Written 360 B.C.E
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
Under a plane-tree, by the banks of the Ilissus.
Socrates. My dear Phaedrus, whence come you, and whither are you going?
Phaedrus. I come from Lysias the son of Cephalus, and I am going to take a walk outside the wall, for I have
been sitting with him the whole morning; and our common friend Acumenus tells me that it is much more
refreshing to walk in the open air than to be shut up in a cloister.
Soc. There he is right. Lysias then, I suppose, was in the town?
Phaedr. Yes, he was staying with Epicrates, here at the house of Morychus; that house which is near the temple
of Olympian Zeus.
Soc. And how did he entertain you? Can I be wrong in supposing that Lysias gave you a feast of discourse?
Phaedr. You shall hear, if you can spare time to accompany me.
Soc. And should I not deem the conversation of you and Lysias "a thing of higher import," as I may say in the
words of Pindar, "than any business"?
Phaedr. Will you go on?
Soc. And will you go on with the narration?
Phaedr. My tale, Socrates, is one of your sort, for love was the theme which occupied us -love after a fashion:
Lysias has been writing about a fair youth who was being tempted, but not by a lover; and this was the point: he
ingeniously proved that the non-lover should be accepted rather than the lover.
Soc. O that is noble of him! I wish that he would say the poor man rather than the rich, and the old man rather
than the young one; then he would meet the case of me and of many a man; his words would be quite refreshing,
and he would be a public benefactor. For my part, I do so long to hear his speech, that if you walk all the way to
Megara, and when you have reached the wall come back, as Herodicus recommends, without going in, I will
keep you company.
Phaedr. What do you mean, my good Socrates? How can you imagine that my unpractised memory can do
justice to an elaborate work, which the greatest rhetorician of the age spent a long time in composing. Indeed, I
cannot; I would give a great deal if I could.
Soc. I believe that I know Phaedrus about as well as I know myself, and I am very sure that the speech of Lysias
was repeated to him, not once only, but again and again;-he insisted on hearing it many times over and Lysias
was very willing to gratify him; at last, when nothing else would do, he got hold of the book, and looked at what
he most wanted to see,-this occupied him during the whole morning; -and then when he was tired with sitting, he
went out to take a walk, not until, by the dog, as I believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire discourse,
unless it was unusually long, and he went to a place outside the wall that he might practise his lesson. There he
saw a certain lover of discourse who had a similar weakness;-he saw and rejoiced; now thought he, "I shall have
a partner in my revels." And he invited him to come and walk with him. But when the lover of discourse begged
that he would repeat the tale, he gave himself airs and said, "No I cannot," as if he were indisposed; although, if
the hearer had refused, he would sooner or later have been compelled by him to listen whether he would or no.
Therefore, Phaedrus, bid him do at once what he will soon do whether bidden or not.
Phaedr. I see that you will not let me off until I speak in some fashion or other; verily therefore my best plan is to
speak as I best can.
Soc. A very true remark, that of yours.
Phaedr. I will do as I say; but believe me, Socrates, I did not learn the very words-O no; nevertheless I have a
general notion of what he said, and will give you a summary of the points in which the lover differed from the
non-lover. Let me begin at the beginning.
Soc. Yes, my sweet one; but you must first of all show what you have in your left hand under your cloak, for that
roll, as I suspect, is the actual discourse. Now, much as I love you, I would not have you suppose that I am going
to have your memory exercised at my expense, if you have Lysias himself here.
Phaedr. Enough; I see that I have no hope of practising my art upon you. But if I am to read, where would you
please to sit?
Soc. Let us turn aside and go by the Ilissus; we will sit down at some quiet spot.
Phaedr. I am fortunate in not having my sandals, and as you never have any, I think that we may go along the
brook and cool our feet in the water; this will be the easiest way, and at midday and in the summer is far from
Soc. Lead on, and look out for a place in which we can sit down.
Phaedr. Do you see the tallest plane-tree in the distance?
Phaedr. There are shade and gentle breezes, and grass on which we may either sit or lie down.
Soc. Move forward.
Phaedr. I should like to know, Socrates, whether the place is not somewhere here at which Boreas is said to
have carried off Orithyia from the banks of the Ilissus?
Soc. Such is the tradition.
Phaedr. And is this the exact spot? The little stream is delightfully clear and bright; I can fancy that there might be
maidens playing near.
