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Updated (see below); Updated 2 (typos and *); Updated 3 (grammar)

See my previous post for a description and first batch of notes on Plato’s dialogue, Euthyphro.

Let’s unpack in more detail the depiction of the charges against Socrates as depicted at the beginning of the Euthyphro (2a-3e; Grube translation):

Euthyphro: What’s new, Socrates, to make you leave your usual haunts in the Lyceum and spend your time here by the king-archon’s court? Surely you are not prosecuting anyone before the king-archon as I am?

Socrates: The Athenians do not call this a prosecution but an indictment, Euthyphro.

Euthyphro: What is this you say? Someone must have indicted you, for you are not going to tell me that you have indicted someone else.

Socrates: No indeed.

Euthyphro: But someone else has indicted you?

Socrates: Quite so.

Euthyphro: Who is he?

Socrates: I do not really know him myself, Euthyphro. He is apparently young and unknown. They call him Meletus, I believe. He belongs to the Pitthean deme, if you know anyone from that deme named Meletus, with long hair, not much of a beard, and a rather aquiline nose.

Euthyphro: I don’t know him, Socrates. What charge does he bring against you?

Socrates: What charge? A not ignoble one I think, for it is no small thing for a young man to have knowledge of such an important subject. He says he knows how our young men are corrupted and who corrupts them. He is likely to be wise, and when he sees my ignorance corrupting his contemporaries, he proceeds to accuse me to the city as to their mother. I think he is the only one of our public men to start out the right way, for it is right to care first that the young should be as good as possible, just as a good farmer is likely to take care of the young plants first, and of the others later. So, too, Meletus first gets rid of us who corrupt the young shoots, as he says, and then afterwards he will obviously take care of the older ones and become a source of great blessings for the city, as seems likely to happen to one who started out this way.

Euthyphro: I could wish this were true, Socrates, but I fear the opposite may happen. He seems to me to start out by harming the very heart of the city by attempting to wrong you. Tell me, what does he say you do to corrupt the young?

Socrates: Strange things, to hear him tell it, for he says that I am a maker of gods, and on the ground that I create new gods while not believing in the old gods, he has indicted me for their sake, as he puts it.

Euthyphro: I understand, Socrates. This is because you say that the divine sign keeps coming to you. So he has written this indictment against you as one who makes innovations in religious matters, and he comes to court to slander you, knowing that such things are easily misrepresented to the crowd. The same is true in my case. Whenever I speak of divine matters in the assembly and foretell the future, they laugh me down as if I were crazy; and yet I have foretold nothing that did not happen. Nevertheless, they envy all of us who do this. One need not worry about them, but meet them head-on.

Socrates: My dear Euthyphro, to be laughed at does not matter perhaps, for the Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as he does not teach his own wisdom, but if they think that he makes others to be like himself they get angry, whether through envy, as you say, or for some other reason.

Euthyphro: I have certainly no desire to test their feelings towards me in this matter.

Socrates: Perhaps you seem to make yourself but rarely available, and not be willing to teach your own wisdom, but I’m afraid that my liking for people makes them think that I pour out to anybody anything I have to say, not only not charging a fee but even glad to reward anyone who is willing to listen. If then they were intending to laugh at me, as you say they laugh at you, there would be nothing unpleasant in their spending their time in court laughing and jesting, but if they are going to be serious, the outcome is not clear except to you prophets.

Euthyphro: Perhaps it will come to nothing, Socrates, and you will fight your case as you think best, as I think I will mine.

Translation always involves choices that flatten out and obscure the full meaning of the original language. Let’s see what the Greek has to offer. My commentary:

Euthyphro asks Socrates why he has come to the ‘stoa of the king’ (τὴν τοῦ βασιλέως στοάν) and doubts that he too has a ‘case, trial, judgment’ (δίκη). Socrates and Euthyphro have come before the king ruler commander for a legal judgment. In the altered state we come before the judge ruler to have our thinking judged. The egoic claim to wielding control power over one’s own thinking is repudiated and condemned to die.

Socrates’ accuser, Meletus, is portrayed as young, immature, and inexperienced. He is long-haired and without much of a beard. These are signs of youth. Because of his youth, it is ironic that he knows so much about what corrupts the young.

‘corrupts’: the typical way of translating the accusation against Socrates, but the basic meaning of the word that it derives from, διαφθείρω, is ‘destroy’. So, ‘corrupting the youth’ means ‘killing the youth’ means ‘ending the youthful self-concept of claiming to wielding control power over one’s own thinking.’ The word is also used in the context of moral corruption.

Socrates calls Meletus ‘wise’ (σόφος) and says that he must see Socrates’ ‘ignorant/unknowingness’ (ἀμαθίαν). So, we have an ironic reversal, in which the young and inexperienced Meletus is wise, while the adult experienced Socrates is ignorant. But also, Socrates’ ignorance works as the agent of destabilizing loose cog thinking. Socrates knows nothing himself and destroys freewill moralism, which he reveals to have no true knowledge of itself.

Meletus seeks protection from the city as from a mother to protect the youth / egos from the dangerous destruction that Socrates brings.

