When I came to Oxford in 1980, it was widely assumed that stylistic criteria established a late dating of the Phaedrus. Let me quote again The Economist of 27 August 1988 where it is said that my theory ‘has been robustly rebuffed by Mr Anthony Kenny, master of Balliol ... “From the point of view of style, content and everything else, it’s clearly a late dialogue, and that’s all there is to it,” says a classical philosopher firmly.’ This belief was based on a widespread claim that Leonard Brandwood in his Ph.D. thesis of 1958 The Dating of Plato’s Works by the Stylistic Method proved beyond any reasonable doubt, using modern computing methods, that the Phaedrus was a late dialogue. I was therefore surprised when Barnes wrote to me in 1987 that ‘the stylometric studies are of virtually no value (as Leonard Brandwood pointed out in an unpublished thesis some 20 years ago)’. I immediately ordered Brandwood’s Ph.D. thesis, but I had to wait, for as an unpublished thesis it existed only in three copies. In the meantime I studied Holger Thesleff’s Studies in Platonic Chronology (1982), where the author subjected to a comprehensive review all important stylistic studies from Lutoslawski to Brandwood, enriched by his own stylometric investigations based on most modern computing methods. His investigations showed that different stylometric methods and different stylometric criteria used by different authors resulted in different groupings of dialogues, and concluded ‘that the tests so far made have not succeeded in indicating any very distinct linguistic (or “stylistic”) groups within the Corpus [i.e. within the totality of Plato’s dialogues], apart from the long since identified “late group” (p.82).’ The late group consists of Timaeus, Critias, Sophistes, Politicus, Philebus, and Laws. These dialogues are most prominently characterized by careful avoidance of hiatus. In these dialogues the average occurrence of hiatus varies between 0.61 per page in Sophistes and 5.85 in Laws, whereas all the remaining dialogues vary between 23.9 in Phaedrus and 45.97 in Lysis. We know on Aristotle’s testimony that the Laws are a late dialogue, and it is therefore reasonable to suppose that the five dialogues that are characterized by similarly rigorous avoidance of hiatus belong to the same period of Plato’s writing, i.e. that they too are late. As Cherniss, a distinguished American philosopher remarked, Plato consciously avoided hiatus in none of the first group of the dialogues, but he did so in all those of the second group (Cherniss, ‘Relation of the Timaeus to Plato’s Later Dialogues’, in R. E. Allen ed. Studies in Plato’s Metaphysics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965, 344-6).
The rigorous avoidance of hiatus in the late six dialogues is a very striking feature. Thesleff says that it was an Isocratian mannerism ‘unlikely to have been adopted by the aged Plato’, and so he offers a hypothesis that it should be attributed to ‘Plato’s secretary’, to whom, as he believes, Plato dictated these six dialogues (pp. 96, 184). But the avoidance of hiatus requires special attention to words and word sequences in every sentence, and it is therefore unlikely that ‘Plato’s secretary’ could have been busily restructuring each sentence while writing to dictation, and it is even less likely that Plato would have allowed him to rewrite the dialogues in the Isocratian manner. For although Plato expressed high hopes concerning the young Isocrates in the Phaedrus, after Isocrates’ becoming a professional rhetorician and after his opening a rival school of philosophy in Athens the relationship between the two progressively deteriorated, as can be seen in their works (see especially Isocrates’ Against the Sophist and Antidosis, Plato’s Euthydemus, Republic, and Theaetetus). So it happened that Thesleff gave me the first stylometric corroboration of the ancient dating of the Phaedrus. For the avoidance of hiatus was not something specific to Isocrates; poets avoided it in their works, and according to ancient biographical tradition Plato wrote poetry and tragedies before he became Socrates’ disciple. Among the first group of dialogues, in all of which Plato did not consciously avoid hiatus, the lowest average occurrence per page of hiatus can be found in the Phaedrus: in his first dialogue Plato was subconsciously influenced by his previous writing of poetry and drama.