Soc. I believe that the spot is not exactly here, but about a quarter of a mile lower down, where you cross to the
temple of Artemis, and there is, I think, some sort of an altar of Boreas at the place.
Phaedr. I have never noticed it; but I beseech you to tell me, Socrates, do you believe this tale?
Soc. The wise are doubtful, and I should not be singular if, like them, I too doubted. I might have a rational
explanation that Orithyia was playing with Pharmacia, when a northern gust carried her over the neighbouring
rocks; and this being the manner of her death, she was said to have been carried away by Boreas. There is a
discrepancy, however, about the locality; according to another version of the story she was taken from
Areopagus, and not from this place. Now I quite acknowledge that these allegories are very nice, but he is not to
be envied who has to invent them; much labour and ingenuity will be required of him; and when he has once
begun, he must go on and rehabilitate Hippocentaurs and chimeras dire. Gorgons and winged steeds flow in
apace, and numberless other inconceivable and portentous natures. And if he is sceptical about them, and would
fain reduce them one after another to the rules of probability, this sort of crude philosophy will take up a great
deal of time. Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself, as the
Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my
own self, would be ridiculous. And therefore I bid farewell to all this; the common opinion is enough for me. For,
as I was saying, I want to know not about this, but about myself: am I a monster more complicated and swollen
with passion than the serpent Typho, or a creature of a gentler and simpler sort, to whom Nature has given a
diviner and lowlier destiny? But let me ask you, friend: have we not reached the plane-tree to which you were
Phaedr. Yes, this is the tree.
Soc. By Here, a fair resting-place, full of summer sounds and scents. Here is this lofty and spreading plane-tree,
and the agnus cast us high and clustering, in the fullest blossom and the greatest fragrance; and the stream which
flows beneath the plane-tree is deliciously cold to the feet. Judging from the ornaments and images, this must be a
spot sacred to Achelous and the Nymphs. How delightful is the breeze:-so very sweet; and there is a sound in the
air shrill and summerlike which makes answer to the chorus of the cicadae. But the greatest charm of all is the
grass, like a pillow gently sloping to the head. My dear Phaedrus, you have been an admirable guide.
Phaedr. What an incomprehensible being you are, Socrates: when you are in the country, as you say, you really
are like some stranger who is led about by a guide. Do you ever cross the border? I rather think that you never
venture even outside the gates.
Soc. Very true, my good friend; and I hope that you will excuse me when you hear the reason, which is, that I am
a lover of knowledge, and the men who dwell in the city are my teachers, and not the trees or the country.
Though I do indeed believe that you have found a spell with which to draw me out of the city into the country,
like a hungry cow before whom a bough or a bunch of fruit is waved. For only hold up before me in like manner
a book, and you may lead me all round Attica, and over the wide world. And now having arrived, I intend to lie
down, and do you choose any posture in which you can read best. Begin.
Phaedr. Listen. You know how matters stand with me; and how, as I conceive, this affair may be arranged for
the advantage of both of us. And I maintain that I ought not to fail in my suit, because I am not your lover: for
lovers repent of the kindnesses which they have shown when their passion ceases, but to the non-lovers who are
free and not under any compulsion, no time of repentance ever comes; for they confer their benefits according to
the measure of their ability, in the way which is most conducive to their own interest. Then again, lovers consider
how by reason of their love they have neglected their own concerns and rendered service to others: and when to
these benefits conferred they add on the troubles which they have endured, they think that they have long ago
made to the beloved a very ample return. But the non-lover has no such tormenting recollections; he has never
neglected his affairs or quarrelled with his relations; he has no troubles to add up or excuse to invent; and being
well rid of all these evils, why should he not freely do what will gratify the beloved?