Socrates agrees that it is best to care for the youth that they become as good as can be. The Greek word for ‘care’ (ἐπιμελέω / epimeleo) plays on Meletus’ name. The care will be like a farmer caring for plants. This is analogous to god caring for the branching paths of plant growth. Meletus will ‘cleanse, purify’ (ἐκκαθαίρει) those who destroy the youth, remove the egodeath destruction of the plant branching paths and so rescue the youths. Then he will care for the older people and will be a source of great good for the city. This is an ironic inversion. The youth become as good as possible, not by avoiding egodeath and thereby staying in perpetual youth, but by passing through it into true adult maturity.

*Or Socrates needs to purged like the egoic claim to independent self-control needs to be purged, to allow the plant shoots to grow.

Socrates is said to be a ‘maker, poet, author, composer, creator of gods’ (φησὶ γάρ με ποιητήν εἶναι θεῶν), to make strange new gods and not to believe, esteem, honor the old gods (καινοὺς ποιοῦντα θεούς, τοὺς δ᾽ ἀρχαίους οὐ νομίζοντα). Socrates is thus accused of elevating himself above normal human agency.

The charge of corrupting/destroying the youth by introducing new gods goes both ways: either the old gods are determinism and Socrates is wrong ego creating new ones OR the old gods are ego and Socrates creates new deterministic ones. Better still to say that this is a competition between transcendent knowledge systems, between the ‘old gods’ of the city and Socrates’ ‘new gods’. The charge of ‘corrupting the youth’ is a cover, a pretext, that uses the threat of egodeath and the desire for protection and rescue from that as a cover/pretext for punishing Socrates’ innovations and undermining of traditional religious cults and the societal set-up tied to those cults.

Socrates frequently talks of the ‘divine sign’ coming to him. The ‘divine sign’ is a poor translation of τὸ δαιμόνιον, which refers to something divine, marvelous, a heaven-sent messenger. So, Socrates talks of a direct messenger from the divine to him, an individual relation to the divine outside of the jurisdiction of the traditional collective cults.

Euthyphro points this out and links it to his own activity as a self-proclaimed prophet. He looks down on the majority, saying that it is easy to misrepresent innovations about the divine to them. He complains that they laugh at him in the assembly (of citizens gathered to discuss matters of public policy) and are jealous of them. Euthyphro characterizes himself and Socrates as outsiders to the majority of Athenians with respect to their relation to the divine. Here we can see emerge the combativeness that will be typical of his characterization in the dialogue.

Socrates reminds Euthyphro that his case has more serious consequences than being laughed at. He hypothesizes that Euthyphro is not in the same sort of danger because he does teach his wisdom. This foreshadows Socrates’ repeated complaint later in the dialogue that Euthyphro is not teaching him very well when he questions him about piety.

Nonetheless, Socrates criticizes the rest of the Athenians for their hostility to sincere teachers. He suspects that his own ‘liking for people’ (φιλανθρωπίας) and habit of refusing money has lead them to be angry with him. All this is a typical Platonic inversion of the other public intellectuals of the time, conventionally called Sophists. It is a trope of Plato’s that the other public intellectuals didn’t believe what they taught and that their teaching was compromised because they accepted money for it. Hence the suspicion that they only taught what they taught to make money, not to truly improve the student.


To sum up the competing mystic state interpretations of the accusations against Socrates as depicted in the Euthyphro:

  • Plato alludes to the mytheme of a court-room judgment, in which we weigh the case of the ego and judge its claims to cross-time control power. The ego is condemned for its claims and imprisoned or killed. But another part of us is mercifully saved. The judge is both harsh and benevolent.
  • Socrates is accused of corrupting/destroying the young by introducing new gods and ignoring/not believing in/not honoring the old.
  • Euthyphro attributes the charge of innovation to Socrates’ claims that a divine voice speaks to him. While Socrates does often speak of a divine voice, this is precisely the sort of feature that Euthyphro as a prophet would single out and focus on. Socrates neither confirms nor denies Euthyphro’s attribution.
  • The accusation that Socrates corrupts/destroys the youth can allude to the destruction of the youthful claim to independent self-control; Socrates is a dangerous destabilizing element in the city and needs to be purged. The accusation that Socrates corrupts the youth can allude to the confusion caused by re-introducing egoic thinking into a deterministic system; Socrates is a dangerous destabilizing element in the city that needs to be purged.
  • As a matter of context we have to recognize that the disproving in the altered state of the youthful claim to independent self-command was present in the city already. We have evidence from the Eleusinian mysteries, from the other cults of the traditional gods, from civic rituals that allude to altered state initiation, from symposium drinking parties, from poetry, from magic and other smaller-scale and/or unofficial religious practices.
  • What, then, do we make of the accusation against Socrates and of his eventual condemnation? Socrates is brought to trial not for teaching the youth about eternalism, but for the way he teaches eternalism. The specific charges are too some extent a cover. The accusation against Socrates can work both ways in a dichotomy of egoic/determinism. Either Socrates introduces a deterministic system (new gods) and disbelieves in the egoic system (old gods) and thereby destroys the youth; or Socrates rebelliously disbelieves in the traditional deterministic system (old gods) and teaches the innovation of freewillist thinking (new gods), which confuses and corrupts the youth.
  • If Euthyphro is correct that Socrates’ divine voice is the root cause, then we may conclude that the problem was related to this more individualized system of relation with the divine, as opposed to the mass rituals of the various state and community-oriented cults and practices.
  • From other evidence it is clear that there was a political motive to the accusations. Socrates’ youthful associates were primarily aristocratic youth, many of whom took part in anti-democratic, pro-oligarchic activity. Socrates became viewed as a cause of their sedition and his influence needed to be removed. Politics and religion were intertwined, so the legal charges against Socrates were religious in nature.

