Appendix I

It seems impossible to separate by any exact line the genuine writings of Plato from the spurious. The only external evidence to them which is of much value is that of Aristotle; for the Alexandrian catalogues of a century later include manifest forgeries. Even the value of the Aristotelian authority is a good deal impaired by the uncertainty concerning the date and authorship of the writings which are ascribed to him. And several of the citations of Aristotle omit the name of Plato, and some of them omit the name of the dialogue from which they are taken. Prior, however, to the enquiry about the writings of a particular author, general considerations which equally affect all evidence to the genuineness of ancient writings are the following: Shorter works are more likely to have been forged, or to have received an erroneous designation, than longer ones; and some kinds of composition, such as epistles or panegyrical orations, are more liable to suspicion than others; those, again, which have a taste of sophistry in them, or the ring of a later age, or the slighter character of a rhetorical exercise, or in which a motive or some affinity to spurious writings can be detected, or which seem to have originated in a name or statement really occurring in some classical author, are also of doubtful credit; while there is no instance of any ancient writing proved to be a forgery, which combines excellence with length. A really great and original writer would have no object in fathering his works on Plato; and to the forger or imitator, the “literary hack” of Alexandria and Athens, the Gods did not grant originality or genius. Further, in attempting to balance the evidence for and against a Platonic dialogue, we must not forget that the form of the Platonic writing was common to several of his contemporaries. Aeschines, Euclid, Phaedo, Antisthenes, and in the next generation Aristotle, are all said to have composed dialogues; and mistakes of names are very likely to have occurred. Greek literature in the third century before Christ was almost as voluminous as our own, and without the safeguards of regular publication, or printing, or binding, or even of distinct titles. An unknown writing was naturally attributed to a known writer whose works bore the same character; and the name once appended easily obtained authority. A tendency may also be observed to blend the works and opinions of the master with those of his scholars. To a later Platonist, the difference between Plato and his imitators was not so perceptible as to ourselves. The Memorabilia of Xenophon and the Dialogues of Plato are but a part of a considerable Socratic literature which has passed away. And we must consider how we should regard the question of the genuineness of a particular writing, if this lost literature had been preserved to us.

These considerations lead us to adopt the following criteria of genuineness: (1) That is most certainly Plato’s which Aristotle attributes to him by name, which (2) is of considerable length, of (3) great excellence, and also (4) in harmony with the general spirit of the Platonic writings. But the testimony of Aristotle cannot always be distinguished from that of a later age (see above); and has various degrees of importance. Those writings which he cites without mentioning Plato, under their own names, e.g. the “Hippias,” the “Funeral Oration,” the “Phaedo,” etc., have an inferior degree of evidence in their favour. They may have been supposed by him to be the writings of another, although in the case of really great works, e.g. the “Phaedo,” this is not credible; those again which are quoted but not named, are still more defective in their external credentials. There may be also a possibility that Aristotle was mistaken, or may have confused the master and his scholars in the case of a short writing; but this is inconceivable about a more important work, e.g. the Laws, especially when we remember that he was living at Athens, and a frequenter of the groves of the Academy, during the last twenty years of Plato’s life. Nor must we forget that in all his numerous citations from the Platonic writings he never attributes any passage found in the extant dialogues to anyone but Plato. And lastly, we may remark that one or two great writings, such as the “Parmenides” and the “Politicus,” which are wholly devoid of Aristotelian (1) credentials may be fairly attributed to Plato, on the ground of (2) length, (3) excellence, and (4) accordance with the general spirit of his writings. Indeed the greater part of the evidence for the genuineness of ancient Greek authors may be summed up under two heads only: (1) excellence; and (2) uniformity of tradition⁠—a kind of evidence, which though in many cases sufficient, is of inferior value.

