LYSIS, OR FRIENDSHIP
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
Socrates, who is the narrator, Menexenus, Hippothales, Lysis, Ctesippus.
SCENE: A newly-erected Palaestra outside the walls of Athens.
I was going from the Academy straight to the Lyceum, intending to
take the outer road, which is close under the wall. When I came to the
postern gate of the city, which is by the fountain of Panops, I fell in
with Hippothales, the son of Hieronymus, and Ctesippus the Paeanian, and
a company of young men who were standing with them. Hippothales, seeing
me approach, asked whence I came and whither I was going.
I am going, I replied, from the Academy straight to the Lyceum.
Then come straight to us, he said, and put in here; you may as well.
Who are you, I said; and where am I to come?
He showed me an enclosed space and an open door over against the wall.
And there, he said, is the building at which we all meet: and a goodly
company we are.
And what is this building, I asked; and what sort of entertainment have
The building, he replied, is a newly erected Palaestra; and the
entertainment is generally conversation, to which you are welcome.
Thank you, I said; and is there any teacher there?
Yes, he said, your old friend and admirer, Miccus.
Indeed, I replied; he is a very eminent professor.
Are you disposed, he said, to go with me and see them?
Yes, I said; but I should like to know first, what is expected of me,
and who is the favourite among you?
Some persons have one favourite, Socrates, and some another, he said.
And who is yours? I asked: tell me that, Hippothales.
At this he blushed; and I said to him, O Hippothales, thou son of
Hieronymus! do not say that you are, or that you are not, in love; the
confession is too late; for I see that you are not only in love, but are
already far gone in your love. Simple and foolish as I am, the Gods have
given me the power of understanding affections of this kind.
Whereupon he blushed more and more.
Ctesippus said: I like to see you blushing, Hippothales, and hesitating
to tell Socrates the name; when, if he were with you but for a very
short time, you would have plagued him to death by talking about nothing
else. Indeed, Socrates, he has literally deafened us, and stopped our
ears with the praises of Lysis; and if he is a little intoxicated, there
is every likelihood that we may have our sleep murdered with a cry of
Lysis. His performances in prose are bad enough, but nothing at all in
comparison with his verse; and when he drenches us with his poems and
other compositions, it is really too bad; and worse still is his manner
of singing them to his love; he has a voice which is truly appalling,
and we cannot help hearing him: and now having a question put to him by
you, behold he is blushing.
Who is Lysis? I said: I suppose that he must be young; for the name does
not recall any one to me.
Why, he said, his father being a very well-known man, he retains his
patronymic, and is not as yet commonly called by his own name; but,
although you do not know his name, I am sure that you must know his
face, for that is quite enough to distinguish him.
But tell me whose son he is, I said.
He is the eldest son of Democrates, of the deme of Aexone.
Ah, Hippothales, I said; what a noble and really perfect love you have
found! I wish that you would favour me with the exhibition which you
have been making to the rest of the company, and then I shall be able to
judge whether you know what a lover ought to say about his love, either
to the youth himself, or to others.
Nay, Socrates, he said; you surely do not attach any importance to what
he is saying.
Do you mean, I said, that you disown the love of the person whom he says
that you love?
No; but I deny that I make verses or address compositions to him.
He is not in his right mind, said Ctesippus; he is talking nonsense, and
is stark mad.
O Hippothales, I said, if you have ever made any verses or songs in
honour of your favourite, I do not want to hear them; but I want to
know the purport of them, that I may be able to judge of your mode of
approaching your fair one.
Ctesippus will be able to tell you, he said; for if, as he avers, the
sound of my words is always dinning in his ears, he must have a very
accurate knowledge and recollection of them.
Yes, indeed, said Ctesippus; I know only too well; and very ridiculous
the tale is: for although he is a lover, and very devotedly in love, he
has nothing particular to talk about to his beloved which a child might
not say. Now is not that ridiculous? He can only speak of the wealth of
Democrates, which the whole city celebrates, and grandfather Lysis, and
the other ancestors of the youth, and their stud of horses, and their
victory at the Pythian games, and at the Isthmus, and at Nemea with
four horses and single horses--these are the tales which he composes
and repeats. And there is greater twaddle still. Only the day before
yesterday he made a poem in which he described the entertainment of
Heracles, who was a connexion of the family, setting forth how in virtue
of this relationship he was hospitably received by an ancestor of
Lysis; this ancestor was himself begotten of Zeus by the daughter of the
founder of the deme. And these are the sort of old wives' tales which he
sings and recites to us, and we are obliged to listen to him.
When I heard this, I said: O ridiculous Hippothales! how can you be
making and singing hymns in honour of yourself before you have won?
But my songs and verses, he said, are not in honour of myself, Socrates.
