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This webpage reproduces the Introduction to
De Genio Socratis


published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1959

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

(Vol. VII) Plutarch, Moralia

 p361  De Genio Socratis

 p362  Introduction

In the De Genio Socratis Caphisias, Epameinondas' brother, gives Archedamus and a distinguished circle at Athens an account of the recent exploits and discussions at Thebes.1 The exploits were those of the conspiracy that freed the city from Spartan domination; the discussions took place at the conspirators' meetings, and were concerned with the meaning of an ancient inscription, the question when benefactions should be rejected, and above all with the interpretation of Socrates' sign.

Thebes was liberated in December, 379 B.C.2 The story is also told by Plutarch in the Life of Pelopidas (chapters vi‑xiii), and brief accounts are preserved in Xenophon's Hellenica (V.4.1‑13), in Nepos' Pelopidas (II.1‑IV.1), and in Diodorus Siculus (XV.25‑27).3 There are irreconcilable differences between the  p363 accounts of Xenophon, Diodorus, and Plutarch;4 and there are even a few discrepancies between Plutarch's briefer account in the Life of Pelopidas and his fuller account here.5 Such incidents, however, as the assassination of Androcleidas at Athens, the execution of Hismenias, the meeting at Charon's house, Chlidon's failure to deliver the message to the exiles, the letter from Archias of Athens to Archias of Thebes, and the banquet given for Archias by Phyllidas, appear in either Nepos or Xenophon (or both) as well as in the Life of Pelopidas. Xenophon6 differs from Plutarch7 in setting the number of returning exiles at seven, rather than at twelve,8 and  p364 in stressing the rôle of Melon; he does not even mention Pelopidas' part in the exploit. Again, he places a day's interval between the return of the exiles and the revolt,9 and he gives two versions of the entrance of the conspirators into the presence of Archias. In the first, three were disguised as ladies, the rest as maids; in the second, they entered as revellers.10 Plutarch says that some were attired as revellers, and a few disguised as women (596D). Xenophon goes on to say that after the seven had killed Archias, Phyllidas went with three of them to kill Leontiades;11 whereas in Plutarch the exiles divide into two groups, Melon's group killing Archias and Philippus, Pelopidas' Leontiades and Hypates (577C, 596C‑D, 596F‑598A).

Most of the personages of the dialogue are known from other sources and may be considered historical. Archedamus is evidently an Athenian public figure with well-known Theban sympathies (575DF). Such a person was Archedemus of Pelex, surnamed "the blear-eyed," and mentioned by Aeschines (Or. II.139) as one who had risked much for the sake of Thebes.12 There is no external evidence for Caphisias, whom Plutarch presents as a brother of Epameinondas, or for his embassy to Athens. But there is no reason  p365 of doubt the existence of a brother of that name; and embassies from Thebes must have been fairly frequent at Athens in the stirring times that followed the liberation. As the philosophical discussions are scarcely historical, there is no compelling reason to suppose that the personages exclusively concerned with them are authentic. Timarchus, the hero of myth, is probably a fiction of Plutarch's,13 and the same may hold true to Pythagorean Theanor (literally, "man of God"); no other ancient author speaks of them. No mention is found elsewhere of the conspirators Bacchylidas, Eumolpidas, Hismenodorus, Lysitheüs, and Samidas; but here there is no reason to suppose that the names were invented. Plutarch, a local patriot, was well read in Boeotian history, and there are other instances where he alone has preserved some detail of it.14

The dialogue opens with a speech by Archedamus, who asks Caphisias for the story of the events he had taken part in and for an account of the discussions he had heard at the time. Caphisias asks where he shall begin; and Archedamus, briefly sketching the events already known to himself and the audience, tells him to begin with the return of the exiles and the overthrow15 of the tyrants.

 p366  The rest of the dialogue consists of Caphisias' narrative. A messenger from Athens informs the conspirators that the exiles will arrive at nightfall, and asks to what house they shall proceed. Charon offers his own. The party, which includes Charon, Caphisias, and Theocritus, a diviner, is now met by Archias (the leading spirit among the Theban oligarchs), Lysanoridas (the Spartan commander), and Phyllidas, a conspirator who is secretary to the Theban polemarchs. Theocritus is called away for a private conversation with Lysanoridas, and Phyllidas, drawing Caphisias aside, learns that the exiles are to come that evening, and congratulates himself on having chosen that time for a banquet to which Archias will be invited and made drunk. At the house of Simmias, the meeting-place of the conspirators, Pheidolaüs asks the party to wait, as Simmias is closeted with Leontiades, an influential oligarch, interceding for the life of Amphitheüs, an imprisoned democrat.

While they are waiting, Theocritus asks Pheidolaüs about the discoveries made by the Spartans who excavated Alcmena's tomb in the territory of Pheidolaüs' native city of Haliartus. An inscription in unknown characters was the most remarkable, and Agesilaüs was reported to have sent a copy to Egypt for the priests to interpret.

