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1 The art of writing is an art of words. Often this involves individual words that are especially appropriate to the context and capture the required nuances. At other times it involves using phrases that have special significance. Sometimes, as in the passage which will be the primary focus here, it will involve selection and sustained use of a particular type of discourse.

2 Early writers of Socratic dialogues were not free to choose their type of discourse. Bringing Socrates to life required that not only the subject matter but also the language should be recognizably Socratic. The opening of Xenophon's Apology of Socrates demonstrates that earlier works on the trial and death of Socrates had all captured a certain kind of haughty tone, making it plain that Socrates really had spoken in this way. Furthermore, when we think of Plato's Socrates, we associate him with a particular kind of speech. It is the Apology (17d-18a) that most directly links Socrates with a conversational style, showing how, even when forced by legal convention to employ long stretches of continuous diction, his engaging manner still shines through and still addresses us as if we were having an open conversation with him. There are passing allusions to forensic language and techniques, but they seem only to mock the rhetoric of his day and to question its usefulness. Socrates remains Socrates.

3 A dramatic writer tends to vary his language to suit his many characters. In the earlier dialogues of Plato, senior intellectuals may adopt a rather different tone and employ rather different language from that associated with Socrates and most of his Athenian friends. Protagoras' long rhesis (Prot. 320c-328d) is didactic in tone and has the charms to lull his auditors into unquestioning acceptance; [1] Gorgias may be rather bombastic and inclined to employ non-standard vocabulary in the misguided belief that it will impress. [2] However, most of Socrates' interlocutors also employ a conversational style appropriate to the circumstances. [3] Little use is made of dialects, [4] or linguistic idiosyncracies. The greatest internal variations in Plato's language are not to be found as he switches from one character to another, but rather as his characters switch from the expected conversational register into something rather different. Socrates' language changes when he delivers a myth, [5] and he also seems capable of adopting a motherly voice when reporting or imagining the words of authoritative females. [6] A comparable switch of register occurs when he feels under the influence of some other almost magical force, such as that of the local nymphs to which he draws attention at Phaedrus 238c-d and 241e. This paper concerns comparable changes in Socrates' language in the Cratylus.


4 In tragedy too the poet varies his language to suit those speakers whom he brings before us, his prosôpa, though for the most part all employ the conventional diction of spoken tragic verse, and deliver their message in iambic trimeters. Highly emotional passages, such as a lament, or Cassandra's grotesque marriage-dance at Euripides Troades 308-41, will result in variation of metre and a corresponding variation in diction. Choral odes, or lyric exchanges with other actors or chorus, will involve a vocabulary that is furthest from the everyday language of Athens and employs non-Attic forms, especially Doric. Hence individual characters may employ different metres and different kinds of language that are more obvious than the switch from one speaker to another in ordinary tragic conversation. If these changes of language within tragedies may be viewed as changes within the genre that are nevertheless independent of changes of speaker, then it is natural to regard them as changes of register, [7] though for the moment I prefer to use the non-technical term ‘voice'. The fact that Athenians were familiar with complex genres that routinely employed different types of speech might well have prompted Plato to allow his protagonist, like many a tragic or comic protagonist, to switch voices from time to time if some special reason presented itself.

5 Religious contexts also provided the occasion for special voices to be employed. There is something special about the hymn to Dionysus sung by the chorus of maenads as they enter the stage in Euripides Bacchae (64-169), and about the invocation uttered by Socrates to usher in the chorus' arrival in Aristophanes Clouds (263-74). Both relate somehow to the corresponding religious language of the real world. Likewise the language of prophets, particularly when employing their prophetic voice, is inclined to stand out in tragedies; the incongruity of having a venal religious expert employ an inspired (or mock-inspired) voice also offers a source for humour within comedy. [8] No type of religious language was more famously special than that of the Delphic Oracle, which so often proved fascinating to philosophers from Heraclitus on. The tension between an oracle's claim to be infallibly true and the ambiguity of its verses [9] extends to the pronouncements of revered prophets in tragedy, while the seer of comedy tries to employ enigmatic language in imitation of a true seer. To an Athenian of the early fourth century, therefore, the sounds associated with a riddling Apollinine voice would have prompted the following question: ‘Do I hear the voice of genuine authority, or am I listening to a charlatan?' Prophets and oracles were those responsible for interpreting the knowledge of the gods for ignorant human beings; in many cases the oracular utterances needed further interpreters, and one likewise needed interpreters to judge the genuineness of the prophet.


6 At Cratylus 395e Socrates' exploration of the nature of names, and of the way in which names aim at the essence of that to which they are applied, switches to an explanation of the names of the gods. It is perhaps important that we recognise this material not simply as linguistic, but also as theological, telling us about the gods through their names, for this kind of material is the most likely to attract religious experts who make some claim to divine inspiration. The diction that Socrates has broken into will shortly be described as that of inspiration, or, to employ the appropriate term to this phenomenon in Greek culture, of enthusiasmos.

