The Origins of the Socratic : , , and the Others

James M. Redfield University of Chicago

The present aims to place Plato and Xenophon within a phase of literary history. The fourth century bce saw the origins in Greek of colloquial prose and something like what we would call fiction; within this arose a sub-genre, the dialogue, and within this sub-genre a special variety, the . Plato and Xenophon, of course, were among the several authors of these last: I shall have something to say about the whole group who wrote them, about Plato’s relation to it, and also about Xenophon’s, and also about their to each other. Colloquial began already in the fifth century, in , whence it migrated into ,1 causing Cratinus to coin the verb euripidaristopha- nizein, “to do like Euripides and Aristophanes” (fr. 307 k.). Comedy had origi- nated in Syracuse, with Epicharmus. Prose dialogue a century later also orig- inated in Syracuse, with Sophron and his son Xenarchus. in an oft- quoted sentence of the Poetics remarks: “We are not able to provide a common name for the mimes of Sophron and Xenarchus and the Socratic ” (Poet. 1447b9–10). We, however, do have a generic name for them: we call them “dialogues.” They are characteristically written in more-or-less colloquial lan- guage, in prose or sometimes in verse, intended for personal reading rather than performance, and portraying characters who, even if mythological, appear something like ordinary people, and who even if historical, are rather freely treated. Sophron thus inaugurated a genre which has had a long history, includ- ing in Greek such authors as Theocritus, , and , and which was readily adapted into other languages, including the Latin of , the Italian of Galileo, the French of Diderot, and the English of . Contents range widely from serious argument and scientific doctrine to lighthearted amusement.

1 Thus in Ar. Ran. 949–952, 959, Euripides boasts of eliminating poetic diction and heroic themes in favor of the ordinary: “the woman talked and the slave just as much, the master, the maiden and the hag (ἀλλ’ ἔλεγεν ἡ γυνή τέ μοι χὠ δοῦλος οὐδὲν ἧττον τοῦ δεσπότου χἠ παρθένος χἠ γραῦς ἄν)”; “mine was democratic drama (δημοκρατικὸν γὰρ αὔτ’ ἔδρων)”; “I brought in ordinary matters, things we use, familiar things (οἰκεῖα πράγματ’ εἰσάγων, οἷς χρώμεθ’, οἷς ξύνεσμεν).”

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi: 10.1163/9789004341227_007 126 redfield

The dialogue thus secured its place in the history of European prose. It origi- nated in the fourth century as an aspect of the development of a reading public. Up to the mid-fifth century literary works were written for performance—in symposia, in courts and assemblies, at festivals, in the theater; publication might follow. By the fourth century a book trade was developing and were writing directly for publication; public speeches might be addressed to imaginary occasions, as in the major works of Isocrates, or be published in forms in which they were not or could not have been delivered—as in Demos- thenes’ Against Meidias or On the Crown. We may take as the manifesto of this change ’ often quoted assertion that his book in not an agonisma, something to win a prize in a contest, but rather a ktema es aiei, a possession for all —or, in a more free but perhaps for accurate translation, a book to take home and keep. In the fourth century, in other words, there developed a strand of private literary culture, not intended for public space. Dialogues suited this shift; peo- ple could read them in privacy, and they imitate private conversations (private or even secret; the longest surviving fragment of Sophron [2a Hordern] rep- resents two women conducting a magical rite). This mode was attractive to partly because was typically a of private (or even, in the case of the Pythagoreans, secret) conversations, as Plato’s Callicles says of the : “avoiding the public spaces of the city … and slinking into hiding he spends the rest of his whispering in a corner with three or four adolescents” (Pl. Grg. 485d–e).2 My topic here, however, is the variety of dialogue we—and the Greeks— call Socratic. Obviously these dialogues involve ; in what follows I shall further restrict the term to dialogues by people who knew Socrates. Already in the fourth century these were a group with special claims to understand “the Socratic.” Aristotle wrote dialogues, but they were not Socratic. Perhaps he felt, of a later generation, unqualified to portray Socrates. In any case the dialogues written by people who knew Socrates are the relevant context for Plato and Xenophon, and these are the only Socratic dialogues with which we moderns have to any degree concerned ourselves.3 The Socratic dialogue, as

2 Hordern 2004, 8, remarks that the mimes of Sophron and Herodas mainly take place indoors; Plato’s dialogues seem often to be placed in a enclosed or secluded open-air space—a prison cell, a gymnasium, a courtyard, the porch of the King Archon. 3 Obviously later writers could and did write Socratic dialogues. The is a Socratic dialogue (of uncertain date and authorship) but no one reads it. Lucian wrote some discourse for Socrates, but that is a joke. Vegetti 2004 recently published some, not however intending it to be an addition to the canon.