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Sign, Logos, and Meaning: the Platonic Socrates and his Daemonic Experience1

Stefano Jedrkiewicz

Résumé

L’événement démonique propre à Socrate (couramment dénommé daimonion) est étudié en tant qu’élaboration littéraire ayant une fonction narrative propre à l’intérieur du texte platonicien. Cette approche prend en considération « Socrate » exclusivement en tant que personnage littéraire. Une lecture serrée suggère que les contradictions et les ambiguïtés qui semblent émerger du texte platonicien peuvent être considérées comme spécifiquement fonctionnelles au récit, dans le cadre d’une stratégie d’auteur visant à créer un personnage exceptionnel, le philosophe-héros. Cette description est d’ailleurs cohérente avec les vues platoniciennes à l’égard de la religion et de la mythologie traditionnelle. La valeur de l’événement démonique réside précisément dans son effet négatif (apotreptique) : il rappelle à Socrate que sa sophia humaine est fondamentalement limitée. La tentative constante de Socrate de vivre en accord avec la justice et la vérité reçoit ainsi une impulsion supplémentaire.

Socrates’ daemonic occurrence (the so-called daimonion) is investigated as a literary construction playing a specific narrative function within the Platonic text. This approach considers «Socrates» exclusively as a literary character. Close reading suggests that all contradictions and ambiguities apparently laying within the Platonic renderings of the phenomenon may be considered, rather than semantic or conceptual infelicities, as deliberate narrative devices, being functional to an authorial strategy aimed at creating a unique character, the philosophical hero. The overall description is moreover consistent with the prevailing Platonic approach towards traditional religion and mythology. The value of the daemonic occurrence resides precisely in his negative (apotreptic) impact: it reminds Socrates of the basic limitation of his human sophia. Socrates’ constant endeavour at living in accordance with justice and truth is thus granted an additional impulsion.

Entrées d'index

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

  • 1 A first version of this paper, with a much less developed content and a potentially misleading titl (...)
  • 2 The impropriety of such phrasing has been recently reaffirmed by Dorion 2003, p. 169-170 and 191.
  • 3 Vlastos 1991, p. 280.
  • 4 A review of the differences between Xenophon’s and Plato’ Socrates: Dorion p. 98-104. For the trans (...)
  • 5 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 111: «To daimonion in Plato’s works is presented inconsistently, even incoherent (...)
  • 6 See notably Brickhouse-Smith 1989, p. 168-170, 237-257; Vlastos 1991, p. 282-287; Brickhouse-Smith (...)
  • 7 On such premises as: «no doubt it would have been best if Socrates had made this connection vividly (...)

1Is there such an individual entity as «the daimonion of Socrates», to use the handiest denomination available2? The question might not only be prompted by uncertainty about the very meaning of the term «daimonion» (Vlastos called it «an adjective flanked by a semantic hole»3), or the failure by ancient descriptions to yield a consistent image (the respective renderings by Plato and Xenophon have ultimately little in common, and transmutation into an individual daimôn already looms, within the Platonic corpus, in the Theages and Alcibiades I)4. The fact is that the daemonic identity is apparently made problematic precisely by the most detailed and better articulated of all these narratives, Plato’s own5. Recent research has produced a complex debate about whether, and how, this superhuman incident, not to say «intrusion», may prove compatible with Socrates’ patently rationalistic orientations6. Unfortunately, the overall Platonic description seems to be marred by deplorable inconsistencies and omissions. Interpretation usually turns into speculation in the attempt to close the gaps7.

  • 8 For a summary of the relevant discussion, see McPherran 1996, p. 134; Kraut p. 15-17.
  • 9 Mainly, for the reasons given by Joyal 1995, p. 49-57 and Joyal 2000, p. 72-103. However, no discri (...)

2The present essay follows a different, much less ambitious approach. It assumes that the various Platonic texts dealing with Socrates’ daemonic occurrence state precisely what they need to. Internal consistency shall somehow be presumed from start, pending critical verification. Biographical accuracy will not come into question. Transposition of the Socratic daimonion in the current epistemological or ethical terminology will not be attempted either. The connection of the daimonion with the religious charges leveled against the historical Socrates shall be mentioned only incidentally8. Plato’s and Xenophon’s respective representations will be compared only occasionally, in order to stress Plato’s singularity. The variations brought to the overall picture by such spurious dialogues as the Theages or the Alcibiades I may be ignored9.

  • 10 As Joyal 2005, p. 105 suggests, «the activities and characteristics that the Platonic Socrates attr (...)

3To consider the daimonion as a well-planned contribution to Plato’s overall portrayal of Socrates is tantamount to treating the Platonic rendering as a literary construction. All apparent obscurities and ambiguities should therefore be considered, rather than semantic or conceptual infelicities, as deliberate devices operating within a given narrative context10. On the whole, they may appear to be functional to an authorial strategy designed to create a unique character, whose blueprint is given in the Apology: Socrates the philosophical hero, an extraordinary individual who, by deploying his peculiar discoursive resources, commits himself in all circumstances to identifying what is true and just. Since they exist by themselves, and cannot be denied, truth and justice are divine entities: Socrates’ existential endeavour to produce meaningful logoi in order to implement authentic values is therefore the model of a human response to divine impulsion.

4These are the general assumptions on which the various instances of the daemonic manifestation exclusively affecting Socrates shall be discussed here. The Platonic text, indeed, refers to it in several different ways: an apparently incidental mention in the Euthyphro; full depictions of the event in the Euthydemus and in the Phaedrus; some representations of Socrates trying to provide an explanation of it in the Apology, the Republic, and the Theaethetus; and, once again in the Apology, the building of a major argument upon the very absence of the sign. A comparative review of all such different cases may hopefully let the inner consistency granted to this peculiarly Socratic feature emerge in the end.

2. Denominations

  • 11 Ap. 31c8-d1: μοι θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον γίγνεται; 31d2-3: ἐμοὶ δὲ τοῦτἔστιν ἐκ παιδὸς ἀρξάμενον; 3 (...)
  • 12 The narrator is indifferent to any endeavour by the reader «to construe how the daimonion operated (...)
  • 13 Cf. Centrone 1997, p. 336.

52.1. In the Platonic text, the daemonic experience is usually mentioned by the character «Socrates» (for the two exceptions, see infra, 2.2). From start, the reflexive use of the personal pronoun ego marks this occurrence as peculiar to this character11. Socrates is made to assert that «it practically happened to almost nobody else in the past» ( γάρ πού τινι ἄλλῳ οὐδενὶ τῶν ἔμπροσθεν γέγονεν: Rep. 496c4-5). He also declares that the event has been recurring to him since he was a mere child (Ap. 31d2-3)12, in any kind of circumstance, important or not (40a5-6), always affecting some action he is implementing or about to implement, either deeds or words (40b2-5). He also calls it «the usual sign» (τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον, Euthyd. 272e3-4; Phaedr. 242b9) or «my usual divination» (... εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντικὴ, Ap. 40a-4)13. The event is endowed with invariably apotreptic, never protreptic effects: «it always disengages me from what I am about to do, it never engages me» (Ap. 31d3-4: ἀεὶ ἀποτρέπει με τοῦτο ἂν μέλλω πράττειν, προτρέπει δὲ οὔποτε). Clearly, this occurrence imposes itself on Socrates and is not produced by him: yet it gives him a uniquely distinctive feature.

62.2. Socrates neither makes a mystery of his daemonic experience nor boasts of it. In the Apology, when mentioning it to the jury for the first time, he seems to assume that, since he has always been talking profusely about this fact (31c7-8), the audience must be familiar with the mention of it. Nevertheless, Socrates deems appropriate to explain how the daemonic occurrence materializes (as «a sort of voice»: 31d3) and what it produces (abstention from political activities: 31d3-5): the text thus suggests that its precise nature must have remained a mystery to the public. In the Phaedrus (242b4 and sq.), the same lack of basic information apparently affects the character «Phaedrus» as well: when informing the latter that he has just perceived his «usual sign», Socrates immediately appends an explanation (it always keeps him from implementing a given activity: 242c1).

  • 14 Cf. Gundert 1954, p. 515.
  • 15 Cf. de Strycker–Slings 1994, p. 95-98; Stokes 1997, p. 153.

7That in the Apology such an ignorance should specially be attributed to the malevolent Meletus, already depicted as an arch-ignorant (cf. 24c4-28a1), shall not surprise the reader. Socrates speculates here that precisely his own innocent talk about the daimonion might have suggested the accusation of «introducing new divine entities», the daimonia kaina already mentioned at 24c1, so inducing Meletus to issue a comically absurd statement (cf. ἐπικωμῳδῶν: 31d1-2). The other instance of someone other than Socrates referring to the daemonic occurrence is provided by Euthyphr. 3b1-6: it also relates to Meletus’accusations, which Socrates reports to Euthyphro (theoi taking the place of daimonia: «he says I am an inventor of new gods»). Euthyphro too appears to believe that the charge must derive from Socrates’words: «I understand, Socrates: that’s what you say, that the daimonion comes to you all the time» (Μανθάνω, Σώκρατες · ὅτι δὴ σὺ τὸ δαιμόνιον ϕῂς σαυτῷ ἑκάστοτε γίγνεσθαι: b5-6). Socrates does not react: yet his daemonic experience is nowhere equated to a cultic activity of any kind; to consider it as such can only result from misinformation14. But misinformation to the point of ignorance is what prevails among the Athenians, according both to the Apology and the Euthyphro. The Platonic text, therefore, suggests that the widespread misuse of the very term daimonion, often mentioned but rarely explained by Socrates, is at the origin of that frivolous charge, «introducing new daimonia»15.

  • 16 Cf. Stokes 1997, p. 7-8. For the (problematic) notion of daimon, and the delimitation of the «daemo (...)
  • 17 Mss. have θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον ϕωνή. Following Forster, the word ϕωνή (Ap. 31d1) is removed by mo (...)
  • 18 See Zeller 1875, p. 72-74. There is however no consensus on this matter: see Burnet 1929, p. 245; d (...)
  • 19 Brisson 2005, p. 2-3 considers the wording τὸ δαιμόνιον at Euthyphr. 3b5 and Tht. 151a4 as an ellip (...)

82.3. By default, the reader should consider any description stemming from Socrates himself as tendentially truthful. This character asserts the divine nature of the daemonic incident by using the term daimonion, taken either as an adjective or a substantive (seven instances in all), and by the substantive theos or the adjective theios (one instance each). These two different terminologies refer to an occurrence either irresistibly inflecting a given human behavior (daimonion), or simply providing a superhuman experience to him (theos, theios)16. Theios appears only at Ap. 31c8-d1, where it is linked to daimonion (an adjective as well), in order to qualify an undefined entity: «a divine and daemonic something» (θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον)17; theos appears only at Ap. 40b1: τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ σημεῖον, «the sign of the god». Daimonion is also employed as an adjective to the substantive semeion at Euthyd. 272e 3-4 (τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον τὸ δαιμόνιον), Resp. 496c 4.5 (τὸ δαιμόνιον σημεῖον), and Phaedr. 242b9 (τὸ δαιμόνιόν τε καὶ τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον). There is no doubt that it works as a substantive at Euthyphr. 3b4 (τὸ δαιμόνιον), but this is one of the two descriptions not produced by Socrates. At Ap. 40a4, it might appear as a substantive in the phrase ... εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντικὴ [ τοῦ δαιμονίου], were it not that the three last words are frequently deleted following Schleiermacher’s suggestion18. Finally, any of the two terms of the phrase τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον (Tht. 151a4) may work either as an adjectival adjunction to the other or as a substantive19.

