LYSIS, or Friendship
translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
SOCRATES, who is the narrator;
SCENE: A newly-erected Palaestra outside the walls of Athens.
I was going from the Academy straight to the Lyceum, intending
to take the outer road, which is close under the wall. When I
came to the postern gate of the city, which is by the fountain of
Panops, I fell in with Hippothales, the son of Hieronymus, and
Ctesippus the Paeanian, and a company of young men who were
standing with them. Hippothales, seeing me approach, asked whence
I came and whither I was going.
I am going, I replied, from the Academy straight to the Lyceum.
Then come straight to us, he said, and put in here; you may as
Who are you, I said; and where am I to come?
He showed me an enclosed space and an open door over against
the wall. And there, he said, is the building at which we all
meet: and a goodly company we are.
And what is this building, I asked; and what sort of
entertainment have you?
The building, he replied, is a newly erected Palaestra; and
the entertainment is generally conversation, to which you are
Thank you, I said; and is there any teacher there?
Yes, he said, your old friend and admirer, Miccus.
Indeed, I replied; he is a very eminent professor.
Are you disposed, he said, to go with me and see them?
Yes, I said; but I should like to know first, what is expected
of me, and who is the favourite among you?
Some persons have one favourite, Socrates, and some another,
And who is yours? I asked: tell me that, Hippothales.
At this he blushed; and I said to him, O Hippothales, thou son
of Hieronymus! do not say that you are, or that you are not, in
love; the confession is too late; for I see that you are not only
in love, but are already far gone in your love. Simple and
foolish as I am, the Gods have given me the power of
understanding affections of this kind.
Whereupon he blushed more and more.
Ctesippus said: I like to see you blushing, Hippothales, and
hesitating to tell Socrates the name; when, if he were with you
but for a very short time, you would have plagued him to death by
talking about nothing else. Indeed, Socrates, he has literally
deafened us, and stopped our ears with the praises of Lysis; and
if he is a little intoxicated, there is every likelihood that we
may have our sleep murdered with a cry of Lysis. His performances
in prose are bad enough, but nothing at all in comparison with
his verse; and when he drenches us with his poems and other
compositions, it is really too bad; and worse still is his manner
of singing them to his love; he has a voice which is truly
appalling, and we cannot help hearing him: and now having a
question put to him by you, behold he is blushing.
Who is Lysis? I said: I suppose that he must be young; for the
name does not recall any one to me.
Why, he said, his father being a very well known man, he
retains his patronymic, and is not as yet commonly called by his
own name; but, although you do not know his name, I am sure that
you must know his face, for that is quite enough to distinguish
But tell me whose son he is, I said.
He is the eldest son of Democrates, of the deme of Aexone.
Ah, Hippothales, I said; what a noble and really perfect love
you have found! I wish that you would favour me with the
exhibition which you have been making to the rest of the company,
and then I shall be able to judge whether you know what a lover
ought to say about his love, either to the youth himself, or to
Nay, Socrates, he said; you surely do not attach any
importance to what he is saying.
Do you mean, I said, that you disown the love of the person
whom he says that you love?
No; but I deny that I make verses or address compositions to
He is not in his right mind, said Ctesippus; he is talking
nonsense, and is stark mad.
O Hippothales, I said, if you have ever made any verses or
songs in honour of your favourite, I do not want to hear them;
but I want to know the purport of them, that I may be able to
judge of your mode of approaching your fair one.
Ctesippus will be able to tell you, he said; for if, as he
avers, the sound of my words is always dinning in his ears, he
must have a very accurate knowledge and recollection of them.
Yes, indeed, said Ctesippus; I know only too well; and very
ridiculous the tale is: for although he is a lover, and very
devotedly in love, he has nothing particular to talk about to his
beloved which a child might not say. Now is not that ridiculous?
He can only speak of the wealth of Democrates, which the whole
city celebrates, and grandfather Lysis, and the other ancestors
of the youth, and their stud of horses, and their victory at the
Pythian games, and at the Isthmus, and at Nemea with four horses
and single horses-these are the tales which he composes and
repeats. And there is greater twaddle still. Only the day before
yesterday he made a poem in which he described the entertainment
of Heracles, who was a connexion of the family, setting forth how
in virtue of this relationship he was hospitably received by an
ancestor of Lysis; this ancestor was himself begotten of Zeus by
the daughter of the founder of the deme. And these are the sort
of old wives' tales which he sings and recites to us, and we are
obliged to listen to him.
When I heard this, I said: O ridiculous Hippothales! how can
you be making and singing hymns in honour of yourself before you
But my songs and verses, he said, are not in honour of myself,
You think not? I said.
Nay, but what do you think? he replied.