Updated 7/30 (missing text in fifth paragraph entered)

Socrates and Euthyphro discuss piety. They meet before the offices of the magistrate in Athens who hears charges of for court cases involving religion. Socrates has been charged with impiety, for corrupting the youth by creating new gods and not believing in the old. Euthyphro is a self-proclaimed prophet and expert in religious matters. He is present to submit a murder charge against his own father. Murder was a religious crime because it involved pollution that needed to be ritually cleansed in order to appease the gods. Euthyphro, however, is considered impious by his relatives and community for prosecuting his own father, but defends himself as acting justly and piously for prosecuting an unjust murder.

Both Socrates and Euthyphro are in conflict with others about piety and the divine. Euthyphro for his part claims special knowledge of the divine, of piety and impiety. Socrates invites Euthyphro to teach him, so that he too can be have knowledge of the divine and so answer his own accusers. Socrates asks Euthyphro to teach him what piety and impiety are, what being pious and impious are.

Euthyphro first says that the pious is doing what he is doing now, prosecuting a wrongdoer, no matter who the wrongdoer is. Euthyphro cites the myths of Zeus punishing his father Kronos for wrongdoing and of Kronos punishing his father Ouranos for wrongdoing as justification for his action and calls his critics contradictory because they accept these myths, but now criticize Euthyphro for prosecuting his father for wrongdoing. Socrates rejects those sorts of stories about the gods and alludes that this is why he is being put on trial, though he does not expand on that. He instead presses Euthyphro for a general definition of the pious, its form, so he can use it as a model to tell whether actions are pious or impious.

Euthyphro first defines the pious as what is dear to the gods and the impious as what is not. Socrates points out that traditional mythology, such as the ones Euthyphro cited above to defend his prosecution of his father, creates a problem for this definition of the pious and the impious. Traditional mythology shows that some gods love some actions, while other gods hate those actions. For example, punishing one’s father will be pleasing to Zeus, but not to Kronos, in the myth alluded to above.

Euthyphro tries to define more narrowly that all the gods would agree that unjust murder should be punished. Socrates appears to doubt that all the gods agree that Euthyphro is acting rightly in his particular case and challenges Euthyphro to prove it. Euthyphro dodges the challenge and Socrates realizes that they have wandered away from a definition of piety and impiety and that his line of questioning doesn’t really matter, since it can only show that all the gods hate a particular action, but will not make clear the nature of the pious and the impious.

Next they try out defining the pious as what is loved by all the gods and the impious as what is hated by all the gods. Socrates then moves to a new line of questioning: is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? In other words, is piety inherent in someone or action and is loved by the gods for that inherent quality or does it only become pious because it is loved by the gods? Socrates then leads Euthyphro to agree that something loved is so because of the action of loving done by another to it, not because of some inherent quality of being loved. Euthyphro is then lead to agree that the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious (i.e. an inherent quality), but that it is something loved by the gods because of the action of loving done by the gods. Therefore Socrates concludes that the pious and the god-loved are not the same because the pious is loved because of it being pious, while the god-loved is god-loved because it is being loved by the gods.

Euthyphro accuses Socrates of being intentionally confusing, while Socrates accuses Euthyphro of doing the same. Socrates tries a new line: is all that is pious also just and all that is just also pious? Euthyphro agrees that piety is a part of justice; the pious is always also just, but the just is not always pious. What part of justice, then, is piety? Euthyphro says that it is the part of justice that is concerned with the care of the gods, while the other part of justice has to do with the care of men. Socrates wants to know what this ‘care’ is. Euthyphro redefines it as the kind of care that slaves give to their masters, as ‘service’. Socrates presses him to explain what the gods accomplish through this service. Euthyphro avoids answering specifically for a bit, but eventually says that, among other things, service to gods means saying and doing things pleasing to the gods at prayer and sacrifice, with the result that both private and public affairs are preserved.

Socrates presses Euthyphro to admit that this definition makes piety into a skill of trading and exchange between gods and men. But how can mortals benefit immortals? Euthyphro says they receive honor, reverence, and what is pleasing to them. Socrates points out that their argument has come back around to defining piety as that which is pleasing to the gods and reminds Euthyphro that they had earlier agreed that the pious and the god-loved were different. Socrates proposes to start the investigation anew from the beginning because he is certain that Euthyphro has clear knowledge of piety or impiety or he would not have risked being wrong in prosecuting his father, an action taken to be impious. Euthyphro, however, tells Socrates that he must go, and the dialogue ends.

The work indirectly critiques the use of piety and impiety in court cases. Euthyphro cannot back up his frequent claims to expert knowledge on divine matters. Socrates implies that his accusers likewise do not know what they are talking about when they accuse him of impiety, and Euthyphro’s inability to explain piety clearly suggests that others are not able to, as well.

