The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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Cephalus makes only a brief appearance in Plato’s Republic, but his conversation with Socrates has generated remarkable disagreement: while some think Plato’s portrayal of the rich old metic is largely positive, many, including Julia Annas, Peter Steinberger, and Mark Gifford, argue that beneath Plato’s superficially sympathetic portrait lies a subtext of condemnation and malice. In this paper, I reject the later interpretation, defending Cephalus against two common charges: first, that Plato finds Cephalus’ views on the relationship between money and virtue morally outrageous, and next, that Plato exploits readers’ background knowledge of the historical Cephalus’ tragic fate to employ the literary device of tragic irony. To do this, I compare Cephalus’ position with one Socrates himself defends in Euthydemus, a dialogue with unmistakable connections to the Republic. Pairing Euthydemus with Republic I, I conclude, provides insight into Socrates’ moral commitments, while Cephalus’ life provides a vivid illustration of their implications.


Matthew Cashen presented “Cephalus and Euthydemus” to the Society at its meeting with the Eastern Division in Washington DC in 2011.

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