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(8) Socratic Irony


13a Euthyphro. Piety or holiness, Socrates, appears to me to be
that part of justice which attends to the gods, as there is the
other part of justice which attends to men.

The Acropolis was the Religious Center of Athens
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Socrates. That is good, Euthyphro; yet still there is a little
point about which I should like to have further information,
What is the meaning of "attention"? For attention can hardly
be used in the same sense when applied to the gods as when
applied to other things. For instance, horses are said to
require attention, and not every person is able to attend to
them, but only a person skilled in horsemanship. Is it not so?

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. I should suppose that the art of horsemanship is the art of
attending to horses?

Euth. Yes.

Soc. Nor is every one qualified to attend to dogs, but only the

Euth. True.

Soc. And I should also conceive that the art of the huntsman is
the art of attending to dogs?

13b Euth. Yes.

Soc. As the art of the ox herd is the art of attending to oxen?

Euth. Very true.

Soc. In like manner holiness or piety is the art of attending to
the gods? -- that would be your meaning, Euthyphro?

Euth. Yes.

Soc. And is not attention always designed for the good or Attention to others is designed to benefit and improve them.  But how are the gods benefited by the holy acts of men?
13c benefit of that to which the attention is given? As in the case
of horses, you may observe that when attended to by the
horseman's art they are benefited and improved, are they not?

Euth. True.

Soc. As the dogs are benefited by the huntsman's art, and the
oxen by the art of the ox herd, and all other things are tended
or attended for their good and not for their hurt?

Euth. Certainly, not for their hurt.

Soc. But for their good?

Euth. Of course.

Soc. And does piety or holiness, which has been defined to be
the art of attending to the gods, benefit or improve them?
Would you say that when you do a holy act you make any of
the gods better?

Euth. No, no; that was certainly not what I meant.

13d Soc. And I, Euthyphro, never supposed that you did. I asked
you the question about the nature of the attention, because I
thought that you did not.

Euth. You do me justice, Socrates; that is not the sort of
attention which I mean.

Soc. Good: but I must still ask what is this attention to the The attention to the gods called piety is such as servants show their masters.
gods which is called piety?

Euth. It is such, Socrates, as servants show to their masters.

Soc. I understand -- a sort of ministration to the gods.

Euth. Exactly.

Soc. Medicine is also a sort of ministration or service, having
in view the attainment of some object -- would you not say of

Euth. I should.

13e Soc. Again, there is an art which ministers to the ship-builder
with a view to the attainment of some result?

Euth. Yes, Socrates, with a view to the building of a ship.

Soc. As there is an art which ministers to the housebuilder with
a view to the building of a house?

Euth. Yes.

Soc. And now tell me, my good friend, about the art which But in what way do men help the work of God?
ministers to the gods: what work does that help to
accomplish? For you must surely know if, as you say, you are
of all men living the one who is best instructed in religion.

Euth. And I speak the truth, Socrates.

Soc. Tell me then, oh tell me -- what is that fair work which
the gods do by the help of our ministrations?

Euth. Many and fair, Socrates, are the works which they do.

14a Soc. Why, my friend, and so are those of a general. But the
chief of them is easily told. Would you not say that victory in
war is the chief of them?

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. Many and fair, too, are the works of the husbandman, if I
am not mistaken; but his chief work is the production of food
from the earth?

Euth. Exactly.

Soc. And of the many and fair things done by the gods, which
is the chief or principal one?

14b Euth. I have told you already, Socrates, that to learn all these
things accurately will be very tiresome. Let me simply say that
piety or holiness is learning how to please the gods in word
and deed, by prayers and sacrifices. Such piety is the salvation
of families and States, just as the impious, which is unpleasing
to the gods, is their ruin and destruction.

Soc. I think that you could have answered in much fewer me
words the chief question which I asked, Euthyphro, if you had
14c chosen. But I see plainly that you are not disposed to instruct
-- clearly not: else why, when we reached the point, did you
turn, aside? Had you only answered me I should have truly
learned of you by this time the nature of piety. Now, as the
asker of a question is necessarily dependent on the answerer,
whither he leads I must follow; and can only ask again, what is
the pious, and what is piety? Do you mean that they are a sort
of science of praying and sacrificing?

Euth. Yes, I do.

Soc. And sacrificing is giving to the gods, and prayer is asking
14d of the gods?

Euth. Yes, Socrates.

Soc. Upon this view, then piety is a science of asking and

Euth. You understand me capitally, Socrates.

Soc. Yes, my friend; the reason is that I am a votary of your
science, and give my mind to it, and therefore nothing which
you say will be thrown away upon me. Please then to tell me,
what is the nature of this service to the gods? Do you mean
that we prefer requests and give gifts to them?

Euth. Yes, I do.

Soc. Is not the right way of asking to ask of them what we

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. And the right way of giving is to give to them in return
14e what they want of us. There would be no meaning in an art
which gives to any one that which he does not want.

Euth. Very true, Socrates.

Soc. Then piety, Euthyphro, is an art which gods and men have
of doing business with one another?

Euth. That is an expression which you may use, if you like.

Soc. But I have no particular liking for anything but the truth.
I wish, however, that you would tell me what benefit accrues
to the gods from our gifts. There is no doubt about what they
15a give to us; for there is no good thing which they do not give;
but how we can give any good thing to them in return is far
from being equally clear. If they give everything and we give
nothing, that must be an affair of business in which we have
very greatly the advantage of them.

Euth. And do you imagine, Socrates, that any benefit accrues
to the gods from our gifts?

Soc. But if not, Euthyphro, what is the meaning of gifts which
are conferred by us upon the gods?

Euth. What else, but tributes of honour; and, as I was just now
saying, what pleases them?

15b Soc. Piety, then, is pleasing to the gods, but not beneficial or
dear to them?

Euth. I should say that nothing could be dearer.

Soc. Then once more the assertion is repeated that piety is
dear to the gods?

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. And when you say this, can you wonder at your words
not standing firm, but walking away? Will you accuse me of
being the Daedalus who makes them walk away, not
15c perceiving that there is another and far greater artist than
Daedalus who makes them go round in a circle, and he is
yourself; for the argument, as you will perceive, comes round
to the same point. Were we not saying that the holy or pious
was not the same with that which is loved of the gods? Have
you forgotten?

Euth. I quite remember.

Soc. And are you not saying that what is loved of the gods is
holy; and is not this the same as what is dear to them -- do
you see?

Euth. True.

Soc. Then either we were wrong in former assertion; or, if we
were right then, we are wrong now.

Euth. One of the two must be true.

Soc. Then we must begin again and ask, What is piety? That is
15d an enquiry which I shall never be weary of pursuing as far as in
me lies; and I entreat you not to scorn me, but to apply your
mind to the utmost, and tell me the truth. For, if any man
knows, you are he; and therefore I must detain you, like
Proteus, until you tell. If you had not certainly known the
15e nature of piety and impiety, I am confident that you would
never, on behalf of a serf, have charged your aged father with
murder. You would not have run such a risk of doing wrong
in the sight of the gods, and you would have had too much
respect for the opinions of men. I am sure, therefore, that you
know the nature of piety and impiety. Speak out then, my dear
Euthyphro, and do not hide your knowledge.

Euth. Another time, Socrates; for I am in a hurry, and must go

Soc. Alas! my companion, and will you leave me in despair? I
was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety
and impiety; and then I might have cleared myself of Meletus
and his indictment. I would have told him that I had been
enlightened by Euthyphro, and had given up rash innovations
16a and speculations, in which I indulged only through ignorance,
and that now I am about to lead a better life.