Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato: An Introduction

  Grewal, Gwenda-lin. 2022. “Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato: An Introduction.” In “Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato,” ed. Gwenda-lin Grewal. Special issue, Classics@ 22. http://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HLNC.ESSAY:102302546.

N.B.: This volume of essays originated as a conference hosted by the Greek and Roman Studies department at Vassar College and set to take place in April 2020. The event was canceled due to the pandemic, but some of the papers appear here in this special issue of Classics@. I am grateful to Curtis Dozier, Rachel Friedman, Bert Lott, Barbara Olsen, and Christopher Raymond for their generous support and help in planning the original event, to Leonard Muellner and Gregory Nagy for finding the colloquium a new platform at the Center for Hellenic Studies, and to all of the contributors, both those who were originally set to speak at the conference and those who have presented their papers in this volume.

I. “(Mis)quoting”

Many of Plato’s dialogues seem to contain (mis)quotations of poetry. Sometimes a word or words are altered; [1] other times re-contextualizing shifts the original meaning of the quoted line or lines. But what constitutes “shifting,” especially when it comes to the oral tradition? One may begin innocently by asking: could Plato have mixed up lines accidentally? Was he aware of variants that were later lost? Or could there be some intentionality present in the changes? [2]

Yet these questions already presume the presence of an “original” to which the “changed” text could be compared. And if the original is changeable by nature, what would it even mean to “quote” it? [3] I put quotes around “quote” at the suggestion of Gregory Nagy’s contribution to this volume. To be sure, Plato does not only cite Homeric and Hesiodic poetry; he cites other poets, too, such as Pindar and Aeschylus, and in those cases, the words “quote” and “misquote” might hold more water. [4] For at first glance, quoting only seems to be possible of and in writing. Writing gives the impression that speech is stable—something seen, able to be rewritten and reread at leisure. Speech that is heard, on the other hand, depends for its life on voiced repetition, which inevitably changes the tone of what was said, whether the words are exactly the same or not. [5] The orality of ancient Greek song culture does not insist on, in fact in some sense does not concern itself with, the accuracy of the reproduction. A song is composed at the same moment it is sung. And in being sung differently each time, it is at the same time being heard differently. What makes one singer better than another is a dexterity of spontaneous composition within a given scheme. The song’s “truth” thus consists in its becoming “unforgettable.” [6] Here is Milman Parry on the process:

[N]o singer ever tells the same tale twice in the same words. His poem will always follow the same general pattern, but this verse or that will be left out, or replaced by another verse or part of a verse, and he will leave out and add whole passages as the time and the mood of his hearers calls for a fuller or a briefer telling of a tale or of a given part of a tale. Thus the oral poem even in the mouth of the same singer is ever in a state of change; and it is the same when his poetry is sung by others … [7]

It does not seem possible, then, to misquote—or even to quote—a tale that recomposes itself as its mode of transmission. A “multiform” [8] mode can admit riffs but not quotations.

Plato’s quotations now become more complicated: what if Plato were playing with the unquotability of the oral tradition by “(mis)quoting” it, now in both quotes and with parentheses around the “mis-”? Since poetry is mousikê, the purported parents of Plato’s “(mis)quoted” offspring are not the poets but the Muses, who are both loquacious and unreliable. [9] They are able to tell the truth, but only when they are willing. Nagy notes that their willingness stands in contrast to the unwillingness of “itinerant would-be oral poets” who, “because of their need for survival [Odyssey 14.124–5]” [10] among local audiences, can only tell falsehoods. It is Hesiod, no “mere belly” of a poet—that is, no mere organ in the digestion of musical hand-me-downs—who receives this insight into the Muses’ intent. [11] And if the Muses are a metaphor for the womb of thought, unable to articulate itself apart from deviant offspring, then spoken or written utterances seem to be likewise “quoted” riffs on a prior musing in thinking. [12] Speaking would then be akin to quoting oneself, and imprecision (and so misquoting) would again be thinkable, but only after the fact, when suddenly the question of an original arises, inspired by thinking’s own causal opacity. To quote a “Prelude” that sings a similar tune, the Muses are “the poetic sign that we are not simply the authors of our own thoughts. We are not altogether in control, for even at our most rational (perhaps especially then), our reasons have unknown origins.” [13]
Socrates seems to intend something of this sort in his description of midwifery in Plato’s Theaetetus. Thought babies apparently emerge from their authors estranged and without manifest intent. In the role of midwife, Socrates has the power to judge these babies as imaginary or fruitful; but his own ability to demarcate between true and false children is given to him through a divine sign, the daimonion. [14] Unlike the Muses, the daimonion works by denying Socrates’ motion. It does not breathe inspired secrets but prevents Socrates from advancing. In the Euthydemus, Socrates begins to get up to leave the Lyceum, when the daimonion stops him. His attention is piqued, and the conversation that ensues becomes quotable (the premise of the dialogue is Socrates’ narration to Crito) precisely because Socrates’ action was prohibited. So too, to quote words from elsewhere is to present a denial of thinking’s clarity that somehow makes clear thinking’s fluidity. One reaches out to another source in order to express oneself. But from which direction do (mis)quotes engage in their (mis)quoting? Does the source not understand its own intention, or does the copy misrepresent the source? Either way, any notion of an “original” becomes strained. It is the experience of familiar otherness in the reflection that seems to inspire the search for a “truth” beyond its appearance.