You think not? I said.
Nay, but what do you think? he replied.
Most assuredly, I said, those songs are all in your own honour; for if
you win your beautiful love, your discourses and songs will be a glory
to you, and may be truly regarded as hymns of praise composed in honour
of you who have conquered and won such a love; but if he slips away from
you, the more you have praised him, the more ridiculous you will look at
having lost this fairest and best of blessings; and therefore the wise
lover does not praise his beloved until he has won him, because he is
afraid of accidents. There is also another danger; the fair, when any
one praises or magnifies them, are filled with the spirit of pride and
vain-glory. Do you not agree with me?
Yes, he said.
And the more vain-glorious they are, the more difficult is the capture
I believe you.
What should you say of a hunter who frightened away his prey, and made
the capture of the animals which he is hunting more difficult?
He would be a bad hunter, undoubtedly.
Yes; and if, instead of soothing them, he were to infuriate them with
words and songs, that would show a great want of wit: do you not agree.
And now reflect, Hippothales, and see whether you are not guilty of all
these errors in writing poetry. For I can hardly suppose that you will
affirm a man to be a good poet who injures himself by his poetry.
Assuredly not, he said; such a poet would be a fool. And this is the
reason why I take you into my counsels, Socrates, and I shall be glad of
any further advice which you may have to offer. Will you tell me by what
words or actions I may become endeared to my love?
That is not easy to determine, I said; but if you will bring your love
to me, and will let me talk with him, I may perhaps be able to show you
how to converse with him, instead of singing and reciting in the fashion
of which you are accused.
There will be no difficulty in bringing him, he replied; if you will
only go with Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and sit down and talk,
I believe that he will come of his own accord; for he is fond of
listening, Socrates. And as this is the festival of the Hermaea, the
young men and boys are all together, and there is no separation between
them. He will be sure to come: but if he does not, Ctesippus with whom
he is familiar, and whose relation Menexenus is his great friend, shall
That will be the way, I said. Thereupon I led Ctesippus into the
Palaestra, and the rest followed.
Upon entering we found that the boys had just been sacrificing; and this
part of the festival was nearly at an end. They were all in their white
array, and games at dice were going on among them. Most of them were
in the outer court amusing themselves; but some were in a corner of the
Apodyterium playing at odd and even with a number of dice, which
they took out of little wicker baskets. There was also a circle of
lookers-on; among them was Lysis. He was standing with the other boys
and youths, having a crown upon his head, like a fair vision, and not
less worthy of praise for his goodness than for his beauty. We left
them, and went over to the opposite side of the room, where, finding
a quiet place, we sat down; and then we began to talk. This attracted
Lysis, who was constantly turning round to look at us--he was evidently
wanting to come to us. For a time he hesitated and had not the courage
to come alone; but first of all, his friend Menexenus, leaving his play,
entered the Palaestra from the court, and when he saw Ctesippus and
myself, was going to take a seat by us; and then Lysis, seeing him,
followed, and sat down by his side; and the other boys joined. I should
observe that Hippothales, when he saw the crowd, got behind them, where
he thought that he would be out of sight of Lysis, lest he should anger
him; and there he stood and listened.
I turned to Menexenus, and said: Son of Demophon, which of you two
youths is the elder?
That is a matter of dispute between us, he said.
And which is the nobler? Is that also a matter of dispute?
And another disputed point is, which is the fairer?
The two boys laughed.
I shall not ask which is the richer of the two, I said; for you are
friends, are you not?
Certainly, they replied.
And friends have all things in common, so that one of you can be no
richer than the other, if you say truly that you are friends.
They assented. I was about to ask which was the juster of the two, and
which was the wiser of the two; but at this moment Menexenus was called
away by some one who came and said that the gymnastic-master wanted him.
I supposed that he had to offer sacrifice. So he went away, and I asked
Lysis some more questions. I dare say, Lysis, I said, that your father
and mother love you very much.
Certainly, he said.
And they would wish you to be perfectly happy.
But do you think that any one is happy who is in the condition of a
slave, and who cannot do what he likes?
I should think not indeed, he said.
And if your father and mother love you, and desire that you should
be happy, no one can doubt that they are very ready to promote your
Certainly, he replied.
And do they then permit you to do what you like, and never rebuke you or
hinder you from doing what you desire?
Yes, indeed, Socrates; there are a great many things which they hinder
me from doing.
What do you mean? I said. Do they want you to be happy, and yet hinder
you from doing what you like? for example, if you want to mount one
of your father's chariots, and take the reins at a race, they will not
allow you to do so--they will prevent you?
Certainly, he said, they will not allow me to do so.
Whom then will they allow?
There is a charioteer, whom my father pays for driving.
