Excerpt from Cratylus


In which Plato constructs philosophical etymologies for the names of the gods:

Sokrates: Let us inquire what thought men had in giving them [the gods] their names . . . The first men who gave names [to the gods] were no ordinary persons, but high thinkers and great talkers . . . Let us, then, speak of his [Zeus’] brothers, Poseidon and Plouton, including also the other name of the latter . . . Plouton, he was so named as the giver of wealth (ploutos), because wealth comes up from below out of the earth. And
Haides — I fancy most people think that this is a name of the Invisible (aeidês), so they are afraid and call him Plouton. I think people have many false notions about the power of this god, and are unduly afraid of him. They are afraid because when we are once dead we remain in his realm forever, and they are also terrified because the soul goes to him without the covering of the body. But I think all these facts, and the office and the name of the god, point in the same direction . . . Please answer this
question : Which is the stronger bond upon any living being to keep him in any one place, desire, or compulsion?

Hermogenes: Desire, Socrates, is much stronger.

Sokrates: Then do you not believe there would be many fugitives from Haides, if he did not bind with the strongest bond those who go to him there? . . . Apparently, then, if he binds them with the strongest bond, he binds them by some kind of desire, not by compulsion . . . There are many desires, are there not? . . . Then he binds with the desire which is the strongest of all, if he is to restrain them with the strongest bond . . . And is there any desire stronger than the thought of being made a better man by association with some one? . . . Then, Hermogenes, we must believe that this is the reason why no one has been willing to come away from that other world, not even the Sirens [Seirenes], but they and all others have been overcome by his enchantments, so beautiful, as it appears, are the words which Haides has the power to speak; and from this point of view this god is a perfect
sophist and a great benefactor of those in his realm, he who also bestows such great blessings upon us who are on earth; such abundance surrounds him there below, and for this reason he is called Plouton. Then, too, he refuses to consort with men while they have bodies, but only accepts their society when the soul is pure of all the evils and desires of the body. Do you not think this shows him to be a philosopher and to understand perfectly that
under these conditions he could restrain them by binding them with the desire of virtue, but that so long as they are infected with the unrest and madness of the body, not even his father Kronos could hold them to himself, though he bound them with his famous chains? . . . And the name ‘Haides’ is not in the least derived from the invisible (aeides), but far more probably
from knowing (eidenai) all noble things, and for that reason he was called Haides by the lawgiver. — 400d, 402d-404d

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