The Being of the Beautiful: Plato's Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman

The Being of the Beautiful: Plato's Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman


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The Being of the Beautiful collects Plato’s three dialogues, the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesmen, in which Socrates formulates his conception of philosophy while preparing for trial. Renowned classicist Seth Benardete’s careful translations clearly illuminate the dramatic and philosophical unity of these dialogues and highlight Plato’s subtle interplay of language and structure. Extensive notes and commentaries, furthermore, underscore the trilogy’s motifs and relationships.

“The translations are masterpieces of literalness. . . . They are honest, accurate, and give the reader a wonderful sense of the Greek.”—Drew A. Hyland, Review of Metaphysics

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226670386
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 04/15/2007
Pages: 592
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Seth Benardete (1930–2001) was professor of classics at New York University. He is the author of Plato’s Laws: The Discovery of Being, and hetranslated Aeschylus’ The Persians and The Suppliant Maidens, all published by the University of Chicago Press.

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St. I

[142a] EUCLIDES: Just now, Terpsion, or a long time ago from the country?

TERPSION: Fairly long. And I was in fact looking for you throughout the marketplace and was surprised that I couldn't find you.

EUCLIDES: That's because I wasn't anywhere in the city.

TERPSION: Well, where then?

EUCLIDES: On going down to the harbor I met Theaetetus as he was being carried out of Corinth from the army camp to Athens.

TERPSION: Alive or dead?

[142b] EUCLIDES: Alive, barely. He's in a bad way also from some wounds, but the outbreak of the illness in the army affects him more.

TERPSION: Don't you mean dysentery?


TERPSION: What a man you say's in danger.

EUCLIDES: Beautiful and good, Terpsion, and, you know, I was listening even now to some people highly praising his conduct in the battle.

TERPSION: Well, there's nothing strange in that, but far more surprising [142c] if he were not of that sort. But how come he refused to take lodgings here in Megara?

EUCLIDES: He was pressing for home, though I begged and advised him, but he wasn't willing. And then, when I sent him on his way, on my way back I recalled with amazement how prophetically Socrates had spoken about him as well as different things. My impression is that Socrates met him shortly before his death when Theaetetus was a lad, and on the basis of his association and conversation with him expressed great admiration for his nature. And when I came to Athens he narrated to me the speeches of [142d] his conversation with him — they're well worth hearing — and he said there was every necessity that he become renowned if he reached maturity.

TERPSION: Yes, and he did, it seems, tell the truth. But what were the speeches? Could you be their narrator?

[143a] EUCLIDES: No, by Zeus, not at any rate straight off from memory, but I did write down reminders just as soon as I returned home, and later, in recalling it at my leisure, I proceeded to write them up. And as often as I returned to Athens, I questioned Socrates repeatedly about whatever I hadn't remembered, and then on my return here I made corrections. So pretty nearly the entire speech has been written by me.

TERPSION: True. I've heard you mention it before, and though you know I always intended to urge you to show it, I've delayed doing so up till now. Well, what prevents us from going through it now? As for myself, I really need a rest in any case, since I've come from the country.

[143b] EUCLIDES: But of course, I myself escorted Theaetetus up to Erineos; so I wouldn't take a rest without pleasure. Well, let's go, and while we're resting, the boy will read.

TERPSION: A good suggestion (What you say's right).

EUCLIDES: Here's the book, Terpsion. And I wrote the speech down on these terms, not with Socrates narrating them to me as he did, but with Socrates conversing with those with whom he said he conversed. He said they were the geometer Theodorus and Theaetetus. In order that the narrations between the speeches [143c] might not cause trouble (pragmata) in the writing, whenever either Socrates spoke about himself, for example, "And I said" or "And I spoke," or in turn about whoever answered, "He consented" or "He refused to agree," it's for these reasons that I removed things of this sort and wrote it as if he were conversing with them.

TERPSION: And there's nothing wayward in that, Euclides.

EUCLIDES: Well, boy, take the book and read.