  • 20 The reader may additionally be stimulated to accept such instant assertion by the fact that «Plato’ (...)
  • 21 The Platonic Socrates is shown to experience some arresting, apparently gratuitous perplexity in hi (...)

9The textual function assigned to the term (to) daimonion thus consists in certifying that the Socratic experience has a superhuman origin (something declared by the two other terms as well). This experience is divine because it imposes itself onto Socrates as a sudden, unexpected, temporary and irresistible (that is, «daemonic») incident. Events of this kind immediately display their nature20. Socrates has neither doubts nor reservations when he calls «daemonic» any such occurrence (he sounds even more convincing for being aware that not all that comes to him as a surprise must be superhuman21). This is the very character whose human fallibility (however philosophical in kind) can be mentioned, if need be, in any Platonic context: yet he is allowed to instantly recognize all his daemonic experiences for what they are.

  • 22 Possibly a current use: cf. Demosth. 9.54: τι δαιμόνιον.

102.4. Socrates has no proper name for this occurrence (the reader may consider this textual silence as another fitting connotation of divinity). He always designates it indirectly: either as «a sort of voice» (not just ϕωνή but ϕωνή τις: Ap. 31d3; τις ϕωνή: Phaedr. 242b5); or as a «sign» (σημεῖον: Ap. 40b1, 40c3, 42d6; Euthyd. 272e3-4; Phaedr. 242b5; Resp. 294c5); or as his «habitual divination» (Ap. 40a4); at its most abstract, as «the daemonic happening to him» (τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον, Tht. 151a4), or just as «something» (θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον: Ap. 31c8-d1)22.

  • 23 The view that it can only work as an adjective in Plato’s text is as recurrent as it is controversi (...)
  • 24 The words θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον mark indeterminacy, not the agency of some divine character (contr (...)
  • 25 Basically, the substantive daimôn designates a modality, not an agent: «the veiled countenance of d (...)

11A constant narrative rule is thus at work: Socrates is never made to declare that what he experiences is «to daimonion» as such, without further qualification. Crediting him with the assertion that what «comes [to him] all the time» is «to daimonion» (τὸ δαιμόνιον... ἑκάστοτε γίγνεσθαι: Euthyphr. 3b4-5) definitely marks Euthyphro’s utterance as an unreliable reproduction of Socrates’ own words. Although at the grammatical level the term daimonion may occasionally be allowed to function as a substantive23, at the narrative level it is never made to designate an agent: none of the alternate or simultaneous mentions of theos, theion and (to) daimonion produces any designation of an individual actor24. In the last resort, the very action of qualifying the occurrence as «daemonic» dispenses with the need to identify any author for it25.

  • 26 Cf. the discussion in Joyal 1995, p. 44, n. 15 and Joyal 2005, p. 106-107. Apuleius (de deo Socr. 2 (...)
  • 27 Plato has no use for the current synaesthetic metonymy of «seeing» an aural object (cf. e.g. Soph. (...)
  • 28 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 95, n. 73, with further references.

122.5. The term phônê is always qualified by the indefinite tis, «something like a voice»26: the event lacks any real claim to objectivity. Yet Socrates’ subjective impression is not qualified as an «aural» experience just for want of better terms: it removes any other possible sensual component, notably vision27, from it. The most common and authoritative pattern of divine communication towards human beings, epiphany, is rejected by the same stroke: no divine individual makes himself perceptible in the occurrence. As for penetration by divinity, that is «enthusiasm», it is never in question: Socrates is always depicted as keeping his usual degree of consciousness during any daemonic incident28.

  • 29 A most appropriate pun created by Pucci 1998, p. 84.
  • 30 Fox 1986, p. 112 considers Socrates’ daemonic voice as one of such cases. For a detailed discussion (...)
  • 31 Cf. Gundert 1954, 517. Brickhouse-Smith 2000, p. 247, who apparently the daimonion as a message of (...)
  • 32 Phônê usually means no more than «the sound of a voice» in Classical times: cf. e.g. Isocr. de pace (...)
  • 33 As done by Vlastos in Smith-Woodruff 2000, p. 185. Yet the important remark that the Platonic text (...)

13This «sort of voice» does not even provide an exclusively «aural epiphany», an «epiphony»29 allowing a human being to perceive some divine message uttered in a comprehensible language30. The Platonic narrative omits precisely what the reader might consider obvious, that Socrates receives a more or less clear «message». In fact, it never describes as logos whatever Socrates may «hear»31. The final reason why this «voice» is abnormal may well be that it does not articulate any speech (for the apparent exception of the Phaedrus, see infra 3.4)32. The speechless dimension becomes conspicuous when compared to other forms of divine communication addressed to the Platonic Socrates: dreams (Crito, 44a10-b5; Phaedo, 60e1-61b7) and the Delphic oracle (Ap. 20e6-21b9), all instances of divinity indeed addressing Socrates, directly or not, «in Greek words he can understand». Yet such a description may only inadvertently be applied to this phônê33. «What is the god saying, what is he hiding?»: so does Socrates appropriately react to the Delphic response that «nobody is wiser» (Ap. 21b3-4); but the Platonic text never allows him to ask the like after having perceived the daemonic «voice». This «voice», indeed, says literally nothing to him. In all such cases, and a fortiori in all other instances where no «voice» is explicitly mentioned, the daemonic incident is not described as producing a specific text in need of an interpretation.

  • 34 Manetti 1987, p. 80-81.
  • 35 MacNaghten 1914, p. 186-188; Dorion 2003, p. 170-175: in general, uses sêmainein (prosêmainein) to (...)
  • 36 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 67.

142.6. In Classical times, sêmeion and the related verb sêmainein may denote divine communication being addressed to human beings34. In Xenophon’s description of Socrates’daemonic incident, sêmainein (or the variant prosêmainein) may be used absolutely, in the typical phrase to daimonion sêmainein, that identifies an individual actor («the divinity») in the act of giving a sign (Xen., Mem. 1.1.2-4; 4.3.12-13; 4.8.1; Xen., Ap. 12-14)35: a simple, transparent operation, fully conform to the universal pattern whereby divinity provides some privileged mortals with informations they would otherwise be unable to acquire by their own means (Xen., Mem. 1.1.6; 4.3.12)36. The daimonion indicates «what should to be done and what should not» ( τε δέοι καὶ μὴ δέοι ποιεῖν: Xen., Mem. 4.8.1; cf. 4.8.12, Xen., Ap. 12). In general, it endows Socrates with some positive or negative but always directly profitable information, which may be beneficial to him as well as to his associates (Xen., Ap. 14).

  • 37 And also rarely employed by Xenophon elsewhere: MacNaghten 1914, p. 185
  • 38 Cf. Joyal 1995, p. 48 and n. 29; Brisson 2005, p. 3.
  • 39 As noted by Joyal 2000, p. 75, n. 30, the term εἰωθός qualifies a recurrent event, not a permanent (...)

15The Platonic textual strategy is different. It has no use for the verb sêmainein to denote the daemonic incident. Is it in order to avoid representing an objective instance of communication? Yet the event is called a sêmeion seven times, in four different contexts (Ap. 40b1, 40c3, 41d5; Euthyd. 2 72e3-4; Phaedr. 242b5; Resp. 294c5). This word is never used in such circumstances by Xenophon37: if the Platonic Socrates does indeed perceive this experience as producing a meaning of sorts, he seems to do it in his own way. In Socrates’ words, however, the dominant denotation for the daemonic occurrence is provided by the term γίγνεσθαι, «to happen» (five cases): what is stressed is the nature of an autonomous event38. This verb can take different subjects: the daemonic «something», the «voice», the sêmeion; or can be so constructed as to be connected with to daimonion (μοι θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον γίγνεται: Ap. 31d1; ϕωνή τις γιγνομένη: Ap. 31d3; ἐγένετο τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον τὸ δαιμόνιον: Euthyd. 272e3-4; τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον, Tht. 151a4; τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖόν μοι γίγνεσθαι ἐγένετο: Phaedr. 242b9)39.

  • 40 This is the most obvious difference between Plato’s and Xenophon’s description: according to the la (...)

16The Platonic narrative invariably portrays a character being arrested while acting40. The affected action may be taking place right at the moment (Ap. 40b4: the sign stops Socrates «in the process of speaking», λέγοντα μεταξύ); it is more often described as being about to start, by means of the verb μέλλω (εἴ τι μέλλοιμι μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν: Ap. 40a6; μέλλοντί τι ἐρεῖν: Ap. 40b3; εἰ μή τι ἔμελλον ἐγὼ ἀγαθὸν πράξειν: Ap. 40 c3; ἂν μέλλω πράττειν: Phaedr. 242b8). The daemonic inhibition is actually denoted by five broadly synonymous verbs, namely:

  1. ἐναντιόομαι, «to oppose», five cases: cf. Ap. 31 d 5, 6: ἐναντιοῦται, ἐναντιοῦσθαι, both having for subject θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον; Ap. 40 a 6, b1, b6: ἐναντιουμένη, whose subject is ... εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντική; ἠναντιώθη (twice), ἠναντίωται, whose subject is τὸ σημεῖον;

  2. ἐπίσχω: «to restrain» (emphatically), the subject being τὸ σημεῖον, in two cases: cf. Phaedr. 242 b8: ἐπίσχει; Ap. 40 b4: ἐπέσχε;

  3. the «voice» also «deflects» Socrates (ἀποτρέπει: Ap. 31d4), a result also achieved by the sêmeion (ἀπέτρεψεν: Ap. 41d5-6), or

  4. does not «allow» him [to perform a given action] (οὐκ ἐᾷ: Phaedr. 242b8).

  5. Finally, the γιγνόμενον δαιμόνιον «prevents» Socrates [from chosing one of two alternatives] (ἀποκωλύει) and reciprocally «allows» him (ἐᾷ) [to follow the other one] (Tht. 151a4).

  • 41 According to Partridge 2008, p. 301 «these verbs show that, for Socrates... the sign is warning him (...)

17By themselves, all these verbs denote the production of an impediment materially affecting a given action; none designates the issuing of an order, of a suggestion, or of a warning aimed at deflecting the adressee from such an action41. Even when this final effect is literally achieved by «something meaningful», a sêmeion, what is denoted is nothing else than the factual outcome of the daemonic incident. The Platonic text does not describe Socrates being issued an order, a suggestion or a warning: it describes Socrates being stopped in his tracks.

  • 42 Cf. Reeve 1989, p. 69: «no elenctic examination, no interpretation, no exercise of critical reason (...)

18The Platonic Socrates, in fact, perceives the divine nature of the occurrence instantly; yet what he actually perceives is just that some present or imminent action of his is being checked. He is nowhere depicted as the recipient of any kind of information nor prescription (moreover, as already noted, the event, whether called a phônê or anything else, takes place in an extra-linguistic dimension). The text nowhere specifies that the daemonic occurrence needs to declare anything like its nature, authority, or purpose, in order to elicit Socrates’ obedience; nor that Socrates has to deploy some decisional or operational procedure in order to disengage himself from the specific activity vetoed by the sign. Nowhere are the sêmeion, the phônê, or the gignomenon daimonion being described e.g. as a) informing Socrates that he should desist from acting, b) pointing to the individual action he should abandon, and c) enjoining him to comply (and, less of all, giving him any explanation for that). This sequence (either temporal or logical) might be cause Socrates to engage, correspondingly, into some process like 1) acknowledging and/or decoding the message, 2) recognizing its divine nature, 3) pondering the advisability of complying with it, 4) submitting to the injunction, with or without further explanation, 5) and finally devising how to implement it at best. Yet the Platonic context ignores all such convolutions: it only deals with a sudden incident stopping Socrates in his tracks and which Socrates declares to be «daemonic»42.