7 Both Socrates and his current interlocutor Hermogenes remark on Socrates' diction at 396c-d (so it has by now become obvious to the reader), as will Cratylus later (428c = T5). After giving etymologies of Zeus, Kronos, and Ouranos, Socrates had made the following observation (T1):


And if I remembered from the genealogy of Hesiod which further gods were the earlier ancestors of these, I should not stop explaining how the names for them have been correctly established, until I have made trial of this wisdom (σοφία) to see what it will do, whether or not it will run out—this wisdom that has only just now fallen upon me from some unknown source. (396c3-d1).

9 Socrates clearly associates an uncharacteristic kind of confident speech with his etymologies of these three kings of the gods, and he appears uncertain as to how he should interpret his new-found expertise. Hermogenes, at any rate, has been impressed (T2):


Hermogenes: Yes indeed Socrates, you seem to me to be quite simply chanting oracles (χρησμῳδεῖν) all of a sudden, much like people who are under divine influence (ἐνθoυσιῶντες). (d2-3)

11 Hermogenes thinks that Socrates has suddenly turned into some kind of religious expert, offering a fluent interpretation of matters of a religious nature. Socrates suspects that he know the source (T3):


Socrates: Yes, and here I should lay the charge that it has descended upon me above all from Euthyphro of Prospalta. Early this morning I was with him for a considerable time, and I gave ear to him carefully. It is possible that when he was under divine influence (ἐνθoυσιῶ) he not only filled my ears with his supernatural wisdom (δαιμονία σοφία), but also seized hold of my soul. So it seems to me that we should act as follows: as far as today is concerned we should make use of it and continue our examination of names, but tomorrow, if you too think it's a good idea, we shall ritually escort it off (ἀποδιοπομπησόμεθα) [10] and cleanse ourselves of it, after finding somebody clever at conducting such purifications, either somebody from among the priests or one of the sophists. (396d4-397a1)

13 The idea is that the divine influence working more directly upon Euthyphro had somehow been transferred to Euthyphro's auditor, in this case Socrates, an idea familiar from Socrates' famous ‘magnet' speeches in the Ion (533c-535a2; 535e7-536d3), and surely not exclusively Socratic. Just as Socrates was never intending to be lauding Ion by suggesting that he might be part of a Homeric chain of inspiration deriving ultimately from the Muse, so too he remains suspicious of whatever inspiration he may have inherited from Euthyphro, something that will surprise nobody who has previously encountered the dialogue Euthyphro. [11] There Euthyphro had been represented as a mantis (3e3-4) who thinks that his prophesies to the Athenians are infallible (3c1-4), and laughed at only out of envy. He is obsessed by his own wisdom (σοφία), which he is reluctant to reveal (3d5-6), is not available to ordinary people (6b5-6, c5-7), and is ironically accepted by Socrates as genuine (4a9-b2, 12a4-5). If we should doubt that Euthyphro of Prospalta in the Cratylus is the same character as we meet in the Euthyphro we should attend carefully to the following correspondence (T4):


(a) Socrates: Heracles! The masses are indeed ignorant of the correct state of affairs, Euthyphro—as I certainly do not think this is the ordinary man's course of action, but that of one who is already riding somewhere far along wisdom's road. (πόρρω που ἤδη σοφίας ἐλαύνοντος, Euthyphro 4a9-b2)
(b) Hermogenes: You're certainly making great progress, Socrates.
Socrates: I believe that I already appear to be riding far along wisdom's road. (πόρρωἤδη σοφίας ἐλαύνειν, Cratylus 410e2-3)

15 The metaphor of the rider seeking revelation has only one partial and ironic parallel elsewhere in Plato, where Callicles speaks of those always riding far along the road to philosophy at Gorgias 486a6-7, [12] and this should not be allowed to obscure the fact that riding wisdom's road seems to be a phrase applied to Euthyphro especially. Perhaps it was a favourite phrase of Euthyphro himself, or whatever figure Euthyphro was supposed to mask. [13] Riding a horse-drawn chariot along the revelatory road is a metaphor going back at least to Parmenides, [14] but in case we miss the aptness of the phrase Plato has already in the Cratylus taken care to associate Euthyphro with a team of chariot-horses at 407d (= T6). There is no doubt that Plato is using his art to add something significant to his portrait of Euthyphro, even though the exact significance may have been lost with time.

16 When describing Socrates' manner of speaking in this passage both Hermogenes (396d2 = T2) and Cratylus (428c7 = T5) use the rare verb χρησμῳδεῖν ( « chant oracles »), a verb that occurs just the twice in Cratylus, and once each in Ion (534b), Republic (IX 586b), [15] and Laws (IV 412a). In the Ion it is connected with poetry, in the Laws with myth, so that it clearly fits inspired diction. Clearly neither Hermogenes nor Cratylus mean any disrespect by using this word, though if it had been Socrates it would have been less than a compliment, since the χρησμῳδός is like the poet a stock example of those who can get things right without actually knowing (Apol. 22c, Meno 99c, Ion 534c-d).

