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No reader of Plato, it is presumed, will feel any surprise at finding this little work not brought forward in the series of his properly philosophical writings, to which, inasmuch as no philosophical subject is treated of in any part of it, the Menexenus has as little claim to belong as the Apology of Socrates. The occasion of the latter, however, is clear and manifest; but what can have induced Plato to venture at a late period into the province, to him entirely strange, of regular state speeches, may reasonably be expected to be not very possible for us now to decide; at least, nothing appears in the work itself which could give a determinate direction to the conjectures of ingenuity. That the speech is placed in some relation to the funeral oration of Pericles, which Thucydides has preserved to us, is certainly manifest, but when Socrates refers both to one authoress, and that authoress Aspasia, this is a jest, out of which it will not be easy for any one to extract any serious meaning ; nor, when he says that the later oration contains much that was omitted in the earlier, is this a much more available indication, inasmuch as the aim of the two speeches is so completely different in each, that we do not see why the second should have in any way contained what we find in the first, and we might feel more satisfied with this opinion, if it was pronounced by a later author who had laid it down as a law at starting, that such a speech must begin from the beginning with a panegyric upon all the exploits of the Athenian people.
Another thing which may easily strike any one is, that Plato probably intended in this speech to set up a counterpart to one of Lysias, and in fact, when we compare the funeral oration of this rhetorician on the same occasion with that which we are considering, it is not possible to overlook a great similarity in point of arrangement, and an equally great diversity in point of character and execution. What is loosely connected together in Lysias is here combined into a whole, by means of distinctly enunciated ideas, the connection of which is impressed upon the hearer by means of words, whose sound is an echo of their sense, brought into strong and prominent relief; the tender element in the sorrow is compensated by manly advice, and the whole speech is at the same time pervaded by a more exalted aim. But had this contrast been the actual object in view, must we not suppose that Plato, who so well understands how to give a hint, would have found some means of intimating the same in the dialogue which comprehends the speech F
If then this explanation also leaves us where we were, might we not venture to say, that Plato intended by such a speech as this to give a practical answer to the objection occasionally brought up against him, that his dislike to the art of speaking was the result of his own incapacity to prepare speeches, which Socrates in his dialogue is so often obliged jestingly to acknowledge P and that he chose in particular this opportunity for doing so, because in the Corinthian war one of his own friends had met his death P Nay, that from his partiality to this exhibition, he has himself practised the severely censured and hypocritical department of the corrupting art, inasmuch as in the historical nar
rative here given, none but the fair side is ever presented, and all faults in the state are withdrawn into the dimmest obscurity, while in particular, the later relations with the national enemy of the Hellenes, the Persian king, are embellished and represented in a manner which may scarcely be justified upon historical grounds. And therefore it is, we might suppose, that Socrates treats it as such an easy matter to flatter the people before the people, and hence too, that the speech is ascribed to Aspasia, who must have been pretty well versed in the art of seductive embellishment. And in like manner another person might say, that as Plato in the Philebus relaxes his overstrained polemics against the art of speaking, so likewise he did the same at an earlier period in the present dialogue in act and deed. For that the Menexenus is in fact nothing but an attempt to improve, by giving them a better direction, all these speeches in which the people were ordinarily only flattered; and that the appearance of this flattery is all that is preserved in the present case, and that there is manifest throughout, an endeavour to bring into right vivid consciousness the true idea of the Athenian people and state, in order by this means to give a more exalted turn to the national mind. And a third, again, might make an attempt to connect the present dialogue with the Symposium, in a sense different from that in which the former connected it with the Philebus. For appealing to the great difficulty which exists of explaining the whole, if we take it in a serious point of view, and to the way in which even what Plato must have been most in earnest with, I mean the recommendations to virtue, is itself pushed beyond the line of all that is serious, by repetition and bantering, he might attempt to represent it as in the main a playful imitation of the rhetorical styles. And who can tell how much a skilful critic, having once given a hint of this view, furnished with great reading in the orators, and the commentaries upon them, might not bring forward in support of the same ; something certainly more profound and various than what Dionysius says, who only reminds us of Gorgias, Licymnus, and Polus, and once, in passing, of Agathon. But as far as we are concerned every reader may find in the speech as must jest or earnest as he will, and conjecture according to his own motions what Plato meant by it; much, however, will be gained at once, if we could but persuade our readers not to attribute to the dialogue which contains the speech, a similar value with the speech itself, nor pay it the same regard, for then, at all events, the difficulty vanishes, which arises from the circumstance that none of the different views will meet with any confirmation in the dialogue. We are indeed fully aware that by many persons even the introduction has been discovered to be beautiful, and has been much admired by them. But with how much that is unplatonic has this been the case when it has once come forward under the name of Plato. Certainly, at least, even supposing Plato to have written this introduction, it is not particularly worthy of him. To go no further, for the omission already censured, that it does not assist us in the slightest degree to a trace with regard to the particular meaning of the whole, this dialogic setting deserves some blame, and moreover no discriminating reader, we presume, will receive much pleasure from the awkward deference of Menexenus, who will only take in hand public affairs when Socrates permits it, nor from the pointless way in which Socrates expresses his opinion, that he must certainly be a great orator by reason of Aspasia's instructions, nor from the coarse jest, that he nearly got a beating on account of his slowness at learning, and that he would even dance naked for love of Menexenus. It is certainly a very pardonable suspicion, that this setting is probably the work of another author, who gladly set himself to construct a dialogue out of the speech, and thought it impossible that a Platonic creation should come into the world without Socrates. Such a person may then have easily given in Aspasia an awkward imitation of Diotima, and thus have fallen unsuspectingly into an anachronism with which none of the others of Plato are at all comparable : I mean, that Socrates delivers a speech referring completely and entirely to something that did not ensue until long after his death, and that he professes to have this speech from Aspasia, who must have been already dead long before him. And thus it would be in vain to look for any serious meaning in the promise given by Socrates to produce yet more such state speeches from the mouth of his mistress.
W. THE LARGER HIPPIAS.
THE object of this dialogue is certainly purely philosophical. For the explanation of the idea of the beautiful in its full extent, as it embraces material things as well as immaterial, would certainly be worth the trouble, and quite as important as regards the philosophy of Plato, as the object of many of the smaller