In case anyone is interseted, I found a 2008 post of mine in the TSE archives in which I explored the topic of Phlebas in more depth. I'm re-posting it below.

-- Tom --


Subject: Re: Dans le Restaurant

From: Tom Colket [log in to unmask]

Reply-To: T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date: Thu, 9 Oct 2008 11:43:49 -0400

In an essay on "Dans le Restaurant", William Arrowsmith asserts that the
name "Phlebas" is a reference to one of the dialogues of Plato, namely,
the "Philebus". It is interesting to note that the name "Philebus" means
"youth lover".
I've read the dialogue, and it certainly contains lines that directly
relate to some of the themes of the poem that we have been discussing.
For example, the poetic reference to Phlebas as being 'handsome and
tall' seems to come almost verbatim from passage 48d and 48e cited later
in this email.
Before I get into specific passages, I'll note that I'm using the
on-line translation from Search for
"Philebus" to bring up the lines cited in this email.
The basic discussion in this Plato dialogue is between Philebus, who
argues that pleasure is the greatest good, and Socrates, who argues that
the greatest good is found in things like wisdom and knowledge and
Here is a statement of the main issue of the dialogue:
Very well: Philebus says that to all living beings enjoyment and
pleasure and gaiety and whatever accords with that sort of thing are a
good; whereas our contention is that not these, but wisdom and thought
and memory and their kindred, right opinion and true reasonings,
[11c] are better and more excellent than pleasure for all who are
capable of taking part in them, and that for all those now existing or
to come who can partake of them they are the most advantageous of all
things. Those are pretty nearly the two doctrines we maintain, are they
not, Philebus?
Yes, Socrates, exactly.
I found it interesting that "memory" is a topic of the dialogue. In
"Dans", the waiter is haunted by a childhood memory that lasted for only
an "instant of power and delirium" but that he has remembered his entire
adult life. Also, Plebas, in death, is noted as "forgetting" the
adventure/money/sex that drove him during his lifetime.
Here is a passage about memory from "Philebus", where Socrates points
out that the **memory** of pleasure is as important a component as the
original pleasure itself:
[21c] Socrates
And likewise, if you had no memory you could not even remember that you
ever did enjoy pleasure, and no recollection whatever of present
pleasure could remain with you; if you had no true opinion you could not
think you were enjoying pleasure at the time when you were enjoying it,
and if you were without power of calculation you would not be able to
calculate that you would enjoy it in the future; your life would not be
that of a man, but of a mollusc or some other shell-fish like the
In this next passage, the point is made that 'desire' comes from a
person's soul, not from the needs of the body:
We say of a thing on any particular occasion, “it's thirsty,” do we not?
Of course.
And that means being empt[35a] Socrates
Of drink, or of being filled with drink?
Of being filled, I suppose.
The man, then, who is empty desires, as it appears, the opposite of what
he feels for, being empty, he longs to be filled.
That is very plain.
Well then, is there any source from which a man who is empty at first
can gain a comprehension, whether by perception or by memory, of
fulness, a thing which he does not feel at the time and has never felt
It cannot be done.
[35b] Socrates
And yet he who desires, desires something, we say.
Of course.
And he does not desire that which he feels; for he is thirsty, and that
is emptiness, but he desires fulness.
Then somehow some part of him who is thirsty can apprehend fulness.
Yes, obviously.
But it cannot be the body, for that is empty.
The only remaining possibility is that the soul apprehends it,
[35c] which it must do by means of memory; for what other means could it
No other, I should say.
And do we understand the consequences of this argument?
What are the consequences?
This argument declares that we have no bodily desire.
How so?
Because it shows that the endeavor of every living being is always
towards the opposite of the actual conditions of the body.
Yes, certainly.
And the impulse which leads towards the opposite of those conditions
shows that there is a memory of the opposite of the conditions.
[35d] Socrates
And the argument, by showing that memory is that which leads us towards
the objects of desire, has proved that all the impulse, the desire, and
the ruling principle in every living being are of the soul.
In this section, the point is made that people fool themselves with
false ideas about money, their physical appearance, and their own
virtue. This passage seems highly likely to be the intended allusion of
Phlebas being 'handsome and tall'. In this passage, it is stated that
people falsely regard themselves to be more handsome or taller than they
really are:
Must not all those who do not know themselves be affected by their
condition in one of three ways?
How is that?
First in regard to wealth; such a man thinks he is
 richer than he is.
Certainly a good many are affected in that way.
And there are still more who think they are taller and handsomer than
they are and that they possess better physical qualities in general than
is the case.
[49a] Socrates
But by far the greatest number, I fancy, err in the third way, about the
qualities of, the soul, thinking that they excel in virtue when they do
Yes, most decidedly.
Finally, near the end of the dialogue, Socrates sums up the points made
about pleasure versus wisdom:
Philebus says that pleasure is the true goal of every living being and
that all ought to aim at it, and that therefore this is also the good
for all, and the two designations “good” and “pleasant” are properly and
essentially one; Socrates, however, says that they are not one,
but two in fact as in name, that the good and the pleasant differ from
one another in nature, and that wisdom's share in the good is greater
than pleasure's. Is not and was not that what was said, Protarchus?
Yes, certainly.
 I hope these passages stimulate some interesting discussions.
-- Tom --