Symposium, by Xenophon


Now the tables were removed, and in due order they had poured out the libation, and had sung the hymn.35 To promote the revelry, there entered now a Syracusan, with a trio of assistants: the first, a flute-girl, perfect in her art; and next, a dancing-girl, skilled to perform all kinds of wonders; lastly, in the bloom of beauty, a boy, who played the harp and danced with infinite grace. This Syracusan went about exhibiting his troupe, whose wonderful performance was a source of income to him.

After the girl had played to them upon the flute, and then the boy in turn upon the harp, and both performers, as it would appear, had set the hearts of every one rejoicing, Socrates turned to Callias:

A feast, upon my word, O princeliest entertainer!36 Was it not enough to set before your guests a faultless dinner, but you must feast our eyes and ears on sights and sounds the most delicious?

To which the host: And that reminds me, a supply of unguents might not be amiss;37 what say you? Shall we feast on perfumes also?38

No, I protest (the other answered). Scents resemble clothes. One dress is beautiful on man and one on woman; and so with fragrance: what becomes the woman, ill becomes the man. Did ever man anoint himself with oil of myrrh to please his fellow? Women, and especially young women (like our two friends’ brides, Niceratus’ and Critobulus’), need no perfume, being but compounds themselves of fragrance.39 No, sweeter than any perfume else to women is good olive-oil, suggestive of the training-school:40 sweet if present, and when absent longed for. And why? Distinctions vanish with the use of perfumes. The freeman and the slave have forthwith both alike one odour. But the scents derived from toils — those toils which every free man loves41 — need customary habit first, and time’s distillery, if they are to be sweet with freedom’s breath, at last.42

Here Lycon interposed: That may be well enough for youths, but what shall we do whose gymnastic days are over? What fragrance is left for us?

Soc. Why, that of true nobility, of course.

Lyc. And whence shall a man obtain this chrism?

Soc. Not from those that sell perfumes and unguents, in good sooth.

Lyc. But whence, then?

Soc. Theognis has told us:

From the good thou shalt learn good things, but if with the evil Thou holdest converse, thou shalt lose the wit that is in thee.43

Lyc. (turning to his son). Do you hear that, my son?

That he does (Socrates answered for the boy), and he puts the precept into practice also; to judge, at any rate, from his behaviour. When he had set his heart on carrying off the palm of victory in the pankration, he took you into his counsel;44 and will again take counsel to discover the fittest friend to aid him in his high endeavour,45 and with this friend associate.

Thereupon several of the company exclaimed at once. “Where will he find a teacher to instruct him in that wisdom?” one inquired. “Why, it is not to be taught!” exclaimed another; to which a third rejoined: “Why should it not be learnt as well as other things?”46

Then Socrates: The question would seem at any rate to be debatable. Suppose we defer it till another time, and for the present not interrupt the programme of proceedings. I see, the dancing-girl is standing ready; they are handing her some hoops.

And at the instant her fellow with the flute commenced a tune to keep her company, whilst some one posted at her side kept handing her the hoops till she had twelve in all. With these in her hands she fell to dancing, and the while she danced she flung the hoops into the air — overhead she sent them twirling — judging the height they must be thrown to catch them, as they fell, in perfect time.47

Then Socrates: The girl’s performance is one proof among a host of others, sirs, that woman’s nature is nowise inferior to man’s. All she wants is strength and judgment;48 and that should be an encouragement to those of you who have wives, to teach them whatever you would have them know as your associates.49

Antisthenes rejoined: If that is your conclusion, Socrates, why do you not tutor your own wife, Xanthippe,50 instead of letting her51 remain, of all the wives that are, indeed that ever will be, I imagine, the most shrewish?

Well now, I will tell you (he answered). I follow the example of the rider who wishes to become an expert horseman: “None of your soft-mouthed, docile animals for me,” he says; “the horse for me to own must show some spirit”:52 in the belief, no doubt, if he can manage such an animal, it will be easy enough to deal with every other horse besides. And that is just my case. I wish to deal with human beings, to associate with man in general; hence my choice of wife.53 I know full well, if I can tolerate her spirit, I can with ease attach myself to every human being else.

A well-aimed argument, not wide of the mark by any means!54 the company were thinking.

