Symposium, by Xenophon


Thereupon some members of the party called on Critobulus to accept the meed of victory in kisses (due from boy and girl); others urged him first to bribe their master; whilst others bandied other jests. Amidst the general hilarity Hermogenes alone kept silence.

Whereat Socrates turned to the silent man, and thus accosted him: Hermogenes, what is a drunken brawl? Can you explain to us?

He answered: If you ask me what it is, I do not know, but I can tell you what it seems to me to be.

Soc. That seems as good. What does it seem?

Her. A drunken brawl, in my poor judgment, is annoyance caused to people over wine.

Soc. Are you aware that you at present are annoying us by silence?

Her. What, whilst you are talking?

Soc. No, when we pause a while.

Her. Then you have not observed that, as to any interval between your talk, a man would find it hard to insert a hair, much more one grain of sense.

Then Socrates: O Callias, to the rescue! help a man severely handled by his cross-examiner.

Call. With all my heart (and as he spoke he faced Hermogenes). Why, when the flute is talking, we are as silent as the grave.

Her. What, would you have me imitate Nicostratus242 the actor, reciting his tetrameters243 to the music of the fife? Must I discourse to you in answer to the flute?

Then Socrates: By all that’s holy, I wish you would, Hermogenes. How delightful it would be. Just as a song sounds sweeter in concert with the flute, so would your talk be more mellifluous attuned to its soft pipings; and particularly if you would use gesticulation like the flute-girl, to suit the tenor of your speech.

Here Callias demanded: And when our friend (Antisthenes) essays to cross-examine people244 at a banquet, what kind of piping245 should he have?

Ant. The person in the witness-box would best be suited with a serpent-hissing theme.246

Thus the stream of talk flowed on; until the Syracusan, who was painfully aware that while the company amused themselves, his “exhibition” was neglected, turned, in a fit of jealous spleen, at last on Socrates.247

The Syr. They call you Socrates. Are you that person commonly nicknamed the thinker?248

Soc. Which surely is a better fate than to be called a thoughtless person?

The Syr. Perhaps, if you were not thought to split your brains on things above us — transcendental stuff.249

Soc. And is there anything more transcendental than the gods?

The Syr. By heaven! no, it is not the gods above us whom you care for, but for matters void of use and valueless.250

Soc. It seems, then, by your showing I do care for them. How value less the gods, not more, if being above us they make the void of use to send us rain, and cause their light to shine on us? And now, sir, if you do not like this frigid251 argument, why do you cause me trouble? The fault is yours.252

Well, let that be (the other answered); answer me one question: How many fleas’ feet distance is it, pray, from you to me?253 They say you measure them by geometric scale.

But here Antisthenes, appealing to Philippus, interposed: You are a man full of comparisons.254 Does not this worthy person strike you as somewhat like a bully seeking to pick a quarrel?255

Yes (replied the jester), he has a striking likeness to that person and a heap of others. He bristles with metaphors.

Soc. For all that, do not you be too eager to draw comparisons at his expense, or you will find yourself the image of a scold and brawler.256

Phil. But what if I compare him to all the primest creatures of the world, to beauty’s nonpareils,257 to nature’s best — I might be justly likened to a flatterer but not a brawler.258

Soc. Why now, you are like a person apt to pick a quarrel, since you imply they are all his betters.259

Phil. What, would you have me then compare him to worse villains?

Soc. No, not even to worse villains.

Phil. What, then, to nothing, and to nobody?

Soc. To nought in aught. Let him remain his simple self —

Phil. Incomparable. But if my tongue is not to wag, whatever shall I do to earn my dinner?

Soc. Why, that you shall quite easily, if with your wagging tongue you do not try to utter things unutterable.

Here was a pretty quarrel over wine soon kindled and soon burnt.

242 See Cobet, “Pros. Xen.” p. 53; and cf. Diog. Laert. iv. 3, 4; Polyaen. vi. 10; “Hell.” IV. viii. 18.

243 See Aristoph. “Clouds,” where Socrates is giving Strepsiades a lesson in “measures,” 639-646: poteron to trimetron e to tetrametron.

244 Or, “a poor body,” in reference to the elentic onslaught made on himself by Antisthenes above.

245 to aulema, a composition for reed instruments, “music for the flute.” Cf. Aristoph. “Frogs,” 1302.

246 Or, “motif on a scrannel pipe.” See L. & S. s.v. puthaules. Cf. Poll. iv. 81, puthikon aulema, an air (nomos) played on the puthois aulos, expressing the battle between Apollo and the Python, the hiss of which was imitated.

247 “The Syracusan is ‘civil as an orange, and of that jealous complexion.’”

248 Apparently he has been to see the “Clouds” (exhibited first in 423 B.C.), and has conceived certain ideas concerning Socrates, “a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better cause.” Plat. “Apol.” 18 B, 19 C. “Clouds,” 101, 360, khair o presbuta . . . ton nun meteorosophiston . . . ta te meteora phrontistes.

249 Or, “if only you were held to be less ‘meteoric,’ less head-inairy in your speculations.”

250 It is impossible to give the play on words. The Syr. anophelestaton. Soc. ano . . . ophelousin. Schenkl after Madvig emend.: ton ano en nephelais onton = “but for things in the clouds above.”

251 Cf. “Cyrop.” VIII. iv. 22, 23.

252 pho parekhousin . . . pragmata moi parekhon. Lit. “cause light . . . causing me trouble.”

253 See Aristoph. “Clouds,” 144 foll.:

aneret’ arti Khairephonta Sokrates psullan oposous alloito tous autes podas dakousa gar . . .

Cf. Lucian, ii. “Prom. in Verb. 6,” and “Hudibras, the Second Part of,” canto iii.:

How many scores a Flea will jump
Of his own length from Head to Rump
Which Socrates and Chaerephon
In vain essayed so long agon.

254 Like Biron, “L. L. L.” v. 2. 854. Or, “you are a clever caricaturist.” See Plat. “Symp.” 215 A; Hug, “Enleitung,” xiv.; Aristoph. “Birds,” 804 (Frere, p. 173); “Wasps,” 1309.

255 Aristoph. “Frogs,” 857, “For it ill beseems illustrious bards to scold like market-women.” (Frere, p. 269); “Knights,” 1410, “to bully”; “Eccles.” 142:

kai loidorountai g’ osper empepokotes, kai ton paroinount’ ekpherous’ oi toxotai.

256 Or, “a striking person.”

257 Lit. “compare him to those in all things beauteous and the best.” With tois pasi kalois kai tois beltistois cf. Thuc. v. 28, oi ‘Argeioi arista eskhon tois pasi, “The Argives were in excellent condition in all respects.” As to Philippus’s back-handed compliment to the showman, it reminds one of Peter Quince’s commendation of Bottom: “Yea and the best person too; and he is a very paramour for a sweet voice.”

258 It is not easy to keep pace with the merryman’s jests; but if I follow his humour, he says to Socrates: “If the cap is to fit, you must liken me to one who quits ‘assault and battery’ for ‘compliments [sotto voce, “lies”] and flattery.’”

259 When Socrates says ei pant’ autou beltio phes einai, k.t.l., the sense seems to be: “No, if you say that all these prime creatures are better than he is, you are an abusive person still.”

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