Symposium, by Xenophon


During this interval, whilst the cup-bearers carried out their duties, the boy played on the lyre tuned to accompany the flute, and sang.89

The performance won the plaudits of the company, and drew from Charmides a speech as follows: Sirs, what Socrates was claiming in behalf of wine applies in my opinion no less aptly to the present composition. So rare a blending of boyish and of girlish beauty, and of voice with instrument, is potent to lull sorrow to sleep, and to kindle Aphrodite’s flame.

Then Socrates, reverting in a manner to the charge: The young people have fully proved their power to give us pleasure. Yet, charming as they are, we still regard ourselves, no doubt, as much their betters. What a shame to think that we should here be met together, and yet make no effort ourselves to heighten the festivity!90

Several of the company exclaimed at once: Be our director then yourself. Explain what style of talk we should engage in to achieve that object.91

Nothing (he replied) would please me better than to demand of Callias a prompt performance of his promise. He told us, you recollect, if we would dine with him, he would give us an exhibition of his wisdom.

To which challenge Callias: That I will readily, but you on your side, one and all, must propound some virtue of which you claim to have the knowledge.

Socrates replied: At any rate, not one of us will have the least objection to declaring what particular thing he claims to know as best worth having.

Agreed (proceeded Callias); and for my part I proclaim at once what I am proudest of. My firm belief is, I have got the gift to make my fellow-mortals better.

Make men better! (cried Antisthenes); and pray how? by teaching them some base mechanic art? or teaching them nobility of soul?92

The latter (he replied), if justice93 be synonymous with that high type of virtue.

Of course it is (rejoined Antisthenes) the most indisputable specimen. Since, look you, courage and wisdom may at times be found calamitous to friends or country,94 but justice has no single point in common with injustice, right and wrong cannot commingle.95

Well then (proceeded Callias), as soon96 as every one has stated his peculiar merit,97 I will make no bones of letting you into my secret. You shall learn the art by which I consummate my noble end.98 So now, Niceratus, suppose you tell us on what knowledge you most pride yourself.

He answered: My father,99 in his pains to make me a good man, compelled me to learn the whole of Homer’s poems, and it so happens that even now I can repeat the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by heart.100

You have not forgotten (interposed Antisthenes), perhaps, that besides yourself there is not a rhapsodist who does not know these epics?

Forgotten! is it likely (he replied), considering I had to listen to them almost daily?

Ant. And did you ever come across a sillier tribe of people than these same rhapsodists?101

Nic. Not I, indeed. Don’t ask me to defend their wits.

It is plain (suggested Socrates), they do not know the underlying meaning.102 But you, Niceratus, have paid large sums of money to Anaximander, and Stesimbrotus, and many others,103 so that no single point in all that costly lore is lost upon you.104 But what (he added, turning to Critobulus) do you most pride yourself upon?

On beauty (answered Critobulus).

What (Socrates rejoined), shall you be able to maintain that by your beauty you can make us better?

Crit. That will I, or prove myself a shabby sort of person.

Soc. Well, and what is it you pride yourself upon, Antisthenes?

On wealth (he answered).

Whereupon Hermogenes inquired: Had he then a large amount of money?105

Not one sixpence:106 that I swear to you (he answered).

Herm. Then you possess large property in land?

Ant. Enough, I daresay, for the youngster there, Autolycus, to dust himself withal.107

Well, we will lend you our ears, when your turn comes (exclaimed the others).

Soc. And do you now tell us, Charmides, on what you pride yourself.

Oh, I, for my part, pride myself on poverty (he answered).

Upon my word, a charming business! (exclaimed Socrates). Poverty! of all things the least liable to envy; seldom, if ever, an object of contention;108 never guarded, yet always safe; the more you starve it, the stronger it grows.

And you, Socrates, yourself (their host demanded), what is it you pride yourself upon?

Then he, with knitted brows, quite solemnly: On pandering.109 And when they laughed to hear him say this,110 he continued: Laugh to your hearts content, my friends; but I am certain I could make a fortune, if I chose to practise this same art.

At this point Lycon, turning to Philippus: We need not ask you what you take the chiefest pride in. What can it be, you laughter-making man, except to set folk laughing?

Yes (he answered), and with better right, I fancy, than Callippides,111 the actor, who struts and gives himself such pompous airs, to think that he alone can set the crowds a-weeping in the theatre.112

And now you, Lycon, tell us, won’t you (asked Antisthenes), what it is you take the greatest pride in?

You all of you, I fancy, know already what that is (the father answered); it is in my son here.