And do they trust a hireling more than you? and may he do what he likes
with the horses? and do they pay him for this?
But I dare say that you may take the whip and guide the mule-cart if you
like;--they will permit that?
Permit me! indeed they will not.
Then, I said, may no one use the whip to the mules?
Yes, he said, the muleteer.
And is he a slave or a free man?
A slave, he said.
And do they esteem a slave of more value than you who are their son? And
do they entrust their property to him rather than to you? and allow him
to do what he likes, when they prohibit you? Answer me now: Are you your
own master, or do they not even allow that?
Nay, he said; of course they do not allow it.
Then you have a master?
Yes, my tutor; there he is.
And is he a slave?
To be sure; he is our slave, he replied.
Surely, I said, this is a strange thing, that a free man should be
governed by a slave. And what does he do with you?
He takes me to my teachers.
You do not mean to say that your teachers also rule over you?
Of course they do.
Then I must say that your father is pleased to inflict many lords and
masters on you. But at any rate when you go home to your mother,
she will let you have your own way, and will not interfere with your
happiness; her wool, or the piece of cloth which she is weaving, are
at your disposal: I am sure that there is nothing to hinder you from
touching her wooden spathe, or her comb, or any other of her spinning
Nay, Socrates, he replied, laughing; not only does she hinder me, but I
should be beaten if I were to touch one of them.
Well, I said, this is amazing. And did you ever behave ill to your
father or your mother?
No, indeed, he replied.
But why then are they so terribly anxious to prevent you from being
happy, and doing as you like?--keeping you all day long in subjection
to another, and, in a word, doing nothing which you desire; so that you
have no good, as would appear, out of their great possessions, which are
under the control of anybody rather than of you, and have no use of your
own fair person, which is tended and taken care of by another; while
you, Lysis, are master of nobody, and can do nothing?
Why, he said, Socrates, the reason is that I am not of age.
I doubt whether that is the real reason, I said; for I should imagine
that your father Democrates, and your mother, do permit you to do many
things already, and do not wait until you are of age: for example, if
they want anything read or written, you, I presume, would be the first
person in the house who is summoned by them.
And you would be allowed to write or read the letters in any order which
you please, or to take up the lyre and tune the notes, and play with the
fingers, or strike with the plectrum, exactly as you please, and neither
father nor mother would interfere with you.
That is true, he said.
Then what can be the reason, Lysis, I said, why they allow you to do the
one and not the other?
I suppose, he said, because I understand the one, and not the other.
Yes, my dear youth, I said, the reason is not any deficiency of years,
but a deficiency of knowledge; and whenever your father thinks that
you are wiser than he is, he will instantly commit himself and his
possessions to you.
I think so.
Aye, I said; and about your neighbour, too, does not the same rule
hold as about your father? If he is satisfied that you know more of
housekeeping than he does, will he continue to administer his affairs
himself, or will he commit them to you?
I think that he will commit them to me.
Will not the Athenian people, too, entrust their affairs to you when
they see that you have wisdom enough to manage them?
And oh! let me put another case, I said: There is the great king, and he
has an eldest son, who is the Prince of Asia;--suppose that you and I go
to him and establish to his satisfaction that we are better cooks than
his son, will he not entrust to us the prerogative of making soup, and
putting in anything that we like while the pot is boiling, rather than
to the Prince of Asia, who is his son?
To us, clearly.
And we shall be allowed to throw in salt by handfuls, whereas the son
will not be allowed to put in as much as he can take up between his
Or suppose again that the son has bad eyes, will he allow him, or will
he not allow him, to touch his own eyes if he thinks that he has no
knowledge of medicine?
He will not allow him.
Whereas, if he supposes us to have a knowledge of medicine, he will
allow us to do what we like with him--even to open the eyes wide and
sprinkle ashes upon them, because he supposes that we know what is best?
That is true.
And everything in which we appear to him to be wiser than himself or his
son he will commit to us?
That is very true, Socrates, he replied.
Then now, my dear Lysis, I said, you perceive that in things which
we know every one will trust us,--Hellenes and barbarians, men and
women,--and we may do as we please about them, and no one will like to
interfere with us; we shall be free, and masters of others; and these
things will be really ours, for we shall be benefited by them. But in
things of which we have no understanding, no one will trust us to do as
seems good to us--they will hinder us as far as they can; and not only
strangers, but father and mother, and the friend, if there be one, who
is dearer still, will also hinder us; and we shall be subject to others;
and these things will not be ours, for we shall not be benefited by
them. Do you agree?
And shall we be friends to others, and will any others love us, in as
far as we are useless to them?
Neither can your father or mother love you, nor can anybody love anybody
else, in so far as they are useless to them?