17 This may be why Socrates avoids the term in T3, and is reluctant to approve of this inspiration that he has apparently received. One cannot spend one's life questioning the value of correct utterances, impressions, or policies that are not accompanied by the security of knowledge, and then warmly embrace any power that appears to give one that very same power to get things right without understanding them. Hence at the end of T3 Socrates is happy to continue with it for a limited time, but acknowledges that this gift that he has inherited could be harmful, and something that he needs to be cleansed of. His uncertainty about whether the cleansing would require religious ritual or sophistic practice, [16] suggests that he is unsure whether to class Euthyphro's alleged expertise as priestly or sophistic, combining as it does theological, linguistic, and cosmological themes. Euthyphro is a liminal figure, and his treatment by Socrates is consistently cautious and ambiguous. To question whether this theorist is to be regarded as a true prophet or a sophistic impostor is also to ask whether the methods now being applied by Socrates are or are not seriously telling us something about names, including those of the gods. While scholarship is moving away from the assumption that Plato could never be seriously interested in the complex of etymologies offered in the Cratylus, [17] it remains hard to accept that he ever had great confidence in the explication of names as a tool for discovering the essence of things. Socratic ambiguity is justified.

18 Socrates, however, does employ other terms appropriate to supernatural inspiration. We find ἐπίπνοια at 399a1 (cf. Cratylus' ἐπίπνους, 428c7 = T5), and μοῦσα at 409d2 (cf. Cratylus' μοῦσα, 428c8); at 396d7 (= T3) he uses ἐνθoυσιῶ of Euthyphro's earlier inspired state in response to Hermogenes' use at 396d3 (= T2), so that Socrates does not deny that he resembles one who is inspired. But in 17 cases of the language of ἐνθoυσιασμός documented by Brandwood, [18] only here does it appear to apply to a state exhibited by Socrates himself, though he fears that unless he restrains himself he soon will ἐνθoυσιάζειν at Phaedrus 241e5. More normally the term is employed by Plato to describe a state of lovers or of poets and their interpreters (as at Ion 533e5, 535c2, and 536b3), [19] and the utterances of self-taught Heracliteans (Tht. 180c2). The difference with Socrates' preferred terminology as far as it pertains to himself is that it does not require that the supernatural force within one must be a god: to claim ἐνθoυσιασμός would be to treat oneself as ἔνθεος (having a god within). Certainly Plato tries to convince us that Socrates' speech is different here; but for how long?


19 It might seem natural to suppose that diction of inspired speech would disappear after Socrates had finished expounding the names of the gods at 408d5. However, we continue to get reminders that Euthyphro might somehow be responsible for Socrates' strategies. The name of Euthyphro is mentioned at 396d5, 399a1, 400a1, 407d8, 409d2, and 428c7. At this last point Socrates acknowledges that he is surprised and distrustful of his new voice, and that he must look again in case he is deceiving himself. Clearly we are again hearing the normal critical Socrates, and the alien voice had been confined to the discussion with Hermogenes. One notes that at 409d Socrates had suggested that unless the subject (the etymology of ‘fire') was just too difficult the muse of Euthyphro had possibly deserted him. The only problem is that in 410e3 (= T4b) we get another direct reminder not only that Socrates is still operating with surprising cleverness in the etymological arena, but also that this is the work of Euthyphro's wisdom. However, we should note that at 411a1 Hermogenes is about to shift the etymology away from its present cosmological applications into the area of ethics. Up until now we have had approximately one reminder of Euthyphro's relevance per two Stephanus pages. Hereafter Plato allows the reader to forget his relevance for quite a long while, [20] and even at 428c Cratylus' reference to Euthyphro is not so simple:


T5. To me too, Socrates, you seem to be pretty much (ἐπιεικῶς) chanting oracles intelligently (κατὰ νοῦν), whether you have become inspired from Euthyphro, or whether some other Muse has for a long time been residing in you unrecognised. (428c6-8)

21 This remark comes after Hermogenes has dragged Cratylus back into the discussion, Socrates has conceded that he remains uncommitted to his conclusions and willing to become Cratylus' pupil if has anything better to offer, and Cratylus admits that he is well versed in the subject. He has however been quite impressed. As we saw above, religious inspiration in Socratic literature usually goes hand in hand with an ignorance of exactly what one is doing or saying, for which reason the inspired prophet or poet, like the Meno's successful politician, will normally speak without intelligence (ἄνευ νοῦ, Meno 99e6 with 99c1-d5, cf. Ion 534b6, c8, d3) or knowledge (Apol. 22b8-c4). Therefore Cratylus' remark does seem to be recognising that Socrates' speech continues to be in the manner of an inspired religious practitioner, but it implies perhaps that Socrates really does understand what he is doing rather better than somebody like Euthyphro would have done. Hence his scepticism about the source of the alleged ‘inspiration'.

