception of the four epsilon, upsilon, omicron, omega; the names
the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of other letters
we add to them; but so long as we introduce the meaning, and there
no mistake, the name of the letter is quite correct. Take, for
the letter beta--the addition of eta, tau, alpha, gives no offence,
does not prevent the whole name from having the value which the legislator
intended--so well did he know how to give the letters names.
HERMOGENES: I believe you are right.
SOCRATES: And may not the same be said of a king? a king will
often be the
son of a king, the good son or the noble son of a good or noble sire;
similarly the offspring of every kind, in the regular course of nature,
like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet the syllables
disguised until they appear different to the ignorant person, and he
not recognize them, although they are the same, just as any one of
not recognize the same drugs under different disguises of colour and
although to the physician, who regards the power of them, they are
same, and he is not put out by the addition; and in like manner the
etymologist is not put out by the addition or transposition or subtraction
of a letter or two, or indeed by the change of all the letters, for
need not interfere with the meaning. As was just now said, the
Hector and Astyanax have only one letter alike, which is tau, and yet
have the same meaning. And how little in common with the letters
names has Archepolis (ruler of the city)--and yet the meaning is the
And there are many other names which just mean 'king.' Again,
several names for a general, as, for example, Agis (leader) and Polemarchus
(chief in war) and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others which denote
physician, as Iatrocles (famous healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of
mortals); and there are many others which might be cited, differing
their syllables and letters, but having the same meaning. Would
SOCRATES: The same names, then, ought to be assigned to those
in the course of nature?
SOCRATES: And what of those who follow out of the course of nature,
are prodigies? for example, when a good and religious man has an
irreligious son, he ought to bear the name not of his father, but of
class to which he belongs, just as in the case which was before supposed
a horse foaling a calf.
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then the irreligious son of a religious father should
SOCRATES: He should not be called Theophilus (beloved of God)
Mnesitheus (mindful of God), or any of these names: if names
given, his should have an opposite meaning.
HERMOGENES: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Again, Hermogenes, there is Orestes (the man of the
who appears to be rightly called; whether chance gave the name, or
some poet who meant to express the brutality and fierceness and mountain
wildness of his hero's nature.
HERMOGENES: That is very likely, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And his father's name is also according to nature.
SOCRATES: Yes, for as his name, so also is his nature; Agamemnon
(admirable for remaining) is one who is patient and persevering in
accomplishment of his resolves, and by his virtue crowns them; and
continuance at Troy with all the vast army is a proof of that admirable
endurance in him which is signified by the name Agamemnon. I
that Atreus is rightly called; for his murder of Chrysippus and his
exceeding cruelty to Thyestes are damaging and destructive to his
reputation--the name is a little altered and disguised so as not to
intelligible to every one, but to the etymologist there is no difficulty
seeing the meaning, for whether you think of him as ateires the stubborn,
or as atrestos the fearless, or as ateros the destructive one, the
perfectly correct in every point of view. And I think that Pelops
named appropriately; for, as the name implies, he is rightly called
who sees what is near only (o ta pelas oron).
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: Because, according to the tradition, he had no forethought
foresight of all the evil which the murder of Myrtilus would entail
his whole race in remote ages; he saw only what was at hand and immediate,
--or in other words, pelas (near), in his eagerness to win Hippodamia
all means for his bride. Every one would agree that the name
is rightly given and in accordance with nature, if the traditions about
HERMOGENES: And what are the traditions?
SOCRATES: Many terrible misfortunes are said to have happened
to him in
his life--last of all, came the utter ruin of his country; and after
death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in the world
below--all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You might
that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the most weighted
by misfortune), disguised the name by altering it into Tantalus; and
this form, by some accident of tradition, it has actually been transmuted.
The name of Zeus, who is his alleged father, has also an excellent
although hard to be understood, because really like a sentence, which
divided into two parts, for some call him Zena, and use the one half,
others who use the other half call him Dia; the two together signify
nature of the God, and the business of a name, as we were saying, is
express the nature. For there is none who is more the author
of life to us
and to all, than the lord and king of all. Wherefore we are right
calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name, although divided, meaning
God through whom all creatures always have life (di on zen aei pasi
zosin uparchei). There is an irreverence, at first sight, in
son of Cronos (who is a proverb for stupidity), and we might rather
Zeus to be the child of a mighty intellect. Which is the fact;
for this is
the meaning of his father's name: Kronos quasi Koros (Choreo,
not in the sense of a youth, but signifying to chatharon chai acheraton
nou, the pure and garnished mind (sc. apo tou chorein). He, as
informed by tradition, was begotten of Uranus, rightly so called (apo
oran ta ano) from looking upwards; which, as philosophers tell us,
way to have a pure mind, and the name Uranus is therefore correct.
could remember the genealogy of Hesiod, I would have gone on and tried
conclusions of the same sort on the remoter ancestors of the Gods,--then
might have seen whether this wisdom, which has come to me all in an
instant, I know not whence, will or will not hold good to the end.
HERMOGENES: You seem to me, Socrates, to be quite like a prophet
inspired, and to be uttering oracles.
SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and I believe that I caught the inspiration
from the great Euthyphro of the Prospaltian deme, who gave me a long
lecture which commenced at dawn: he talked and I listened, and
and enchanting ravishment has not only filled my ears but taken possession
of my soul,and to-day I shall let his superhuman power work and finish
investigation of names--that will be the way; but to-morrow, if you
disposed, we will conjure him away, and make a purgation of him, if
only find some priest or sophist who is skilled in purifications of
HERMOGENES: With all my heart; for am very curious to hear the
rest of the
enquiry about names.
SOCRATES: Then let us proceed; and where would you have us begin,
we have got a sort of outline of the enquiry? Are there any names
witness of themselves that they are not given arbitrarily, but have
natural fitness? The names of heroes and of men in general are
apt to be
deceptive because they are often called after ancestors with whose
as we were saying, they may have no business; or they are the expression
a wish like Eutychides (the son of good fortune), or Sosias (the Saviour),
or Theophilus (the beloved of God), and others. But I think that
better leave these, for there will be more chance of finding correctness
the names of immutable essences;--there ought to have been more care
about them when they were named, and perhaps there may have been some
than human power at work occasionally in giving them names.
HERMOGENES: I think so, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Ought we not to begin with the consideration of the
show that they are rightly named Gods?
HERMOGENES: Yes, that will be well.
SOCRATES: My notion would be something of this sort:--I suspect
sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many
barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes.
that they were always moving and running, from their running nature
were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men became
acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the same name
them all. Do you think that likely?
HERMOGENES: I think it very likely indeed.
SOCRATES: What shall follow the Gods?
HERMOGENES: Must not demons and heroes and men come next?
SOCRATES: Demons! And what do you consider to be the meaning
word? Tell me if my view is right.
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: You know how Hesiod uses the word?
HERMOGENES: I do not.
SOCRATES: Do you not remember that he speaks of a golden race
of men who
HERMOGENES: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: He says of them--
'But now that fate has closed over this race
They are holy demons upon the earth,
Beneficent, averters of ills, guardians of mortal men.' (Hesiod,
HERMOGENES: What is the inference?
SOCRATES: What is the inference! Why, I suppose that he
means by the
golden men, not men literally made of gold, but good and noble; and
convinced of this, because he further says that we are the iron race.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And do you not suppose that good men of our own day
would by him
be said to be of golden race?
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: And are not the good wise?
HERMOGENES: Yes, they are wise.
SOCRATES: And therefore I have the most entire conviction that
them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise), and in our
Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and other poets
that when a good man dies he has honour and a mighty portion among
dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name given to him signifying
And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be a good man is
than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is rightly called
HERMOGENES: Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you;
is the meaning of the word 'hero'? (Eros with an eta, in the
eros with an epsilon.)
SOCRATES: I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for
is not much altered, and signifies that they were born of love.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Do you not know that the heroes are demigods?
HERMOGENES: What then?
SOCRATES: All of them sprang either from the love of a God for
woman, or of a mortal man for a Goddess; think of the word in the old
Attic, and you will see better that the name heros is only a slight
alteration of Eros, from whom the heroes sprang: either this
meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skilful as rhetoricians
and dialecticians, and able to put the question (erotan), for eirein
equivalent to legein. And therefore, as I was saying, in the
the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and questioners. All this
enough; the noble breed of heroes are a tribe of sophists and rhetors.
can you tell me why men are called anthropoi?--that is more difficult.
HERMOGENES: No, I cannot; and I would not try even if I could,
think that you are the more likely to succeed.
SOCRATES: That is to say, you trust to the inspiration of Euthyphro.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: Your faith is not vain; for at this very moment a new
ingenious thought strikes me, and, if I am not careful, before to-morrow's
dawn I shall be wiser than I ought to be. Now, attend to me;
remember that we often put in and pull out letters in words, and give
as we please and change the accents. Take, for example, the word
Philos; in order to convert this from a sentence into a noun, we omit
of the iotas and sound the middle syllable grave instead of acute;
the other hand, letters are sometimes inserted in words instead of
omitted, and the acute takes the place of the grave.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: The name anthropos, which was once a sentence, and is
noun, appears to be a case just of this sort, for one letter, which
alpha, has been omitted, and the acute on the last syllable has been
changed to a grave.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I mean to say that the word 'man' implies that other
never examine, or consider, or look up at what they see, but that man
only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which he sees,
hence he alone of all animals is rightly anthropos, meaning anathron
HERMOGENES: May I ask you to examine another word about which
HERMOGENES: I will take that which appears to me to follow next
You know the distinction of soul and body?
SOCRATES: Of course.
HERMOGENES: Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous
SOCRATES: You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness
word psuche (soul), and then of the word soma (body)?
SOCRATES: If I am to say what occurs to me at the moment, I should
that those who first used the name psuche meant to express that the
when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power of breath
revival (anapsuchon), and when this reviving power fails then the body
perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken, they called psyche.
please stay a moment; I fancy that I can discover something which will
more acceptable to the disciples of Euthyphro, for I am afraid that
will scorn this explanation. What do you say to another?