And therefore, my boy, if you are wise, all men will be your friends
and kindred, for you will be useful and good; but if you are not wise,
neither father, nor mother, nor kindred, nor any one else, will be your
friends. And in matters of which you have as yet no knowledge, can you
have any conceit of knowledge?
That is impossible, he replied.
And you, Lysis, if you require a teacher, have not yet attained to
And therefore you are not conceited, having nothing of which to be
Indeed, Socrates, I think not.
When I heard him say this, I turned to Hippothales, and was very nearly
making a blunder, for I was going to say to him: That is the way,
Hippothales, in which you should talk to your beloved, humbling and
lowering him, and not as you do, puffing him up and spoiling him. But I
saw that he was in great excitement and confusion at what had been said,
and I remembered that, although he was in the neighbourhood, he did not
want to be seen by Lysis; so upon second thoughts I refrained.
In the meantime Menexenus came back and sat down in his place by Lysis;
and Lysis, in a childish and affectionate manner, whispered privately in
my ear, so that Menexenus should not hear: Do, Socrates, tell Menexenus
what you have been telling me.
Suppose that you tell him yourself, Lysis, I replied; for I am sure that
you were attending.
Certainly, he replied.
Try, then, to remember the words, and be as exact as you can in
repeating them to him, and if you have forgotten anything, ask me again
the next time that you see me.
I will be sure to do so, Socrates; but go on telling him something new,
and let me hear, as long as I am allowed to stay.
I certainly cannot refuse, I said, since you ask me; but then, as you
know, Menexenus is very pugnacious, and therefore you must come to the
rescue if he attempts to upset me.
Yes, indeed, he said; he is very pugnacious, and that is the reason why
I want you to argue with him.
That I may make a fool of myself?
No, indeed, he said; but I want you to put him down.
That is no easy matter, I replied; for he is a terrible fellow--a pupil
of Ctesippus. And there is Ctesippus himself: do you see him?
Never mind, Socrates, you shall argue with him.
Well, I suppose that I must, I replied.
Hereupon Ctesippus complained that we were talking in secret, and
keeping the feast to ourselves.
I shall be happy, I said, to let you have a share. Here is Lysis, who
does not understand something that I was saying, and wants me to ask
Menexenus, who, as he thinks, is likely to know.
And why do you not ask him? he said.
Very well, I said, I will; and do you, Menexenus, answer. But first I
must tell you that I am one who from my childhood upward have set my
heart upon a certain thing. All people have their fancies; some desire
horses, and others dogs; and some are fond of gold, and others of
honour. Now, I have no violent desire of any of these things; but I have
a passion for friends; and I would rather have a good friend than the
best cock or quail in the world: I would even go further, and say the
best horse or dog. Yea, by the dog of Egypt, I should greatly prefer a
real friend to all the gold of Darius, or even to Darius himself: I am
such a lover of friends as that. And when I see you and Lysis, at your
early age, so easily possessed of this treasure, and so soon, he of
you, and you of him, I am amazed and delighted, seeing that I myself,
although I am now advanced in years, am so far from having made a
similar acquisition, that I do not even know in what way a friend is
acquired. But I want to ask you a question about this, for you have
experience: tell me then, when one loves another, is the lover or the
beloved the friend; or may either be the friend?
Either may, I should think, be the friend of either.
Do you mean, I said, that if only one of them loves the other, they are
Yes, he said; that is my meaning.
But what if the lover is not loved in return? which is a very possible
Or is, perhaps, even hated? which is a fancy which sometimes is
entertained by lovers respecting their beloved. Nothing can exceed their
love; and yet they imagine either that they are not loved in return, or
that they are hated. Is not that true?
Yes, he said, quite true.
In that case, the one loves, and the other is loved?
Then which is the friend of which? Is the lover the friend of the
beloved, whether he be loved in return, or hated; or is the beloved the
friend; or is there no friendship at all on either side, unless they
both love one another?
There would seem to be none at all.
Then this notion is not in accordance with our previous one. We were
saying that both were friends, if one only loved; but now, unless they
both love, neither is a friend.
That appears to be true.
Then nothing which does not love in return is beloved by a lover?
I think not.
Then they are not lovers of horses, whom the horses do not love in
return; nor lovers of quails, nor of dogs, nor of wine, nor of gymnastic
exercises, who have no return of love; no, nor of wisdom, unless wisdom
loves them in return. Or shall we say that they do love them, although
they are not beloved by them; and that the poet was wrong who sings--
'Happy the man to whom his children are dear, and steeds having single
hoofs, and dogs of chase, and the stranger of another land'?
I do not think that he was wrong.
You think that he is right?
Then, Menexenus, the conclusion is, that what is beloved, whether loving
or hating, may be dear to the lover of it: for example, very young
children, too young to love, or even hating their father or mother when
they are punished by them, are never dearer to them than at the time
when they are being hated by them.