Most assuredly, I said, those songs are all in your own
honour; for if you win your beautiful love, your discourses and
songs will be a glory, to you, and may be truly regarded as hymns
of praise composed in honour of you who have conquered and won
such a love; but if he slips away from you, the more you have
praised him, the more ridiculous you will look at having lost
this fairest and best of blessings; and therefore the wise lover
does not praise his beloved until he has won him, because he is
afraid of accidents. There is also another danger; the fair, when
any one praises or magnifies them, are filled with the spirit of
pride and vain-glory. Do you not agree with me?
Yes, he said.
And the more vain-glorious they are, the more difficult is the
capture of them?
I believe you.
What should you say of a hunter who frightened away his prey,
and made the capture of the animals which he is hunting more
He would be a bad hunter, undoubtedly.
Yes; and if, instead of soothing them, he were to infuriate
them with words and songs, that would show a great want of wit:
do you not agree.
And now reflect, Hippothales, and see whether you are not
guilty of all these errors in writing poetry. For I can hardly
suppose that you will affirm a man to be a good poet who injures
himself by his poetry.
Assuredly not, he said; such a poet would be a fool. And this
is the reason why I take you into my counsels, Socrates, and I
shall be glad of any further advice which you may have to offer.
Will you tell me by what words or actions I may become endeared
to my love?
That is not easy to determine, I said; but if you will bring
your love to me, and will let me talk with him, I may perhaps be
able to show you how to converse with him, instead of singing and
reciting in the fashion of which you are accused.
There will be no difficulty in bringing him, he replied; if
you will only go with Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and sit down
and talk, I believe that he will come of his own accord; for he
is fond of listening, Socrates. And as this is the festival of
the Hermaea, the young men and boys are all together, and there
is no separation between them. He will be sure to come: but if he
does not, Ctesippus with whom he is familiar, and whose relation
Menexenus is his great friend, shall call him.
That will be the way, I said. Thereupon I led Ctesippus into
the Palaestra, and the rest followed.
Upon entering we found that the boys had just been
sacrificing; and this part of the festival was nearly at an end.
They were all in their white array, and games at dice were going
on among them. Most of them were in the outer court amusing
themselves; but some were in a corner of the Apodyterium playing
at odd and even with a number of dice, which they took out of
little wicker baskets. There was also a circle of lookers-on;
among them was Lysis. He was standing with the other boys and
youths, having a crown upon his head, like a fair vision, and not
less worthy of praise for his goodness than for his beauty. We
left them, and went over to the opposite side of the room, where,
finding a quiet place, we sat down; and then we began to talk.
This attracted Lysis, who was constantly turning round to look at
us -he was evidently wanting to come to us. For a time he
hesitated and had not the courage to come alone; but first of
all, his friend Menexenus, leaving his play, entered the
Palaestra from the court, and when he saw Ctesippus and myself,
was going to take a seat by us; and then Lysis, seeing him,
followed, and sat down by his side; and the other boys joined. I
should observe that Hippothales, when he saw the crowd, got
behind them, where he thought that he would be out of sight of
Lysis, lest he should anger him; and there he stood and listened.
I turned to Menexenus, and said: Son of Demophon, which of you
two youths is the elder?
That is a matter of dispute between us, he said.
And which is the nobler? Is that also a matter of dispute?
And another disputed point is, which is the fairer?
The two boys laughed.
I shall not ask which is the richer of the two, I said; for
you are friends, are you not?
Certainly, they replied.
And friends have all things in common, so that one of you can
be no richer than the other, if you say truly that you are
They assented. I was about to ask which was the juster of the
two, and which was the wiser of the two; but at this moment
Menexenus was called away by some one who came and said that the
gymnastic-master wanted him. I supposed that he had to offer
sacrifice. So he went away, and I asked Lysis some more questions.
I dare say, Lysis, I said, that your father and mother love you
Certainly, he said.
And they would wish you to be perfectly happy.
But do you think that any one is happy who is in the condition
of a slave, and who cannot do what he likes?
I should think not indeed, he said.
And if your father and mother love you, and desire that you
should be happy, no one can doubt that they are very ready to
promote your happiness.
Certainly, he replied.
And do they then permit you to do what you like, and never
rebuke you or hinder you from doing what you desire?
Yes, indeed, Socrates; there are a great many things which
they hinder me from doing.
What do you mean? I said. Do they want you to be happy, and
yet hinder you from doing what you like? For example, if you want
to mount one of your father's chariots, and take the reins at a
race, they will not allow you to do so-they will prevent you?
Certainly, he said, they will not allow me to do so.
Whom then will they allow?
There is a charioteer, whom my father pays for driving.
And do they trust a hireling more than you? and may he do what
he likes with the horses? and do they pay him for this?
But I dare say that you may take the whip and guide the mule-cart
if you like;-they will permit that?
Permit me! indeed they will not.
