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by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

March, 1999 [Etext #1682]

*******The Project Gutenberg Etext of Menexenus, by Plato*******
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by Plato (see Appendix I)

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


It seems impossible to separate by any exact line the genuine writings of
Plato from the spurious. The only external evidence to them which is of
much value is that of Aristotle; for the Alexandrian catalogues of a
century later include manifest forgeries. Even the value of the
Aristotelian authority is a good deal impaired by the uncertainty
concerning the date and authorship of the writings which are ascribed to
him. And several of the citations of Aristotle omit the name of Plato, and
some of them omit the name of the dialogue from which they are taken.
Prior, however, to the enquiry about the writings of a particular author,
general considerations which equally affect all evidence to the genuineness
of ancient writings are the following: Shorter works are more likely to
have been forged, or to have received an erroneous designation, than longer
ones; and some kinds of composition, such as epistles or panegyrical
orations, are more liable to suspicion than others; those, again, which
have a taste of sophistry in them, or the ring of a later age, or the
slighter character of a rhetorical exercise, or in which a motive or some
affinity to spurious writings can be detected, or which seem to have
originated in a name or statement really occurring in some classical
author, are also of doubtful credit; while there is no instance of any
ancient writing proved to be a forgery, which combines excellence with
length. A really great and original writer would have no object in
fathering his works on Plato; and to the forger or imitator, the 'literary
hack' of Alexandria and Athens, the Gods did not grant originality or
genius. Further, in attempting to balance the evidence for and against a
Platonic dialogue, we must not forget that the form of the Platonic writing
was common to several of his contemporaries. Aeschines, Euclid, Phaedo,
Antisthenes, and in the next generation Aristotle, are all said to have
composed dialogues; and mistakes of names are very likely to have occurred.
Greek literature in the third century before Christ was almost as
voluminous as our own, and without the safeguards of regular publication,
or printing, or binding, or even of distinct titles. An unknown writing
was naturally attributed to a known writer whose works bore the same
character; and the name once appended easily obtained authority. A
tendency may also be observed to blend the works and opinions of the master
with those of his scholars. To a later Platonist, the difference between
Plato and his imitators was not so perceptible as to ourselves. The
Memorabilia of Xenophon and the Dialogues of Plato are but a part of a
considerable Socratic literature which has passed away. And we must
consider how we should regard the question of the genuineness of a
particular writing, if this lost literature had been preserved to us.

These considerations lead us to adopt the following criteria of
genuineness: (1) That is most certainly Plato's which Aristotle attributes
to him by name, which (2) is of considerable length, of (3) great
excellence, and also (4) in harmony with the general spirit of the Platonic
writings. But the testimony of Aristotle cannot always be distinguished
from that of a later age (see above); and has various degrees of
importance. Those writings which he cites without mentioning Plato, under
their own names, e.g. the Hippias, the Funeral Oration, the Phaedo, etc.,
have an inferior degree of evidence in their favour. They may have been
supposed by him to be the writings of another, although in the case of
really great works, e.g. the Phaedo, this is not credible; those again
which are quoted but not named, are still more defective in their external
credentials. There may be also a possibility that Aristotle was mistaken,
or may have confused the master and his scholars in the case of a short
writing; but this is inconceivable about a more important work, e.g. the
Laws, especially when we remember that he was living at Athens, and a
frequenter of the groves of the Academy, during the last twenty years of
Plato's life. Nor must we forget that in all his numerous citations from
the Platonic writings he never attributes any passage found in the extant
dialogues to any one but Plato. And lastly, we may remark that one or two
great writings, such as the Parmenides and the Politicus, which are wholly
devoid of Aristotelian (1) credentials may be fairly attributed to Plato,
on the ground of (2) length, (3) excellence, and (4) accordance with the
general spirit of his writings. Indeed the greater part of the evidence
for the genuineness of ancient Greek authors may be summed up under two
heads only: (1) excellence; and (2) uniformity of tradition--a kind of
evidence, which though in many cases sufficient, is of inferior value.

Proceeding upon these principles we appear to arrive at the conclusion that
nineteen-twentieths of all the writings which have ever been ascribed to
Plato, are undoubtedly genuine. There is another portion of them,
including the Epistles, the Epinomis, the dialogues rejected by the
ancients themselves, namely, the Axiochus, De justo, De virtute, Demodocus,
Sisyphus, Eryxias, which on grounds, both of internal and external
evidence, we are able with equal certainty to reject. But there still
remains a small portion of which we are unable to affirm either that they
are genuine or spurious. They may have been written in youth, or possibly
like the works of some painters, may be partly or wholly the compositions
of pupils; or they may have been the writings of some contemporary
transferred by accident to the more celebrated name of Plato, or of some
Platonist in the next generation who aspired to imitate his master. Not
that on grounds either of language or philosophy we should lightly reject
them. Some difference of style, or inferiority of execution, or
inconsistency of thought, can hardly be considered decisive of their
spurious character. For who always does justice to himself, or who writes
with equal care at all times? Certainly not Plato, who exhibits the
greatest differences in dramatic power, in the formation of sentences, and
in the use of words, if his earlier writings are compared with his later
ones, say the Protagoras or Phaedrus with the Laws. Or who can be expected
to think in the same manner during a period of authorship extending over
above fifty years, in an age of great intellectual activity, as well as of
political and literary transition? Certainly not Plato, whose earlier
writings are separated from his later ones by as wide an interval of
philosophical speculation as that which separates his later writings from

