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 Cratylus
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;
but 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 is called.
To this he replies--'If all the world were to call you Hermogenes,
that 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,
Socrates, what this oracle means; or rather tell me, if you will be so
good, what is your own view of the truth or correctness of names, which
I would far sooner hear.
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
part of 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 and language--these are his own words--and then
I should have been at once able to answer your question about the
correctness of names. But, indeed, I have only heard the single-drachma
course, and therefore, I do not know the truth about such matters; I
will, however, gladly assist you and Cratylus in the investigation
of them. When he declares that your name is not really Hermogenes, I
suspect that he is only making fun of you;--he means 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 better leave
the question open until we have heard both sides.
HERMOGENES: I have often talked over this matter, both with Cratylus
and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of
correctness in names other than convention and agreement; any name which
you give, in my opinion, is the right one, and if you change that and
give another, the new name is as correct as the old--we frequently
change the names of our slaves, and the newly-imposed name is as good
as the old: for there is no name given to anything by nature; all
is convention and habit 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
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 agrees to call it?
HERMOGENES: That is my notion.
SOCRATES: Whether the giver of the name be an individual or a city?
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
called a 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 horse by the world:--that is your meaning?
HERMOGENES: He would, according to my view.
SOCRATES: But how about truth, then? you would acknowledge that there is
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 parts
HERMOGENES: No; the parts are true as well as the whole.
SOCRATES: Would you say the large parts and not the smaller ones, or
HERMOGENES: I should say that every part is true.
SOCRATES: Is a proposition resolvable into any part smaller than a name?
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 be true
HERMOGENES: So we must infer.
SOCRATES: And the name of anything is that which any one affirms to be
SOCRATES: And will there be so many names of each thing as everybody
says that there are? and will they be true names at the time of uttering
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates, I can conceive no correctness of names other
than this; you give one name, and I another; and in different cities and
countries there are different names for the same things; Hellenes differ
from barbarians in their use of names, and the several Hellenic tribes
from one another.
SOCRATES: But would you say, Hermogenes, that the things differ as the
names differ? and are they relative to individuals, as Protagoras tells
us? For he says that man is the measure of all things, and that things
are to me as they appear to me, and that they are to you as they appear
to you. 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 there
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 wise, and
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 are
as they appear to any one, how can some of us be wise and some of us
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 all
things equally belong to all men at the same moment and always; for
neither on his view can there be some good and others bad, if virtue and
vice are always equally to be attributed to all.
HERMOGENES: There cannot.
SOCRATES: But if neither is right, and things are not relative to
individuals, and all things do not equally belong to all at the same
moment 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, fluctuating according to our fancy, but they are independent, and
maintain to their own 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, or
equally to the actions which proceed from them? Are not actions also a
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
nature, and not according to our opinion of them? In cutting, for
example, we do not cut as we please, and with any chance instrument;
but we cut with the proper instrument only, and according to the natural
process of cutting; and the natural process is right and will succeed,
but any other will fail 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 the
right way is the natural way, and the right instrument the natural
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? Will
not the successful speaker rather be he who speaks in the natural way
of speaking, and as things ought to be spoken, and with the natural
instrument? Any other mode of speaking will result in error and failure.
HERMOGENES: I quite agree with you.
SOCRATES: And is not naming a part of speaking? for in giving names men
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: And if speaking is a sort of action and has a relation to
acts, is not naming also a sort of action?
SOCRATES: And we saw that actions were not relative to ourselves, but
had 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,
and not 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 woven or
pierced with something?
SOCRATES: And that which has to be named has to be named with something?
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?'
And you answer, 'A weaving instrument.'
SOCRATES: And I ask again, 'What do we do when we weave?'--The answer
is, 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, and of
instruments in general?
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: And now suppose that I ask a similar question about names:
will you answer me? Regarding the name as an instrument, what do we do
when we name?
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 a
SOCRATES: And when the weaver uses the shuttle, whose work will he be
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 be using
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
HERMOGENES: There again I am puzzled.
SOCRATES: Cannot you at least say who gives us the names which we use?
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
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, but
only 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 does he
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 that which
is naturally fitted to act as a shuttle?
SOCRATES: And suppose the shuttle to be broken in making, will he
make 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 of
garments, thin or thick, of flaxen, woollen, or other material, ought
all 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 the 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, he
must express this natural form, and not others which he fancies, in the
material, whatever it may be, which he employs; for example, he ought to
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 nature
to their uses?
SOCRATES: For the several forms of shuttles naturally answer to the
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,
and to make and give all names with a view to the ideal name, if he is
to be a namer in any true sense? And we must remember that different
legislators will not use the same syllables. For neither does every
smith, although he may be making the same instrument for the same
purpose, make them all of the same iron. The form must be the same, but
the material may vary, and still the instrument may be equally good of
whatever iron made, whether in Hellas or in a foreign country;--there is
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And the legislator, whether he be Hellene or barbarian, is not
therefore to be deemed by you a worse legislator, provided he gives the
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, or 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
whether 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 his
work, 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 a
HERMOGENES: Yes; that would be his name.
SOCRATES: Then the work of the carpenter is to make a rudder, and the
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 the
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 can
be 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 that not every man is an artificer of names, but he only who
looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is able to express
the true forms of things in letters and syllables.
HERMOGENES: I cannot answer you, Socrates; but I find a difficulty in
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 the
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 to
share the enquiry with you? But now that you and I have talked over the
matter, a step has been gained; for we have discovered that names have
by 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 of names?
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 know,
and 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 of wisdom. But you have not yet come into your inheritance,
and therefore you 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 affirm!
SOCRATES: Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and the
HERMOGENES: And where does Homer say anything about names, and what
SOCRATES: He often speaks of them; notably and nobly in the places where
he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give to the same
things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable statement about
the correctness of names? For the Gods must clearly be supposed to call
things by their right and natural names; do you not think so?
HERMOGENES: Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call them at
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 be called
Xanthus and not Scamander--is not that a solemn lesson? Or about the
bird 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 Myrina?
(Compare Il. 'The hill which men call Batieia and the immortals the tomb
of 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 the
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 poet means by correctness may be more readily apprehended in that
instance: you 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 correct
of 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, the
HERMOGENES: I should say, the men.
SOCRATES: And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called him
Astyanax (king of the city); but if the men called him Astyanax, the
other name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the
HERMOGENES: That may be inferred.
SOCRATES: And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than
HERMOGENES: To be sure.
SOCRATES: Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name
for the boy than Scamandrius?
SOCRATES: And what is the reason of this? Let us consider:--does he not
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 king
of 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 you?
HERMOGENES: No, indeed; not I.
SOCRATES: But tell me, friend, did not Homer himself also give Hector
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)
have nearly the same meaning, and are both descriptive of a king; for
a man is clearly the holder of that of which he is king; he rules,
and owns, and holds it. But, perhaps, you may think that I am talking
nonsense; and 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 a lion,
and the foal of a horse a horse; I am speaking only of the ordinary
course 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 call that a foal but a calf; nor do I call any inhuman birth
a man, but only a natural birth. And the same may be said of trees and
other things. Do you 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
does the addition or subtraction of a letter make any difference so
long as the essence of the thing remains in possession of the name and
appears in it.
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
with the exception of the four epsilon, upsilon, omicron, omega; the
names of the rest, whether vowels or consonants, are made up of other
letters which we add to them; but so long as we introduce the meaning,
and there can be no mistake, the name of the letter is quite correct.