  • 43 Brickhouse-Smith 1989, p. 253 stress the «uninformativeness» of the sign: Socrates is told «next to (...)
  • 44 In other terms, the «abstractness [which] might certainly dispense Plato from precisely defining th (...)

19The daemonic occurrence, in other terms, is not costructed as a semantic process: it is described as an instantaneous event43. It arrests or prevents a given activity by Socrates by its very happening. It becomes effective ipso facto; it has no «content»; it only consists in an irresistible apotreptic pulsion. Socrates may only need to note facts: «as I was standing up, the usual sign, the daemonic one, came into being: therefore, I sat down once again» (ἀνισταμένου δέ μου ἐγένετο τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον τὸ δαιμόνιον. πάλιν οὖν ἐκαθεζόμην: Euthyd. 272e3-4). Extreme concision may only confirm the daemonic nature of this exclusively factual, yet immediately effective obstruction44.

202.7. The Platonic text never describes the daemonic occurrence as a semantic process in itself. Yet, on some occasions, it does designate this occurrence as a sêmeion, that is as «something meaningful», and in all such cases the reader is obviously led to believe that a daemonic event, besides its specific pragmatic effect, must entail some sort of meaning. What is the reason for this apparent contradiction? Even before discussing the single occasions where the term sêmeion is employed, a few remarks may be anticipated right now.

  • 45 In the terms of Vlastos 1991, p. 282: its «presentational content is immediately clear».

21First of all, it must be excluded that the sêmeion is so called because it needs to be submitted to the interpretation of the recipient in order to become effective as it comes into being. The occurrence needs no such interpretation in order to be identified as «daemonic» by Socrates, and to cause him to interrupt a given activity. Its sudden presence, precise target and clearly superhuman status are always mentioned as being absolutely evident45. It is thus effective by itself, as Socrates instantly recognizes.

  • 46 Cf. Cameron 1978, p. 38: the sêmeion causes Socrates to «stop, reflect and change course».

22Secondly, it is undeniable that by calling this factual incident a sêmeion Socrates must imply that he perceives it as an at least potentially meaningful datum. Certainly, this implication does not necessarily emerge in every case. Socrates may be left to behave as simply as in the Euthydemus: just sitting down instead of going away, and not giving a thought to the whole thing. But other contexts describe his actual attempts at making sense of the occurrence, that is at producing an interpretation of what has been happening to him, so that he may adopt a consequent behaviour. The obstruction of any of his actual courses of action may only impulse Socrates into considering which other possible courses have now become practicable to him46. Trying to make sense of potentially anything is Socrates’ distinctive activity: he may try as well to derive meaning from a given daemonic interruption. It is up to him to elaborate a logos to that effect. The content of such a logos, a discursive clarification of the possible reason why that individual sign happened at all in order to interrupt or prevent a given action, is the only sort of meaning that the speechless sêmeion may cause. And, obviously, the meaning so produced will become a constitutive element of the ongoing Socratic discourse.

  • 47 As Vlastos 1991, p. 282-283 rightly stresses.
  • 48 It notably brings Socrates no «prediction… beyond the power of human reason» (McPherran 2005, p. 17 (...)
  • 49 Cf. Dorion 2004, p. 74: the sêmeion is one of the modalities by which divinity keeps impulsing Socr (...)

23The paradoxical nature of this exclusively Socratic experience is now becoming apparent. This «divine and daemonic something» has no fully definite consistence, yet it irresistibly affects Socrates’ behaviour. It is utterly unspecified and vague in its origins, totally unpredictable in its actual manifestation, yet utterly familiar to Socrates. A «sort of voice», it implies neither speech nor speaker. A manifestation of divinity, it brings no epiphany, discloses no revelation47, implements no superhuman decision, anticipates no future48. It brings no orders, requires no obedience. It just comes into being and blocks a perfectly conscious Socrates. Yet its proper function begins to emerge: to confirm Socrates’ own responsibility for his own existential engagement49.

3. Depictions

3.1. Apology, 31c7-32a3

24While defending himself during his trial, Socrates elaborates his interpretation of the reasons why the daemonic incident recurs on some typical occasions. He so justifies one of his most peculiar postures: implementing the mission imposed onto him by the divinity, which also implies benefitting Athens as a political community, by means of a purely private activity. The appropriate cause for such an apparently aberrant behaviour may indeed be provided by Socrates’«divine and daemonic something» (θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον: 31c8-d1). This «sort of voice» regularly checks all of his impulsions to engage in active politics, τὰ πολιτικὰ πράττειν (or πράττειν τὰ πολιτικὰ πράγματα: 31d5, d7-8).

  • 50 Socrates is not usually described as trying to assess «the daimonion’s intentions» (in the words of(...)
  • 51 Stokes 1997, p. 155.

25All such repeated obstructions are immediately effective, being «daemonic»; none can be arbitrary, being «divine». Socrates assumes that real wisdom belongs only to the divinity (Ap. 23a5-6). However, his interpretation does not focus on the divine intention that may lie beyond this constant daemonic opposition: it focuses on the outcome, which, as he asserts, is fully beneficial to him50. Therefore, he produces the following argument: a) it is a well-known empirical truth that whoever engages in public activity in order to strive for the common good, i.e. to assert justice and legality, will antagonize an omnipotent dêmos who only care for their passions (31d5 and sq.)51: soon or later, then, he will be dead; b) therefore the common good must be pursued by a non-public, private activity: ἰδιωτεύειν ἀλλὰ μὴ δημοσιεύειν (32a2-3); c) to that effect, the repeated daemonic occurrences, by keeping Socrates away from the political arena, achieve the negative result of saving his life and the positive result of empowering him to devote himself to his philosophical task. As an illustration, Socrates recalls two personal episodes. In his official function of a prutanis during the notorious process against the Generals after the battle of the Arginusae, he had to oppose the unlawful requests of the dêmos (32a9-c3); during the oligarchical government of the Thirties, he had to ignore a criminal order to take part in the assassination of Leontius (32c4-8).

  • 52 Cf. de StryckerSlings 1994, p. 159; Stokes 1997, p. 154; Heitsch 2002, p. 134 Woodruff 2007, p. 29 (...)

26Now, these examples do not really support Socrates’ argument. Not only do they heavily qualify Socrates’ initial assumption «enter politics, you are dead» (death, they imply, may result less from political engagement as such than from opposing an arbitrary power52); they almost contradict it. On both occasions, Socrates heard no voice, got involved in politics, and yet emerged unscathed. Certainly, in neither case was he involved out of free choice, and both tales might provide a kind of reverse illustration of the effects of the daemonic inhibition, such as «political engagement will indeed not kill Socrates in those cases when he encounters no daemonic opposition». But this will still leave the reader wondering whether the daemonic intervention is indeed as necessary and effective as Socrates declares. Such doubts will increase when considering that the whole Apology is precisely about Socrates putting his life at risk because of his exclusively «private» philosophical activity: what he is presently confronting is a major political institution, the very emblem of the Athenian people’s power, the Court. Politics, therefore, do kill Socrates. And philosophy kills him as surely: Socrates soon declares that he will never abandon his enquiry in order to save his life (Ap. 37e3-38a6). Instead of being given an explanation, the reader is thus led to face a puzzle.

  • 53 Cf. Ward 2009, p. 512: the two episodes finally deny that politics and philosophy can be conceived (...)
  • 54 This may be inferred from the phrase ὅταν γένηται (31d3), «whenever (the voice) comes into being», (...)
  • 55 On Socrates’ general interest for politics, see Brickhouse-Smith 1994, p. 137-138 who also point to (...)

27Yet these examples highlight some increasingly relevant Socratic features. Firstly, Socrates does not fear death (he had already argued that such a fear would be most silly: cf. 29a1-b2). Secondly, he would engage into active politics with the same intellectual and moral approach he deploys in his philosophical search53. Thirdly, as an active politician, he would put his life in special danger precisely because of his exceptional principles, attitudes and courage. Fourthly, they bring to the fore a so-far unmentioned Socratic inclination: if nothing less than a «divine and daemonic something» is needed in order to prevent Socrates from entering the political fray, and if the daemonic voice has to restrict Socrates every time he is about to do just that54, Socrates’ inclination for politics must be considerable indeed. Of course, not for the petty, dirty and dangerous squabbling of Athenian public life (cf. Ap. 36b5-c3): Socrates can conceive of politics only as an activity aimed at improving his fellow-citizens55.

  • 56 Woodruff 2007, p. 299-300 similarly argues that Socrates, as described in the Apology could not eng (...)
  • 57 Cf. Stokes 1997, p. 154 and Centrone 1997, p. 342-343.

28But Socrates implements such an activity by utterly different means: philosophical interrogation, not political competition56. Whatever Socrates is made to say by the text, the ultimate meaning of the «antipolitical» daemonic interventions may only be, to the reader, that the daemonic event shelters Socrates not from death, but from untimely death: an end which would prevent him from fulfilling his proper mission, and render him of «no use to himself and the others» (31d8-e1)57. Is Socrates’ own mission to be ended, therefore, only by a death that might somehow be considered timely? It is; yet the reader of the Apology has to wait for this answer until the moment when Socrates mentions his daemonic experience once again (Ap. 39e1 and sq.: see infra, 3.5). For the time being, he must content himself with the narrative use of the daemonic experience as a focalizer stressing the absolutely distinctive nature of Socrates’ existential engagement.

3.2. Republic VI, 496 c 3-5

29The context of this apparently incidental reference to the daemonic intervention is a discussion about the «proper» way of living a philosophical life (cf. 496a-497a). The apparent point is that Socrates keeps out of politics for a reason which is so abnormal as to have no general relevance («it is useless to mention my daemonic sign; until now, it has happened to almost nobody else»: τὸ δἡμέτερον οὐκ ἄξιον λέγειν, τὸ δαιμόνιον σημεῖον γάρ πού τινι ἄλλῳ οὐδενὶ τῶν ἔμπροσθεν γέγονεν). The real point is that philosophy tolerates no contamination with political life. In the Apology (supra 3.1.), the daemonic occurrence shielded Socrates against his recurring temptation to cross the border between these two modes of existence; here, it reinforces Socrates’ awareness of their radical opposition. The daemonic event is mentioned here as sêmeion: it is a meaningful event precisely because it provides Socrates with an additional reason for radically desisting from politics: his commitment to philosophy represents an uncompatible alternative.

3.3. Theaethetus, 150b6 – 151d6

  • 58 And not to the action of one single actor alternately designated as theos or daimonion (Macnaghten (...)