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: What is that which holds and carries and gives life
to the entire nature of the body? What else but the soul?
HERMOGENES: Just that.
SOCRATES: And do you not believe with Anaxagoras, that mind or
soul is the
ordering and containing principle of all things?
HERMOGENES: Yes; I do.
SOCRATES: Then you may well call that power phuseche which carries
holds nature (e phusin okei, kai ekei), and this may be refined away
HERMOGENES: Certainly; and this derivation is, I think, more scientific
than the other.
SOCRATES: It is so; but I cannot help laughing, if I am to suppose
this was the true meaning of the name.
HERMOGENES: But what shall we say of the next word?
SOCRATES: You mean soma (the body).
SOCRATES: That may be variously interpreted; and yet more variously
little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is
(sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our present
or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives indications
(semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were the inventors of
name, and they were under the impression that the soul is suffering
punishment of sin, and that the body is an enclosure or prison in which
soul is incarcerated, kept safe (soma, sozetai), as the name soma implies,
until the penalty is paid; according to this view, not even a letter
word need be changed.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this
words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the
that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether
similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent
which, as men of sense, we must acknowledge,--that of the Gods we know
nothing, either of their natures or of the names which they give
themselves; but we are sure that the names by which they call themselves,
whatever they may be, are true. And this is the best of all principles;
and the next best is to say, as in prayers, that we will call them
sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like, because we do
know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good custom,
which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then, if you please,
first place announce to them that we are not enquiring about them;
not presume that we are able to do so; but we are enquiring about the
meaning of men in giving them these names,--in this there can be small
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are quite right, and I
to do as you say.
SOCRATES: Shall we begin, then, with Hestia, according to custom?
HERMOGENES: Yes, that will be very proper.
SOCRATES: What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name
HERMOGENES: That is another and certainly a most difficult question.
SOCRATES: My dear Hermogenes, the first imposers of names must
been considerable persons; they were philosophers, and had a good deal
HERMOGENES: Well, and what of them?
SOCRATES: They are the men to whom I should attribute the imposition
names. Even in foreign names, if you analyze them, a meaning
discernible. For example, that which we term ousia is by some
and by others again osia. Now that the essence of things should
estia, which is akin to the first of these (esia = estia), is rational
enough. And there is reason in the Athenians calling that estia
participates in ousia. For in ancient times we too seem to have
for ousia, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who
appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to estia, which was
natural enough if they meant that estia was the essence of things.
again who read osia seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus,
that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle
(othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore
rightly called osia. Enough of this, which is all that we who
can affirm. Next in order after Hestia we ought to consider Rhea
Cronos, although the name of Cronos has been already discussed.
But I dare
say that I am talking great nonsense.
HERMOGENES: Why, Socrates?
SOCRATES: My good friend, I have discovered a hive of wisdom.
HERMOGENES: Of what nature?
SOCRATES: Well, rather ridiculous, and yet plausible.
HERMOGENES: How plausible?
SOCRATES: I fancy to myself Heracleitus repeating wise traditions
antiquity as old as the days of Cronos and Rhea, and of which Homer
HERMOGENES: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in
nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and says
you cannot go into the same water twice.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Well, then, how can we avoid inferring that he who gave
names of Cronos and Rhea to the ancestors of the Gods, agreed pretty
in the doctrine of Heracleitus? Is the giving of the names of
both of them purely accidental? Compare the line in which Homer,
and, as I
believe, Hesiod also, tells of
'Ocean, the origin of Gods, and mother Tethys (Il.--the line is not
in the extant works of Hesiod.).'
And again, Orpheus says, that
'The fair river of Ocean was the first to marry, and he espoused his
Tethys, who was his mother's daughter.'
You see that this is a remarkable coincidence, and all in the direction
HERMOGENES: I think that there is something in what you say, Socrates;
I do not understand the meaning of the name Tethys.
SOCRATES: Well, that is almost self-explained, being only the
name of a
spring, a little disguised; for that which is strained and filtered
(diattomenon, ethoumenon) may be likened to a spring, and the name
is made up of these two words.
HERMOGENES: The idea is ingenious, Socrates.
SOCRATES: To be sure. But what comes next?--of Zeus we have
SOCRATES: Then let us next take his two brothers, Poseidon and
whether the latter is called by that or by his other name.
HERMOGENES: By all means.
SOCRATES: Poseidon is Posidesmos, the chain of the feet; the original
inventor of the name had been stopped by the watery element in his
and not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler of this
Poseidon; the epsilon was probably inserted as an ornament. Yet,
not so; but the name may have been originally written with a double
and not with a sigma, meaning that the God knew many things (Polla
And perhaps also he being the shaker of the earth, has been named from
shaking (seiein), and then pi and delta have been added. Pluto
wealth (Ploutos), and his name means the giver of wealth, which comes
of the earth beneath. People in general appear to imagine that
Hades is connected with the invisible (aeides) and so they are led
fears to call the God Pluto instead.
HERMOGENES: And what is the true derivation?
SOCRATES: In spite of the mistakes which are made about the power
deity, and the foolish fears which people have of him, such as the
always being with him after death, and of the soul denuded of the body
going to him (compare Rep.), my belief is that all is quite consistent,
that the office and name of the God really correspond.
HERMOGENES: Why, how is that?
SOCRATES: I will tell you my own opinion; but first, I should
like to ask
you which chain does any animal feel to be the stronger? and which
him more to the same spot,--desire or necessity?
HERMOGENES: Desire, Socrates, is stronger far.
SOCRATES: And do you not think that many a one would escape from
he did not bind those who depart to him by the strongest of chains?
HERMOGENES: Assuredly they would.
SOCRATES: And if by the greatest of chains, then by some desire,
should certainly infer, and not by necessity?
HERMOGENES: That is clear.
SOCRATES: And there are many desires?
SOCRATES: And therefore by the greatest desire, if the chain is
to be the
SOCRATES: And is any desire stronger than the thought that you
made better by associating with another?
HERMOGENES: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And is not that the reason, Hermogenes, why no one,
who has been
to him, is willing to come back to us? Even the Sirens, like
all the rest
of the world, have been laid under his spells. Such a charm,
as I imagine,
is the God able to infuse into his words. And, according to this
is the perfect and accomplished Sophist, and the great benefactor of
inhabitants of the other world; and even to us who are upon earth he
from below exceeding blessings. For he has much more than he
there; wherefore he is called Pluto (or the rich). Note also,
that he will
have nothing to do with men while they are in the body, but only when
soul is liberated from the desires and evils of the body. Now
there is a
great deal of philosophy and reflection in that; for in their liberated
state he can bind them with the desire of virtue, but while they are
flustered and maddened by the body, not even father Cronos himself
suffice to keep them with him in his own far-famed chains.
HERMOGENES: There is a deal of truth in what you say.
SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades,
the unseen (aeides)--far otherwise, but from his knowledge (eidenai)
HERMOGENES: Very good; and what do we say of Demeter, and Here,
Apollo, and Athene, and Hephaestus, and Ares, and the other deities?
SOCRATES: Demeter is e didousa meter, who gives food like a mother;
is the lovely one (erate)--for Zeus, according to tradition, loved
married her; possibly also the name may have been given when the legislator
was thinking of the heavens, and may be only a disguise of the air
putting the end in the place of the beginning. You will recognize
truth of this if you repeat the letters of Here several times over.
dread the name of Pherephatta as they dread the name of Apollo,--and
as little reason; the fear, if I am not mistaken, only arises from
ignorance of the nature of names. But they go changing the name
Phersephone, and they are terrified at this; whereas the new name means
only that the Goddess is wise (sophe); for seeing that all things in
world are in motion (pheromenon), that principle which embraces and
and is able to follow them, is wisdom. And therefore the Goddess
truly called Pherepaphe (Pherepapha), or some name like it, because
touches that which is in motion (tou pheromenon ephaptomene), herein
showing her wisdom. And Hades, who is wise, consorts with her,
is wise. They alter her name into Pherephatta now-a-days, because
present generation care for euphony more than truth. There is
name, Apollo, which, as I was saying, is generally supposed to have
terrible signification. Have you remarked this fact?
HERMOGENES: To be sure I have, and what you say is true.
SOCRATES: But the name, in my opinion, is really most expressive
power of the God.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: I will endeavour to explain, for I do not believe that
single name could have been better adapted to express the attributes
God, embracing and in a manner signifying all four of them,--music,
prophecy, and medicine, and archery.
HERMOGENES: That must be a strange name, and I should like to
SOCRATES: Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of
In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors
diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal,
well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and the
object, which is to make a man pure both in body and soul.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And is not Apollo the purifier, and the washer, and
from all impurities?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then in reference to his ablutions and absolutions,
as being the
physician who orders them, he may be rightly called Apolouon (purifier);
in respect of his powers of divination, and his truth and sincerity,
is the same as truth, he may be most fitly called Aplos, from aplous
(sincere), as in the Thessalian dialect, for all the Thessalians call
Aplos; also he is aei Ballon (always shooting), because he is a master
archer who never misses; or again, the name may refer to his musical
attributes, and then, as in akolouthos, and akoitis, and in many other
words the alpha is supposed to mean 'together,' so the meaning of the
Apollo will be 'moving together,' whether in the poles of heaven as
are called, or in the harmony of song, which is termed concord, because
moves all together by an harmonious power, as astronomers and musicians
ingeniously declare. And he is the God who presides over harmony,
makes all things move together, both among Gods and among men.