Take, for example, the letter beta--the addition of eta, tau, alpha,
gives no offence, and does not prevent the whole name from having the
value which the legislator intended--so well did he know how to give the
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; and similarly the offspring of every kind, in the regular course
of nature, is like the parent, and therefore has the same name. Yet the
syllables may be disguised until they appear different to the ignorant
person, and he may not recognize them, although they are the same, just
as any one of us would not recognize the same drugs under different
disguises of colour and smell, although to the physician, who regards
the power of them, they are the 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 this need not interfere with the
meaning. As was just now said, the names of Hector and Astyanax have
only one letter alike, which is tau, and yet they have the same meaning.
And how little in common with the letters of their names has Archepolis
(ruler of the city)--and yet the meaning is the same. And there are many
other names which just mean 'king.' Again, there are several names for
a general, as, for example, Agis (leader) and Polemarchus (chief in war)
and Eupolemus (good warrior); and others which denote a physician, as
Iatrocles (famous healer) and Acesimbrotus (curer of mortals); and there
are many others which might be cited, differing in their syllables and
letters, but having the same meaning. Would you not say so?
SOCRATES: The same names, then, ought to be assigned to those who follow
in the course of nature?
SOCRATES: And what of those who follow out of the course of nature,
and 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 the
class to which he belongs, just as in the case which was before supposed
of a horse foaling a calf.
HERMOGENES: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then the irreligious son of a religious father should be
SOCRATES: He should not be called Theophilus (beloved of God) or
Mnesitheus (mindful of God), or any of these names: if names are
correctly given, his should have an opposite meaning.
HERMOGENES: Certainly, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Again, Hermogenes, there is Orestes (the man of the mountains)
who appears to be rightly called; whether chance gave the name, or
perhaps 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 the
accomplishment of his resolves, and by his virtue crowns them; and his
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 also think
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 be
intelligible to every one, but to the etymologist there is no difficulty
in 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 name is perfectly correct in every point of view. And I think that
Pelops is also named appropriately; for, as the name implies, he is
rightly called Pelops who sees what is near only (o ta pelas oron).
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: Because, according to the tradition, he had no forethought or
foresight of all the evil which the murder of Myrtilus would entail
upon 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 by all means for his bride. Every one would agree that the
name of Tantalus is rightly given and in accordance with nature, if the
traditions about him are true.
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 his
death he had the stone suspended (talanteia) over his head in the world
below--all this agrees wonderfully well with his name. You might imagine
that some person who wanted to call him Talantatos (the most weighted
down by misfortune), disguised the name by altering it into Tantalus;
and into 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 meaning, although hard to be understood, because really like
a sentence, which is divided into two parts, for some call him Zena, and
use the one half, and others who use the other half call him Dia; the
two together signify the nature of the God, and the business of a name,
as we were saying, is to 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 in calling him Zena and Dia, which are one name,
although divided, meaning the God through whom all creatures always have
life (di on zen aei pasi tois zosin uparchei). There is an irreverence,
at first sight, in calling him son of Cronos (who is a proverb for
stupidity), and we might rather expect 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, to sweep), not in the sense of a
youth, but signifying to chatharon chai acheraton tou nou, the pure
and garnished mind (sc. apo tou chorein). He, as we are informed by
tradition, was begotten of Uranus, rightly so called (apo tou oran ta
ano) from looking upwards; which, as philosophers tell us, is the way to
have a pure mind, and the name Uranus is therefore correct. If I could
remember the genealogy of Hesiod, I would have gone on and tried more
conclusions of the same sort on the remoter ancestors of the Gods,--then
I 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 newly
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 his
wisdom 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 the investigation of names--that will be the way; but
to-morrow, if you are so disposed, we will conjure him away, and make
a purgation of him, if we can only find some priest or sophist who is
skilled in purifications of this sort.
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, now
that we have got a sort of outline of the enquiry? Are there any names
which witness of themselves that they are not given arbitrarily, but
have a 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 names, as we were saying, they may have no business; or they are
the expression of 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 we had better leave these, for there will be more
chance of finding correctness in the names of immutable essences;--there
ought to have been more care taken about them when they were named,
and perhaps there may have been some more 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 Gods, and
show that they are rightly named Gods?
HERMOGENES: Yes, that will be well.
SOCRATES: My notion would be something of this sort:--I suspect that the
sun, moon, earth, stars, and heaven, which are still the Gods of many
barbarians, were the only Gods known to the aboriginal Hellenes. Seeing
that they were always moving and running, from their running nature
they were called Gods or runners (Theous, Theontas); and when men became
acquainted with the other Gods, they proceeded to apply the same name to
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 of this
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, Works and Days.)
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 I am
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 he called
them demons, because they were daemones (knowing or wise), and in our
older Attic dialect the word itself occurs. Now he and other poets say
truly, that when a good man dies he has honour and a mighty portion
among the dead, and becomes a demon; which is a name given to him
signifying wisdom. And I say too, that every wise man who happens to be
a good man is more than human (daimonion) both in life and death, and is
rightly called a demon.
HERMOGENES: Then I rather think that I am of one mind with you; but what
is the meaning of the word 'hero'? (Eros with an eta, in the old writing
eros with an epsilon.)
SOCRATES: I think that there is no difficulty in explaining, for the
name 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 a mortal
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 is
the meaning, or, if not this, then they must have been skilful as
rhetoricians and dialecticians, and able to put the question (erotan),
for eirein is equivalent to legein. And therefore, as I was saying,
in the Attic dialect the heroes turn out to be rhetoricians and
questioners. All this is easy enough; the noble breed of heroes are a
tribe of sophists and rhetors. But 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, because I
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
and 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;
and first, remember that we often put in and pull out letters in words,
and give names as we please and change the accents. Take, for example,
the word Dii Philos; in order to convert this from a sentence into
a noun, we omit one of the iotas and sound the middle syllable grave
instead of acute; as, on the other hand, letters are sometimes inserted
in words instead of being omitted, and the acute takes the place of the
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: The name anthropos, which was once a sentence, and is now a
noun, appears to be a case just of this sort, for one letter, which is
the 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 animals
never examine, or consider, or look up at what they see, but that man
not only sees (opope) but considers and looks up at that which he sees,
and hence he alone of all animals is rightly anthropos, meaning anathron
HERMOGENES: May I ask you to examine another word about which I am
HERMOGENES: I will take that which appears to me to follow next in
order. You know the distinction of soul and body?
SOCRATES: Of course.
HERMOGENES: Let us endeavour to analyze them like the previous words.
SOCRATES: You want me first of all to examine the natural fitness of the
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
imagine that those who first used the name psuche meant to express that
the soul when in the body is the source of life, and gives the power of
breath and revival (anapsuchon), and when this reviving power fails then
the body perishes and dies, and this, if I am not mistaken, they called
psyche. But please stay a moment; I fancy that I can discover something
which will be more acceptable to the disciples of Euthyphro, for I
am afraid that they will scorn this explanation. What do you say to
HERMOGENES: Let me hear.
SOCRATES: What is that which holds and carries and gives life and motion
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 and
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 that
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 if
a little permutation is allowed. For some say that the body is the grave
(sema) of the soul which may be thought to be buried in our present
life; or again the index of the soul, because the soul gives indications
to (semainei) the body; probably the Orphic poets were the inventors of
the name, and they were under the impression that the soul is suffering
the punishment of sin, and that the body is an enclosure or prison in
which the 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 of the word need be changed.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that we have said enough of this class of
words. But have we any more explanations of the names of the Gods, like
that which you were giving of Zeus? I should like to know whether any
similar principle of correctness is to be applied to them.
