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Menexenus

MENEXENUS ronisms, which are not supposed to strike the mind of the reader. The effect produced by these grandiloquent ora-by Plato

tions on Socrates, who does not recover after having heard Translated by Benjamin Jowett

one of them for three days and more, is truly Platonic.

Such discourses, if we may form a judgment from the three which are extant (for the so-called Funeral Oration of INTRODUCTION

Demosthenes is a bad and spurious imitation of Thucydides and Lysias), conformed to a regular type. They began with THE MENEXENUS HAS more the character of a rhetorical Gods and ancestors, and the legendary history of Athens, exercise than any other of the Platonic works. The writer to which succeeded an almost equally fictitious account of seems to have wished to emulate Thucydides, and the far later times. The Persian war usually formed the centre of slighter work of Lysias. In his rivalry with the latter, to whom the narrative; in the age of Isocrates and Demosthenes the in the Phaedrus Plato shows a strong antipathy, he is en-Athenians were still living on the glories of Marathon and tirely successful, but he is not equal to Thucydides. The Salamis. The Menexenus veils in panegyric the weak places Menexenus, though not without real Hellenic interest, falls of Athenian history. The war of Athens and Boeotia is a very far short of the rugged grandeur and political insight of war of liberation; the Athenians gave back the Spartans taken the great historian. The fiction of the speech having been at Sphacteria out of kindnessindeed, the only fault of the invented by Aspasia is well sustained, and is in the manner city was too great kindness to their enemies, who were more of Plato, notwithstanding the anachronism which puts into honoured than the friends of others (compare Thucyd., her mouth an allusion to the peace of Antalcidas, an event which seems to contain the germ of the idea); we demo-occurring forty years after the date of the supposed ora-crats are the aristocracy of virtue, and the like. These are tion. But Plato, like Shakespeare, is careless of such anach-3

Menexenus

the platitudes and falsehoods in which history is disguised.

described by Thucydides as the best pleader of his day, the sat-The taking of Athens is hardly mentioned.

ire on him and on the whole tribe of rhetoricians is transparent.

The author of the Menexenus, whether Plato or not, is The ironical assumption of Socrates, that he must be a evidently intending to ridicule the practice, and at the same good orator because he had learnt of Aspasia, is not coarse, time to show that he can beat the rhetoricians in their own as Schleiermacher supposes, but is rather to be regarded as line, as in the Phaedrus he may be supposed to offer an fanciful. Nor can we say that the offer of Socrates to dance example of what Lysias might have said, and of how much naked out of love for Menexenus, is any more un-Platonic better he might have written in his own style. The orators than the threat of physical force which Phaedrus uses towards had recourse to their favourite loci communes, one of which, Socrates. Nor is there any real vulgarity in the fear which as we find in Lysias, was the shortness of the time allowed Socrates expresses that he will get a beating from his mis-them for preparation. But Socrates points out that they had tress, Aspasia: this is the natural exaggeration of what might them always ready for delivery, and that there was no diffi-be expected from an imperious woman. Socrates is not to be culty in improvising any number of such orations. To praise taken seriously in all that he says, and Plato, both in the Sym-the Athenians among the Athenians was easy,to praise posium and elsewhere, is not slow to admit a sort of them among the Lacedaemonians would have been a much Aristophanic humour. How a great original genius like Plato more difficult task. Socrates himself has turned rhetorician, might or might not have written, what was his conception of having learned of a woman, Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles; humour, or what limits he would have prescribed to himself, and any one whose teachers had been far inferior to his if any, in drawing the picture of the Silenus Socrates, are ownsay, one who had learned from Antiphon the problems which no critical instinct can determine.

Rhamnusianwould be quite equal to the task of praising On the other hand, the dialogue has several Platonic traits, men to themselves. When we remember that Antiphon is whether original or imitated may be uncertain. Socrates, when 4

