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Euphonics

iv v good names and bad ones, and a good name is one that contains the proper letters. Letters are appropriate or not in a name according as they serve to represent, through their sounds, the qualities of whatever is being named. Thus the proper name for a thing is a composition of those sounds which imitate the ideas associated with it. Near the end of the dialogue 426 C Socrates speaks about the inherent meanings in individual sounds. The R sound, he says, is made by the tongue at its most agitated and it is therefore expressive of rapid movement. It also, he adds later, stands for hardness. The Greek words containing R with which Socrates illustrates his statement justify modern interest in this subject, for the English translations also feature the letter R. They include rhein to run or stream, rhoe current, tromos trembling, trechein run, rush, hurry, race and the words for rend, crush and whirl. Among other examples given are the L sound, which has a sleek, gliding motion, and the G sound which is gummy and glutinous. The passage is regrettably short, and Socrates does not go on to complete the sonic alphabet. An objection raised by Hermogenes is that quite different words for the same thing are used in both Greek and foreign languages. Socrates replies that many words have become corrupt over the period since they were designed, and no longer contain the appropriate sounds. This leads to the question of who it was that composed words in the first place. Socrates reasons that it must have been someone skilled in the art, having a talent for making verbal imitations of things. He observes that if a number of painters are all asked to paint the same scence or object, each of their pictures will look different from the others. Similarly with the wordartists each of them will think up a different word or compilation of sounds to represent the same idea. The fact that in the languages of the world the same things are called by many different names, somes of which seem more appropriate than others, is due partly to corruption of the original forms and partly to the differing tastes and whims of the artists who composed the words of each language. The poet who gives names to things, according to Socrates 389 D, must know how to embody in sounds and syllables the name of each object which is naturally appropriate to it. Surely, if he is to be an authoritative namegiver, he must make up and bestow all his names with his eye fixed on the absolute or ideal name of what he is naming. Thus the the Socratic doctrine of ideal patterns or archetypes which generate the apparent forms of creation is here extended to names. The nature of archetypes is not such as allows them to be copied in perfect detail human craftsmen can aspire merely to reflect some of their aspects. In the same way, Socrates ideal names are in the transcendental language of the gods, which is beyond human ken or utterance. The most that namegivers can do, therefore, is to contemplate the essential nature of whatever it is they require to name, and express it as far as possible in the sounds of the word by which they decide to call it. Here again is the lesson, repeated throughout the Platonic works, that the best results in all the arts of life, from carpentry to statesmanship, are obtained through study and imitation of abstract ideals. That style of philosophy, and the mystical sciences that flourish with it, have a natural and traditional appeal to poets much to the bafflement of their academic commentators. Rationalism spawns few verses poets are inclined to cut the professors and turn their backs on the eminent likes of Newton, Locke, Marx and Darwin in favour of more congenial company. William Blake inveighed against the single vision of academic theorists and adopted the
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