The dialogues which have been translated in the first Appendix, and which
appear to have the next claim to genuineness among the Platonic writings,
are the Lesser Hippias, the Menexenus or Funeral Oration, the First
Alcibiades. Of these, the Lesser Hippias and the Funeral Oration are cited
by Aristotle; the first in the Metaphysics, the latter in the Rhetoric.
Neither of them are expressly attributed to Plato, but in his citation of
both of them he seems to be referring to passages in the extant dialogues.
From the mention of 'Hippias' in the singular by Aristotle, we may perhaps
infer that he was unacquainted with a second dialogue bearing the same
name. Moreover, the mere existence of a Greater and Lesser Hippias, and of
a First and Second Alcibiades, does to a certain extent throw a doubt upon
both of them. Though a very clever and ingenious work, the Lesser Hippias
does not appear to contain anything beyond the power of an imitator, who
was also a careful student of the earlier Platonic writings, to invent.
The motive or leading thought of the dialogue may be detected in Xen. Mem.,
and there is no similar instance of a 'motive' which is taken from Xenophon
in an undoubted dialogue of Plato. On the other hand, the upholders of the
genuineness of the dialogue will find in the Hippias a true Socratic
spirit; they will compare the Ion as being akin both in subject and
treatment; they will urge the authority of Aristotle; and they will detect
in the treatment of the Sophist, in the satirical reasoning upon Homer, in
the reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine that vice is ignorance, traces of
a Platonic authorship. In reference to the last point we are doubtful, as
in some of the other dialogues, whether the author is asserting or
overthrowing the paradox of Socrates, or merely following the argument
'whither the wind blows.' That no conclusion is arrived at is also in
accordance with the character of the earlier dialogues. The resemblances
or imitations of the Gorgias, Protagoras, and Euthydemus, which have been
observed in the Hippias, cannot with certainty be adduced on either side of
the argument. On the whole, more may be said in favour of the genuineness
of the Hippias than against it.

The Menexenus or Funeral Oration is cited by Aristotle, and is interesting
as supplying an example of the manner in which the orators praised 'the
Athenians among the Athenians,' falsifying persons and dates, and casting a
veil over the gloomier events of Athenian history. It exhibits an
acquaintance with the funeral oration of Thucydides, and was, perhaps,
intended to rival that great work. If genuine, the proper place of the
Menexenus would be at the end of the Phaedrus. The satirical opening and
the concluding words bear a great resemblance to the earlier dialogues; the
oration itself is professedly a mimetic work, like the speeches in the
Phaedrus, and cannot therefore be tested by a comparison of the other
writings of Plato. The funeral oration of Pericles is expressly mentioned
in the Phaedrus, and this may have suggested the subject, in the same
manner that the Cleitophon appears to be suggested by the slight mention of
Cleitophon and his attachment to Thrasymachus in the Republic; and the
Theages by the mention of Theages in the Apology and Republic; or as the
Second Alcibiades seems to be founded upon the text of Xenophon, Mem. A
similar taste for parody appears not only in the Phaedrus, but in the
Protagoras, in the Symposium, and to a certain extent in the Parmenides.

To these two doubtful writings of Plato I have added the First Alcibiades,
which, of all the disputed dialogues of Plato, has the greatest merit, and
is somewhat longer than any of them, though not verified by the testimony
of Aristotle, and in many respects at variance with the Symposium in the
description of the relations of Socrates and Alcibiades. Like the Lesser
Hippias and the Menexenus, it is to be compared to the earlier writings of
Plato. The motive of the piece may, perhaps, be found in that passage of
the Symposium in which Alcibiades describes himself as self-convicted by
the words of Socrates. For the disparaging manner in which Schleiermacher
has spoken of this dialogue there seems to be no sufficient foundation. At
the same time, the lesson imparted is simple, and the irony more
transparent than in the undoubted dialogues of Plato. We know, too, that
Alcibiades was a favourite thesis, and that at least five or six dialogues
bearing this name passed current in antiquity, and are attributed to
contemporaries of Socrates and Plato. (1) In the entire absence of real
external evidence (for the catalogues of the Alexandrian librarians cannot
be regarded as trustworthy); and (2) in the absence of the highest marks
either of poetical or philosophical excellence; and (3) considering that we
have express testimony to the existence of contemporary writings bearing
the name of Alcibiades, we are compelled to suspend our judgment on the
genuineness of the extant dialogue.

Neither at this point, nor at any other, do we propose to draw an absolute
line of demarcation between genuine and spurious writings of Plato. They
fade off imperceptibly from one class to another. There may have been
degrees of genuineness in the dialogues themselves, as there are certainly
degrees of evidence by which they are supported. The traditions of the
oral discourses both of Socrates and Plato may have formed the basis of
semi-Platonic writings; some of them may be of the same mixed character
which is apparent in Aristotle and Hippocrates, although the form of them
is different. But the writings of Plato, unlike the writings of Aristotle,
seem never to have been confused with the writings of his disciples: this
was probably due to their definite form, and to their inimitable
excellence. The three dialogues which we have offered in the Appendix to
the criticism of the reader may be partly spurious and partly genuine; they
may be altogether spurious;--that is an alternative which must be frankly
admitted. Nor can we maintain of some other dialogues, such as the
Parmenides, and the Sophist, and Politicus, that no considerable objection
can be urged against them, though greatly overbalanced by the weight
(chiefly) of internal evidence in their favour. Nor, on the other hand,
can we exclude a bare possibility that some dialogues which are usually
rejected, such as the Greater Hippias and the Cleitophon, may be genuine.
The nature and object of these semi-Platonic writings require more careful
study and more comparison of them with one another, and with forged
writings in general, than they have yet received, before we can finally
decide on their character. We do not consider them all as genuine until
they can be proved to be spurious, as is often maintained and still more
often implied in this and similar discussions; but should say of some of
them, that their genuineness is neither proven nor disproven until further
evidence about them can be adduced. And we are as confident that the
Epistles are spurious, as that the Republic, the Timaeus, and the Laws are