Then, I said, may no one use the whip to the mules?
Yes, he said, the muleteer.
And is he a slave or a free man?
A slave, he said.
And do they esteem a slave of more value than you who are
their son? And do they entrust their property to him rather than
to you? and allow him to do what he likes, when they prohibit
you? Answer me now: Are you your own master, or do they not even
Nay, he said; of course they do not allow it.
Then you have a master?
Yes, my tutor; there he is.
And is he a slave?
To be sure; he is our slave, he replied.
Surely, I said, this is a strange thing, that a free man
should be governed by a slave. And what does he do with you?
He takes me to my teachers.
You do not mean to say that your teachers also rule over you?
Of course they do.
Then I must say that your father is pleased to inflict many
lords and masters on you. But at any rate when you go home to
your mother, she will let you have your own way, and will not
interfere with your happiness; her wool, or the piece of cloth
which she is weaving, are at your disposal: I am sure that there
is nothing to hinder you from touching her wooden spathe, or her
comb, or any other of her spinning implements.
Nay, Socrates, he replied, laughing; not only does she hinder
me, but I should be beaten if I were to touch one of them.
Well, I said, this is amazing. And did you ever behave ill to
your father or your mother?
No, indeed, he replied.
But why then are they so terribly anxious to prevent you from
being happy, and doing as you like?-keeping you all day long in
subjection to another, and, in a word, doing nothing which you
desire; so that you have no good, as would appear, out of their
great possessions, which are under the control of anybody rather
than of you, and have no use of your own fair person, which is
tended and taken care of by another; while you, Lysis, are master
of nobody, and can do nothing?
Why, he said, Socrates, the reason is that I am not of age.
I doubt whether that is the real reason, I said; for I should
imagine that your father Democrates, and your mother, do permit
you to do many things already, and do not wait until you are of
age: for example, if they want anything read or written, you, I
presume, would be the first person in the house who is summoned
And you would be allowed to write or read the letters in any
order which you please, or to take up the lyre and tune the
notes, and play with the fingers, or strike with the plectrum,
exactly as you please, and neither father nor mother would
interfere with you.
That is true, he said.
Then what can be the reason, Lysis, I said, why they allow you
to do the one and not the other?
I suppose, he said, because I understand the one, and not the
Yes, my dear youth, I said, the reason is not any deficiency
of years, but a deficiency of knowledge; and whenever your father
thinks that you are wiser than he is, he will instantly commit
himself and his possessions to you.
I think so.
Aye, I said; and about your neighbour, too, does not the same
rule hold as about your father? If he is satisfied that you know
more of housekeeping than he does, will he continue to administer
his affairs himself, or will he commit them to you?
I think that he will commit them to me.
Will not the Athenian people, too, entrust their affairs to
you when they see that you have wisdom enough to manage them?
And oh! let me put another case, I said: There is the great
king, and he has an eldest son, who is the Prince of Asia;-suppose
that you and I go to him and establish to his satisfaction that
we are better cooks than his son, will he not entrust to us the
prerogative of making soup, and putting in anything that we like
while the pot is boiling, rather than to the Prince of Asia, who
is his son?
To us, clearly.
And we shall be allowed to throw in salt by handfuls, whereas
the son will not be allowed to put in as much as he can take up
between his fingers?
Or suppose again that the son has bad eyes, will he allow him,
or will he not allow him, to touch his own eyes if he thinks that
he has no knowledge of medicine?
He will not allow him.
Whereas, if he supposes us to have a knowledge of medicine, he
will allow us to do what we like with him-even to open the eyes
wide and sprinkle ashes upon them, because he supposes that we
know what is best?
That is true.
And everything in which we appear to him to be wiser than
himself or his son he will commit to us?
That is very true, Socrates, he replied.
Then now, my dear Lysis, I said, you perceive that in things
which we know every one will trust us-Hellenes and barbarians,
men and women-and we may do as we please about them, and no one
will like to interfere with us; we shall be free, and masters of
others; and these things will be really ours, for we shall be
benefited by them. But in things of which we have no
understanding, no one will trust us to do as seems good to us-they
will hinder us as far as they can; and not only strangers, but
father and mother, and the friend, if there be one, who is dearer
still, will also hinder us; and we shall be subject to others;
and these things will not be ours, for we shall not be benefited
by them. Do you agree?
And shall we be friends to others, and will any others love
us, in as far as we are useless to them?
Neither can your father or mother love you, nor can anybody
love anybody else, in so far as they are useless to them?
And therefore, my boy, if you are wise, -all men will be your
friends and kindred, for you will be useful and good; but if you
are not wise, neither father, nor mother, nor kindred, nor any
one else, will be your friends. And in matters of which you have
as yet no knowledge, can you have any conceit of knowledge?
