The Comedy of Language
Publication Year: 2013
Plato’s dialogue Cratylus focuses on being and human dependence on words, or the essential truths about the human condition. Arguing that comedy is an essential part of Plato's concept of language, S. Montgomery Ewegen asserts that understanding the comedic is key to an understanding of Plato's deeper philosophical intentions. Ewegen shows how Plato’s view of language is bound to comedy through words and how, for Plato, philosophy has much in common with playfulness and the ridiculous. By tying words, language, and our often uneasy relationship with them to comedy, Ewegen frames a new reading of this notable Platonic dialogue.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: Studies in Continental Thought
A book such as this does not require an extensive and ponderous preface: rather, a short and ponderous preface will suffice. Far from being an exhaustive treatment of Plato’s Cratylus, this book hopes to show the impossibility of exhausting the Platonic dialogue. Even after this work there is much that remains concealed in Plato’s Cratylus, and shall perhaps forever remain concealed. ...
Too many to count have brought the fire to me, always selflessly, never tiring, superabundant. The inadequacy of offering mere words in gratitude for such overflowing warmth is a burden that those who have benefited from others must bear. ...
Note on Translation
List of Textual Abbreviation
This inquiry wishes to let Plato’s Cratylus voice its own proper matter and, to the extent that is possible, articulate its own interpretative horizons. In order to accomplish this, the Cratylus must be read as it shows itself in its own light: as a comic dialogue. Such a reading, rather than attempting to circumscribe the Cratylus within a broader theory of Plato’s thought “as a whole”— ...
1. First Words
These four translations of the opening line of Plato’s Cratylus have been placed beside one another in order to make something manifest. Although the wordings of the four translations differ—though they employ different letters and syllables— they all more or less say the same. ...
2. Marking the Limits
To begin with, the Cratylus is set at the limit. Though it has been noted by scholars that the text gives no indication of its dramatic setting,1this is not in fact entirely accurate. While it is true that we are not given any indication of the specific location of the conversation, we can infer that the conversation takes place within the city of Athens: ...
3. A Question of Inheritance
As mentioned in the preceding chapter, our inquiry into the nature of the god Hermes was undertaken for the sake of clarifying the precise character of Cratylus’s joke regarding the correctness of Hermogenes’ name that opens the Cratylus. It was argued that through calling Hermogenes’ name into question the dialogue calls upon the god Hermes ...
4. The Nature of Nature
Just after indicating the ridiculous character of Cratylus’s comments regarding Hermogenes’ name, and after he has reiterated the difficulty and danger of the inquiry to come, Socrates says that he and Hermogenes must now investigate (σκοπεῖν) in common (εἰς τὸ κοινὸν) into whether Cratylus or Hermogenes is right about the correctness of names (384c). ...
5. Technological Language
Shortly after having shown the disruption of λόγος and dissolution of Being endemic to the Protagorean position that the human being serves as the measure of beings, Socrates undertakes a demonstration whose apparent purpose is to establish that beings have a stable Being of their own, independently of our perceptions and wishes. ...
6. A Homeric Inheritance
In the foregoing chapter we saw that the technological view of language—that view initially held by Hermogenes and traced back, by Socrates, to the sophist Protagoras—has shown itself to be nothing other than the tragic view of language. It could not be more appropriate, then, that Socrates now turns to the tragic poet Homer.1 ...
7. What Words Will
Although Socrates has been playing with words since his entrance into the discussion with Hermogenes Hipponicus, it is only after his elaboration of the Homeric clue concerning the correctness of names, and the corresponding demonstration of that clue through the tragic scene of the house of Atreus, ...
8. The Tragedy of Cratylus
Cratylus’s silence rings throughout the Cratylus, serving as the very backdrop for Socrates’ and Hermogenes’ long conversation regarding the correctness of names. Cratylus’s single utterance at the beginning of the text—“If it seems so to you” (Εἴ σοι δοκεῖ) (383a)—serves to draw our attention to his long silence that follows, ...
Conclusion: The Comedy of the Cratylus
In the Cratylus, language speaks. The Cratylus unfolds as a dialogical event whereby language is given the space to say something about itself and its relationship to Being, as well as its relationship to the human being. Through the course of the Cratylus, and the etymologies in particular, what is shown is the extraordinary manner in which the human being dwells ...