[143d] SOCRATES: If I were to care, Theodorus, more for those in Cyrene, I would be asking you about the state of affairs there and whether any of the young there make geometry or something else of philosophy their concern. But as it is I don't, for I'm less a friend to those there than to these here, and I'm more desirous of knowing who of our young are expected to prove good and able. Now I myself examine this on my own, to the extent that I can, and I ask everyone else with whom I see the young are willing to associate. [143e] Now it's not the smallest number who consort with you, and it's just that they do so, for you deserve it on account of geometry as well as for everything else. So if you did meet anyone worth speaking of, I would hear about it with pleasure.

THEODORUS: As a matter of fact, Socrates, it's certainly worth it for me to tell and for you to hear about the sort of lad of your fellow citizens I met. And if he were beautiful, I'd be afraid to speak of him with intensity, should anyone in fact get the impression that I'm desirous of him. But as it is — please don't get annoyed with me — he is not beautiful, but he resembles you in the snubness of his nose and the bulging of his eyes, but he has them less than [144a] you do. I'm speaking fearlessly. Know well, of all whom I've ever met — and I've consorted with very many — I'm aware of no one yet whose nature is as wonderfully good. For to be as good a learner as he is, in a way that's hard for anyone else to match, and yet to be exceptionally gentle, and on top of this to be manly beyond anyone whatsoever, I would have suspected that it doesn't occur and I don't see it occurring, for those who are as sharp as he is, quick witted, and with good memories are for the most part [144b] also quickly inclined to bursts of anger, and in darting about they're swept along like unballasted ships, and they grow up rather more manic than more manly, whereas those in turn who are more grave face up to their lessons somewhat sluggishly and are full of forgetfulness. But he goes so smoothly, so unfalteringly, and so effectively to his lessons and investigations, and all with so much gentleness, just as a stream of olive-oil flows without a sound, as for it to be a cause of wonder that someone of his age behaves in this way.

SOCRATES: You report well. But which citizen is his father?

THEODORUS: Though I've heard the name, I don't remember. But as a matter of fact, of those here approaching us, he's the one in the [144c] middle. He as well as some of his comrades were just now oiling themselves in the course outside, and it's my impression that with the oiling over they're coming here. But do consider whether you recognize him.

SOCRATES: I recognize him. He is the son of Euphronius from Sunium, a man, my friend, who's very much of the sort you describe him to be, otherwise well thought of and moreover who left, you know, a great deal of property. But I don't know the name of the lad.

[144d] THEODORUS: Theaetetus, Socrates, is his name. But it's my impression that some guardians of his have wasted the property, though all the same, Socrates, he's of an amazing liberality when it comes to money.

SOCRATES: How grand a nobleman you speak of. Please urge him to sit alongside me here.

THEODORUS: It shall be done. Theaetetus, come over here to Socrates.

SOCRATES: Yes, please do, Theaetetus, so that I too may examine [144e] myself as to what sort of face I have. Theodorus says I have one similar to yours. Still, if each of the pair of us had a lyre and he said they had been similarly tuned, would we straight off trust him, or would we go on to examine whether he's speaking as one who is skilled in music?

THEAETETUS: We would go on to examine.

SOCRATES: Isn't it the case that if we found him to be of that sort we would be persuaded, but if unmusical, we would distrust him?


SOCRATES: Yes, and now, I suspect, if our concern was at all for the [145a] similarity of faces, we would have to examine whether he speaks as one who is a skilled draftsman or not.

THEAETETUS: That's my opinion.

SOCRATES: Is Theodorus really then a skilled painter?

THEAETETUS: No, not as far as I know.

SOCRATES: And not skilled in geometry either?

THEAETETUS: There's really no doubt that he is, Socrates.

SOCRATES: As well as skilled in astronomy, logistics, music, and everything connected with education?

THEAETETUS: That's my opinion at least.

SOCRATES: So whereas, in something of the body, if in praising or blaming us in some respect, he says we are similar, it's scarcely worthwhile to pay him any mind —

THEAETETUS: Perhaps not.