Proceeding upon these principles we appear to arrive at the conclusion that nineteen-twentieths of all the writings which have ever been ascribed to Plato, are undoubtedly genuine. There is another portion of them, including the “Epistles,” the “Epinomis,” the dialogues rejected by the ancients themselves, namely, the “Axiochus,” “De justo,” “De virtute,” “Demodocus,” “Sisyphus,” “Eryxias,” which on grounds, both of internal and external evidence, we are able with equal certainty to reject. But there still remains a small portion of which we are unable to affirm either that they are genuine or spurious. They may have been written in youth, or possibly like the works of some painters, may be partly or wholly the compositions of pupils; or they may have been the writings of some contemporary transferred by accident to the more celebrated name of Plato, or of some Platonist in the next generation who aspired to imitate his master. Not that on grounds either of language or philosophy we should lightly reject them. Some difference of style, or inferiority of execution, or inconsistency of thought, can hardly be considered decisive of their spurious character. For who always does justice to himself, or who writes with equal care at all times? Certainly not Plato, who exhibits the greatest differences in dramatic power, in the formation of sentences, and in the use of words, if his earlier writings are compared with his later ones, say the “Protagoras” or “Phaedrus” with the Laws. Or who can be expected to think in the same manner during a period of authorship extending over above fifty years, in an age of great intellectual activity, as well as of political and literary transition? Certainly not Plato, whose earlier writings are separated from his later ones by as wide an interval of philosophical speculation as that which separates his later writings from Aristotle.

The dialogues which have been translated in the first Appendix, and which appear to have the next claim to genuineness among the Platonic writings, are the “Lesser Hippias,” the “Menexenus” or “Funeral Oration,” the “First Alcibiades.” Of these, the “Lesser Hippias” and the “Funeral Oration” are cited by Aristotle; the first in the Metaphysics, IV 29, 5, the latter in the Rhetoric, III 14, 11. Neither of them are expressly attributed to Plato, but in his citation of both of them he seems to be referring to passages in the extant dialogues. From the mention of “Hippias” in the singular by Aristotle, we may perhaps infer that he was unacquainted with a second dialogue bearing the same name. Moreover, the mere existence of a “Greater” and “Lesser Hippias,” and of a “First” and “Second Alcibiades,” does to a certain extent throw a doubt upon both of them. Though a very clever and ingenious work, the “Lesser Hippias” does not appear to contain anything beyond the power of an imitator, who was also a careful student of the earlier Platonic writings, to invent. The motive or leading thought of the dialogue may be detected in Xenophon Memorabilia, and there is no similar instance of a “motive” which is taken from Xenophon in an undoubted dialogue of Plato. On the other hand, the upholders of the genuineness of the dialogue will find in the “Hippias” a true Socratic spirit; they will compare the “Ion” as being akin both in subject and treatment; they will urge the authority of Aristotle; and they will detect in the treatment of the Sophist, in the satirical reasoning upon Homer, in the reductio ad absurdum of the doctrine that vice is ignorance, traces of a Platonic authorship. In reference to the last point we are doubtful, as in some of the other dialogues, whether the author is asserting or overthrowing the paradox of Socrates, or merely following the argument “whither the wind blows.” That no conclusion is arrived at is also in accordance with the character of the earlier dialogues. The resemblances or imitations of the “Gorgias,” “Protagoras,” and “Euthydemus,” which have been observed in the “Hippias,” cannot with certainty be adduced on either side of the argument. On the whole, more may be said in favour of the genuineness of the “Hippias” than against it.

The “Menexenus” or “Funeral Oration” is cited by Aristotle, and is interesting as supplying an example of the manner in which the orators praised “the Athenians among the Athenians,” falsifying persons and dates, and casting a veil over the gloomier events of Athenian history. It exhibits an acquaintance with the funeral oration of Thucydides, and was, perhaps, intended to rival that great work. If genuine, the proper place of the “Menexenus” would be at the end of the “Phaedrus.” The satirical opening and the concluding words bear a great resemblance to the earlier dialogues; the oration itself is professedly a mimetic work, like the speeches in the “Phaedrus,” and cannot therefore be tested by a comparison of the other writings of Plato. The funeral oration of Pericles is expressly mentioned in the “Phaedrus,” and this may have suggested the subject, in the same manner that the “Cleitophon” appears to be suggested by the slight mention of Cleitophon and his attachment to Thrasymachus in the Republic, compare 465 A; and the “Theages” by the mention of Theages in the “Apology” and Republic; or as the “Second Alcibiades” seems to be founded upon the text of Xenophon, Memorabilia I 3, 1. A similar taste for parody appears not only in the “Phaedrus,” but in the “Protagoras,” in the “Symposium,” and to a certain extent in the “Parmenides.”