I think that what you say is true.
And, if so, not the lover, but the beloved, is the friend or dear one?
And the hated one, and not the hater, is the enemy?
Then many men are loved by their enemies, and hated by their friends,
and are the friends of their enemies, and the enemies of their friends.
Yet how absurd, my dear friend, or indeed impossible is this paradox of
a man being an enemy to his friend or a friend to his enemy.
I quite agree, Socrates, in what you say.
But if this cannot be, the lover will be the friend of that which is
And the hater will be the enemy of that which is hated?
Yet we must acknowledge in this, as in the preceding instance, that a
man may be the friend of one who is not his friend, or who may be his
enemy, when he loves that which does not love him or which even hates
him. And he may be the enemy of one who is not his enemy, and is even
his friend: for example, when he hates that which does not hate him, or
which even loves him.
That appears to be true.
But if the lover is not a friend, nor the beloved a friend, nor both
together, what are we to say? Whom are we to call friends to one
another? Do any remain?
Indeed, Socrates, I cannot find any.
But, O Menexenus! I said, may we not have been altogether wrong in our
I am sure that we have been wrong, Socrates, said Lysis. And he blushed
as he spoke, the words seeming to come from his lips involuntarily,
because his whole mind was taken up with the argument; there was no
mistaking his attentive look while he was listening.
I was pleased at the interest which was shown by Lysis, and I wanted to
give Menexenus a rest, so I turned to him and said, I think, Lysis, that
what you say is true, and that, if we had been right, we should never
have gone so far wrong; let us proceed no further in this direction (for
the road seems to be getting troublesome), but take the other path into
which we turned, and see what the poets have to say; for they are to us
in a manner the fathers and authors of wisdom, and they speak of friends
in no light or trivial manner, but God himself, as they say, makes
them and draws them to one another; and this they express, if I am not
mistaken, in the following words:--
'God is ever drawing like towards like, and making them acquainted.'
I dare say that you have heard those words.
Yes, he said; I have.
And have you not also met with the treatises of philosophers who say
that like must love like? they are the people who argue and write about
nature and the universe.
Very true, he replied.
And are they right in saying this?
They may be.
Perhaps, I said, about half, or possibly, altogether, right, if their
meaning were rightly apprehended by us. For the more a bad man has to do
with a bad man, and the more nearly he is brought into contact with him,
the more he will be likely to hate him, for he injures him; and injurer
and injured cannot be friends. Is not that true?
Yes, he said.
Then one half of the saying is untrue, if the wicked are like one
That is true.
But the real meaning of the saying, as I imagine, is, that the good are
like one another, and friends to one another; and that the bad, as
is often said of them, are never at unity with one another or with
themselves; for they are passionate and restless, and anything which
is at variance and enmity with itself is not likely to be in union or
harmony with any other thing. Do you not agree?
Yes, I do.
Then, my friend, those who say that the like is friendly to the like
mean to intimate, if I rightly apprehend them, that the good only is the
friend of the good, and of him only; but that the evil never attains to
any real friendship, either with good or evil. Do you agree?
He nodded assent.
Then now we know how to answer the question 'Who are friends?' for the
argument declares 'That the good are friends.'
Yes, he said, that is true.
Yes, I replied; and yet I am not quite satisfied with this answer. By
heaven, and shall I tell you what I suspect? I will. Assuming that like,
inasmuch as he is like, is the friend of like, and useful to him--or
rather let me try another way of putting the matter: Can like do
any good or harm to like which he could not do to himself, or suffer
anything from his like which he would not suffer from himself? And if
neither can be of any use to the other, how can they be loved by one
another? Can they now?
And can he who is not loved be a friend?
But say that the like is not the friend of the like in so far as he is
like; still the good may be the friend of the good in so far as he is
But then again, will not the good, in so far as he is good, be
sufficient for himself? Certainly he will. And he who is sufficient
wants nothing--that is implied in the word sufficient.
Of course not.
And he who wants nothing will desire nothing?
He will not.
Neither can he love that which he does not desire?
And he who loves not is not a lover or friend?
What place then is there for friendship, if, when absent, good men have
no need of one another (for even when alone they are sufficient for
themselves), and when present have no use of one another? How can such
persons ever be induced to value one another?
And friends they cannot be, unless they value one another?
But see now, Lysis, whether we are not being deceived in all this--are
we not indeed entirely wrong?
How so? he replied.