[145b] SOCRATES: But what if he should praise the soul of either one of us in point of virtue and wisdom? Isn't it then worthwhile for him who hears it to be eager to examine the one praised, and for the latter as eagerly to display himself?

THEAETETUS: Yes, of course, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Well then, it's time, my dear Theaetetus, for you to display and for me to examine, since, know well, though Theodorus has praised many to my face, strangers as well as fellow townsmen, he did not yet praise anyone as he did you just now.

[145c] THEAETETUS: That would be all to the good, Socrates, but look and see whether he was not speaking in jest.

SOCRATES: This is not Theodorus' way. But don't back out of what has been agreed upon by pretending that he was speaking in jest, in order that he may not be compelled actually to bear witness — no one will in any case denounce him for false evidence — but stand by your agreement with confidence.

THEAETETUS: Well, I must do it, if that's your opinion.

SOCRATES: So tell me. You're surely learning from Theodorus something of geometry?


[145d] SOCRATES: And of that which pertains to astronomy, harmony, and calculations?

THEAETETUS: Yes, and I'm certainly eager.

SOCRATES: Why, I am too, my boy, from him and everyone else who I suspect has a professional competence in any of these things. But still and all, though everything else about them I have down to a fair degree, there's a small point about which I'm perplexed that has to be examined with you and these here. Tell me. To learn, isn't it to become wiser in whatever one learns?

THEAETETUS: Of course.

SOCRATES: Yes, and the wise, I suspect, (are) wise by wisdom.


[145e] SOCRATES: And this doesn't differ at all, does it, from knowledge (science)?

THEAETETUS: What sort of thing?

SOCRATES: Wisdom. Or isn't it in just those things in which they (are) knowledgeable that they (are) wise?

THEAETETUS: Why certainly.

SOCRATES: So knowledge and wisdom (are) the same? THEAETETUS: Yes.

SOCRATES: Well, this is the very point about which I'm perplexed, and I'm incapable of grasping it adequately by myself, whatever knowledge [146a] is. Can we really say it? What do you all say? Who would be the first of us to speak? The one who makes a mistake, andwhoever at any time makes a mistake, will, as children playing ball say, take his seat, an ass; but whoever prevails without a mistake, he'll be our king and enjoin us to answer whatever he wants. Why are you all silent? It surely can't be, Theodorus, that in my love of speeches I am being boorish, eager as I am to make us converse and become friends and mutually agreeable?

[146b] THEODORUS: Not in the least, Socrates, nothing of the sort would be boorish, but urge any of the lads to answer you. I am unused to conversation of this sort, and I'm not of an age to get used to it either. But it would be fitting for these here, and they would improve much more, for youth truly is open to improvement in everything. But, just as you began, don't let go of Theaetetus but ask away.

SOCRATES: Do you hear, Theaetetus, what Theodorus is saying? He's [146c] not one, I suspect, that you'll be willing to disobey, and it's not sanctioned either for a younger to disobey a wise man who enjoins things of this sort. But in a good and noble fashion speak out. Knowledge is what in your opinion?

THEAETETUS: Well, I must, Socrates, since you all urge it, for if I do make any mistake, you'll all in any case correct it.

SOCRATES: Yes of course, if, that is, we can.

THEAETETUS: Well, then, it's my opinion that whatever one might learn from Theodorus are sciences (knowledges) — geometry and those [146d] you just now went through and, in turn, shoemaking and the arts of the rest of the craftsmen — all and each of them, are nothing else than knowledge.

SOCRATES: That's noble and lavish, my dear, when you're asked for one, you offer many and complex instead of simple.

THEAETETUS: Just how do you mean this, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Perhaps it's nothing, but what I suspect, however, I'll point out. Whenever you say leathermaking, you're not pointing out anything else, are you, than a knowledge of the making of shoes?

THEAETETUS: Nothing else.

[146e] SOCRATES: And what about when you say carpentry? Are you pointing out anything else than a knowledge of the making of wooden utensils?

