Her. You have hammered away at them manfully ; but suppose that some one were to say to you, what is the word ion, and what are reon and doun ? — show me their fitness.
Soc. You mean to say, how should I answer him ?
Soc. One way of giving the appearance of an answer has been already suggested.
Her. What way ?
Soc. To say that names which we do not understand are of foreign origin ; and this is very likely the right answer, and something of this kind may be true of them ; but also the original forms of words may have been lost in the lapse of ages ; names have been so twisted in all manner of ways, that I should not be surprised if the old language when compared with that now in use would appear to us to be a barbarous tongue.
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Yes, very likely. But still the enquiry demands our earnest attention and we must not flinch. For we should remember, that if a person go on analysing names into words, and enquiring also into the elements out of which the words are formed, and keeps on always repeating this process, he who has to answer him must at last give up the enquiry in despair.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And at what point ought he to lose heart and give up the enquiry ? Must he not stop when he comes to the names which are the elements of all other names and sentences ; for these cannot be supposed to be made up of other names ? The word agathon (good), for example, is, as we were saying, a compound of agastos (admirable) and thoos (swift). And probably thoos is made up of other elements, and these again of others. But if we take a word which is incapable of further resolution, then we shall be right in saying that we have at last reached a primary element, which need not be resolved any furtHer.
Her. I believe you to be in the right.
Soc. And suppose the names about which you are now asking should turn out to be primary elements, must not their truth or law be examined according to some new method ?
Her. Very likely.
Soc. Quite so, Hermogenes ; all that has preceded would lead to this conclusion. And if, as I think, the conclusion is true, then I shall again say to you, come and help me, that I may not fall into some absurdity in stating the principle of primary names.
Her. Let me hear, and I will do my best to assist you.
Soc. I think that you will acknowledge with me, that one principle is applicable to all names, primary as well as secondary — when they are regarded simply as names, there is no difference in them.
Her. Certainly not.
Soc. All the names that we have been explaining were intended to indicate the nature of things.
Her. Of course.
Soc. And that this is true of the primary quite as much as of the secondary names, is implied in their being names.
Soc. But the secondary, as I conceive, derive their significance from the primary.
Her. That is evident.
Soc. Very good ; but then how do the primary names which precede analysis show the natures of things, as far as they can be shown ; which they must do, if they are to be real names ? And here I will ask you a question : Suppose that we had no voice or tongue, and wanted to communicate with one another, should we not, like the deaf and dumb, make signs with the hands and head and the rest of the body ?
Her. There would be no choice, Socrates.
Soc. We should imitate the nature of the thing ; the elevation of our hands to heaven would mean lightness and upwardness ; heaviness and downwardness would be expressed by letting them drop to the ground ; if we were describing the running of a horse, or any other animal, we should make our bodies and their gestures as like as we could to them.
Her. I do not see that we could do anything else.
Soc. We could not ; for by bodily imitation only can the body ever express anything.
Her. Very true.
Soc. And when we want to express ourselves, either with the voice, or tongue, or mouth, the expression is simply their imitation of that which we want to express.
Her. It must be so, I think.
Soc. Then a name is a vocal imitation of that which the vocal imitator names or imitates ?
Her. I think so.
Soc. Nay, my friend, I am disposed to think that we have not reached the truth as yet.
Her. Why not ?
Soc. Because if we have we shall be obliged to admit that the people who imitate sheep, or cocks, or other animals, name that which they imitate.
Her. Quite true.
Soc. Then could I have been right in what I was saying ?
Her. In my opinion, no. But I wish that you would tell me, Socrates, what sort of an imitation is a name ?
Soc. In the first place, I should reply, not a musical imitation, although that is also vocal ; nor, again, an imitation of what music imitates ; these, in my judgment, would not be naming. Let me put the matter as follows : All objects have sound and figure, and many have colour ?
Soc. But the art of naming appears not to be concerned with imitations of this kind ; the arts which have to do with them are music and drawing ?
Soc. Again, is there not an essence of each thing, just as there is a colour, or sound ? And is there not an essence of colour and sound as well as of anything else which may be said to have an essence ?
Her. I should think so.
Soc. Well, and if any one could express the essence of each thing in letters and syllables, would he not express the nature of each thing ?
Her. Quite so.
Soc. The musician and the painter were the two names which you gave to the two other imitators. What will this imitator be called ?
Her. I imagine, Socrates, that he must be the namer, or name-giver, of whom we are in search.
Soc. If this is true, then I think that we are in a condition to consider the names ron (stream), ienai (to go), schesis (retention), about which you were asking ; and we may see whether the namer has grasped the nature of them in letters and syllables in such a manner as to imitate the essence or not.
Her. Very good.
Soc. But are these the only primary names, or are there others ?
Her. There must be others.
Soc. So I should expect. But how shall we further analyse them, and where does the imitator begin ? Imitation of the essence is made by syllables and letters ; ought we not, therefore, first to separate the letters, just as those who are beginning rhythm first distinguish the powers of elementary, and then of compound sounds, and when they have done so, but not before, they proceed to the consideration of rhythms ?