Meanwhile Leontiades leaves. The party enter and find Simmias very downcast; his intercession had evidently failed. As Simmias had recently returned from Egypt, Theocritus asks whether the priests succeeded in reading the inscription. Simmias answers that such a document had been interpreted by a priest with whom Plato and he had studied  p367 philosophy; and that it contained a divine command that the Greeks should settle their disputes by appealing not to arms, but to the Muses and discussion. Plato had remembered this message when the Delians consulted him about the duplication of the cube: they had received an oracle to the effect that when the cubical altar at Delos had been doubled the miseries of Delos and of all Greece would be at an end. Plato promised help, but told them that Apollo's real purpose was to urge the Greeks to cultivate geometry, great proficiency being required for the solution, and to make an end of war by calming their passions in such mathematical and philosophical pursuits.

So ends the first discussion. Polymnis, the father of Epameinondas and Caphisias, now enters with the news that Epameinondas is bringing a Pythagorean stranger who had spent the night at the tomb of Lysis, a Pythagorean who had trained the sons of Polymnis in philosophy. The stranger had intended to remove the remains to Italy, if no sign from heaven should prevent him; and had brought a large sum of gold, with which he insisted on rewarding Epameinondas for supporting Lysis in his old age.

Galaxidorus, in a burst of indignation at the stranger's superstitious practices, denounces religious mummery in general, contrasting it with the simplicity and frankness of Socrates. Theocritus retorts that Socrates after all had a divine sign; to this Galaxidorus replies that Socrates allowed himself to be guided by the signs of ordinary divination — sneezes and chance remarks overheard — when the rational grounds for a decision were evenly balanced. Polymnis adds that he has heard that the sign was a  p368 sneeze, but is astonished that Socrates did not call it so. The sneeze, Galaxidorus answers, was a mere instrument, the real agent being Heaven; and Socrates, who knew the proper use of words, spoke therefore of receiving intimations from Heaven (to daimonion),16 not from its instrument.

The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Epameinondas and the Pythagorean. Theanor (for that is the stranger's name) begs the company to judge between them: Epameinondas rejects the proffered money. A dialogue follows between the two on the question when it is right to accept a benefaction; and Epameinondas justifies his refusal by the need to refrain from even legitimate gain if he would harden himself against profiting from injustice. Simmias' decision is that the disputants must settle the question themselves.

Phyllidas now enters with Hippostheneidas, another conspirator, and draws Charon, Theocritus, and Caphisias aside. It appears that Hippostheneidas, alarmed among other things by an ominous dream, had sent a mounted messenger to meet the exiles at the frontier and tell them to turn back. Theocritus shows that the dream was actually a propitious omen, and the whole episode ends happily when the messenger appears and tells how a violent quarrel with his wife prevented him from setting out.

Caphisias and Theocritus return to Simmias, who has answered Galaxidorus in the interval, and is now presenting his own theory. The sign was Socrates' perception of the unspoken language of the higher powers. Simmias goes on to tell the story or myth  p369 of Timarchus. The substance of Timarchus' vision is this: all souls have understanding or intellect, but some are so deeply sunk in their body that their understanding loses its character and becomes irrational. Others keep partly clear of the body, and the portion not immersed in it is called the daemon. Souls that obey this daemon from their earliest years are those of seers and divine men, and such was Socrates.

Theanor has the last word. Setting aside the myth, he combines parts of the explanations of Simmias and Galaxidorus, maintaining that the gods view certain persons with special favour and communicate with them directly by symbols. Others they help indirectly: when the cycle of birth is over, good men become daemons, and are allowed by the gods to call out to and help those who are approaching the end of their cycle.

At the conclusion of the discussion Theocritus, Galaxidorus, and Caphisias urge Epaminondas to join them in killing the oligarchs. Epameinondas gives his reasons for refusing.

Toward nightfall exiles slip into the city and gather at Charon's house. When all the conspirators have assembled there two officers appear and summon Charon to the presence of Archias and Philippus. The rest, convinced that the plot is discovered, are preparing a desperate sortie when Charon returns with the joyful news that the magistrates have no definite information and are already the worse for drink.

The conspirators now set out in two parties, the one to attack Leontiades and Hypates, the other, Archias and Philippus. Meanwhile a letter is brought  p370 to Archias, revealing the whole plot. The bearer says that it deals with serious business; but Archias slips it under his cushion with the remark that serious business can wait for the morrow. Both parties are completely successful: Archias, Philippus Leontiades, and Hypates are all dispatched. Epameinondas and his followers join the conspirators and call the citizenry to arms. The Spartan conspirators flee to the citadel; and the terrified garrison makes no descent into the lower town. The Spartans capitulate and withdraw their forces.

By the very nature of its dramatic setting the De Genio Socratis contains no reference to the events of Plutarch's own time. No absolute date can then be fixed. Von Arnim,17 comparing the myths of the De Defectu Oraculorum, De Facie in Orbe Lunae, De Genio Socratis, and De Sera Numinis Vindicta, supposes that the four were composed in that order. If so — and many of his arguments are hardly cogent18 — the De Genio Socratis was written after 95 or thereabouts, the approximate date of Plutarch's election to the Delphic priesthood.19

A few translations can be added to those listed in the Preface.20

Only two manuscripts contain the dialogue, E and B. In estimating the length of lacunas we mention E first.

 p371  The work is No. 69 in the catalogue of Lamprias, where it is called περὶ Σωκράτους δαιμονίου πρὸς Ἀλκιδάμαντα.