On the whole, not a twentieth part of the writings which pass under the
name of Plato, if we exclude the works rejected by the ancients themselves
and two or three other plausible inventions, can be fairly doubted by those
who are willing to allow that a considerable change and growth may have
taken place in his philosophy (see above). That twentieth debatable
portion scarcely in any degree affects our judgment of Plato, either as a
thinker or a writer, and though suggesting some interesting questions to
the scholar and critic, is of little importance to the general reader.



Plato (see Appendix I above)

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


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

The author of the Menexenus, whether Plato or not, is evidently intending
to ridicule the practice, and at the same time to show that he can beat the
rhetoricians in their own line, as in the Phaedrus he may be supposed to
offer an example of what Lysias might have said, and of how much better he
might have written in his own style. The orators had recourse to their
favourite loci communes, one of which, as we find in Lysias, was the
shortness of the time allowed them for preparation. But Socrates points
out that they had them always ready for delivery, and that there was no
difficulty in improvising any number of such orations. To praise the
Athenians among the Athenians was easy,--to praise them among the
Lacedaemonians would have been a much more difficult task. Socrates
himself has turned rhetorician, having learned of a woman, Aspasia, the
mistress of Pericles; and any one whose teachers had been far inferior to
his own--say, one who had learned from Antiphon the Rhamnusian--would be
quite equal to the task of praising men to themselves. When we remember
that Antiphon is described by Thucydides as the best pleader of his day,
the satire on him and on the whole tribe of rhetoricians is transparent.

The ironical assumption of Socrates, that he must be a good orator because
he had learnt of Aspasia, is not coarse, as Schleiermacher supposes, but is
rather to be regarded as fanciful. Nor can we say that the offer of
Socrates to dance naked out of love for Menexenus, is any more un-Platonic
than the threat of physical force which Phaedrus uses towards Socrates.
Nor is there any real vulgarity in the fear which Socrates expresses that
he will get a beating from his mistress, Aspasia: this is the natural
exaggeration of what might be expected from an imperious woman. Socrates
is not to be taken seriously in all that he says, and Plato, both in the
Symposium and elsewhere, is not slow to admit a sort of Aristophanic
humour. How a great original genius like Plato might or might not have
written, what was his conception of humour, or what limits he would have
prescribed to himself, if any, in drawing the picture of the Silenus
Socrates, are problems which no critical instinct can determine.

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



Plato (see Appendix I above)

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates and Menexenus.

SOCRATES: Whence come you, Menexenus? Are you from the Agora?

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates; I have been at the Council.

SOCRATES: And what might you be doing at the Council? And yet I need
hardly ask, for I see that you, believing yourself to have arrived at the
end of education and of philosophy, and to have had enough of them, are
mounting upwards to things higher still, and, though rather young for the
post, are intending to govern us elder men, like the rest of your family,
which has always provided some one who kindly took care of us.

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates, I shall be ready to hold office, if you allow
and advise that I should, but not if you think otherwise. I went to the
council chamber because I heard that the Council was about to choose some
one who was to speak over the dead. For you know that there is to be a
public funeral?

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

MENEXENUS: No one; they delayed the election until tomorrow, but I believe
that either Archinus or Dion will be chosen.

SOCRATES: O Menexenus! Death in battle is certainly in many respects a
noble thing. The dead man gets a fine and costly funeral, although he may
have been poor, and an elaborate speech is made over him by a wise man who
has long ago prepared what he has to say, although he who is praised may
not have been good for much. The speakers praise him for what he has done
and for what he has not done--that is the beauty of them--and they steal
away our souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable form they
praise the city; and they praise those who died in war, and all our
ancestors who went before us; and they praise ourselves also who are still
alive, until I feel quite elevated by their laudations, and I stand
listening to their words, Menexenus, and become enchanted by them, and all
in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater and nobler and finer
man than I was before. And if, as often happens, there are any foreigners
who accompany me to the speech, I become suddenly conscious of having a
sort of triumph over them, and they seem to experience a corresponding
feeling of admiration at me, and at the greatness of the city, which
appears to them, when they are under the influence of the speaker, more
wonderful than ever. This consciousness of dignity lasts me more than
three days, and not until the fourth or fifth day do I come to my senses
and know where I am; in the meantime I have been living in the Islands of
the Blest. Such is the art of our rhetoricians, and in such manner does
the sound of their words keep ringing in my ears.

MENEXENUS: You are always making fun of the rhetoricians, Socrates; this
time, however, I am inclined to think that the speaker who is chosen will
not have much to say, for he has been called upon to speak at a moment's
notice, and he will be compelled almost to improvise.