22 This agrees with the fact that after 411a we lose those features of the discussion which have contributed to the picture of Euthyphro's interests during the previous theological and cosmological discussions. We are told that Euthyphro's followers, a sophisticated band, would favour an etymology of soul (ψυχή) that depends on the doctrine of Anaxagoras (399e-400b). Sedley (2003, 90-97) notices that the theme of cosmic intelligence is one that runs through the cosmic etymologies where Euthyphro is influential. [21] He sees genuine Platonic theory operating here, but one does not have to deny this in order to allow that Euthyphro's methods also involve such doctrines. The etymology of Athena appeals to the etymological activities of clever Homerists (407a9), probably alluding to Metrodorus of Lampsacus. [22] The methods followed by Socrates here imply respect for the μετεωρολόγοι (396c2, 401b7, and 404c2), unusual in Plato: not only Anaxagoras but also Heraclitus, for, of thirteen mentions of him in Plato, seven belong to this dialogue and five to this passage (401d-402c). We also find explicit mention of Orphic doctrine which is given similar status to Presocratic cosmology in the etymology of body (σῶμα as σῆμα, 400c). It is these appeals to the doctrines of contemporary ‘science', establishing etymology as ‘scientific' too, that make it so easy, I believe, for Socrates to refer repeatedly to what he has caught from Euthyphro as cleverness or wisdom (σοφία: 396c7 = T1, d8 = T3, 399a5, 401e5, 410e3 = T4b). [23] Inspired poetry is also appealed to, Homer at 402a6, b4, 407a9, 408a4, and 410c2 (also at 415a1-2 and 417c8), and Hesiod at 396c4 (=T1), 397e5, 402b6, and 406c7. Two of Plato's thirteen references to Orpheus occur here, with a two-line quotation at 402b6-c1 following the vaguer reference at 400c. Plato nowhere else cites authorities on this scale, and the practice runs counter to that usually associated with Socrates, who can be very distrustful of all these thinkers and their followers. These unusual features demonstrate that between 396a and 410e Socrates has taken on at least partially an alien identity which must surely be intended to be suggestive of his alleged source of inspiration, Euthyphro.

23 Thus the activities that we are invited to associate with Euthyphro are centrally linked with interpretation (ἑρμηνεία), whether of names, of poets, or of cosmologists. This combination of interpretative practice is found in the Derveni Papyrus, with its regular interpretation of divine names, its adoption of the poetry of Orpheus as an inspired authority, its open use of Heraclitus in column IV, and its apparent dependence on Anaxagorean nous-theory. [24] It also interprets ritual practice in column V. For similar reasons it was suggested that Euthyphro may have been the Derveni author (Kahn 1997), but at least the parallel makes it plausible that Euthyphro had combined the hermeneutic interests depicted. In the light of these hermeneutics the coming etymology of Hermes, treating the god as a shifty ‘interpreter' (ἑρμηνεύς), is of special significance. Whether or not ‘the real turning-point of the dialogue' occurs at 211a as Sedley claims (2003: 108), Euthyphro is already undermined from 407d.


24 This is where we meet a Platonic masterstroke. Socrates says the following:


T6. Let us get away from [the subject of] the gods by the gods, as I am nervous of discussing them. Would you like to pose questions for me concerning certain other topics, « So that you may discover the quality of Euthyphro's ‘horses' ». (407d6-9)

26 The original Homeric verses as translated below [25] are an injunction from one hero to another to climb:


… into my chariot, so that you may see what the Trojan horses [‘horses of Tros'] [26] are like, how they understand their plain, and how to traverse it in rapid pursuit and withdrawal.

28 This much is repeated exactly, in Greek as in translation, addressed first by Aeneas to Pandarus at Iliad 5.221-3, and second, after these special horses have fallen into enemy hands, by Diomedes to Nestor at 8.105-7. The irony of the repetition can scarcely have escaped Plato's readers. The very same cognitive wonders that once aided the Trojans now aid their Greek opponents. Surely Socrates here hints that the weapons of Euthyphro are now about to be employed against him.

29 The two remaining etymologies of gods' names tend to work against Euthyphro. Hermogenes will not let Socrates leave divine names before he tackles the god whose name is important to the original dispute about the name « Hermogenes ». Naturally he wants to know what Hermes signifies. While the preceding pages etymologies concentrated on the rationality of the world's governance, on reaching the name of Ares at 407c, Socrates is tempted to explain it with reference to his harsh and stubborn nature. It is here that he wishes to leave divine names—no doubt before he sinks further into unflattering descriptions of the gods. But Hermogenes needs to know about Hermes. Hermes is portayed much as in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, where he features as a trickster god from the moment of his birth. He is concerned with speech: an interpreter (hermêneus), communicator, fraudster, verbal cheat, and artful dealer (407e5-408a1), and he is etymologised as the deviser of (dissembling) speech (hos to eirein emêsato, 408b1). This is the first damning etymology of a god, but it is not just the god who is cast in a bad light, but also speech, with particular reference to its ability to mislead. It is the building-blocks of speech that we have been analysing in the light of Euthyphro's ideas, and the sudden revelation that speech can be so misleading worries the reader about the current hypothesis that names, when correctly interpreted, are a source of truth. Furthermore, the name for this interpretation, whether of names or sentences or poems, is hermêneia. He links hermeneutic activity and this untrustworthy divinity Hermes. If Hermes cannot be trusted, then neither can the interpretation of names. The weapon that Euthyphro has put into Socrates' hands for the explanation of the names of the gods in terms of their intelligent, constructive, and often providential role [27] has now been turned against both the kind of theology that he favours and his attempts to unveil the truth by deep interpretation. The horses of Euthyphro are in enemy hands.