That is impossible, he replied.
And you, Lysis, if you require a teacher, have not yet
attained to wisdom.
And therefore you are not conceited, having nothing of which
to be conceited.
Indeed, Socrates, I think not.
When I heard him say this, I turned to Hippothales, and was
very nearly making a blunder, for I was going to say to him: That
is the way, Hippothales, in which you should talk to your
beloved, humbling and lowering him, and not as you do, puffing
him up and spoiling him. But I saw that he was in great
excitement and confusion at what had been said, and I remembered
that, although he was in the neighbourhood, he did not want to be
seen by Lysis; so upon second thoughts I refrained.
In the meantime Menexenus came back and sat down in his place
by Lysis; and Lysis, in a childish and affectionate manner,
whispered privately in my ear, so that Menexenus should not hear:
Do, Socrates, tell Menexenus what you have been telling me.
Suppose that you tell him yourself, Lysis, I replied; for I am
sure that you were attending.
Certainly, he replied.
Try, then, to remember the words, and be as exact as you can
in repeating them to him, and if you have forgotten anything, ask
me again the next time that you see me.
I will be sure to do so, Socrates; but go on telling him
something new, and let me hear, as long as I am allowed to stay.
I certainly cannot refuse, I said, since you ask me; but then,
as you know, Menexenus is very pugnacious, and therefore you must
come to the rescue if he attempts to upset me.
Yes, indeed, he said; he is very pugnacious, and that is the
reason why I want you to argue with him.
That I may make a fool of myself?
No, indeed, he said; but I want you to put him down.
That is no easy matter, I replied; for he is a terrible fellow-a
pupil of Ctesippus. And there is Ctesippus himself: do you see
Never mind, Socrates, you shall argue with him.
Well, I suppose that I must, I replied.
Hereupon Ctesippus complained that we were talking in secret,
and keeping the feast to ourselves.
I shall be happy, I said, to let you have a share. Here is
Lysis, who does not understand something that I was saying, and
wants me to ask Menexenus, who, as he thinks, is likely to know.
And why do you not ask him? he said.
Very well, I said, I will; and do you, Menexenus, answer. But
first I must tell you that I am one who from my childhood upward
have set my heart upon a certain thing. All people have their
fancies; some desire horses, and others dogs; and some are fond
of gold, and others of honour. Now, I have no violent desire of
any of these things; but I have a passion for friends; and I
would rather have a good friend than the best cock or quail in
the world: I would even go further, and say the best horse or dog.
Yea, by the dog of Egypt, I should greatly prefer a real friend
to all the gold of Darius, or even to Darius himself: I am such a
lover of friends as that. And when I see you and Lysis, at your
early age, so easily possessed of this treasure, and so soon, he
of you, and you of him, I am amazed and delighted, seeing that I
myself, although I am now advanced in years, am so far from
having made a similar acquisition, that I do not even know in
what way a friend is acquired. But want to ask you a question
about this, for you have experience: tell me then, when one loves
another, is the lover or the beloved the friend; or may either be
Either may, I should think, be the friend of either.
Do you mean, I said, that if only one of them loves the other,
they are mutual friends?
Yes, he said; that is my meaning.
But what if the lover is not loved in return? which is a very
Or is, perhaps, even hated? which is a fancy which sometimes
is entertained by lovers respecting their beloved. Nothing can
exceed their love; and yet they imagine either that they are not
loved in return, or that they are hated. Is not that true?
Yes, he said, quite true.
In that case, the one loves, and the other is loved?
Then which is the friend of which? Is the lover the friend of
the beloved, whether he be loved in return, or hated; or is the
beloved the friend; or is there no friendship at all on either
side, unless they both love one another?
There would seem to be none at all.
Then this notion is not in accordance with our previous one.
We were saying that both were friends, if one only loved; but
now, unless they both love, neither is a friend.
That appears to be true.
Then nothing which does not love in return is beloved by a
I think not.
Then they are not lovers of horses, whom the horses do not
love in return; nor lovers of quails, nor of dogs, nor of wine,
nor of gymnastic exercises, who have no return of love; no, nor
of wisdom, unless wisdom loves them in return. Or shall we say
that they do love them, although they are not beloved by them;
and that the poet was wrong who sings- Happy the man to whom his
children are dear, and steeds having single hoofs, and dogs of
chase, and the stranger of another land?
I do not think that he was wrong.
You think that he is right?
Then, Menexenus, the conclusion is, that what is beloved,
whether loving or hating, may be dear to the lover of it: for
example, very young children, too young to love, or even hating
their father or mother when they are punished by them, are never
dearer to them than at the time when they are being hated by them.
I think that what you say is true.
And, if so, not the lover, but the beloved, is the friend or
And the hated one, and not the hater, is the enemy?
