feed in later dialogues, or in the version of Platonism pre supposed by Aristotle's criticisms.
No attempt will be made here to describe the personality or temperament of Plato which is, in fact, as elusive as that of Shakespeare and for the same reason. He is often credited with a strongly "mystical" and "erotic" temperament. He does ascribe such a temperament to Socrates, but it is puerile to treat his pic ture of Socrates as evidence about himself, though the mistake is constantly committed.
It should therefore be noted that the "mysticism" is confined to dialogues of the first period, in which Socrates is its exponent, and that the "erotic" language in which Plato's Socrates speaks of his devotion to his young friends was also used by the Socrates of Aeschines to describe his relations with Alcibiades (Fr. 4, Krauss). There is no evidence that Plato personally ever fired the imagina tion of gifted boys as Socrates did. Apart from the Epistles, the most valuable light we possess on Plato's personality is afforded by Aristotle's description of him as a man "whom it is blasphemy in the base even to praise" (iiv old' Tag!, KaKoi.o-c OiAts).
In the Republic, the greatest of all the dialogues which precede the Theaetetus, there may be said to be three main strands of argument deftly combined into a consummate artistic whole, the ethical and political, the aesthetic and "mystical," and the meta physical. Other major dialogues belonging to this period give special prominence to some one of these three lines of thought; the Phaedo to the metaphysical theme, the Protagoras and Gorgias to the ethical and political, the Symposium and Phaedrus to the aesthetic and "mystical," though in none does Plato make an artificially rigid separation of any one of the great ideal interests of human life from the rest.
The shorter dialogues deal with more special problems, usually of an ethical character, and mostly conform to a common type. A problem in moral science, often that of the right definition of a "virtue," is propounded, a number of tentative solutions are considered and are all found to be vitiated by difficulties which we cannot dispel; we are thus left, at the end of the conversation, aware of our discreditable ignorance of the very things it is most imperative for man to know. We have formally "learned" noth ing, but have been made alive to the worthlessness of what we had hitherto been content to take for knowledge and the need of seeking further enlightenment.
The effect of these "dialogues of search" is thus to put us in tune with the spirit of Socrates, who had said that the one respect in which he was wiser than other men was just his keen realiza tion of his own ignorance of the most important matters. We learn the meaning of his ruling principle that the supreme business of life is to "tend" the soul (to "make it as good as possible") and his conviction that "goodness of soul" means first and f ore most, knowledge of good and evil. The three dialogues directly
concerned with the trial of Socrates have manifestly a further purpose. They are intended to explain to a puzzled public why Socrates thought it stuff of the conscience neither to withdraw from danger before trial, nor to make a conciliatory defence, nor, finally, to avail himself of the opportunity of flight after conviction. Even well-wishers like Xenophon, as we know, were puzzled by what had seemed his wilfully defiant attitude ; it was therefore a debt of honour to his memory to put the matter in the true light. In the remarks which follow, we will consider these shorter dialogues in an order adopted simply for purposes of convenience.