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Plato’s “Lysis, or Friendship,”translated by Benjamin Jowett, the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

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“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato Menexenus. In the Charmides, as also in the Laches, LYSIS

he is described as middleaged; in the Lysis he is advanced in years.


The Dialogue consists of two scenes or conversa-tions which seem to have no relation to each other.


The first is a conversation between Socrates and Lysis, who, like Charmides, is an Athenian youth Translated by Benjamin Jowett of noble descent and of great beauty, goodness, and intelligence: this is carried on in the absence of INTRODUCTION

Menexenus, who is called away to take part in a sacrifice. Socrates asks Lysis whether his father and NO ANSWER IS GIVEN IN THE LYSIS to the question, mother do not love him very much? ‘To be sure

‘What is Friendship?’ any more than in the they do.’ ‘Then of course they allow him to do ex-Charmides to the question, ‘What is Temperance?’

actly as he likes.’ ‘Of course not: the very slaves There are several resemblances in the two Dialogues: have more liberty than he has.’ ‘But how is this?’

the same youthfulness and sense of beauty pervades

‘The reason is that he is not old enough.’ ‘No; the both of them; they are alike rich in the description real reason is that he is not wise enough: for are of Greek life. The question is again raised of the there not some things which he is allowed to do, relation of knowledge to virtue and good, which although he is not allowed to do others?’ ‘Yes, be-also recurs in the Laches; and Socrates appears again cause he knows them, and does not know the othas the elder friend of the two boys, Lysis and ers.’ This leads to the conclusion that all men ev-3

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato erywhere will trust him in what he knows, but not them. Socrates turns to the poets, who affirm that in what he does not know; for in such matters he God brings like to like (Homer), and to philoso-will be unprofitable to them, and do them no good.

phers (Empedocles), who also assert that like is the And no one will love him, if he does them no good; friend of like. But the bad are not friends, for they and he can only do them good by knowledge; and are not even like themselves, and still less are they as he is still without knowledge, he can have as yet like one another. And the good have no need of one no conceit of knowledge. In this manner Socrates another, and therefore do not care about one an-reads a lesson to Hippothales, the foolish lover of other. Moreover there are others who say that like-Lysis, respecting the style of conversation which he ness is a cause of aversion, and unlikeness of love should address to his beloved.

and friendship; and they too adduce the authority After the return of Menexenus, Socrates, at the of poets and philosophers in support of their doc-request of Lysis, asks him a new question: ‘What is trines; for Hesiod says that ‘potter is jealous of pot-friendship? You, Menexenus, who have a friend alter, bard of bard;’ and subtle doctors tell us that ready, can tell me, who am always longing to find

‘moist is the friend of dry, hot of cold,’ and the like.

one, what is the secret of this great blessing.’

But neither can their doctrine be maintained; for When one man loves another, which is the then the just would be the friend of the unjust, good friend—he who loves, or he who is loved? Or are of evil.

both friends? From the first of these suppositions Thus we arrive at the conclusion that like is not they are driven to the second; and from the second the friend of like, nor unlike of unlike; and there-to the third; and neither the two boys nor Socrates fore good is not the friend of good, nor evil of evil, are satisfied with any of the three or with all of nor good of evil, nor evil of good. What remains 4

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato but that the indifferent, which is neither good nor steal over the mind of Socrates: Must not friend-evil, should be the friend (not of the indifferent, ship be for the sake of some ulterior end? and what for that would be ‘like the friend of like,’ but) of can that final cause or end of friendship be, other the good, or rather of the beautiful?

