Alcibiades was a young man in Athens who seemingly had everything: looks, noble birth, friends and connections in high places, and intense ambition to go with it all. He was a proud young man who elicited envy from his peers. One person who wasn’t envious, but instead, deeply concerned, was none other than Socrates himself. Socrates’ line of intense questioning led the nineteen-year-old Alcibiades on a journey of self-discovery with hopes of his betterment as a citizen and leader.
Welcome to one of Plato’s earliest and most intriguing dialogues – Alcibiades. It is also one of the most foundational because through the entertaining interchange between Socrates and Alcibiades, Plato brings us into the deeper philosophical waters of self-examination and the meaning of human nature.
Why start the study of Plato’s dialogues with this one? First of all, Alcibiades was an early dialogue. Plato wrote his early dialogues while in Egypt, shortly after the death of his mentor Socrates. He had Socrates’ teachings fresh in his head. He incorporates much of what he learned from Socrates as well as the events surrounding his trial and execution into these dialogues. In these early dialogues, we get authentic Socrates. In later dialogues, Socrates becomes more of a mouthpiece for the ideas of Plato.
Alcibiades Dialogue As the Beginning of All Philosophy
But there is a second and more important reason for examining this particular dialogue. Consider the following quote from the 5th century A.D. Neoplatonist Proclus:
The most peculiar and firm principle of all the dialogues of Plato, and the whole theory of that philosopher, is the knowledge of our own nature, and such pure and genuine knowledge of ourselves, circumscribed in scientific boundaries, must be considered as the most proper principle of all philosophy.
The design of all that has been said in the First Alcibiades is to purify our dianoetic part [i.e., our reasoning power] from two-fold ignorance, and to remove all that impedes our resumption of true science. For we are ignorant of ourselves in consequence of being involved in oblivion produced by the realms of generation, and agitation by the tumult of the irrational forms of life. In the mean time, we think that we know many things of which we are ignorant. This dialogue therefore is the beginning of all philosophy, in the same manner as the knowledge of ourselves.1 (italics mine)– Proclus on the First Alcibiades
Thomas Taylor, the 19th century Neoplatonist, tells us that the ancients considered Alcibiades to be the “introduction to the whole of Plato’s philosophy”2. He considered this dialogue to be a preface to the rest of Plato’s dialogues.
For years, I have read entire dialogues of Plato and parts of others in no particular order. But for the serious student of Plato, of which I am now, I would suggest reading them in a particular order, preferably starting with the early dialogues and moving forward from there. You can search the internet for more specific ideas.
The irony is that one of the most important dialogues that sheds light on understanding Plato, Alcibiades, is one of the most ignored. This is analogous to a neophyte Bible reader starting in the book of Isaiah instead of in Genesis.
Alcibiades was widely regarded as an authentic Platonic dialogue. However, the emergence of German Higher Criticism challenged this belief, especially due to the arguments of Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1836.3 It is beyond the purpose of this blog to get into dry academic discussions, lest I lose my audience.
I will say, “I have never been a fan of German Higher Criticism.” I view it as more of a discipline of contrarianism. We can sum it up, with some exaggeration, as follows: It denies everything we thought was true about the ancient world. Rather than learning from those who came before and adding to their wisdom and knowledge, correcting error when appropriate, modernist thinkers sought to overturn the past. They arrogantly claimed themselves the only source of knowledge. Obviously, the extreme undercutting of the possibility of having certainty in regard to objective truth has led to the postmodernist cul-de-sac. This is where we find ourselves today.4
I am more interested in understanding and learning from Plato than in dissecting his dialogues under a microscope à la contemporary academia. After all, the purpose of philosophy is to gain wisdom and thus live a virtuous life.
The Disease of the Multitude – Twofold Ignorance
According to Plato, the disease of the multitude is what he calls “twofold ignorance”5. It is bad enough to be ignorant of transcendent principles that serve as a guide to life. But there is an even worse condition – that we are ignorant of the fact that we are ignorant. This, according to Socrates in the dialogue, affects the majority of humanity.
In this dialogue, Socrates takes us on a journey of self-discovery from the unmasking of this ignorance to a profound discussion on the nature of man and finally to its practical outworking in statecraft. I find some of his insights absolutely earth-shattering. As we read through the dialogue, we realize that Socrates is not addressing Alcibiades, but us as readers. And we would do well to heed his message, for the profound ignorance of the times calls for people of wisdom and virtue to intervene.
