Socrates on writing

Relief sculpture of Thoth, photographed by Jon Bodsworth

Relief sculpture of Thoth
Photograph by Jon Bodsworth
Image credit: Thoth-Scribe mailing list

At the Egyptian city of Naucratis, there was a famous old god, whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis was sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters. Now in those days Thamus was the king of the whole of Upper Egypt, which is the district surrounding that great city which is called by the Hellenes Egyptian Thebes, and they call the god himself Ammon. To him came Theuth and showed his inventions, desiring that the other Egyptians might be allowed to have the benefit of them; he went through them, and Thamus inquired about their several uses, and praised some of them and censured others, as he approved or disapproved of them. There would be no use in repeating all that Thamus said to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts. But when they came to letters, This, said Theuth, will make the Egyptians wiser and give them better memories; for this is the cure of forgetfulness and of folly. Thamus replied: O most ingenious Theuth, he who has the gift of invention is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance a paternal love of your own child has led you to say what is not the fact; for this invention of yours will create forgetfulness in the learner’s souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. You have found a specific not for memory but for reminiscence, and you give your disciples only the pretence of wisdom; they will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome, having the reputation of knowledge without the reality.
Socrates, as written by Plato (c. 370 B.C.), in his dialogue with Phaedrus. Available in Symposium and Phaedrus: Unabridged, translated from the Greek by Benjamin Jowett, (New York: Dover Publications, 1993), p. 87

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"At the Egyptian city of Naucratis"
Socrates Plato Posted on behalf of Socrates, and Plato on Saturday, April 10th, 2010 under Quotations.

One comment so far

  1. Oh how I wish I could post this everywhere! On billboards and newspapers and especially on college catalogs! Thanks Gregori.

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