30 The weapon is used in an even more worrying manner as Socrates proceeds to discuss the god Pan, the half-human, half-goat son of Hermes. As son of Hermes he too is associated with speech (408d2-3). Speech is always revolving (aei polôn) around the whole (to pan), as reflected in his full name ‘Pan Aipolos'. This is linked with a shifting movement between true and false, and the double nature of Pan is correspondingly linked with the truth and falsity of speech. This improbable etymology introduces explicitly the theme that will later become vital: the possibility of naming and speaking falsely. [28] So Socrates works within Euthyphro's framework only up to 407d. From now on he will employ similar techniques for his own purposes. But does he continue to employ a voice that is atypical of Socrates? It is on this point that we are assisted by the computer.

31 Inspired Voice and Computational Stylistics.

32 I applied tests to the Cratylus using mainly 2000-word blocks, [29] with divisions as follows:

Crat 1 to 390b10 Introductory
Crat 2 to 396c6 Homeric names etc.
Crat 3 to 403b1 Theological names etc.
Crat 4 to 409c6 Continued
Crat 5 to 415e1 Cosmic [amp] ethical names etc.
Crat 6 to 422b6 Continued
Crat 7 to 428c1 Smaller components of speech
Crat 8 to 434b4 Discussion with Cratylus
Crat 9 to 440e3 Continued
figure im1

33 All text was taken into account, not simply the words of Socrates, and of course many of Socrates' remarks (such as comment about his concerns over his expertise) would fall into the category of inspired speech anyhow. Let us look for the moment at hiatus rates, taking all hiatus into consideration: [30]

Section ends at % hiatus
Crat 1 390b 23.4
Crat 2 396c 23.45
Crat 3 403b 19.75
Crat 4 409c 20.3
Crat 5 415e 22.7
Crat 6 422b 20.95
Crat 7 428c 21.9
Crat 8 434b 23.4
Crat 9 440b 25.85
figure im2

34 At first sight there is little variation, but anything over 24 % is (for early Plato) a very high rate, 23 % a high rate, 22 % a moderate rate, 21 % a fairly low rate, and 20 % a low rate. [31] However, blocks 1, 2, 8, and 9 (in which inspired speech is not a consideration) average 24.0 %, while blocks 3-7 (in which inspired speech might be a consideration) average 21.1 %. Figures for other dialogues prior to Republic defy chronological explanation, so here too I would reject such explanations and prefer one in terms of the dominant diction between 396c and 428c.

35 Looking at the vocabulary of Cratylus, I noticed that central parts had a very high rate of the article, a feature that my team had hitherto associated with myth. Insightful religious experts, one assumes, speak with the same authority as myth, but the present material differed from myth in being highly dialogical and without a narrative. I leave aside temporarily blocks 2, 3, and 7 as being rather more ambiguous, but on some simple tests the three most relevant blocks (4-6) of Cratylus differed from the dialogue's frame (1 and 8-9) much as myth differs from non-myth. [32] I give below the percentage figures for five tests based on 97 of the commonest recurrent terms: those for which almost any Platonic dialogue finds a use, regardless of subject matter or form (termed function-words). Tests examined the combined rates per 100 words of: fifteen commonest prepositions; eight commonest negatives; four commonest remote (-type) negatives; the article; and all remaining common function-words:

Blocks All preps. All negs. -negs. article function-words
Crat. 1,8,9 2.66 3.58 0.96 9.76 40.51
Crat. 4-6 3.80 1.77 0.37 13.85 35.65
Difference +1.14 - 1.81 - 0.59 +4.09 - 4.86
figure im3

36 As in myth, there was an increase in the rate of the article and of prepositions, and a decrease in the rate of negatives (especially remote negatives) and other function-words. That blocks 4-6 are different in important ways from the opening and closing blocks was confirmed by mutivariate analysis. Here are some results from a factor analysis, based on all 97 function-words that we routinely employed, of much of the Platonic corpus. On factor 1, illustrating the most noticeable group of differences across the corpus, the central blocks fell into negative territory, more characteristic of later dialogues and myth, the outlying blocks gave high figures, and blocks 2, 3 and 7 gave intermediate figures (fig. 1, upper line):