Hereupon a large hoop studded with a bristling row of upright swords55 was introduced; and into the centre of this ring of knives and out of it again the girl threw somersaults backwards, forwards, several times, till the spectators were in terror of some accident; but with the utmost coolness and without mishap the girl completed her performance.

Here Socrates, appealing to Antisthenes: None of the present company, I take it, who have watched this spectacle will ever again deny that courage can be taught,56 when the girl there, woman should she be, rushes so boldly into the midst of swords.

He, thus challenged, answered: No; and what our friend, the Syracusan here, should do is to exhibit his dancing-girl to the state.57 Let him tell the authorities he is prepared, for a consideration, to give the whole Athenian people courage to face the hostile lances at close quarters.

Whereat the jester: An excellent idea, upon my word; and when it happens, may I be there to see that mighty orator58 Peisander learning to throw somersaults59 into swords; since incapacity to look a row of lances in the face at present makes him shy of military service.60

At this stage of the proceedings the boy danced.

The dance being over, Socrates exclaimed: Pray, did you notice how the beauty of the child, so lovely in repose, became enhanced with every movement of his supple body?

To which Charmides replied: How like a flatterer you are! one would think you had set yourself to puff the dancing-master.61

To be sure (he answered solemnly); and there’s another point I could not help observing: how while he danced no portion of his body remained idle; neck and legs and hands together, one and all were exercised.62 That is how a man should dance, who wants to keep his body light and healthy.63 (Then turning to the Syracusan, he added): I cannot say how much obliged I should be to you, O man of Syracuse, for lessons in deportment. Pray teach me my steps.64

And what use will you make of them? (the other asked).

God bless me! I shall dance, of course (he answered).

The remark was greeted with a peal of merriment.

Then Socrates, with a most serious expression of countenance:65 You are pleased to laugh at me. Pray, do you find it so ridiculous my wishing to improve my health by exercise? or to enjoy my victuals better? to sleep better? or is it the sort of exercise I set my heart on? Not like those runners of the long race,66 to have my legs grow muscular and my shoulders leaner in proportion; nor like a boxer, thickening chest and shoulders at expense of legs; but by distribution of the toil throughout my limbs67 I seek to give an even balance to my body. Or are you laughing to think that I shall not in future have to seek a partner in the training school,68 whereby it will not be necessary for an old man like myself to strip in public?69 All I shall need will be a seven-sofa’d chamber,70 where I can warm to work,71 just like the lad here who has found this room quite ample for the purpose. And in winter I shall do gymnastics72 under cover, or when the weather is broiling under shade. . . . But what is it you keep on laughing at — the wish on my part to reduce to moderate size a paunch a trifle too rotund? Is that the source of merriment?73 Perhaps you are not aware, my friends, that Charmides — yes! he there — caught me only the other morning in the act of dancing?

Yes, that I will swear to (the other answered), and at first I stood aghast, I feared me you had parted with your senses; but when I heard your explanation, pretty much what you have just now told us, I went home and — I will not say, began to dance myself (it is an accomplishment I have not been taught as yet), but I fell to sparring,74 an art of which I have a very pretty knowledge.

That’s true, upon my life! (exclaimed the jester). One needs but look at you to see there’s not a dram of difference between legs and shoulders.75 I’ll be bound, if both were weighed in the scales apart, like “tops and bottoms,” the clerks of the market76 would let you off scot-free.

Then Callias: O Socrates, do please invite me when you begin your dancing lessons. I will be your vis-a-vis,77 and take lessons with you.

Come on (the jester shouted), give us a tune upon the pipe, and let me show you how to dance.

So saying up he got, and mimicked the dances of the boy and girl in burlesque fashion, and inasmuch as the spectators had been pleased to think the natural beauty of the boy enhanced by every gesture of his body in the dance, so the jester must give a counter-representation,78 in which each twist and movement of his body was a comical exaggeration of nature.

And since the girl had bent herself backwards and backwards, till she was nearly doubled into the form of a hoop, so he must try to imitate a hoop by stooping forwards and ducking down his head.

And as finally, the boy had won a round of plaudits for the manner in which he kept each muscle of the body in full exercise whilst dancing, so now the jester, bidding the flute-girl quicken the time (presto! presto! prestissimo!), fell to capering madly, tossing legs and arms and head together, until he was fairly tired out, and threw himself dead beat upon the sofa, gasping:

There, that’s a proof that my jigs too are splendid exercise; at any rate, I am dying of thirst; let the attendant kindly fill me the mighty goblet.79

Quite right (said Callias), and we will pledge you. Our throats are parched with laughing at you.