SOCRATES: But why, my friend, should he not have plenty to say? Every
rhetorician has speeches ready made; nor is there any difficulty in
improvising that sort of stuff. Had the orator to praise Athenians among
Peloponnesians, or Peloponnesians among Athenians, he must be a good
rhetorician who could succeed and gain credit. But there is no difficulty
in a man's winning applause when he is contending for fame among the
persons whom he is praising.

MENEXENUS: Do you think not, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Certainly 'not.'

MENEXENUS: Do you think that you could speak yourself if there should be a
necessity, and if the Council were to choose you?

SOCRATES: That I should be able to speak is no great wonder, Menexenus,
considering that I have an excellent mistress in the art of rhetoric,--she
who has made so many good speakers, and one who was the best among all the
Hellenes--Pericles, the son of Xanthippus.

MENEXENUS: And who is she? I suppose that you mean Aspasia.

SOCRATES: Yes, I do; and besides her I had Connus, the son of Metrobius,
as a master, and he was my master in music, as she was in rhetoric. No
wonder that a man who has received such an education should be a finished
speaker; even the pupil of very inferior masters, say, for example, one who
had learned music of Lamprus, and rhetoric of Antiphon the Rhamnusian,
might make a figure if he were to praise the Athenians among the Athenians.

MENEXENUS: And what would you be able to say if you had to speak?

SOCRATES: Of my own wit, most likely nothing; but yesterday I heard
Aspasia composing a funeral oration about these very dead. For she had
been told, as you were saying, that the Athenians were going to choose a
speaker, and she repeated to me the sort of speech which he should deliver,
partly improvising and partly from previous thought, putting together
fragments of the funeral oration which Pericles spoke, but which, as I
believe, she composed.

MENEXENUS: And can you remember what Aspasia said?

SOCRATES: I ought to be able, for she taught me, and she was ready to
strike me because I was always forgetting.

MENEXENUS: Then why will you not rehearse what she said?

SOCRATES: Because I am afraid that my mistress may be angry with me if I
publish her speech.

MENEXENUS: Nay, Socrates, let us have the speech, whether Aspasia's or any
one else's, no matter. I hope that you will oblige me.

SOCRATES: But I am afraid that you will laugh at me if I continue the
games of youth in old age.

MENEXENUS: Far otherwise, Socrates; let us by all means have the speech.

SOCRATES: Truly I have such a disposition to oblige you, that if you bid
me dance naked I should not like to refuse, since we are alone. Listen
then: If I remember rightly, she began as follows, with the mention of the
dead:-- (Thucyd.)

There is a tribute of deeds and of words. The departed have already had
the first, when going forth on their destined journey they were attended on
their way by the state and by their friends; the tribute of words remains
to be given to them, as is meet and by law ordained. For noble words are a
memorial and a crown of noble actions, which are given to the doers of them
by the hearers. A word is needed which will duly praise the dead and
gently admonish the living, exhorting the brethren and descendants of the
departed to imitate their virtue, and consoling their fathers and mothers
and the survivors, if any, who may chance to be alive of the previous
generation. What sort of a word will this be, and how shall we rightly
begin the praises of these brave men? In their life they rejoiced their
own friends with their valour, and their death they gave in exchange for
the salvation of the living. And I think that we should praise them in the
order in which nature made them good, for they were good because they were
sprung from good fathers. Wherefore let us first of all praise the
goodness of their birth; secondly, their nurture and education; and then
let us set forth how noble their actions were, and how worthy of the
education which they had received.

And first as to their birth. Their ancestors were not strangers, nor are
these their descendants sojourners only, whose fathers have come from
another country; but they are the children of the soil, dwelling and living
in their own land. And the country which brought them up is not like other
countries, a stepmother to her children, but their own true mother; she
bore them and nourished them and received them, and in her bosom they now
repose. It is meet and right, therefore, that we should begin by praising
the land which is their mother, and that will be a way of praising their
noble birth.

The country is worthy to be praised, not only by us, but by all mankind;
first, and above all, as being dear to the Gods. This is proved by the
strife and contention of the Gods respecting her. And ought not the
country which the Gods praise to be praised by all mankind? The second
praise which may be fairly claimed by her, is that at the time when the
whole earth was sending forth and creating diverse animals, tame and wild,
she our mother was free and pure from savage monsters, and out of all
animals selected and brought forth man, who is superior to the rest in
understanding, and alone has justice and religion. And a great proof that
she brought forth the common ancestors of us and of the departed, is that
she provided the means of support for her offspring. For as a woman proves
her motherhood by giving milk to her young ones (and she who has no
fountain of milk is not a mother), so did this our land prove that she was
the mother of men, for in those days she alone and first of all brought
forth wheat and barley for human food, which is the best and noblest
sustenance for man, whom she regarded as her true offspring. And these are
truer proofs of motherhood in a country than in a woman, for the woman in
her conception and generation is but the imitation of the earth, and not
the earth of the woman. And of the fruit of the earth she gave a plenteous
supply, not only to her own, but to others also; and afterwards she made
the olive to spring up to be a boon to her children, and to help them in
their toils. And when she had herself nursed them and brought them up to
manhood, she gave them Gods to be their rulers and teachers, whose names
are well known, and need not now be repeated. They are the Gods who first
ordered our lives, and instructed us in the arts for the supply of our
daily needs, and taught us the acquisition and use of arms for the defence
of the country.