And then came Brandwood’s Ph.D. thesis, which I could study in a special room in the new building of the Bodleian Library. Its most striking feature was that Brandwood did not make any recourse to computing techniques in preparing and writing it. With his thesis remaining unpublished for three decades, a myth was created that it was based on modern stylometric computing techniques and that it contained ‘definitive’ results. The myth was associated in particular with Owen’s thesis according to which Timaeus, one of the late six dialogues, closely followed the Republic and came before the Phaedrus. Owen’s theory was particularly dear to Oxford and Cambridge philosophers, who found no favour with Plato’s theory of Ideas or Forms. Owen argued that in his late years Plato abandoned it and turned towards linguistic analysis, so that Oxford and Cambridge philosophers with their analytical philosophy could see themselves as the true heirs of Plato, bringing his philosophical insights to fruition. The problem was that in the Timaeus the theory of Forms or Ideas dominates the whole dialogue and cannot be interpreted away. The Timaeus therefore had to be earlier than the Phaedrus, in the second part of which Owen detected Plato’s turning his back on his theory of transcendent Forms. Owen believed to have found strong stylometric evidence in support of his thesis in Billig’s investigation of rhythmic clausulae. Barnes in his 1987 letter wrote to me: ‘Owen’s paper on the date of the Timaeus still seems to me to be a model here’.
Brandwood embarked upon his critical re-examination of the past stylometric work in the hope that he could discard as unreliable all those stylometric works that put the Timaeus among Plato’s late dialogues. He did indeed found most of the stylistic methods and criteria seriously faulty, but two criteria escaped his critical scrutiny unscathed, the investigation of the frequency of hiatus and that of rhythmic clausulae. The problem was that he discovered that Billig, on whom Owen pinned his hopes, “fabricated” his results. Was this discovery of his the reason why his work remained unpublished for so long? I informed about my discovery British philosophers, and it was finally published in 1990, but more on that later.
The most serious inaccuracy in Nick Cohen’s Pub Philosopher concerns his misrepresentation of my dating of the Phaedrus. The biographic tradition says that Plato began to write dialogues during Socrates’ life-time and that his first dialogue was the Phaedrus. Cohen in his article wrote:
‘Tomin’s work has raised a second controversy. He has revived an ancient tradition that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue, written soon after Socrates’ trial and death. Barnes thinks that even if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences. Tomin believes that they could change entirely philosophers’ understanding of Plato.’
One does not need to be an expert on Plato in order to see that it must make a very great difference if one views a dialogue as being written and published during Socrates’ life-time, or only after his death. Only by misrepresenting my thesis could Nick Cohen prepare the ground for Barnes’ verdict ‘if Tomin’s views were not “baloney”, there are no interesting consequences’.
Barry O’Brien in The Daily Telegraph of August 24, 1988 got it right:
‘Dr Tomin faces the threat of being forced to give up the work which, he believes, will vindicate his view, rejected by British academic philosophers, that Plato’s Phaedrus was the first of his dialogues, written while Socrates was still alive.
Once accepted, he believes this hypothesis would put Socrates in a new light historically and would restore his former importance as a philosopher, now diminished by contemporary philosophers in favour of Plato.’
Christian Taylor in Financial Times of September 10, 1988 got it right:
‘The most controversial result of Tomin’s technique is his belief that Plato’s dialogue, the Phaedrus, is the first rather than one of the last to be written. It shows, he says, the young Plato confronting the 65-year old Socrates and beginning to outline his famous theory of Ideas or Forms.’
Cohen’s misrepresentation makes sense only if his article was to be taken as a full stop, after which I were to have no further access to mass media. And a full stop it certainly has proved to be. On April 20, 1994 I wrote to the Editor of The Oxford Times:
‘I am sending you a copy of my Open Letter to the Members of the Aristotelian Society. It represents a challenge to the established academics by an unemployed philosopher, and as such it concerns a broader public interested in the creation of a space for a healthy academic life. Would you therefore consider informing your readers about my letter?’
The Editor, Jim McClure, replied:
‘I keep being reminded of that World War Two story about a battleship off the coast of Scotland in a dense fog. Seeing a light appear dead ahead, the ship’s signalman was ordered to send this message: ‘You are on a collision course – alter your course to port immediately.’ The light remained where it was. The order was repeated. The light continued to shine dimly through the fog in exactly the same place. So the signalman was given a fresh order to send: ‘Alter your course immediately – I am an admiral.’ A signalling lamp blinked back: ‘I am a lighthouse-keeper.’
In Oxford University, I believe you have found your lighthouse. There are simply some things in life about which there is no point in arguing, leaving you little choice but to alter course if you are to stay afloat.’
Pace the Editor of The Oxford Times, the dating of the Phaedrus sooner or later must be discussed. Take just one point, my claim that Socrates in the Phaedrus could hardly have referred to Polemarchus as an example of a man ‘turned to philosophy’ after Polemarchus’ death, and let us view its implications. It has been objected to me that Polemarchus’ being ‘turned to philosophy’ is a significantly weaker claim than the claim that a man devoted to philosophy will live in happiness. So let me answer this objection. Socrates begins his prayer to Eros by offering the god the Palinode as an atonement for anything that was wrong in his first speech on love:
‘If you took offence in anything that Phaedrus and I said earlier, then lay the blame on Lysias, the father of that discourse, prevent him from making such discourses, and turn him towards philosophy even as his brother Polemarchus has been turned, so that this lover of his here no longer halts between two opinions, as he does now, but devotes his life completely to Love with the aid of philosophic discourse.’