SOCRATES: Yes, indeed, Hermogenes; and there is one excellent principle
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 by any sort or kind of names or patronymics which they like,
because we do not know of any other. That also, I think, is a very good
custom, and one which I should much wish to observe. Let us, then,
if you please, in the first place announce to them that we are not
enquiring about them; we do 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 blame.
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are quite right, and I would
like 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 surely
have been considerable persons; they were philosophers, and had a good
deal to say.
HERMOGENES: Well, and what of them?
SOCRATES: They are the men to whom I should attribute the imposition of
names. Even in foreign names, if you analyze them, a meaning is still
discernible. For example, that which we term ousia is by some called
esia, and by others again osia. Now that the essence of things should
be called estia, which is akin to the first of these (esia = estia), is
rational enough. And there is reason in the Athenians calling that estia
which participates in ousia. For in ancient times we too seem to have
said esia 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. Those 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 know nothing can affirm. Next in order after Hestia we ought to
consider Rhea and 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 of
antiquity as old as the days of Cronos and Rhea, and of which Homer also
HERMOGENES: How do you mean?
SOCRATES: Heracleitus is supposed to say that all things are in motion
and nothing at rest; he compares them to the stream of a river, and says
that you cannot go into the same water twice.
HERMOGENES: That is true.
SOCRATES: Well, then, how can we avoid inferring that he who gave the
names of Cronos and Rhea to the ancestors of the Gods, agreed pretty
much in the doctrine of Heracleitus? Is the giving of the names of
streams to 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
found 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
sister 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;
but 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
Tethys 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 spoken.
SOCRATES: Then let us next take his two brothers, Poseidon and Pluto,
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
walks, and not allowed to go on, and therefore he called the ruler of
this element Poseidon; the epsilon was probably inserted as an ornament.
Yet, perhaps, not so; but the name may have been originally written
with a double lamda and not with a sigma, meaning that the God knew many
things (Polla eidos). 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 gives wealth (Ploutos), and his name means the giver of
wealth, which comes out of the earth beneath. People in general appear
to imagine that the term Hades is connected with the invisible (aeides)
and so they are led by their 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 of
this deity, and the foolish fears which people have of him, such as the
fear of 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, and 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
confines 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 Hades,
if 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, as I
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
SOCRATES: And is any desire stronger than the thought that you will be
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 view, he is the perfect and accomplished Sophist, and the great
benefactor of the inhabitants of the other world; and even to us who are
upon earth he sends from below exceeding blessings. For he has much more
than he wants down 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 the 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 would suffice to keep them with him in his own
HERMOGENES: There is a deal of truth in what you say.
SOCRATES: Yes, Hermogenes, and the legislator called him Hades, not from
the unseen (aeides)--far otherwise, but from his knowledge (eidenai) of
all noble things.
HERMOGENES: Very good; and what do we say of Demeter, and Here, and
Apollo, and Athene, and Hephaestus, and Ares, and the other deities?
SOCRATES: Demeter is e didousa meter, who gives food like a mother; Here
is the lovely one (erate)--for Zeus, according to tradition, loved
and 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 (aer), putting the end in the place of the beginning. You will
recognize the truth of this if you repeat the letters of Here several
times over. People dread the name of Pherephatta as they dread the name
of Apollo,--and with as little reason; the fear, if I am not mistaken,
only arises from their ignorance of the nature of names. But they go
changing the name into 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 the world are in motion (pheromenon), that
principle which embraces and touches and is able to follow them,
is wisdom. And therefore the Goddess may be truly called Pherepaphe
(Pherepapha), or some name like it, because she touches that which is
in motion (tou pheromenon ephaptomene), herein showing her wisdom. And
Hades, who is wise, consorts with her, because she is wise. They alter
her name into Pherephatta now-a-days, because the present generation
care for euphony more than truth. There is the other name, Apollo,
which, as I was saying, is generally supposed to have some 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 of the
power of the God.
HERMOGENES: How so?
SOCRATES: I will endeavour to explain, for I do not believe that any
single name could have been better adapted to express the attributes of
the God, embracing and in a manner signifying all four of them,--music,
and prophecy, and medicine, and archery.
HERMOGENES: That must be a strange name, and I should like to hear the
SOCRATES: Say rather an harmonious name, as beseems the God of Harmony.
In the first place, the purgations and purifications which doctors and
diviners use, and their fumigations with drugs magical or medicinal,
as well as their washings and lustral sprinklings, have all one and the
same 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 the
absolver 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); or in respect of his powers of divination, and his truth
and sincerity, which 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 him 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 name Apollo will be 'moving together,'
whether in the poles of heaven as they are called, or in the harmony
of song, which is termed concord, because he moves all together by an
harmonious power, as astronomers and musicians ingeniously declare.
And he is the God who presides over harmony, and 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 is added in order to
avoid the ill-omened sound of destruction (apolon). Now the suspicion
of this destructive power still haunts the minds of some who do not
consider the true value of the name, which, as I was saying just now,
has reference to all the powers of the God, who is the single one,
the 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
is 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 is often called by strangers--they seem to imply by it her
amiability, and her smooth and easy-going way of behaving. Artemis is
named from her healthy (artemes), well-ordered nature, and because of
her love of virginity, perhaps because she is a proficient in virtue
(arete), and perhaps also as hating intercourse of the sexes (ton aroton
misesasa). He who gave the Goddess her name may have had any or all of
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 your hearing the facetious one; for the Gods too love a joke.
Dionusos is simply didous oinon (giver of wine), Didoinusos, as he might
be called in fun,--and oinos is properly oionous, because wine makes
those who drink, think (oiesthai) that they have a mind (noun) when they
have none. The 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 an
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 of
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 from
armed dances. For the elevation of oneself or anything else above
the earth, or by the use of the hands, we call shaking (pallein), or
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 the
ancients. For most of these in their explanations of the poet, assert
that he meant by Athene 'mind' (nous) and 'intelligence' (dianoia), and
the maker of names appears to have had a singular notion about her; and
indeed calls her by a still higher title, 'divine intelligence' (Thou
noesis), as 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 the word theonoa = theounoa is a curtailed form of theou
noesis, but the omitted letters do not agree.). Perhaps, however, the
name Theonoe may mean 'she who knows divine things' (Theia noousa)
better than others. Nor shall we be far wrong in supposing that the
author of it wished to identify this Goddess with moral intelligence (en
ethei noesin), and therefore gave her the name ethonoe; which, however,
either he or his successors have altered 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;
that is obvious to anybody.
HERMOGENES: That is very probable, until some more probable notion gets
into your head.
SOCRATES: To prevent that, you had better ask what is the derivation of
HERMOGENES: What is Ares?
SOCRATES: Ares may be called, if you will, from his manhood (arren)
and manliness, or if you please, from his hard and unchangeable nature,
which is the meaning of arratos: the latter is a derivation in every way
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
the steeds of Euthyphro can prance.
HERMOGENES: Only one more God! I should like to know about Hermes, of
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 speech,
and signifies that he is the interpreter (ermeneus), or messenger, or
thief, or 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 use of speech, and there is an often-recurring Homeric word
emesato, which means 'he contrived'--out of these two words, eirein
and mesasthai, the legislator formed the name of the God who invented
language and speech; and we may imagine him dictating to us the use
of this name: 'O my friends,' says he to us, 'seeing that he is the
contriver of tales or speeches, you 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 the verb 'to tell' (eirein), because
she was a messenger.