The work shows the difficulty of basing a notion of piety in human life on the traditional myths of Greek polytheism. Ancient Greek religion can be said to have a number of uneasily overlapping spheres: the myths, the rituals of sacrifice and prayer, and the expectations placed on individual action to be pious and not impious. The work points to the tension between these areas. First, the work exposes the problem of deciding on universal definitions of piety and impiety in the light of the traditional myths that depict the gods in conflict. Later, the work implicitly wonders what the rituals of sacrifice and prayer actually have to do with determining whether or not the actions of individuals outside of those contexts are pious or impious.

The work questions the link between mundane, daily life acts (pious and impious action) and both traditional mythology and ritual. It is implied that this sort of questioning and making of difficulties with religion is what leads to Socrates to be put on trial for corrupting the youth by making innovations in religion and for not believing in the old gods. The works shows that there’s no good reason for basing legal/moral judgment on traditional mythology and ritual.

There is subtle slandering of Socrates’ accusers and of the Athenians more generally. From 2b-3a:

Euthyphro: Who is he [who has indicted you]?

Socrates: I do not really know him myself, Euthyphro. He is apparently young and unknown. They call him Meletus, I believe. He belongs to the Pitthean deme, if you know anyone from that deme called Meletus, with long hair, not much of a beard, and a rather aquiline nose.

Euthyphro: I don’t know him, Socrates. What charge does he bring against you?

Socrates; What charge? A not ignoble one I think, for it is no small thing for a young man to have knowledge of such an important subject. He says he knows how our young men are corrupted and who corrupts them. He is likely to be wise, and when he sees my ignorance corrupting his contemporaries, he proceeds to accuse me to the city as to their mother. I think he is the only one of our public men to start out the right way, for it is right to care first that the young should be as good as possible, just as a good farmer is likely to take care of the young plants first, and of the others later. So, too, Meletus first gets rid of us who corrupt the young shoots, as he says, and then afterwards he will obviously take care of the older ones and become a source of great blessings for the city, as seems likely to happen to one who started out this way.

Although a youth himself, Meletus’ accusation shows that he claims to understand how it is that the youths are corrupted.

A bit later he describes the Athenians (3c-e):

…the Athenians do not mind anyone they think clever, as long as he does not teach his own wisdom, but if they think that he makes others to be like himself they get angry, whether through envy, as you say, or for some other reason…

Euthyphro is a strange character. He is a self-proclaimed religious expert and quite proud of his claims. Socrates and he are similar in that they both in conflict with the majority of people regarding divine matters and piety. Speaking of Socrates’ accusers, he compares his situation (3b-c):

…[Meletus] comes to court to slander you, knowing that such things are easily misrepresented to the crowd. The same is true in my case. Whenever I speak of divine matters in the assembly and foretell the future, they laugh me down as if I were crazy; and yet I have foretold nothing that did not happen. Nevertheless, they envy all of us who do this. One need not worry about them, but meet them head-on.

Socrates asks Euthyphro about Euthyphro’s case (3e-4a):

Socrates: Whom do you prosecute?

Euthyphro: One whom I am thought crazy to prosecute.

…[Euthyphro reveals that he is prosecuting his own father for murder]

Socrates: Good heavens! Certainly, Euthyphro, most men would not know how they could do this and be right. It is not the part of anyone to do this, but of one who is far advanced in wisdom.

Euthyphro: Yes, by Zeus, Socrates, that is so.

Euthyphro is confident in his knowledge of the divine, while Socrates seems to gently mock him (4e-5c):

Euthyphro: …for, they say, it is impious for a son to prosecute his father for murder. But their ideas of the divine attitude to piety and impiety are wrong, Socrates.

Socrates: Whereas, by Zeus, Euthyphro, you think that your knowledge of the divine, and of piety and impiety, is so accurate that, when those things happened as you say, you have no fear of having acted impiously in bringing your father to trial?

Euthyphro: I should be of no use, Socrates, and Euthyphro would not be superior to the majority of men, if I did not have accurate knowledge of all such things.

Socrates: It is indeed most important, my admirable Euthyphro, that I should become your pupil, and as regards this indictment, challenge Meletus about these very things and say to him: that in the past too I considered knowledge about the divine to be most important, and that now that he says that I am guilty of improvising and innovating about the gods I have become your pupil. I would say to him: “If, Meletus, you agree that Euthyphro is wise in these matters, consider me, too, to have the right beliefs and do not bring me to trial. If you do not think so, then prosecute that teacher of mine, not me, for corrupting the older men, me and his own father, by teaching me and by exhorting and punishing him.” If he is not convinced, and does not discharge me or indict you instead of me, I should repeat the same challenge in court.

Euthyphro: Yes, by Zeus, Socrates, and, if he should try to indict me, I think I would find his weak spots and the talk in court would be about him rather than about me.

Socrates: It is because I realize this that I am eager to become your pupil, my dear friend. I know that other people as well as this Meletus do not even seem to notice you, whereas he sees me so sharply and clearly that he indicts me for ungodliness.

This sort of caricature continues throughout, with Socrates becoming more biting as Euthyphro proves unable to defend his claims.