The following quote is from the foreword of the featured book below:
It is rather useless to begin a study of the Platonic philosophy if we haven’t yet addressed this state of darkness we find ourselves in. And it is this liberation from our two-fold ignorance that is the design of First Alcibiades.6
On a practical note, I would suggest reading the dialogue for yourself in order to grasp the whole picture presented in Alcibiades. There are numerous translations on the internet. Nevertheless, I will include pertinent excerpts in the discussion.
And if you want to have some fun, grab a copy of Alcibiades, find a partner, and read the dialogue to one another, even in front of other people. This could make for some great discussion along with some coffee, ale, or wine. I realize more and more, as I study Plato, that he probably intended his dialogues to be read aloud in a dramatic fashion in such an environment rather than in an undergraduate lecture hall.
Socrates Addresses the Arrogant Alcibiades
Many men in Athens sought to become the mentor to and catch the rising star of the young, handsome Alcibiades. Socrates informed the young man that his ‘superior haughtiness and imagined elevation’ caused their failure and drove them away. He was most likely amused by the young man’s arrogance rather than intimidated. Socrates bided his time and watched from a distance. He was unable to approach Alcibiades due to what he referred to as his ‘personal daemon’. Finally, that impediment was removed. Socrates approached Alcibiades and said to him:
The reason of your being exalted so highly in your own opinion, I am desirous in laying before you. They are these: you presume, that in no affair whatever you need assistance from any other party, for what you have of your own, whether of outward advantages or inward accomplishments, is so great as to be all-sufficient.– 104a
Socrates then pledges his loyalty to Alcibiades despite the fact that the others have forsaken him. But how will Alcibiades react to this affront by Socrates? After all, no one had probably ever spoken to him like that before. The other “advisors” were merely sycophants who desired to hitch their wagons to a rising star. Socrates states that all of his admirers “bowed their heads and went away” after sensing Alcibiades’ condescension because of their low positions.
Alcibiades’ answer was rather surprising:
This however, Socrates, perhaps you do not realize, that you beat me to the punch. For I really had it on my mind to address you first and to ask you certain questions pertaining to what your interest is in me, for I know that you have been interested in me for some time.– paraphrase of 104 c-d
Obviously, there is a sense of respect held by Alcibiades for Socrates. If the other would-be advisors were in low positions, how much higher was Socrates? He lived in poverty, walked around without shoes, and never held a public office. The difference was that Alcibiades probably sensed that Socrates was a man of integrity and was willing to speak the truth, regardless of the cost.
Socrates has two motivations for approaching Alcibiades. First of all, Socrates desires to be his mentor, to succeed where others have failed. But this has nothing to do with self-interest, for Socrates really wanted to save Athens from the corruption that was so common in Greek city-states. To help develop such a young, aspiring leader like Alcibiades in the ways of philosophy and virtue could be a key to doing this.
Secondly, time is of the essence. Alcibiades is going to make his big debut in several days when he appears before the Athenian assembly in order to “advise” them on their affairs in governing Athens. Socrates wants to intervene before the youth makes a fool of himself. The problem is that Alcibiades is so full of himself that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
In my previous posts on Socrates, I discussed how he used questions in order to uncover people’s ignorance. In what follows, we will see a real-life example of the Socratic method at work.
Socrates Cross-Examines Alcibiades
Socrates’ initial cross-examination uncovers the fact that Alcibiades has really no idea of what specifically he is going to advise the assembly on. He just thinks that he is more knowledgeable than they are in certain subjects. Consider the following dialogue:
Socrates: “What, I pray you, are to be the subjects of their deliberation, now that you rise up and give them your counsel? Must not the subjects be such as you are better acquainted than they?”
Alcibiades: “I certainly should answer, that the subjects were such as I knew better than others who were present.”– 106 c-d
Socrates then asks him if he has obtained this “knowledge” from others or found this out himself. Alcibiades answers that there is really no other alternative than those two possibilities. First, Socrates will pursue this line of questioning a bit later. However, he wants to examine Alcibiades’ confidence level in his areas of expertise first.
Socrates acknowledges that Alcibiades received an education. It included grammar, gymnastics, and stringed instruments like the lyre. He then proceeds with the following line of questioning:
Socrates: “Well then, when the Athenians are consulting together about the grammar of their language…at these times is it that you will rise up to give them your advice?”
Alcibiades: “By Jove, not I.”– 106e -107a
Socrates asks him about the lyre and wrestling, too, and Alcibiades answers the same. He then goes on to other areas:
Socrates: “On what subjects, then, of their consultations is it that you intend the giving them of your advise? It cannot be when building is the subject?”
