Halycon & Axiochus dialogues (Synopsis – highlights & unredacted quotes lifted from these Socratic dialogues by Plato, George Pallatos & George Burges translations respectively)


Theme: On the weakness of human mind!!!

We seem to be completely short-sighted judges of what is likely or unlikely – we make our judgment according to the best of our human ability, which is weak, unreliable and blind.

Numerous things which are possible seem, to us, not possible, and many things which are possible seem unachievable; often because of our inexperience, and often because of the childish folly in our minds.

After all, how much greater than yourself would you say the whole of heaven is?

Adult men, when compared to mere infants who are five or ten days old, possess a remarkable superiority in their ability at virtually all practical affairs in life, those carried out by means of our sophisticated skills as well as those carried out by means of the body and soul; these things cannot, as I said, even cross the minds of youngsters.

For you and me and many others like us, numerous acts are impossible which are quite easy for others to do.  For as long as they lack the knowledge, it is more impossible that people who cannot play the flute should do so or that the illiterate should read or write, than it is to make women out of birds or birds out of women.

Nature practically tosses into a honeycomb an animal which is footless and wingless; then she allows it feet and wings, adorning it with all kinds of variegated and beautiful colours and so produces a bee, prudent producer of heavenly honey; and from mute and lifeless eggs she shapes may species of winged, walking and water-dwelling animals, using the sacred arts of the vast aether.

We are mortal and entirely unimportant, not capable of seeing clearly great or small matters and we are in the dark about most of the things which happen to us; so we could not possibly make any reliable claim about the mighty powers of the immortals, whether as regards halcyons or as regards nightingales.


Theme: On the fear of death

That life is a kind of sojourn (upon earth); and that we must pass through it in a reasonable and good-tempered manner, and take our departure, only not singing paeans on the road to fate; while to conduct yourself in so cowardly a manner, and to be torn with difficulty from existence, is to exhibit, like a child, a period of life not overwise.

Through your own ignorance, Axiochus, you are combining sensation with the want of sensation; and you are acting and speaking in a manner at variance with yourself; and you do not consider that you are at one and the same time lamenting your want of sensation, and pained at the idea of your rotting away, and of being deprived of what is pleasant, as if you are to die and live in another state, and not to pass into insensibility complete, and the same as that before you were born.

Throw aside then all silliness of this kind, and think upon this, that, after the union of soul with body has been once dissolved by the former being settled in its own home-place, what is left of the latter is of the earth and devoid of reason, nor is it a man. For we are soul, a thing of life and immortal, pent up in a mortal prison.

Since then, Socrates, you consider life to be an ill, why do you remain in it?

And hence even the gods, who take cognizance of human affairs, release more quickly from life those, on whom they set the greatest value.

The gods for mortals, in a hapless state To live, in sorrow wove the web of fate… 

Weep for the ills, to which the new-born comes.

With what pursuit or art does not he, who has chosen it, find fault, and is discontented with his present state?

But farming is at least a pleasant thing. Clearly so. But is it not wholly a sore, forever finding for itself a pretext for sorrow? crying now at a drought; now at a continued rain; now at a burning up; now at a mildew; now at unseasonable heat or cold.

Who then living for the mob can be happy?

For the mob, my dear Socrates, is a thing ungrateful, satiated with the mere touch, cruel, envious, uneducated, as being made up of a mass of persons brought together, violent (and) triflers; while he, who acts the courtesan to it, is more miserable by far.

Vain then is the sorrow in Axiochus grieving for Axiochus, touching a thing that neither is nor will be; and it is just the same, as if a person were to grieve for Scylla or the Centaur, which, as regards you, do not exist now, nor will they, after your close of life, exist.

But the deprivation of the good things of life is what gives me pain, even should you rattle out reasons, Socrates, still more plausible than those just now.

Now sufferings do not endure sophisms; and upon those things alone, that can reach the soul, rests there any aid.

How then should there be a grief for that, which is about to furnish no knowledge of the things that will cause pain?

But now you are turning yourself round, while fearing that you shall be deprived of soul, and place a soul round deprivation; and you fear that you shall not have a perception; and yet you imagine that you shall by perception comprehend a perception, that will not exist.

so that you are not, Axiochus, changing your existence for death, but for immortality; nor will you have a deprivation of good things, but a still purer enjoyment of them; nor pleasures mixed up with a mortal body, but unmixed with every pain.

For you will, when released from this prison, depart thither, where all is without trouble, and moanings, and old age, and life is a calm, and with no taste of ill, and where in a mild atmosphere of unruffled tranquility you (will dwell), looking round upon Nature, and acting the philosopher not before a mob and a theatre, but in the presence of Truth, blooming around.

I am ashamed, Socrates, to say a word. For so far am I from fearing death, that already I feel a desire for it; so greatly has this beautiful discourse of yours persuaded me, as if it were a heavenly one. And even now I have a contempt for life, as being about to remove to a better home. For the present then I will cast up quietly with myself what has been said; and at mid-day you will be with me, Socrates.

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