To these two doubtful writings of Plato I have added the “First Alcibiades,” which, of all the disputed dialogues of Plato, has the greatest merit, and is somewhat longer than any of them, though not verified by the testimony of Aristotle, and in many respects at variance with the “Symposium” in the description of the relations of Socrates and Alcibiades. Like the “Lesser Hippias” and the “Menexenus,” it is to be compared to the earlier writings of Plato. The motive of the piece may, perhaps, be found in that passage of the “Symposium” in which Alcibiades describes himself as self-convicted by the words of Socrates (216 B, C). For the disparaging manner in which Schleiermacher has spoken of this dialogue there seems to be no sufficient foundation. At the same time, the lesson imparted is simple, and the irony more transparent than in the undoubted dialogues of Plato. We know, too, that Alcibiades was a favourite thesis, and that at least five or six dialogues bearing this name passed current in antiquity, and are attributed to contemporaries of Socrates and Plato. (1) In the entire absence of real external evidence (for the catalogues of the Alexandrian librarians cannot be regarded as trustworthy); and (2) in the absence of the highest marks either of poetical or philosophical excellence; and (3) considering that we have express testimony to the existence of contemporary writings bearing the name of Alcibiades, we are compelled to suspend our judgment on the genuineness of the extant dialogue.

Neither at this point, nor at any other, do we propose to draw an absolute line of demarcation between genuine and spurious writings of Plato. They fade off imperceptibly from one class to another. There may have been degrees of genuineness in the dialogues themselves, as there are certainly degrees of evidence by which they are supported. The traditions of the oral discourses both of Socrates and Plato may have formed the basis of semi-Platonic writings; some of them may be of the same mixed character which is apparent in Aristotle and Hippocrates, although the form of them is different. But the writings of Plato, unlike the writings of Aristotle, seem never to have been confused with the writings of his disciples: this was probably due to their definite form, and to their inimitable excellence. The three dialogues which we have offered in the Appendix to the criticism of the reader may be partly spurious and partly genuine; they may be altogether spurious;⁠—that is an alternative which must be frankly admitted. Nor can we maintain of some other dialogues, such as the “Parmenides,” and the “Sophist,” and “Politicus,” that no considerable objection can be urged against them, though greatly overbalanced by the weight (chiefly) of internal evidence in their favour. Nor, on the other hand, can we exclude a bare possibility that some dialogues which are usually rejected, such as the “Greater Hippias” and the “Cleitophon,” may be genuine. The nature and object of these semi-Platonic writings require more careful study and more comparison of them with one another, and with forged writings in general, than they have yet received, before we can finally decide on their character. We do not consider them all as genuine until they can be proved to be spurious, as is often maintained and still more often implied in this and similar discussions; but should say of some of them, that their genuineness is neither proven nor disproven until further evidence about them can be adduced. And we are as confident that the “Epistles” are spurious, as that the Republic, the “Timaeus,” and the Laws are genuine.

On the whole, not a twentieth part of the writings which pass under the name of Plato, if we exclude the works rejected by the ancients themselves and two or three other plausible inventions, can be fairly doubted by those who are willing to allow that a considerable change and growth may have taken place in his philosophy (see above). That twentieth debatable portion scarcely in any degree affects our judgment of Plato, either as a thinker or a writer, and though suggesting some interesting questions to the scholar and critic, is of little importance to the general reader.

