page 1 of 2
Note: The Lysis takes the form of a dialogue recounted by Socrates. In this SparkNote's summaries, it will impossible to maintain a sense of the dialogue form; keep in mind that much of what Socrates says is phrased as a series of propositions, with which his young interlocutors simply (and briefly) agree for the most part. In addition, it will be extremely useful to read the brief material on Greek love and friendship in the "Terms" and "Themes" sections, as these are relevant throughout the text. K.J. Dover's Greek Homosexuality is also a good resource (see "Suggestions for Further Reading"). Finally, remember that this is, of course, originally a text in Greek. The "Terms" section gives notes on a few relevant Greek terms, but there will inevitably be some important differences between the translation on which this note is based and other translations. The text used herein is based on the translation by Benjamin Jowett, with a few changes by Eugene O'Connor (see "Suggestions for Further Reading").
The Lysis opens with Socrates on his way "from the Academy straight to the Lyceum." By the fountain of Panops at one of the city's gates, he meets Hippothales and Ctesippus, two young men whom Socrates does not recognize. When they ask where he is headed, Socrates repeats that he is going "from the Academy straight to the Lyceum." The two men have other ideas, though, and urge Socrates to accompany them to a new Palaestra nearby, where they have a "goodly company." Socrates immediately asks if there are any teachers present there, and is told that Miccus, Socrates's "old friend and admirer," is in attendance.
Socrates is willing to come along, but wants two questions answered first: what is expected of him, and who among the company is "the favorite" (i.e., the most beautiful). Hippothales does not address the first question and is equivocal on the second question, answering that different people have different opinions. Socrates picks up on this equivocation immediately, and pounces, asking Hippothales who his favorite is. Hippothales just blushes, which Socrates takes as a sure sign that Hippothales is, in fact, in love.
Ctessipus points out the overly "refined" nature of Hippothales's silent blush in the presence of Socrates, given that he proclaims his love of Lysis to his friends so often, so loudly, and with such bad poetry and voice that he "literally deafens us." It's odd, then, that here he would hesitate even to mention Lysis's name. Socrates probes a bit as to who exactly this Lysis is; it turns out that he is a young son of Democrates, a prominent local personage.
Socrates, now understanding who the boy in question is, comments that Hippothales has found a truly noble love-object, and asks to hear some of the love poetry with which Hippothales has allegedly harangued all listeners. Hippothales denies having done this at all, at which Ctessipus again insists that he has. Socrates backs down in his demand to hear the songs themselves, asking instead for a general account of how Hippothales "approaches" Lysis with his love. Hippothales replies that Ctessipus should be able to describe this himself, if it's really true that Hippothales is constantly going on about his crush. Ctessipus says that this is indeed the case, and begins a mocking account of the matter.
The Lysis, as a somewhat informal dialogue on relatively minor, social themes, gives us a prime opportunity to focus on the linguistic and rhetorical detail Plato uses in portraying Socrates, his mission, and his human interaction with his interlocutors. The opening pages of the dialogue remind us that more is often going on in Platonic dialogues than the rigorous interrogation of lofty ideals; Plato is also engaged in lovingly (and carefully) describing Socrates, the man who walks (see below) and questions, as well as the vibrant Athens in which Socrates walked.
Take a Study Break!