Thus born into the world and thus educated, the ancestors of the departed
lived and made themselves a government, which I ought briefly to
commemorate. For government is the nurture of man, and the government of
good men is good, and of bad men bad. And I must show that our ancestors
were trained under a good government, and for this reason they were good,
and our contemporaries are also good, among whom our departed friends are
to be reckoned. Then as now, and indeed always, from that time to this,
speaking generally, our government was an aristocracy--a form of government
which receives various names, according to the fancies of men, and is
sometimes called democracy, but is really an aristocracy or government of
the best which has the approval of the many. For kings we have always had,
first hereditary and then elected, and authority is mostly in the hands of
the people, who dispense offices and power to those who appear to be most
deserving of them. Neither is a man rejected from weakness or poverty or
obscurity of origin, nor honoured by reason of the opposite, as in other
states, but there is one principle--he who appears to be wise and good is a
governor and ruler. The basis of this our government is equality of birth;
for other states are made up of all sorts and unequal conditions of men,
and therefore their governments are unequal; there are tyrannies and there
are oligarchies, in which the one party are slaves and the others masters.
But we and our citizens are brethren, the children all of one mother, and
we do not think it right to be one another's masters or servants; but the
natural equality of birth compels us to seek for legal equality, and to
recognize no superiority except in the reputation of virtue and wisdom.

And so their and our fathers, and these, too, our brethren, being nobly
born and having been brought up in all freedom, did both in their public
and private capacity many noble deeds famous over the whole world. They
were the deeds of men who thought that they ought to fight both against
Hellenes for the sake of Hellenes on behalf of freedom, and against
barbarians in the common interest of Hellas. Time would fail me to tell of
their defence of their country against the invasion of Eumolpus and the
Amazons, or of their defence of the Argives against the Cadmeians, or of
the Heracleids against the Argives; besides, the poets have already
declared in song to all mankind their glory, and therefore any
commemoration of their deeds in prose which we might attempt would hold a
second place. They already have their reward, and I say no more of them;
but there are other worthy deeds of which no poet has worthily sung, and
which are still wooing the poet's muse. Of these I am bound to make
honourable mention, and shall invoke others to sing of them also in lyric
and other strains, in a manner becoming the actors. And first I will tell
how the Persians, lords of Asia, were enslaving Europe, and how the
children of this land, who were our fathers, held them back. Of these I
will speak first, and praise their valour, as is meet and fitting. He who
would rightly estimate them should place himself in thought at that time,
when the whole of Asia was subject to the third king of Persia. The first
king, Cyrus, by his valour freed the Persians, who were his countrymen, and
subjected the Medes, who were their lords, and he ruled over the rest of
Asia, as far as Egypt; and after him came his son, who ruled all the
accessible part of Egypt and Libya; the third king was Darius, who extended
the land boundaries of the empire to Scythia, and with his fleet held the
sea and the islands. None presumed to be his equal; the minds of all men
were enthralled by him--so many and mighty and warlike nations had the
power of Persia subdued. Now Darius had a quarrel against us and the
Eretrians, because, as he said, we had conspired against Sardis, and he
sent 500,000 men in transports and vessels of war, and 300 ships, and Datis
as commander, telling him to bring the Eretrians and Athenians to the king,
if he wished to keep his head on his shoulders. He sailed against the
Eretrians, who were reputed to be amongst the noblest and most warlike of
the Hellenes of that day, and they were numerous, but he conquered them all
in three days; and when he had conquered them, in order that no one might
escape, he searched the whole country after this manner: his soldiers,
coming to the borders of Eretria and spreading from sea to sea, joined
hands and passed through the whole country, in order that they might be
able to tell the king that no one had escaped them. And from Eretria they
went to Marathon with a like intention, expecting to bind the Athenians in
the same yoke of necessity in which they had bound the Eretrians. Having
effected one-half of their purpose, they were in the act of attempting the
other, and none of the Hellenes dared to assist either the Eretrians or the
Athenians, except the Lacedaemonians, and they arrived a day too late for
the battle; but the rest were panic-stricken and kept quiet, too happy in
having escaped for a time. He who has present to his mind that conflict
will know what manner of men they were who received the onset of the
barbarians at Marathon, and chastened the pride of the whole of Asia, and
by the victory which they gained over the barbarians first taught other men
that the power of the Persians was not invincible, but that hosts of men
and the multitude of riches alike yield to valour. And I assert that those
men are the fathers not only of ourselves, but of our liberties and of the
liberties of all who are on the continent, for that was the action to which
the Hellenes looked back when they ventured to fight for their own safety
in the battles which ensued: they became disciples of the men of Marathon.
To them, therefore, I assign in my speech the first place, and the second
to those who fought and conquered in the sea fights at Salamis and
Artemisium; for of them, too, one might have many things to say--of the
assaults which they endured by sea and land, and how they repelled them. I
will mention only that act of theirs which appears to me to be the noblest,
and which followed that of Marathon and came nearest to it; for the men of
Marathon only showed the Hellenes that it was possible to ward off the
barbarians by land, the many by the few; but there was no proof that they
could be defeated by ships, and at sea the Persians retained the reputation
of being invincible in numbers and wealth and skill and strength. This is
the glory of the men who fought at sea, that they dispelled the second
terror which had hitherto possessed the Hellenes, and so made the fear of
numbers, whether of ships or men, to cease among them. And so the soldiers
of Marathon and the sailors of Salamis became the schoolmasters of Hellas;
the one teaching and habituating the Hellenes not to fear the barbarians at
sea, and the others not to fear them by land. Third in order, for the
number and valour of the combatants, and third in the salvation of Hellas,
I place the battle of Plataea. And now the Lacedaemonians as well as the
Athenians took part in the struggle; they were all united in this greatest
and most terrible conflict of all; wherefore their virtues will be
celebrated in times to come, as they are now celebrated by us. But at a
later period many Hellenic tribes were still on the side of the barbarians,
and there was a report that the great king was going to make a new attempt
upon the Hellenes, and therefore justice requires that we should also make
mention of those who crowned the previous work of our salvation, and drove
and purged away all barbarians from the sea. These were the men who fought
by sea at the river Eurymedon, and who went on the expedition to Cyprus,
and who sailed to Egypt and divers other places; and they should be
gratefully remembered by us, because they compelled the king in fear for
himself to look to his own safety instead of plotting the destruction of