In these words Socrates compresses into one all that preceded: The dialogue began with Phaedrus’ being enchanted with Lysias’ playful ‘Eroticus’ in which a crafty seducer persuades a boy that although he is not his lover, he should have sex with him, for sex without love would be advantageous for both of them, but especially for the boy, whom he would richly remunerate. Phaedrus reads the discourse to Socrates, and when he finds him less than enthusiastic about it, challenges him to make a better speech on the same theme. Socrates makes a speech about the harm that erotic infatuation does both to the lover and the beloved, harm to the property of the lover, harm to the body and to the soul of both of them, as well as harming their relationship to others. For this, Socrates now in his prayer asks Eros for forgiveness, laying the blame squarely on Lysias, and asking Eros to stop Lysias from making such speeches. Then he asks Eros to cause of a profound change in Lysias through the power of philosophy. To make this prospect real, Socrates points to Polemarchus as an example to Lysias: he should turn to philosophy as his brother has been turned. What this imports is clarified by the words that immediately follow: if Lysias follows his brother’s example, then his lover Phaedrus can cease to be of two minds and turn wholeheartedly towards love mediated by philosophic discourses. Since with these words the Palinode ends, they can only mean: If Lysias turns to philosophy as his brother Polemarchus has done, then Phaedrus and Lysias will enjoy their loving relationship with their minds focused on Being that truly is, that is on Forms, for only on that basis they can tame their base drives and desires.
This gives the Palinode with its philosophic assent to true Being a profoundly new turn and new significance. For we know from Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes that Polemarchus was a married man (xii.19), so that when Plato says that Lysias should turn to philosophy as his brother has been turned, he cannot be giving him Polemarchus as an example of an ideal homosexual relationship, he must be giving him as an example of a philosopher as such. In other words, it is philosophy that provides the key to true Love as it is presented in the Palinode, and the ideal homosexual relationship between the philosopher and his beloved is not the only way in which philosophy can be pursued and the Recollection of Forms attained. For by presenting Polemarchus as a man turned to philosophy at the close of the Palinode Plato does not negate its central point: what enables a philosopher to enter and sustain a chaste loving relationship with his beloved is the Recollection of Forms, in particular the Recollection of Beauty and of Temperance. There thus can be only one explanation for Plato’s introducing Polemarchus at the end of the Palinode: Polemarchus embraced Plato’s theory of Forms, or at least he let Plato believe that he did so. On Aristotle’s testimony Plato conceived the Theory of Forms at the beginning of his philosophic intercourse with Socrates, that is some four years before – on my dating – he wrote the Phaedrus.
In speaking of Polemarchus’ ‘having been turned to philosophy’ Plato uses the perfect tetraptai, which means that Polemarchus’ turning to philosophy has been accomplished. In order to see the full force of this term as Plato uses it, we must turn to Republic vii where he fully explains its pregnant use. Having described at length the realm of true being, the Forms, and the Form of the Good beyond it as its ultimate source, Plato delineates true education and true philosophy. It does not consist in putting a knowledge into the soul of a disciple, which was not there before; his whole soul must be turned from the world of becoming into that of being (518c8-9); his sight, which has been turned in the wrong direction, will be turned in the right direction. In the light of the Republic passage in which the concept of turning the sight of the soul towards the realm of true being is fully elucidated, it becomes clear that when Plato wrote the Phaedrus, Polemarchus in his view had recollected true being and thus achieved ‘the victory won by the higher elements of his soul guiding him into the ordered rule of the philosophic life’ (Phaedrus 256a-b).
Lysias’ account of Polemarchus in Against Eratosthenes enables us to see why Plato chose him for the role of an example of ‘a blessed life lived here on earth’. Concerning ‘the orderly life’ specified by Plato in the Phaedrus as a precondition for blissful happiness (256b2), Lysias says ‘we showed ourselves men of orderly life, and performed every duty laid upon us’, and ‘we had made not a single enemy’. Speaking of the charitable functions of the family, he says: ‘we equipped a chorus for dramatic performances of all dramas, and contributed to many special levies ... we had ransomed many Athenians from the foe (xii. 20)’. Polemarchus was a great benefactor of the city; he was the eldest son and heir of Cephalus, and the charitable activities of the family were ultimately his activities. Plato’s praise of Polemarchus at the end of the Palinode is thus in tune with the end of the Phaedrus with its emphasis on moderation concerning the possession of wealth (279c2-3) and on sharing of everything with others: ‘for friends share all things in common’ (279c6-7).