30Socrates explains how divinity actually comes in support of his distinctive philosophical task, which he defines as intellectual «midwifery» (Socrates can help his associate to «deliver» the truths they may be holding within themselves, but cannot produce such truths himself, since he is devoid of knowledge). What he describes amounts to cooperation by two separate agents58:

31(i) The agent named ho theos implements different tasks: (a) He obliges Socrates to practise «midwifery» while preventing him to produce wisdom himself («the god obliges me to act as a midwife, it forbids me to procreate»: μαιεύεσθαί με θεὸς ἀναγκάζει, γεννᾶν δὲ ἀπεκώλυσεν: 150c7-8); (b) He allows some (but not all) of Socrates’associates to progress in the discovery of their own knowledge («those which the god assists, they make stupendous progress»: οἷσπερ ἂν θεὸς παρείκῃ, θαυμαστὸν ὅσον ἐπιδιδόντες: 150d4-5); (c) He shares the responsibility for such positive results with Socrates («the god and myself together produce the midwifery»: τῆς μέντοι μαιείας θεός τε καὶ ἐγὼ αἴτιος: 150d8-e1); (d) He assists Socrates (cf. σὺν θεῷ εἰπεῖν, 151b4: «with god’s help, so to speak») in redirecting those associates whom Socrates evaluates as «unfit to deliver wisdom» to the teachers apt to provide the kind of instruction most suitable to them (the «sophists») (151b2-6).

32(ii) The daemonic event has a wholly different purpose. A number of Socrates’ associates just «abort delivery» and abandon Socrates. Some of these former associates come back again, and beg Socrates to give them a second try. In Socrates’ words, «in case they come back and ask for my company,... my daemonic occurrence forbids such an intimacy to some of them, but allows it to some others, and the latter progress once again» (ὅταν πάλιν ἔλθωσι δεόμενοι τῆς ἐμῆς συνουσίας…, ἐνίοις μὲν τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον ἀποκωλύει συνεῖναι, ἐνίοις δὲ ἐᾷ, καὶ πάλιν οὗτοι ἐπιδιδόασι: 151a3-5).

  • 59 Cf. Burnyeat 1977, p. 16, n. 19.

33Some details seem to blur the features neatly assigned to Socrates’ daemonic experience elsewhere. The unique denomination τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον is ambiguous: it may either employ the term δαιμόνιον as a substantive, qualified by γιγνόμενον as an adjective, or vice versa. In the first case, the phrase would designate an agent; in the second, it would point to an event. Moreover, the daemonic experience is represented as affecting Socrates’ associates rather than Socrates himself, and producing both positive (protreptic?) and negative (apotreptic?) effects: some candidates it admits again, some others it refuses. The reader may be tempted to dismiss all such complications by considering that, whether the daimonion is intended as an agent or as an event, it is always Socrates, in the end, who has to take action, either by welcoming the repentant back or by sending him away definitely. Yet the text does play with vocabulary: when describing the action of ho theos, it employs the same terminology which it also applies to the daemonic occurrence. First, ho theos is said to exert the same kind of inhibition (ἀπεκώλυσεν, 150c8) as to gignomenon daimonion (ἀποκωλύει: 151a4). Secondly, the respective meanings of the terms theos and daimonion are made to converge: ho theos does not designate an individual deity (no such character has a role in this context), but abstract divinity59; reciprocally, the impersonal gignomenon daimonion may be start pointing, if intended as an agent, to some (unspecified) divine individual.

  • 60 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 84-87 and Joyal 2005, p. 109-110.
  • 61 Contra Weiss 2005, p. 90:» [Socrates’] daimonion merely concretizes his reservations about these st (...)

34Divinity is thus represented as an entity which has different ways of contributing to Socrates’own activity. On the one side, by mentioning a cooperation implemented by an active theos, the text stresses that the emergence of the true «knowledge» produced by the exertion of Socrates’ midwifery is a somehow superhuman, i.e. «divine», achievement60. On the other side, the term daimonion recalls that the idiosyncratic abilities deployed by Socrates are only too human: with all their exceptional effectiveness, they need to remain structurally limited. Socrates, notably, is unable to assess in advance by himself whether any «second application» is worth accepting or not61. This is why divine cooperation is essential to him at that moment.

35Anyway, the narration does not imply that Socrates’ midwifery is substantially made any easier by all such divine interventions. On the contrary, the theos may take the merit for any progress, and guarantee the final success of a worthy candidate (cf. 151d5-6), but the hard work will always be done by Socrates. In fact, the decision to admit or reject candidates to midwifery, the indispensable initial step in the whole educational process, is exclusively Socrates’ own. It is Socrates who submits the applicant to a preliminary examination (basanizein: cf. 150b9-c3). And he remains saddled all the time with the delicate, exacting task of stimulating and slackening the pace of «delivery» according to the different needs of each candidate to knowledge. In spite of all efforts and dedication, the result might be a flat failure (failed candidates may obviously take their share of blame too).

  • 62 Cf. Burnyeat 1977, p. 14: «Socratic education can only be successful with someone like Theaethetus (...)

36The whole mission becomes even more daunting when Socrates has to deal once again with those former associates which he is submitting to a «second trial». This may happen only if the gignomenon daimonion «allows» (ἐᾷ) for that. By such term, the absence of an express daemonic opposition is described as a positive decision and divinity is thus given an assertive posture: the text therefore indicates that one given individual has now been certified as «able to deliver» in spite of his initial failure. No doubt, Socrates will do his best, yet he will never be able to anticipate the outcome in full assurance: the actual propensity of a single young man to «deliver» will be shown only by the final result62.

  • 63 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 100-101, n. 8

37The redeployment of the «daemonic» terminology implemented by this specific Platonic narrative aims at stressing the connection between Socrates’ efforts to the benefit of his associates, and the divine contribution that such an association needs in order to produce its results. Socrates receives some episodical support but no definite assurance of a positive achievement: in the end, the responsibility for bringing the whole process up to a successful conclusion rests upon him63.

3.4. Phaedrus 242 b4 — d2

38This is the only description of Socrates as he tries to make sense of a present daemonic occurrence: it is marked by several peculiarities, and focuses on the interaction of Socrates’ own psychic faculties with the daemonic event.

  • 64 However controversial this wording (to Wilamowitz 1920, p. 363 the words τὸ δαιμόνιόν τε καὶ are «e (...)

39Socrates and Phaedrus are in a sacred grove on the banks of the Ilyssus. Socrates has just produced a logos about Eros that has failed to mention the divine nature of this actor (237b1-238c4). Now he will say no more, and will leave the place. A sudden daemonic occurrence stops him on the spot. It is so described: «when I was about to cross the stream, the daemonic sign happened, the one which usually happens to me — indeed, it always stops me from doing what I am about to do» (Ἡνίκἔμελλοντὸν ποταμὸν διαβαίνειν, τὸ δαιμόνιόν τε καὶ τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖόν μοι γίγνεσθαι ἐγένετοἀεὶ δέ με ἐπίσχει ἂν μέλλω πράττειν: 242b8-c3). The repetition of gignesthai suggests that the sign happens at the appropriate time and place64. The daemonic inhibition, however, only obstructs Socrates’ physical gesture of crossing the stream. Immediately after, Socrates becomes aware of having committed a hamartia, a religious fault against divinity in general (to theion). His former speech had been unable to provide a truthful description of the god Eros. The sign happens just in time to prevent Socrates from leaving the place before having purified himself (by implication, Socrates should also remove the pollution he might have caused to this holy site). He must atone at this very place.

  • 65 Cf. Gundert 1954, p. 518 («wo beginnt hier die eigene Überlegung, wo endet die “Stimme”?»); Rist 19 (...)
  • 66 The dominant interpretation: see e.g. Kleve 1986, p. 9; BrickhouseSmith 2000, p. 249; Howland 2006 (...)

40How does Socrates realize all that? Just after having mentioned the coming of the sign, he adds: «I believed to hear a sort of voice, here and now, which would not allow me to leave before I had atoned, as I had actually committed a fault against divinity» (τινα ϕωνὴν ἔδοξα αὐτόθεν ἀκοῦσαι, με οὐκ ἐᾷ ἀπιέναι πρὶν ἂν ἀϕοσιώσωμαι, ὡς δή τι ἡμαρτηκότα εἰς τὸ θεῖον: 242 c1-3). The unusual juxtaposition of sêmeion to phônê suggests that this specific daemonic prohibition calls for an interpretation. Indeed, the prohibition to leave is explained by the immediately following sentence, introduced by ὡς δή. But does this sentence reproduce the very words which have been uttered by the «voice», or does it reproduce the thoughts which have almost instantly been articulated by Socrates? Both readings are possible, and the result is ambiguity65. In the first case, the text would provide the exceptional depiction of the «voice» actually saying something66. In the second, it would express Socrates’ impromptu interpretation of the daemonic occurrence. On the whole, the latter option seems preferable: Socrates specifies that the daemonic occurrence is his «habitual» one (εἰωθός), which might imply that it is speechless as usual, and that he has only «believed to hear» the «sort of voice». Considering the semantic function Plato consistently assigns to dokein and doxa, to denote «appearance» as opposed to «truth», the term edoxa may well imply that what Socrates has perceived corresponds to nothing real. The sentence introduced by ὡς is likely to introduce Socrates’ own thoughts: the more so since this character immediately applies more comments of his own to the daemonic event.

  • 67 In the sense of a practitioner being able to endow events that look apparently meaningless (asêma), (...)

41The narration indeed focuses on Socrates’ inner recollections. To explain how all such mental evolutions could possibly take place, Socrates declares that he «happens to be a diviner» (εἰμὶ δὴ οὖν μάντις: 242c4), although only proficient enough to care for his own personal needs67. Indeed, he seems to undergo three psychological phases:

    • 68 Cf. Ibycus, fr. 310 PMG = Plut., Quaest. Conv. IX 15, 748c.
    • 69 Plat., Crito 44b1-2: the prophetic «beautiful women» Socrates sees in a dream quotes Homer (Il. 9.3 (...)

    he had already been feeling, while speaking about Eros, that his rhetorics, however brilliant, were inappropriate to the subject: «something was disturbing me as I delivered my previous speech, and I started being afraid that I may find myself in the position of ‘wronging the gods and being rewarded by men’, as Ibycus has it» (ἐμὲ γὰρ ἔθραξε μέν τι καὶ πάλαι λέγοντα τὸν λόγον, καί πως ἐδυσωπούμην κατἼβυκον, μή τι παρὰ θεοῖς ἀμβλακὼν τιμὰν πρὸς ἀνθρώπων ἀμείψω: 242c7-d2). To formulate such anticipatory feelings, Socrates resorts to what looks like a standard utterance by a poet68. In another Platonic context, an oracle is similarly issued by means of an Homeric quote69. By begging for some plain words he might understand, Phaedrus acknowledges the (possibly half-jocular) prophetic tone of Socrates’ explanation: «what on earth do you mean?» (242d3: λέγεις δὲ δὴ τί;).

    • 70 Cf. Partridge 2008, p. 202-203: «What the sign prevents... is only Socrates’ leaving right then; it (...)

    shortly after Socrates has finished uttering his «wrong» logos, the daemonic sign occurs: however, it makes no apparent reference to Socrates’ recent speech, and only inhibits a very simple gesture he is about to accomplish (and that would leave both him and the sacred place in a state of pollution)70;

    • 71 Ferrari 1987, p. 181.

    immediately after the daemonic occurrence, Socrates elaborates his discursive interpretation of the sêmeion. He is now assured to know both the precise hamartêma he has committed (σαϕῶς οὖν ἤδη μανθάνω τὸ ἁμάρτημα: 242d2)71 and the appropriate form of expiation, which he specifies shortly afterwards (to deliver a «right» speech about Eros, at this very spot).