And so the war against the barbarians was fought out to the end by the
whole city on their own behalf, and on behalf of their countrymen. There
was peace, and our city was held in honour; and then, as prosperity makes
men jealous, there succeeded a jealousy of her, and jealousy begat envy,
and so she became engaged against her will in a war with the Hellenes. On
the breaking out of war, our citizens met the Lacedaemonians at Tanagra,
and fought for the freedom of the Boeotians; the issue was doubtful, and
was decided by the engagement which followed. For when the Lacedaemonians
had gone on their way, leaving the Boeotians, whom they were aiding, on the
third day after the battle of Tanagra, our countrymen conquered at
Oenophyta, and righteously restored those who had been unrighteously
exiled. And they were the first after the Persian war who fought on behalf
of liberty in aid of Hellenes against Hellenes; they were brave men, and
freed those whom they aided, and were the first too who were honourably
interred in this sepulchre by the state. Afterwards there was a mighty
war, in which all the Hellenes joined, and devastated our country, which
was very ungrateful of them; and our countrymen, after defeating them in a
naval engagement and taking their leaders, the Spartans, at Sphagia, when
they might have destroyed them, spared their lives, and gave them back, and
made peace, considering that they should war with the fellow-countrymen
only until they gained a victory over them, and not because of the private
anger of the state destroy the common interest of Hellas; but that with
barbarians they should war to the death. Worthy of praise are they also
who waged this war, and are here interred; for they proved, if any one
doubted the superior prowess of the Athenians in the former war with the
barbarians, that their doubts had no foundation--showing by their victory
in the civil war with Hellas, in which they subdued the other chief state
of the Hellenes, that they could conquer single-handed those with whom they
had been allied in the war against the barbarians. After the peace there
followed a third war, which was of a terrible and desperate nature, and in
this many brave men who are here interred lost their lives--many of them
had won victories in Sicily, whither they had gone over the seas to fight
for the liberties of the Leontines, to whom they were bound by oaths; but,
owing to the distance, the city was unable to help them, and they lost
heart and came to misfortune, their very enemies and opponents winning more
renown for valour and temperance than the friends of others. Many also
fell in naval engagements at the Hellespont, after having in one day taken
all the ships of the enemy, and defeated them in other naval engagements.
And what I call the terrible and desperate nature of the war, is that the
other Hellenes, in their extreme animosity towards the city, should have
entered into negotiations with their bitterest enemy, the king of Persia,
whom they, together with us, had expelled;--him, without us, they again
brought back, barbarian against Hellenes, and all the hosts, both of
Hellenes and barbarians, were united against Athens. And then shone forth
the power and valour of our city. Her enemies had supposed that she was
exhausted by the war, and our ships were blockaded at Mitylene. But the
citizens themselves embarked, and came to the rescue with sixty other
ships, and their valour was confessed of all men, for they conquered their
enemies and delivered their friends. And yet by some evil fortune they
were left to perish at sea, and therefore are not interred here. Ever to
be remembered and honoured are they, for by their valour not only that sea-
fight was won for us, but the entire war was decided by them, and through
them the city gained the reputation of being invincible, even though
attacked by all mankind. And that reputation was a true one, for the
defeat which came upon us was our own doing. We were never conquered by
others, and to this day we are still unconquered by them; but we were our
own conquerors, and received defeat at our own hands. Afterwards there was
quiet and peace abroad, but there sprang up war at home; and, if men are
destined to have civil war, no one could have desired that his city should
take the disorder in a milder form. How joyful and natural was the
reconciliation of those who came from the Piraeus and those who came from
the city; with what moderation did they order the war against the tyrants
in Eleusis, and in a manner how unlike what the other Hellenes expected!
And the reason of this gentleness was the veritable tie of blood, which
created among them a friendship as of kinsmen, faithful not in word only,
but in deed. And we ought also to remember those who then fell by one
another's hands, and on such occasions as these to reconcile them with
sacrifices and prayers, praying to those who have power over them, that
they may be reconciled even as we are reconciled. For they did not attack
one another out of malice or enmity, but they were unfortunate. And that
such was the fact we ourselves are witnesses, who are of the same race with
them, and have mutually received and granted forgiveness of what we have
done and suffered. After this there was perfect peace, and the city had
rest; and her feeling was that she forgave the barbarians, who had severely
suffered at her hands and severely retaliated, but that she was indignant
at the ingratitude of the Hellenes, when she remembered how they had
received good from her and returned evil, having made common cause with the
barbarians, depriving her of the ships which had once been their salvation,
and dismantling our walls, which had preserved their own from falling. She
thought that she would no longer defend the Hellenes, when enslaved either
by one another or by the barbarians, and did accordingly. This was our
feeling, while the Lacedaemonians were thinking that we who were the
champions of liberty had fallen, and that their business was to subject the
remaining Hellenes. And why should I say more? for the events of which I
am speaking happened not long ago and we can all of us remember how the
chief peoples of Hellas, Argives and Boeotians and Corinthians, came to
feel the need of us, and, what is the greatest miracle of all, the Persian
king himself was driven to such extremity as to come round to the opinion,
that from this city, of which he was the destroyer, and from no other, his
salvation would proceed.