Alcibiades: “No, certainly.”
Socrates: “Because in this case a builder would give them better advice than you could.”
Alcibiades: “True.”– 108a-b
Socrates makes similar inquires concerning divination and public health. Alcibiades’ answers are the same – he would not be qualified. The young man who thought that he knew much now sees that there are many areas in which he is deficient. Socrates now hones in with a laser focus:
Socrates: “Now, on what subject is it, when they are met in consultation together, that you will do right in rising up and giving them your counsel?”
Alcibiades: “‘Tis when they are in consultation, Socrates, about their own affairs.– 107e
“Their own affairs” is about as non-specific an answer as one could give. The dialogue continues with Socrates giving some suggestions, asking if he would give advice on the Athenian navy. Alcibiades answers no, he would remain silent. Socrates proposes that the reason Alcibiades would remain silent is because of his ignorance on this matter and Alcibiades agrees.
Finally, Socrates tries to find an area where Alcibiades appears confident. Although, Socrates has to pull it out of him and help him define it:
Socrates: “What affairs of their own then do you mean?”
Alcibiades: “I mean, Socrates, when they are deliberating about the making of war, or the making of peace, or concerning any other affairs of state.”
Socrates: “Do you mean, when they are deliberating on these points, when ’tis proper for them to make peace, and with whom to engage in war, and in what way ’tis proper to carry on war? Is this what you mean?”
Alcibiades: “It is.”– 107d
Finally, Socrates finds the area of Alcibiades’s expertise, nothing other than the statecraft of war and peace! This is remarkable since Alcibiades was non-qualified to give advice in areas of his own education that included grammar and wrestling.
Socrates Exposes the Ignorance of Alcibiades
After further inquiry, Socrates gets Alcibiades to admit that in the area of war and peace, it is justice that is the operative principle. Socrates then asks Alcibiades how he would know the best counsel to give concerning the just course of action in certain situations. Alcibiades does not have an answer. Socrates then replies:
Socrates: “And yet, on a subject which you profess to have the knowledge of, and rise up to give your judgment and advise on, as if you had this knowledge, are you not ashamed, when you are questioned, as I think you are, on this very subject, to be unable to give an answer, and to tell what is that which is best? And must not this inability appear to others shameful to you?”
Alcibiades: “Certainly it must.”– 108e-109a
When Socrates presses further, Alcibiades does not admit his ignorance in this case, since if he does, there is nowhere else to go in the argument. So Alcibiades insists on having some knowledge of justice.
Socrates then goes onto another line of questioning, asking Alcibiades if he ever remembers a time when he was ignorant of such matters, prompting him to seek out the knowledge of justice.
Socrates: “At what time then was it that you thought yourself ignorant in this?”
Alcibiades: “By Jove, Socrates, I am not able to tell.”– 110c
Socrates gets Alcibiades to see that he doesn’t know the first thing about justice since there was never a time that he was aware of being ignorant of such a subject. If there were, then he would have consciously sought for the knowledge of justice. The first qualification for expertise in a certain area of knowledge is to admit one’s ignorance in that area.
Socrates: “Mad therefore is the undertaking, my good sir, which you entertain thoughts of attempting to teach others what you are ignorant of yourself from your having neglected to learn it.”– 113c
Socrates exposes the heart of the matter with Alcibiades’ lack of self-discovery. It wasn’t that Alcibiades was ignorant in various areas of knowledge, for that is something that he cannot be faulted for. Rather, the root problem was Alcibiades’ double ignorance: He did not know that he did not know. Without such self-knowledge, knowledge about other things is impossible. This is very appropriate wisdom for today when everyone seems to be an expert in everything.
The knowledge of one’s double ignorance can only be found through a journey of self-discovery. This is why Socrates’ method of questioning is so effective. Instead of directly telling someone they are doubly ignorant, which few would readily admit, Socrates leads his student to that point through focused questioning.
Socrates tells us that there are three types of people: the knowing, the ignorant who know that they are ignorant, and the ignorant who think that they are knowing.
After much dialogue in between, Socrates finally brings home the positive point of the entire dialogue: Know thyself.
This, at heart, was Socrates’ basic theme. I covered this idea in depth in post 8 about the detriments of the unexamined life. Socrates did not originate this idea, as I mentioned in that post. It was pretty extensive in the classical Greek world. In fact, it was one of the three maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.8 But whereas others merely gave lip service to it, Socrates adopted it as a guiding principle of life.