Menexenus

he departs from his character of a know nothing and delivers Thucydides; and the fact that they are so, is not in favour of a speech, generally pretends that what he is speaking is not his the genuineness of the work. Internal evidence seems to leave own composition. Thus in the Cratylus he is run away with; in the question of authorship in doubt. There are merits and the Phaedrus he has heard somebody say somethingis in-there are defects which might lead to either conclusion. The spired by the genius loci; in the Symposium he derives his form of the greater part of the work makes the enquiry diffi-wisdom from Diotima of Mantinea, and the like. But he does cult; the introduction and the finale certainly wear the look not impose on Menexenus by his dissimulation. Without vio-either of Plato or of an extremely skilful imitator. The excel-lating the character of Socrates, Plato, who knows so well how lence of the forgery may be fairly adduced as an argument to give a hint, or some one writing in his name, intimates clearly that it is not a forgery at all. In this uncertainty the express enough that the speech in the Menexenus like that in the testimony of Aristotle, who quotes, in the Rhetoric, the well-Phaedrus is to be attributed to Socrates. The address of the known words, It is easy to praise the Athenians among the dead to the living at the end of the oration may also be com-Athenians, from the Funeral Oration, may perhaps turn the pared to the numerous addresses of the same kind which oc-balance in its favour. It must be remembered also that the cur in Plato, in whom the dramatic element is always tending work was famous in antiquity, and is included in the to prevail over the rhetorical. The remark has been often made, Alexandrian catalogues of Platonic writings.

that in the Funeral Oration of Thucydides there is no allusion to the existence of the dead. But in the Menexenus a future state is clearly, although not strongly, asserted.

Whether the Menexenus is a genuine writing of Plato, or an imitation only, remains uncertain. In either case, the thoughts are partly borrowed from the Funeral Oration of 5

Menexenus

MENEXENUS

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates, I shall be ready to hold office, if you allow and advise that I should, but not if you by

think otherwise. I went to the council chamber because I heard that the Council was about to choose some one who Plato (see Appendix I above)

was to speak over the dead. For you know that there is to be a public funeral?

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

SOCRATES: Yes, I know. And whom did they choose?

MENEXENUS: No one; they delayed the election until PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates and Menexenus.

tomorrow, but I believe that either Archinus or Dion will be chosen.

SOCRATES: Whence come you, Menexenus? Are you SOCRATES: O Menexenus! Death in battle is certainly in from the Agora?

many respects a noble thing. The dead man gets a fine and MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates; I have been at the Council.

costly funeral, although he may have been poor, and an SOCRATES: And what might you be doing at the Coun-elaborate speech is made over him by a wise man who has cil? And yet I need hardly ask, for I see that you, believing long ago prepared what he has to say, although he who is yourself to have arrived at the end of education and of phi-praised may not have been good for much. The speakers losophy, and to have had enough of them, are mounting praise him for what he has done and for what he has not upwards to things higher still, and, though rather young for donethat is the beauty of themand they steal away our the post, are intending to govern us elder men, like the rest souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable of your family, which has always provided some one who form they praise the city; and they praise those who died in kindly took care of us.

war, and all our ancestors who went before us; and they 6

Menexenus

praise ourselves also who are still alive, until I feel quite and he will be compelled almost to improvise.

elevated by their laudations, and I stand listening to their SOCRATES: But why, my friend, should he not have plenty words, Menexenus, and become enchanted by them, and to say? Every rhetorician has speeches ready made; nor is all in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater there any difficulty in improvising that sort of stuff. Had the and nobler and finer man than I was before. And if, as orator to praise Athenians among Peloponnesians, or often happens, there are any foreigners who accompany Peloponnesians among Athenians, he must be a good rheto-me to the speech, I become suddenly conscious of having a rician who could succeed and gain credit. But there is no sort of triumph over them, and they seem to experience a difficulty in a mans winning applause when he is contend-corresponding feeling of admiration at me, and at the great-ing for fame among the persons whom he is praising.

ness of the city, which appears to them, when they are un-MENEXENUS: Do you think not, Socrates?

der the influence of the speaker, more wonderful than ever.

SOCRATES: Certainly not.

This consciousness of dignity lasts me more than three days, MENEXENUS: Do you think that you could speak your-and not until the fourth or fifth day do I come to my senses self if there should be a necessity, and if the Council were and know where I am; in the meantime I have been living to choose you?

in the Islands of the Blest. Such is the art of our rhetori-SOCRATES: That I should be able to speak is no great cians, and in such manner does the sound of their words wonder, Menexenus, considering that I have an excellent keep ringing in my ears.

mistress in the art of rhetoric,she who has made so many MENEXENUS: You are always making fun of the rhetori-good speakers, and one who was the best among all the cians, Socrates; this time, however, I am inclined to think HellenesPericles, the son of Xanthippus.

that the speaker who is chosen will not have much to say, MENEXENUS: And who is she? I suppose that you mean for he has been called upon to speak at a moments notice, Aspasia.