And as in
the words akolouthos and akoitis the alpha is substituted for an omicron,
so the name Apollon is equivalent to omopolon; only the second lambda
added in order to avoid the ill-omened sound of destruction (apolon).
the suspicion of this destructive power still haunts the minds of some
do not consider the true value of the name, which, as I was saying
now, has reference to all the powers of the God, who is the single
everdarting, the purifier, the mover together (aplous, aei Ballon,
apolouon, omopolon). The name of the Muses and of music would
seem to be
derived from their making philosophical enquiries (mosthai); and Leto
called by this name, because she is such a gentle Goddess, and so willing
(ethelemon) to grant our requests; or her name may be Letho, as she
often called by strangers--they seem to imply by it her amiability,
smooth and easy-going way of behaving. Artemis is named from
(artemes), well-ordered nature, and because of her love of virginity,
perhaps because she is a proficient in virtue (arete), and perhaps
hating intercourse of the sexes (ton aroton misesasa). He who
Goddess her name may have had any or all of these reasons.
HERMOGENES: What is the meaning of Dionysus and Aphrodite?
SOCRATES: Son of Hipponicus, you ask a solemn question; there
is a serious
and also a facetious explanation of both these names; the serious
explanation is not to be had from me, but there is no objection to
hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke. Dionusos
simply didous oinon (giver of wine), Didoinusos, as he might be called
fun,--and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes those who drink,
think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when they have none.
derivation of Aphrodite, born of the foam (aphros), may be fairly accepted
on the authority of Hesiod.
HERMOGENES: Still there remains Athene, whom you, Socrates, as
Athenian, will surely not forget; there are also Hephaestus and Ares.
SOCRATES: I am not likely to forget them.
HERMOGENES: No, indeed.
SOCRATES: There is no difficulty in explaining the other appellation
HERMOGENES: What other appellation?
SOCRATES: We call her Pallas.
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And we cannot be wrong in supposing that this is derived
armed dances. For the elevation of oneself or anything else above
earth, or by the use of the hands, we call shaking (pallein), or dancing.
HERMOGENES: That is quite true.
SOCRATES: Then that is the explanation of the name Pallas?
HERMOGENES: Yes; but what do you say of the other name?
SOCRATES: That is a graver matter, and there, my friend, the modern
interpreters of Homer may, I think, assist in explaining the view of
ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet,
he meant by Athene 'mind' (nous) and 'intelligence' (dianoia), and
maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and
calls her by a still higher title, 'divine intelligence' (Thou noesis),
though he would say: This is she who has the mind of God (Theonoa);--using
alpha as a dialectical variety for eta, and taking away iota and sigma
(There seems to be some error in the MSS. The meaning is that
theonoa = theounoa is a curtailed form of theou noesis, but the omitted
letters do not agree.). Perhaps, however, the name Theonoe may
who knows divine things' (Theia noousa) better than others. Nor
be far wrong in supposing that the author of it wished to identify
Goddess with moral intelligence (en ethei noesin), and therefore gave
the name ethonoe; which, however, either he or his successors have
into what they thought a nicer form, and called her Athene.
HERMOGENES: But what do you say of Hephaestus?
SOCRATES: Speak you of the princely lord of light (Phaeos istora)?
SOCRATES: Ephaistos is Phaistos, and has added the eta by attraction;
is obvious to anybody.
HERMOGENES: That is very probable, until some more probable notion
into your head.
SOCRATES: To prevent that, you had better ask what is the derivation
HERMOGENES: What is Ares?
SOCRATES: Ares may be called, if you will, from his manhood (arren)
manliness, or if you please, from his hard and unchangeable nature,
is the meaning of arratos: the latter is a derivation in every
appropriate to the God of war.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And now, by the Gods, let us have no more of the Gods,
for I am
afraid of them; ask about anything but them, and thou shalt see how
steeds of Euthyphro can prance.
HERMOGENES: Only one more God! I should like to know about
whom I am said not to be a true son. Let us make him out, and
then I shall
know whether there is any meaning in what Cratylus says.
SOCRATES: I should imagine that the name Hermes has to do with
signifies that he is the interpreter (ermeneus), or messenger, or thief,
liar, or bargainer; all that sort of thing has a great deal to do with
language; as I was telling you, the word eirein is expressive of the
speech, and there is an often-recurring Homeric word emesato, which
'he contrived'--out of these two words, eirein and mesasthai, the
legislator formed the name of the God who invented language and speech;
we may imagine him dictating to us the use of this name: 'O my
says he to us, 'seeing that he is the contriver of tales or speeches,
may rightly call him Eirhemes.' And this has been improved by
us, as we
think, into Hermes. Iris also appears to have been called from
'to tell' (eirein), because she was a messenger.
HERMOGENES: Then I am very sure that Cratylus was quite right
that I was no true son of Hermes (Ermogenes), for I am not a good hand
SOCRATES: There is also reason, my friend, in Pan being the double-formed
son of Hermes.
HERMOGENES: How do you make that out?
SOCRATES: You are aware that speech signifies all things (pan),
always turning them round and round, and has two forms, true and false?
SOCRATES: Is not the truth that is in him the smooth or sacred
dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men below,
is rough like the goat of tragedy; for tales and falsehoods have generally
to do with the tragic or goatish life, and tragedy is the place of
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan)
perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called aipolos
herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth in his upper part,
rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And, as the son of Hermes,
speech or the brother of speech, and that brother should be like brother
no marvel. But, as I was saying, my dear Hermogenes, let us get
HERMOGENES: From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates.
should we not discuss another kind of Gods--the sun, moon, stars, earth,
aether, air, fire, water, the seasons, and the year?
SOCRATES: You impose a great many tasks upon me. Still,
if you wish, I
will not refuse.
HERMOGENES: You will oblige me.
SOCRATES: How would you have me begin? Shall I take first
of all him whom
you mentioned first--the sun?
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: The origin of the sun will probably be clearer in the
form, for the Dorians call him alios, and this name is given to him
when he rises he gathers (alizoi) men together or because he is always
rolling in his course (aei eilein ion) about the earth; or from aiolein,
which the meaning is the same as poikillein (to variegate), because
variegates the productions of the earth.
HERMOGENES: But what is selene (the moon)?
SOCRATES: That name is rather unfortunate for Anaxagoras.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: The word seems to forestall his recent discovery, that
receives her light from the sun.
HERMOGENES: Why do you say so?
SOCRATES: The two words selas (brightness) and phos (light) have
SOCRATES: This light about the moon is always new (neon) and always
(enon), if the disciples of Anaxagoras say truly. For the sun
revolution always adds new light, and there is the old light of the
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: The moon is not unfrequently called selanaia.
SOCRATES: And as she has a light which is always old and always
neon aei) she may very properly have the name selaenoneoaeia; and this
hammered into shape becomes selanaia.
HERMOGENES: A real dithyrambic sort of name that, Socrates.
But what do
you say of the month and the stars?
SOCRATES: Meis (month) is called from meiousthai (to lessen),
suffering diminution; the name of astra (stars) seems to be derived
astrape, which is an improvement on anastrope, signifying the upsetting
the eyes (anastrephein opa).
HERMOGENES: What do you say of pur (fire) and udor (water)?
SOCRATES: I am at a loss how to explain pur; either the muse of
has deserted me, or there is some very great difficulty in the word.
Please, however, to note the contrivance which I adopt whenever I am
difficulty of this sort.
HERMOGENES: What is it?
SOCRATES: I will tell you; but I should like to know first whether
tell me what is the meaning of the pur?
HERMOGENES: Indeed I cannot.
SOCRATES: Shall I tell you what I suspect to be the true explanation
this and several other words?--My belief is that they are of foreign
origin. For the Hellenes, especially those who were under the
the barbarians, often borrowed from them.
HERMOGENES: What is the inference?
SOCRATES: Why, you know that any one who seeks to demonstrate
of these names according to the Hellenic language, and not according
language from which the words are derived, is rather likely to be at
HERMOGENES: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Well then, consider whether this pur is not foreign;
word is not easily brought into relation with the Hellenic tongue,
Phrygians may be observed to have the same word slightly changed, just
they have udor (water) and kunes (dogs), and many other words.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Any violent interpretations of the words should be avoided;
something to say about them may easily be found. And thus I get
rid of pur
and udor. Aer (air), Hermogenes, may be explained as the element
raises (airei) things from the earth, or as ever flowing (aei rei),
because the flux of the air is wind, and the poets call the winds 'air-
blasts,' (aetai); he who uses the term may mean, so to speak, air-flux
(aetorroun), in the sense of wind-flux (pneumatorroun); and because
moving wind may be expressed by either term he employs the word air
aetes rheo). Aither (aether) I should interpret as aeitheer;
this may be
correctly said, because this element is always running in a flux about
air (aei thei peri tou aera reon). The meaning of the word ge
comes out better when in the form of gaia, for the earth may be truly
called 'mother' (gaia, genneteira), as in the language of Homer (Od.)
gegaasi means gegennesthai.
SOCRATES: What shall we take next?
HERMOGENES: There are orai (the seasons), and the two names of
eniautos and etos.
SOCRATES: The orai should be spelt in the old Attic way, if you
know the probable truth about them; they are rightly called the orai
because they divide (orizousin) the summers and winters and winds and
fruits of the earth. The words eniautos and etos appear to be
'that which brings to light the plants and growths of the earth in
turn, and passes them in review within itself (en eauto exetazei)':
is broken up into two words, eniautos from en eauto, and etos from
just as the original name of Zeus was divided into Zena and Dia; and
whole proposition means that his power of reviewing from within is
has two names, two words etos and eniautos being thus formed out of
HERMOGENES: Indeed, Socrates, you make surprising progress.
SOCRATES: I am run away with.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: But am not yet at my utmost speed.
HERMOGENES: I should like very much to know, in the next place,
would explain the virtues. What principle of correctness is there
charming words--wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest of them?
SOCRATES: That is a tremendous class of names which you are disinterring;
still, as I have put on the lion's skin, I must not be faint of heart;
I suppose that I must consider the meaning of wisdom (phronesis) and
understanding (sunesis), and judgment (gnome), and knowledge (episteme),
and all those other charming words, as you call them?
