Symposium, by Xenophon


Then Callias: Our eyes are on you, Critobulus. Yours to enter the lists227 against the champion Socrates, who claims the prize of beauty. Do you hesitate?

Soc. Likely enough he does, for possibly he sees Sir Pandarus stands high in their esteem who are the judges of the contest.

In spite of which (retorted Critobulus), I am not for drawing back.228 I am ready; so come on, and if you have any subtle argument to prove that you are handsomer than I am, now’s your time, instruct us. But just stop one minute; have the goodness, please, to bring the lamp a little closer.

Soc. Well then, I call upon you first of all, as party to this suit, to undergo the preliminary examination.229 Attend to what I say, and please be good enough to answer.

Crit. Do you be good enough yourself to put your questions.

Soc. Do you consider that the quality of beauty is confined to man, or is it to be found in other objects also? What is your belief on this point?

Crit. For my part, I consider it belongs alike to animals — the horse, the ox — and to many things inanimate: that is to say, a shield, a sword, a spear are often beautiful.

Soc. How is it possible that things, in no respect resembling one another, should each and all be beautiful?230

Crit. Of course it is, God bless me! if well constructed by the hand of man to suit the sort of work for which we got them, or if naturally adapted to satisfy some want, the things in either case are beautiful.

Soc. Can you tell me, then, what need is satisfied by our eyes?

Crit. Clearly, the need of vision.

Soc. If so, my eyes are proved at once to be more beautiful than yours.

Crit. How so?

Soc. Because yours can only see just straight in front of them, whereas mine are prominent and so projecting, they can see aslant.231

Crit. And amongst all animals, you will tell us that the crab has loveliest eyes?232 Is that your statement?

Soc. Decidedly, the creature has. And all the more so, since for strength and toughness its eyes by nature are the best constructed.

Crit. Well, let that pass. To come to our two noses, which is the more handsome, yours or mine?

Soc. Mine, I imagine, if, that is, the gods presented us with noses for the sake of smelling. Your nostrils point to earth; but mine are spread out wide and flat, as if to welcome scents from every quarter.

Crit. But consider, a snubness of the nose, how is that more beautiful than straightness?233

Soc. For this good reason, that a snub nose does not discharge the office of a barrier;234 it allows the orbs of sight free range of vision: whilst your towering nose looks like an insulting wall of partition to shut off the two eyes.235

As to the mouth (proceeded Critobulus), I give in at once; for, given mouths are made for purposes of biting, you could doubtless bite off a much larger mouthful with your mouth than I with mine.

Soc. Yes, and you will admit, perhaps, that I can give a softer kiss than you can, thanks to my thick lips.

Crit. It seems I have an uglier mouth than any ass.

Soc. And here is a fact which you will have to reckon with, if further evidence be needed to prove that I am handsomer than you. The naiads, nymphs, divine, have as their progeny Sileni, who are much more like myself, I take it, than like you. Is that conclusive?

Nay, I give it up (cried Critobulus), I have not a word to say in answer. I am silenced. Let them record the votes. I fain would know at once what I must suffer or must pay.236 Only (he added) let them vote in secret.237 I am afraid your wealth and his (Antisthenes’) combined may overpower me.

Accordingly the boy and girl began to register the votes in secret, while Socrates directed the proceedings. He would have the lamp-stand238 this time brought close up to Critobulus; the judges must on no account be taken in; the victor in the suit would get from the two judges, not a wreath of ribands239 for a chaplet, but some kisses.

When the urns were emptied, it was found that every vote, without exception, had been cast for Critobulus.240

Whereat Socrates: Bless me! you don’t say so? The coin you deal in, Critobulus, is not at all like that of Callias. His makes people just; whilst yours, like other filthy lucre, can corrupt both judge and jury.241

227 Soph. “Fr.” 234; Thuc. i. 93.

228 Or, “I do; but all the same, I am not for shirking.” Cf. Aristoph. “Frogs,” 860, etiomos eum egoge, kouk anaduomai, daknein: “I’m up to it; I am resolved” (Frere); Dem. “de F. Leg.” 406 20: “His resolution never reached that point, but shrank back, for his conscience checked it” (Kennedy).

229 The anakrisis, or “previous inquiry” (before one of the archons) of parties concerned in a suit, to see whether the action lay. Cf. Plat. “Charm.” 176 C. See Gow, “Companion,” xiv. 74.

230 See “Mem.” III. viii. 5, quoted by Galen, “de Usu Part.” i. 370.

231 Or, “squint sideways and command the flanks.”

232 Or, “is best provided in respect of eyeballs.”

233 Or, “your straight nose.” Cf. Plat. “Theaet.” 209 C: Soc. “Or, if I had further known you not only as having nose and eyes, but as having a snub nose and prominent eyes, should I have any more notion of you than myself and others who resemble me?” Cf. also Aristot. “Pol.” v. 9, 7: “A nose which varies from the ideal of straightness to a hook or snub may still be a good shape and agreeable to the eye; but if the excess be very great, all symmetry is lost, and the nose at last ceases to be a nose at all on account of some excess in one direction or defect in the other; and this is true of every other part of the human body. The same law of proportion holds in states.”— Jowett.

234 Or, “the humble snub is not a screen or barricade.”

235 Cf. “Love’s Labour Lost,” v. 2. 568: Boyet. “Your nose says no, you are not, for it stands too right”; also “The Song of Solomon,” vii. 4: “Thy nose is the tower of Lebanon, which looketh toward Damascus.”

236 For this formula see “Dict. Ant.” timema. Cf. “Econ.” xi. 25; Plat. “Apol.” 36 B; “Statesm.” 299 A; “Laws,” freq.; Dem. 529. 23; 533. 2.

237 And not as in the case described (Thuc. iv. 74), where the people (at Megara) were compelled to give sentence on the political opponents of the oligarchs by an open vote. Cf. Lysias, 133, 12, ten de psephon ouk eis kadiskous, alla phaneran epi tas trapezas tautas dei tithenai.

238 ton lukhnon here, above, S. 2, ton lamptera. Both, I take it, are oil-lamps, and differ merely as “light” and “lamp.”

239 Cf. Plat. “Symp.” 213; “Hell.” V. i. 3.

240 Lit. “When the pebbles were turned out and proved to be with Critobulus, Socrates remarked, ‘Papae!’” which is as much to say, “Od’s pity!”

241 kai dikastas kai kritas, “both jury and presiding judges,” i.e. the company and the boy and girl.

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