The fact that this was one of three inscriptions carved on the forecourt out of 150 total inscriptions at the temple gives it a certain priority. It is as if to say that one cannot encounter the divine unless one has a true understanding of oneself.
In the context of justly going to war against one’s enemies. Socrates gives Alcibiades the following advice on what sort of persons we ought to be before we venture to attack our enemies:
Hearken therefore, my good sir, to the advice which I give you, in agreement with the Delphic inscription, Know Thyself….– 124a-b
Finally, after more discussion, Alcibiades has his eureka moment as he comes to the point of true self-knowledge:
Alcibiades: “Now by the gods, Socrates, I know not what I mean myself. But I am in danger of appearing to have been, of a long time, in a shameful state of mind, without being sensible to it.”
Socrates: “Now therefore you ought to take courage. For if fifty years of your life had elapsed before you had discovered the real state of your mind, an application of it to the care of yourself would have been a difficult task for you. But you are now at the very time of life in which a discovery should be made, to be of any advantage to you.”– 127d-e
Socrates reminds me of a drill instructor in the Marines. First, he tears his recruit down to the basics. Then, once the recruit comes to a true self-understanding of his limitations, he builds him back up again.
The True Nature of Man
We know Alcibiades’ ego has been broken by Socrates’ questions. At this point in the dialogue, a humbled Alcibiades asks:
What am I to do, Socrates, now that I am made sensible to my condition?– 127e
This is where the dialogue takes an interesting turn. I would expect that once Alcibiades is ready to learn from his teacher, Socrates would begin instructing him on the nature of justice. This preparation would help Alcibiades for his encounter with the Athenian assembly. However, Socrates does something different. Instead, he takes Alcibiades on a deeper journey of self-discovery. Socrates seeks to answer the question of our human identity. What is the essence of human nature?
Socrates starts by asking a simple question of what it means to take care of ourselves. He talks about the difference between taking care of ourselves directly. For example, caring for our feet. And taking care of things pertaining to ourselves, like our shoes. It is the cobbler’s art that takes care of our shoes. And the athlete’s art that takes care of our feet. We are not taking care of ourselves directly by taking care of our shoes. The shoe, he states, is a thing appurtenant to the body and not the body itself.
Socrates: “Now then, by what kind of art might we take care of ourselves?”
Alcibiades: “I have nothing to answer this question.”
Socrates: “And rightly so for how can we know what art would improve or make a man’s self better, so long as we are ignorant of what we ourselves are?”– 128d-e
The question Socrates asks of Alcibiades in the dialogue is whether it is easy or difficult to know oneself. He concludes that it is imperative to know ourselves, whether it is easy or difficult, in order to avoid remaining in darkness. This is really the question for today. How can we construct society that seeks the common good of man if we do not know the nature of man?
We have certainly painted ourselves into a dark corner in the West today. Because we do not know the answer to this question. At the time of this writing, there is a growing consensus of not being able to define what a woman is. Gender confusion is the norm among many today. This all stems from not being able to answer Socrates’ question.
Man As a Soul
Socrates uses an elaborate argument in order to posit that man has a soul. He starts by using various examples such as of a shoemaker who, Socrates states, is different from the tools that he uses such as a knife to cut leather. The shoemaker is different from his tools, the things used in his craft.
Socrates continues the above argument and states that the shoemaker also uses his hands and his eyes to control and guide the knife. Therefore, if the things used are different from the user, then the body is different from man. Just so, man makes use of his whole body to accomplish various things. Using the same argument above, he states that man uses his body as a tool, and similar to the shoemaker, is different from his body, so man is not his body.
What is man then if not his body? According to Socrates, man is some being who makes use of a body. He asks the question:
Does any being make use of the body other than the soul?– 129e
Socrates then states that there are three alternatives for man: that man is 1) a body, 2) a soul, or 3) a compound of them both, constituting one whole. Because the soul governs the body and not vice versa and because there can’t be two governors of one entity, Socrates concludes:
Since then neither the body, not the compound of soul and body together, is the man, it remains, I think, either that a man’s self is nothing at all, or if it be anything, it must be concluded that man is no other thing than a soul.9– 130c
According to Socrates, this is at the heart of self-discovery and knowing oneself:
He therefore enjoins a man to recognize the soul, he who gives this injunction – to know himself…. Whoever then has a knowledge only of his body, has indeed attained the knowledge of what is his, but not the knowledge of himself.– 130e -131a
Do we have knowledge only of our bodies today? The answer is a resounding yes. The Darwinistic materialism that we labor under today certainly reinforces this grim, nihilistic perspective. And the results can be devastating. (Of course, Plato made the opposite error of affirming the soul to the detriment of the body, but that is a topic for another time.)10
Consider the COVID crisis of 2020 and the ridiculous lockdowns that followed. The powers the be, both medical and civil, treated everyone like they were bodies only, devoid of souls. Souls need human interaction. So what did we do? We isolated people in their homes for months. Many purposely took their own lives or died from substance abuse. Also, many died alone and in loneliness, without their loved ones by their sides. For a soul to die alone, without anyone to hold their hand. Because of concern for a virus with a 99% survival rate is beyond all comprehension.