HERMOGENES: Surely, we must not leave off until we find out their
SOCRATES: By the dog of Egypt I have a not bad notion which came
head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of
undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers, who, in their
after the nature of things, are always getting dizzy from constantly
round and round, and then they imagine that the world is going round
round and moving in all directions; and this appearance, which arises
of their own internal condition, they suppose to be a reality of nature;
they think that there is nothing stable or permanent, but only flux
motion, and that the world is always full of every sort of motion and
change. The consideration of the names which I mentioned has
led me into
making this reflection.
HERMOGENES: How is that, Socrates?
SOCRATES: Perhaps you did not observe that in the names which
just cited, the motion or flux or generation of things is most surely
HERMOGENES: No, indeed, I never thought of it.
SOCRATES: Take the first of those which you mentioned; clearly
that is a
name indicative of motion.
HERMOGENES: What was the name?
SOCRATES: Phronesis (wisdom), which may signify phoras kai rhou
(perception of motion and flux), or perhaps phoras onesis (the blessing
motion), but is at any rate connected with pheresthai (motion); gnome
(judgment), again, certainly implies the ponderation or consideration
(nomesis) of generation, for to ponder is the same as to consider;
you would rather, here is noesis, the very word just now mentioned,
is neou esis (the desire of the new); the word neos implies that the
is always in process of creation. The giver of the name wanted
this longing of the soul, for the original name was neoesis, and not
noesis; but eta took the place of a double epsilon. The word
the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which we were just
considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and indicates
soul which is good for anything follows (epetai) the motion of things,
neither anticipating them nor falling behind them; wherefore the word
should rather be read as epistemene, inserting epsilon nu. Sunesis
(understanding) may be regarded in like manner as a kind of conclusion;
word is derived from sunienai (to go along with), and, like epistasthai
know), implies the progression of the soul in company with the nature
things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark, and appears not to be of
growth; the meaning is, touching the motion or stream of things.
remember that the poets, when they speak of the commencement of any
motion, often use the word esuthe (he rushed); and there was a famous
Lacedaemonian who was named Sous (Rush), for by this word the
Lacedaemonians signify rapid motion, and the touching (epaphe) of motion
expressed by sophia, for all things are supposed to be in motion.
(agathon) is the name which is given to the admirable (agasto) in nature;
for, although all things move, still there are degrees of motion; some
swifter, some slower; but there are some things which are admirable
their swiftness, and this admirable part of nature is called agathon.
Dikaiosune (justice) is clearly dikaiou sunesis (understanding of the
just); but the actual word dikaion is more difficult: men are
to a certain extent about justice, and then they begin to disagree.
those who suppose all things to be in motion conceive the greater part
nature to be a mere receptacle; and they say that there is a penetrating
power which passes through all this, and is the instrument of creation
all, and is the subtlest and swiftest element; for if it were not the
subtlest, and a power which none can keep out, and also the swiftest,
passing by other things as if they were standing still, it could not
penetrate through the moving universe. And this element, which
superintends all things and pierces (diaion) all, is rightly called
dikaion; the letter k is only added for the sake of euphony.
Thus far, as
I was saying, there is a general agreement about the nature of justice;
I, Hermogenes, being an enthusiastic disciple, have been told in a
that the justice of which I am speaking is also the cause of the world:
now a cause is that because of which anything is created; and some
comes and whispers in my ear that justice is rightly so called because
partaking of the nature of the cause, and I begin, after hearing what
has said, to interrogate him gently: 'Well, my excellent friend,'
'but if all this be true, I still want to know what is justice.'
they think that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping over the barriers,
and have been already sufficiently answered, and they try to satisfy
with one derivation after another, and at length they quarrel.
For one of
them says that justice is the sun, and that he only is the piercing
(diaionta) and burning (kaonta) element which is the guardian of nature.
And when I joyfully repeat this beautiful notion, I am answered by
satirical remark, 'What, is there no justice in the world when the
down?' And when I earnestly beg my questioner to tell me his
opinion, he says, 'Fire in the abstract'; but this is not very
intelligible. Another says, 'No, not fire in the abstract, but
abstraction of heat in the fire.' Another man professes to laugh
this, and says, as Anaxagoras says, that justice is mind, for mind,
say, has absolute power, and mixes with nothing, and orders all things,
passes through all things. At last, my friend, I find myself
greater perplexity about the nature of justice than I was before I
learn. But still I am of opinion that the name, which has led
me into this
digression, was given to justice for the reasons which I have mentioned.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now;
have heard this from some one else.
SOCRATES: And not the rest?
SOCRATES: Well, then, let me go on in the hope of making you believe
the originality of the rest. What remains after justice?
I do not think
that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),--injustice (adikia),
is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the penetrating principle
(diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then, the name of
to imply a battle;--this battle is in the world of existence, and according
to the doctrine of flux is only the counterflux (enantia rhon):
extract the delta from andreia, the name at once signifies the thing,
you may clearly understand that andreia is not the stream opposed to
stream, but only to that which is contrary to justice, for otherwise
courage would not have been praised. The words arren (male) and
also contain a similar allusion to the same principle of the upward
(te ano rhon). Gune (woman) I suspect to be the same word as
thelu (female) appears to be partly derived from thele (the teat),
the teat is like rain, and makes things flourish (tethelenai).
HERMOGENES: That is surely probable.
SOCRATES: Yes; and the very word thallein (to flourish) seems
the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this
by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of thein (running),
allesthai (leaping). Pray observe how I gallop away when I get
ground. There are a good many names generally thought to be of
which have still to be explained.
SOCRATES: There is the meaning of the word techne (art), for example.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: That may be identified with echonoe, and expresses the
possession of mind: you have only to take away the tau and insert
omichrons, one between the chi and nu, and another between the nu and
HERMOGENES: That is a very shabby etymology.
SOCRATES: Yes, my dear friend; but then you know that the original
have been long ago buried and disguised by people sticking on and stripping
off letters for the sake of euphony, and twisting and bedizening them
all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a share in the change.
for example, the word katoptron; why is the letter rho inserted?
surely be the addition of some one who cares nothing about the truth,
thinks only of putting the mouth into shape. And the additions
such that at last no human being can possibly make out the original
of the word. Another example is the word sphigx, sphiggos, which
properly to be phigx, phiggos, and there are other examples.
HERMOGENES: That is quite true, Socrates.
SOCRATES: And yet, if you are permitted to put in and pull out
which you please, names will be too easily made, and any name may be
adapted to any object.
SOCRATES: Yes, that is true. And therefore a wise dictator,
yourself, should observe the laws of moderation and probability.
HERMOGENES: Such is my desire.
SOCRATES: And mine, too, Hermogenes. But do not be too much
precisian, or 'you will unnerve me of my strength (Iliad.).'
When you have
allowed me to add mechane (contrivance) to techne (art) I shall be
top of my bent, for I conceive mechane to be a sign of great accomplishment
--anein; for mekos has the meaning of greatness, and these two, mekos
anein, make up the word mechane. But, as I was saying, being
now at the
top of my bent, I should like to consider the meaning of the two words
arete (virtue) and kakia (vice); arete I do not as yet understand,
kakia is transparent, and agrees with the principles which preceded,
all things being in a flux (ionton), kakia is kakos ion (going badly);
this evil motion when existing in the soul has the general name of
or vice, specially appropriated to it. The meaning of kakos ienai
further illustrated by the use of deilia (cowardice), which ought to
come after andreia, but was forgotten, and, as I fear, is not the only
which has been passed over. Deilia signifies that the soul is
bound with a
strong chain (desmos), for lian means strength, and therefore deilia
expresses the greatest and strongest bond of the soul; and aporia
(difficulty) is an evil of the same nature (from a (alpha) not, and
poreuesthai to go), like anything else which is an impediment to motion
movement. Then the word kakia appears to mean kakos ienai, or
or limping and halting; of which the consequence is, that the soul
filled with vice. And if kakia is the name of this sort of thing,
will be the opposite of it, signifying in the first place ease of motion,
then that the stream of the good soul is unimpeded, and has therefore
attribute of ever flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore
arete, or, more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing), and may perhaps
had another form, airete (eligible), indicating that nothing is more
eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete.
that you will deem this to be another invention of mine, but I think
if the previous word kakia was right, then arete is also right.
HERMOGENES: But what is the meaning of kakon, which has played
so great a
part in your previous discourse?
SOCRATES: That is a very singular word about which I can hardly
opinion, and therefore I must have recourse to my ingenious device.
HERMOGENES: What device?
SOCRATES: The device of a foreign origin, which I shall give to
HERMOGENES: Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave
words and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.
SOCRATES: The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon
(always preventing from flowing), and this is in accordance with our
derivations. For the name-giver was a great enemy to stagnation
sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to that which hindered
flux (aei ischon roun), and that is now beaten together into aischron.
HERMOGENES: But what do you say of kalon?
SOCRATES: That is more obscure; yet the form is only due to the
and has been changed by altering omicron upsilon into omicron.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: This name appears to denote mind.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: Let me ask you what is the cause why anything has a
name; is not
the principle which imposes the name the cause?
SOCRATES: And must not this be the mind of Gods, or of men, or
SOCRATES: Is not mind that which called (kalesan) things by their
and is not mind the beautiful (kalon)?
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: And are not the works of intelligence and mind worthy
and are not other works worthy of blame?
SOCRATES: Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering
works of a carpenter?
SOCRATES: And the principle of beauty does the works of beauty?
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that principle we affirm to be mind?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then mind is rightly called beauty because she does
which we recognize and speak of as the beautiful?
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: What more names remain to us?
HERMOGENES: There are the words which are connected with agathon
kalon, such as sumpheron and lusiteloun, ophelimon, kerdaleon, and
SOCRATES: The meaning of sumpheron (expedient) I think that you
discover for yourself by the light of the previous examples,--for it
sister word to episteme, meaning just the motion (pora) of the soul
accompanying the world, and things which are done upon this principle
called sumphora or sumpheronta, because they are carried round with
HERMOGENES: That is probable.