Fig. 1

Factor analysis by blocks of Cratylus: 1st [amp] 3rd Factors

figure im4

Factor analysis by blocks of Cratylus: 1st [amp] 3rd Factors

37 Factor 2 seemed unrelated to our present concerns, confirming only that block 2 is likely to produce unexpected results, but factor 3 (the third most significant across the corpus) again looked interesting (fig. 1: lower line). On this analysis blocks 3 to 6 all clearly have something in common, with some uncertainty over block 7. A web-published cluster analysis of several Platonic works suggests that block 7 should be included. [33] However, I shall resist any claim to the effect that either the first or the third factor, or even their combination, enables us to pick out the particular kind of diction that Socrates, Hermogenes, and Cratylus all speak of as inspired. All that needs to be claimed is that there are differences in language that are more obvious to the computer than to modern educated readers, and which are clearest in blocks 4 to 6, often clear in block 3, and somewhat less clear in block 7. It is possible to calculate the exact words that contribute most to all such analyses, but space does not permit this now. What is important is that the sensitive ancient Athenian reader would undoubtedly have been conscious, not only from references to Euthyphro and his influence but also from the very language used, that Socrates was inclined to speak in an alien voice from 396c to 422b, with some continuity down to 428c. The influence of the alien voice ought actually to begin at 395e, and ought to have stopped by 427d, so that there is as much correspondence as might be wished between the blocks of different language to which the computer draws our attention and the pages that one might justly expect to be different.


38 In a dialogue that is ultimately about words Plato has showed himself to be a master of words. His Socrates can adopt a voice that one would not normally associate with him, and can employ it with some consistency over the central part of the dialogue. He can find subtle ways of reinforcing the reader's awareness of this voice by having each of his characters draw attention to it, and he can uncouple this voice from the influence of Euthyphro when he wishes, ironically undermining the theorist whose ideas seems most responsible for the type of theory that he is cirrently expounding. He signals that he is beginning to leave Euthyphro behind at 407d, and finally parts company at 411a, after which Socrates retains the basic characteristics of the voice along with the same armoury of linguistic tools.

39 A final question is whether the voice that Socrates adopts relates to closely to any known religious thinker from this period. After I had identified fifteen vocabulary items that had a special influence in separating the central blocks of Cratylus from the others, and confined my analyses to these alone, [34] both standardized cluster analysis using Ward's method and principal component analysis would place the Derveni Papyrus (without Orphic quotations) in closer proximity to all seven 1000-word blocks between 395e and 421c than to any other 1000-word blocks from the Cratylus, Gorgias, or Meno. [35] The full implications of this must wait, but it does suggest that Plato's Socrates is very cleverly mimicking the voice or voices of one or more recent religious teachers. The natural effect of this imitation is for the hearer to ask once again ‘Do I hear the voice of genuine authority, or am I listening to a charlatan?' [36] At this stage there is no urgency for any decision, and Socrates invites no more than suspension of judgement. Genuine inspiration from a divine source would presumably be welcomed as it offers some expectation of reliable teaching; a pretence of such inspiration, divorced from the expectation of either divine or human knowledge, would be in need of a serious challenge. Such a challenge is indeed begun at 407d as the horses of Euthyphro fall into enemy hands.