II. “Truth”

Poetic manipulation appears more than once as a theme in Plato’s dialogues. Let me leave aside the Ion for the moment, since two essays in this volume (G.R.F. Ferrari and G. Nagy) address it. In the Hippias Minor, Socrates reiterates Hippias’ iteration of Iliad 9.308–14 (365a–b and 370a). Regardless of Hippias’ potential riffing or mistaking [15] of these lines—perhaps a Platonic joke since Hippias touts his own mnemonic powers—the point of his recollecting them is to prove that Achilles is a man of his word. Socrates later reminds Hippias of two lines he had mentioned on Achilles’ behalf: “For that one is hateful to me in the same way as the gates of Hades, / who covers one thing in his mind, and says something different.” Socrates suggests that Hippias has lifted the lines out of context, since shortly after, Achilles claims he will go home to Phthia (9.357–63), and yet never makes good on his promise. Hippias seems to have curated his presentation to give the impression that Achilles is consistent, and so, that he is better and more honest than polutropos Odysseus. Socrates thereby reveals that it is not only Achilles but also Hippias who is akin to Odysseus.
In the Republic, Socrates himself proposes tailoring Homer to suit the mores of a hypothetical city in speech. The city is supposed to be perfectly just, and so, nothing in its Guardians’ poetic upbringing can run contrary to its political ideals. But Socrates’ model is one of reform rather than creation ex nihilo, and there is evidence that the city to be reformed is Athens. It was likewise in Athens that a state text of Homer emerged; Peisistratus’ son Hipparchus is said to have set the Panathenaic rule that the poems be performed in order. Over time, a series of changes seem to have transpired within the poems, apparently also at the hands of the Athenians. Douglas Frame has discussed, for example, the Athenian entry into the Catalogue of Ships, updates to the Catalogue of Heroines in Odyssey 11, and the expansion of Nestor’s story in Iliad 11. He conjectures that the latter may have been tampered with by Alcibiades in order to incur Spartan favor. [16]
In Frame’s essay for this volume, “The End of the Odyssey,” he discusses a further substitution within the final book of the Odyssey. While two Hellenistic scholars, Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aristarchus of Samothrace, placed the ending of the poem at Book 23, line 296, Frame suggests that two endings were current in sixth-century Athens: “the original Ionian ending, which simply celebrated Odysseus’ victory over his foes and his just reclaiming of the kingship, and an alternative ending, composed in Athens in the late seventh century, which complicated Odysseus’ victory with the need to take account of the threat of vendetta.” The Athenians are again the probable pilots of the narrative shifting. In the wake of the Cylonian conspiracy, the “reciprocal violence” of the Alcmaeonids had to be addressed, and so too, would Odysseus’ murder of the suitors. Frame begins his essay by noting that several lines from Book 24 (6–9) are cited by Socrates at Republic 387a5 as material to be shredded in the revised Homer. In the passage, the suitors’ psukhai are being led down to Hades like a string of squealing bats: “not an image calculated to dispel the fear of death and inculcate bravery in the ideal state.”
This proposed excision, along with Socrates’ more general proposal to mutilate the existing Homer, has interesting implications. While song culture already seamlessly incorporates modulations, a city could—and Athens did—intentionally manipulate celebrated songs to facilitate new beliefs. By Plato’s time, the Homeric poems would have been known widely, and Athenian changes easy to spot. But such changes are hardly remarkable in light of the phenomenal stasis of the Ionian poems, and there too, it was the Athenian polis which played a critical role in their preservation. [17] Plato may have been picking up on this when he has Socrates imagine a city in which Homer becomes a revised canon for the purposes of indoctrination; poetry is thus granted powers akin to a national anthem. In this city, Homeric revisions are again less shocking than their canonical status will be (and even in a thought experiment, Socrates finds it difficult to violate his own piety towards Homer [18] ). Unlike in Athens, however, in the Republic it is philosophy become politicized that screens and crystallizes poetry. Philosophy thereby begins to look suspiciously like poetry itself, which in turn casts doubt on poetry’s ability to be regulated.