  • 72 Rist 1963, p. 15-16 sees that the mantike here relates to some Socratic faculty, not to a revelatio (...)

42Socrates describes the occurrence of the daemonic sign and the evolution of his inner thoughts as two strongly interlocking processes, whose synergism impulses him towards abandoning error and looking for truth. The ambiguity of the phrasal construction resting on the explanatory words introduced by ὡς δή is precisely calculated to that end: it is the «sort of voice he believes to hear» which may be taken to produce a verbal explanation indeed produced by Socrates himself. All such inner proceedings are put under the comprehensive label of «divination» (see the assertion that «there is indeed something divinatory in the soul», μαντικόν γέ τι καὶ ψυχή: 242c7). The latter term refers to Socrates’ individual ability to perceive a superhuman sign and, at the same time, to interpret it72. To denote the soul as owning something mantikon, i.e. being structurally disposed to receive such impulsions (and make the most of them by means of interpretation), is also consonant with the dominant motif of the divine inspiration which will propell a mantis as well as a passionate speaker (237a7-b1, 238c5-d7, 241e1-5), whose passion is tantamount to mania (244a5-245a8).

43The iterative sequence «μάντις μανθάνω [«I know»] — μαντική» (242c4, c6, c7) may not be casual: coming to assess the truth, and declaring it, is a process having a divine quality. Any logos aiming at being truthful must somehow partake of divinity. Reacting to the performance by Phaedrus of Lysias’ speech (230e6-234c5), Socrates had exclaimed «How daemonic!» (δαιμονίω: 234d1). This evaluation is of course ironical if referred to the almost nonsensical utterances attributed to Lysias; it does however fit the authentic, although misplaced, exhaltation shown by the young performer. The daemonic incident may contribute to a clarification: the first Socratic speech on Eros was wrong not because Socrates, as he declares, had been too «enthusiastic» in his delivery (241e5), but because he had not been sufficiently «enthusiastic», that is receptive of a divine impulsion.

44The narrative reason for calling the daemonic occurrence both a «sign» and a «kind of voice» therefore emerges: what this context describes is how the daemonic input is blended into Socrates’ interpretation of it. The narrative may be deliberately blurred, and the reader left to wonder about who in effect says what. To stress the semantic relevance of the event up to the verge of transforming it into some superhuman linguistic utterance brings to the fore the proper function of the logos which Socrates distinctively strives to produce, the one asserting truth.

3.5. Apology 39e1-42d7

  • 73 Burnet 1929, p. 167-168 argues that μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν should be translated as «doing something amiss (...)

45This passage begins with a depiction of the daemonic incident in most unusual terms. Firstly, Socrates mentions «the divination usual to me» (... εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντική: 40a4) to his like-minded audience, the «genuine» judges who have just voted in his favour (40a2-3). This is the only occasion when the Platonic Socrates endows his usual daemonic event with a formal prophetic function. Secondly, this qualification allows for another unique assertion: daemonic inhibitions shelter Socrates from committing «wrong» actions (μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν: 40a6)73. Socrates then explains that he never experienced any such opposition on the present day and qualifies this circumstance as «something prodigious, happening to me» (ἐμοὶ... θαυμάσιόν τι γέγονεν: 40a3). In this sentence, the use of ti and gignesthai reproduces the first mention of the daemonic occurrence at 31c8.d1 (μοι θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον γίγνεται): the absence of any daemonic incident becomes thus transformed into an objective datum. The third and final peculiarity of such a description is that it creates the notion of a daemonic non-event.

46Socrates confers the possibly widest meaning and relevance to this nonevent. He therefore develops a three-phased argument: (1) he must have been acting properly today (he was always just and truthful in defending himself), since the sêmeion has never stopped him (40a8-b6); (2) the final outcome of the day (being sentenced to death) might thus «result in something good for him» (μοι... ἀγαθὸν γεγονέναι: 40b7-8); (3) in more general terms, death might be «a good thing in itself» (ἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ εἶναι: 40c4-5). Socrates never gives a positive reason why death should be «a good thing»: in the Apology, he nowhere declares to know the actual nature of death. In fact, he has already declared that nobody can know what it means «to be dead» (a remark introducing the idea that nobody can exclude that death may be supremely «good»: 29a6-b1). All he can provide is therefore «hope» (ἐλπίς: 40d4), although a great one. Neither does he intend this argument as a formal demonstration: he almost appears to be thinking aloud in his effort to make sense of the events of the day, so sharing his thoughts with the public (both the internal and the external one). The text indeed marks Socrates’ reasoning as:

  1. being strictly subjective and tentative (τί οὖν αἴτιον εἶναι ὑπολαμβάνω; «what is the cause I suppose [i.e., for my assertion about death]?»: note the question mark; 40b6);

  2. allowing for a merely possible, not a necessary conclusion (κινδυνεύει γάρ μοι τὸ συμβεβηκὸς τοῦτο ἀγαθὸν γεγονέναι: «it might be that what happened to me is something actually good»: 40b7-8);

  3. being just able to counterbalance some opposite opinions (καὶ οὐκ ἔσθὅπως ἡμεῖς ὀρθῶς ὑπολαμβάνομεν: «then we are totally wrong, all those of us who consider death to be an evil»: 40b8);

    • 74 On the deliberately tentative character of Socrates’ argument, see Stokes 1997, p. 186; Heitsch 200 (...)

    and, finally, producing a wholly subjective inference, although one grounded on actual experience (μέγα μοι τεκμήριον τούτου γέγονεν: «To me, an important indication has been produced [to the effect that it is wrong to consider death as an evil]»: 40c1-2)74.

  • 75 «Proof»: Brickhouse–Smith 1989, p. 237-245. This is denied by de StryckerSlings 1994, p. 342-3; St (...)

47A tekmêrion both may and may not consist in a proof establishing an unassailable truth75. To translate the term as «formal proof» would however render Socrates’ speech pointless. This speech, which is only made possible by an initial paradox (a non-event being given factual status), progresses indeed by means of calculated ambiguities, which in turn allow for some apparently minimal yet deeply effective semantic shifts.

  • 76 Cf. Brisson 2005, p. 8-10.
  • 77 E.g., a) the fact that a given action is «not bad» does not imply that it is «good» (it could just (...)

48a) The first shift inheres to the axiom that the sign would not allow Socrates «to do something which is not proper» (μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν: 40a6). In fact, Socrates never cares to define what may be considered either as a positive or as a negative outcome76: what matters to him is to stress that his own apparently self-damaging behaviour could indeed have «produced an actual good» (cf. ἀγαθὸν γεγονέναι: 40b7-8; ἀγαθὸν πράξειν: 40c3). Strong emphasis makes up for weak consequentiality: Socrates makes this point twice within five Stephanus lines77.

  • 78 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 101.

49b) The verbal form τεθνάναι invites semantic manipulation as well. The perfect form of ἀποθνῄσκω designates less the «action of dying» than the «state of being dead»78. In the Apology, when referring to the «action», Socrates uses both ἀποθνῄσκω (Ap. 28b3-5, 32c4-6, 32d7-8) and τεθνάναι (30b8-c1, 39e3, 40c1); when referring to the «state», he usually employs τεθνάναι (28b5-7, 40c5 and c6, 41d4). Yet what is the referent in the sentence: «then we are totally wrong, all those of us who consider death to be an evil» (καὶ οὐκ ἔσθὅπως ἡμεῖς ὀρθῶς ὑπολαμβάνομεν, ὅσοι οἰόμεθα κακὸν εἶναι τὸ τεθνάναι: 40b8-c1)? On this occasion, Socrates seems to employ τεθνάναι to assert at once that (i) the «action of dying» must be «good» for him, being the ultimate consequence of the (ethically) «good» behaviour he has been keeping all day long: which is nothing new, since he has precisely used the verb τεθνάναι to declare that he would prefer «to die many deaths» [transl. J. Burnet] rather than abandon his mission (30b8-c1); and that (ii) the «state of being dead» may consist in an actual good: which is a startling novelty. The text, in fact, keeps both possibilities open.

  • 79 As already stressed by Burnet 1929, p. 128, 166. See also de Strycker–Slings 1994 p. 365; Joyal 200 (...)

50c) The exceptional locution by which Socrates designates the sign on this occasion, τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ σημεῖον (40b1), also activates polisemy. The phrase τοῦ θεοῦ has an adjectival value: once again, no question here of an individual god withholding his signals79. However, it recalls the words tên tou theou latreian (Ap. 23c1), by which Socrates had summed up his mission in the service of «divinity», an actant whom the Apology systematically designates by the wholly impersonal term of theos (see e.g. 23a5-c1; 30d5-31c3). For once, the text may thus suggest that Socrates is supposing some divine intention behind the daemonic phenomenology as a whole. Socrates may thus detect an assurance that his philosophical mission is actually ending as and when it should: the very last sentence of the Apology (42a4-5) reasserts that divinity is omniscient. Therefore death, designed by τὸ τεθνάναι and intended as the action of interrupting one’s life, may be «a good thing» to Socrates: for it will definitely confirm that Socrates’ life has been «good».

  • 80 Cf. also Gundert 1954, p. 526.

51The value of Socrates’ life-long philosophical engagement is definitely attested by his choice to die an exemplary death. He had already announced this choice at 28b3-d580. Now his speculations give the reader the possibility to solve a long-standing puzzle caused by the first mention of the daemonic voice in the Apology (see supra, 3.1). Although there seems to be not a word about politics here, the text is presently unveiling the ultimate reason for keeping Socrates out of the political life: by means of the many past daemonic events and of the single present daemonic non-event, the Platonic narrative bars Socrates to die as a political hero, because it needs him to die as a philosophical hero.

  • 81 On the «mythological» character of this final description (a recurrent Platonic construct) see de S (...)

52d) By declaring that it might be totally wrong to consider death in itself as an evil (40b8-c1), Socrates is made to shift his whole argument further on. He now argues that death, intended as the «situation of being no longer alive» (τὸ τεθνάναι: 40c5), might be hoped to be «good» in itself, and thus «good» for everybody: «we can also produce another reason to think that there is much hope that this is a good thing (= to be dead)» (Ἐννοήσωμεν δὲ καὶ τῇδε ὡς πολλὴ ἐλπίς ἐστιν ἀγαθὸν αὐτὸ [scil. to tethnanai] εἶναι: 40c-5). He alternates general and personal considerations: as a negative yet substantial state of bliss, a perennial peaceful sleep, the perspective of being dead might attract anybody, the Great King included (40c9-e4); as an opportunity for exciting, never-ending dialectical conversations with famous heroes and sages (40c5-41c7), it represents an idiosyncratically Socratic state of ultra-mundane happiness81. Socrates finally reverts to the universal principle he has constantly been trying to articulate during his defence: nothing «bad» can happen to a «good» man, either alive or dead (41c9-d2): this is the ultimate reason why to tethnanai, in any possible meaning, should raise good hopes in all good men (41c8-9).

  • 82 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 99-100.

53Socrates’ very last words refer to his semeion once again: «this is why the sign did not deflect (ἀπέτρεψεν) me in the least» (41d5-6). This mention apparently casts the sign into the role of an agent. At the same time, it confirms that the semantic dimension to be attached to the daemonic occurrence is not the same which could be produced by an (apotreptic) message, either in the form of an information, a warning or a veto: for it entirely derives from Socrates’ own interpretation of the event. Socrates clearly conceives each daemonic intervention as a semantic opportunity to reassess, by an apposite speech, his existential plight. The exceptional fact that, at this crucial stage of the Socratic existential experience, this opportunity is provided by a daemonic non-event confirms that the sign acquires its meaning exclusively thanks to the Socratic discourse82.