Lesser Hippias


The “Lesser Hippias” may be compared with the earlier dialogues of Plato, in which the contrast of Socrates and the Sophists is most strongly exhibited. Hippias, like Protagoras and Gorgias, though civil, is vain and boastful: he knows all things; he can make anything, including his own clothes; he is a manufacturer of poems and declamations, and also of seal-rings, shoes, strigils; his girdle, which he has woven himself, is of a finer than Persian quality. He is a vainer, lighter nature than the two great Sophists (compare “Protagoras” 314, 337), but of the same character with them, and equally impatient of the short cut-and-thrust method of Socrates, whom he endeavours to draw into a long oration. At last, he gets tired of being defeated at every point by Socrates, and is with difficulty induced to proceed (compare Thrasymachus, Protagoras, Callicles, and others, to whom the same reluctance is ascribed).

Hippias like Protagoras has common sense on his side, when he argues, citing passages of the Iliad in support of his view, that Homer intended Achilles to be the bravest, Odysseus the wisest of the Greeks. But he is easily overthrown by the superior dialectics of Socrates, who pretends to show that Achilles is not true to his word, and that no similar inconsistency is to be found in Odysseus. Hippias replies that Achilles unintentionally, but Odysseus intentionally, speaks falsehood. But is it better to do wrong intentionally or unintentionally? Socrates, relying on the analogy of the arts, maintains the former, Hippias the latter of the two alternatives⁠ ⁠… All this is quite conceived in the spirit of Plato, who is very far from making Socrates always argue on the side of truth. The over-reasoning on Homer, which is of course satirical, is also in the spirit of Plato. Poetry turned logic is even more ridiculous than “rhetoric turned logic,” and equally fallacious. There were reasoners in ancient as well as in modern times, who could never receive the natural impression of Homer, or of any other book which they read. The argument of Socrates, in which he picks out the apparent inconsistencies and discrepancies in the speech and actions of Achilles, and the final paradox, “that he who is true is also false,” remind us of the interpretation by Socrates of Simonides in the “Protagoras,” and of similar reasonings in the first book of the Republic. The discrepancies which Socrates discovers in the words of Achilles are perhaps as great as those discovered by some of the modern separatists of the Homeric poems⁠ ⁠…

At last, Socrates having caught Hippias in the toils of the voluntary and involuntary, is obliged to confess that he is wandering about in the same labyrinth; he makes the reflection on himself which others would make upon him (compare “Protagoras,” sub fin.). He does not wonder that he should be in a difficulty, but he wonders at Hippias, and he becomes sensible of the gravity of the situation, when ordinary men like himself can no longer go to the wise and be taught by them.

It may be remarked as bearing on the genuineness of this dialogue: (1) that the manners of the speakers are less subtle and refined than in the other dialogues of Plato; (2) that the sophistry of Socrates is more palpable and unblushing, and also more unmeaning; (3) that many turns of thought and style are found in it which appear also in the other dialogues:⁠—whether resemblances of this kind tell in favour of or against the genuineness of an ancient writing, is an important question which will have to be answered differently in different cases. For that a writer may repeat himself is as true as that a forger may imitate; and Plato elsewhere, either of set purpose or from forgetfulness, is full of repetitions. The parallelisms of the “Lesser Hippias,” as already remarked, are not of the kind which necessarily imply that the dialogue is the work of a forger. The parallelisms of the “Greater Hippias” with the other dialogues, and the allusion to the “Lesser” 285, 286 A, B (where Hippias sketches the programme of his next lecture, and invites Socrates to attend and bring any friends with him who may be competent judges), are more than suspicious:⁠—they are of a very poor sort, such as we cannot suppose to have been due to Plato himself. The “Greater Hippias” more resembles the “Euthydemus” than any other dialogue; but is immeasurably inferior to it. The “Lesser Hippias” seems to have more merit than the Greater, and to be more Platonic in spirit. The character of Hippias is the same in both dialogues, but his vanity and boasting are even more exaggerated in the “Greater Hippias.” His art of memory is specially mentioned in both. He is an inferior type of the same species as Hippodamus of Miletus (Aristotle Politics II 8, § 1). Some passages in which the “Lesser Hippias” may be advantageously compared with the undoubtedly genuine dialogues of Plato are the following:⁠—“Lesser Hippias” 369 B: compare Republic VI 487 (Socrates’ cunning in argument): ∥ ibid. D, E: compare “Laches” 188 (Socrates’ feeling about arguments): ∥ 372 B, C: compare Republic I 338 B (Socrates not unthankful): ∥ 373 B: compare Republic I 340 D (Socrates dishonest in argument).