Yet even if Socrates could have succeeded in reconfiguring Homer for his own purposes, re-presenting lines from any “text,” no matter how static they may have become, would necessarily change their mood and pitch. That is to say, quoting changes what has been quoted even when it has been perfectly re-cited. Echo is cursed to become the unwilling quotation of a part of everything she hears. This results in her never being able to say what is on her mind. The impeccability of her articulation thwarts her ability to communicate with Narcissus. So she wastes away until she is only a voice on stones, vox manet, ossa ferunt lapidis traxisse figuram, in other words, a written text. [19] But Echo is herself an echo of the character of speech as failing to perfectly capture the intent of the speaker. One can misquote oneself, but only once what was heard in one’s head becomes authored by a vocal pen. It is possible thereafter to go back to edit what was said in order to bring out things that one only now realizes one had already seen. Like a particularly elegant fall, when thereafter one can say, “I meant to do that,” so too, a misquotation might be unintended as one undergoes it, and yet somehow acquire intention when it is re-thought. It is this retroactive dialogue of thinking with itself that seems to be imitated by Plato’s (mis)quotations. They are fortuitous mistakes, aporiai, from which emerges not the answer but the question of Plato’s control. Plato withdraws, and the reader is left to wonder, “Did he mean to do that?”
The difference between Plato and his muse, Socrates, is all important to this query. In the opening lines of Leonard Muellner’s essay, “On Plato Not Misquoting Homer and what’s ‘New’ at Republic 424b–c,” the reader encounters the French words of ballet choreographer Georges Balanchine, “La danse, Madame, c’est une question morale,” in reply to a question uttered in English, “Will she dance?” Muellner takes this to mean that Balanchine has responded not in the language of the question but of ballet. Balanchine never wrote. His French reply is danced, and its musical delivery saves it from being a “snobbish reversion to his life in Paris.” This is what one might call an experience of misquotation, which, like the experience of a good pun, entails sensing that something which appears out of place is in another way perfectly placed. In this way, a perceived misquote might not be a misquote at all, once one notices “its” air. Yet at what point in the transmission does the air lie? Does Balanchine understand his own performance?
Muellner recounts firsthand an anecdote about Epic performers: “I have witnessed at an academic conference in China several professors attempting to interrupt a traditionally garbed Mongolian singer before he reached the end of his song; it required physical effort by several people to ‘bring him back,’ so to speak, so complete was his transport into the world he was singing of.” While the listeners may be similarly absorbed—so much so that they forget the song in the face of its vivid recollection—compelling songs move by being both close and distant, by akhos and kleos. Muellner’s essay centers on Socrates’ quotation of Odyssey 1.351–2, and the implications of the word neōtatē for Telemakhos in the Odyssey and for Socrates’ argument regarding novelty in the perfectly just city. Muellner also discusses how much novelty can be allowed in a Homeric citation. The difference between kainos and neos is all important in this regard: what is neos “in the Homeric text refers to any recent song that has not been sung before, as opposed to one that is profoundly different and disruptive in its rhythm and tuning.” Again, Balanchine’s character hovers in the background. Balanchine was suspicious of “novelty” in the sense of “originality,” akin to the connotations of kainos.
Like Balanchine, Socrates never wrote but only “danced” in live conversation. In the Phaedrus Socrates disparages the tendency of writing to make us forget, a point on which Plato clearly means to differentiate himself. What is written may be the eidôlon of a living and breathing logos in the soul, but once it has been inked [20] it is powerless to defend itself. The fluidity of spoken dialogue is more conducive to philosophizing. Responses in the moment cannot be quoted, cannot be memorized. Knowledge is not rote. [21] Is knowing, then, only being overtaken by the most unforgettable hearsay? At the end of his life, Socrates confesses a turn to writing, after an injunction he received from a dream to “make mousikê and work.” Socrates first interprets this as a call to do what he is already doing, “since philosophy is the greatest mousikê [22] (Does this mean philosophy is the greatest poetry?) [23] Then, to further expiate himself just in case—since he is saved from execution by the delay of the arrival of the ship from Delos—Socrates reinterprets “music” as transforming the already-existing muthoi [24] of Aesop into song. The latter is not novel in any earth-shattering way, since Socrates is no storyteller. Besides, to do anything kainos would be dangerous for one accused of believing in daimonia kaina. [25] Plato, on the other hand, transforms Socrates himself into a muthos. [26] He creates a songbook of seemingly unscripted conversations, an inspired response to Socrates’ inglorious kleos. [27] Muellner explains that the word kleos “…designates the song that the poet transmits…as well as the glory that it confers, but formally speaking, it is simply the root noun of the verb κλυ- that means ‘hear’ and is cognate with the English word ‘listen’ (originally klisten).” One might begin to understand Plato’s misquotations, then, not as potential mistakes in writing but as a sign of that which eludes writing: what is heard but not said.