Then many men are loved by their enemies, and hated by their
friends, and are the friends of their enemies, and the enemies of
their friends. Yet how absurd, my dear friend, or indeed
impossible is this paradox of a man being an enemy to his friend
or a friend to his enemy.
I quite agree, Socrates, in what you say.
But if this cannot be, the lover will be the friend of that
which is loved?
And the hater will be the enemy of that which is hated?
Yet we must acknowledge in this, as in the preceding instance,
that a man may be the friend of one who is not his friend, or who
may be his enemy, when he loves that which does not love him or
which even hates him. And he may be the enemy of one who is not
his enemy, and is even his friend: for example, when he hates
that which does not hate him, or which even loves him.
That appears to be true.
But if the lover is not a friend, nor the beloved a friend,
nor both together, what are we to say? Whom are we to call
friends to one another? Do any remain?
Indeed, Socrates, I cannot find any.
But, O Menexenus! I said, may we not have been altogether
wrong in our conclusions?
I am sure that we have been wrong, Socrates, said Lysis. And
he blushed as he spoke, the words seeming to come from his lips
involuntarily, because his whole mind was taken up with the
argument; there was no mistaking his attentive look while he was
I was pleased at the interest which was shown by Lysis, and I
wanted to give Menexenus a rest, so I turned to him and said, I
think, Lysis, that what you say is true, and that, if we had been
right, we should never have gone so far wrong; let us proceed no
further in this direction (for the road seems to be getting
troublesome), but take the other path into which we turned, and
see what the poets have to say; for they are to us in a manner
the fathers and authors of wisdom, and they speak of friends in
no light or trivial manner, but God himself, as they say, makes
them and draws them to one another; and this they express, if I
am not mistaken, in the following words:- God is ever drawing
like towards like, and making them acquainted. I dare say that
you have heard those words.
Yes, he said; I have.
And have you not also met with the treatises of philosophers
who say that like must love like? they are the people who argue
and write about nature and the universe.
Very true, he replied.
And are they right in saying this?
They may be.
Perhaps, I said, about half, or possibly, altogether, right,
if their meaning were rightly apprehended by us. For the more a
bad man has to do with a bad man, and the more nearly he is
brought into contact with him, the more he will be likely to hate
him, for he injures him; and injurer and injured cannot be
friends. Is not that true?
Yes, he said.
Then one half of the saying is untrue, if the wicked are like
That is true.
But the real meaning of the saying, as I imagine, is, that,
the good are like one another, friends to one another; and that
the bad, as is often said of them, are never at unity with one
another or with themselves; for they are passionate and restless,
and anything which is at variance and enmity with itself is not
likely to be in union or harmony with any other thing. Do you not
Yes, I do.
Then, my friend, those who say that the like is friendly to
the like mean to intimate, if I rightly apprehend them, that the
good only is the friend of the good, and of him only; but that
the evil never attains to any real friendship, either with good
or evil. Do you agree?
He nodded assent.
Then now we know how to answer the question "Who are
friends? for the argument declares "That the good are
Yes, he said, that is true.
Yes, I replied; and yet I am not quite satisfied with this
answer. By heaven, and shall I tell you what I suspect? I will.
Assuming that like, inasmuch as he is like, is the friend of
like, and useful to him-or rather let me try another way of
putting the matter: Can like do any good or harm to like which he
could not do to himself, or suffer anything from his like which
he would not suffer from himself? And if neither can be of any
use to the other, how can they be loved by one another? Can they
And can he who is not loved be a friend?
But say that the like is not the friend of the like in so far
as he is like; still the good may be the friend of the good in so
far as he is good?
But then again, will not the good, in so far as he is good, be
sufficient for himself? Certainly he will. And he who is
sufficient wants nothing-that is implied in the word sufficient.
Of course not.
And he who wants nothing will desire nothing?
He will not.
Neither can he love that which he does not desire?
And he who not is not a lover of friend?
What place then is there for friendship, if, when absent, good
men have no need of one another (for even when alone they are
sufficient for themselves), and when present have no use of one
another? How can such persons ever be induced to value one
And friends they cannot be, unless they value one another?
But see now, Lysis, whether we are not being deceived in all
this-are we not indeed entirely wrong?
How so? he replied.
Have I not heard some one say, as I just now recollect, that
the like is the greatest enemy of the like, the good of the good?-Yes,
and he quoted the authority of Hesiod, who says: Potter quarrels
with potter, hard with bard, Beggar with beggar; and of all other
things he affirmed, in like manner, "That of necessity the
most like are most full of envy, strife, and hatred of one
another, and the most unlike, of friendship. For the poor man is
compelled to be the friend of the rich, and the weak requires the
aid of the strong, and the sick man of the physician; and every
one who is ignorant, has to love and court him who knows."