HERMOGENES: Then I am very sure that Cratylus was quite right in saying
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), and is
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 form
which dwells above among the Gods, whereas falsehood dwells among men
below, and 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 them?
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: Then surely Pan, who is the declarer of all things (pan) and
the perpetual mover (aei polon) of all things, is rightly called aipolos
(goat-herd), he being the two-formed son of Hermes, smooth in his upper
part, and rough and goatlike in his lower regions. And, as the son of
Hermes, he is speech or the brother of speech, and that brother should
be like brother is no marvel. But, as I was saying, my dear Hermogenes,
let us get away from the Gods.
HERMOGENES: From these sort of Gods, by all means, Socrates. But why
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 Doric
form, for the Dorians call him alios, and this name is given to him
because 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, of which the meaning is the same as poikillein (to variegate),
because he 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 the
moon receives her light from the sun.
HERMOGENES: Why do you say so?
SOCRATES: The two words selas (brightness) and phos (light) have much
the same meaning?
SOCRATES: This light about the moon is always new (neon) and always old
(enon), if the disciples of Anaxagoras say truly. For the sun in his
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 new
(enon neon aei) she may very properly have the name selaenoneoaeia; and
this when 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), because
suffering diminution; the name of astra (stars) seems to be derived from
astrape, which is an improvement on anastrope, signifying the upsetting
of 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
Euthyphro 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 in a difficulty of this sort.
HERMOGENES: What is it?
SOCRATES: I will tell you; but I should like to know first whether you
can 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
of this and several other words?--My belief is that they are of foreign
origin. For the Hellenes, especially those who were under the dominion
of the barbarians, often borrowed from them.
HERMOGENES: What is the inference?
SOCRATES: Why, you know that any one who seeks to demonstrate the
fitness of these names according to the Hellenic language, and not
according to the language from which the words are derived, is rather
likely to be at fault.
HERMOGENES: Yes, certainly.
SOCRATES: Well then, consider whether this pur is not foreign; for the
word is not easily brought into relation with the Hellenic tongue, and
the Phrygians may be observed to have the same word slightly changed,
just as 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;
for 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
which raises (airei) things from the earth, or as ever flowing (aei
rei), or 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 this moving wind may be expressed by either term he employs
the word air (aer = aetes rheo). Aither (aether) I should interpret as
aeitheer; this may be correctly said, because this element is always
running in a flux about the air (aei thei peri tou aera reon). The
meaning of the word ge (earth) 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 the year,
eniautos and etos.
SOCRATES: The orai should be spelt in the old Attic way, if you desire
to know the probable truth about them; they are rightly called the orai
because they divide (orizousin) the summers and winters and winds and
the fruits of the earth. The words eniautos and etos appear to be the
same,--'that which brings to light the plants and growths of the
earth in their turn, and passes them in review within itself (en eauto
exetazei)': this is broken up into two words, eniautos from en eauto,
and etos from etazei, just as the original name of Zeus was divided
into Zena and Dia; and the whole proposition means that his power of
reviewing from within is one, but has two names, two words etos and
eniautos being thus formed out of a single proposition.
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, how you
would explain the virtues. What principle of correctness is there in
those charming words--wisdom, understanding, justice, and the rest of
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; and 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
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 into my
head only this moment: I believe that the primeval givers of names were
undoubtedly like too many of our modern philosophers, who, in their
search after the nature of things, are always getting dizzy from
constantly going round and round, and then they imagine that the
world is going round and round and moving in all directions; and this
appearance, which arises out 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 and 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 have been
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 noesis
(perception of motion and flux), or perhaps phoras onesis (the blessing
of 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; or,
if you would rather, here is noesis, the very word just now mentioned,
which is neou esis (the desire of the new); the word neos implies that
the world is always in process of creation. The giver of the name wanted
to express 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
sophrosune is the salvation (soteria) of that wisdom (phronesis) which
we were just now considering. Epioteme (knowledge) is akin to this, and
indicates that the 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; the word is derived from sunienai (to go along
with), and, like epistasthai (to know), implies the progression of the
soul in company with the nature of things. Sophia (wisdom) is very dark,
and appears not to be of native growth; the meaning is, touching the
motion or stream of things. You must remember that the poets, when they
speak of the commencement of any rapid 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 is expressed by sophia, for all things
are supposed to be in motion. Good (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 are swifter, some slower; but
there are some things which are admirable for 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 only agreed to a certain extent about
justice, and then they begin to disagree. For those who suppose all
things to be in motion conceive the greater part of 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 in 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; but I, Hermogenes, being
an enthusiastic disciple, have been told in a mystery 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 one 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 he has said,
to interrogate him gently: 'Well, my excellent friend,' say I, 'but if
all this be true, I still want to know what is justice.' Thereupon they
think that I ask tiresome questions, and am leaping over the barriers,
and have been already sufficiently answered, and they try to satisfy me
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 the
satirical remark, 'What, is there no justice in the world when the sun
is down?' And when I earnestly beg my questioner to tell me his own
honest opinion, he says, 'Fire in the abstract'; but this is not very
intelligible. Another says, 'No, not fire in the abstract, but the
abstraction of heat in the fire.' Another man professes to laugh at all
this, and says, as Anaxagoras says, that justice is mind, for mind, as
they say, has absolute power, and mixes with nothing, and orders all
things, and passes through all things. At last, my friend, I find myself
in far greater perplexity about the nature of justice than I was before
I began to 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
HERMOGENES: I think, Socrates, that you are not improvising now; you
must 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 in
the originality of the rest. What remains after justice? I do not think
that we have as yet discussed courage (andreia),--injustice (adikia),
which is obviously nothing more than a hindrance to the penetrating
principle (diaiontos), need not be considered. Well, then, the name
of andreia seems 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): if you extract the delta from andreia, the name at once
signifies the thing, and you may clearly understand that andreia is not
the stream opposed to every stream, but only to that which is contrary
to justice, for otherwise courage would not have been praised. The words
arren (male) and aner (man) also contain a similar allusion to the same
principle of the upward flux (te ano rhon). Gune (woman) I suspect to
be the same word as goun (birth): thelu (female) appears to be partly
derived from thele (the teat), because 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 to
figure the growth of youth, which is swift and sudden ever. And this is
expressed by the legislator in the name, which is a compound of thein
(running), and allesthai (leaping). Pray observe how I gallop away when
I get on smooth ground. There are a good many names generally thought to
be of importance, 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 two
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
names 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 in all sorts of ways: and time too may have had a share
in the change. Take, for example, the word katoptron; why is the letter
rho inserted? This must surely be the addition of some one who cares
nothing about the truth, but thinks only of putting the mouth into
shape. And the additions are often such that at last no human being can
possibly make out the original meaning of the word. Another example is
the word sphigx, sphiggos, which ought 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 any
letters 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, like
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 of a
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 at the 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 and 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, but kakia is transparent, and agrees with the principles
which preceded, for all things being in a flux (ionton), kakia is kakos
ion (going badly); and this evil motion when existing in the soul has
the general name of kakia, or vice, specially appropriated to it. The
meaning of kakos ienai may be further illustrated by the use of deilia
(cowardice), which ought to have come after andreia, but was forgotten,
and, as I fear, is not the only word 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 and movement. Then the word kakia
appears to mean kakos ienai, or going badly, or limping and halting; of
which the consequence is, that the soul becomes filled with vice. And if
kakia is the name of this sort of thing, arete 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 the attribute of ever
flowing without let or hindrance, and is therefore called arete, or,
more correctly, aeireite (ever-flowing), and may perhaps have had
another form, airete (eligible), indicating that nothing is more
eligible than virtue, and this has been hammered into arete. I daresay
that you will deem this to be another invention of mine, but I think
that 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 form an
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 this
HERMOGENES: Very likely you are right; but suppose that we leave these
words and endeavour to see the rationale of kalon and aischron.
