Plato’s Euthydemus

The next regular meeting of L.A. Stoics will center around one of Plato’s dialogue called “Euthydemus.” Though I am including a link to the public domain version, I recommend Rosalind Sprague’s translation. If you need a PDF, please contact me at lastoics[at]gmail[dot]com.

The “Euthydemus” is a narrated dialogue. That is, Socrates is narrating the events of the previous day to his oldest and dearest friend, Crito. Socrates says that on the previous day, he was about to leave the Lyceum (the local gymnasium) when he found himself in the midst of two groups: on the one side is Euthydemus, his brother Dionysodorus, and their followers; on the other side is Clinias and his followers, including Ctesippus. A conversation ensues which seems to attract even more passerbys, including Crito (though he was out of earshot).

The conversation itself can be pretty tedious to get through as a reader. If you’re not interested in the taxonomy of the fallacies that are committed (like some scholars are) or — more importantly — how to guard yourself against such fallacies, then much of the dialogue can seem pointless. But even if this is the case, I would argue that the passages in which Socrates is demonstrating how to have a helpful hortatory dialogue (trying to educate young Clinias) is WELL worth the rest of the tedium. For further context, let me provide a short outline of the dialogue (using the Stephanus citation style). I’ll label the episodes where the brothers (Euthydemus and Dionysodorus) are guiding the conversation as “eristic” (from the Greek term for ‘chaos’) and the episodes where Socrates is guiding the conversation as “protreptic” (from the Greek term for ‘hortatory’):

  • PROLOGUE / SCENE-SETTING (271a-275c)
  • EPILOGUE (304c-307c)

The prologue and epilogue are discussions between Socrates and Crito. The “valedictory address” is Socrates’s farewell speech made to Euthydemus and Dionysodorus. These sections include hints about the significance of the dialogue as a whole, though they are rife with what’s called ‘Socratic irony.’ The most important sections — as I said — are the first and second protreptic episodes (278e-282d and 288d-293a). If nothing else, these two sections should be read and reread for the purpose of any extended discussion on this important work. For deeper discussions, the valedictory address, epilogue, and perhaps the prologue are the next important references.

To facilitate these potential discussions (and in preparation for the upcoming meeting), here are some questions to think about:

  1. What do you think is Socrates’s intentions with regard to…
    • Euthydemus and Dionysodorus? (consider the valedictory address)
    • Clinias? (consider the protreptic episodes)
    • Ctesippus? (perhaps consider the third eristic episode)
    • The rabble in the lyceum and the general public? (perhaps consider the prologue)
    • Crito and his son? (consider the epilogue)
  2. What do you think is Plato’s intentions with regard to you, the reader (or, perhaps, the students at his Academy)?
  3. Why is Socrates being so ironic throughout the dialogue? That is, why is he being so coy and subtle in regards to the ridiculous behavior of the brothers?
  4. What is the conclusion of the first protreptic episode?
  5. The second protreptic episode doesn’t have a clear conclusion (it is ’aporetic’). The question we’re left with is “What kind of knowledge combines making and knowing how to use the thing which it makes?” (289b). What are some potential responses to this question?
  6. Why would the Stoics find this dialogue important? (in particular, consider the first protreptic episode and the answer to question #4)

The last question (#6) is, of course, important for our purposes and this will be certainly be discussed during the meeting. But, I would like us to think about the dialogue overall and to consider why Plato wrote it the way that he did.

See you then!

— Justin K.


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