SOCRATES: Again, cherdaleon (gainful) is called from cherdos (gain),
you must alter the delta into nu if you want to get at the meaning;
this word also signifies good, but in another way; he who gave the
intended to express the power of admixture (kerannumenon) and universal
penetration in the good; in forming the word, however, he inserted
instead of a nu, and so made kerdos.
HERMOGENES: Well, but what is lusiteloun (profitable)?
SOCRATES: I suppose, Hermogenes, that people do not mean by the
the gainful or that which pays (luei) the retailer, but they use the
in the sense of swift. You regard the profitable (lusiteloun),
which being the swiftest thing in existence, allows of no stay in things
and no pause or end of motion, but always, if there begins to be any
lets things go again (luei), and makes motion immortal and unceasing:
in this point of view, as appears to me, the good is happily denominated
lusiteloun--being that which looses (luon) the end (telos) of motion.
Ophelimon (the advantageous) is derived from ophellein, meaning that
creates and increases; this latter is a common Homeric word, and has
HERMOGENES: And what do you say of their opposites?
SOCRATES: Of such as are mere negatives I hardly think that I
HERMOGENES: Which are they?
SOCRATES: The words axumphoron (inexpedient), anopheles (unprofitable),
alusiteles (unadvantageous), akerdes (ungainful).
SOCRATES: I would rather take the words blaberon (harmful), zemiodes
SOCRATES: The word blaberon is that which is said to hinder or
(blaptein) the stream (roun); blapton is boulomenon aptein (seeking
or bind); for aptein is the same as dein, and dein is always a term
censure; boulomenon aptein roun (wanting to bind the stream) would
be boulapteroun, and this, as I imagine, is improved into blaberon.
HERMOGENES: You bring out curious results, Socrates, in the use
and when I hear the word boulapteroun I cannot help imagining that
making your mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some prelude to
SOCRATES: That is the fault of the makers of the name, Hermogenes;
HERMOGENES: Very true; but what is the derivation of zemiodes?
SOCRATES: What is the meaning of zemiodes?--let me remark, Hermogenes,
right I was in saying that great changes are made in the meaning of
by putting in and pulling out letters; even a very slight permutation
sometimes give an entirely opposite sense; I may instance the word
which occurs to me at the moment, and reminds me of what I was going
to you, that the fine fashionable language of modern times has twisted
disguised and entirely altered the original meaning both of deon, and
of zemiodes, which in the old language is clearly indicated.
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I will try to explain. You are aware that our
the sounds iota and delta, especially the women, who are most conservative
of the ancient language, but now they change iota into eta or epsilon,
delta into zeta; this is supposed to increase the grandeur of the sound.
HERMOGENES: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: For example, in very ancient times they called the day
imera or emera (short e), which is called by us emera (long e).
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Do you observe that only the ancient form shows the
the giver of the name? of which the reason is, that men long for
(imeirousi) and love the light which comes after the darkness, and
therefore called imera, from imeros, desire.
SOCRATES: But now the name is so travestied that you cannot tell
meaning, although there are some who imagine the day to be called emera
because it makes things gentle (emera different accents).
HERMOGENES: Such is my view.
SOCRATES: And do you know that the ancients said duogon and not
HERMOGENES: They did so.
SOCRATES: And zugon (yoke) has no meaning,--it ought to be duogon,
word expresses the binding of two together (duein agoge) for the purpose
drawing;--this has been changed into zugon, and there are many other
examples of similar changes.
HERMOGENES: There are.
SOCRATES: Proceeding in the same train of thought I may remark
word deon (obligation) has a meaning which is the opposite of all the
appellations of good; for deon is here a species of good, and is,
nevertheless, the chain (desmos) or hinderer of motion, and therefore
brother of blaberon.
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates; that is quite plain.
SOCRATES: Not if you restore the ancient form, which is more likely
the correct one, and read dion instead of deon; if you convert the
into an iota after the old fashion, this word will then agree with
words meaning good; for dion, not deon, signifies the good, and is
of praise; and the author of names has not contradicted himself, but
these various appellations, deon (obligatory), ophelimon (advantageous),
lusiteloun (profitable), kerdaleon (gainful), agathon (good), sumpheron
(expedient), euporon (plenteous), the same conception is implied of
ordering or all-pervading principle which is praised, and the restraining
and binding principle which is censured. And this is further
by the word zemiodes (hurtful), which if the zeta is only changed into
delta as in the ancient language, becomes demiodes; and this name,
will perceive, is given to that which binds motion (dounti ion).
HERMOGENES: What do you say of edone (pleasure), lupe (pain),
(desire), and the like, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I do not think, Hermogenes, that there is any great
about them--edone is e (eta) onesis, the action which tends to advantage;
and the original form may be supposed to have been eone, but this has
altered by the insertion of the delta. Lupe appears to be derived
relaxation (luein) which the body feels when in sorrow; ania (trouble)
the hindrance of motion (alpha and ienai); algedon (distress), if I
mistaken, is a foreign word, which is derived from aleinos (grievous);
odune (grief) is called from the putting on (endusis) sorrow; in achthedon
(vexation) 'the word too labours,' as any one may see; chara (joy)
very expression of the fluency and diffusion of the soul (cheo); terpsis
(delight) is so called from the pleasure creeping (erpon) through the
which may be likened to a breath (pnoe) and is properly erpnoun, but
been altered by time into terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and epithumia
explain themselves; the former, which ought to be eupherosune and has
changed euphrosune, is named, as every one may see, from the soul moving
(pheresthai) in harmony with nature; epithumia is really e epi ton
iousa dunamis, the power which enters into the soul; thumos (passion)
called from the rushing (thuseos) and boiling of the soul; imeros (desire)
denotes the stream (rous) which most draws the soul dia ten esin tes
because flowing with desire (iemenos), and expresses a longing after
and violent attraction of the soul to them, and is termed imeros from
possessing this power; pothos (longing) is expressive of the desire
which is not present but absent, and in another place (pou); this is
reason why the name pothos is applied to things absent, as imeros is
things present; eros (love) is so called because flowing in (esron)
without; the stream is not inherent, but is an influence introduced
the eyes, and from flowing in was called esros (influx) in the old
when they used omicron for omega, and is called eros, now that omega
substituted for omicron. But why do you not give me another word?
HERMOGENES: What do you think of doxa (opinion), and that class
SOCRATES: Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses
march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting
bow (toxon); the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis
(thinking), which is only oisis (moving), and implies the movement
soul to the essential nature of each thing--just as boule (counsel)
do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish) combines the notion
aiming and deliberating--all these words seem to follow doxa, and all
involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia, absence of counsel,
other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or mistaking of the mark, or aim,
proposal, or object.
HERMOGENES: You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however,
have explained anagke (necessity), which ought to come next, and ekousion
(the voluntary). Ekousion is certainly the yielding (eikon) and
unresisting--the notion implied is yielding and not opposing, yielding,
I was just now saying, to that motion which is in accordance with our
but the necessary and resistant being contrary to our will, implies
and ignorance; the idea is taken from walking through a ravine which
impassable, and rugged, and overgrown, and impedes motion--and this
derivation of the word anagkaion (necessary) an agke ion, going through
ravine. But while my strength lasts let us persevere, and I hope
will persevere with your questions.
HERMOGENES: Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest,
aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not forgetting
enquire why the word onoma (name), which is the theme of our discussion,
has this name of onoma.
SOCRATES: You know the word maiesthai (to seek)?
HERMOGENES: Yes;--meaning the same as zetein (to enquire).
SOCRATES: The word onoma seems to be a compressed sentence, signifying
ou zetema (being for which there is a search); as is still more obvious
onomaston (notable), which states in so many words that real existence
that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma); aletheia is also an
agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering), implying the divine
of existence; pseudos (falsehood) is the opposite of motion; here is
another ill name given by the legislator to stagnation and forced inaction,
which he compares to sleep (eudein); but the original meaning of the
is disguised by the addition of psi; on and ousia are ion with an iota
broken off; this agrees with the true principle, for being (on) is
moving (ion), and the same may be said of not being, which is likewise
called not going (oukion or ouki on = ouk ion).
HERMOGENES: You have hammered away at them manfully; but suppose
one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon and
show me their fitness.
SOCRATES: You mean to say, how should I answer him?
SOCRATES: One way of giving the appearance of an answer has been
HERMOGENES: What way?
SOCRATES: To say that names which we do not understand are of
origin; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of
kind may be true of them; but also the original forms of words may
been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in all manner
ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared
that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue.
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands
attention and we must not flinch. For we should remember, that
if a person
go on analysing names into words, and enquiring also into the elements
of which the words are formed, and keeps on always repeating this process,
he who has to answer him must at last give up the enquiry in despair.
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And at what point ought he to lose heart and give up
enquiry? Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are
elements of all other names and sentences; for these cannot be supposed
be made up of other names? The word agathon (good), for example,
is, as we
were saying, a compound of agastos (admirable) and thoos (swift).
probably thoos is made up of other elements, and these again of others.
But if we take a word which is incapable of further resolution, then
shall be right in saying that we have at last reached a primary element,
which need not be resolved any further.
HERMOGENES: I believe you to be in the right.
SOCRATES: And suppose the names about which you are now asking
out to be primary elements, must not their truth or law be examined
according to some new method?
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Quite so, Hermogenes; all that has preceded would lead
conclusion. And if, as I think, the conclusion is true, then
I shall again
say to you, come and help me, that I may not fall into some absurdity
stating the principle of primary names.
HERMOGENES: Let me hear, and I will do my best to assist you.
SOCRATES: I think that you will acknowledge with me, that one
applicable to all names, primary as well as secondary--when they are
regarded simply as names, there is no difference in them.
HERMOGENES: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: All the names that we have been explaining were intended
indicate the nature of things.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that this is true of the primary quite as much as
secondary names, is implied in their being names.
SOCRATES: But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: Very good; but then how do the primary names which precede
analysis show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown; which
they must do, if they are to be real names? And here I will ask
question: Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted
communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb,
signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body?
HERMOGENES: There would be no choice, Socrates.