THEAETETUS: Just this.

SOCRATES: Isn't it that in the case of both, of whatever each of the two is a knowledge, this is what you are determining?


SOCRATES: Yes, but the question, Theaetetus, was not this, of what things there's knowledge, nor how many sciences there are either, for we didn't ask because we wanted to count them but to get to know knowledge whatever it itself is. Or am I making no sense?

THEAETETUS: Yes, that's right of course.

[147a] SOCRATES: Then examine this as well. If someone should ask us about something trifling and ready at hand, for example, about mud (clay) whatever it is, if we should answer him that there's the mud of potters, the mud of furnace makers, and the mud of brick-makers, wouldn't we be ridiculous?


SOCRATES: First of all, for one thing, because we surely must believe that the questioner understands our answer whenever we say mud, regardless [147b] of whether we add that of dollmakers or of all the rest of the craftsmen whatsoever. Or do you believe that someone understands some name of something if he doesn't know what it is?

THEAETETUS: In no way.

SOCRATES: So whoever does not know science does not understand the science of shoes either.

THEAETETUS: No, he doesn't.

SOCRATES: So whoever's ignorant of science does not understand the leatherworking (science), or any different art either?

THEAETETUS: That is so.

SOCRATES: So the answer to the question "What is science?" is laughable, whenever one answers with the name of some art, for though one's not been asked this, one answers with the science of [147c] something.

THEAETETUS: It seems likely.

SOCRATES: And in the second place, though it surely must be possible to answer trivially and briefly, one goes round on an endless road. For example, in the case of the question of mud, it's surely trivial and simple to say that should earth be kneaded with a liquid there would be mud and to dismiss whatever it is of.

THEAETETUS: Yes, Socrates, it now appears easy in this way. And you're probably asking the sort of thing that recently occurred also to ourselves as we were conversing, I mean myself and your homonym [147d] here, Socrates.

SOCRATES: What sort of thing, exactly, Theaetetus?

THEAETETUS: Theodorus here was giving us some proof (drawing) about powers (roots), about the three-foot (line) and the five-foot (line) — that they're not commensurable in length (mêkos) with the one-foot (line) — and in this way he went on choosing each (line) one by one up to the seventeen-foot (line), where for some reason or other he got stuck. Then something of the following sort occurred to us, since the powers (roots) appeared infinite in multitude, to attempt to gather them together into one, by whatever [147e] we'll address all these powers (roots).

SOCRATES: And did you really find something of the sort?

THEAETETUS: My impression is that we did, but you too examine it.


THEAETETUS: We took all of number in two, and the number that has the power of coming to be by the multiplication of an equal by an equal we made a semblance of its figure to a square and addressed it as a square and equal-sided number.

SOCRATES: That's really good.

THEAETETUS: Then again, the number between this — of which there [148a] is the three, the five, and every one which does not have the power of coming to be by the multiplication of an equal by an equal, but its becoming is either by the multiplication of a greater number by a less, or a less by a greater, and a larger and a less side always comprehend it — we made a semblance of it in turn to the oblong figure and called it an oblong number.

SOCRATES: Most beautifully. But what next?

THEAETETUS: All lines that make a square of the equal-sided and plane number, we determined as length (mêkos), and all that make a square of the other-lengthed number, we determined them as [148b] powers (roots), on the grounds that they are not commensurable in length with the former lines but with the planes of which they are the powers. And something else of the sort about solids (cubes).

SOCRATES: That's really the best that human beings can do, boys. So my impression is that Theodorus will not be found guilty of false evidence.

THEAETETUS: And yet, Socrates, as to what you're asking about knowledge, I wouldn't be capable of answering it as I did about length (rational root) and power (root), even though it's my impression that you are seeking for something of the same sort, and so once more Theodorus appears false.


Excerpted from "The Being of the Beautiful"
by .
Copyright © 1984 The University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Guide for the Reader,
Theaetetus Commentary,
Sophist Commentary,
Statesman Commentary,
Selected Bibliography,

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