Symposium, by Xenophon

VII

But on the instant those who had not assisted in the fray gave tongue, the one part urging the jester to proceed with his comparisons, and the other part dissuading.

The voice of Socrates was heard above the tumult: Since we are all so eager to be heard at once, what fitter time than now to sing a song, in chorus.

And suiting the action to the words, he commenced a stave.

The song was barely finished, when a potter’s wheel was brought in, on which the dancing-girl was to perform more wonders.

At this point Socrates addressed the man of Syracuse: It seems I am likely to deserve the title which you gave me of a thinker in good earnest. Just now I am speculating by what means your boy and girl may pass a happy time, and we spectators still derive the greatest pleasure from beholding them; and this, I take it, is precisely what you would yourself most wish. Now I maintain, that throwing somersaults in and out of swords is a display of danger uncongenial to a banquet. And as for writing and reading on a wheel that all the while keeps whirling, I do not deny the wonder of it, but what pleasure such a marvel can present, I cannot for the life of me discover. Nor do I see how it is a whit more charming to watch these fair young people twisting about their bodies and imitating wheels than to behold them peacefully reposing.

We need not fare far afield to light on marvels, if that is our object. All about us here is full of marvel; we can begin at once by wondering, why it is the candle gives a light by dint of its bright flame, while side by side with it the bright bronze vessel gives no light, but shows within itself those other objects mirrored.260 Or, how is it that oil, being moist and liquid, keeps that flame ablaze, but water, just because it is liquid, quenches fire. But no more do these same marvels tend to promote the object of the wine-cup.261

But now, supposing your young people yonder were to tread a measure to the flute, some pantomime in dance, like those which the Graces and the Hours with the Nymphs are made to tread in pictures,262 I think they would spend a far more happy time themselves, and our banquet would at once assume a grace and charm unlooked for.

The Syracusan caught the notion readily.

By all that’s holy, Socrates (he cried), a capital suggestion, and for my part, I warrant you, I will put a piece upon the stage, which will delight you, one and all.

260 Cf. “Mem.” IV. vii. 7. Socrates’ criticism of Anaxagoras’ theory with regard to the sun.

261 Lit. “work to the same end as wine.”

262 Cf. Plat. “Laws,” vii. 815 C; Hor. “Carm.” i. 4. 6:

iunctaeque Nymphis Gratiae decentes alterno terram quatiunt pede.

The Graces and the Nymphs, together knit, With rhythmic feet the meadow beat (Conington).

Ib. iv. 7. 5.

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