Oeconomicus, by Xenophon


The conersation was resumed by Critobulus, and on this wise. He said: I think I take your meaning fully, Socrates, about these matters; and for myself, examining my heart, I am further satisfied, I have sufficient continence and self-command in those respects. So that if you will only advise me on what I am to do to improve my estate, I flatter myself I shall not be hindered by those despotic dames, as you call them. Come, do not hesitate; only tender me what good advice you can, and trust me I will follow it. But perhaps, Socrates, you have already passed sentence on us — we are rich enough already, and not in need of any further wealth?

Soc. It is to myself rather, if I may be included in your plural “we,” that I should apply the remark. I am not in need of any further wealth, if you like. I am rich enough already, to be sure. But you, Critobulus, I look upon as singularly poor, and at times, upon my soul, I feel a downright compassion for you.

At this view of the case, Critobulus fell to laughing outright, retorting: And pray, Socrates, what in the name of fortune do you suppose our respective properties would fetch in the market, yours and mine?

If I could find a good purchaser (he answered), I suppose the whole of my effects, including the house in which I live, might very fairly realise five minae23 (say twenty guineas). Yours, I am positively certain, would fetch at the lowest more than a hundred times that sum.

Crit. And with this estimate of our respective fortunes, can you still maintain that you have no need of further wealth, but it is I who am to be pitied for my poverty?

Soc. Yes, for my property is amply sufficient to meet my wants, whereas you, considering the parade you are fenced about with, and the reputation you must needs live up to, would be barely well off, I take it, if what you have already were multiplied by three.

Pray, how may that be? Critobulus asked.

Why, first and foremost (Socrates explained), I see you are called upon to offer many costly sacrifices, failing which, I take it, neither gods nor men would tolerate you; and, in the next place, you are bound to welcome numerous foreigners as guests, and to entertain them handsomely; thirdly, you must feast your fellow-citizens and ply them with all sorts of kindness, or else be cut adrift from your supporters.24 Furthermore, I perceive that even at present the state enjoins upon you various large contributions, such as the rearing of studs,25 the training of choruses, the superintendence of gymnastic schools, or consular duties,26 as patron of resident aliens, and so forth; while in the event of war you will, I am aware, have further obligations laid upon you in the shape of pay27 to carry on the triearchy, ship money, and war taxes28 so onerous, you will find difficulty in supporting them. Remissness in respect of any of these charges will be visited upon you by the good citizens of Athens no less strictly than if they caught you stealing their own property. But worse than all, I see you fondling the notion that you are rich. Without a thought or care how to increase your revenue, your fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,29 as if you had some special license to amuse yourselef. . . . That is why I pity and compassionate you, fearing lest some irremediable mischief overtake you, and you find yourself in desperate straits. As for me, if I ever stood in need of anything, I am sure you know I have friends who would assist me. They would make some trifling contribution — trifling to themselves, I mean — and deluge my humble living with a flood of plenty. But your friends, albeit far better off than yourself, considering your respective styles of living, persist in looking to you for assistance.

Then Critobulus: I cannot gainsay what you have spoken, Socrates, it is indeed high time that you were constituted my patronus, or I shall become in very truth a pitiable object.

To which appeal Socrates made answer: Why, you yourself must surely be astonished at the part you are now playing. Just now, when I said that I was rich, you laughed at me as if I had no idea what riches were, and you were not happy till you had cross-examined me and forced me to confess that I do not possess the hundredth part of what you have; and now you are imploring me to be your patron, and to stint no pains to save you from becoming absolutely and in very truth a pauper.30

Crit. Yes, Socrates, for I see that you are skilled in one lucrative operation at all events — the art of creating a surplus. I hope, therefore, that a man who can make so much out of so little will not have the slightest difficulty in creating an ample surplus out of an abundance.

Soc. But do not you recollect how just now in the discussion you would hardly let me utter a syllable31 while you laid down the law: if a man did not know how to handle horses, horses were not wealth to him at any rate; nor land, nor sheep, nor money, nor anything else, if he did not know how to use them? And yet these are the very sources of revenue from which incomes are derived; and how do you expect me to know the use of any of them who never possessed a single one of them since I was born?