Have I not heard some one say, as I just now recollect, that the like
is the greatest enemy of the like, the good of the good?--Yes, and he
quoted the authority of Hesiod, who says:
'Potter quarrels with potter, bard with bard, Beggar with beggar;'
and of all other things he affirmed, in like manner, 'That of necessity
the most like are most full of envy, strife, and hatred of one another,
and the most unlike, of friendship. For the poor man is compelled to be
the friend of the rich, and the weak requires the aid of the strong,
and the sick man of the physician; and every one who is ignorant, has
to love and court him who knows.' And indeed he went on to say in
grandiloquent language, that the idea of friendship existing between
similars is not the truth, but the very reverse of the truth, and that
the most opposed are the most friendly; for that everything desires not
like but that which is most unlike: for example, the dry desires the
moist, the cold the hot, the bitter the sweet, the sharp the blunt, the
void the full, the full the void, and so of all other things; for the
opposite is the food of the opposite, whereas like receives nothing from
like. And I thought that he who said this was a charming man, and that
he spoke well. What do the rest of you say?
I should say, at first hearing, that he is right, said Menexenus.
Then we are to say that the greatest friendship is of opposites?
Yes, Menexenus; but will not that be a monstrous answer? and will
not the all-wise eristics be down upon us in triumph, and ask, fairly
enough, whether love is not the very opposite of hate; and what answer
shall we make to them--must we not admit that they speak the truth?
They will then proceed to ask whether the enemy is the friend of the
friend, or the friend the friend of the enemy?
Neither, he replied.
Well, but is a just man the friend of the unjust, or the temperate of
the intemperate, or the good of the bad?
I do not see how that is possible.
And yet, I said, if friendship goes by contraries, the contraries must
Then neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends.
I suppose not.
And yet there is a further consideration: may not all these notions of
friendship be erroneous? but may not that which is neither good nor evil
still in some cases be the friend of the good?
How do you mean? he said.
Why really, I said, the truth is that I do not know; but my head
is dizzy with thinking of the argument, and therefore I hazard the
conjecture, that 'the beautiful is the friend,' as the old proverb says.
Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth, slippery thing, and therefore of a
nature which easily slips in and permeates our souls. For I affirm that
the good is the beautiful. You will agree to that?
This I say from a sort of notion that what is neither good nor evil is
the friend of the beautiful and the good, and I will tell you why I
am inclined to think so: I assume that there are three principles--the
good, the bad, and that which is neither good nor bad. You would
agree--would you not?
And neither is the good the friend of the good, nor the evil of the
evil, nor the good of the evil;--these alternatives are excluded by the
previous argument; and therefore, if there be such a thing as friendship
or love at all, we must infer that what is neither good nor evil must
be the friend, either of the good, or of that which is neither good nor
evil, for nothing can be the friend of the bad.
But neither can like be the friend of like, as we were just now saying.
And if so, that which is neither good nor evil can have no friend which
is neither good nor evil.
Then the good alone is the friend of that only which is neither good nor
That may be assumed to be certain.
And does not this seem to put us in the right way? Just remark, that the
body which is in health requires neither medical nor any other aid,
but is well enough; and the healthy man has no love of the physician,
because he is in health.
He has none.
But the sick loves him, because he is sick?
And sickness is an evil, and the art of medicine a good and useful
But the human body, regarded as a body, is neither good nor evil?
And the body is compelled by reason of disease to court and make friends
of the art of medicine?
Then that which is neither good nor evil becomes the friend of good, by
reason of the presence of evil?
So we may infer.
And clearly this must have happened before that which was neither good
nor evil had become altogether corrupted with the element of evil--if
itself had become evil it would not still desire and love the good; for,
as we were saying, the evil cannot be the friend of the good.
Further, I must observe that some substances are assimilated when others
are present with them; and there are some which are not assimilated:
take, for example, the case of an ointment or colour which is put on
In such a case, is the substance which is anointed the same as the
colour or ointment?
What do you mean? he said.
This is what I mean: Suppose that I were to cover your auburn locks with
white lead, would they be really white, or would they only appear to be
They would only appear to be white, he replied.
And yet whiteness would be present in them?
But that would not make them at all the more white, notwithstanding the
presence of white in them--they would not be white any more than black?
But when old age infuses whiteness into them, then they become
assimilated, and are white by the presence of white.
Now I want to know whether in all cases a substance is assimilated
by the presence of another substance; or must the presence be after a
The latter, he said.
Then that which is neither good nor evil may be in the presence of evil,
but not as yet evil, and that has happened before now?
And when anything is in the presence of evil, not being as yet evil,
the presence of good arouses the desire of good in that thing; but the
presence of evil, which makes a thing evil, takes away the desire and
friendship of the good; for that which was once both good and evil has
now become evil only, and the good was supposed to have no friendship
with the evil?