  • [1]
    At 320c Protagoras begins with a myth, reaffirming his seniority. At 328d4-7 Socrates describes his reaction as that of somebody charmed, and needing to cast off the spell before he can speak; this reaction is not intended to be that of Socrates alone.
  • [2]
    Socrates makes use of Gorgias' ego in order to elicit from him the briefest possible answers (449c-450d), but when he is able to offer a longer explanation the terms χειρούργημα and κύρωσις appear (450b9; for comment see DODDS Eric R. (ed.), Plato: Gorgias, Oxford, OUP, 1959, ad loc.).
  • [3]
    This is true of ‘Euthyphro' in the Euthyphro, where tests show his language to be little different from that of Socrates, as opposed to the language associated with his pronouncements in the Cratylus.
  • [4]
    A rare exception is Cebes' ἴττω Ζεύς at Phaedo 62a8, not without humour; the use of dialects is more regular in comedy, but avoided in tragedy.
  • [5]
    See TARRANT Harold, BENITEZ Eugenio E. and ROBERTS Terry, « The Mythical Voice of the Timaeus-Critias », Ancient Philosophy 31, pp. 95-120. Online
  • [6]
    Cluster analysis often placed the Diotima-episode in the Symposium extremely close to both blocks in the Menexenus (divided after the first 2000 words), and also to that part of the Alcibiades I in which Socrates imagined the reactions of the queens of Sparta and Persia to Alcibiades' military ambitions (120e-124b); see JOHNSON Marguerite M. and TARRANT Harold, « Fairytales and Make-believe, or Spinning Stories about Poros and Penia in Plato's Symposium: A Literary and Computational Analysis », Phoenix (forthcoming).
  • [7]
    See for instance BIBER Douglas, Variation across speech and writing, Cambridge, CUP, 1988; his chapter entitled « Extending the description: variation within genres » considers such variation under five main headings.
  • [8]
    See for instance Ar. Peace 1052-1126, Birds 959-91.
  • [9]
    On oracular language see Kindt Julia, « The Inspired Voice: Oracular Communication as Enigmatic Communication » in NAIDEN Fred S. and TALBERT Richard J.A. (eds), Oxford Handbook of Communications in the Classical World, Oxford, OUP, forthcoming; she stresses the fact that oracular language must share the contrasting twin properties of authority and ambiguity, and points to the need for a barrier between divine knowledge and the cognitive abilities of humans.
  • [10]
    See here ADEMOLLO Francesco, The Cratylus of Plato: a Commentary, Cambridge, CUP, 2011, pp. 243-4.
  • [11]
    If the Cratylus was at some time revised (SEDLEY David, Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge, CUP, 2003, 6-16), we can have confidence that in its final version the Cratylus would have postdated Euthyphro.
  • [12]
    It is important that Callicles' twist of the phrase suggests a never-ending process, since revelation is never attained.
  • [13]
    The absence of Euthyphro from the fragments of Old Comedy is surprising, and later tradition cannot add to our picture of him. To give him a deme might hint at a character upon whom Euthyphro was modeled.
  • [14]
    In addition to the prologue (DK28 B1), BARNEY Rachel, Names and Nature in Plato's Cratylus, London, Routledge, 2001, p. 75, cites B6.5, B8.2, B8.54, and B8.60-61; she tackles Homeric origins at 60-62, while the Parmenidean link for her involves the theme of deception. Ademollo, citing Pindaric parallels too (op.cit., 242), remarks that ‘The chariot-image is the link allowing us to bring together under the heading the inspiration motif passages which do not refer directly to inspiration.' Under this heading he includes not only 407d8-9 and 409d1-3, but also 401e5 and 415a1-2.
  • [15]
    Here its use is metaphorical, and it means ‘give an inspired description of' the life of ordinary people.
  • [16]
    One thinks of Socrates' own ‘sophistry of noble lineage' from Sophist 230b-e.
  • [17]
    In particular SEDLEY David, op.cit., 25-50.
  • [18]
    BRANDWOOD Leonard, A Word Index to Plato, Leeds, Maney, 1976.
  • [19]
    The Ion is responsible for 6 out of 17 instances of the terminology of ἑρμηνεία in genuine dialogues: 530c3, 534e4, and 535a5-9.
  • [20]
    ADEMOLLO Francesco, op.cit., p. 242, lists 414b2-4, 415a1-2 and 420d3 as indications of inspiration, but not all such indications recall Euthyphro in particular.
  • [21]
    Etymologies concentrate on the rationality of the world's governance, embracing gods, knowing daemones (398b5-c4), questioning heroes (398d6-e3), and reflective human beings (399c1). Many gods' names are linked with wisdom, including Kronos (396b), Posidon (403a1-2), Hades (403d4-e5, 404b1-4) and Persephone (404c8-d6). Apollo, the protecting divinity of prophets like Euthyphro, shows mantic skills and harmonic skills rather than destructive powers (405e-406a), while Athena is directly associated with intelligence concerning the divine (407a-c).
  • [22]
    For Metrodorus' allegorical interpretation of Homeric gods (including Athena) see DK61 A3, A4, A6.
  • [23]
    The term is also worked into the etymology of Persephone (404d3 and d4), mirroring the description of Hades as a ‘complete sophist' (403e4), here a compliment; the concept of sophia (398d6) and the term sophist (398e2) are also applied to heroes.
  • [24]
    The supreme divinity is intelligent air that has somehow brought the forces of fire under its own control (XVII.2-6, IX.5-14, XXV.9-12).
  • [25]
    LATTIMORE Richmond (trans.), The Iliad of Homer, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1951, pp. 134 and 185). New edition 2011.
  • [26]
    Some translations interpret the adjective as referring to horses ‘of Tros', eponymous ancestor of the Trojans.
  • [27]
    Cf. the view that there is nothing that is good for us that has not been given by the gods in response to our pleas, without their receiving compensating benefits from ourselves, Euthphr. 14e11- 15a10. Socrates is trying to explore Euthyphro's own ideas at that point.
  • [28]
    The significance of this is well brought out by Sedley (op.cit., p. 96): ‘The divine hierarchy, which started with intellect and its imposition on the world, ends, through Hermes and his son Pan, of speech capable of truth and falsity. The latter is surely the realm of the philosopher […]'
  • [29]
    The program used splits any block of more than 3999 words after the first 2000 words, and then after the second 2000 words if more than 3999 words remain etc.
  • [30]
    Rates per hundred word-breaks were calculated with the assistance of Australian Research Council funding for 1991-93; here the final block involves the bare 2000 word-breaks, but the next 200 words continued to show virtually the same rate as the preceding 2000.
  • [31]
    Comparable dialogues are: Euthydemus and Hippias [x 2] 23.7 %, Lysis 23.6 %, Apology and Crito 23.3 %, Charmides and Euthyphro 23 %, Republic I 22.8 %, Protagoras 22.6 %, Ion 21.8 %, Gorgias and Symposium 21.6 %, Theaetetus 21.2 %; and Laches (curiously) 19.9 %. Books II-X of Republic and also Phaedrus fall between 17.1 and 20.7 %. The nature of the Parmenides' arguments determines that it is above 25 % in both of its parts.
  • [32]
    Tests are described by TARRANT et al., op.cit. pp. 101-102.
  • [33]
    See TARRANT Harold, ‘The Theaetetus as a Narrative Dialogue', in O'SULLIVAN Neil (ed.), ASCS 31 [2010] Proceedings: refereed papers from the 31st conference of the Australasian Society for Classical Studies., 14; blocks 3, 5, 6 and 7 belong to the same sub-cluster, with 4 very close, 9 and 2 more distant still, and 1 and 8 remote.
  • [34]
    The words were ὁ, πᾶς, ἄλλος (all inflections of these three), δέ, ἤ, γάρ, οὖν, ὅτι, μέν, δή, οὐ, μή, εἰ, ἐάν and οὕτως.
  • [35]
    For the theory that Euthyphro somehow relates to the Derveni author see Kahn Charles, ‘Was Euthyphro the Author of the Derveni Papyrus?' in LAKS André and MOST Glenn (eds), Studies in the Derveni Papyrus, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, 55-63.
  • [36]
    This research was funded by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Scheme (DP0986334: ‘Academies under Stress' project) and by the University of Newcastle's Humanities Research Institute. Particular thanks are due to my Research Assistant, Terry Roberts, to Hugh Craig and Alexis Antonia of the University of Newcastle's Centre for Literary and Linguistic computing, and to Rick Benitez and members of the University of Sydney's ‘Inspired Voice' Research Cluster, who heard an early version of this material.