The “Lesser Hippias,” though inferior to the other dialogues, may be reasonably believed to have been written by Plato, on the ground (1) of considerable excellence; (2) of uniform tradition beginning with Aristotle and his school. That the dialogue falls below the standard of Plato’s other works, or that he has attributed to Socrates an unmeaning paradox (perhaps with the view of showing that he could beat the Sophists at their own weapons; or that he could “make the worse appear the better cause”; or merely as a dialectical experiment)⁠—are not sufficient reasons for doubting the genuineness of the work.

Lesser Hippias

Persons of the dialogue:

  • Eudicus

  • Socrates

  • Hippias

Eudicus Why are you silent, Socrates, after the magnificent display which Hippias has been making? Why do you not either refute his words, if he seems to you to have been wrong in any point, or join with us in commending him? There is the more reason why you should speak, because we are now alone, and the audience is confined to those who may fairly claim to take part in a philosophical discussion.
Socrates I should greatly like, Eudicus, to ask Hippias the meaning of what he was saying just now about Homer. I have heard your father, Apemantus, declare that the Iliad of Homer is a finer poem than the Odyssey in the same degree that Achilles was a better man than Odysseus; Odysseus, he would say, is the central figure of the one poem and Achilles of the other. Now, I should like to know, if Hippias has no objection to tell me, what he thinks about these two heroes, and which of them he maintains to be the better; he has already told us in the course of his exhibition many things of various kinds about Homer and divers other poets.
Eudicus I am sure that Hippias will be delighted to answer anything which you would like to ask; tell me, Hippias, if Socrates asks you a question, will you answer him?
Hippias Indeed, Eudicus, I should be strangely inconsistent if I refused to answer Socrates, when at each Olympic festival, as I went up from my house at Elis to the temple of Olympia, where all the Hellenes were assembled, I continually professed my willingness to perform any of the exhibitions which I had prepared, and to answer any questions which anyone had to ask.
Socrates Truly, Hippias, you are to be congratulated, if at every Olympic festival you have such an encouraging opinion of your own wisdom when you go up to the temple. I doubt whether any muscular hero would be so fearless and confident in offering his body to the combat at Olympia, as you are in offering your mind.
Hippias And with good reason, Socrates; for since the day when I first entered the lists at Olympia I have never found any man who was my superior in anything.600
Socrates What an ornament, Hippias, will the reputation of your wisdom be to the city of Elis and to your parents! But to return: what say you of Odysseus and Achilles? Which is the better of the two? and in what particular does either surpass the other? For when you were exhibiting and there was company in the room, though I could not follow you, I did not like to ask what you meant, because a crowd of people were present, and I was afraid that the question might interrupt your exhibition. But now that there are not so many of us, and my friend Eudicus bids me ask, I wish you would tell me what you were saying about these two heroes, so that I may clearly understand; how did you distinguish them?
Hippias I shall have much pleasure, Socrates, in explaining to you more clearly than I could in public my views about these and also about other heroes. I say that Homer intended Achilles to be the bravest of the men who went to Troy, Nestor the wisest, and Odysseus the wiliest.
Socrates O rare Hippias, will you be so good as not to laugh, if I find a difficulty in following you, and repeat my questions several times over? Please to answer me kindly and gently.
Hippias I should be greatly ashamed of myself, Socrates, if I, who teach others and take money of them, could not, when I was asked by you, answer in a civil and agreeable manner.
Socrates Thank you: the fact is, that I seemed to understand what you meant when you said that the poet intended Achilles to be the bravest of men, and also that he intended Nestor to be the wisest; but when you said that he meant Odysseus to be the wiliest, I must confess that I could not understand what you were saying. Will you tell me, and then I shall perhaps understand you better; has not Homer made Achilles wily?

Certainly not, Socrates; he is the most straightforward of mankind, and when Homer introduces them talking with one another in the passage called the Prayers, Achilles is supposed by the poet to say to Odysseus:⁠—

“Son of Laertes, sprung from heaven, crafty Odysseus, I will speak out plainly the word which I intend to carry out in act, and which will, I believe, be accomplished. For I hate him like the gates of death who thinks one thing and says another. But I will speak that which shall be accomplished.”