If you say that the lover is more to be esteemed, because his love is thought to be greater; for he is willing to say
and do what is hateful to other men, in order to please his beloved;-that, if true, is only a proof that he will prefer
any future love to his present, and will injure his old love at the pleasure of the new. And how, in a matter of such
infinite importance, can a man be right in trusting himself to one who is afflicted with a malady which no
experienced person would attempt to cure, for the patient himself admits that he is not in his right mind, and
acknowledges that he is wrong in his mind, but says that he is unable to control himself? And if he came to his
right mind, would he ever imagine that the desires were good which he conceived when in his wrong mind? Once
more, there are many more non-lovers than lovers; and if you choose the best of the lovers, you will not have
many to choose from; but if from the non-lovers, the choice will be larger, and you will be far more likely to find
among them a person who is worthy of your friendship. If public opinion be your dread, and you would avoid
reproach, in all probability the lover, who is always thinking that other men are as emulous of him as he is of them,
will boast to some one of his successes, and make a show of them openly in the pride of his heart;-he wants
others to know that his labour has not been lost; but the non-lover is more his own master, and is desirous of
solid good, and not of the opinion of mankind. Again, the lover may be generally noted or seen following the
beloved (this is his regular occupation), and whenever they are observed to exchange two words they are
supposed to meet about some affair of love either past or in contemplation; but when non-lovers meet, no one
asks the reason why, because people know that talking to another is natural, whether friendship or mere pleasure
be the motive.
Once more, if you fear the fickleness of friendship, consider that in any other case a quarrel might be a mutual
calamity; but now, when you have given up what is most precious to you, you will be the greater loser, and
therefore, you will have more reason in being afraid of the lover, for his vexations are many, and he is always
fancying that every one is leagued against him. Wherefore also he debars his beloved from society; he will not
have you intimate with the wealthy, lest they should exceed him in wealth, or with men of education, lest they
should be his superiors in understanding; and he is equally afraid of anybody's influence who has any other
advantage over himself. If he can persuade you to break with them, you are left without friend in the world; or if,
out of a regard to your own interest, you have more sense than to comply with his desire, you will have to quarrel
with him. But those who are non-lovers, and whose success in love is the reward of their merit, will not be jealous
of the companions of their beloved, and will rather hate those who refuse to be his associates, thinking that their
favourite is slighted by the latter and benefited by the former; for more love than hatred may be expected to come
to him out of his friendship with others. Many lovers too have loved the person of a youth before they knew his
character or his belongings; so that when their passion has passed away, there is no knowing whether they will
continue to be his friends; whereas, in the case of non-lovers who were always friends, the friendship is not
lessened by the favours granted; but the recollection of these remains with them, and is an earnest of good things
Further, I say that you are likely to be improved by me, whereas the lover will spoil you. For they praise your
words and actions in a wrong way; partly, because they are afraid of offending you, and also, their judgment is
weakened by passion. Such are the feats which love exhibits; he makes things painful to the disappointed which
give no pain to others; he compels the successful lover to praise what ought not to give him pleasure, and
therefore the beloved is to be pitied rather than envied. But if you listen to me, in the first place, I, in my
intercourse with you, shall not merely regard present enjoyment, but also future advantage, being not mastered by
love, but my own master; nor for small causes taking violent dislikes, but even when the cause is great, slowly
laying up little wrath-unintentional offences I shall forgive, and intentional ones I shall try to prevent; and these are
the marks of a friendship which will last.
Do you think that a lover only can be a firm friend? reflect:-if this were true, we should set small value on sons, or
fathers, or mothers; nor should we ever have loyal friends, for our love of them arises not from passion, but from
other associations. Further, if we ought to shower favours on those who are the most eager suitors,-on that
principle, we ought always to do good, not to the most virtuous, but to the most needy; for they are the persons
who will be most relieved, and will therefore be the most grateful; and when you make a feast you should invite
not your friend, but the beggar and the empty soul; for they will love you, and attend you, and come about your
doors, and will be the best pleased, and the most grateful, and will invoke many a blessing on your head. Yet
surely you ought not to be granting favours to those who besiege you with prayer, but to those who are best able
to reward you; nor to the lover only, but to those who are worthy of love; nor to those who will enjoy the bloom
of your youth, but to those who will share their possessions with you in age; nor to those who, having succeeded,
will glory in their success to others, but to those who will be modest and tell no tales; nor to those who care about
you for a moment only, but to those who will continue your friends through life; nor to those who, when their
passion is over, will pick a quarrel with you, but rather to those who, when the charm of youth has left you, will
show their own virtue. Remember what I have said; and consider yet this further point: friends admonish the lover
under the idea that his way of life is bad, but no one of his kindred ever yet censured the non-lover, or thought
that he was ill-advised about his own interests.
"Perhaps you will ask me whether I propose that you should indulge every non-lover. To which I reply that not
even the lover would advise you to indulge all lovers, for the indiscriminate favour is less esteemed by the rational
recipient, and less easily hidden by him who would escape the censure of the world. Now love ought to be for
the advantage of both parties, and for the injury of neither.