Even the Catholic Church, of which I am a part, closed churches and walled people off from the sacraments, including last rites, that were all designed to give life and nourishment to the soul. The bishops, in effect, became extensions of the local health departments instead of shepherds for people’s souls. All the while, liquor stores and strip clubs remained open. What kind of message does that send? And what is the use of keeping the body alive if a soul gets destroyed in the process?
This is just one of many examples of how our understanding of the true nature of man has profound implications for public policy.
Man As the Image of the Divine
Finally, Socrates takes us to the final destination on this journey of self-discovery. After establishing that we are souls, he then goads us on to know ourselves deeply by knowing our souls:
In what way then may we obtain to know the soul itself with the greatest dearness? For, when we know this, it seems we shall know ourselves.– 132c
He then explains the way to self-knowledge by using a profound analogy involving the eye. When we look into someone else’s eyes, we can see in their pupil not only a reflection of our faces, but of our eyes as well. He states:
An eye therefore beholding an eye, and looking in that most excellent part of it, in that with which it sees, may thus see itself? But if the eye looks at any other part of the man, or at anything else, except what this part of the eye happens to be like, it will not see itself. If therefore the eye would see itself, it must look in an eye, and in that place of the eye, too, where the virtue of the eye is naturally seated, and the virtue of the eye is sight.– 133b
Here we have the eye that beholds the eye that beholds it.
Socrates goes on to explain the meaning of this analogy in the following dialogue, which contains some very deep insights regarding self-discovery and is the high point of the Alcibiades dialogue:
Socrates: “Whether then is it not true, my friend Alcibiades, that the soul, if she would know herself, must look at the soul, and especially at that place in the soul in which wisdom, the virtue of the soul, is ingenerated, and also at whatever else this virtue of the soul resembles?”
Alcibiades: “To me, O Socrates, it seems true.”
Socrates: “This therefore in the soul resembles the divine nature. And a man, looking at this, and recognizing all that which is divine, and God and wisdom, would thus gain the most knowledge of himself.”
Alcibiades: “It is apparent.”
Socrates: “And to know oneself, we acknowledge to be wisdom.”
Alcibiades: “By all means.”
Socrates: “Shall we not say, therefore, that as mirrors are clearer, purer, and more splendid than that which is analogous to a mirror in the eye, in like manner, God is purer and more splendid than that which is best in our souls?”
Alcibiades: “It is likely, Socrates.”
Socrates: “Looking therefore at God, we should make use of him as the most beautiful mirror, and among human concerns we should look at the virtue of the soul, and thus, by so doing, shall we not especially see and know our very selves?”– 133b-c
Socrates is spot on here with this point. It is a foundational truth, which is why this theme was continued and developed in Christianity. Consider the quote from St. Augustine:
Let me know You, O You who know me; then shall I know even as I am known.– St. Augustine, from Confessions
We know ourselves by beholding God since we are made in His image.
The Outworking of Self-Knowledge in Society
Going now back to the issue of justice in society, it would be easy to attempt to correct bad government by rolling up one’s sleeves and trying to fix it. This is the utilitarian approach and is endemic, especially in the United States which prides itself on its pragmatism. A good phrase for this approach from the Monopoly game is “Go directly to utilitarian jail, do not pass the soul, do not collect wisdom.”
We have traded joyful communion with God and the wisdom that flows from that for a soulless utilitarianism that consists of technocratic bureaucrats and autocrats, who seek to control the minutest details of our lives. No medieval monarch ever had anywhere near such power. At least the medieval people were joyful for the most part. Modern man is miserable, and he, in futility, seeks to alleviate that misery by constructing a society based on his hedonistic lusts.