III. Rhapsodic Riffs

In Gregory Nagy’s contribution, “Revisiting Plato’s Rhapsody: A contribution to a colloquium about Poetic (Mis)quotations in Plato,” Platonic dialogue emerges in the Ion as the playful rival of Homeric poetry, collaborating and competing with Homer by means of an alternative rhapsody: dialectic. Rhapsodes engage in a contest of “quoting” via a “live” exchange, which incorporates the possibility of riffing within it, and in which “the performers may still appropriate to themselves the role of the composer.” [28] Rhapsodic mis-“quoting” (which, again, Nagy pointedly places in quotes) could then only involve changing the context of Homeric lines. [29] Rhapsody is sung debate, which begins “in medias res,” akin to the way philosophy begins, perhaps, in the midst of wonder. The dia- in dianoia and dialegesthai is crucial to the rhapsodes’ picking up the “train of thought” of Homer, while also commenting on Homer. Nagy plays on this by riffing on his own earlier text, Plato’s Rhapsody and Homer’s Music: The Poetics of the Panathenaic Festival in Classical Athens. The rhapsodes, however, including Nagy, are not merely reproducing lines but innovating on them by recomposing them. Plato places himself in dialogue with Homer by placing Socrates in dialogue with a rhapsode, and so presents another recomposing. The dialogic relay of rhapsodic practice has been appropriated into the new format of dialektikê.
One finds in Plato’s Euthydemus what appears to be a backfiring of this rhapsodic appropriation. Socrates narrates for Crito his conversation with two hyperbolic sophists—Euthydemus and Dionysodorus—whom he lauds as the wisest men alive. To recount their impossible (amêchanon) wisdom, he must invoke as the poets do, “the Muses and Memory.” [30] That Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are a team—where within extant Greek literature one only finds Euthydemus acting solo [31] —seems an intentional dramatic choice on Plato’s part to give them a rhapsodic or choral twist. [32] As a pair, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus “stitch together the mouths of human beings,” both others’ and their own. [33] The verb surraptein, “to stitch together,” reinterprets rhapsôidein, “to stitch verses.” Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are so good at argument and counterargument that they appear to telepathically anticipate when it is their turn to come in. In this way they sew shut the mouths of their listeners, who are prevented from entering into their song and dance. The oral tradition stops with them, and so too perhaps, the possibility of philosophy as conversation. [34]
At the end of the dialogue Socrates gives them a warning and appeals to Pindar’s famous first line of Olympian 1. My own contribution, “A Note on Plato’s Euthydemus 304b,” wonders about the significance of this Pindaric citation. Socrates cautions Euthydemus and Dionyosodrus to either only talk amongst themselves or to charge “silver” for their sophistic mouth-stitching, since “water is best,” and Socrates adds the gloss, “being cheapest, as Pindar said.” The metaphor of water has something to do with the highly addictive, drinkable mode of Euthydemus and Dionysodorus’ stitchery, which leaves them prone to being cheated by auditors who catch their sophistic virus without even realizing they have it. This could be said to be true of philosophy, too. Is Socrates having second thoughts about his own practice of not charging money? Water may be akin to thinking in its most visceral sense, where a distinction between philosophy and poetry cannot yet been made. As water, wisdom is both readily available and priceless. To charge for it swaps its pricelessness for rarity in the hope of showing its ubiquitous value. Poetic thinking taps into “precious liquid from elsewhere, the reward or wage of kleos, which is also the song through which it is borne, which flows into the poet as running water.”
An oracular performance of etymological odes bubbles out of Socrates’ stream-of-consciousness in Plato’s Cratylus. This is the focus of Sonja Tanner’s essay, “Modulating Homer’s Voice: (Mis)Quotation in Plato’s Cratylus.” Tanner proposes that the Cratylus (and perhaps Plato’s dialogues more generally) is both meant to be performed and internally performative. In the latter sense, it is a “self-reflexive comedy,” in which Socrates “…modulates Homer’s voice through the very acts of quoting and misquoting him,” exchanging aulos for logos. While Socrates’ etymologies in the Cratylus may seem to be esoteric “originals,” Socrates himself continually undermines the authority of his own performance with a commentary on the performance within the performance. The parallel to rhapsody is again intriguing. Socrates warns Hermogenes that he may deceive him by speaking “as if not having heard [my emphasis]…,” [35] which is to say as if he were a fount of kainê wisdom, uttering lines heretofore unheard of. Among the quotations mishandled in the Cratylus, Tanner notes Socrates’ mis-contextualized quotation of Iliad 6.265, where he tells Hermogenes to be wary of precision, lest “you enfeeble my strength,” a line originally uttered by Hector to Hecuba in rejection of an offering of wine. Socrates’ linguistic lyricism, by contrast, becomes more fortified the less drunk he is on accuracy. Precision would “tamp down Socrates’ prophetic performance.” Part of this performance includes the deployment of an ironic deus ex machina: Socrates resorts to foreign sources for words he doesn’t know, an alternative escape route when the Muse fails him. There is evidence at Cratylus 432e, too, that if left to his own “devices,” Socrates at least would not sweat a deviant quotation. He tells Cratylus, “Be bold, noble one, and let one name be laid down well, another not, and don’t compel it to have all the letters, so that it’s exactly the sort as the very thing of which it’s a name, but let an inappropriate letter come in, too. And if a letter, also a name in a logos, and if a name, also let a logos in a logos come in that isn’t appropriate….”