Viewing Polemarchus in this light, we begin to see why Plato dared to crown his Phaedran Palinode with him as an example of a man whose life has been turned to philosophy. It was not youthful thoughtlessness that let him disregard Solon’s cautionary dictum that one should not ascribe happiness to a man while he is alive, but only after his life has reached its end. It was his conviction that nothing bad can happen to a true philosopher, a man whose life is truly good. This conviction he shared with Aeschylus, in whose Agamemnon the chorus says:
‘I alone hold a view that differs from that of the others, for an impious deed breeds more sinful deeds that are of a kind. The house that follows righteousness is always blessed with good fortune’ (757-762).
In Aeschylus’ footsteps, Plato had the courage to point to Polemarchus as a man who practiced philosophy, and had thus secured blissful happiness for himself; Polemarchus in his view followed righteousness and therefore was to be always blessed with good fortune. The conviction that no wrong can be inflicted upon a man who follows the righteous path was firmly held by the historical Socrates, who says in the Apology: ‘Neither Meletus nor Anytus can injure me in any way – they cannot do so – for I believe that a bad man is not permitted to injure a better man’ (30c8-d1).
But doesn’t this moral conviction of Socrates and Plato provide the strongest possible ground for rejecting my dating of the Phaedrus prior to the death of Polemarchus? Polemarchus ended his life drinking hemlock as Socrates did, which did not prevent Plato from presenting the latter as a model philosopher, the former as a model follower. To this I may answer that the circumstances of their death were very different. Socrates in the Apology challenged his accusers and turned his defence into a defence not only of his own life, but of philosophy itself. He ended his life surrounded by friends, crowned with the best and most profound philosophic discourse of his whole life. His last day was a very blessed and happy day for him. At the beginning of the Phaedo, the dialogue in which Plato reproduces the philosophic discourse that Socrates held on that last day in prison, before drinking hemlock, Phaedo says: ‘the man seemed to me happy, both in his manner and in his words, so fearlessly and nobly was he meeting his end’ (58e3-4). Apart from the Phaedo, Plato devoted to the celebration of Socrates’ last days six more dialogues, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Theaetetus, Sohistes and Politicus.
Compare Plato’s celebration of Socrates’ happy end with Lysias’ description of Polemarchus’ capture and death in Against Eratosthenes. Plato not only abstained from any attempt to challenge Lysias’ description of Polemarchus’ end as a very bad and sordid affair, but in the Republic he presented us with Polemarchus engaged in a philosophic discussion in which he deprived him of any philosophic credentials that readers of the Phaedrus would have attributed to him. In Republic I Polemarchus is shown to be unable to defend his proposed definition of justice, even to keep track of his own answers to Socrates. ‘I don’t know any more what I have said,’ he complains (334b7). His performance is simply abominable if judged according to the criterion laid down in the Phaedrus: a philosopher is a master of dialectic and can therefore always defend his knowledge with valid arguments (Phdr. 276e-277a). Since Polemarchus, as he is depicted in the Republic, could not possibly stand as an example of a man crowning the Phaedran Palinode, something must have happened that caused Plato to profoundly change his mind. But how could Polemarchus’ untimely death have caused such a change, if Plato’s challenge to the Solonian dictum sprang from a firmly held moral conviction?
The answer can be found in Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes, where in his attempt to portray the greed of the Thirty Lysias divulged that the wealth of his brother Polemarchus was much greater than what people had been led to believe:
'They [the Thirty] had seven hundred shields of ours, they had all that silver and gold, with copper, jewelry, furniture and women's apparel beyond what they ever expected to get; also a hundred and twenty slaves, of whom they took the ablest, delivering the rest to the Treasury' (19).
It was against this background that Plato in the first book of the Republic introduced Polemarchus' father Cephalus as a man whose mind is ostensibly preoccupied with religious matters and with his own self-righteousness, with his 'moderate' interest in wealth, with his insistence that the greatest benefit of wealth is that one can approach death in good conscience (328c5-331b7). All those who heard Lysias giving his speech Against Eratosthenes, and all those who read it, would have immediately known that Cephalus’ lack of interest in wealth and in further enrichment was a carefully cultivated dissimulation. Asked by Socrates whether he inherited property or acquired most of it himself, he answered: ‘Acquired?! ... I shall be glad if I leave to these my sons not less but a little more than I received’ (330a-b). Asked further, what was the greatest good that he derived from his great wealth, he replied that it was the sweet consciousness that he lived his life in accordance to justice and piety (331a4):
‘The great blessing of riches, I do not say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had no occasion to deceive or defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and when he departs to the world below he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men.’ (331a11-b5).