Crit. Yes, but we agreed that, however little a man may be blest with wealth himself, a science of economy exists; and that being so, what hinders you from being its professor?

Soc. Nothing, to be sure,32 except what would hinder a man from knowing how to play the flute, supposing he had never had a flute of his own and no one had supplied the defect by lending him one to practise on: which is just my case with regard to economy,33 seeing I never myself possessed the instrument of the science which is wealth, so as to go through the pupil stage, nor hitherto has any one proposed to hand me over his to manage. You, in fact, are the first person to make so generous an offer. You will bear in mind, I hope, that a learner of the harp is apt to break and spoil the instrument; it is therefore probable, if I take in hand to learn the art of economy on your estate, I shall ruin it outright.

Critobulus retorted: I see, Socrates, you are doing your very best to escape an irksome task: you would rather not, if you can help it, stretch out so much as your little finger to help me to bear my necessary burthens more easily.

Soc. No, upon my word, I am not trying to escape: on the contrary, I shall be ready, as far as I can, to expound the matter to you.34 . . . Still it strikes me, if you had come to me for fire, and I had none in my house, you would not blame me for sending you where you might get it; or if you had asked me for water, and I, having none to give, had led you elsewhere to the object of your search, you would not, I am sure, have disapproved; or did you desire to be taught music by me, and I were to point out to you a far more skilful teacher than myself, who would perhaps be grateful to you moreover for becoming his pupil, what kind of exception could you take to my behaviour?

Crit. None, with any show of justice, Socrates.

Soc. Well, then, my business now is, Critobulus, to point out35 to you some others cleverer than myself about those matters which you are so anxious to be taught by me. I do confess to you, I have made it long my study to discover who among our fellow-citizens in this city are the greatest adepts in the various branches of knowledge.36 I had been struck with amazement, I remember, to observe on some occasion that where a set of people are engaged in identical operations, half of them are in absolute indigence and the other half roll in wealth. I bethought me, the history of the matter was worth investigation. Accordingly I set to work investigating, and I found that it all happened very naturally. Those who carried on their affairs in a haphazard manner I saw were punished by their losses; whilst those who kept their wits upon the stretch and paid attention I soon perceived to be rewarded by the greater ease and profit of their undertakings.37 It is to these I would recommend you to betake yourself. What say you? Learn of them: and unless the will of God oppose,38 I venture to say you will become as clever a man of business as one might hope to see.

23 5 x L4:1:3. See Boeckh, “P. E. A.” [Bk. i. ch. xx.], p. 109 f. (Eng. ed.)

24 See Dr. Holden ad loc., Boeckh [Bk. iii. ch. xxiii.], p. 465 f.

25 Cf. Lycurg. “c. Leocr.” 139.

26 Al. “presidential duties.”

27 trierarkhias [misthous]. The commentators in general “suspect” misthous. See Boeckh, “P. E. A.” p. 579.

28 See Boeckh, p. 470 f.; “Revenues,” iii. 9, iv. 40.

29 Or, “to childish matters,” “frivolous affairs”; but for the full import of the phrase paidikois pragmasi see “Ages.” viii. 2.

30 Or, “literally beggared.”

31 Cf. Aristoph. “Clouds,” 945; “Plut.” 17; Dem. 353; and Holden ad loc.

32 Lit. “The very thing, God help me! which would hinder . . .”

33 Lit. “the art of administering an estate.”

34 Or, “to play the part of exegetes, ‘legal adviser,’ or ‘spiritual director,’ to be in fact your ‘guide, philosopher, and friend.’”

35 Al. “to show you that there are others.”

36 Or, “who are gifted with the highest knowledge in their respective concerns.” Cf. “Mem.” IV. vii. 1.

37 Lit. “got on quicker, easier, and more profitably.”

38 Or, “short of some divine interposition.”


Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 14:12