‘I agree,’ said Socrates, ‘only so long as an argument which endorses speech is based on the appreciation of speech as an art. Here and there I’ve heard some saying that speech leads to spoken falsehoods – lies, if you prefer – and rather than being an art, speech is considered artless. I have a Spartan friend fond of saying: “Without truth, there can never be an art of speaking.”’
And Phaedrus replied: ‘We need this argument. Let us bring some to hear what they have to say about this.’
Thereupon Socrates stood and hailed his noble brood, and called upon them to convince Phaedrus that he would never become a competent speaker unless he paid closer attention to philosophy. And he called upon Phaedrus to respond.
For the sake of convenience, we have been working in metaphor. But we can see that the metaphor belongs to a system. If spoken wisdom has a father, this is because it is a living being, an animal born, growing, and belonging to our emerging, abiding, swaying existence. This understanding permits us to regard the spoken word as a living being which conforms to the needs of the immediate situation, to the questions and demands of its interlocutors, capable of adapting in order to maximise persuasiveness and control.
Spoken wisdom is not merely a living creature, it is a created organism. It requires a head and a tail, and neither heads nor tails can be written down. This can be seen in the continuation of Socrates’ and Phaedrus’ dialogue.
‘Well Phaedrus,’ said Socrates, ‘I am ignorant of how to write. It seems to me that the writer simply writes down whatever springs to mind. Do you know how the writer arranges thoughts into some kind of order? What is the structural principle behind composition?’
‘Really,’ he said, ‘it’s very kind of you to think me capable of such an accurate insight into the method of writing.’
‘True enough,’ said Socrates, ‘though surely you will agree that spoken wisdom requires a head and a tail, as well as all other parts which comprise a created organism?’
Here we can see that Socrates insists that a speech must have a beginning and an end, and it must begin at the beginning and end at the end. He was clearly dissatisfied with Lysias, who had attempted to swim on his back upstream through the current of his own speech. He began with a lover’s speech, which should have been delivered at the end. The significance of this is enormous, but as it is obvious, we will not belabour it. Hence, spoken wisdom behaves like a person, who is at once present and has an origin.