SOCRATES: The meaning of aischron is evident, being only aei ischon roes
(always preventing from flowing), and this is in accordance with our
former derivations. For the name-giver was a great enemy to stagnation
of all sorts, and hence he gave the name aeischoroun to that which
hindered the flux (aei ischon roun), and that is now beaten together
HERMOGENES: But what do you say of kalon?
SOCRATES: That is more obscure; yet the form is only due to the
quantity, 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 of both?
SOCRATES: Is not mind that which called (kalesan) things by their names,
and is not mind the beautiful (kalon)?
HERMOGENES: That is evident.
SOCRATES: And are not the works of intelligence and mind worthy of
praise, and are not other works worthy of blame?
SOCRATES: Physic does the work of a physician, and carpentering does the
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 the works
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 and
kalon, such as sumpheron and lusiteloun, ophelimon, kerdaleon, and their
SOCRATES: The meaning of sumpheron (expedient) I think that you may
discover for yourself by the light of the previous examples,--for it is
a sister word to episteme, meaning just the motion (pora) of the soul
accompanying the world, and things which are done upon this principle
are called sumphora or sumpheronta, because they are carried round with
HERMOGENES: That is probable.
SOCRATES: Again, cherdaleon (gainful) is called from cherdos (gain), but
you must alter the delta into nu if you want to get at the meaning; for
this word also signifies good, but in another way; he who gave the name
intended to express the power of admixture (kerannumenon) and universal
penetration in the good; in forming the word, however, he inserted a
delta 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
profitable the gainful or that which pays (luei) the retailer, but
they use the word in the sense of swift. You regard the profitable
(lusiteloun), as that 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 end, lets things go again (luei), and makes
motion immortal and unceasing: and 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 which creates and increases; this
latter is a common Homeric word, and has a foreign character.
HERMOGENES: And what do you say of their opposites?
SOCRATES: Of such as are mere negatives I hardly think that I need
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 harm
(blaptein) the stream (roun); blapton is boulomenon aptein (seeking to
hold or bind); for aptein is the same as dein, and dein is always a term
of censure; boulomenon aptein roun (wanting to bind the stream) would
properly be boulapteroun, and this, as I imagine, is improved into
HERMOGENES: You bring out curious results, Socrates, in the use of
names; and when I hear the word boulapteroun I cannot help imagining
that you are making your mouth into a flute, and puffing away at some
prelude to Athene.
SOCRATES: That is the fault of the makers of the name, Hermogenes; not
HERMOGENES: Very true; but what is the derivation of zemiodes?
SOCRATES: What is the meaning of zemiodes?--let me remark, Hermogenes,
how right I was in saying that great changes are made in the meaning
of words by putting in and pulling out letters; even a very slight
permutation will sometimes give an entirely opposite sense; I may
instance the word deon, which occurs to me at the moment, and reminds me
of what I was going to say to you, that the fine fashionable language of
modern times has twisted and disguised and entirely altered the original
meaning both of deon, and also of zemiodes, which in the old language is
HERMOGENES: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: I will try to explain. You are aware that our forefathers
loved 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, and 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 either
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 intention
of 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 is
therefore called imera, from imeros, desire.
SOCRATES: But now the name is so travestied that you cannot tell the
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 zugon?
HERMOGENES: They did so.
SOCRATES: And zugon (yoke) has no meaning,--it ought to be duogon, which
word expresses the binding of two together (duein agoge) for the purpose
of 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 that the
word deon (obligation) has a meaning which is the opposite of all the
other appellations of good; for deon is here a species of good, and is,
nevertheless, the chain (desmos) or hinderer of motion, and therefore
own brother of blaberon.
HERMOGENES: Yes, Socrates; that is quite plain.
SOCRATES: Not if you restore the ancient form, which is more likely to
be the correct one, and read dion instead of deon; if you convert the
epsilon into an iota after the old fashion, this word will then agree
with other words meaning good; for dion, not deon, signifies the good,
and is a term of praise; and the author of names has not contradicted
himself, but in all these various appellations, deon (obligatory),
ophelimon (advantageous), lusiteloun (profitable), kerdaleon (gainful),
agathon (good), sumpheron (expedient), euporon (plenteous), the same
conception is implied of the ordering or all-pervading principle which
is praised, and the restraining and binding principle which is censured.
And this is further illustrated by the word zemiodes (hurtful), which if
the zeta is only changed into delta as in the ancient language, becomes
demiodes; and this name, as you will perceive, is given to that which
binds motion (dounti ion).
HERMOGENES: What do you say of edone (pleasure), lupe (pain), epithumia
(desire), and the like, Socrates?
SOCRATES: I do not think, Hermogenes, that there is any great difficulty
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 been altered by the insertion of the delta. Lupe appears to be
derived from the relaxation (luein) which the body feels when in sorrow;
ania (trouble) is the hindrance of motion (alpha and ienai); algedon
(distress), if I am not 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) is the very expression of the fluency and
diffusion of the soul (cheo); terpsis (delight) is so called from the
pleasure creeping (erpon) through the soul, which may be likened to a
breath (pnoe) and is properly erpnoun, but has been altered by time into
terpnon; eupherosune (cheerfulness) and epithumia explain themselves;
the former, which ought to be eupherosune and has been changed
euphrosune, is named, as every one may see, from the soul moving
(pheresthai) in harmony with nature; epithumia is really e epi ton
thumon iousa dunamis, the power which enters into the soul; thumos
(passion) is 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 roes--because flowing with desire (iemenos), and expresses
a longing after things and violent attraction of the soul to them,
and is termed imeros from possessing this power; pothos (longing) is
expressive of the desire of that which is not present but absent, and in
another place (pou); this is the reason why the name pothos is applied
to things absent, as imeros is to things present; eros (love) is so
called because flowing in (esron) from without; the stream is not
inherent, but is an influence introduced through the eyes, and from
flowing in was called esros (influx) in the old time when they used
omicron for omega, and is called eros, now that omega is substituted for
omicron. But why do you not give me another word?
HERMOGENES: What do you think of doxa (opinion), and that class of
SOCRATES: Doxa is either derived from dioxis (pursuit), and expresses
the march of the soul in the pursuit of knowledge, or from the shooting
of a bow (toxon); the latter is more likely, and is confirmed by oiesis
(thinking), which is only oisis (moving), and implies the movement of
the soul to the essential nature of each thing--just as boule (counsel)
has to do with shooting (bole); and boulesthai (to wish) combines the
notion of aiming and deliberating--all these words seem to follow
doxa, and all involve the idea of shooting, just as aboulia, absence of
counsel, on the other hand, is a mishap, or missing, or mistaking of the
mark, or aim, or proposal, or object.
HERMOGENES: You are quickening your pace now, Socrates.