SOCRATES: We should imitate the nature of the thing; the elevation
hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness; heaviness and
downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground;
were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal, we should
our bodies and their gestures as like as we could to them.
HERMOGENES: I do not see that we could do anything else.
SOCRATES: We could not; for by bodily imitation only can the body
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And when we want to express ourselves, either with the
tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of that
want to express.
HERMOGENES: It must be so, I think.
SOCRATES: Then a name is a vocal imitation of that which the vocal
imitator names or imitates?
HERMOGENES: I think so.
SOCRATES: Nay, my friend, I am disposed to think that we have
the truth as yet.
HERMOGENES: Why not?
SOCRATES: Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that
who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which they
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then could I have been right in what I was saying?
HERMOGENES: In my opinion, no. But I wish that you would
Socrates, what sort of an imitation is a name?
SOCRATES: In the first place, I should reply, not a musical imitation,
although that is also vocal; nor, again, an imitation of what music
imitates; these, in my judgment, would not be naming. Let me
matter as follows: All objects have sound and figure, and many
SOCRATES: But the art of naming appears not to be concerned with
imitations of this kind; the arts which have to do with them are music
SOCRATES: Again, is there not an essence of each thing, just as
there is a
colour, or sound? And is there not an essence of colour and sound
as of anything else which may be said to have an essence?
HERMOGENES: I should think so.
SOCRATES: Well, and if any one could express the essence of each
letters and syllables, would he not express the nature of each thing?
HERMOGENES: Quite so.
SOCRATES: The musician and the painter were the two names which
to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called?
HERMOGENES: I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or
of whom we are in search.
SOCRATES: If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition
consider the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention),
which you were asking; and we may see whether the namer has grasped
nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner as to imitate
essence or not.
HERMOGENES: Very good.
SOCRATES: But are these the only primary names, or are there others?
HERMOGENES: There must be others.
SOCRATES: So I should expect. But how shall we further analyse
where does the imitator begin? Imitation of the essence is made
syllables and letters; ought we not, therefore, first to separate the
letters, just as those who are beginning rhythm first distinguish the
powers of elementary, and then of compound sounds, and when they have
so, but not before, they proceed to the consideration of rhythms?
SOCRATES: Must we not begin in the same way with letters; first
the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes (letters which are neither
vowels nor semivowels), into classes, according to the received
distinctions of the learned; also the semivowels, which are neither
nor yet mutes; and distinguishing into classes the vowels themselves?
when we have perfected the classification of things, we shall give
names, and see whether, as in the case of letters, there are any classes
which they may be all referred (cf. Phaedrus); and hence we shall see
natures, and see, too, whether they have in them classes as there are
the letters; and when we have well considered all this, we shall know
to apply them to what they resemble--whether one letter is used to
one thing, or whether there is to be an admixture of several of them;
as in painting, the painter who wants to depict anything sometimes
purple only, or any other colour, and sometimes mixes up several colours,
as his method is when he has to paint flesh colour or anything of that
kind--he uses his colours as his figures appear to require them; and
too, we shall apply letters to the expression of objects, either single
letters when required, or several letters; and so we shall form syllables,
as they are called, and from syllables make nouns and verbs; and thus,
last, from the combinations of nouns and verbs arrive at language,
and fair and whole; and as the painter made a figure, even so shall
speech by the art of the namer or the rhetorician, or by some other
Not that I am literally speaking of ourselves, but I was carried away--
meaning to say that this was the way in which (not we but) the ancients
formed language, and what they put together we must take to pieces
manner, if we are to attain a scientific view of the whole subject,
must see whether the primary, and also whether the secondary elements
rightly given or not, for if they are not, the composition of them,
Hermogenes, will be a sorry piece of work, and in the wrong direction.
HERMOGENES: That, Socrates, I can quite believe.
SOCRATES: Well, but do you suppose that you will be able to analyse
in this way? for I am certain that I should not.
HERMOGENES: Much less am I likely to be able.
SOCRATES: Shall we leave them, then? or shall we seek to discover,
can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability,
by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the truth
them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions of them.
this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves, before we proceed, that
higher method is the one which we or others who would analyse language
any good purpose must follow; but under the circumstances, as men say,
must do as well as we can. What do you think?
HERMOGENES: I very much approve.
SOCRATES: That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables,
find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot be
avoided--there is no better principle to which we can look for the
first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to divine
the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have their gods waiting in
and must get out of our difficulty in like fashion, by saying that
Gods gave the first names, and therefore they are right.' This
will be the
best contrivance, or perhaps that other notion may be even better still,
deriving them from some barbarous people, for the barbarians are older
we are; or we may say that antiquity has cast a veil over them, which
the same sort of excuse as the last; for all these are not reasons
ingenious excuses for having no reasons concerning the truth of words.
yet any sort of ignorance of first or primitive names involves an ignorance
of secondary words; for they can only be explained by the primary.
then the professor of languages should be able to give a very lucid
explanation of first names, or let him be assured he will only talk
nonsense about the rest. Do you not suppose this to be true?
HERMOGENES: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: My first notions of original names are truly wild and
ridiculous, though I have no objection to impart them to you if you
and I hope that you will communicate to me in return anything better
you may have.
HERMOGENES: Fear not; I will do my best.
SOCRATES: In the first place, the letter rho appears to me to
general instrument expressing all motion (kinesis). But I have
explained the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis (going);
the letter eta was not in use among the ancients, who only employed
epsilon; and the root is kiein, which is a foreign form, the same as
And the old word kinesis will be correctly given as iesis in corresponding
modern letters. Assuming this foreign root kiein, and allowing
change of the eta and the insertion of the nu, we have kinesis, which
should have been kieinsis or eisis; and stasis is the negative of ienai
eisis), and has been improved into stasis. Now the letter rho,
as I was
saying, appeared to the imposer of names an excellent instrument for
expression of motion; and he frequently uses the letter for this purpose:
for example, in the actual words rein and roe he represents motion
also in the words tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged); and again,
such as krouein (strike), thrauein (crush), ereikein (bruise), thruptein
(break), kermatixein (crumble), rumbein (whirl): of all these
movements he generally finds an expression in the letter R, because,
imagine, he had observed that the tongue was most agitated and least
rest in the pronunciation of this letter, which he therefore used in
to express motion, just as by the letter iota he expresses the subtle
elements which pass through all things. This is why he uses the
iota as imitative of motion, ienai, iesthai. And there is another
letters, phi, psi, sigma, and xi, of which the pronunciation is accompanied
by great expenditure of breath; these are used in the imitation of
notions as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething), seiesthai, (to be
shaken), seismos (shock), and are always introduced by the giver of
when he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy). He seems to
thought that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance
delta and tau was expressive of binding and rest in a place:
observed the liquid movement of lambda, in the pronunciation of which
tongue slips, and in this he found the expression of smoothness, as
leios (level), and in the word oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon
(sleek), in the word kollodes (gluey), and the like: the heavier
gamma detained the slipping tongue, and the union of the two gave the
notion of a glutinous clammy nature, as in glischros, glukus, gloiodes.
The nu he observed to be sounded from within, and therefore to have
notion of inwardness; hence he introduced the sound in endos and entos:
alpha he assigned to the expression of size, and nu of length, because
are great letters: omicron was the sign of roundness, and therefore
is plenty of omicron mixed up in the word goggulon (round). Thus
legislator, reducing all things into letters and syllables, and impressing
on them names and signs, and out of them by imitation compounding other
signs. That is my view, Hermogenes, of the truth of names; but
like to hear what Cratylus has more to say.
HERMOGENES: But, Socrates, as I was telling you before, Cratylus
me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never explains
this fitness, so that I cannot tell whether his obscurity is intended
not. Tell me now, Cratylus, here in the presence of Socrates,
do you agree
in what Socrates has been saying about names, or have you something
of your own? and if you have, tell me what your view is, and then you
either learn of Socrates, or Socrates and I will learn of you.
CRATYLUS: Well, but surely, Hermogenes, you do not suppose that
learn, or I explain, any subject of importance all in a moment; at
rate, not such a subject as language, which is, perhaps, the very greatest
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; but, as Hesiod says, and I agree with
him, 'to add
little to little' is worth while. And, therefore, if you think
can add anything at all, however small, to our knowledge, take a little
trouble and oblige Socrates, and me too, who certainly have a claim
SOCRATES: I am by no means positive, Cratylus, in the view which
Hermogenes and myself have worked out; and therefore do not hesitate
what you think, which if it be better than my own view I shall gladly
accept. And I should not be at all surprized to find that you
some better notion. For you have evidently reflected on these
have had teachers, and if you have really a better theory of the truth
names, you may count me in the number of your disciples.
CRATYLUS: You are right, Socrates, in saying that I have made
a study of
these matters, and I might possibly convert you into a disciple.
fear that the opposite is more probable, and I already find myself
say to you what Achilles in the 'Prayers' says to Ajax,--
'Illustrious Ajax, son of Telamon, lord of the people,
You appear to have spoken in all things much to my mind.'
And you, Socrates, appear to me to be an oracle, and to give answers
to my mind, whether you are inspired by Euthyphro, or whether some
have long been an inhabitant of your breast, unconsciously to yourself.
SOCRATES: Excellent Cratylus, I have long been wondering at my
I cannot trust myself. And I think that I ought to stop and ask
What am I saying? for there is nothing worse than self-deception--when
deceiver is always at home and always with you--it is quite terrible,
therefore I ought often to retrace my steps and endeavour to 'look
aft,' in the words of the aforesaid Homer. And now let me see;
we? Have we not been saying that the correct name indicates the
the thing:--has this proposition been sufficiently proven?
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, what you say, as I am disposed to think,
SOCRATES: Names, then, are given in order to instruct?
SOCRATES: And naming is an art, and has artificers?
SOCRATES: And who are they?
CRATYLUS: The legislators, of whom you spoke at first.
SOCRATES: And does this art grow up among men like other arts?
explain what I mean: of painters, some are better and some worse?