than the good? But the good is desired by us only But why should the indifferent have this attach-as the cure of evil; and therefore if there were no ment to the beautiful or good? There are circum-evil there would be no friendship. Some other ex-stances under which such an attachment would be planation then has to be devised. May not desire natural. Suppose the indifferent, say the human be the source of friendship? And desire is of what a body, to be desirous of getting rid of some evil, such man wants and of what is congenial to him. But as disease, which is not essential but only acciden-then the congenial cannot be the same as the like; tal to it (for if the evil were essential the body would for like, as has been already shown, cannot be the cease to be indifferent, and would become evil)—in friend of like. Nor can the congenial be the good; such a case the indifferent becomes a friend of the for good is not the friend of good, as has been also good for the sake of getting rid of the evil. In this shown. The problem is unsolved, and the three intermediate ‘indifferent’ position the philosopher friends, Socrates, Lysis, and Menexenus, are still or lover of wisdom stands: he is not wise, and yet unable to find out what a friend is.

not unwise, but he has ignorance accidentally cling-Thus, as in the Charmides and Laches, and sev-ing to him, and he yearns for wisdom as the cure of eral of the other Dialogues of Plato (compare espe-the evil. (Symp.)

cially the Protagoras and Theaetetus), no conclu-After this explanation has been received with tri-sion is arrived at. Socrates maintains his character umphant accord, a fresh dissatisfaction begins to of a ‘know nothing;’ but the boys have already 5

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato learned the lesson which he is unable to teach them, good. That friends are not necessarily either like or and they are free from the conceit of knowledge.

unlike, is also a truth confirmed by experience. But (Compare Chrm.) The dialogue is what would be the use of the terms ‘like’ or ‘good’ is too strictly called in the language of Thrasyllus tentative or limited; Socrates has allowed himself to be carried inquisitive. The subject is continued in the Phaedrus away by a sort of eristic or illogical logic against and Symposium, and treated, with a manifest ref-which no definition of friendship would be able to erence to the Lysis, in the eighth and ninth books stand. In the course of the argument he makes a of the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle. As in other distinction between property and accident which is writings of Plato (for example, the Republic), there a real contribution to the science of logic. Some is a progress from unconscious morality, illustrated higher truths appear through the mist. The manner by the friendship of the two youths, and also by in which the field of argument is widened, as in the the sayings of the poets (‘who are our fathers in Charmides and Laches by the introduction of the wisdom,’ and yet only tell us half the truth, and in idea of knowledge, so here by the introduction of this particular instance are not much improved upon the good, is deserving of attention. The sense of by the philosophers), to a more comprehensive nothe inter-dependence of good and evil, and the al-tion of friendship. This, however, is far from being lusion to the possibility of the non-existence of evil, cleared of its perplexity. Two notions appear to be are also very remarkable.

struggling or balancing in the mind of Socrates:—

The dialectical interest is fully sustained by the First, the sense that friendship arises out of human dramatic accompaniments. Observe, first, the scene, needs and wants; Secondly, that the higher form or which is a Greek Palaestra, at a time when a sacri-ideal of friendship exists only for the sake of the fice is going on, and the Hermaea are in course of 6

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato celebration; secondly, the ‘accustomed irony’ of turns, the serious dialectic begins. He is described Socrates, who declares, as in the Symposium, that as ‘very pugnacious,’ and we are thus prepared for he is ignorant of all other things, but claims to have the part which a mere youth takes in a difficult ar-a knowledge of the mysteries of love. There are like-gument. But Plato has not forgotten dramatic pro-wise several contrasts of character; first of the dry, priety, and Socrates proposes at last to refer the caustic Ctesippus, of whom Socrates professes a question to some older person.

humorous sort of fear, and Hippothales the flighty lover, who murders sleep by bawling out the name SOME QUESTIONS RELATING TO FRIENDSHIP.

of his beloved; there is also a contrast between the false, exaggerated, sentimental love of Hippothales THE SUBJECT OF FRIENDSHIP has a lower place in the towards Lysis, and the childlike and innocent friend-modern than in the ancient world, partly because a ship of the boys with one another. Some difference higher place is assigned by us to love and marriage.

