On the Theages

The Theages dialogue is now considered a spurious Platonic dialogue. It mirrors the form but not the content of the Laches. Whereas in Plato’s Laches, the theme explicitly concerns ‘Courage,” the theme of the Theages is wisdom.

Demodocus, perhaps the noted military man from Thucydides, is frantic and goes to visit Socrates. They speak in private at Socrates’s “leisure” under the portico in dedication to Zeus who helped the pious old democrats – Marathon fighters – to win over the Persian enemies. Demodocus is a retiring statesman. military man, and farmer who infrequently visits the city. He is the Platonic counterpart to Strepsiades, the farmer father in Aristophanes’s Clouds. He is fearful as his son desires to visit the sophists, like many of the other boys, and Demodocus is worried about the counsel and education his son will receive. He is not as much concerned with the money charged by the sophists but wants for his son to receive a good and proper education.

Through the elenchus, Socrates speaks directly to Demodocus’s son, Theages, a “noble” name (meaning “god-revering” or perhaps “god-envying”), and Socrates discovers that Theages is interested in wisdom, but he understands this wisdom to mean finding a teacher who will instruct him in how to rule as many men as possible. In other words, he has tyrannical impulses. At the root of the pursuit of wisdom is some desire to rule over men who are less wise. After testing his soul with three analogies, Socrates discovers Theages is unsuitable for the task, and instead Socrates rebukes him and offers the option of a more civic-minded pursuit. Eventually Socrates invokes the “daemon,” as a cover for his mode of inquiry which has dangerous political ramifications, thus removing the totality of blame from himself and his followers or progeny. The short dialogue is an example of how Socrates deals with the young who are ill-prepared for the pursuit of wisdom, rather than merely the acquisition of wisdom, and also with those who are drawn to the radical idleness of the sophists.

For this reading I used the Agora Edition of “The Roots of Political Philosophy: Ten Forgotten Socratic Dialogues” and edited by Thomas Pangle. This translation was completed by Thomas Pangle.

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