IV. Noble Falsehoods

Socrates’ untethered riffing may be at its height in the “noble lie” of Plato’s Republic. The title of Nickolas Pappas’s essay tells it like it is: “The Lie: Becoming Dreams Being-Dreams of Becoming.” In an apparent refrain on Hesiod’s account of the generations (genê), the story “…performs tasks that Hesiod never imagined assigning it to.” [36] Pappas refers to this as a “near misquotation.” A “near miss” really means a “near hit,” and “…a near-misquotation means neither that a quoted word or phrase turns up remaining exactly itself, nor that words went wrong in the quotational process. For one may cite the right passage and still mistake it.” The lie is a near-misquote on two counts: it nearly misses the sense of the word genos as both “kinship” and “generation.” It thereby nearly misses its own Hesiodic parent, or perhaps threatens to awaken a kindred problem in Hesiod’s tale. Genos in Hesiod and genos in Plato “…are identical yet different somehow as dreams to waking experience.” This is mirrored inside the lie, which tells the first generation of citizens that its becoming was merely being dreaming its act of coming to be; genos is dream language for genos that is no genos at all. Dreamed genos is a reimagining of genos as timeless. Pappas links this to a near-misquotation of the same sort in Plato’s Sophist, where a line is recycled from Iliad 6. Glaucos has just given his genealogy to Diomedes to try to convince him not to kill him. He is transformed from an alien xenos into a friendly xenos by way of a lineage that goes back to the guest-friendship of Diomedes’ grandfather, Oeneus, with Glaucos’ grandfather, Bellerephon. [37] The Eleatic Xenos uses Glaucos’ final line as a flourish on his explicitly non-genetic account of the division in the being of the sophist—it is tautês tês geneas te kai haimatos, “of this genealogy and bloodline.”
Pappas also notes a slide in the identity of the Eleatic Xenos, pointed to by two allusions in the Sophist to Homer’s Odyssey, which Ronna Burger’s essay, “The God of Strangers: Plato’s Appropriation of Homer’s Odyssey in the Sophist,” discusses in detail. Burger argues that Plato uses the “Homeric template”—Odysseus, Cyclops, and a hidden god—to map onto Socrates, Theodorus, and Xenos. The configuration of this mapping meanders just as the philosopher’s identity does: “The gods who take on all sorts of apparitions as they roam through the cities become the philosophers, whose appearance in phantom images is blamed on the ignorance of the many.” The word xenos, on the one hand, acknowledges the possibility of a human being outside of the polis, but by the same turn it also introduces the possibility that this human being is in fact inhuman, a monster or a hidden god. [38] Yet, to fail “…to recognize the truth of the philosopher, unlike a Homeric god, would not invite retribution—at least not from the philosopher.” The punishment will be directed at the philosopher, as if he were a refutative (midwife) god inclined to incite biting. [39] The philosopher himself now appears akin to a near-misquotation, a xenos of either unknown or divine origin, neither incontrovertibly the product of a divine channel nor a freak Homeric mutation attempting to devour the poets. Is Plato the god in disguise behind the inevitably-misunderstood-philosopher-misquote?