Soc. Must we not begin in the same way with letters ; first separating the vowels, and then the consonants and mutes, into classes, according to the received distinctions of the learned ; also the semivowels, which are neither vowels, nor yet mutes ; and distinguishing into classes the vowels themselves ? And when we have perfected the classification of things, we shall give their names, and see whether, as in the case of letters, there are any classes to which they may be all referred ; hence we shall see their natures, and see, too, whether they have in them classes as there are in the letters ; and when we have well considered all this, we shall know how to apply them to what they resemble — whether one letter is used to denote one thing, or whether there is to be an admixture of several of them ; just, as in painting, the painter who wants to depict anything sometimes uses purple only, or any other colour, and sometimes mixes up several colours, as his method is when he has to paint flesh colour or anything of that kind — he uses his colours as his figures appear to require them ; and so, too, we shall apply letters to the expression of objects, either single letters when required, or several letters ; and so we shall form syllables, as they are called, and from syllables make nouns and verbs ; and thus, at last, from the combinations of nouns and verbs arrive at language, large and fair and whole ; and as the painter made a figure, even so shall we make speech by the art of the namer or the rhetorician, or by some other art. Not that I am literally speaking of ourselves, but I was carried away — meaning to say that this was the way in which (not we but) the ancients formed language, and what they put together we must take to pieces in like manner, if we are to attain a scientific view of the whole subject, and we must see whether the primary, and also whether the secondary elements are rightly given or not, for if they are not, the composition of them, my dear Hermogenes, will be a sorry piece of work, and in the wrong direction.
Her. That, Socrates, I can quite believe.
Soc. Well, but do you suppose that you will be able to analyse them in this way ? for I am certain that I should not.
Her. Much less am I likely to be able.
Soc. Shall we leave them, then ? or shall we seek to discover, if we can, something about them, according to the measure of our ability, saying by way of preface, as I said before of the Gods, that of the truth about them we know nothing, and do but entertain human notions of them. And in this present enquiry, let us say to ourselves, before we proceed, that the higher method is the one which we or others who would analyse language to any good purpose must follow ; but under the circumstances, as men say, we must do as well as we can. What do you think ?
Her. I very much approve.
Soc. That objects should be imitated in letters and syllables, and so find expression, may appear ridiculous, Hermogenes, but it cannot be avoided — there is no better principle to which we can look for the truth of first names. Deprived of this, we must have recourse to divine help, like the tragic poets, who in any perplexity have their Gods waiting in the air ; and must get out of our difficulty in like fashion, by saying that “the Gods gave the first names, and therefore they are right.” This will be the best contrivance, or perhaps that other notion may be even better still, of deriving them from some barbarous people, for the barbarians are older than we are ; or we may say that antiquity has cast a veil over them, which is the same sort of excuse as the last ; for all these are not reasons but only ingenious excuses for having no reasons concerning the truth of words. And yet any sort of ignorance of first or primitive names involves an ignorance of secondary words ; for they can only be explained by the primary. Clearly then the professor of languages should be able to give a very lucid explanation of first names, or let him be assured he will only talk nonsense about the rest. Do you not suppose this to be true ?
Her. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. My first notions of original names are truly wild and ridiculous, though I have no objection to impart them to you if you desire, and I hope that you will communicate to me in return anything better which you may have.
Her. Fear not ; I will do my best.
Soc. In the first place, the letter r ; appears to me to be the general instrument expressing all motion (kinesis). But I have not yet explained the meaning of this latter word, which is just iesis (going) ; for the letter e (long) was not in use among the ancients, who only employed e (short) ; and the root is kiein, which is a foreign form, the same as ienai. And the old word kinesis will be correctly given as iesis in corresponding modern letters. Assuming this foreign root kiein, and allowing for the change of the e and the insertion of the n, we have kinesis, which should have been kieinsis or eisis ; and stasis is the negative of ienai (or eisis), and has been improved into stasis. Now the letter r, as I was saying, appeared to the imposer of names an excellent instrument for the expression of motion ; and he frequently uses the letter for this purpose : for example, in the actual words rein and roe he represents motion by r ; also in the words tromos (trembling), trachus (rugged) ; and again, in words such as krouein (strike), thrauein (crush), ereikein (bruise), thruptein (break), kermatixein (crumble), rumbein (whirl) : of all these sorts of movements he generally finds an expression in the letter r, because, as I imagine, he had observed that the tongue was most agitated and least at rest in the pronunciation of this letter, which he therefore used in order to express motion, just as by the letter i he expresses the subtle elements which pass through all things. This is why he uses the letter i as imitative of motion, ienai, iesthai. And there is another class of letters, ph, ps, s, and x, of which the pronunciation is accompanied by great expenditure of breath ; these are used in the imitation of such notions as psuchron (shivering), xeon (seething), seiesthai, (to be shaken), seismos (shock), and are always introduced by the giver of names when he wants to imitate what is phusodes (windy). He seems to have thought that the closing and pressure of the tongue in the utterance of d and t was expressive of binding and rest in a place : he further observed the liquid movement of l, in the pronunciation of which the tongue slips, and in this he found the expression of smoothness, as in leios (level), and in the word oliothanein (to slip) itself, liparon (sleek), in the word kollodes (gluey), and the like : the heavier sound of g detained the slipping tongue, and the union of the two gave the notion of a glutinous clammy nature, as in glischros, glukus, gloiodes. The n he observed to be sounded from within, and therefore to have a notion of inwardness ; hence he introduced the sound in endos and entos : a he assigned to the expression of size, and n of length, because they are great letters : o was the sign of roundness, and therefore there is plenty of o mixed up in the word goggulon (round). Thus did the legislator, reducing all things into letters and syllables, and impressing on them names and signs, and out of them by imitation compounding other signs. That is my view, Hermogenes, of the truth of names ; but I should like to hear what Cratylus has more to say.