And therefore we say that those who are already wise, whether Gods or
men, are no longer lovers of wisdom; nor can they be lovers of wisdom
who are ignorant to the extent of being evil, for no evil or ignorant
person is a lover of wisdom. There remain those who have the misfortune
to be ignorant, but are not yet hardened in their ignorance, or void of
understanding, and do not as yet fancy that they know what they do
not know: and therefore those who are the lovers of wisdom are as yet
neither good nor bad. But the bad do not love wisdom any more than the
good; for, as we have already seen, neither is unlike the friend of
unlike, nor like of like. You remember that?
Yes, they both said.
And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of
friendship--there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love which
by reason of the presence of evil the neither good nor evil has of the
good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.
They both agreed and entirely assented, and for a moment I rejoiced and
was satisfied like a huntsman just holding fast his prey. But then
a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and I felt that
the conclusion was untrue. I was pained, and said, Alas! Lysis and
Menexenus, I am afraid that we have been grasping at a shadow only.
Why do you say so? said Menexenus.
I am afraid, I said, that the argument about friendship is false:
arguments, like men, are often pretenders.
How do you mean? he asked.
Well, I said; look at the matter in this way: a friend is the friend of
some one; is he not?
Certainly he is.
And has he a motive and object in being a friend, or has he no motive
He has a motive and object.
And is the object which makes him a friend, dear to him, or neither dear
nor hateful to him?
I do not quite follow you, he said.
I do not wonder at that, I said. But perhaps, if I put the matter in
another way, you will be able to follow me, and my own meaning will be
clearer to myself. The sick man, as I was just now saying, is the friend
of the physician--is he not?
And he is the friend of the physician because of disease, and for the
sake of health?
And disease is an evil?
And what of health? I said. Is that good or evil, or neither?
Good, he replied.
And we were saying, I believe, that the body being neither good nor
evil, because of disease, that is to say because of evil, is the friend
of medicine, and medicine is a good: and medicine has entered into this
friendship for the sake of health, and health is a good.
And is health a friend, or not a friend?
And disease is an enemy?
Then that which is neither good nor evil is the friend of the good
because of the evil and hateful, and for the sake of the good and the
Then the friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, and because of
That is to be inferred.
Then at this point, my boys, let us take heed, and be on our guard
against deceptions. I will not again repeat that the friend is the
friend of the friend, and the like of the like, which has been declared
by us to be an impossibility; but, in order that this new statement may
not delude us, let us attentively examine another point, which I will
proceed to explain: Medicine, as we were saying, is a friend, or dear to
us for the sake of health?
And health is also dear?
And if dear, then dear for the sake of something?
And surely this object must also be dear, as is implied in our previous
And that something dear involves something else dear?
But then, proceeding in this way, shall we not arrive at some first
principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of being
referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we maintain, all other
things are dear, and, having there arrived, we shall stop?
My fear is that all those other things, which, as we say, are dear for
the sake of another, are illusions and deceptions only, but where that
first principle is, there is the true ideal of friendship. Let me put
the matter thus: Suppose the case of a great treasure (this may be a
son, who is more precious to his father than all his other treasures);
would not the father, who values his son above all things, value other
things also for the sake of his son? I mean, for instance, if he knew
that his son had drunk hemlock, and the father thought that wine would
save him, he would value the wine?
And also the vessel which contains the wine?
But does he therefore value the three measures of wine, or the earthen
vessel which contains them, equally with his son? Is not this rather
the true state of the case? All his anxiety has regard not to the means
which are provided for the sake of an object, but to the object for the
sake of which they are provided. And although we may often say that gold
and silver are highly valued by us, that is not the truth; for there is
a further object, whatever it may be, which we value most of all, and
for the sake of which gold and all our other possessions are acquired by
us. Am I not right?
And may not the same be said of the friend? That which is only dear to
us for the sake of something else is improperly said to be dear, but
the truly dear is that in which all these so-called dear friendships
That, he said, appears to be true.
And the truly dear or ultimate principle of friendship is not for the
sake of any other or further dear.
Then we have done with the notion that friendship has any further
object. May we then infer that the good is the friend?
I think so.
And the good is loved for the sake of the evil? Let me put the case in
this way: Suppose that of the three principles, good, evil, and that
which is neither good nor evil, there remained only the good and the
neutral, and that evil went far away, and in no way affected soul or
body, nor ever at all that class of things which, as we say, are neither
good nor evil in themselves;--would the good be of any use, or other
than useless to us? For if there were nothing to hurt us any longer,
we should have no need of anything that would do us good. Then would
be clearly seen that we did but love and desire the good because of the
evil, and as the remedy of the evil, which was the disease; but if there
had been no disease, there would have been no need of a remedy. Is not
this the nature of the good--to be loved by us who are placed between
the two, because of the evil? but there is no use in the good for its
I suppose not.