Now, in these verses he clearly indicates the character of the two men; he shows Achilles to be true and simple, and Odysseus to be wily and false; for he supposes Achilles to be addressing Odysseus in these lines.

Socrates Now, Hippias, I think that I understand your meaning; when you say that Odysseus is wily, you clearly mean that he is false?
Hippias Exactly so, Socrates; it is the character of Odysseus, as he is represented by Homer in many passages both of the Iliad and Odyssey.
Socrates And Homer must be presumed to have meant that the true man is not the same as the false?
Hippias Of course, Socrates.
Socrates And is that your own opinion, Hippias?
Hippias Certainly; how can I have any other?
Socrates Well, then, as there is no possibility of asking Homer what he meant in these verses of his, let us leave him; but as you show a willingness to take up his cause, and your opinion agrees with what you declare to be his, will you answer on behalf of yourself and him?
Hippias I will; ask shortly anything which you like.
Socrates Do you say that the false, like the sick, have no power to do things, or that they have the power to do things?
Hippias I should say that they have power to do many things, and in particular to deceive mankind.
Socrates Then, according to you, they are both powerful and wily, are they not?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And are they wily, and do they deceive by reason of their simplicity and folly, or by reason of their cunning and a certain sort of prudence?
Hippias By reason of their cunning and prudence, most certainly.
Socrates Then they are prudent, I suppose?
Hippias So they are⁠—very.
Socrates And if they are prudent, do they know or do they not know what they do?
Hippias Of course, they know very well; and that is why they do mischief to others.
Socrates And having this knowledge, are they ignorant, or are they wise?
Hippias Wise, certainly; at least, in so far as they can deceive.
Socrates Stop, and let us recall to mind what you are saying; are you not saying that the false are powerful and prudent and knowing and wise in those things about which they are false?
Hippias To be sure.
Socrates And the true differ from the false⁠—the true and the false are the very opposite of each other?
Hippias That is my view.
Socrates Then, according to your view, it would seem that the false are to be ranked in the class of the powerful and wise?
Hippias Assuredly.
Socrates And when you say that the false are powerful and wise in so far as they are false, do you mean that they have or have not the power of uttering their falsehoods if they like?
Hippias I mean to say that they have the power.
Socrates In a word, then, the false are they who are wise and have the power to speak falsely?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then a man who has not the power of speaking falsely and is ignorant cannot be false?
Hippias You are right.
Socrates And every man has power who does that which he wishes at the time when he wishes. I am not speaking of any special case in which he is prevented by disease or something of that sort, but I am speaking generally, as I might say of you, that you are able to write my name when you like. Would you not call a man able who could do that?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And tell me, Hippias, are you not a skilful calculator and arithmetician?
Hippias Yes, Socrates, assuredly I am.
Socrates And if someone were to ask you what is the sum of 3 multiplied by 700, you would tell him the true answer in a moment, if you pleased?
Hippias certainly I should.
Socrates Is not that because you are the wisest and ablest of men in these matters?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And being as you are the wisest and ablest of men in these matters of calculation, are you not also the best?
Hippias To be sure, Socrates, I am the best.
Socrates And therefore you would be the most able to tell the truth about these matters, would you not?
Hippias Yes, I should.
Socrates And could you speak falsehoods about them equally well? I must beg, Hippias, that you will answer me with the same frankness and magnanimity which has hitherto characterized you. If a person were to ask you what is the sum of 3 multiplied by 700, would not you be the best and most consistent teller of a falsehood, having always the power of speaking falsely as you have of speaking truly, about these same matters, if you wanted to tell a falsehood, and not to answer truly? Would the ignorant man be better able to tell a falsehood in matters of calculation than you would be, if you chose? Might he not sometimes stumble upon the truth, when he wanted to tell a lie, because he did not know, whereas you who are the wise man, if you wanted to tell a lie would always and consistently lie?
Hippias Yes, there you are quite right.
Socrates Does the false man tell lies about other things, but not about number, or when he is making a calculation?
Hippias To be sure; he would tell as many lies about number as about other things.