Asked by Socrates to clarify the concept of justice involved in his musing about the greatest good that he derived from his wealth, Cephalus passes his argument over to Polemarchus, his heir in every respect, and retires to do the religious sacrifices. Polemarchus begins the defence of his father’s argument by defining justice as ‘giving every man his due’ (Republic, 331e3-4), which he understands as 'friends doing good to friends, but no evil’ (332a9-10) and ‘as an enemy doing evil to an enemy’ (332b7-8). Unable to defend his own and his father’s conception of justice, Polemarchus renounces his thesis and embraces Socrates’ view that it is unjust to harm anybody under any circumstances (335e5).
Significantly, all this discussion takes place in the presence of Lysias, who is named at the beginning as a member of the audience (328b4). Even if after Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes Plato could not give Polemarchus to anyone as an example of a man turned to philosophy, he nevertheless retrospectively found a way in which he could present him as an example to Lysias. For Lysias in his speech at the trial addressed Eratosthenes as follows: ‘Even to discuss this man with another I consider to be an impiety, if it were to benefit him. But I consider it as a holy and pious action to address this man himself, when it is to harm him (xii. 24).’ The correspondence between the principle of harming enemies that Lysias puts forth in his speech and the original understanding of justice with which Polemarchus begins his discussion with Socrates in the Republic is emphasized by Socrates' echoing Lysias’ words when he quotes Polemarchus’ definition back at him as ‘benefiting friends’ and ‘harming enemies’ (334b5). By presenting Polemarchus in the Republic as a man who under the pressure of Socrates’ questioning renounced the conception of justice adopted by Lysias, Plato gave retrospectively at least some positive meaning to the end of the Phaedran Palinode in which Socrates prays to Eros that Lysias may follow Polemarchus’ example.
Lysias’ role of a silent listener to Socrates’ upbraiding of Polemarchus in Republic i acquires its full political poignancy if we compare certain passages of Lysias’ Against Eratosthenes with Socrates’ rejection of Polemarchus’ notion of justice in Republic i. Addressing the jury, Lysias says:
‘Many foreigners as well as townsfolk have come here to know what is to be your judgement on these men. The latter sort, your fellow-citizens, will have learnt before they leave, either that they will be punished for their offences, or that, if they succeed in their aims, they will be tyrants in the city’ (xii. 35).
‘As they would have been unable to do what they did without the cooperation of others, so they would not now have ventured into court unless they expected to be saved by those same persons; who have come here not to support these men, but in the belief that there will be a general indemnity for their past actions and for whatever they may want to do in the future ... But you may well wonder, besides, whether those who intend to take part will petition you in the character of loyal citizens (kaloi k’agathoi), making out that their own virtue outweighs the villainy of these men... or whether they will rely on their skilful oratory and making out that the actions of their friends are estimable’. (xii. 85-86).
‘Then is it not monstrous ... since so many are making efforts to shield them?’ (xii. 88).
There can be little doubt that Lysias viewed Plato as one of the kaloi k'agathoi who, relying on their arete, their civic virtue, sympathized with the moderate men among the Thirty, and aspired to political power. In Republic i Plato returned the compliment: Socrates says there that Polemarchus’ view of justice is befitting a tyrant (such as Periander, Perdiccas or Xerxes), a man who treacherously enriched himself by stirring up war among Greek states (as did Ismenias the Theban), ‘or some other rich man who had a great opinion of his own power’ (336a5-7).
The adage 'friends have all things in common' (279c6-7), with which the Phaedrus ends, acquires its full historical meaning only if we specify even further the publication date of the dialogue. Plato himself comes here to our aid. For in the Phaedrus, after presenting his first speech on love, Socrates is about to leave, but Phaedrus implores him to stay and discuss with him both the speech of Lysias and Socrates’ own speech. Socrates praises his love of discourse, and remarks that no one else has delivered so many discourses or compelled others to do so, with the sole exception of Simmias of Thebes. Simmias is called a youngster in the Phaedo (89a3), and since he is from Thebes, which fought against Athens in the Peloponnesian War, he could not have had discussions with Socrates before the end of the war at 404 B.C. The remark concerning Simmias in the Phaedrus is an obvious anachronism, for the dialogue is dramatically staged before 415 B.C., that is before Phaedrus was exiled for his involvement with the affair of the mutilation of the Hermae. In the text the remark stands out as unconnected to what precedes or follows; Plato thus marked the date of the composition of the dialogue. The dialogue therefore can be assigned to the early stages of the aristocratic revolution of 404 B.C.