3.6. Euthydemus, 272e1 – 273b8

54The case of the Euthydemus, at first sight, might look like flatly contradicting the conclusion of the preceding paragraph. This is indeed the most banal and apparently gratuitous daemonic occurrence being described in a Platonic context, although it certainly stresses how unproblematic the occurrence is to Socrates. Yet it obeys a deliberate authorial strategy and displays its function of a narrative device to the full.

  • 83 Joyal 2000, p. 76.

55Socrates tells how he just happened to be sitting on a bench in an undressing room in the Lykeion: a wholly fortuitous circumstance, having been caused by «some divinity» (this ironical detail anticipates the daemonic event soon to happen83). Socrates’ «familiar sign, the daemonic one» (τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον τὸ δαιμόνιον) comes to him (as silently as always, it appears) as he is standing up: he sits down in his place and makes no comments. Kleinias and some other characters, including the two sophists Euthydemus and Dionysodorus, enter the room and sit near to Socrates. The two sophists put their eristic abilities on display. Eventually, Socrates states what he constantly had been thinking by himself: such discursive methods utterly miss the truth (305e 5-6). The sêmeion has kept him in place so that he may hear all that is being said, and disbelieve it.

56At a narrative level, the daemonic event plays a fundamental role and also achieves a pictorial effect: it prevents Socrates from leaving the central position he is holding on stage, so that all characters shall gather around him. But, in his capacity of a sêmeion, it also works as an emblem of the whole plot to unfold. It anticipates that Socrates will remain unmoved to the end, physically as well as mentally: nobody can dislodge him from his intellectual position. For once, the sign plays an extra-diegetic role too: it proposes a meaning directly to the reader.

4. Conclusions

574.1. In all occasions, the daemonic event contributes to defining an essential feature of the Socratic portrait. It exploits some traditional features of the divine agency: occurrence beyond human control and instantly overbearing effectiveness. These essential denotations are summed up in the very term daimonion and leave their imprint on all Platonic descriptions. Socrates, however, is qualified as an exceptional wise man not only for being constantly visited by such events, but also for making the most out of the strictures imposed on him at each time: he can extract some responsible existential choice from any daemonic occurrence.

58This event, a major component of the Socratic paradigm constructed by Plato, is conceived as working in the background. This is the reason why, for all the declared frequency of his occurrences, it is not frequently mentioned in the Platonic text. Its implications are given the widest possible extension: they invest Socrates’ posture towards politics (Apology, Republic), his intellectual practice, both as «midwifery» (Theaethetus) and as elaboration of truthful logoi (Phaedrus, and implicitly Euthydemus), and his distinctive, philosophical way of life as a whole, which is supported by divinity and aptly ends in heroic death (Apology). The event may inflect Socrates’ activity in all its manifestations, actions as well as words: yet all descriptions are typically cursory; the narration focuses on Socrates’ reactions instead. Finally, the Platonic rendering of the daemonic occurrence produces a paradox: it endows this event with some constant features but, at the same time, it also introduces some strikingly divergent particularities on different occasions. Hence a possible impression of ambiguity and obscurity: upon closer reading, however, all such apparent flaws and contradictions prove to be functional to the context.

  • 84 On the epiphany as a paradigm in religious thought, see Bremer 1975, p. 5 and sq.; Burkert 1985, p. (...)
  • 85 de Strycker-Slings 1994, p. 216 note (with reference to Ap. 40a sq.) that the text «does not treat (...)
  • 86 Criticisms of such divine inadequacies, and of religious anthropomorphism as well, are typical of l (...)
  • 87 «Disguised» epiphanies are the usual ones in Homeric poetry; it is rare for a god to be described a (...)
  • 88 Cf. Plat., Crat. 425d5-6. The criticism is picked up by Aristot., Poet. 1454a37-b7. See Pucci 1994, (...)
  • 89 Cf. Bremer 1975, p. 14-17. This Socratic position is also mentioned by Xenophon (Mem. 4.3.14: Socra (...)

594.2. Once again, these are no tales of epiphany84. Since the markedly non-visual daemonic event brings no message, it requires no «sender». No divine character is ever identified as interacting with Socrates on such occasions, Apollo being no exception85. Some additional good reasons for ignoring this paradigm are provided by other Platonic contexts: see the hostility against the mythological descriptions of the gods who behave immorally (Resp. 377e6-380c10; 383a7-c5)86, and the specific belief that, since divinity cannot alter his perfect shape, all those tales about divine characters appearing at will anywhere under various disguises must be nonsensical (380c11-383a6)87. As for the epiphanic event familiar to any contemporary Athenian, the appearance of the deus ex machina over the dramatic scene, it just proves the dramatist’s inability to construct a convincing plot88. The Symposium has the final word: it is simply out of question that the gods may appear to human beings (Symp. 203a1-2)89.

  • 90 To provide Socrates with an individual daimôn, and to assimilate this daimôn to the deities accompa (...)
  • 91 Cf. Brisson 2005, p. 4, n. 11.
  • 92 On Plato’s daimones, see Burkert 1985, p. 181 and 328-332. Some reasons for the systematical avoida (...)

60No reference is ever made to some divine companion being possibly available on call, as Athena could occasionally be for the Homeric Odysseus90. No anonymous «guardian angel» is being mentioned either91. The entities called daimones in the contemporary religious terminology are accurately kept out of the picture: whatever the various natures or functions given to them in several other Platonic contexts (including Ap. 27b3-28a1), they are nowhere assigned any responsibility for the daemonic event92. This is all the more striking since in the Symposium (202-3), having denied the very possibility of the epiphany by a god, Socrates endows precisely a daimôn, bearing the proper name of Eros, with the role of an intermediary between divinity and humanity (an innovation to the principle that daimones are anonymous by definition): not even on such circumstance is Socrates’ daemonic experience (which, incidentally, is not given the slightest mention in this dialogue) connected to any individual daimôn.

  • 93 This is frequently put in doubt, since the Platonic Socrates experiences an apoptreptic effect from (...)
  • 94 See de Strycker-Slings 1994, p. 352 (Schefer 1996, p. 102-103 sees Apollo behind the moira). In sev (...)

61When Socrates lists all the various modalities by which divinity keeps his philosophical task under constant impulsion (Ap. 33c4-7), he does not name his daemonic occurrence (although there can be little doubt that this incident, in a most peculiar way, does contribute to Socrates’ existential engagement); he however mentions a residual category, including «all the means» by which the divine moira may direct humanity (παντὶ τρόπῳ ᾧπέρ τίς ποτε καὶ ἄλλη θεία μοῖρα ἀνθρώπῳ καὶ ὁτιοῦν προσέταξε πράττειν): this may well include Socrates’ daemonic experience93. As a whole, the circumlocution constructed in this passage would stress the objective and impersonal structure of the specific daemonic modality by means of which divine support is constantly extended to Socrates94.

  • 95 Cf.. e.g. Xen., Mem. 1.4.15; Cyr. 8.7.3; Eq. 9.9; Anab. 3.2.8-9. Dorion 2003, p. 178-80, 188. On th (...)
  • 96 At Xen., Ap. 12, the voice coming from the god explicitly indicates what Socrates should do: θεοῦ μ (...)

624.3. Xenophon firmly locates the daimonion of his Socrates inside the operational field of divination, the consolidated, universally accessible and reliable set of procedures allowing for semantic contact between men and gods. The Platonic Socrates is twice made to associate his experience to divination. In the Phaedrus (242c3-7), he half-ironically refers to an individual competence of his, without specifying, however, whether he means a technê or an inspirational faculty; in the Apology (40a4), he refers to the daemonic occurrence as such. He is thus made to stress an idiosyncrasy. Xenophon may confidently believe that Socrates’ daemonic occurrences, as any other oracle addressed to a human being, are valuable precisely because they bring some directly accessible and implementable information about what should either be done or not95. That divinity is a reliable guide to humanity makes no doubt for the Platonic Socrates either; yet his notion of such a guidance is sensibly different. Plato’s Socrates never benefits from any of those pieces of oracular information that the daimonion puts at the direct disposal of the wise and pious homonymous main character in Xenophon’s narrative96.

63This is not how the Platonic Socrates may acquire any knowledge. The only direct indication he can get from his daemonic occurrence, an event exerting a strictly apotreptic effect exclusively onto him, is that he is presently being made to stop doing or saying something (no question that he might receive the premonition of anything he should positively implement). The obstructed activity is thus being deleted from what Socrates had so far been constructing as the actual ensemble of his pragmatic possibilities. If Socrates wants, or needs, to evaluate whatever this deletion may imply for his present existential situation and perspectives, he must personally undertake a spell of hermeneutical activity (as with oracles and prophetic dreams). This activity may only lead to provisional and fallible results: but in no other way will Socrates be able to derive any information from that specific daemonic event and thus increase the volume of his subjective knowledge accordingly. Such information may be strictly related to the contingent situation where the event has happened (as in the Theaethetus and Phaedrus), or may be formulated so as to allow for some general inference (such as the rule that the sêmeion prevents Socrates from acting «wrongly», in the Apology); at any rate, it always refers to Socrates’ own plight. It can have no other content, therefore, than the one resulting from Socrates’ (fallible and subjective) act of interpretation: the meaning Socrates could obviously not have produced if the event had not happened.

  • 97 Vasiliou 2008, p. 58 has an opposite view: «the divine sign... functions as a moral expert or moral (...)

64These occurrences may equally affect an important or trifling behaviour, as if the specific relevance of the single inhibition did not really matter in the end. But their frequency is important. This daemonic pervasiveness causes Socrates to become aware of innumerable blank spots in his present evaluations and projects: it so engages him into a constant restructuring of his immediate existential perspectives. In so doing, it reminds him of the structural limitation of his human epistemic competence, his anthrôpinê sophia (Ap. 23a7). Socrates is impulsed towards (divine) knowledge by such constant reminders of his (human) ignorance97. In his endeavour at living in accordance with divinely suggested standards, by no other means than trying to tell the truth and act with justice in any circumstance, the Platonic Socrates can also benefit from the strange inputs that this «daemonic something» contributes to his heroic mission.

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Notes

1 A first version of this paper, with a much less developed content and a potentially misleading title («Epiphany in Socratic style»), was presented at «CORHALI XX: Epiphany», Princeton University, 4-6 June 2009. I am thankful to the editors for their useful suggestions.

2 The impropriety of such phrasing has been recently reaffirmed by Dorion 2003, p. 169-170 and 191.

3 Vlastos 1991, p. 280.

4 A review of the differences between Xenophon’s and Plato’ Socrates: Dorion p. 98-104. For the transformation of the daimonion into a daimôn, see in gen. Nock p. 666-668; Joyal 1995, p. 39-55.

5 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 111: «To daimonion in Plato’s works is presented inconsistently, even incoherently, and is so often influenced by the demands or the conventions of the context that it is sometimes hard to know whether we are dealing with the same phenomenon from one of its appearances to another». Incertitude on this subject might be as old as Socratic literature itself: see Gigon 1946, p. 134; Gigon 1994, p. 163-166.