G.R.F. Ferrari moves toward this suggestion in, “The Doctor Is In… But Also Out: Machaon in Plato, Republic 3.405d–406a.” There, Socrates’ near misses highlight Plato’s hits. Ferrari focuses on the paraphrasing of the Hecamede-scene in both Plato’s Republic and Ion. In each place, seemingly critical omissions and an elegant refashioning of Homer’s storyline do not leave Socrates plausibly in complete control of his citations. “He is ‘not in his right mind,’ for he forgets his lines. In his ignorance, he says exactly what the person who occupies the position of the absent god — his author, Plato — wants him to say.” There is an invitation to question the capacity of Socrates’ memory in the very form of the Republic, since the whole dialogue is supposed to be retold by Socrates the day after it occurred. [40] The Hecamede passage distills this question with subtle twists, which Ferrari unfolds to conclude that they are pointing us to Plato’s writerly hand, where “author and audience” are players in a game of chess. Socrates is a mere “game-piece,” whose missteps must be in some way imprecise in order to alert the reader to Plato’s precision. Plato’s assertion of control is exactly the sort that Socrates denies to the poets in the Ion, in a model of poetic transmission which is then turned against him through the misquotation of the Hecamede-scene. Just as the poets’ words and those who perform them are heard through the grapevine of the Muses—“…the real author… is the god (534d, 535d)” [41] —so too Socrates’ own quotation is not fully understood by Socrates but inspired by Plato’s breath. This time, different details are muddled that make the gloss seem a “sly wink in Xenophon’s direction,” one of which the character Socrates cannot possibly be aware.
Is Plato, then, hinting through frequent misquotations that he has wrangled the Muse? Or is this only the dream of the reader? What of that infamous line in the Republic about the already “ancient” diaphora between philosophy and poetry? [42] That line is followed by a series of unattributed quotations: “yelping bitch crying out at her master,” “great in the empty talk of fools,” “the mob ruling through the clever,” “the subtle meditators who are really poor.” It is unclear whether poetry here accuses philosophy or philosophy poetry, [43] though the quotations themselves seem to contain poetic similes, which suggests whoever is speaking is doing so poetically. Perhaps each one perceives the other as the source of the other’s misquotation. The rivalry would then be in the tone of the rejoinder: poetry versus poetry—poetry that acknowledges the question of its own poetic impulse and poetry which does not. The Muses tell Hesiod, “We know how to speak (legein) many falsehoods like to genuine things (etumoisin) / and we know how to sing out (gêrusasthai) true things (alêthea) whenever we wish.” Hesiod’s very inspiration reveals to Hesiod the question of its inspiration, blurring spoken falsehoods with sung truths. The poetic utterance is thus also a philosophical prompt.
Each of the contributions to this special volume of Classics@ in its own way suggests that Plato’s misquoting is somehow poetically philosophical, even and perhaps precisely when every word seems to have been rendered justly. Where words find their owners eluding them, one notices the strangeness of their apparitions, a reflection of that peculiar argument about learning that ties it to recollection, wherein one hears the foreign lines of a familiar song. Indeed, the perfection of quotability would be the death of truth-seeking, for then we could never dream of reality and would cease to listen.