The adage 'friends have all things in common' thus acquires meaning that far transcends Phaedrus' wish that Socrates includes him in his prayer. The main import of the prayer, that one should consider as truly rich only a wise man, and that one should possess only so much of gold as only a temperate man might bear is a passionate appeal both to the ruling aristocrats to moderate their craving for riches, and to Lysias and Polemarchus to be even more liberal with their riches than they appeared to be. His appeal fell on deaf ears in both cases.
After his poor performance in Republic i, Polemarchus re-enters the discussion in the fifth book of the Republic. His intervention is eye-catching; he grabs the garment of Adimantus and whispers something to him, of which Socrates can hear only the words ‘Shall we let him off, or what shall we do?’ (449b6). What Polemarchus is after is then explained by Adimantus, Plato's brother. In the fourth book Socrates had proclaimed that as far as marriages and children are concerned, these matters will be regulated on the strict adherence to the principle that ‘friends have all things in common’ (424a1-2). Polemarchus wants him to explain the principle, but he is given no opportunity to speak to Socrates directly; Adimantus reproduces his wish. Polemarchus’ poignant exclusion from directly re-entering the dialogue – as well as not allowing Lysias a single word – is in itself significant, for Plato says in Republic iii that a just and decent man would not willingly introduce into his narrative an unworthy person, except only briefly when the latter performs something good (396c-d). And indeed, Polemarchus in Republic i is allowed to speak briefly so that he may do something good: to renounce his and his father’s concept of justice.
In the fifth book the principle of sharing of property is presented as a test by which a man’s fitness for philosophy is judged; philosophers will not tear the city to pieces by differing about ‘mine’ and ‘not mine’, each man dragging his acquisitions into a separate house of his own (464c-d). But this is precisely what Polemarchus, Lysias, and their father did in the course of accumulating their wealth, and this is what the Thirty did in appropriating as many riches as they possibly could. The Thirty were as much on Plato’s mind as Lysias and Polemarchus when in Republic v he formulated the notion of true philosophers and true rulers ‘meeting in one’:
‘Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils.’ (473c11-d5).
Only those who pass the test of sharing property in common may be allowed to touch philosophy (474c1), whereas those who do not pass it are not allowed even to touch it (474c2). Plato in Republic v formulated the criteria that a man must fulfil in order to deserve the name of a philosopher and ruler in connection with Polemarchus explicitly, the Thirty implicitly, and he did so to the exclusion of both.
It may be asked, why did Plato locate his best and most ambitious work in the house of Polemarchus, if by the time he wrote the Republic he must have detested both him and his brother Lysias? The answer is that he reached the insight upon which he built the Republic as a result of his disenchantment with the Athenian politics, after he had realized that there was no place for him within its framework. Polemarchus’ fate was inextricably linked with the moral and political decline of the Thirty, Lysias’ fate with the restoration of democracy that killed Socrates. In Plato’s view, Polemarchus’ house symbolized everything that was wrong with Athens; it was the right place for negating it radically, which is what Plato does in the Republic.
Plato’s Phaedran appreciation of Polemarchus as a man turned to philosophy and therefore blessed, which turned into a misjudgement in readers’ eyes in consequence of Polemarchus’ death, and in the eyes of Plato in consequence of Lysias’ revelation concerning his wealth in Against Eratosthenes, continued to rankle even after Plato exorcised it in the Republic. In the Laws Plato proposed a law according to which any alien found to possess more property than that which is allowed to third class citizens has to leave the city within thirty days, and if he does not, his property is to be confiscated and he himself sentenced to death (915b-c); it is difficult to believe that when Plato conceived of this law, he refrained from thinking of the two prominent aliens residing in Athens, Polemarchus and Lysias. In the Laws Plato directs another ray of light on his misjudgement of Polemarchus when he says that ‘to honour with hymns and panegyrics those who are still alive is not safe; a man should run his course, and make a fair ending, and then we will praise him’ (802a1-3). The Phaedran Palinode is Plato’s hymn on Love, and his praise of Polemarchus with which it closes proved to be ‘unsafe’.