And if a person desired to bring a deserved accusation against our city, he
would find only one charge which he could justly urge--that she was too
compassionate and too favourable to the weaker side. And in this instance
she was not able to hold out or keep her resolution of refusing aid to her
injurers when they were being enslaved, but she was softened, and did in
fact send out aid, and delivered the Hellenes from slavery, and they were
free until they afterwards enslaved themselves. Whereas, to the great king
she refused to give the assistance of the state, for she could not forget
the trophies of Marathon and Salamis and Plataea; but she allowed exiles
and volunteers to assist him, and they were his salvation. And she
herself, when she was compelled, entered into the war, and built walls and
ships, and fought with the Lacedaemonians on behalf of the Parians. Now
the king fearing this city and wanting to stand aloof, when he saw the
Lacedaemonians growing weary of the war at sea, asked of us, as the price
of his alliance with us and the other allies, to give up the Hellenes in
Asia, whom the Lacedaemonians had previously handed over to him, he
thinking that we should refuse, and that then he might have a pretence for
withdrawing from us. About the other allies he was mistaken, for the
Corinthians and Argives and Boeotians, and the other states, were quite
willing to let them go, and swore and covenanted, that, if he would pay
them money, they would make over to him the Hellenes of the continent, and
we alone refused to give them up and swear. Such was the natural nobility
of this city, so sound and healthy was the spirit of freedom among us, and
the instinctive dislike of the barbarian, because we are pure Hellenes,
having no admixture of barbarism in us. For we are not like many others,
descendants of Pelops or Cadmus or Egyptus or Danaus, who are by nature
barbarians, and yet pass for Hellenes, and dwell in the midst of us; but we
are pure Hellenes, uncontaminated by any foreign element, and therefore the
hatred of the foreigner has passed unadulterated into the life-blood of the
city. And so, notwithstanding our noble sentiments, we were again
isolated, because we were unwilling to be guilty of the base and unholy act
of giving up Hellenes to barbarians. And we were in the same case as when
we were subdued before; but, by the favour of Heaven, we managed better,
for we ended the war without the loss of our ships or walls or colonies;
the enemy was only too glad to be quit of us. Yet in this war we lost many
brave men, such as were those who fell owing to the ruggedness of the
ground at the battle of Corinth, or by treason at Lechaeum. Brave men,
too, were those who delivered the Persian king, and drove the
Lacedaemonians from the sea. I remind you of them, and you must celebrate
them together with me, and do honour to their memories.

Such were the actions of the men who are here interred, and of others who
have died on behalf of their country; many and glorious things I have
spoken of them, and there are yet many more and more glorious things
remaining to be told--many days and nights would not suffice to tell of
them. Let them not be forgotten, and let every man remind their
descendants that they also are soldiers who must not desert the ranks of
their ancestors, or from cowardice fall behind. Even as I exhort you this
day, and in all future time, whenever I meet with any of you, shall
continue to remind and exhort you, O ye sons of heroes, that you strive to
be the bravest of men. And I think that I ought now to repeat what your
fathers desired to have said to you who are their survivors, when they went
out to battle, in case anything happened to them. I will tell you what I
heard them say, and what, if they had only speech, they would fain be
saying, judging from what they then said. And you must imagine that you
hear them saying what I now repeat to you:--

'Sons, the event proves that your fathers were brave men; for we might have
lived dishonourably, but have preferred to die honourably rather than bring
you and your children into disgrace, and rather than dishonour our own
fathers and forefathers; considering that life is not life to one who is a
dishonour to his race, and that to such a one neither men nor Gods are
friendly, either while he is on the earth or after death in the world
below. Remember our words, then, and whatever is your aim let virtue be
the condition of the attainment of your aim, and know that without this all
possessions and pursuits are dishonourable and evil. For neither does
wealth bring honour to the owner, if he be a coward; of such a one the
wealth belongs to another, and not to himself. Nor does beauty and
strength of body, when dwelling in a base and cowardly man, appear comely,
but the reverse of comely, making the possessor more conspicuous, and
manifesting forth his cowardice. And all knowledge, when separated from
justice and virtue, is seen to be cunning and not wisdom; wherefore make
this your first and last and constant and all-absorbing aim, to exceed, if
possible, not only us but all your ancestors in virtue; and know that to
excel you in virtue only brings us shame, but that to be excelled by you is
a source of happiness to us. And we shall most likely be defeated, and you
will most likely be victors in the contest, if you learn so to order your
lives as not to abuse or waste the reputation of your ancestors, knowing
that to a man who has any self-respect, nothing is more dishonourable than
to be honoured, not for his own sake, but on account of the reputation of
his ancestors. The honour of parents is a fair and noble treasure to their
posterity, but to have the use of a treasure of wealth and honour, and to
leave none to your successors, because you have neither money nor
reputation of your own, is alike base and dishonourable. And if you follow
our precepts you will be received by us as friends, when the hour of
destiny brings you hither; but if you neglect our words and are disgraced
in your lives, no one will welcome or receive you. This is the message
which is to be delivered to our children.