SOCRATES: Why yes, the end I now dedicate to God, not, however, until
I 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,
as I was just now saying, to that motion which is in accordance with
our will; but the necessary and resistant being contrary to our will,
implies error and ignorance; the idea is taken from walking through
a ravine which is impassable, and rugged, and overgrown, and impedes
motion--and this is the derivation of the word anagkaion (necessary)
an agke ion, going through a ravine. But while my strength lasts let us
persevere, and I hope that you will persevere with your questions.
HERMOGENES: Well, then, let me ask about the greatest and noblest,
such as aletheia (truth) and pseudos (falsehood) and on (being), not
forgetting to 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
on ou zetema (being for which there is a search); as is still more
obvious in onomaston (notable), which states in so many words that real
existence is that for which there is a seeking (on ou masma); aletheia
is also an agglomeration of theia ale (divine wandering), implying
the divine motion 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 word 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 also moving (ion), and the same may be said
of not being, which is likewise called not going (oukion or ouki on =
HERMOGENES: You have hammered away at them manfully; but suppose that
some one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon and
doun?--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 already
HERMOGENES: What way?
SOCRATES: To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign
origin; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of this
kind may be true of them; but also the original forms of words may have
been lost in the lapse of ages; names have been so twisted in all
manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language
when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous
HERMOGENES: Very likely.
SOCRATES: Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands our earnest
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 out 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 the
enquiry? Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are the
elements of all other names and sentences; for these cannot be supposed
to 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).
And 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 we 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 should
turn 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 to this
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 in 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 principle
is 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 to
indicate the nature of things.
HERMOGENES: Of course.
SOCRATES: And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the
secondary names, is implied in their being names.
SOCRATES: But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance
from the primary.
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 you
a question: Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to
communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb,
make 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 of
our hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness; heaviness and
downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground;
if we were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal, we
should make 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 ever
HERMOGENES: Very true.
SOCRATES: And when we want to express ourselves, either with the voice,
or tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of that
which we 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 not
reached the truth as yet.
HERMOGENES: Why not?
SOCRATES: Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that the
people who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which
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 tell me,
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 put the
matter as follows: All objects have sound and figure, and many have
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
well 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 thing
in 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 you gave
to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called?
HERMOGENES: I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or
name-giver, of whom we are in search.
SOCRATES: If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition to
consider the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention),
about which you were asking; and we may see whether the namer has
grasped the nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner as
to imitate the 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 them,
and where does the imitator begin? Imitation of the essence is made by
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
done so, but not before, they proceed to the consideration of rhythms?
SOCRATES: Must we not begin in the same way with letters; first
separating 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 vowels, nor yet mutes; and distinguishing into classes the
vowels themselves? And when we have perfected the classification of
things, we shall give them names, and see whether, as in the case of
letters, there are any classes to which they may be all referred (cf.
Phaedrus); and hence we shall see their natures, and see, too, whether
they have in them classes as there are in the letters; and when we have
well considered all this, we shall know how to apply them to what they
resemble--whether one letter is used to denote one thing, or whether
there is to be an admixture of several of them; just, as in painting,
the painter who wants to depict anything sometimes uses 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 so, 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, at last,
from the combinations of nouns and verbs arrive at language, large and
fair and whole; and as the painter made a figure, even so shall we make
speech by the art of the namer or the rhetorician, or by some other
art. 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 in like manner, if we are to attain a scientific view of the
whole subject, and we must see whether the primary, and also whether the
secondary elements are rightly given or not, for if they are not, the
composition of them, my dear 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 them
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, if
we can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability,
saying by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the
truth about them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions of
them. And in this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves, before we
proceed, that the higher method is the one which we or others who
would analyse language to any good purpose must follow; but under the
circumstances, as men say, we must do as well as we can. What do you
HERMOGENES: I very much approve.
SOCRATES: That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and
so find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot be
avoided--there is no better principle to which we can look for the truth
of first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to divine help,
like the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have their gods waiting in
the air; and must get out of our difficulty in like fashion, by saying
that 'the 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, of deriving them from some barbarous people, for the
barbarians are older than we are; or we may say that antiquity has cast
a veil over them, which is the same sort of excuse as the last; for all
these are not reasons but only ingenious excuses for having no reasons
concerning the truth of words. And 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. Clearly 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
desire, and I hope that you will communicate to me in return anything
better which you may have.
HERMOGENES: Fear not; I will do my best.
SOCRATES: In the first place, the letter rho appears to me to be the
general instrument expressing all motion (kinesis). But I have not yet
explained the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis (going);
for 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
ienai. And the old word kinesis will be correctly given as iesis in
corresponding modern letters. Assuming this foreign root kiein, and
allowing for the 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 (or 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 the expression of motion; and he frequently
uses the letter for this purpose: for example, in the actual words
rein and roe he represents motion by rho; also in the words tromos
(trembling), trachus (rugged); and again, in words such as krouein
(strike), thrauein (crush), ereikein (bruise), thruptein (break),
kermatixein (crumble), rumbein (whirl): of all these sorts of movements
he generally finds an expression in the letter R, because, as I imagine,
he had observed that the tongue was most agitated and least at rest in
the pronunciation of this letter, which he therefore used in order
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 letter
iota as imitative of motion, ienai, iesthai. And there is another class
of letters, phi, psi, sigma, and xi, of which the pronunciation is
accompanied by great expenditure of breath; these are used in the
imitation of such notions as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething),
seiesthai, (to be shaken), seismos (shock), and are always introduced by
the giver of names when he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy). He
seems to have thought that the closing and pressure of the tongue in
the utterance of delta and tau was expressive of binding and rest in
a place: he further observed the liquid movement of lambda, in the
pronunciation of which the tongue slips, and in this he found the
expression of smoothness, as in leios (level), and in the word
oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon (sleek), in the word kollodes
(gluey), and the like: the heavier sound of 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 a 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 they are great letters:
omicron was the sign of roundness, and therefore there is plenty of
omicron mixed up in the word goggulon (round). Thus did the 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 I should like to
hear what Cratylus has more to say.
HERMOGENES: But, Socrates, as I was telling you before, Cratylus
mystifies me; he says that there is a fitness of names, but he never
explains what is this fitness, so that I cannot tell whether his
obscurity is intended or 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 better of your own? and if you have,
tell me what your view is, and then you will either learn of Socrates,
or Socrates and I will learn of you.
CRATYLUS: Well, but surely, Hermogenes, you do not suppose that you can
learn, or I explain, any subject of importance all in a moment; at
any rate, not such a subject as language, which is, perhaps, the very
greatest of all.
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 that
you 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 upon you.
SOCRATES: I am by no means positive, Cratylus, in the view which
Hermogenes and myself have worked out; and therefore do not hesitate
to say 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
have found some better notion. For you have evidently reflected on these
matters and have had teachers, and if you have really a better theory of
the truth of 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. But I
fear that the opposite is more probable, and I already find myself moved
to 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
much to my mind, whether you are inspired by Euthyphro, or whether some
Muse may have long been an inhabitant of your breast, unconsciously to
SOCRATES: Excellent Cratylus, I have long been wondering at my own
wisdom; I cannot trust myself. And I think that I ought to stop and
ask myself What am I saying? for there is nothing worse than
self-deception--when the deceiver is always at home and always with
you--it is quite terrible, and therefore I ought often to retrace
my steps and endeavour to 'look fore and aft,' in the words of the
aforesaid Homer. And now let me see; where are we? Have we not been
saying that the correct name indicates the nature of the thing:--has
this proposition been sufficiently proven?