SOCRATES: The better painters execute their works, I mean their
better, and the worse execute them worse; and of builders also, the
sort build fairer houses, and the worse build them worse.
SOCRATES: And among legislators, there are some who do their work
and some worse?
CRATYLUS: No; there I do not agree with you.
SOCRATES: Then you do not think that some laws are better and
CRATYLUS: No, indeed.
SOCRATES: Or that one name is better than another?
CRATYLUS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: Then all names are rightly imposed?
CRATYLUS: Yes, if they are names at all.
SOCRATES: Well, what do you say to the name of our friend Hermogenes,
which was mentioned before:--assuming that he has nothing of the nature
Hermes in him, shall we say that this is a wrong name, or not his name
CRATYLUS: I should reply that Hermogenes is not his name at all,
appears to be his, and is really the name of somebody else, who has
nature which corresponds to it.
SOCRATES: And if a man were to call him Hermogenes, would he not
speaking falsely? For there may be a doubt whether you can call
Hermogenes, if he is not.
CRATYLUS: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Are you maintaining that falsehood is impossible?
For if this
is your meaning I should answer, that there have been plenty of liars
CRATYLUS: Why, Socrates, how can a man say that which is not?--say
something and yet say nothing? For is not falsehood saying the
SOCRATES: Your argument, friend, is too subtle for a man of my
age. But I
should like to know whether you are one of those philosophers who think
that falsehood may be spoken but not said?
CRATYLUS: Neither spoken nor said.
SOCRATES: Nor uttered nor addressed? For example:
If a person, saluting
you in a foreign country, were to take your hand and say: 'Hail,
stranger, Hermogenes, son of Smicrion'--these words, whether spoken,
uttered, or addressed, would have no application to you but only to
friend Hermogenes, or perhaps to nobody at all?
CRATYLUS: In my opinion, Socrates, the speaker would only be talking
SOCRATES: Well, but that will be quite enough for me, if you will
whether the nonsense would be true or false, or partly true and partly
false:--which is all that I want to know.
CRATYLUS: I should say that he would be putting himself in motion
purpose; and that his words would be an unmeaning sound like the noise
hammering at a brazen pot.
SOCRATES: But let us see, Cratylus, whether we cannot find a meeting-
point, for you would admit that the name is not the same with the thing
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: And would you further acknowledge that the name is an
of the thing?
SOCRATES: And you would say that pictures are also imitations
but in another way?
SOCRATES: I believe you may be right, but I do not rightly understand
Please to say, then, whether both sorts of imitation (I mean both pictures
or words) are not equally attributable and applicable to the things
which they are the imitation.
CRATYLUS: They are.
SOCRATES: First look at the matter thus: you may attribute
of the man to the man, and of the woman to the woman; and so on?
SOCRATES: And conversely you may attribute the likeness of the
man to the
woman, and of the woman to the man?
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And are both modes of assigning them right, or only
CRATYLUS: Only the first.
SOCRATES: That is to say, the mode of assignment which attributes
that which belongs to them and is like them?
CRATYLUS: That is my view.
SOCRATES: Now then, as I am desirous that we being friends should
good understanding about the argument, let me state my view to you:
first mode of assignment, whether applied to figures or to names, I
right, and when applied to names only, true as well as right; and the
mode of giving and assigning the name which is unlike, I call wrong,
the case of names, false as well as wrong.
CRATYLUS: That may be true, Socrates, in the case of pictures;
they may be
wrongly assigned; but not in the case of names--they must be always
SOCRATES: Why, what is the difference? May I not go to a
man and say to
him, 'This is your picture,' showing him his own likeness, or perhaps
likeness of a woman; and when I say 'show,' I mean bring before the
SOCRATES: And may I not go to him again, and say, 'This is your
for the name, like the picture, is an imitation. May I not say
'This is your name'? and may I not then bring to his sense of hearing
imitation of himself, when I say, 'This is a man'; or of a female of
human species, when I say, 'This is a woman,' as the case may be?
all that quite possible?
CRATYLUS: I would fain agree with you, Socrates; and therefore
SOCRATES: That is very good of you, if I am right, which need
disputed at present. But if I can assign names as well as pictures
objects, the right assignment of them we may call truth, and the wrong
assignment of them falsehood. Now if there be such a wrong assignment
names, there may also be a wrong or inappropriate assignment of verbs;
if of names and verbs then of the sentences, which are made up of them.
What do you say, Cratylus?
CRATYLUS: I agree; and think that what you say is very true.
SOCRATES: And further, primitive nouns may be compared to pictures,
pictures you may either give all the appropriate colours and figures,
you may not give them all--some may be wanting; or there may be too
too much of them--may there not?
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And he who gives all gives a perfect picture or figure;
who takes away or adds also gives a picture or figure, but not a good
SOCRATES: In like manner, he who by syllables and letters imitates
nature of things, if he gives all that is appropriate will produce
image, or in other words a name; but if he subtracts or perhaps adds
little, he will make an image but not a good one; whence I infer that
names are well and others ill made.
CRATYLUS: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then the artist of names may be sometimes good, or he
SOCRATES: And this artist of names is called the legislator?
SOCRATES: Then like other artists the legislator may be good or
he may be
bad; it must surely be so if our former admissions hold good?
CRATYLUS: Very true, Socrates; but the case of language, you see,
different; for when by the help of grammar we assign the letters alpha
beta, or any other letters to a certain name, then, if we add, or subtract,
or misplace a letter, the name which is written is not only written
wrongly, but not written at all; and in any of these cases becomes
than a name.
SOCRATES: But I doubt whether your view is altogether correct,
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: I believe that what you say may be true about numbers,
must be just what they are, or not be at all; for example, the number
at once becomes other than ten if a unit be added or subtracted, and
any other number: but this does not apply to that which is qualitative
to anything which is represented under an image. I should say
the image, if expressing in every point the entire reality, would no
be an image. Let us suppose the existence of two objects:
one of them
shall be Cratylus, and the other the image of Cratylus; and we will
suppose, further, that some God makes not only a representation such
painter would make of your outward form and colour, but also creates
inward organization like yours, having the same warmth and softness;
into this infuses motion, and soul, and mind, such as you have, and
word copies all your qualities, and places them by you in another form;
would you say that this was Cratylus and the image of Cratylus, or
there were two Cratyluses?
CRATYLUS: I should say that there were two Cratyluses.
SOCRATES: Then you see, my friend, that we must find some other
of truth in images, and also in names; and not insist that an image
longer an image when something is added or subtracted. Do you
that images are very far from having qualities which are the exact
counterpart of the realities which they represent?
CRATYLUS: Yes, I see.
SOCRATES: But then how ridiculous would be the effect of names
if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the
them, and no one would be able to determine which were the names and
were the realities.
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one
be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that
shall be exactly the same with the thing; but allow the occasional
substitution of a wrong letter, and if of a letter also of a noun in
sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a sentence which is
appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge that the thing may be named,
described, so long as the general character of the thing which you
describing is retained; and this, as you will remember, was remarked
Hermogenes and myself in the particular instance of the names of the
CRATYLUS: Yes, I remember.
SOCRATES: Good; and when the general character is preserved, even
of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is signified;--well,
all the letters are given; not well, when only a few of them are given.
think that we had better admit this, lest we be punished like travellers
Aegina who wander about the street late at night: and be likewise
truth herself that we have arrived too late; or if not, you must find
some new notion of correctness of names, and no longer maintain that
is the expression of a thing in letters or syllables; for if you say
you will be inconsistent with yourself.
CRATYLUS: I quite acknowledge, Socrates, what you say to be very
SOCRATES: Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves
name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters.
SOCRATES: And the proper letters are those which are like the
SOCRATES: Enough then of names which are rightly given.
And in names
which are incorrectly given, the greater part may be supposed to be
of proper and similar letters, or there would be no likeness; but there
will be likewise a part which is improper and spoils the beauty and
formation of the word: you would admit that?
CRATYLUS: There would be no use, Socrates, in my quarrelling with
since I cannot be satisfied that a name which is incorrectly given
name at all.
SOCRATES: Do you admit a name to be the representation of a thing?
CRATYLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: But do you not allow that some nouns are primitive,
CRATYLUS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: Then if you admit that primitive or first nouns are
representations of things, is there any better way of framing
representations than by assimilating them to the objects as much as
can; or do you prefer the notion of Hermogenes and of many others,
that names are conventional, and have a meaning to those who have agreed
about them, and who have previous knowledge of the things intended
and that convention is the only principle; and whether you abide by
present convention, or make a new and opposite one, according to which
call small great and great small--that, they would say, makes no
difference, if you are only agreed. Which of these two notions
CRATYLUS: Representation by likeness, Socrates, is infinitely
representation by any chance sign.
SOCRATES: Very good: but if the name is to be like the thing,
out of which the first names are composed must also be like things.
Returning to the image of the picture, I would ask, How could any one
compose a picture which would be like anything at all, if there were
pigments in nature which resembled the things imitated, and out of
the picture is composed?
SOCRATES: No more could names ever resemble any actually existing
unless the original elements of which they are compounded bore some
of resemblance to the objects of which the names are the imitation:
the original elements are letters?
SOCRATES: Let me now invite you to consider what Hermogenes and
saying about sounds. Do you agree with me that the letter rho
expressive of rapidity, motion, and hardness? Were we right or
CRATYLUS: I should say that you were right.
SOCRATES: And that lamda was expressive of smoothness, and softness,
CRATYLUS: There again you were right.
SOCRATES: And yet, as you are aware, that which is called by us
is by the Eretrians called skleroter.
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: But are the letters rho and sigma equivalents; and is
same significance to them in the termination rho, which there is to
sigma, or is there no significance to one of us?
CRATYLUS: Nay, surely there is a significance to both of us.
SOCRATES: In as far as they are like, or in as far as they are
CRATYLUS: In as far as they are like.
SOCRATES: Are they altogether alike?
CRATYLUS: Yes; for the purpose of expressing motion.