6 See notably Brickhouse-Smith 1989, p. 168-170, 237-257; Vlastos 1991, p. 282-287; Brickhouse-Smith 1994, p. 148-49, 177-178, 189-95; McPherran 1996, p. 175-208; Brickhouse-Smith 2000, p. 247-252; Smith -Woodruff 2000, p. 176-204; Woodruff 2000, p. 140-143; McPherran 2005; Brickhouse-Smith 2005; Weiss 2005; Long 2006 Partridge 2008, p. 289-292.

7 On such premises as: «no doubt it would have been best if Socrates had made this connection vividly explicit...», «any account [of the daimonion] is bound to suffer from... the recalcitrance of our texts», «I must say that the texts are not as clear on this matter as we should like» (McPherran 1996, p. 137, 197 and 203); «I can’t help wonder if Socrates himself actually recognized...» (Smith in Smith-Woodruff 2000, p. 189); «have to imagine that Socrates...», «it may even be that Socrates...» (Vlastos in Woodruff 2000, p. 194); «but perhaps there is not enough evidence to make any confident judgment of [the daimonion’s] exact phenomenology» (Brickhouse-Smith 2005, p. 61). The Platonic text is thus substantially considered as a flawed description of the real Socrates’ life and ideas.

8 For a summary of the relevant discussion, see McPherran 1996, p. 134; Kraut p. 15-17.

9 Mainly, for the reasons given by Joyal 1995, p. 49-57 and Joyal 2000, p. 72-103. However, no discrimination will be made here between «first», «middle» and «last» dialogues within the Platonic corpus, or between «Socratic» and «Platonic» doctrines.

10 As Joyal 2005, p. 105 suggests, «the activities and characteristics that the Platonic Socrates attributes to his divine sign may be subject to Plato’s own literary and philosophical requirements in a given context within a specific dialogue».

11 Ap. 31c8-d1: μοι θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον γίγνεται; 31d2-3: ἐμοὶ δὲ τοῦτἔστιν ἐκ παιδὸς ἀρξάμενον; 31d5: τοῦτἔστιν μοι ἐναντιοῦται; 40a4: ... εἰωθυῖά μοι μαντική; 40a8-b1: ἐμοὶ [...] ἠναντιώθη; 40b6: ἠναντίωταί μοι; 40c2-3: οὐκ ἠναντιώθη ἄν μοι τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖον; Tht. 151a4: τὸ γιγνόμενόν μοι δαιμόνιον; Phaedr. 242b9: τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖόν μοι γίγνεσθαι (at Euthyphr. 3b5-6, Socrates’words are quoted as: τὸ δαιμόνιον ϕῂς σαυτῷ ἑκάστοτε γίγνεσθαι). Cf. also Ap. 31d3-4: ἀποτρέπει με; 40b4: πολλαχοῦ δή με ἐπέσχε; 41d5: ἐμὲ [...] ἀπέτρεψεν; Phaedr. 242c1: με ἐπίσχει.

12 The narrator is indifferent to any endeavour by the reader «to construe how the daimonion operated in Socrates when he was a child» (Weiss 2005, p. 88, n. 17).

13 Cf. Centrone 1997, p. 336.

14 Cf. Gundert 1954, p. 515.

15 Cf. de Strycker–Slings 1994, p. 95-98; Stokes 1997, p. 153.

16 Cf. Stokes 1997, p. 7-8. For the (problematic) notion of daimon, and the delimitation of the «daemonic» and «divine» semantic fields in Classical times, see e.g. Gernet p. 317-327; Rose 1933, p. 243-244; Wilamowitz 1959, p. 356-363; Nilsson 1967, p. 204-205; Burkert 1985, p. 179-181. For their joint use in denoting Socrates’experience, cf. Friedländer 1964, p. 35, 39; De Strycker Slings 1994, p. 154, n. 6; Dorion 2003, p. 170, n. 7; Brisson 2005, p. 3-4.

17 Mss. have θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον ϕωνή. Following Forster, the word ϕωνή (Ap. 31d1) is removed by most editors: the term appears in a much more appropriate context at the second following line (= Ap. 31d3). See notably Burnet 1929, p. 208; Joyal 1995 p. 44; Joyal 2005, p. 107, n. 103.

18 See Zeller 1875, p. 72-74. There is however no consensus on this matter: see Burnet 1929, p. 245; de Strycker–Slings 1994, p. 381; Joyal 1995, p. 53, n. 46; Joyal 2000 p. 102, n. 12; Dorion 2003, p. 183-184, n. 46; Brisson 2005, p. 3 (who seems to the following reading: « γὰρ εἰωθυῖά μοι <ϕωνὴ> τοῦ δαιμονίου <σημείου> = the divinatory voice that is familiar to me, of which the divine signal consists»).

19 Brisson 2005, p. 2-3 considers the wording τὸ δαιμόνιον at Euthyphr. 3b5 and Tht. 151a4 as an ellipse for τὸ δαιμόνιον σημεῖον.

20 The reader may additionally be stimulated to accept such instant assertion by the fact that «Plato’s accounts of the actual daemonic occurrences... always involve a context in which the activity of a higher power has already been cited» (Joyal 2000, p. 76).

21 The Platonic Socrates is shown to experience some arresting, apparently gratuitous perplexity in his thoughts without explaining it as a daemonic occurrence: see Lys. 214d8-e3, 215b8-c4, 218b4-c8 (he concludes an apparently convincing demonstration by wondering whether he has not got it all wrong), Euthyd. 279c5-6 (he suddenly realizes that he has so far ignored an important element in his argument) and Phaedr. 242c7-8 (he feels a semi-conscious dissatisfaction with his actual utterances), all quoted by McPherran 1996, p. 206, n. 65; Brickhouse-Smith 2005, p. 45 also point to the opposite case of Hipp. Ma. 297e4-5 (a wholly unexpected new thought).

22 Possibly a current use: cf. Demosth. 9.54: τι δαιμόνιον.

23 The view that it can only work as an adjective in Plato’s text is as recurrent as it is controversial: see now Dorion 2003, p. 180-183 and Joyal 2005, p. 108-109.

24 The words θεῖόν τι καὶ δαιμόνιον mark indeterminacy, not the agency of some divine character (contra Schefer 1996, p. 104, n. 233). Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 70-71.

25 Basically, the substantive daimôn designates a modality, not an agent: «the veiled countenance of divine activity», according to Burkert 1985, p. 180.

26 Cf. the discussion in Joyal 1995, p. 44, n. 15 and Joyal 2005, p. 106-107. Apuleius (de deo Socr. 20) specifies that Socrates did not just «hear a (normal, human) voice», but heard «a sort of voice» instead (uocem quampiam), of a divine provenance.

27 Plato has no use for the current synaesthetic metonymy of «seeing» an aural object (cf. e.g. Soph. Trach. 1: a logos «appeared to the view» [ϕανείς]; Aristoph. Nub. 283-4: the Clouds «see» the noise produced by torrents). Xenophon has no objection to that (Xen. Ap. 12: Socrates says «the voice of the god appears to me», θεοῦ μοι ϕωνὴ ϕαίνεται): see Pucci 2002, p. 68.

28 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 95, n. 73, with further references.

29 A most appropriate pun created by Pucci 1998, p. 84.

30 Fox 1986, p. 112 considers Socrates’ daemonic voice as one of such cases. For a detailed discussion of «aural epiphanies» in the Homeric poems, see Pucci 1998, p. 68-86. Cf. also Partridge 2008, p. 287.

31 Cf. Gundert 1954, 517. Brickhouse-Smith 2000, p. 247, who apparently the daimonion as a message of sorts, admit that «Socrates’ daimonion does not supply Socrates with “propositions” or “arguments”». Logos is taken here to mean the product of the act of legein, «formed speech», not «argument» (and even less «reason», a sense that it never has in Plato according to Burnet 1929, p. 268

32 Phônê usually means no more than «the sound of a voice» in Classical times: cf. e.g. Isocr. de pace 8.3. The lack of proper speech is noted by Joyal 2000, p. 278, n. 27; Brisson 2005, p. 11; Partridge 2008, p. 287-288.

33 As done by Vlastos in Smith-Woodruff 2000, p. 185. Yet the important remark that the Platonic text «avoids as much as possible locutions which would suggest that god speaks to [Socrates], instead of merely giving him signs whose interpretation is left to him» also belongs to Vlastos (Vlastos 1991, p. 167, n. 48).

34 Manetti 1987, p. 80-81.

35 MacNaghten 1914, p. 186-188; Dorion 2003, p. 170-175: in general, uses sêmainein (prosêmainein) to designate divine (oracular) communication directed to human beings, and to daimonion as an equivalent to ho theos (hoi theoi) or to theion.

36 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 67.

37 And also rarely employed by Xenophon elsewhere: MacNaghten 1914, p. 185

38 Cf. Joyal 1995, p. 48 and n. 29; Brisson 2005, p. 3.

39 As noted by Joyal 2000, p. 75, n. 30, the term εἰωθός qualifies a recurrent event, not a permanent individual presence.

40 This is the most obvious difference between Plato’s and Xenophon’s description: according to the latter, Socrates receives both apotreptic and protreptic impulsions from the daemonic occurrence.

41 According to Partridge 2008, p. 301 «these verbs show that, for Socrates... the sign is warning him away from the action he was about to perform»: yet the idea of «warning» is precisely what such terminology does not suggest.

42 Cf. Reeve 1989, p. 69: «no elenctic examination, no interpretation, no exercise of critical reason — intrudes between the sign and the action it enjoins»: but in fact no Platonic description portrays the sign as «issuing», nor Socrates «obeying» any «injunction» (the notion of «obedience» also recurs in Brickhouse-Smith 2005, p. 50; Van Riel 2005, p. 39; Weiss 2005, p. 87-88).

43 Brickhouse-Smith 1989, p. 253 stress the «uninformativeness» of the sign: Socrates is told «next to nothing through the daimonion». But this is not a case of a daemonic message conveying almost no information: it is a case of a daemonic event not consisting in a message at all.

44 In other terms, the «abstractness [which] might certainly dispense Plato from precisely defining the nature» of the event, as noted by Joyal 2000, p. 70, is functional to a deliberate narrative strategy.

45 In the terms of Vlastos 1991, p. 282: its «presentational content is immediately clear».

46 Cf. Cameron 1978, p. 38: the sêmeion causes Socrates to «stop, reflect and change course».

47 As Vlastos 1991, p. 282-283 rightly stresses.

48 It notably brings Socrates no «prediction… beyond the power of human reason» (McPherran 2005, p. 17): it does stop Socrates’ present behaviour, but does not anticipate any future one. Prophetic dreams, by contrast, convey predictions (Crito 44a6-b4) and intimations (Plat., Phaedo 61a2, 7).

49 Cf. Dorion 2004, p. 74: the sêmeion is one of the modalities by which divinity keeps impulsing Socrates towards philosophy.

50 Socrates is not usually described as trying to assess «the daimonion’s intentions» (in the words of Brickhouse-Smith 2000, p. 248) when interpreting a given daemonic occurrence: he rather appears to be assessing the repercussions of this occurrence onto his own predicament. Ap. 40b6-c3 seems to provide an exception; in this case, however, Socrates’ assessment of such possible intentions (moreover, attributed to the theos, not to the daimonion as such) refers to the absence of the sign: see infra, 3.5.