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, what you say, as I am disposed to think, is
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? Let me
explain what I mean: of painters, some are better and some worse?
SOCRATES: The better painters execute their works, I mean their figures,
better, and the worse execute them worse; and of builders also, the
better sort build fairer houses, and the worse build them worse.
SOCRATES: And among legislators, there are some who do their work better
and some worse?
CRATYLUS: No; there I do not agree with you.
SOCRATES: Then you do not think that some laws are better and others
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
of Hermes in him, shall we say that this is a wrong name, or not his
name at all?
CRATYLUS: I should reply that Hermogenes is not his name at all, but
only appears to be his, and is really the name of somebody else, who has
the nature which corresponds to it.
SOCRATES: And if a man were to call him Hermogenes, would he not be
even speaking falsely? For there may be a doubt whether you can call him
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 in
CRATYLUS: Why, Socrates, how can a man say that which is not?--say
something and yet say nothing? For is not falsehood saying the thing
which is not?
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,
Athenian stranger, Hermogenes, son of Smicrion'--these words, whether
spoken, said, uttered, or addressed, would have no application to you
but only to our 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 tell
me 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 to no
purpose; and that his words would be an unmeaning sound like the noise
of 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 named?
CRATYLUS: I should.
SOCRATES: And would you further acknowledge that the name is an
imitation of the thing?
SOCRATES: And you would say that pictures are also imitations of things,
but in another way?
SOCRATES: I believe you may be right, but I do not rightly understand
you. Please to say, then, whether both sorts of imitation (I mean both
pictures or words) are not equally attributable and applicable to the
things of which they are the imitation.
CRATYLUS: They are.
SOCRATES: First look at the matter thus: you may attribute the likeness
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 the first?
CRATYLUS: Only the first.
SOCRATES: That is to say, the mode of assignment which attributes to
each 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 have a
good understanding about the argument, let me state my view to you: the
first mode of assignment, whether applied to figures or to names, I call
right, and when applied to names only, true as well as right; and the
other mode of giving and assigning the name which is unlike, I call
wrong, and in 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
the likeness of a woman; and when I say 'show,' I mean bring before the
sense of sight.
SOCRATES: And may I not go to him again, and say, 'This is your
name'?--for the name, like the picture, is an imitation. May I not say
to him--'This is your name'? and may I not then bring to his sense of
hearing the imitation of himself, when I say, 'This is a man'; or of a
female of the human species, when I say, 'This is a woman,' as the case
may be? Is not all that quite possible?
CRATYLUS: I would fain agree with you, Socrates; and therefore I say,
SOCRATES: That is very good of you, if I am right, which need hardly be
disputed at present. But if I can assign names as well as pictures to
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 of
names, there may also be a wrong or inappropriate assignment of verbs;
and 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, and
in pictures you may either give all the appropriate colours and figures,
or you may not give them all--some may be wanting; or there may be too
many or too much of them--may there not?
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: And he who gives all gives a perfect picture or figure; and
he 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 the
nature of things, if he gives all that is appropriate will produce a
good image, or in other words a name; but if he subtracts or perhaps
adds a little, he will make an image but not a good one; whence I infer
that some names are well and others ill made.
CRATYLUS: That is true.
SOCRATES: Then the artist of names may be sometimes good, or he may be
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, is
different; for when by the help of grammar we assign the letters alpha
or 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 other than a name.
SOCRATES: But I doubt whether your view is altogether correct, Cratylus.
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: I believe that what you say may be true about numbers, which
must be just what they are, or not be at all; for example, the number
ten at once becomes other than ten if a unit be added or subtracted,
and so of any other number: but this does not apply to that which is
qualitative or to anything which is represented under an image. I should
say rather that the image, if expressing in every point the entire
reality, would no longer 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 as a painter would make of your outward form and
colour, but also creates an inward organization like yours, having the
same warmth and softness; and into this infuses motion, and soul, and
mind, such as you have, and in a 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 that 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
principle of truth in images, and also in names; and not insist that an
image is no longer an image when something is added or subtracted. Do
you not perceive 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 on
things, if they were exactly the same with them! For they would be the
doubles of them, and no one would be able to determine which were the
names and which were the realities.
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Then fear not, but have the courage to admit that one name may
be correctly and another incorrectly given; and do not insist that the
name 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 a
sentence, and if of a noun in a sentence also of a sentence which is not
appropriate to the matter, and acknowledge that the thing may be named,
and described, so long as the general character of the thing which you
are describing is retained; and this, as you will remember, was remarked
by 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
if some of the proper letters are wanting, still the thing is
signified;--well, if all the letters are given; not well, when only a
few of them are given. I think that we had better admit this, lest we be
punished like travellers in Aegina who wander about the street late at
night: and be likewise told by truth herself that we have arrived too
late; or if not, you must find out some new notion of correctness of
names, and no longer maintain that a name is the expression of a thing
in letters or syllables; for if you say both, you will be inconsistent
CRATYLUS: I quite acknowledge, Socrates, what you say to be very
SOCRATES: Then as we are agreed thus far, let us ask ourselves whether a
name rightly imposed ought not to have the proper letters.
SOCRATES: And the proper letters are those which are like the things?
SOCRATES: Enough then of names which are rightly given. And in names
which are incorrectly given, the greater part may be supposed to be made
up 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 you,
since I cannot be satisfied that a name which is incorrectly given is a
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, and some
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 you
can; or do you prefer the notion of Hermogenes and of many others, who
say that names are conventional, and have a meaning to those who
have agreed about them, and who have previous knowledge of the things
intended by them, and that convention is the only principle; and whether
you abide by our present convention, or make a new and opposite one,
according to which you call small great and great small--that, they
would say, makes no difference, if you are only agreed. Which of these
two notions do you prefer?
CRATYLUS: Representation by likeness, Socrates, is infinitely better
than representation by any chance sign.
SOCRATES: Very good: but if the name is to be like the thing, the
letters 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 ever compose a picture which would be like anything at all, if
there were not pigments in nature which resembled the things imitated,
and out of which the picture is composed?
SOCRATES: No more could names ever resemble any actually existing thing,
unless the original elements of which they are compounded bore some
degree of resemblance to the objects of which the names are the
imitation: And the original elements are letters?
SOCRATES: Let me now invite you to consider what Hermogenes and I
were saying about sounds. Do you agree with me that the letter rho is
expressive of rapidity, motion, and hardness? Were we right or wrong in
CRATYLUS: I should say that you were right.
SOCRATES: And that lamda was expressive of smoothness, and softness, and
CRATYLUS: There again you were right.
SOCRATES: And yet, as you are aware, that which is called by us
sklerotes, is by the Eretrians called skleroter.
CRATYLUS: Very true.
SOCRATES: But are the letters rho and sigma equivalents; and is there
the same significance to them in the termination rho, which there is to
us in 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 unlike?
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 that is
expressive not of hardness but of softness.
CRATYLUS: Why, perhaps the letter lamda is wrongly inserted, Socrates,
and should be altered into rho, as you were saying to Hermogenes and
in my opinion rightly, when you spoke of adding and subtracting letters
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 custom.
SOCRATES: And what is custom but convention? I utter a sound which I
understand, and you know that I understand the meaning of the sound:
this is what you are saying?