Pondering on his own mistaken views about Polemarchus, Lysias and the Thirty, Plato realized how difficult, if not impossible it is to form a correct opinion about a man’s character. This realization had profound theoretical consequences; he had to abandon his Phaedran conception of philosophic rhetoric that relied on a philosopher’s knowledge of all types of human souls (271b1-2). The Phaedran rhetorician knows what kind of soul is affected by what kind of speech, what kind of speech he must use to persuade the audience to which he speaks in the way he wants to. All this knowledge he acquires by virtue of mastering the art of dialectic, that is the art of conceptual synthesis – ‘seeing many dispersed aspects all together and comprehending them in one form’ (265d3-4) – and analysis – ‘and, in turn, to be able to divide according to forms in conformity with natural articulation’ (265e1-2). In the Gorgias, where Plato rejects any pretensions of rhetoric to be a science, he denies the very possibility of knowing individual souls, for in this life of humans with their embodied souls the body both of the perceiver and of the one perceived stands in the way of any such knowledge (523c-d).
In the Republic, constructing his ideal state, Plato had to face anew the problem of the knowability of the souls of individual citizens, so as to give to each his or her proper place in the social structures of the state, to give to each the right education, and to assign to each the task for which he or she is best suited. He discusses the matter when he tackles the problem of judges, for they must be able to obtain knowledge of the souls of malefactors in order to pass correct judgement on them, so that they can either cure them or relieve society of their existence. He says that a young man of noble character is totally unfit for this task, for he has no paradigms of vices in his soul. Since a judge cannot be recruited from people of corrupt characters, ‘he cannot be young but must be quite old’ (409b4-5); he must use knowledge of injustice, but this knowledge he cannot acquire by experiencing injustice in himself; only from very long observation of injustice in others can he perceive what an evil thing it is (409b6-c1). This on its own, if viewed against the background of the Phaedran outline of philosophic rhetoric, ought to suffice as a corroboration of the ancient dating of the Phaedrus.
In the Laws Plato contrives well-regulated symposia for the task of knowing the souls of citizens; in these a sober and wise guardian encourages the participants to drink alcohol (640d4-5) so that he may observe their true character. Plato remarks: ‘And this knowledge of the natures and habits of men’s souls will be of the greatest use in the art which has the management of them; and that art, if we are not mistaken, is politics’ (650b6-9). In the Phaedrus no such artificial contrivances were needed; there the philosopher acquires knowledge of human souls by virtue of learning philosophy, the art of dialectic.
Nick Cohen’s ‘Pub Philosopher’ ended as follows:
‘Tomin does not want academic charity. He thinks Oxford should “help itself” by recognizing that he is right. There is not the faintest possibility that this will happen.
The leadership of Czechoslovakia has done its best to resist glasnost. It remains harsh and unreformed. Last October Rude Pravo, the mouthpiece of the Czech Communist Party, happily reported Tomin’s story. Under the headline PAID TO MAKE SPEECHES, it said: “Even in a public bar words can earn money, or rather make money. The recipy for this was found by the Czech emigrant Julius Tomin. Since 1980, when he emigrated, he has struggled as hard as possible to keep going since no university has shown any interest in him. Only now has he found an audience interested in his disputations – namely a public house in Swindon. No other milieu will put up with him.”’
Cohen’s ending his article in unison with Rudé Právo is particularly interesting if one remembers that it was published on November 18 1989, a day after the student demostration with which the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia began. I visited Prague for a month in early spring 1990. A bewildered Ivan Dejmal, in whose flat my seminars took place in 1979, and who was entrusted with investigating the pre-Velvet Revolution actions of the Ministery of Internal Affairs, told me that he found that the Ministery prepared the change of regime half a year before November 17, the change which was to be triggered by the planned students demonstration and its brutal suppression. When I returned to Oxford, although the Philosophy Centre at Oxford University rejected my offer of a paper on ‘The demise of Marxism’, I could not be silent about what I learnt from Dejmal. Then, in The Independent of May 15, 1990 I read:
‘Czech revolt may be result of KGB plot
There is a strong evidence that last year’s revolution was the accidental consequence of a failed attempt by reform communists, backed by Moscow, to replace Czechoslovakia’s hardline rulers. The key issue is what really happened in the first hours of the revolution, when on the night of 17 November, the security forces brutally attacked a student demonstration which had been cordoned off on Prague’s National street. It increasingly appears that the police brutality and the presence of the students were cynically staged in order to discredit the leadership of Milos Jakes and his leadership.’