I here examine a passage in which Plato's ‘Socrates' abandons his usual conversational style, designed to elicit a critical response from the interlocutor and similarly from the reader/auditor, and adopts the ambiguous voice of a practising religious expert and a mantis, as all participants in the discussion are aware. He mentions Euthyphro as the likely source of his ‘inspiration'. Computational stylistics supports the notion that Socrates here slips into a different voice. From the interlocutor he receives virtually little reflective criticism, only an enthusiastic demand for more. This is the kind of reaction that the seemingly inspired voice is designed to elicit. Socrates not only shares his companions' doubts as to the true nature of the source of his inspiration, but also suspends judgment over the value of these inspirational utterances. Eventually he will signal that he is about to employ Euthyphro's weapons against him.


J'examine ici un passage dans lequel le Socrate de Platon abandonne son style de conversation habituel, lui permettant d'obtenir une réponse critique de la part de son interlocuteur comme du lecteur/auditeur, pour adopter la voix ambiguë de l'expert en pratique religieuse et du mantis, ce dont l'ensemble des participants sont conscients. Il mentionne Euthyphron comme la source vraisemblable de son « inspiration ». L'analyse stylistique par ordinateur confirme l'idée que Socrate adopte ici une autre voix. Il ne reçoit de son interlocuteur pratiquement aucune critique réfléchie, mais simplement une demande enthousiaste pour en avoir plus. C'est le type de réaction que la voix inspirée est censée produire. Non seulement Socrate partage les doutes de ses compagnons sur la vraie nature de la source de son inspiration, mais en outre il suspend son jugement quant à la valeur de ces paroles inspirées. Il indiquera finalement qu'il est sur le point de retourner l'arme d'Euthyphron contre lui.


  • ADEMOLLO F., The Cratylus of Plato: a Commentary, Cambridge, CUP, 2011.
  • Online BARNEY R., Names and Nature in Plato's Cratylus, London, Routledge, 2001.
  • BIBER D., Variation across speech and writing, Cambridge, CUP, 1988.
  • BRANDWOOD L., A Word Index to Plato, Leeds, Maney, 1976.
  • JOHNSON M. and TARRANT H., ‘Fairytales and Make-believe, or Spinning Stories about Poros and Penia in Plato's Symposium: A Literary and Computational Analysis', Phoenix (forthcoming).
  • KAHN C., ‘Was Euthyphro the Author of the Derveni Papyrus?', in LAKS A. and MOST G. (eds.), Studies in the Derveni Papyrus, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, 55-63.
  • KINDT J., ‘The Inspired Voice: Oracular Communication as Enigmatic Communication', in F. NAIDEN and R. TALBERT (eds), Oxford Handbook of Communications in the Classical World, Oxford (forthcoming).
  • LATTIMORE R. (trans.), The Iliad of Homer, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1951 (2011).
  • SEDLEY D., Plato's Cratylus, Cambridge, CUP, 2003.
  • TARRANT H., ‘The Theaetetus as a Narrative Dialogue', in N. O'SULLIVAN (ed.), ASCS 31 [2010] Proceedings.
  • Online TARRANT Harold, BENITEZ Eugenio E. and ROBERTS Terry, ‘The Mythical Voice of the Timaeus-Critias', Ancient Philosophy 31, 2011, 95-120.
Harold Tarrant
University of Newcastle
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