Euthyphro claims that the traditional mythology is true and that it can be used to justify real world actions. Socrates dissents from this, though he does not expand on it (5d-6c):

Euthyphro: I say that the pious is to do what I am doing now, to prosecute the wrongdoer, be it about murder or temple robbery or anything else, whether the wrongdoer is your father or your mother or anyone else; not to prosecute is impious. And observe, Socrates, that I can cite powerful evidence that the law is so. I have already said to others that such actions are right, not to favor the ungodly, whoever they are. These people themselves believe that Zeus is the best and most just of the gods, yet they agree that he bound his father because he unjustly swallowed his sons, and that he in turn castrated his father for similar reasons. But they are angry with me because I am prosecuting my father for his wrongdoing. They contradict themselves in what they say about the gods and about me.

Socrates: Indeed, Euthyphro, this is the reason why I am a defendant in the case, because I find it hard to accept things like that being said about the gods, and it is likely to be the reason why I shall be told I do wrong. Now, however, if you, who have full knowledge of such things, share their opinions, then we must agree with them, too, it would seem. For what are we to say, we who agree that we ourselves have no knowledge of them? Tell me, by the god of friendship, do you really believe these things are true?

Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates, and so are even more surprising things, of which the majority has no knowledge.

Socrates: And do you believe that there really is war among the gods, and terrible enmities and battles, and other such things as are told by the poets, and other sacred stories such as are embroidered by good writers and by representations of which the robe of the goddess is adorned when it is carried up to the Acropolos? Are we to say these things are true, Euthyphro?

Euthyphro: Not only these, Socrates, but, as I was saying just now, I will, if you wish, relate many other things about the gods which I know will amaze you.

Socrates: I should not be surprised, but you will tell me these at leisure some other time.

Euthyphro shows himself to be a performer of mythology and religious expertise, alluding to and promising many amazing things that he could reveal to Socrates. In a passage above, he also claims to foretell the future. Socrates’ questioning shows that this is largely for show and that he cannot give a consistent and general account of piety. Euthyphro’s justification for prosecuting his father is revealed to be an adhoc one, more supported by bluster than by reasoning. In the context of Socrates’ trial, it is implied that his accusers likewise rely not on a reasoned account of piety, but on the inconsistent mixing of traditional myth, ritual, and individual moral action.

Socrates exploits traditional polytheistic myth that depicted the gods in conflict to create a problem in Euthyphro’s definition of piety (7e-8b):

Socrates: But you say that the same things are considered just by some gods and unjust by others, and as they dispute about these things they are at odds and at war with each other. Is that not so?

Euthyphro: It is.

Socrates: The same things then are loved by the gods and hated by the gods, and would be both god-loved and god-hated.

Euthyphro: It seems likely.

Socrates: And the same things would be both pious and impious, according to this argument?

Euthyphro: I’m afraid so.

Socrates: So you did not answer my question, you surprising man. I did not ask you what same thing is both pious and impious, and it appears that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. So it is in no way surprising if your present action, namely punishing your father, may be pleasing to Zeus but displeasing to Cronus and Uranus, pleasing to Hephaestus but displeasing to Hera, and so with any other gods who differ from each other on this subject.

Socrates challenges Euthyphro’s redefinition of the pious as that which all the gods love by asking (10a):

Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?

As discussed above, Socrates concludes that the pious and the ‘god-loved’ cannot be the same thing because the pious is something inherent to a person, thing, or action, while the ‘god-loved’ is only so because of the action of loving by the gods (10e-11b):

But if the god-loved and the pious were the same, my dear Euthyphro, then if the pious were being loved because it was pious, the god-loved would also be being loved because it was god-loved; and if the god-loved was god-loved because it was being loved by the gods, then the pious would also be pious because it was being loved by the gods. But now you see that they are in opposite cases as being altogether different from each other: the one is such as to be loved because it is being loved, the other is being loved because it is such as to be loved. I’m afraid, Euthyphro, that when you were asked what piety is, you did not wish to make its nature clear to me, but you told me an affect or quality of it, that the pious has the quality of being loved by all the gods, but you have not yet told me what the pious is.

Throughout this section, Euthyphro complains that Socrates is being unclear and uncharitable. And we have to agree. The section relies on a confusing set of definitions that are worded in an unclear way. Euthyphro is carried along rather uncertainly by Socrates’ questioning and is not convinced nor satisfied by the end of it. He accuses Socrates of moving the arguments and positions around.

Later Socrates seems to deliberately misinterpret Euthyphro in a mocking way. When Euthyphro says that the pious is the part of the just that is concerned with the care of the gods, Socrates begins to question Euthyphro as if Euthyphro meant ‘care’ in the same way that humans ‘care’ for animals (12e-13c). Then when Euthyphro says that the care is the sort that slaves give to their masters, Socrates begins to question Euthyphro as if he meant ‘service’ in the same way that a craftsman’s ‘service’ is directed towards his craft (13d-14b). Euthyphro becomes more annoyed, and Socrates becomes more openly mocking in turn, saying that Euthyphro clearly does not want to teach him.

Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?

This question would later become a key dilemma in theology, though transposed to ‘is the morally right commanded by god because it is morally right, or is it morally right because it is commanded by god?’ Are morally right actions morally right in and of themselves or are they only morally right because they are commanded by god? Is morality prior to god’s will? This later formulating of the question makes clearer the topic underlying the Euthyphro, of the relation of morality and freewill to the divine.