And indeed he went on to say in grandiloquent language, that the
idea of friendship existing between similars is not the truth,
but the very reverse of the truth, and that the most opposed are
the most friendly; for that everything desires not like but that
which is most unlike: for example, the dry desires the moist, the
cold the hot, the bitter the sweet, the sharp the blunt, the void
the full, the full the void, and so of all other things; for the
opposite is the food of the opposite, whereas like receives
nothing from like. And I thought that he who said this was a
charming man, and that he spoke well. What do the rest of you
I should say, at first hearing, that he is right, said
Then we are to say that the greatest friendship is of
Yes, Menexenus; but will not that be a monstrous answer? and
will not the all-wise eristics be down upon us in triumph, and
ask, fairly enough, whether love is not the very opposite of
hate; and what answer shall we make to them-must we not admit
that they speak the truth?
They will then proceed to ask whether the enemy is the friend
of the friend, or the friend the friend of the enemy?
Neither, he replied.
Well, but is a just man the friend of the unjust, or the
temperate of the intemperate, or the good of the bad?
I do not see how that is possible.
And yet, I said, if friendship goes by contraries, the
contraries must be friends.
Then neither like and like nor unlike and unlike are friends.
I suppose not.
And yet there is a further consideration: may not all these
notions of friendship be erroneous? but may not that which is
neither good nor evil still in some cases be the friend of the
How do you mean? he said.
Why really, I said, the truth is that I do not know; but my
head is dizzy with thinking of the argument, and therefore I
hazard the conjecture, that "the beautiful is the friend,"
as the old proverb says. Beauty is certainly a soft, smooth,
slippery thing, and therefore of a nature which easily slips in
and permeates our souls. For I affirm that the good is the
beautiful. You will agree to that?
This I say from a sort of notion that what is neither good nor
evil is the friend of the beautiful and the good, and I will tell
you why I am inclined to think so: I assume that there are three
principles-the good, the bad, and that which is neither good nor
bad. You would agree-would you not?
And neither is the good the friend of the good, nor the evil
of the good, nor the good of the evil;-these alternatives are
excluded by the previous argument; and therefore, if there be
such a thing as friendship or love at all, we must infer that
what is neither good nor evil must be the friend, either of the
good, or of that which is neither good nor evil, for nothing can
be the friend of the bad.
But neither can like be the friend of like, as we were just
And if so, that which is neither good nor evil can have no
friend which is neither good nor evil.
Then the good alone is the friend of that only which is
neither good nor evil.
That may be assumed to be certain.
And does not this seem to put us in the right way? Just
remark, that the body which is in health requires neither medical
nor any other aid, but is well enough; and the healthy man has no
love of the physician, because he is in health.
He has none.
But the sick loves him, because he is sick?
And sickness is an evil, and the art of medicine a good and
But the human body, regarded as a body, is neither good nor
And the body is compelled by reason of disease to court and
make friends of the art of medicine?
Then that which is neither good nor evil becomes the friend of
good, by reason of the presence of evil?
So we may infer.
And clearly this must have happened before that which was
neither good nor evil had become altogether corrupted with the
element of evil-if itself had become evil it would not still
desire and love the good; for, as we were saying, the evil cannot
be the friend of the good.
Further, I must observe that some substances are assimilated
when others are present with them; and there are some which are
not assimilated: take, for example, the case of an ointment or
colour which is put on another substance.
In such a case, is the substance which is anointed the same as
the colour or ointment?
What do you mean? he said.
This is what I mean: Suppose that I were to cover your auburn
locks with white lead, would they be really white, or would they
only appear to be white?
They would only appear to be white, he replied.
And yet whiteness would be present in them?
But that would not make them at all the more white,
notwithstanding the presence of white in them-they would not be
white any more than black?
But when old age infuses whiteness into them, then they become
assimilated, and are white by the presence of white.
Now I want to know whether in all cases a substance is
assimilated by the presence of another substance; or must the
presence be after a peculiar sort?
The latter, he said.
Then that which is neither good nor evil may be in the
presence of evil, but not as yet evil, and that has happened
And when anything is in the presence of evil, not being as yet
evil, the presence of good arouses the desire of good in that
thing; but the presence of evil, which makes a thing evil, takes
away the desire and friendship of the good; for that which was
once both good and evil has now become evil only, and the good
was supposed to have no friendship with the evil?
And therefore we say that those who are already wise, whether
Gods or men, are no longer lovers of wisdom; nor can they be
lovers of wisdom who are ignorant to the extent of being evil,
for no evil or ignorant person is a lover of wisdom. There remain
those who have the misfortune to be ignorant, but are not yet
hardened in their ignorance, or void of understanding, and do not
as yet fancy that they know what they do not know: and therefore
those who are the lovers of wisdom are as yet neither good nor
bad. But the bad do not love wisdom any more than the good; for,
as we have already seen, neither is unlike the friend of unlike,
nor like of like. You remember that?