appears to be intended between the characters of The very meaning of the word has become slighter the more talkative Menexenus and the reserved and and more superficial; it seems almost to be borrowed simple Lysis. Socrates draws out the latter by a new from the ancients, and has nearly disappeared in sort of irony, which is sometimes adopted in talk-modern treatises on Moral Philosophy. The received ing to children, and consists in asking a leading examples of friendship are to be found chiefly among question which can only be answered in a sense the Greeks and Romans. Hence the casuistical or contrary to the intention of the question: ‘Your fa-other questions which arise out of the relations of ther and mother of course allow you to drive the friends have not often been considered seriously in chariot?’ ‘No they do not.’ When Menexenus re-modern times. Many of them will be found to be 7

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato the same which are discussed in the Lysis. We may minds. Young people swear ‘eternal friendships,’ but ask with Socrates, 1) whether friendship is ‘of at these innocent perjuries their elders laugh. No similars or dissimilars,’ or of both; 2) whether such one forms a friendship with the intention of re-a tie exists between the good only and for the sake nouncing it; yet in the course of a varied life it is of the good; or 3) whether there may not be some practically certain that many changes will occur of peculiar attraction, which draws together ‘the nei-feeling, opinion, locality, occupation, fortune, which ther good nor evil’ for the sake of the good and will divide us from some persons and unite us to because of the evil; 4) whether friendship is always others. 6) There is an ancient saying, Qui amicos mutual,—may there not be a one-sided and unre-amicum non habet. But is not some less exclusive quited friendship? This question, which, like many form of friendship better suited to the condition others, is only one of a laxer or stricter use of words, and nature of man? And in those especially who seems to have greatly exercised the minds both of have no family ties, may not the feeling pass be-Aristotle and Plato. 5) Can we expect friendship to yond one or a few, and embrace all with whom we be permanent, or must we acknowledge with Cicero, come into contact, and, perhaps in a few passion-

‘Nihil difficilius quam amicitiam usque ad extreate and exalted natures, all men everywhere? 7) The mum vitae permanere’? Is not friendship, even more ancients had their three kinds of friendship, ‘for than love, liable to be swayed by the caprices of the sake of the pleasant, the useful, and the good:’

fancy? The person who pleased us most at first sight is the last to be resolved into the two first; or are or upon a slight acquaintance, when we have seen the two first to be included in the last? The subject him again, and under different circumstances, may was puzzling to them: they could not say that friend-make a much less favourable impression on our ship was only a quality, or a relation, or a virtue, or 8

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato a kind of virtue; and they had not in the age of Among true friends jealousy has no place: they do Plato reached the point of regarding it, like justice, not complain of one another for making new friends, as a form or attribute of virtue. They had another or for not revealing some secret of their lives; (in perplexity: 8) How could one of the noblest feel-friendship too there must be reserves;) they do not ings of human nature be so near to one of the most intrude upon one another, and they mutually re-detestable corruptions of it? (Compare Symposium; joice in any good which happens to either of them, Laws).

though it may be to the loss of the other. They may Leaving the Greek or ancient point of view, we live apart and have little intercourse, but when they may regard the question in a more general way.

meet, the old tie is as strong as ever—according to Friendship is the union of two persons in mutual the common saying, they find one another always affection and remembrance of one another. The the same. The greatest good of friendship is not friend can do for his friend what he cannot do for daily intercourse, for circumstances rarely admit of himself. He can give him counsel in time of diffi-this; but on the great occasions of life, when the culty; he can teach him ‘to see himself as others see advice of a friend is needed, then the word spoken him’; he can stand by him, when all the world are in season about conduct, about health, about mar-against him; he can gladden and enlighten him by riage, about business,—the letter written from a his presence; he ‘can divide his sorrows,’ he can distance by a disinterested person who sees with

‘double his joys;’ he can anticipate his wants. He clearer eyes may be of inestimable value. When the will discover ways of helping him without creating heart is failing and despair is setting in, then to a sense of his own superiority; he will find out his hear the voice or grasp the hand of a friend, in a mental trials, but only that he may minister to them.