Some theologians answered that actions that are morally right are morally right in and of themselves, and so god must command them. God is bound by something necessary and external to God. In this answer the moral righteousness is pictured as a like determinism and god is like the agent, compelled by necessity to command morally right actions. This answer was exploited by moralists to argue that there are timeless ethical standards and rules.

Other theologians said that an action is only morally right because it is commanded by god. God is the root cause of everything and whatever god commands is morally right. In this scheme, God is determinism and everything operates in the deterministic scheme of God’s command. This scheme, too, was exploited by moralists. How are we to know what is and what is not God’s will?

Here –

Cutting edge conversation between Max Freakout and Cyber Disciple. In this episode Max and Cyb continue to discuss Plato, his philosophy and political involvement. Topics discussed include:

– Psychedelic initiation in ancient Greece
– Application of Platonism to religion
– The importance of rationality in Platonism, applying strict rationality to the psychedelic altered state
– Competitive nature of Socratic dialogues
– Socratic interrogation as metaphor for loosened cognition
– Platonic dualism – two-level system
– Geometric illustration of Platonic higher-level perfection
– The cave allegory and how it models multi-state cognition
– Unhelpfulness of the “real/unreal” binary distinction
– Plato’s Republic and the difficulties of integrating psychedelic initiation into society
– Comparison of Platonism with Christianity, their respective political motivations


This episode introduces the topic of altered state cybernetic/deterministic interpretation of Plato and Platonist philosophy. Topics covered include:
– The relation between Platonism and Christianity
– Plato as foundational figure behind academic philosophy
– The Platonist theme of unity transcending multiplicity appearing in Judeo-Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.
– The enhanced degree of rationality in Plato compared with earlier writers
– Socrates’ rhetorical style in the Platonic dialogues
– Socrates’ dialogue with the prophet Euthyphro on the nature of piety
– Platonism as a two-level system, initiated versus non-initiated interpretations, playful and humorous blending of levels.
– Unwritten esoteric platonist content equating the form of The Good with The One.
– Secrecy surrounding mystery initiation, experiential and verbal aspects of initiation
– The crime of profaning the Eleusinian mystery by revealing secret content
– The trial of Socrates, the precise nature of Socrates’ crime
– Political aspects of Platonist thought, democracy versus oligarchy
– Literal and metaphorical interpretations of Plato
– Age restrictions on mystery initiation
– Plato’s description of the ideal state governed by enlightened philosopher kings
– Competing interpretations of altered state phenomenology
– Maintaining the societal appearance of egoic freewill agency after initiation
– Academic taboo and censorship of psychedelic drug issue
– Michael Rinella, David Hilman and Carl Ruck’s writing about ancient drug use
– Plato’s cybernetic charioteer analogy for the human soul in the Phaedrus dialogue
– Fallacious single-state interpretation of Plato
– Possibility of access to the altered state for modern students of mysticism
– The alien-social-psychology theory of ancient altered state experiences, Anything-But-Drugs (ABD) explanations
– Ustinov’s theory that caves provided ancient people with access to the altered state, Plato’s cave allegory

From P. Hadot (2002), What is Ancient Philosophy?, 202-206

From the Epicurean tradition:

“For the spirit plunges into immeasurable and infinite space, and extends itself so as to traverse it in all directions, never seeing any borders or limits at which it might stop.” Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, 1.54

“Since space stretches to infinity beyond the walls of the world, the spirit seeks to know what is in this immensity, into which it can plunge its gaze as far as it wishes and where it can soar in free, spontaneous flight.” Lucretius 2.1044-1047

“The walls of the world fly apart. I see things hurled about within the immense void. … The earth does not stop me from distinguishing all that is happening beneath my feet, in the depths of the void. At the sight, I find myself seized by a kind of shudder of divine pleasure.” Lucretius 3.16, 30.

“Remember that, although born a mortal and having received a limited life, you have nevertheless risen, through the science of nature, up to eternity, and that you have seen the infinity of things: those that shall be and those that have been.” Epicurus, Vatican Sayings, 10.

From the Stoic tradition:

“Tell us instead how natural it is for man to unfold his thought into the infinite. The human soul is a grand and noble thing. The only limits it accepts are those it has in common with God himself. … Its homeland is that which encloses the sky and the world by its circular movement.” Seneca, Letters, 102.21

“The soul achieves all the fulfillment and completion of happiness that the human condition can attain when it reaches the heights, and enters the heart of nature. … It likes to soar amid the stars, … When it arrives there, it nourishes itself and grows. Freed from its bonds, it returns to its origin.” Seneca, Natural Questions 1.Prologue.7, 12

“The soul travels through the entire world, and the void which surrounds it, and its form. And it extends into the infinity of endless time, and embraces and conceives of the periodic rebirth of the universe.” Marcus Aurelius, 11.1.3

“To embrace the paths of the stars in our gaze, as if they were carrying us along in their revolutions, and constantly to think of the transformations of the elements into one another – such representations purify us of the stains of terrestrial life.” Marcus Aurelius, 7.47.1

“Constantly imagine the totality of the world, and the totality of the real.” Marcus Aurelius, 10.17

From the Platonic tradition:

“When men aspire to a life of peace and serenity, they contemplate nature and all that is within it. … In thought, they accompany the moon, the sun, and the movements of the other stars, fixed or wandering. To be sure, their bodies remain on earth, but they give wings to their souls, so that they can rise into the ether and observe the powers which dwell there, as is fitting for men who have become citizens of the world.” Philo of Alexandria, De specialibus legibus, 2.45

From the astronomer Ptolemy, influenced by Platonic, Stoic, and Aristotelian doctrines:

“I know I am mortal and last only a day. Yet when I accompany the dense ranks of stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth. Besides Zeus himself, I drink my fill of ambrosia, like a god.” Palatine Anthology, 9.577

Hadot, p. 205: the philosopher “becomes aware of his being within the All, as a minuscule point of brief duration, but capable of dilating into the immense field of infinite space and of seizing the whole of reality in a single intuition. The “I” thus experiences a twofold feeling: that of its puniness, as it sees its corporeal individuality lost in the infinity of space and time; and that of its greatness, as it experiences its power to embrace the totality of things.”

In the Republic book 1 by Plato Socrates makes the ironic statement that the true ruler rules unwillingly. The one who really rules, who really understands the nature of controllership, in fact does not rule at all, he rules without his will, he rules without wanting to rule. He simply rules without the extra, unnecessary thought of wanting to rule.

This book is important because Rinella both shows that drugs were used routinely and normally in many cultural activities in ancient Greece *and* prominently includes the altered state of consciousness induced by those drugs in his analysis of literary authors and cultural practices. Far too often authors stop after merely pointing out the evidence for drug use and do not address the altered state in depth. Rinella doesn’t use the term “altered state”, but uses the term “ecstasy” instead. This term is roughly equivalent to “altered state” and is appropriate to this book because it is an ancient Greek word meaning “standing outside”, as in “the sensation of standing outside or stepping back from the mind during loose cognition.”

I’ll avoid commenting on any of Rinella’s specific interpretations of literary authors until I’ve finished reading the book. I’m not sure how sophisticated his grasp of altered state metaphor is, but it is encouraging to see a scholar make the altered state a central pillar of his analysis. Many scholarly books and articles that I read for my classes do not incorporate the altered state or, at best, do so in a minor or sloppy and unsophisticated way.

Every scholar and student of the classical world, whether they study literature, history, or philosophy, should read this book.

Table of Contents:

Introduction – The Pharmakon, Ecstasy, and Identity

The Problem of Ecstasy


Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Between Exegesis and Eisegesis

Part One – Plato and the Politics of Intoxication

Chapter 1 – Wine and the Symposion

Ancient Wine – Production

Ancient Wine – Pharmacology

Wine-like Drugs

Other Fermented Intoxicants

Wine and Intoxication

Experiencing Alcohol: The Symposion

Drinking Ethics

Chapter 2 – The Symposion and the Question of Stasis

Intoxication: Good and Bad

Intoxication: A Gendered Experience

Intoxication and Politics: The Komos

Intoxication as Hubris

External Stasis

Internal Stasis

Intoxication as Internal Tyranny

Stasis, Ekstasis, Being, and Time

Chapter 3 – Plato’s Reformulation of the Symposion

The Symposion in Plato’s Dialogues

Intoxication in Plato’s Symposium

Intoxication in Plato’s Laws

Part Two – The Pharmakon and the Defense of Socrates

Chapter 4 – Drugs, Epic Poetry, and Religion

Drug Use in Epic Poetry

Dionysus – God of all Drugs

Eleusis and “the Pharmacological Question”

Was the Kykeon a Pharmakon?

Chapter 5 – Socrates Accused

The Formal Charges

The Accusers

Alcohol and the Mutilation of the Hermai

Drugs and the Profanation of the Mysteries

The Dark Magic of Socrates

Chapter 6 – Socrates Rehabilitated

States of Mania in Plato’s Phaedrus

An Intoxicating Setting

The Eleusinian Mysteries in the Phaedrus

A Case of Ergot Intoxication?

Plato’s Knowledge of Ergot

Preparing the Kykeon

Philosophy as Supplementation

Part Three – Plato through the Prism of the Pharmakon

Chapter 7 – Medicine, Drugs, and Somatic Regimen

Disease, Medicine, Cure

Medicina magica vs. Medicina scientifica

The Iatromantis

Five Rivals of the Iatros

Drug Remedies, Drug Poisonings

Philosophy and Medicine

Chapter 8 – Magic, Drugs, and Noetic Regimen

The Ancient Greek Concept of Magic

Magic before Magic: Circe, Medea, and Hecate

Wandering Holy Men, Seers, and Wonder Workers

The Sorcerer and Sorceress

Spells and Drugs

Magic, Mystery Initiation, and Impiety

Trials for Magical Impiety

Socrates and Magic

Philosophic Hygeia

The Spell of Elenchus and Diairesis

The Spell of Myth

Socrates’ Philosophic Sorcery

Chapter 9 – Speech, Drugs, and Discursive Regimen

Poetry as Verbal Magic

The Spell of Tragic Discourse

The Spell of Comedic Discourse

The Spell of Sophistic Discourse

Dialectic and Rhetoric

The Drug of Rhetoric: Protagoras, Gorgias, Isocrates

Rhetorical Malpractice

Rhetoric in Practice

Philosophic Prescriptions: Fear and Law

The Unwritten Law

A Programmer’s Language

Chapter 10 – Philosophy’s Pharmacy

Deconstruction’s Pharmacy

Philosophy’s Pharmakeia

The Pharmakon of Lying

Afterword – Toward a New Ethics of the Pharmakon

Drug Ethics: From Plato to the Present

The Post-Industrial Moment: Perils and Possibilities

A hardcover version of Michael Rinella’s book covering Plato’s reaction to ecstatic states is due out soon. Hopefully a paperback will follow shortly.