Yes, they both said.
And so, Lysis and Menexenus, we have discovered the nature of
friendship-there can be no doubt of it: Friendship is the love
which by reason of the presence of evil the neither good nor evil
has of the good, either in the soul, or in the body, or anywhere.
They both agreed and entirely assented, and for a moment I
rejoiced and was satisfied like a huntsman just holding fast his
prey. But then a most unaccountable suspicion came across me, and
I felt that the conclusion was untrue. I was pained, and said,
Alas! Lysis and Menexenus, I am afraid that we have been grasping
at a shadow only.
Why do you say so? said Menexenus.
I am afraid, I said, that the argument about friendship is
false: arguments, like men, are often pretenders.
How do you mean? he asked.
Well, I said; look at the matter in this way: a friend is the
friend of some one; is he not?
Certainly he is.
And has he a motive and object in being a friend, or has he no
motive and object?
He has a motive and object.
And is the object which makes him a friend, dear to him,
neither dear nor hateful to him?
I do not quite follow you, he said.
I do not wonder at that, I said. But perhaps, if I put the
matter in another way, you will be able to follow me, and my own
meaning will be clearer to myself. The sick man, as I was just
now saying, is the friend of the physician-is he not?
And he is the friend of the physician because of disease, and
for the sake of health?
And disease is an evil?
And what of health? I said. Is that good or evil, or neither?
Good, he replied.
And we were saying, I believe, that the body being neither
good nor evil, because of disease, that is to say because of
evil, is the friend of medicine, and medicine is a good: and
medicine has entered into this friendship for the sake of health,
and health is a good.
And is health a friend, or not a friend?
And disease is an enemy?
Then that which is neither good nor evil is the friend of the
good because of the evil and hateful, and for the sake of the
good and the friend?
Then the friend is a friend for the sake of the friend, and
because of the enemy?
That is to be inferred.
Then at this point, my boys, let us take heed, and be on our
guard against deceptions. I will not again repeat that the friend
is the friend of the friend, and the like of the like, which has
been declared by us to be an impossibility; but, in order that
this new statement may not delude us, let us attentively examine
another point, which I will proceed to explain: Medicine, as we
were saying, is a friend, dear to us for the sake of health?
And health is also dear?
And if dear, then dear for the sake of something?
And surely this object must also be dear, as is implied in our
And that something dear involves something else dear?
But then, proceeding in this way, shall we not arrive at some
first principle of friendship or dearness which is not capable of
being referred to any other, for the sake of which, as we
maintain, all other things are dear, and, having there arrived,
we shall stop?
My fear is that all those other things, which, as we say, are
dear for the sake of another, are illusions and deceptions only,
but where that first principle is, there is the true ideal of
friendship. Let me put the matter thus: Suppose the case of a
great treasure (this may be a son, who is more precious to his
father than all his other treasures); would not the father, who
values his son above all things, value other things also for the
sake of his son? I mean, for instance, if he knew that his son
had drunk hemlock, and the father thought that wine would save
him, he would value the wine?
And also the vessel which contains the wine?
But does he therefore value the three measures of wine, or the
earthen vessel which contains them, equally with his son? Is not
this rather the true state of the case? All his anxiety has
regard not to the means which are provided for the sake of an
object, but to the object for the sake of which they are provided.
And although we may often say that gold and silver are highly
valued by us, that is not the truth; for there is a further
object, whatever it may be, which we value most of all, and for
the sake of which gold and all out other possessions are acquired
by us. Am I not right?
And may not the same be said of the friend? That which is only
dear to us for the sake of something else is improperly said to
be dear, but the truly dear is that in which all these so called
dear friendships terminate.
That, he said, appears to be true.
And the truly dear or ultimate principle of friendship is not
for the sake of any other or further dear.
Then we have done with the notion that friendship has any
further object. May we then infer that the good is the friend?
I think so.
And the good is loved for the sake of the evil? Let me put the
case in this way: Suppose that of the three principles, good,
evil, and that which is neither good nor evil, there remained
only the good and the neutral, and that evil went far away, and
in no way affected soul or body, nor ever at all that class of
things which, as we say, are neither good nor evil in themselves;-would
the good be of any use, or other than useless to us? For if there
were nothing to hurt us any longer, we should have no need of
anything that would do us good. Then would be clearly seen that
we did but love and desire the good because of the evil, and as
the remedy of the evil, which was the disease; but if there had
been no disease, there would have been no need of a remedy. Is
not this the nature of the good-to be loved by us who are placed
between the two, because of the evil? but there is no use in the
good for its own sake.
I suppose not.