"I believe that I have said enough; but if there is anything more which you desire or which in your opinion needs to
be supplied, ask and I will answer."
Now, Socrates, what do you think? Is not the discourse excellent, more especially in the matter of the language?
Soc. Yes, quite admirable; the effect on me was ravishing. And this I owe to you, Phaedrus, for I observed you
while reading to be in an ecstasy, and thinking that you are more experienced in these matters than I am, I
followed your example, and, like you, my divine darling, I became inspired with a phrenzy.
Phaedr. Indeed, you are pleased to be merry.
Soc. Do you mean that I am not in earnest?
Phaedr. Now don't talk in that way, Socrates, but let me have your real opinion; I adjure you, by Zeus, the god
of friendship, to tell me whether you think that any Hellene could have said more or spoken better on the same
Soc. Well, but are you and I expected to praise the sentiments of the author, or only the clearness, and
roundness, and finish, and tournure of the language? As to the first I willingly submit to your better judgment, for I
am not worthy to form an opinion, having only attended to the rhetorical manner; and I was doubting whether this
could have been defended even by Lysias himself; I thought, though I speak under correction, that he repeated
himself two or three times, either from want of words or from want of pains; and also, he appeared to me
ostentatiously to exult in showing how well he could say the same thing in two or three ways.
Phaedr. Nonsense, Socrates; what you call repetition was the especial merit of the speech; for he omitted no
topic of which the subject rightly allowed, and I do not think that any one could have spoken better or more
Soc. There I cannot go along with you. Ancient sages, men and women, who have spoken and written of these
things, would rise up in judgment against me, if out of complaisance I assented to you.
Phaedr. Who are they, and where did you hear anything better than this?
Soc. I am sure that I must have heard; but at this moment I do not remember from whom; perhaps from Sappho
the fair, or Anacreon the wise; or, possibly, from a prose writer. Why do I say so? Why, because I perceive that
my bosom is full, and that I could make another speech as good as that of Lysias, and different. Now I am
certain that this is not an invention of my own, who am well aware that I know nothing, and therefore I can only
infer that I have been filled through the cars, like a pitcher, from the waters of another, though I have actually
forgotten in my stupidity who was my informant.
Phaedr. That is grand:-but never mind where you beard the discourse or from whom; let that be a mystery not to
be divulged even at my earnest desire. Only, as you say, promise to make another and better oration, equal in
length and entirely new, on the same subject; and I, like the nine Archons, will promise to set up a golden image
at Delphi, not only of myself, but of you, and as large as life.
Soc. You are a dear golden ass if you suppose me to mean that Lysias has altogether missed the mark, and that I
can make a speech from which all his arguments are to be excluded. The worst of authors will say something
which is to the point. Who, for example, could speak on this thesis of yours without praising the discretion of the
non-lover and blaming the indiscretion of the lover? These are the commonplaces of the subject which must come
in (for what else is there to be said?) and must be allowed and excused; the only merit is in the arrangement of
them, for there can be none in the invention; but when you leave the commonplaces, then there may be some
Phaedr. I admit that there is reason in what you say, and I too will be reasonable, and will allow you to start with
the premiss that the lover is more disordered in his wits than the non-lover; if in what remains you make a longer
and better speech than Lysias, and use other arguments, then I say again, that a statue you shall have of beaten
gold, and take your place by the colossal offerings of the Cypselids at Olympia.
Soc. How profoundly in earnest is the lover, because to tease him I lay a finger upon his love! And so, Phaedrus,
you really imagine that I am going to improve upon the ingenuity of Lysias?
Phaedr. There I have you as you had me, and you must just speak "as you best can." Do not let us exchange "tu
quoque" as in a farce, or compel me to say to you as you said to me, "I know Socrates as well as I know myself,
and he was wanting to, speak, but he gave himself airs." Rather I would have you consider that from this place
we stir not until you have unbosomed yourself of the speech; for here are we all alone, and I am stronger,
remember, and younger than you-Wherefore perpend, and do not compel me to use violence.
Soc. But, my sweet Phaedrus, how ridiculous it would be of me to compete with Lysias in an extempore speech!
He is a master in his art and I am an untaught man.
Phaedr. You see how matters stand; and therefore let there be no more pretences; for, indeed, I know the word
that is irresistible.