At this point Socrates: Nay, gentlemen, if drinking is the order of the day, I heartily approve. Wine it is in very truth that moistens the soul of man,80 that lulls at once all cares to sleep, even as mandragora81 drugs our human senses, and at the same time kindles light-hearted thoughts,82 as oil a flame. Yet it fares with the banquets of men,83 if I mistake not, precisely as with plants that spring and shoot on earth. When God gives these vegetable growths too full a draught of rain, they cannot lift their heads nor feel the light air breathe through them; but if they drink in only the glad supply they need, they stand erect, they shoot apace, and reach maturity of fruitage. So we, too, if we drench our throats with over-copious draughts,84 ere long may find our legs begin to reel and our thoughts begin to falter;85 we shall scarce be able to draw breath, much less to speak a word in season. But if (to borrow language from the mint of Gorgias86), if only the attendants will bedew us with a frequent mizzle87 of small glasses, we shall not be violently driven on by wine to drunkenness, but with sweet seduction reach the goal of sportive levity.

The proposition was unanimously carried, with a rider appended by Philippus: The cup-bearers should imitate good charioteers, and push the cups round, quickening the pace each circuit.88

35 See Plat. “Symp.” 176 A; Athen. ix. 408.

36 Lit. “in consummate style.”

37 Lit. “suppose I tell the servant to bring in some perfumes, so that we may further feast on fragrance . . .” Cf. Theophr. “Char.” vii. 6 (Jebb ad loc.)

38 See Athen. xv. 686.

39 Cf. Solomon’s Song, iv. 10: “How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!”

40 Lit. “the gymnasium.”

41 Cf. Aristoph. “Clouds,” 1002 foll. See J. A. Symonds, “The Greek Poets,” 1st s., p. 281.

42 See “Mem.” III. x. 5; “Cyrop.” VIII. i. 43.

43 Theog. 35 foll. See “Mem.” I. ii. 20; Plat. “Men.” 95 D.

44 It looks as if something had been lost intimating that Autolycus would have need of some one to instruct him in spiritual things. For attempts to fill up the lacuna see Schenkl.

45 Or, “these high pursuits.”

46 Cf. for the question ei arete didakton, “Mem.” I. ii. 19; IV. i; “Cyrop.” III. i. 17; III. iii. 53.

47 “In time with the music and the measure of the dance.”

48 Reading, as vulg. gnomes de kai iskhuos deitai; al. continuing ouden from the first half of the sentence, transl. “she has no lack of either judgment or physical strength.” Lange conj. romes for gnomes, “all she needs is force and strength of body.” See Newman, op. cit. i. 419.

49 Lit. “so that, if any of you has a wife, he may well take heart and teach her whatever he would wish her to know in dealing with her.” Cf. “N. A.” i. 17.

50 See Cobet, “Pros. Xen.” p. 56; “Mem.” II. ii. 1; Aul. Gell. “N. A.” i. 17.

51 Lit. “dealing with her,” “finding in her”; khro corresponding to khresthai in Socrates’ remarks.

52 Lit. “Because I see the man who aims at skill in horsemanship does not care to own a soft-mouthed, docile animal, but some restive, fiery creature.”

53 Lit. “being anxious to have intercourse with all mankind, to deal with every sort of human being, I possess my wife.”

54 Cf. Plat. “Theaet.” 179 C.

55 See Becker, “Char.” p. 101. Cf. Plat. “Symp.” 190; “Euthyd.” 294.

56 Cf. “Mem.” III. ix. 1.

57 Or, “to the city,” i.e. of Athens.

58 Or, “tribune of the people.” Cf. Plat. “Gorg.” 520 B; “Laws,” 908 D.

59 Or, “learning to go head over heels into swords.”

60 For Peisander see Cobet, “Pros. Xen.” p. 46 foll. A thoroughgoing oligarch (Thuc. viii. 90), he was the occasion of much mirth to the comic writers (so Grote, “H. G.” viii. 12). See re his “want of spirit” Aristoph. “Birds,” 1556:

entha kai Peisandros elthe deomenos psukhen idein, e zont ekeinon proulipe, k.t.l.

where the poet has a fling at Socrates also:

Socrates beside the brink,
Summons from the murky sink
Many a disembodied ghost;
And Peisander reached the coast
To raise the spirit that he lost;
With conviction strange and new,
A gawky camel which he slew,
Like Ulysses. — Whereupon, etc.