Whatever the expected outcome, my exclusion from academic philosophy in the post-Revolution Czechoslovakia was carefully prepared and secured. There was no place for me at Charles’ University in Prague, and so I stayed in Oxford.
In Cohen’s ‘Pub Philosopher’ was a passage that appeared to require a ‘correction’. Nick Cohen wrote:
‘He [Tomin] is able to continue his work in Oxford libraries solely because Noel Reilly, the landlord of the Beehive pub in Swindon, read of his plight and decided to pay him £5.000 to deliver three lectures a year to regulars. The talks are very popular. About 350 came to the last lecture at the Beehive.’
Hester Lacey reported in The Independent on Sunday, March 19, 1995 in her article Philosophy for grown-ups:
‘Philosophy has not always been the people’s choice, as landlord Noel Reilly discovered when he engaged the dissident Czech academic Dr Julius Tomin to deliver nine half-hour lectures in the Beehive pub in Swindon in 1988. “His great interest was Plato, though he disagreed with his fellow philosophers about the chronological sequence of Plato’s works,” explained Reilly at the time. Unfortunately, Dr Tomin delivered only four lectures. “He was a nervous man. I think the hurly-burly of the public house upset him,” said Reilly, whose attempts to turn his pub into a “place of culture” sadly ended in bankruptcy.”’
I did not have any lectures at the Beehive pub after the publication of Nick Cohen’s ‘Pub Philosopher’. By coincidence, a few days after I read Hester Lacey’s article I met Noel Reilly at Oxford. I asked him how he was doing. He told me he ceased to be a publican, got a grant, and studied now at Oxford University.
Was it all a set up, from the beginning to the end? Was I to be turned into the pub philosopher who bankrupted his paymaster? If so, then there were days when Noel Reilly was uncomfortable with that role. In his last conversation with me at the Beehive he suggested that he would hire at Oxford a big room for my lecture, and that he would generate such public pressure around it, that Oxford philosophers would be compelled to come and face my arguments in an open discussion. Another attempt to escape that role was during my ten day hunger strike on the occasion of Gorbachev’s visit to Britain. As soon as he learnt about it, he took me to the Beehive, and so I did hold it literally in the hurly-burly of the pub, separated from its noise by a very flimsy ceiling. During my hunger-strike, on Saturday 15 April 1989 Noel Reilly went to Prague to make there a protest on my behalf. He was arrested by the Czech police within a few seconds after producing a poster that said ‘Restore Tomin’s citizenship’. His protest remained unreported in the UK media, with the exception of a local Swindon paper. All publicity concerning my hunger strike abruptly ended; all eyes were turned to the Hillsborough football stadium disaster that took place on that day. As John Pilger wrote in Hidden Agendas: ‘the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control’ (published by Vintage 1998, p. 445).
In September 1998 after eighteen years in Oxford I returned to Prague; I was offered a Jan Hus Educational Foundation grant for a year with a promise of a flat and of a permanent job at the Institute of Philosophy. Neither of these promises were honoured. After two years in Prague I therefore returned to England. Shortly after our return I found on the internet a Czech report of August 14, 1998 entitled ‘A Press Conference of the Czech Social Democratic Party’. At the conference a freelance journalist Sedlák addressed Libor Rouček, the Press Spokesman of the Party, as follows:
‘Czech TV on all its channels presents Tomin. You too lived in England and therefore know that Tomin had received psychiatric treatment - he allegedly suffered from the fixed idea that he was Jan Hus ... An unhappy man, who should have no place on a TV screen. And this is public-owned TV, paid for by the tax-payer.’
The Press Spokesman replied:
‘... yes, I believe that Mr Tomin is an unhappy man, and as far as I am acquainted with public-owned TV in other countries, not a single one would produce such a programme. But this is a matter for Czech TV and for its Council.’
The Deputy Prime Minister Egon Lánský spoke about me in similar terms.
The TV programme that caused the uproar was a short interview I gave at Oxford to a Czech TV journalist Jan Potužník. What had to be prevented from ever being presented on TV was a lengthy programme about my stay at Oxford that Potužník filmed at Oxford and which was to be presented shortly after my return to Prague. Most of the filming took place on a punt on the river Cherwell; surrounded by the beauty of Oxford colleges and University Parks. In a lively interview, I initiated the Czech TV reporter into the delights of having had the Bodleian Library at my disposal with all its treasures, of enjoying the beauty of the English countryside on my long cycling rides, and of my daily trips into the treasures of Ancient Greek thought. Had it been broadcast, the story about ‘unhappy Tomin’ would have sounded hollow.
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