Then the final principle of friendship, in which all other friendships
terminated, those, I mean, which are relatively dear and for the sake of
something else, is of another and a different nature from them. For they
are called dear because of another dear or friend. But with the true
friend or dear, the case is quite the reverse; for that is proved to
be dear because of the hated, and if the hated were away it would be no
Very true, he replied: at any rate not if our present view holds good.
But, oh! will you tell me, I said, whether if evil were to perish, we
should hunger any more, or thirst any more, or have any similar desire?
Or may we suppose that hunger will remain while men and animals remain,
but not so as to be hurtful? And the same of thirst and the other
desires,--that they will remain, but will not be evil because evil has
perished? Or rather shall I say, that to ask what either will be then or
will not be is ridiculous, for who knows? This we do know, that in our
present condition hunger may injure us, and may also benefit us:--Is not
And in like manner thirst or any similar desire may sometimes be a good
and sometimes an evil to us, and sometimes neither one nor the other?
To be sure.
But is there any reason why, because evil perishes, that which is not
evil should perish with it?
Then, even if evil perishes, the desires which are neither good nor evil
Clearly they will.
And must not a man love that which he desires and affects?
Then, even if evil perishes, there may still remain some elements of
love or friendship?
But not if evil is the cause of friendship: for in that case nothing
will be the friend of any other thing after the destruction of evil; for
the effect cannot remain when the cause is destroyed.
And have we not admitted already that the friend loves something for a
reason? and at the time of making the admission we were of opinion that
the neither good nor evil loves the good because of the evil?
But now our view is changed, and we conceive that there must be some
other cause of friendship?
I suppose so.
May not the truth be rather, as we were saying just now, that desire is
the cause of friendship; for that which desires is dear to that which
is desired at the time of desiring it? and may not the other theory have
been only a long story about nothing?
But surely, I said, he who desires, desires that of which he is in want?
And that of which he is in want is dear to him?
And he is in want of that of which he is deprived?
Then love, and desire, and friendship would appear to be of the natural
or congenial. Such, Lysis and Menexenus, is the inference.
Then if you are friends, you must have natures which are congenial to
Certainly, they both said.
And I say, my boys, that no one who loves or desires another would ever
have loved or desired or affected him, if he had not been in some way
congenial to him, either in his soul, or in his character, or in his
manners, or in his form.
Yes, yes, said Menexenus. But Lysis was silent.
Then, I said, the conclusion is, that what is of a congenial nature must
It follows, he said.
Then the lover, who is true and no counterfeit, must of necessity be
loved by his love.
Lysis and Menexenus gave a faint assent to this; and Hippothales changed
into all manner of colours with delight.
Here, intending to revise the argument, I said: Can we point out any
difference between the congenial and the like? For if that is possible,
then I think, Lysis and Menexenus, there may be some sense in our
argument about friendship. But if the congenial is only the like, how
will you get rid of the other argument, of the uselessness of like to
like in as far as they are like; for to say that what is useless is
dear, would be absurd? Suppose, then, that we agree to distinguish
between the congenial and the like--in the intoxication of argument,
that may perhaps be allowed.
And shall we further say that the good is congenial, and the evil
uncongenial to every one? Or again that the evil is congenial to the
evil, and the good to the good; and that which is neither good nor evil
to that which is neither good nor evil?
They agreed to the latter alternative.
Then, my boys, we have again fallen into the old discarded error; for
the unjust will be the friend of the unjust, and the bad of the bad, as
well as the good of the good.
That appears to be the result.
But again, if we say that the congenial is the same as the good, in that
case the good and he only will be the friend of the good.
But that too was a position of ours which, as you will remember, has
been already refuted by ourselves.
Then what is to be done? Or rather is there anything to be done? I can
only, like the wise men who argue in courts, sum up the arguments:--If
neither the beloved, nor the lover, nor the like, nor the unlike, nor
the good, nor the congenial, nor any other of whom we spoke--for there
were such a number of them that I cannot remember all--if none of these
are friends, I know not what remains to be said.
Here I was going to invite the opinion of some older person, when
suddenly we were interrupted by the tutors of Lysis and Menexenus, who
came upon us like an evil apparition with their brothers, and bade them
go home, as it was getting late. At first, we and the by-standers drove
them off; but afterwards, as they would not mind, and only went on
shouting in their barbarous dialect, and got angry, and kept calling the
boys--they appeared to us to have been drinking rather too much at the
Hermaea, which made them difficult to manage--we fairly gave way and
broke up the company.
I said, however, a few words to the boys at parting: O Menexenus and
Lysis, how ridiculous that you two boys, and I, an old boy, who would
fain be one of you, should imagine ourselves to be friends--this is what
the by-standers will go away and say--and as yet we have not been able
to discover what is a friend!