Juxtaposed to this, Socrates’ approach is nothing short of genius. Rather than trying to “fix” problems directly, he proposes a more indirect approach: true self-knowledge obtained by knowing God. Such a knowledge will foster wisdom and virtue. Since we all share a common humanity, then what is good for a single individual in general terms will be good for society as a whole. This is the only basis on which the common good can be discerned. This provides for a deeper and longer-lasting solution to ordering society since the virtues that we seek to inculcate are a natural outworking of our identity as humans, one that is anchored in and reflects the divine being.
In the West, with the rise of Christendom, we had for a thousand years, throughout the Middle Ages, a Christian ethos – made possible by the establishment of the Catholic Church – that provided moral guidance for society. With the fracturing and demise of Christendom that started with the Reformation, that has all been lost. Western civilization has been reduced to becoming a technocratic body without a spiritual soul. As a result, we have lost not only the true knowledge of the divine, but, as a consequence, true knowledge of ourselves, leaving us adrift like a ship without a rudder.
It follows that justice is found where God, the one supreme God, rules an obedient City according to this grace, forbidding sacrifice to any being save himself alone; and where in consequence the soul rules the body in all men who belong to this City and obey God, and the reason faithfully rules the vices in a lawful system of subordination; so that just as the individual righteous man lives on the basis of faith which is active in love, so the association, or people, of righteous men lives on the same basis of faith, active in love, the love with which a man loves God as God ought to be loved, and loves his neighbor as himself. But where this justice does not exist, there is certainly no ‘association of men united by a common sense of right and by a common interest.’ Therefore there is no commonwealth.– St. Augustine, City of God, 19.23
Any thoughts? Please comment below and don’t forget to subscribe. Thank you!
From Amazon: “It is thus rather useless to begin a study of the Platonic philosophy if we haven’t yet addressed this state of darkness we find ourselves in. And it is this liberation from our two-fold ignorance that is the design of the First Alcibiades. On this basis, we believe the choice to open the study of Plato with this dialogue was a wise choice adopted by Thomas Taylor in his five-volume collection, and would be a wise choice for any student of Plato.”
Footnotes and Endnotes:
- Plato, The First Alcibiades: A Dialogue Concerning the Nature of Man, v, Additional Notes drawn from the MS Commentary of Proclus, Thomas Taylor author, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 7, 2016)
- Denyer, Nicholas, “introduction”, in Plato, Alcibiades, Nicholas Denyer (ed.) (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 15.
- The natural outworking of the extreme skepticism of post-Enlightenment modernism has led to the postmodern conclusion that there is only subjective truth, which really comes full circle back to where it started with Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum. As we will see, Socrates refutes such thinking in this present dialogue (Alcibiades).
- Plato, The First Alcibiades: A Dialogue Concerning the Nature of Man, vi
- In Plato’s Apology, which recounts the trial of Socrates, Socrates testifies to the fact that since his youth, he was guided by a divine spirit. This spirit or daemon did not so much give him positive direction, but prevented him from doing things that he shouldn’t do by putting impediments in his way. The word “daemon” simply meant “lesser god, guiding spirit, tutelary deity” in classical times. It wasn’t until post-classical time that the word actually came to mean “demon.”
- According to Plato in Charmides, the three maxims carved in the forecourt of the temple were “Know thyself,” “Nothing in excess,” and “Surety brings ruin.” According to the the 5th century scholar Stobeaus, there were 147 more inscriptions carved on the inside of the temple.
- See “Soul Man”, by the Blues Brothers.
- Plato was on the right track but went off the mark with his body-soul dualism. Christianity would later correct by stating Plato’s third choice above is closer to the right answer, that man is “a compound of them both, constituting one whole.” It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss this in depth, but according to Catholic teaching, “the human person, though made of body and soul, is a unity. In itself, in its very bodily condition, it synthesizes the elements of the material world, which through it are thus brought to their highest perfection” (Gaudium et Spes 14). For more information on this body-soul unity, please see my post on the resurrection.
Plato, The First Alcibiades: A Dialogue Concerning the Nature of Man, Additional Notes drawn from the MS Commentary of Proclus, Thomas Taylor author, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 7, 2016)
Plato, The Works of Plato in Five Volumes, translation and commentary by Thomas Taylor, Published by Prometheus Trust, Frome, 1996
Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Alcibiades
Renaud, Francois; Tarrant, Harold, The Platonic Alcibiades I, The Dialogue and its Ancient Reception, Cambridge University Press, first published 2015, first paperback edition 2018.