Jowett: Cratylus 391a-421c — A denominação natural

Soc. My good Hermogenes, I have none to show. Was I not telling you just now (but you have forgotten), that I knew nothing, and proposing to share the enquiry with you ? But now that you and I have talked over the matter, a step has been gained ; for we have discovered that names have by nature a truth, and that not every man knows how to give a thing a name.

Her. Very good.

Soc. And what is the nature of this truth or correctness of names ? That, if you care to know, is the next question.

Her. Certainly, I care to know.

Soc. Then reflect.

Her. How shall I reflect ?

Soc. The true way is to have the assistance of those who know, and you must pay them well both in money and in thanks ; these are the Sophists, of whom your brother, Callias, has — rather dearly — bought the reputation of wisdom. But you have not yet come into your inheritance, and therefore you had better go to him, and beg and entreat him to tell you what he has learnt from Protagoras about the fitness of names.

Her. But how inconsistent should I be, if, whilst repudiating Protagoras and his Truth, I were to attach any value to what he and his book affirm !

Soc. Then if you despise him, you must learn of Homer and the poets.

Her. And where does Homer say anything about names, and what does he say ?

Soc. He often speaks of them ; notably and nobly in the places where he distinguishes the different names which Gods and men give to the same things. Does he not in these passages make a remarkable statement about the correctness of names ? For the Gods must clearly be supposed to call things by their right and natural names ; do you not think so ?

Her. Why, of course they call them rightly, if they call them at all. But to what are you referring ?

Soc. Do you not know what he says about the river in Troy who had a single combat with Hephaestus ?

Whom the Gods call Xanthus, and men call Scamander.

Her. I remember.

Soc. Well, and about this river — to know that he ought to be called Xanthus and not Scamander — is not that a solemn lesson ? Or about the bird which, as he says,

The Gods call Chalcis, and men Cymindis : to be taught how much more correct the name Chalcis is than the name Cymindis — do you deem that a light matter ? Or about Batieia and Myrina ? And there are many other observations of the same kind in Homer and other poets. Now, I think that this is beyond the understanding of you and me ; but the names of Scamandrius and Astyanax, which he affirms to have been the names of Hector’s son, are more within the range of human faculties, as I am disposed to think ; and what the poet means by correctness may be more readily apprehended in that instance : you will remember I dare say the lines to which I refer ?

Her. I do.

Soc. Let me ask you, then, which did Homer think the more correct of the names given to Hector’s son — Astyanax or Scamandrius ?

Her. I do not know.

Soc. How would you answer, if you were asked whether the wise or the unwise are more likely to give correct names ?

Her. I should say the wise, of course.

Soc. And are the men or the women of a city, taken as a class, the wiser ?

Her. I should say, the men.

Soc. And Homer, as you know, says that the Trojan men called him Astyanax (king of the city) ; but if the men called him Astyanax, the other name of Scamandrius could only have been given to him by the women.

Her. That may be inferred.

Soc. And must not Homer have imagined the Trojans to be wiser than their wives ?

Her. To be sure.

Soc. Then he must have thought Astyanax to be a more correct name for the boy than Scamandrius ?

Her. Clearly.

Soc. And what is the reason of this ? Let us consider : — does he not himself suggest a very good reason, when he says,

For he alone defended their city and long walls ?

This appears to be a good reason for calling the son of the saviour king of the city which his father was saving, as Homer observes.


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