SOCRATES: And what do you say of the insertion of the lamda? for
expressive not of hardness but of softness.
CRATYLUS: Why, perhaps the letter lamda is wrongly inserted, Socrates,
should be altered into rho, as you were saying to Hermogenes and in
opinion rightly, when you spoke of adding and subtracting letters upon
SOCRATES: Good. But still the word is intelligible to both
of us; when I
say skleros (hard), you know what I mean.
CRATYLUS: Yes, my dear friend, and the explanation of that is
SOCRATES: And what is custom but convention? I utter a sound
understand, and you know that I understand the meaning of the sound:
is what you are saying?
SOCRATES: And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an
given by me to you?
SOCRATES: This indication of my meaning may proceed from unlike
as well as
from like, for example in the lamda of sklerotes. But if this
then you have made a convention with yourself, and the correctness
name turns out to be convention, since letters which are unlike are
indicative equally with those which are like, if they are sanctioned
custom and convention. And even supposing that you distinguish
convention ever so much, still you must say that the signification
is given by custom and not by likeness, for custom may indicate by
unlike as well as by the like. But as we are agreed thus far,
(for I shall assume that your silence gives consent), then custom and
convention must be supposed to contribute to the indication of our
thoughts; for suppose we take the instance of number, how can you ever
imagine, my good friend, that you will find names resembling every
individual number, unless you allow that which you term convention
agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names?
quite agree with you that words should as far as possible resemble
but I fear that this dragging in of resemblance, as Hermogenes says,
shabby thing, which has to be supplemented by the mechanical aid of
convention with a view to correctness; for I believe that if we could
always, or almost always, use likenesses, which are perfectly appropriate,
this would be the most perfect state of language; as the opposite is
most imperfect. But let me ask you, what is the force of names,
is the use of them?
CRATYLUS: The use of names, Socrates, as I should imagine, is
the simple truth is, that he who knows names knows also the things
are expressed by them.
SOCRATES: I suppose you mean to say, Cratylus, that as the name
also is the thing; and that he who knows the one will also know the
because they are similars, and all similars fall under the same art
science; and therefore you would say that he who knows names will also
CRATYLUS: That is precisely what I mean.
SOCRATES: But let us consider what is the nature of this information
things which, according to you, is given us by names. Is it the
of information? or is there any other? What do you say?
CRATYLUS: I believe that to be both the only and the best sort
information about them; there can be no other.
SOCRATES: But do you believe that in the discovery of them, he
discovers the names discovers also the things; or is this only the
of instruction, and is there some other method of enquiry and discovery.
CRATYLUS: I certainly believe that the methods of enquiry and
are of the same nature as instruction.
SOCRATES: Well, but do you not see, Cratylus, that he who follows
the search after things, and analyses their meaning, is in great danger
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Why clearly he who first gave names gave them according
conception of the things which they signified--did he not?
SOCRATES: And if his conception was erroneous, and he gave names
to his conception, in what position shall we who are his followers
ourselves? Shall we not be deceived by him?
CRATYLUS: But, Socrates, am I not right in thinking that he must
have known; or else, as I was saying, his names would not be names
And you have a clear proof that he has not missed the truth, and the
is--that he is perfectly consistent. Did you ever observe in
all the words which you utter have a common character and purpose?
SOCRATES: But that, friend Cratylus, is no answer. For if
he did begin in
error, he may have forced the remainder into agreement with the original
error and with himself; there would be nothing strange in this, any
than in geometrical diagrams, which have often a slight and invisible
in the first part of the process, and are consistently mistaken in
deductions which follow. And this is the reason why every man
expend his chief thought and attention on the consideration of his
principles:--are they or are they not rightly laid down? and when he
duly sifted them, all the rest will follow. Now I should be astonished
find that names are really consistent. And here let us revert
former discussion: Were we not saying that all things are in
progress and flux, and that this idea of motion is expressed by names?
you not conceive that to be the meaning of them?
CRATYLUS: Yes; that is assuredly their meaning, and the true meaning.
SOCRATES: Let us revert to episteme (knowledge) and observe how
this word is, seeming rather to signify stopping the soul at things
going round with them; and therefore we should leave the beginning
present, and not reject the epsilon, but make an insertion of an iota
instead of an epsilon (not pioteme, but epiisteme). Take another
bebaion (sure) is clearly the expression of station and position, and
of motion. Again, the word istoria (enquiry) bears upon the face
of it the
stopping (istanai) of the stream; and the word piston (faithful) certainly
indicates cessation of motion; then, again, mneme (memory), as any
see, expresses rest in the soul, and not motion. Moreover, words
amartia and sumphora, which have a bad sense, viewed in the light of
etymologies will be the same as sunesis and episteme and other words
have a good sense (compare omartein, sunienai, epesthai, sumpheresthai);
and much the same may be said of amathia and akolasia, for amathia
explained as e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia as e akolouthia
pragmasin. Thus the names which in these instances we find to
worst sense, will turn out to be framed on the same principle as those
which have the best. And any one I believe who would take the
might find many other examples in which the giver of names indicates,
that things are in motion or progress, but that they are at rest; which
the opposite of motion.
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, but observe; the greater number express
SOCRATES: What of that, Cratylus? Are we to count them like
votes? and is
correctness of names the voice of the majority? Are we to say
sort there are most, those are the true ones?
CRATYLUS: No; that is not reasonable.
SOCRATES: Certainly not. But let us have done with this
proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you think
with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first givers
in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the legislators, and that
art which gave names was the art of the legislator?
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the
the first names, know or not know the things which they named?
CRATYLUS: They must have known, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why, yes, friend Cratylus, they could hardly have been
CRATYLUS: I should say not.
SOCRATES: Let us return to the point from which we digressed.
saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the
which he named; are you still of that opinion?
CRATYLUS: I am.
SOCRATES: And would you say that the giver of the first names
had also a
knowledge of the things which he named?
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: But how could he have learned or discovered things from
the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct
view, the only way of learning and discovering things, is either to
discover names for ourselves or to learn them from others.
CRATYLUS: I think that there is a good deal in what you say, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if things are only to be known through names, how
suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators
there were names at all, and therefore before they could have known
CRATYLUS: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter
to be, that
a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the
which are thus given are necessarily their true names.
SOCRATES: Then how came the giver of the names, if he was an inspired
being or God, to contradict himself? For were we not saying just
he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion? Were
CRATYLUS: But I suppose one of the two not to be names at all.
SOCRATES: And which, then, did he make, my good friend; those
expressive of rest, or those which are expressive of motion?
This is a
point which, as I said before, cannot be determined by counting them.
CRATYLUS: No; not in that way, Socrates.
SOCRATES: But if this is a battle of names, some of them asserting
they are like the truth, others contending that THEY are, how or by
criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other
which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be had to another
standard which, without employing names, will make clear which of the
are right; and this must be a standard which shows the truth of things.
CRATYLUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things
known without names?
SOCRATES: But how would you expect to know them? What other
way can there
be of knowing them, except the true and natural way, through their
affinities, when they are akin to each other, and through themselves?
that which is other and different from them must signify something
and different from them.
CRATYLUS: What you are saying is, I think, true.
SOCRATES: Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged
names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which
SOCRATES: Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can
things through the medium of names, and suppose also that you can learn
them from the things themselves--which is likely to be the nobler and
clearer way; to learn of the image, whether the image and the truth
which the image is the expression have been rightly conceived, or to
of the truth whether the truth and the image of it have been duly executed?
CRATYLUS: I should say that we must learn of the truth.
SOCRATES: How real existence is to be studied or discovered is,
beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the knowledge
is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and
CRATYLUS: Clearly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: There is another point. I should not like us to
be imposed upon
by the appearance of such a multitude of names, all tending in the
direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did
them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which
their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And having fallen
kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried round, and want to drag
in after them. There is a matter, master Cratylus, about which
dream, and should like to ask your opinion: Tell me, whether
there is or
is not any absolute beauty or good, or any other absolute existence?
CRATYLUS: Certainly, Socrates, I think so.
SOCRATES: Then let us seek the true beauty: not asking whether
a face is
fair, or anything of that sort, for all such things appear to be in
but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.
SOCRATES: And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always
away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born
retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
SOCRATES: Then how can that be a real thing which is never in
state? for obviously things which are the same cannot change while
remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the same state,
never depart from their original form, they can never change or be
CRATYLUS: Certainly they cannot.
SOCRATES: Nor yet can they be known by any one; for at the moment
observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature,
you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state, for you
know that which has no state.
SOCRATES: Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge
all, if everything is in a state of transition and there is nothing
abiding; for knowledge too cannot continue to be knowledge unless
continuing always to abide and exist. But if the very nature
changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no knowledge;
if the transition is always going on, there will always be no knowledge,
and, according to this view, there will be no one to know and nothing
known: but if that which knows and that which is known exists
the beautiful and the good and every other thing also exist, then I
think that they can resemble a process or flux, as we were just now
supposing. Whether there is this eternal nature in things, or
truth is what Heracleitus and his followers and many others say, is
question hard to determine; and no man of sense will like to put himself
the education of his mind in the power of names: neither will
he so far
trust names or the givers of names as to be confident in any knowledge
which condemns himself and other existences to an unhealthy state of
unreality; he will not believe that all things leak like a pot, or
that the world is a man who has a running at the nose. This may
Cratylus, but is also very likely to be untrue; and therefore I would
have you be too easily persuaded of it. Reflect well and like
a man, and
do not easily accept such a doctrine; for you are young and of an age
learn. And when you have found the truth, come and tell me.
CRATYLUS: I will do as you say, though I can assure you, Socrates,
have been considering the matter already, and the result of a great
trouble and consideration is that I incline to Heracleitus.
SOCRATES: Then, another day, my friend, when you come back, you
me a lesson; but at present, go into the country, as you are intending,
Hermogenes shall set you on your way.
CRATYLUS: Very good, Socrates; I hope, however, that you will
think about these things yourself.