"Trialogical" Duals in Plato's Euthydemus and the Illusion of the Dialogue

Wolfgang Polleichtner

The University of Texas at Austin

Plato uses third person duals three times within the narrated dialogue between Socrates, Euthydemus, and Dionysodorus (Euthyd. 273e2, 273e5, and 294e9). These forms are regularly translated as second person duals, although Plato did know the correct dual forms in historical tenses (Euthyd. 273d1, 274a2).  My paper will argue that Plato did not make a mistake when he had Socrates use third person duals. Plato rather uses these forms to establish three levels of dialogue: the narrated dialogue within a narrated dialogue is the attempt to engage the reader of the Euthydemus in yet another dialogue. Consequently we should translate these third person duals as third person duals.

The frame of the Euthydemus is Socrates' conversation with Crito during which Socrates recounts a conversation that took place the day before in the Lyceum with several people including Dionysodorus and Euthydemus. In order to do that, Socrates uses direct speech. Socrates employs the second person when he addresses Dionysodorus and Euthydemus. But suddenly he switches persons.  Socrates does not address the partners of his dialogue ("you two") any more, but focuses his attention on other addressees: the people who surrounded Socrates, Euthydemus, and Dionysodorus at the time (cf. 273a2). He does so by talking about Euthydemus and Dionysodorus in the third person dual: "these two". Socrates thus incorporates the spectators into the dialogue and makes it obvious that he supposes that his audience is following the discussion. In addressing his audience he makes sure that they continue to pay attention to what is happening between him and his two partners in the dialogue. Since in these aforementioned passages Socrates is narrating the discussion with Euthydemus and Dionysodorus to Crito, the change in the person works on this level of the dialogue as a whole as well. Socrates breaks the illusion of the narration. It becomes clear that Socrates wants Criton to follow the argument of his previous dialogue. These two levels on which the Euthydemus works are superseded by a third layer. Plato addresses the reader of his Euthydemus and thereby enlivens the dialogue itself. Socrates is not able to keep up the rather complicated illusion of narrating a dialogue to a third party in direct speech. On the other hand, this blurring of boundaries between the levels of discourse turns to out to be a manipulating device used by Plato to address the reader of his dialogue.

The grammars list seven passages in Greek prose that allegedly use the third person dual in historical tenses for the second person. All of these are to be found in Plato and are hence doubtful. Laws 705d5 is dubious in regard to its textual tradition. Eryxias 399d2 can be explained in the same way as the examples from the Euthydemus. Only Symposium 189c3 poses a problem, because in spite of being included in a narrated dialogue the verb form is directly tied to a direct address. This instance then is probably best understood as a scribal mistake in Plato's text. Laws 753a6 is comparable to Smp 189c3. Other solutions are also possible.

Our findings agree with what previous scholarship has claimed in regard to other passages in Plato's dialogues: he constantly is concerned about his audience. He composes the Euthydemus in a way that ensures that the audience does not loose track of the argument. At the same time Plato intends his dialogues to be engaging and entertaining.

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