shipwreck, in a defeat, in some other failure or mis-9

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato fortune, may restore the necessary courage and commonly due to a want of tact and insight. There is posure to the paralysed and disordered mind, and not enough of the Scimus et hanc veniam convert the feeble person into a hero; (compare petimusque damusque vicissim. The sweet draught Symposium).

of sympathy is not inexhaustible; and it tends to It is true that friendships are apt to be disappoint-weaken the person who too freely partakes of it.

ing: either we expect too much from them; or we Thus we see that there are many causes which im-are indolent and do not ‘keep them in repair;’ or pair the happiness of friends.

being admitted to intimacy with another, we see We may expect a friendship almost divine, such his faults too clearly and lose our respect for him; as philosophers have sometimes dreamed of: we find and he loses his affection for us. Friendships may what is human. The good of it is necessarily lim-be too violent; and they may be too sensitive. The ited; it does not take the place of marriage; it af-egotism of one of the parties may be too much for fords rather a solace than an arm of support. It had the other. The word of counsel or sympathy has better not be based on pecuniary obligations; these been uttered too obtrusively, at the wrong time, or more often mar than make a friendship. It is most in the wrong manner; or the need of it has not been likely to be permanent when the two friends are perceived until too late. ‘Oh if he had only told me’

equal and independent, or when they are engaged has been the silent thought of many a troubled soul.

together in some common work or have some pub-And some things have to be indicated rather than lic interest in common. It exists among the bad or spoken, because the very mention of them tends to inferior sort of men almost as much as among the disturb the equability of friendship. The alienation good; the bad and good, and ‘the neither bad nor of friends, like many other human evils, is com-good,’ are drawn together in a strange manner by 10

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato personal attachment. The essence of it is loyalty, life; and they must be justified by the result.

without which it would cease to be friendship.

Yet another question, 10). Admitting that friend-Another question 9) may be raised, whether ships cannot be always permanent, we may ask friendship can safely exist between young persons when and upon what conditions should they be of different sexes, not connected by ties of relation-dissolved. It would be futile to retain the name when ship, and without the thought of love or marriage; the reality has ceased to be. That two friends should whether, again, a wife or a husband should have part company whenever the relation between them any intimate friend, besides his or her partner in begins to drag may be better for both of them. But marriage. The answer to this latter question is rather then arises the consideration, how should these perplexing, and would probably be different in dif-friends in youth or friends of the past regard or be ferent countries (compare Sympos.). While we do regarded by one another? They are parted, but there not deny that great good may result from such at-still remain duties mutually owing by them. They tachments, for the mind may be drawn out and the will not admit the world to share in their difference character enlarged by them; yet we feel also that any more than in their friendship; the memory of they are attended with many dangers, and that this an old attachment, like the memory of the dead, Romance of Heavenly Love requires a strength, a has a kind of sacredness for them on which they freedom from passion, a self-control, which, in youth will not allow others to intrude. Neither, if they especially, are rarely to be found. The propriety of were ever worthy to bear the name of friends, will such friendships must be estimated a good deal by either of them entertain any enmity or dislike of the manner in which public opinion regards them; the other who was once so much to him. Neither they must be reconciled with the ordinary duties of will he by ‘shadowed hint reveal’ the secrets great 11

“Lysis, or Friendship” - Plato or small which an unfortunate mistake has placed within his reach. He who is of a noble mind will LYSIS,

dwell upon his own faults rather than those of another, and will be ready to take upon himself the OR FRIENDSHIP

blame of their separation. He will feel pain at the loss of a friend; and he will remember with grati-tude his ancient kindness. But he will not lightly by

renew a tie which has not been lightly broken...These are a few of the Problems of Friendship, some of them suggested by the Lysis, others by modern life, Plato

which he who wishes to make or keep a friend may profitably study. (Compare Bacon, Essay on Friend-Translated by Benjamin Jowett ship; Cic. de Amicitia.)

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, who is the narrator, Menexenus, Hippothales, Lysis, Ctesippus.

SCENE: A newly-erected Palaestra outside the walls of Athens.