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Parry, M. 1930. “Studies in the Epic Technique of Oral Verse-Making: II. The Homeric Language as the Language of an Oral Poetry.” http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:ParryM.Studies_in_the_Epic_Technique_of_Oral_Verse-Making1.1930. Originally published in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 41:73–148.
Pappas, N. 2020a. Plato’s Exceptional City, Love, and Philosopher. London and New York.
———. 2022b. “The Lie: Becoming Dreams Being-Dreams of Becoming.” In Grewal 2022b.
Tanner, S. 2022. “Modulating Homer’s Voice: (Mis)Quotation in Plato’s Cratylus.” In Grewal 2022b.


[ back ] 1. This may mean a simple change of letter, which in Greek is sufficient to change the whole word—e.g., Plato’s Cratylus 392e1, citing Iliad 22.507, where eruso is changed to eruto—a procedure that Socrates himself seems to endorse but with restriction: “…it <is> in no way a problem (pragma), nor if some written letter is added or taken away, not even <is> this anything, as long as the ousia of the pragma may be strong, which is clear in the name” (393d). See also 432e, quoted in this Introduction.
[ back ] 2. The usual suspects in this discussion are Labarbe (1949) and Howes (1895), both of whom argue that Plato is either making “blunders” or citing lost variants. Benardete (1963), Charalabopoulos (2012), Halliwell (2000), and Mitscherling (2005) are more favorable to the plausibility of Plato’s powers. Mitscherling advises following the “principle of authorial respect” (295).
[ back ] 3. Nagy 1996a, 2009. See also Frame 2009:553–60, and Halliwell 2000:95, n. 5.
[ back ] 4. Socrates is no stranger to tweaking lines of sophists either—see, e.g. Theaetetus 161c, where he wonders why Protagoras did not write that a “pig” or a “dog-faced baboon” was the measure of all things. Protagoras’ words are ripe for appropriation.
[ back ] 5. See Nikulin, D. 2017:91. Cp. Athenaeus Deipnosophistae 10.450ff, Sappho’s riddle.
[ back ] 6. See Nagy 2018 on ἀλήθεια in Detienne versus Heidegger.
[ back ] 7. 1930:14–5. See also Lord 2000:99.
[ back ] 8. See Nagy 2004:78 and L. Muellner’s essay in this volume, §5–§7.
[ back ] 9. Hesiod Theogony 26–9. The Muses tell Hesiod, “We know how to speak (legein) many falsehoods like to genuine things (etumoisin) / and we know how to sing out (gêrusasthai) true things (alethea), whenever we wish.” Cp. Aristotle Poetics 1460a19, “And Homer has taught also the others how one ought to speak (legein) false things….”
[ back ] 10. Nagy 1990:45. See also 2019: n.2 in Nagy’s translation of lines 1–115 of the Theogony.
[ back ] 11. Nagy 2019: n.2.
[ back ] 12. Cp. Cratylus 428c, “And you appear to me, Socrates, in all likelihood to make oracles kata noun, whether you came to be inspired from Euthyphro or some other Muse being in you for a long time has escaped your notice.”
[ back ] 13. Davis 2019:2. In the “Coda” of the same book, Davis makes the following note on the origin of the word “muse” in the Cratylus and the OED: “Plato…has Socrates say that ‘of Muses and music generally,’ the name is from the verb môsthai (‘to yearn’), which he then glosses as ‘both seeking and philosophy.’ Our own experts in the history of language tentatively follow suit, for the entry for ‘muse’ in the Oxford English Dictionary suggests as a possible etymology the o-grade of the Proto-Indo-European root *men– (‘to think’)” (191).
[ back ] 14. Plato Theaetetus 150c–151d. For the daimonic sign as a form of denial that affirms, see Davis and Grewal 2013.
[ back ] 15. In the first iteration at 365a–b, Hippias replaces line 310 with his own wording and omits line 311, “that you don’t mutter on, while we are seated beside <each other>, on one side and another.” He also changes the second half of the last line to “as it will also be fulfilled.”
[ back ] 16. See Frame 2009:393–486 and 732–46; see also Frame 2022 in this volume, §10–§15.