He posted some info about the book in a comment on my Narco Polo post:

My book Pharmakon: Plato, Drug Culture, and Identity in Ancient Athens (Lexington Books, May 2010) is loosely based on my dissertation. The order of the chapters is quite different, much material reviewing the secondary literature was dropped or moved to the notes, and the entire work was brought up to date with more recent research. There is also a long afterword that was not present at all in the dissertation.

Here’s an interview with him. In the interview he covers presentism among modern scholars, symposium drinking parties, the drug-based nature of ancient ‘wine’, and other topics.

I’m looking forward to this as a scholarly counterpart to David Hillman’s The Chemical Muse. Hillman’s was like a blast against the academic establishment for systematically ignoring and spinning around the evidence for widespread, culturally integrated drug use in antiquity. He however sometimes relied too much on the rhetoric of his arguments rather than rigorous documentation from primary sources. His argument is wide ranging, rather than deep. It looks like Rinella’s book will provide a similar critique of contemporary academics, but will support that with a close analysis of a particularly time, place, and author. Both approaches are valuable.


His argument seems to be that Plato rejected ecstatic state wisdom in favor of sober philosophy. I’m looking forward to reading his arguments that Plato had very little use for ecstatic state wisdom. From what I’ve read, Plato’s writings show familiarity with the ecstatic state and many of his famous arguments and metaphors seem to be based on altered state experiencing.

I’m thinking of :

envisioning a timeless set of eternal Forms that are the true substance behind the representations presented to our senses;

the idea that the world presented to our senses is not true reality;

the Cave in the Republic (briefly): people are chained in place, looking at shadows on a wall (i.e. their senses are locked in one way of viewing and what they are viewing are only images of reality), one person is freed and turns around to see the source of the light at the back of the cave  that creates the shadows (i.e. One’s perceptions are loosened in the altered state; One turns one’s mental gaze back to look at the source of representations), that person then leaves the cave to look at things as they really are in the real light, the light is too strong at first, but eventually he learns to see things (i.e. theme of ascent out of the cave, which is a frequent metaphor for cosmic determinism, continued theme of changed perception and learning to see things as they really are; white-light perceptual feedback at the peak of a trip), this person must then return to the cave (a drug trip ends), he has difficulty engaging in the games the other locked up inhabitants of the cave engage in (people often experience difficulty re-integrating their altered state insights into normal society, the activities of normal society seem like mere games to the one who has acquired transcendent knowledge), if he tries to free people from their chains, they resist and kill him (difficulty of convincing people unfamiliar with altered state wisdom of value of altered state wisdom).

Metaphor in the Phaedrus about soul after death ascending to realm of Forms as chariot driver struggling to control two horses. There, the soul gazes on the Forms and gains knowledge of them. How much the soul can view the Forms depends on how well the chariot driver (the rational, leading part of the soul) can control the two horses (the passions, emotions, etc. – one is some kind of good passions, the other is bad). If the chariot driver controls the passions tightly, the soul will gaze on the Forms for a long time and will return to life on earth with much knowledge of them. If the chariot driver cannot control the passions well, the soul will not have much time to gaze on the Forms and will return to life on earth without much knowledge of them. All this is blatant metaphor for egodeath/rebirth, acquiring transcendent knowledge, etc.

The transcendent definition of Love Socrates gives in The Symposium.


I suspect that Plato was against what he saw as a sloppy, anything-goes approach to acquiring transcendent knowledge typical of democratic Athens. Plato seems to have favored what he saw as a more sophisticated, more systematic approach to transcendent knowledge. Plato seems to have been against conventional Greek morality at the time and argued for an ethics based on a certain interpretation of altered state insight.

Socrates’ ability (in the Symposium) to drink endless amounts of wine and not get drunk reminds me of the ideas of “elevated sobriety” and “sober drunkenness” used in later Christian writings. I need to read up more on this phrase at The gist: mystics view drugs not as making them intoxicated but as making them truly sober. Viewed from a post-initiation standpoint, pre-initiation thinking and perceptions seem to be intoxicated, drunk – or fake, unreal – as opposed to post-initiation, which is truly sober – or real.

Plato was engaged in cultural combat against various other systems of describing and packaging ecstatic wisdom. He argues that all the other systems are lacking in someway when compared to his own. He criticizes them for their lack of coherence, their poor ethics, the societies and governments that result from them, etc. In place of them he defends Socrates, Socrates’ method of ethical dialogue, as well as his own arguments about the Forms, the ideal society, etc.

I’m curious to see if Plato argues against all forms of ecstatic state wisdom, against the idea of ecstatic state wisdom itself, or against the systems of packaging altered state wisdom then predominant in the culture of ancient Greece, specifically Athens.


Metaphorical Psychedelic Eternalism
August 2017
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