The Editor's Notes:

1 That Plutarch composed his dialogue with Plato's Phaedo in mind was long ago pointed out by R. Hirzel (Der Dialog, Zweiter Theil, Leipzig, 1895, pp148‑151; cf. also W. Christ, "Plutarchs Dialog vom Daimonion des Sokrates," in Sitz. Munich, 1901, pp59‑110, K. Kahle, De Plut. Rat. Dialogorum Componendorum, Göttingen, 1912, pp17‑19, and G. M. Lattanzi, Il "De genio Socratis" di Plutarco, Rome, 1933, pp15‑17).

2 E. Meyer, Gesch. des Altertums, vol. V, pp373 f.

3 Cf. also Polyaenus, II.3.1 and II.4.3.

4 For the fullest discussion of the different accounts cf. the two works of Ernst von Stern: Gesch. d. spart. u. theb. Hegemonie vom Königsfrieden bis zur Schlacht bei Mantinea, Dorpat, 1884, and Xenophons Hell. u. d. böot. Geschichtsüberlieferung, Dorpat, 1887.

5 In the dialogue (576C‑D) a messenger arrives the day the exiles cross the frontier, informs the conspirators of the fact, and is told where the exiles are to lodge; in the Life (chaps. vii.4, viii.3, 281BD) the house where they are to lodge is agreed upon in advance. In the Life (chap. x.5, 283A‑B) Charon tells the truth about his interview to Pelopidas alone, inventing a fictitious story for the rest; in the dialogue (595F ff.) he tells the truth to all. In the Life (chap. xi.8, 283F) Cephisodorus dies before Leontiades is killed, in the dialogue (597F), after. Again, in the dialogue (596D) only a few of the conspirators in Melon's group are dressed as women; in the Life (chap. xi.2, 283C‑D) all apparently are. Cf. Lattanzi, p81.

6 Hell. V.4.1 and 3.

7 576C; cf. Nepos, Pel. ii.

8 Of the conspirators named in the course of the dialogue three, Pelopidas, Damocleidas, and Theopompus, evidently (594D) belong to the twelve. We learn of two more, Melon and Menecleidas, from the Life of Pelopidas (chap. viii.2, 281C, and chap. xxv.5, 290F). Possibly Eumolpidas, Samidas, Lysitheüs, and Cephisodorus can be added to the number; but there is no proof that they were exiles.

9 Hell. v.4.3.

10 Hell. v.4.6 f.

11 Hell. v.4.5‑7.

12 Cf. Kirchner, Prosop. Att. no. 2326. The form Archedamos is not Attic, although not unknown at Athens (cf. ibid. no. 2312; the name Archidamos occurs seven times: ibid. nos. 2482‑2488). The forms Archedamos and Archidamos both occur in Boeotian inscriptions: cf. the index to IG, Vol. VII. Plutarch may have used the Boeotian form to show the bearer's intimacy with Boeotians and friendliness to Thebes.

13 Like Plutarch, Timarchus is a Chaeronean, and his name was presumably modelled on Plutarch's own; cf. also the unhistorical detail about Lamprocles (590A with the note, and von Arnim, "Plutarch über Dämonen und Mantik," in Verhandelingen d. K. Akad. van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, Afd. Lett. Nieuwe Reeks, Deel XXII (1921), pp17 f.)

14 cf. Mor. 548F‑549A with Reiske's note: "Res Boeoticas alii auctores negligentius tractarunt, quas, ut patrias, attingere Plutarchus amat."

15 Plutarch avoids the terms "assassination" and "conspiracy."

16 To daimonion is also the name of the divine sign, the "genius" of Socrates.

17 Op. cit. pp21‑27, 42‑46.

18 Cf. W. Hamilton, "The Myth in Plutarch's De Genio" in The Classical Quarterly, vol. XXVIII (1934, pp175‑182).

19 Cf. p173, note e, supra. For the question of the relative dates of the De Genio Socratis and the Life of Pelopidas see the papers quoted by K. Ziegler in Pauly-Wissowa, vol. XXI.1 coll. 842 f.

20 J. Mähly, Plutarch, Über den Genius des Sokrates. Politische Vorschriften (Stuttgart, 1890).

K. S. Guthrie, Three Selections from Plutarch's Genius of Socrates (New York, 1904).

A. O. Prickard, The Return of the Theban Exiles 379‑378 B.C. (Oxford, 1926). This is a revision of the excellent version Mr. Prickard published in 1918.

A. Kontos, Πλουτάρχου Ἠθικά· Περὶ τοῦ Σωκράτους Δαιμονίου (Athens, 1939).

W. Ax, Plutarch Moralia (Leipzig, 1942), pp202‑261.

É. des Places, S. J., Le Démon de Socrate de Plutarque (Paris, 1950), published with H. Pourrat, Le Sage et son démon.

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