[ back ] 17. I owe these conclusions to an exchange with D. Frame regarding the role of Athens as key to the preservation (rather than alteration) of the Ionian poems.
[ back ] 18. See Plato Republic 595b.
[ back ] 19. Ovid Metamorphoses 3.399; 365–401. Thanks to N. Pappas for suggesting this reference.
[ back ] 20. Literally, written “with swarthy water.”
[ back ] 21. Plato Phaedrus 276a–277e.
[ back ] 22. Plato Phaedo 61a.
[ back ] 23. “The Muses of Socrates and Plato are the new Muses of philosophical knowledge, which becomes the highest art,” Nikulin 2017:86. See also, 125.
[ back ] 24. For the opposition of this word to “truth,” see Nagy 1996b:42.
[ back ] 25. Apology 24c1, 26b6. On this, see Pappas 2020a:148.
[ back ] 26. “Neither is there a writing of Plato nor in any way will there be, but the things being now said are of a Socrates become beautiful and young” (Pl. Epist. 314c).
[ back ] 27. Socrates suggests in the Apology that the dialogue between philosopher and city will not end with his death, but in fact his death will provoke a response, “There will be more who will refute you, ones whom I was now holding back; but you did not perceive them. And they will be more difficult, insofar as they are younger, and you will be more vexed” (39d).
[ back ] 28. Nagy 1996a—“I maintain my earlier objection to this idea that a rhapsode is a mere replica: such a mentality is contradicted by the more archaic mentality of mimesis, which shapes the idea of a recomposed performer, in that performers may still appropriate to themselves the persona of the composer” (Chapter 8: “Dead Poets and Recomposed Performers”).
[ back ] 29. In later texts that survive, we find words with attested equivalence, too, which still preserve the sense of the “original” song without disrupting it or requiring perfect correspondence (see, e.g. epiphroneous’ in L. Muellner’s essay in this volume, §31).
[ back ] 30. Euthydemus 275d. See also Theaetetus 191d and Phaedrus 237a.
[ back ] 31. The fact that Crito only seems to see Euthydemus is the entry point into Socrates’ narration; the title, too, bears only Euthydemus’ name.
[ back ] 32. How pure their dialectic can be is dependent on Plato’s shrewd use of the dual and the plural to refer to them. See Grewal 2022a:24–32.
[ back ] 33. 303e. See also 294b, where they are said to be able in stitching together leather (neurorraphein).
[ back ] 34. See, e.g. 276d, “just as the good dancers do, he twisted (strephein) in a double way the questions around the same point”; and 277d–e. One can also read them as a tragic chorus sans plot. See Grewal 2022a:46–65.
[ back ] 35. Plato Cratylus 413d.
[ back ] 36. On the noble lie as “mēden kainon,” see also Muellner 2022 in this volume, §18.
[ back ] 37. The misquotation concerning Hector and Hecuba, which Socrates uses at Cratylus 415a, occurs just after Diomedes and Glaucos exchange armor, bronze for gold—a bad trade for Glaucos in one sense, but a good one in another, since bronze armor holds up much better than gold in a fight. In the Cratylus, by contrast, Socrates’ deus ex machina seems to be the inverse of Glaucos’ account of his genetic lineage. Socrates uses “barbarian” word origins as a device for when his inspiration fails him, the transformation of a familiar xenos into an alien xenos.
[ back ] 38. Cp. Theaetetus 174b, where the ideal philosopher wonders if his neighbors are animals.
[ back ] 39. Socrates claims both to be “barren” and that no human being can acquire “art without experience,” which leads Burger to conclude that as a practitioner of midwifery, Socrates must be a refutative god.
[ back ] 40. See Ferrari 2010 and 2015.
[ back ] 41. On a possible distinction between Muse and god, see Pappas 2020a:216–8.
[ back ] 42. Plato Republic 607b.
[ back ] 43. “Socrates speaks of a quarrel between philosophy and poetry, not between philosophers and poets. This may well indicate that there will always be philosophers among the poets and poets among the philosophers” (Davis 2019:4).