And the lad himself (some one suggested) doubtless prides himself, beyond all else, on having won the prize of victory.

At that Autolycus (and as he spoke he blushed) answered for himself:113 No indeed, not I.

The company were charmed to hear him speak, and turned and looked; and some one asked: On what is it then, Autolycus?

To which he answered: On my father (and leaned closer towards him).

At which sight Callias, turning to the father: Do you know you are the richest man in the whole world, Lycon?

To which Lycon: Really, I was not aware of that before.

Then Callias: Why then, it has escaped you that you would refuse the whole of Persia’s wealth,114 in exchange for your own son.

Most true (he answered), I plead guilty; here and now I am convicted115 of being the wealthiest man in all the world!

And you, Hermogenes, on what do you plume yourself most highly? (asked Niceratus).

On the virtue and the power of my friends (he answered), and that being what they are, they care for me.

At this remark they turned their eyes upon the speaker, and several spoke together, asking: Will you make them known to us?

I shall be very happy (he replied).

89 Cf. Plat. “Laws,” 812 C; Aristot. “Poet.” i. 4.

90 See Plat. “Prot.” 347 D; “A company like this of ours, and men such as we profess to be, do not require the help of another’s voice,” etc. — Jowett. Cf. id. “Symp.” 176: “To-day let us have conversation instead; and if you will allow me, I will tell you what sort of conversation.”

91 exegou. “Prescribe the form of words we must lay hold of to achieve the object, and we will set to work, arch-casuist.”

92 Or, “beauty and nobility of soul” (kalokagathia). See “Mem.” I. vi. 14.

93 i.e. “social uprightness.”

94 See “Mem.” IV. ii. 33.

95 i.e. “the one excludes the other.”

96 Reading emon. Al. umon, “when you others.”

97 Lit. “what he has for which to claim utility.”

98 Or, “give the work completeness.” Cf. Plat. “Charm.” 173 A; “Gorg.” 454 A.

99 Nicias.

100 Of, “off-hand.” See “Mem.” III. vi. 9; Plat. “Theaet.” 142 D.

101 Cf. “Mem.” IV. ii. 10.

102 i.e. “they haven’t the key (of knowledge) to the allegorical or spiritual meaning of the sacred text.” Cf. Plat. “Crat.” 407; “Ion,” 534; “Rep.” 378, 387; “Theaet.” 180; “Prot.” 316. See Grote, “H. G.” i. 564.

103 See Aristot. “Rhet.” iii. 11, 13. “Or we may describe Niceratus [not improbably our friend] as a ‘Philoctetes stung by Pratys,’ using the simile of Thrasymachus when he saw Niceratus after his defeat by Pratys in the rhapsody with his hair still dishevelled and his face unwashed.”— Welldon. As to Stesimbrotus, see Plat. “Ion,” 530: “Ion. Very true, Socrates; interpretation has certainly been the most laborious part of my art; and I believe myself able to speak about Homer better than any man; and that neither Metrodorus of Lampsacus, nor Stesimbrotus of Thasos, nor Glaucon, nor any one else who ever was, had as good ideas about Homer, or as many of them, as I have.”— Jowett. Anaximander, probably of Lampsacus, the author of a ‘Erologia; see Cobet, “Pros. Xen.” p. 8.

104 Or, “you will not have forgotten one point of all that precious teaching.” Like Sir John Falstaff’s page (2 “Henry IV.” ii. 2. 100), Niceratus, no doubt, has got many “a crown’s worth of good interpretations.”

105 i.e. “out at interest,” or, “in the funds,” as we should say.

106 Lit. “not an obol” = “a threepenny bit,” circa.

107 i.e. “to sprinkle himself with sand, after anointing.” Cf. Lucian, xxxviii., “Amor.” 45.

108 Cf. Plat. “Rep.” 521 A; “Laws,” 678 C.

109 Or, more politely, “on playing the go-between.” See Grote, “H. G.” viii. 457, on the “extremely Aristophanic” character of the “Symposium” of Xenophon.

110 “Him, the master, thus declare himself.”

111 For illustrative tales about him see Plut. “Ages.” xxi.; “Alcib.” xxxii.; Polyaen. vi. 10. Cf. “Hell.” IV. viii. 16.

112 Or, “set for their sins a-weeping.”

113 Cf. Plat. “Charm.” 158 C.

114 Lit. “of the Great King.” Cf. “Cyrop.” VIII. iii. 26.

115 “Caught flagrante delicto. I do admit I do out-Croesus Croesus.”

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