SOCRATES: And if when I speak you know my meaning, there is an
indication 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 is
true, then you have made a convention with yourself, and the correctness
of a name turns out to be convention, since letters which are unlike are
indicative equally with those which are like, if they are sanctioned by
custom and convention. And even supposing that you distinguish custom
from convention ever so much, still you must say that the signification
of words is given by custom and not by likeness, for custom may indicate
by the unlike as well as by the like. But as we are agreed thus far,
Cratylus (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 and
agreement to have authority in determining the correctness of names?
I quite agree with you that words should as far as possible resemble
things; but I fear that this dragging in of resemblance, as Hermogenes
says, is a 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 the most imperfect. But let me ask you, what is the force of
names, and what is the use of them?
CRATYLUS: The use of names, Socrates, as I should imagine, is to inform:
the simple truth is, that he who knows names knows also the things which
are expressed by them.
SOCRATES: I suppose you mean to say, Cratylus, that as the name is,
so also is the thing; and that he who knows the one will also know the
other, because they are similars, and all similars fall under the same
art or science; and therefore you would say that he who knows names will
also know things.
CRATYLUS: That is precisely what I mean.
SOCRATES: But let us consider what is the nature of this information
about things which, according to you, is given us by names. Is it the
best sort of information? or is there any other? What do you say?
CRATYLUS: I believe that to be both the only and the best sort of
information about them; there can be no other.
SOCRATES: But do you believe that in the discovery of them, he who
discovers the names discovers also the things; or is this only the
method of instruction, and is there some other method of enquiry and
CRATYLUS: I certainly believe that the methods of enquiry and discovery
are of the same nature as instruction.
SOCRATES: Well, but do you not see, Cratylus, that he who follows names
in the search after things, and analyses their meaning, is in great
danger of being deceived?
CRATYLUS: How so?
SOCRATES: Why clearly he who first gave names gave them according to his
conception of the things which they signified--did he not?
SOCRATES: And if his conception was erroneous, and he gave names
according to his conception, in what position shall we who are his
followers find ourselves? Shall we not be deceived by him?
CRATYLUS: But, Socrates, am I not right in thinking that he must surely
have known; or else, as I was saying, his names would not be names at
all? And you have a clear proof that he has not missed the truth, and
the proof is--that he is perfectly consistent. Did you ever observe in
speaking that all the words which you utter have a common character and
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 more than in geometrical diagrams, which have often a slight and
invisible flaw in the first part of the process, and are consistently
mistaken in the long deductions which follow. And this is the reason
why every man should expend his chief thought and attention on the
consideration of his first principles:--are they or are they not rightly
laid down? and when he has duly sifted them, all the rest will follow.
Now I should be astonished to find that names are really consistent. And
here let us revert to our former discussion: Were we not saying that all
things are in motion and progress and flux, and that this idea of motion
is expressed by names? Do you not conceive that to be the meaning of
CRATYLUS: Yes; that is assuredly their meaning, and the true meaning.
SOCRATES: Let us revert to episteme (knowledge) and observe how
ambiguous this word is, seeming rather to signify stopping the soul at
things than going round with them; and therefore we should leave
the beginning as at present, and not reject the epsilon, but make an
insertion of an iota instead of an epsilon (not pioteme, but epiisteme).
Take another example: bebaion (sure) is clearly the expression of
station and position, and not 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 one may see, expresses
rest in the soul, and not motion. Moreover, words such as amartia
and sumphora, which have a bad sense, viewed in the light of their
etymologies will be the same as sunesis and episteme and other
words which have a good sense (compare omartein, sunienai, epesthai,
sumpheresthai); and much the same may be said of amathia and akolasia,
for amathia may be explained as e ama theo iontos poreia, and akolasia
as e akolouthia tois pragmasin. Thus the names which in these instances
we find to have the 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 trouble might find many other examples in which the giver of
names indicates, not that things are in motion or progress, but that
they are at rest; which is the opposite of motion.
CRATYLUS: Yes, Socrates, but observe; the greater number express motion.
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 of
whichever 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 question and
proceed to another, about which I should like to know whether you think
with me. Were we not lately acknowledging that the first givers of names
in states, both Hellenic and barbarous, were the legislators, and that
the art which gave names was the art of the legislator?
CRATYLUS: Quite true.
SOCRATES: Tell me, then, did the first legislators, who were the givers
of 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. You were
saying, if you remember, that he who gave names must have known the
things 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 names
if the primitive names were not yet given? For, if we are correct in
our 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 can
we suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators
before there were names at all, and therefore before they could have
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
names 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 now
that he made some names expressive of rest and others of motion? Were we
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 which are
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 that
they are like the truth, others contending that THEY are, how or by what
criterion are we to decide between them? For there are no other names to
which appeal can be made, but obviously recourse must be had to another
standard which, without employing names, will make clear which of the
two are right; and this must be a standard which shows the truth of
CRATYLUS: I agree.
SOCRATES: But if that is true, Cratylus, then I suppose that things may
be 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?
For that which is other and different from them must signify something
other and different from them.
CRATYLUS: What you are saying is, I think, true.
SOCRATES: Well, but reflect; have we not several times acknowledged that
names rightly given are the likenesses and images of the things which
SOCRATES: Let us suppose that to any extent you please you can learn
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 of
which the image is the expression have been rightly conceived, or to
learn of the truth whether the truth and the image of it have been duly
CRATYLUS: I should say that we must learn of the truth.
SOCRATES: How real existence is to be studied or discovered is, I
suspect, beyond you and me. But we may admit so much, that the knowledge
of things is not to be derived from names. No; they must be studied and
investigated in themselves.
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
same direction. I myself do not deny that the givers of names did really
give them under the idea that all things were in motion and flux; which
was their sincere but, I think, mistaken opinion. And having fallen into
a kind of whirlpool themselves, they are carried round, and want to
drag us in after them. There is a matter, master Cratylus, about which I
often 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
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 a
flux; but let us ask whether the true beauty is not always beautiful.
SOCRATES: And can we rightly speak of a beauty which is always passing
away, and is first this and then that; must not the same thing be born
and retire and vanish while the word is in our mouths?
SOCRATES: Then how can that be a real thing which is never in the same
state? for obviously things which are the same cannot change while they
remain the same; and if they are always the same and in the same state,
and 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 that
the observer approaches, then they become other and of another nature,
so that you cannot get any further in knowing their nature or state, for
you cannot know that which has no state.
SOCRATES: Nor can we reasonably say, Cratylus, that there is knowledge
at 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 of
knowledge changes, at the time when the change occurs there will be no
knowledge; and 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 to be known: but if that which knows and that which is
known exists ever, and the beautiful and the good and every other thing
also exist, then I do not think that they can resemble a process or
flux, as we were just now supposing. Whether there is this eternal
nature in things, or whether the truth is what Heracleitus and his
followers and many others say, is a question hard to determine; and no
man of sense will like to put himself or 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 imagine that the world is a man who
has a running at the nose. This may be true, Cratylus, but is also very
likely to be untrue; and therefore I would not 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 to 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, that
I have been considering the matter already, and the result of a great
deal of trouble and consideration is that I incline to Heracleitus.
SOCRATES: Then, another day, my friend, when you come back, you shall
give me a lesson; but at present, go into the country, as you are
intending, and Hermogenes shall set you on your way.
CRATYLUS: Very good, Socrates; I hope, however, that you will continue
to think about these things yourself.