Soc. Then don't say it.
Phaedr. Yes, but I will; and my word shall be an oath. "I say, or rather swear"-but what god will be witness of
my oath?-"By this plane-tree I swear, that unless you repeat the discourse here in the face of this very plane-tree,
I will never tell you another; never let you have word of another!"
Soc. Villain I am conquered; the poor lover of discourse has no more to say.
Phaedr. Then why are you still at your tricks?
Soc. I am not going to play tricks now that you have taken the oath, for I cannot allow myself to be starved.
Soc. Shall I tell you what I will do?
Soc. I will veil my face and gallop through the discourse as fast as I can, for if I see you I shall feel ashamed and
not know what to say.
Phaedr. Only go on and you may do anything else which you please.
Soc. Come, O ye Muses, melodious, as ye are called, whether you have received this name from the character of
your strains, or because the Melians are a musical race, help, O help me in the tale which my good friend here
desires me to rehearse, in order that his friend whom he always deemed wise may seem to him to be wiser than
Once upon a time there was a fair boy, or, more properly speaking, a youth; he was very fair and had a great
many lovers; and there was one special cunning one, who had persuaded the youth that he did not love him, but
he really loved him all the same; and one day when he was paying his addresses to him, he used this very
argument-that he ought to accept the non-lover rather than the lover; his words were as follows:-
"All good counsel begins in the same way; a man should know what he is advising about, or his counsel will all
come to nought. But people imagine that they know about the nature of things, when they don't know about them,
and, not having come to an understanding at first because they think that they know, they end, as might be
expected, in contradicting one another and themselves. Now you and I must not be guilty of this fundamental
error which we condemn in others; but as our question is whether the lover or non-lover is to be preferred, let us
first of all agree in defining the nature and power of love, and then, keeping our eyes upon the definition and to
this appealing, let us further enquire whether love brings advantage or disadvantage.
"Every one sees that love is a desire, and we know also that non-lovers desire the beautiful and good. Now in
what way is the lover to be distinguished from the non-lover? Let us note that in every one of us there are two
guiding and ruling principles which lead us whither they will; one is the natural desire of pleasure, the other is an
acquired opinion which aspires after the best; and these two are sometimes in harmony and then again at war,
and sometimes the one, sometimes the other conquers. When opinion by the help of reason leads us to the best,
the conquering principle is called temperance; but when desire, which is devoid of reason, rules in us and drags us
to pleasure, that power of misrule is called excess. Now excess has many names, and many members, and many
forms, and any of these forms when very marked gives a name, neither honourable nor creditable, to the bearer
of the name. The desire of eating, for example, which gets the better of the higher reason and the other desires, is
called gluttony, and he who is possessed by it is called a glutton-I the tyrannical desire of drink, which inclines the
possessor of the desire to drink, has a name which is only too obvious, and there can be as little doubt by what
name any other appetite of the same family would be called;-it will be the name of that which happens to be
eluminant. And now I think that you will perceive the drift of my discourse; but as every spoken word is in a
manner plainer than the unspoken, I had better say further that the irrational desire which overcomes the tendency
of opinion towards right, and is led away to the enjoyment of beauty, and especially of personal beauty, by the
desires which are her own kindred-that supreme desire, I say, which by leading conquers and by the force of
passion is reinforced, from this very force, receiving a name, is called love."
And now, dear Phaedrus, I shall pause for an instant to ask whether you do not think me, as I appear to myself,
Phaedr. Yes, Socrates, you seem to have a very unusual flow of words.
Soc. Listen to me, then, in silence; for surely the place is holy; so that you must not wonder, if, as I proceed, I
appear to be in a divine fury, for already I am getting into dithyrambics.
Phaedr. Nothing can be truer.
Soc. The responsibility rests with you. But hear what follows, and Perhaps the fit may be averted; all is in their
hands above. I will go on talking to my youth. Listen:
Thus, my friend, we have declared and defined the nature of the subject. Keeping the definition in view, let us
now enquire what advantage or disadvantage is likely to ensue from the lover or the non-lover to him who
accepts their advances.
He who is the victim of his passions and the slave of pleasure will of course desire to make his beloved as
agreeable to himself as possible. Now to him who has a mind discased anything is agreeable which is not
opposed to him, but that which is equal or superior is hateful to him,