51 Stokes 1997, p. 155.

52 Cf. de StryckerSlings 1994, p. 159; Stokes 1997, p. 154; Heitsch 2002, p. 134 Woodruff 2007, p. 291.

53 Cf. Ward 2009, p. 512: the two episodes finally deny that politics and philosophy can be conceived as two strictly separated activities.

54 This may be inferred from the phrase ὅταν γένηται (31d3), «whenever (the voice) comes into being», marking the occurence as repetitive.

55 On Socrates’ general interest for politics, see Brickhouse-Smith 1994, p. 137-138 who also point to Socrates’ self-presentation as «the only true Athenian politician» at Plat., Gorg. 521d6-8. Cf. also Ward 2009, p. 517. The first result of Socrates’dialectical enquiry is to expose the incompetence of the Athenian leading politicians: Ap. 21a5 ff. This makes obvious, incidentally, that Socrates can oppose the extant political powers thanks to his intellectual and moral faculties, not because of his daimonion or daimôn, whether equated to «moral conscience» or not, as famously asserted by Hegel (see Velkley 2006) followed by Kierkegaard (Kierkegaard 1989, p. 161-165). On the long-standing interpretation of the daimonion as «moral conscience» (an equation risking to produce reification of the daemonic event) see e.g. Zeller 1875, p. 78-82; Friedländer 1964, p. 56; Kraut 2000, p. 21; Weiss 2005, p. 94-95; Vasiliou 2008, p. 46-58.

56 Woodruff 2007, p. 299-300 similarly argues that Socrates, as described in the Apology could not engage in contemporary Athenian politics without losing his identity.

57 Cf. Stokes 1997, p. 154 and Centrone 1997, p. 342-343.

58 And not to the action of one single actor alternately designated as theos or daimonion (Macnaghten 1914, p. 188). Cf. Centrone 1997, p. 341 and 344; Joyal 2000, p. 84-87 Joyal 2005, p. 109-110.

59 Cf. Burnyeat 1977, p. 16, n. 19.

60 Cf. Joyal 2000, p. 84-87 and Joyal 2005, p. 109-110.

61 Contra Weiss 2005, p. 90:» [Socrates’] daimonion merely concretizes his reservations about these students»: the text mentions no such «reservations».

62 Cf. Burnyeat 1977, p. 14: «Socratic education can only be successful with someone like Theaethetus who is aware of, and can accept, his need for it».

63 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 100-101, n. 8

64 However controversial this wording (to Wilamowitz 1920, p. 363 the words τὸ δαιμόνιόν τε καὶ are «eine elende Interpolation»), it obviously describes one same event.

65 Cf. Gundert 1954, p. 518 («wo beginnt hier die eigene Überlegung, wo endet die “Stimme”?»); Rist 1963, p. 15 (the voice seems to be given «some kind of hortatory power of the kind that the Platonic Socrates normally disclaims»); Weiss 2005, p. 90 («what the daimonion does is to make audible to Socrates what his soul intuitively grasps»).

66 The dominant interpretation: see e.g. Kleve 1986, p. 9; BrickhouseSmith 2000, p. 249; Howland 2006, p. 114-115.

67 In the sense of a practitioner being able to endow events that look apparently meaningless (asêma), with the appropriate meaning (so allowing them to prosêmainein): see Pucci 2002, p. 69 with specific reference to the word-play at Eur. Suppl. 213-6.

68 Cf. Ibycus, fr. 310 PMG = Plut., Quaest. Conv. IX 15, 748c.

69 Plat., Crito 44b1-2: the prophetic «beautiful women» Socrates sees in a dream quotes Homer (Il. 9.363) to announce death within forty-eight hours. In the Phaedrus, by quoting an utterance that is ready-made (it has already been produced by Ibycus), Socrates possibly expands the ironical simile he has just stated (242c 3-5): his modest competence as a mantis is like the limited literacy of a man who can write down only those few words he may need to, and which are the only ones he already knows; similarly, Socrates puts his «prophecy» in a short sentence he already knows (by heart). Discussion of the relation of the spoken to the written word lies ahead (276a and sq.).

70 Cf. Partridge 2008, p. 202-203: «What the sign prevents... is only Socrates’ leaving right then; it is up to Socrates to determine why it would be wrong to leave».

71 Ferrari 1987, p. 181.

72 Rist 1963, p. 15-16 sees that the mantike here relates to some Socratic faculty, not to a revelation brought by the daemonic event. Cf. Ferrari 1987, p. 116-117; Joyal 2005, p. 103-104.

73 Burnet 1929, p. 167-168 argues that μὴ ὀρθῶς πράξειν should be translated as «doing something amiss», not just «doing something wrong».

74 On the deliberately tentative character of Socrates’ argument, see Stokes 1997, p. 186; Heitsch 2002, p. 164. McPherran 2005, p. 18-20; Narcy 2005, p. 123.

75 «Proof»: Brickhouse–Smith 1989, p. 237-245. This is denied by de StryckerSlings 1994, p. 342-3; Stokes 1997, p. 188; Vlastos 1991, p. 283, n. 147; Heitsch 2002, p. 164. Cf. Vlastos’ translation, in Smith-Woodruff 2000, p. 184: «a tremendous personal reassurance». At Plat., Phaedo 70b2, Kebes urges Socrates to establish the truth by means of a «proof», pistis: the term tekmêrion gets no mention.

76 Cf. Brisson 2005, p. 8-10.

77 E.g., a) the fact that a given action is «not bad» does not imply that it is «good» (it could just be «indifferent»): Burnet 1929, p. 165-666; Brickhouse-Smith 1989, p. 238-245; Stokes 1997, p. 184-186; Brisson 2005, p. 8; Weiss 2005, p. 82-84; b) if sign opposes any «wrong» action Socrates may be about to implement, then Socrates is potentially infallible (something he never claims; in the Apology, he constantly stresses the limitations of his anthrôpinê sophia); if it opposes only some surely «wrong» actions, but not necessarily all of them, the argument breaks down: McPherran 2005, p. 18-20; c) Socrates does not differentiate between what he did and what happened to him during the day: he may have acted «rightly», or «well» (in the way he defended himself), but that does need to imply that what happened (to be sentenced to death) must also bring something «rightful» or «good» to him (on the contrary, the outcome is depicted as an injustice). Cf. also de Strycker-Slings 1994, p. 381-382.

78 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 101.

79 As already stressed by Burnet 1929, p. 128, 166. See also de Strycker–Slings 1994 p. 365; Joyal 2000, p. 86-87. Brisson 2005, p. 2 takes the phrase to refer to an individual god, but then admits (p. 11) that there is «no personal relation between Socrates and the sender of the signal, which never manifests itself directly».

80 Cf. also Gundert 1954, p. 526.

81 On the «mythological» character of this final description (a recurrent Platonic construct) see de Strycker–Slings 1994, p. 383.

82 Cf. Joyal 2005, p. 99-100.

83 Joyal 2000, p. 76.

84 On the epiphany as a paradigm in religious thought, see Bremer 1975, p. 5 and sq.; Burkert 1985, p. 40-p. 3; Versnel 1987; as a description in poetic and dramatic texts, see Pucci 1986; Pucci 1994; Pucci 1995, p. 110-123; Pucci 1998, p. 69-96; Wildberg 2002, p. 114-22; Bierl 2004, p. 44-50.

85 de Strycker-Slings 1994, p. 216 note (with reference to Ap. 40a sq.) that the text «does not treat the sêmeion as something that derives its credentials from another source: it has his own full authority». Nevertheless the search for an «author» is still on. McPherran 1996, p. 25-30 and passim, asserts that, in the Apology at least, Apollo «is surely the prime candidate» to the role (cf. Mcpherran 2005, p. 16, 25-27). Schefer 1996, p. 101-108 comes to the same conclusion. Reeve 1989, 26 n. 27 opts for an individual daimôn; Droge 2007, p. 60-62, for the unnamed theos constantly mentioned in the Apology. Joyal 2005, p. 109 clearly sees that ho theos works as a deliberately indeterminate expression in this context, but hesitates to reject Apollo as the sender, considering his «prominent role» in the dialogue. This identification is however far from being unconditionally admitted: cf. e.g. Van Riel 2005, p. 34-35; Droge 2007, p. 59. The arguments in favor of Apollo’s «candidacy» (supposing this term to have any narratological meaning at all) should however be supported by an adequate explanation of the absence of this name from the Apology. But the Platonic Socrates is not portrayed as alleging «epistemological modesty» in order to avoid designating Apollo (McPherran 1996, p. 135 and 196): he just has no need to give an author to the daemonic sign.

86 Criticisms of such divine inadequacies, and of religious anthropomorphism as well, are typical of late fifth-century Athenian culture: see Burkert 1985, p. 318-319.

87 «Disguised» epiphanies are the usual ones in Homeric poetry; it is rare for a god to be described as appearing in his «true» form: see Pucci 1994, p. 14-16.

88 Cf. Plat., Crat. 425d5-6. The criticism is picked up by Aristot., Poet. 1454a37-b7. See Pucci 1994, p. 18.

89 Cf. Bremer 1975, p. 14-17. This Socratic position is also mentioned by Xenophon (Mem. 4.3.14: Socrates denies that the gods make themselves visible to men) and Plutarch (de Genio Soc. 588c: Socrates distrusted anybody claiming to have actually seen a deity).

90 To provide Socrates with an individual daimôn, and to assimilate this daimôn to the deities accompanying some Homeric heroes, is an operation typically performed in Late Antiquity: see Fox 1986, p. 123-129.

91 Cf. Brisson 2005, p. 4, n. 11.

92 On Plato’s daimones, see Burkert 1985, p. 181 and 328-332. Some reasons for the systematical avoidance of the term daimôn within the Platonic text are stated by Joyal 2000, p. 70-71: Plato apparently does not want to conflate the current popular beliefs about daimones with the peculiarity of Socrates’daemonic event. Incidentally, such popular beliefs are merely quoted (certainly not endorsed) by Socrates at Ap. 27b3-28a1, and criticized at Leg. 909e3-910a6.

93 This is frequently put in doubt, since the Platonic Socrates experiences an apoptreptic effect from his daemonic event, while an impulsion to philosophize is protreptic by definition (see e.g. Joyal 1995, p. 44-45). This is literally correct; yet what derives from any such apotreptic occurence is precisely a protreptic incitement to further engage in his philosophical existence.

94 See de Strycker-Slings 1994, p. 352 (Schefer 1996, p. 102-103 sees Apollo behind the moira). In several Platonic contexts the term refers to an intrinsically objective entity (e.g. Meno 99e5-100a1; Resp. 775c6, 958d2-3) or to the share of factual circumstances and events divinely allotted to human beings (Prot. 322a; Phaedr. 230a6).

95 Cf.. e.g. Xen., Mem. 1.4.15; Cyr. 8.7.3; Eq. 9.9; Anab. 3.2.8-9. Dorion 2003, p. 178-80, 188. On the differences and similarities between Plato’s and Xenophon’s renderings, see Joyal 2000, p. 67-68.

96 At Xen., Ap. 12, the voice coming from the god explicitly indicates what Socrates should do: θεοῦ μοι ϕωνὴ ϕαίνεται σημαίνουσα τι χρὴ ποιεῖν. No wonder that Xenophon has no use for the notion of «Socratic ignorance»: cf. Gundert 1954, p. 513-514.

97 Vasiliou 2008, p. 58 has an opposite view: «the divine sign... functions as a moral expert or moral superior who passes on to Socrates infallible information as to whether some token action is contrary to virtue».

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