Then the final principle of friendship, in which all other
friendships terminated, those, I mean, which are relatively dear
and for the sake of something else, is of another and a different
nature from them. For they are called dear because of another
dear or friend. But with the true friend or dear, the case is
quite the reverse; for that is proved to be dear because of the
hated, and if the hated were away it would be no longer dear.
Very true, he replied: at any rate not if our present view
But, oh! will you tell me, I said, whether if evil were to
perish, we should hunger any more, or thirst any more, or have
any similar desire? Or may we suppose that hunger will remain
while men and animals remain, but not so as to be hurtful? And
the same of thirst and the other desires,-that they will remain,
but will not be evil because evil has perished? Or rather shall I
say, that to ask what either will be then or will not be is
ridiculous, for who knows? This we do know, that in our present
condition hunger may injure us, and may also benefit us:-Is not
And in like manner thirst or any similar desire may sometimes
be a good and sometimes an evil to us, and sometimes neither one
nor the other?
To be sure.
But is there any reason why, because evil perishes, that which
is not evil should perish with it?
Then, even if evil perishes, the desires which are neither
good nor evil will remain?
Clearly they will.
And must not a man love that which he desires and affects?
Then, even if evil perishes, there may still remain some
elements of love or friendship?
But not if evil is the cause of friendship: for in that case
nothing will be the friend of any other thing after the
destruction of evil; for the effect cannot remain when the cause
And have we not admitted already that the friend loves
something for a reason? and at the time of making the admission
we were of opinion that the neither good nor evil loves the good
because of the evil?
But now our view is changed, and we conceive that there must
be some other cause of friendship?
I suppose so.
May not the truth be rather, as we were saying just now, that
desire is the cause of friendship; for that which desires is dear
to that which is desired at the time of desiring it? and may not
the other theory have been only a long story about nothing?
But surely, I said, he who desires, desires that of which he
is in want?
And that of which he is in want is dear to him?
And he is in want of that of which he is deprived?
Then love, and desire, and friendship would appear to be of
the natural or congenial. Such, Lysis and Menexenus, is the
Then if you are friends, you must have natures which are
congenial to one another?
Certainly, they both said.
And I say, my boys, that no one who loves or desires another
would ever have loved or desired or affected him, if he had not
been in some way congenial to him, either in his soul, or in his
character, or in his manners, or in his form.
Yes, yes, said Menexenus. But Lysis was silent.
Then, I said, the conclusion is, that what is of a congenial
nature must be loved.
It follows, he said.
Then the lover, who is true and no counterfeit, must of
necessity be loved by his love.
Lysis and Menexenus gave a faint assent to this; and
Hippothales changed into all manner of colours with delight.
Here, intending to revise the argument, I said: Can we point
out any difference between the congenial and the like? For if
that is possible, then I think, Lysis and Menexenus, there may be
some sense in our argument about friendship. But if the congenial
is only the like, how will you get rid of the other argument, of
the uselessness of like to like in as far as they are like; for
to say that what is useless is dear, would be absurd? Suppose,
then, that we agree to distinguish between the congenial and the
like-in the intoxication of argument, that may perhaps be allowed.
And shall we further say that the good is congenial, and the
evil uncongenial to every one? Or again that the evil is
congenial to the evil, and the good to the good; and that which
is neither good nor evil to that which is neither good nor evil?
They agreed to the latter alternative.
Then, my boys, we have again fallen into the old discarded
error; for the unjust will be the friend of the unjust, and the
bad of the bad, as well as the good of the good.
That appears to be the result.
But again, if we say that the congenial is the same as the
good, in that case the good and he only will be the friend of the
But that too was a position of ours which, as you will
remember, has been already refuted by ourselves.
Then what is to be done? Or rather is there anything to be
done? I can only, like the wise men who argue in courts, sum up
the arguments:-If neither the beloved, nor the lover, nor the
like, nor the unlike, nor the good, nor the congenial, nor any
other of whom we spoke-for there were such a number of them that
I cannot remember all-if none of these are friends, I know not
what remains to be said.
Here I was going to invite the opinion of some older person,
when suddenly we were interrupted by the tutors of Lysis and
Menexenus, who came upon us like an evil apparition with their
brothers, and bade them go home, as it was getting late. At
first, we and the bystanders drove them off; but afterwards, as
they would not mind, and only went on shouting in their barbarous
dialect, and got angry, and kept calling the boys-they appeared
to us to have been drinking rather too much at the Hermaea, which
made them difficult to manage we fairly gave way and broke up the
I said, however, a few words to the boys at parting: O
Menexenus and Lysis, how ridiculous that you two boys, and I, an
old boy, who would fain be one of you, should imagine ourselves
to be friends-this is what the by-standers will go away and say-and
as yet we have not been able to discover what is a friend!
The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.