H. Frere

Cf. “Peace,” 395; “Lysistr.” 490.

61 See “The Critic,” I. ii.

62 Cf. “Pol. Lac.” v. 9.

63 Cf. Aristot. “H. A.” vi. 21. 4.

64 “Gestures,” “postures,” “figures.” See Eur. “Cycl.” 221; Aristoph. “Peace,” 323; Isocr. “Antid.” 183.

65 “Bearing a weighty and serious brow.”

66 “Like your runner of the mile race.” Cf. Plat. “Prot.” 335 E.

67 Or, “resolute exercise of the whole body.” See Aristot. “Pol.” viii. 4. 9; “Rhet.” i. 5. 14.

68 Or, “be dependent on a fellow-gymnast.” “Pol. Lac.” ix. 5; Plat. “Soph.” 218 B; “Laws,” 830 B; “Symp.” 217 B, C.

69 Or, “to strip in puiblic when my hair turns gray.” Socrates was (421 B.C.) about 50, but is pictured, I think, as an oldish man.

70 See Aristot. “H. A.” ix. 45. 1; “Econ.” viii. 13.

71 Passage referred to by Diog. Laert. ii. 5. 15; Lucian, “de Salt.” 25; Plut. “Praec. San.” 496.

72 “Take my exercise.”

73 Zeune cf. Max. Tyr. “Diss.” vii. 9; xxxix. 5.

74 “Sparring,” etc., an art which Quintil. “Inst. Or.” i. 11, 17, attributes to Socrates. Cf. Herod. vi. 129 concerning Hippocleides; and Rich, “Dict. of Antiq.” s.v. “Chironomia.”

75 Lit. “your legs are equal in weight with your shoulders.” Cf. “Od.” xviii. 373, elikes . . . isophoroi boes, “of equal age and force to bear the yoke.”— Butcher and Lang.

76 See Boeckh, “Public Economy of Athens,” p. 48; Aristoph. “Acharn.” 723; Lys. 165, 34.

77 Cf. “Anab.” V. iv. 12.

78 Reading antepedeizen. Cf. Plat. “Theaet.” 162 B; “Ages.” i. 12; if vulg. antapedeizen, transl. “would prove per contra each bend,” etc. Cf. Aristot. “Rhet.” ii. 26. 3.

79 Cf. Plat. “Symp.” 223 C.

80 Cf. Plat. “Laws,” 649; Aristoph. “Knights,” 96:

Come, quick now, bring me a lusty stoup of wine,
To moisten my understanding and inspire me (H. Frere).

81 Cf. Plat. “Rep.” vi. 488 C; Dem. “Phil.” iv. 133. 1; Lucian v., “Tim.” 2; lxxiii., “Dem. Enc.” 36. See “Othello,” iii. 3. 330:

Not poppy, nor mandragora,
Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world;

“Antony and Cl.” i. 5, 4.

82 Cf. 1 Esdras iii. 20: “It turneth also every thought into jollity and mirth,” eis euokhian kai euphrosunen. The whole passage is quoted by Athen. 504. Stob. “Fl.” lvi. 17.

83 Reading sumposia, cf. Theog. 298, 496; or if after Athen. somata transl. “persons.”

84 Or, “if we swallow at a gulp the liquor.” Cf. Plat. “Sym.” 176 D.

85 See “Cyrop.” I. iii. 10, VIII. viii. 10; Aristoph. “Wasps,” 1324; “Pol. Lac.” v. 7.

86 For phrases filed by Gorgias, see Aristot. “Rhet.” iii. 3; “faults of taste in the use of metaphors,” Longin. “de Subl.” 3. See also Plat. “Symp.” 198 C.

87 Cf. Aristoph. “Peace,” 1141; Theophr. “Lap.” 13; Lucian, xvii., “De merc. cond.” 27; Cic. “Cat. m.” 14, transl. “pocula . . . minuta atque rorantia.”

88 Or, “at something faster than a hand-gallop each round.” See the drinking song in “Antony and Cl.” i. 7. 120.

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