'Some of us have fathers and mothers still living, and we would urge them,
if, as is likely, we shall die, to bear the calamity as lightly as
possible, and not to condole with one another; for they have sorrows
enough, and will not need any one to stir them up. While we gently heal
their wounds, let us remind them that the Gods have heard the chief part of
their prayers; for they prayed, not that their children might live for
ever, but that they might be brave and renowned. And this, which is the
greatest good, they have attained. A mortal man cannot expect to have
everything in his own life turning out according to his will; and they, if
they bear their misfortunes bravely, will be truly deemed brave fathers of
the brave. But if they give way to their sorrows, either they will be
suspected of not being our parents, or we of not being such as our
panegyrists declare. Let not either of the two alternatives happen, but
rather let them be our chief and true panegyrists, who show in their lives
that they are true men, and had men for their sons. Of old the saying,
"Nothing too much," appeared to be, and really was, well said. For he
whose happiness rests with himself, if possible, wholly, and if not, as far
as is possible,--who is not hanging in suspense on other men, or changing
with the vicissitude of their fortune,--has his life ordered for the best.
He is the temperate and valiant and wise; and when his riches come and go,
when his children are given and taken away, he will remember the proverb--
"Neither rejoicing overmuch nor grieving overmuch," for he relies upon
himself. And such we would have our parents to be--that is our word and
wish, and as such we now offer ourselves, neither lamenting overmuch, nor
fearing overmuch, if we are to die at this time. And we entreat our
fathers and mothers to retain these feelings throughout their future life,
and to be assured that they will not please us by sorrowing and lamenting
over us. But, if the dead have any knowledge of the living, they will
displease us most by making themselves miserable and by taking their
misfortunes too much to heart, and they will please us best if they bear
their loss lightly and temperately. For our life will have the noblest end
which is vouchsafed to man, and should be glorified rather than lamented.
And if they will direct their minds to the care and nurture of our wives
and children, they will soonest forget their misfortunes, and live in a
better and nobler way, and be dearer to us.

'This is all that we have to say to our families: and to the state we
would say--Take care of our parents and of our sons: let her worthily
cherish the old age of our parents, and bring up our sons in the right way.
But we know that she will of her own accord take care of them, and does not
need any exhortation of ours.'

This, O ye children and parents of the dead, is the message which they bid
us deliver to you, and which I do deliver with the utmost seriousness. And
in their name I beseech you, the children, to imitate your fathers, and
you, parents, to be of good cheer about yourselves; for we will nourish
your age, and take care of you both publicly and privately in any place in
which one of us may meet one of you who are the parents of the dead. And
the care of you which the city shows, you know yourselves; for she has made
provision by law concerning the parents and children of those who die in
war; the highest authority is specially entrusted with the duty of watching
over them above all other citizens, and they will see that your fathers and
mothers have no wrong done to them. The city herself shares in the
education of the children, desiring as far as it is possible that their
orphanhood may not be felt by them; while they are children she is a parent
to them, and when they have arrived at man's estate she sends them to their
several duties, in full armour clad; and bringing freshly to their minds
the ways of their fathers, she places in their hands the instruments of
their fathers' virtues; for the sake of the omen, she would have them from
the first begin to rule over their own houses arrayed in the strength and
arms of their fathers. And as for the dead, she never ceases honouring
them, celebrating in common for all rites which become the property of
each; and in addition to this, holding gymnastic and equestrian contests,
and musical festivals of every sort. She is to the dead in the place of a
son and heir, and to their sons in the place of a father, and to their
parents and elder kindred in the place of a guardian--ever and always
caring for them. Considering this, you ought to bear your calamity the
more gently; for thus you will be most endeared to the dead and to the
living, and your sorrows will heal and be healed. And now do you and all,
having lamented the dead in common according to the law, go your ways.

You have heard, Menexenus, the oration of Aspasia the Milesian.

MENEXENUS: Truly, Socrates, I marvel that Aspasia, who is only a woman,
should be able to compose such a speech; she must be a rare one.

SOCRATES: Well, if you are incredulous, you may come with me and hear her.

MENEXENUS: I have often met Aspasia, Socrates, and know what she is like.

SOCRATES: Well, and do you not admire her, and are you not grateful for
her speech?

MENEXENUS: Yes, Socrates, I am very grateful to her or to him who told
you, and still more to you who have told me.

SOCRATES: Very good. But you must take care not to tell of me, and then
at some future time I will repeat to you many other excellent political
speeches of hers.

MENEXENUS: Fear not, only let me hear them, and I will keep the secret.

SOCRATES: Then I will keep my promise.

End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of Menexus, by Plato

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