Socrates Then may we further assume, Hippias, that there are men who are false about calculation and number?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Who can they be? For you have already admitted that he who is false must have the ability to be false: you said, as you will remember, that he who is unable to be false will not be false?
Hippias Yes, I remember; it was so said.
Socrates And were you not yourself just now shown to be best able to speak falsely about calculation?
Hippias Yes; that was another thing which was said.
Socrates And are you not likewise said to speak truly about calculation?
Hippias Certainly.
Socrates Then the same person is able to speak both falsely and truly about calculation? And that person is he who is good at calculation⁠—the arithmetician?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Who, then, Hippias, is discovered to be false at calculation? Is he not the good man? For the good man is the able man, and he is the true man.
Hippias That is evident.
Socrates Do you not see, then, that the same man is false and also true about the same matters? And the true man is not a whit better than the false; for indeed he is the same with him and not the very opposite, as you were just now imagining.
Hippias Not in that instance, clearly.
Socrates Shall we examine other instances?
Hippias Certainly, if you are disposed.
Socrates Are you not also skilled in geometry?
Hippias I am.
Socrates Well, and does not the same hold in that science also? Is not the same person best able to speak falsely or to speak truly about diagrams; and he is⁠—the geometrician?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates He and no one else is good at it?
Hippias Yes, he and no one else.
Socrates Then the good and wise geometer has this double power in the highest degree; and if there be a man who is false about diagrams the good man will be he, for he is able to be false; whereas the bad is unable, and for this reason is not false, as has been admitted.
Hippias True.
Socrates Once more⁠—let us examine a third case; that of the astronomer, in whose art, again, you, Hippias, profess to be a still greater proficient than in the preceding⁠—do you not?
Hippias Yes, I am.
Socrates And does not the same hold of astronomy?
Hippias True, Socrates.
Socrates And in astronomy, too, if any man be able to speak falsely he will be the good astronomer, but he who is not able will not speak falsely, for he has no knowledge.
Hippias Clearly not.
Socrates Then in astronomy also, the same man will be true and false?
Hippias It would seem so.
Socrates And now, Hippias, consider the question at large about all the sciences, and see whether the same principle does not always hold. I know that in most arts you are the wisest of men, as I have heard you boasting in the agora at the tables of the money-changers, when you were setting forth the great and enviable stores of your wisdom; and you said that upon one occasion, when you went to the Olympic games, all that you had on your person was made by yourself. You began with your ring, which was of your own workmanship, and you said that you could engrave rings; and you had another seal which was also of your own workmanship, and a strigil and an oil flask, which you had made yourself; you said also that you had made the shoes which you had on your feet, and the cloak and the short tunic; but what appeared to us all most extraordinary and a proof of singular art, was the girdle of your tunic, which, you said, was as fine as the most costly Persian fabric, and of your own weaving; moreover, you told us that you had brought with you poems, epic, tragic, and dithyrambic, as well as prose writings of the most various kinds; and you said that your skill was also preeminent in the arts which I was just now mentioning, and in the true principles of rhythm and harmony and of orthography; and if I remember rightly, there were a great many other accomplishments in which you excelled. I have forgotten to mention your art of memory, which you regard as your special glory, and I dare say that I have forgotten many other things; but, as I was saying, only look to your own arts⁠—and there are plenty of them⁠—and to those of others; and tell me, having regard to the admissions which you and I have made, whether you discover any department of art or any description of wisdom or cunning, whichever name you use, in which the true and false are different and not the same: tell me, if you can, of any. But you cannot.
Hippias Not without consideration, Socrates.
Socrates Nor will consideration help you, Hippias, as I believe; but then if I am right, remember what the consequence will be.
Hippias I do not know what you mean, Socrates.
Socrates I suppose that you are not using your art of memory, doubtless because you think that such an accomplishment is not needed on the present occasion. I will therefore remind you of what you were saying: were you not saying that Achilles was a true man, and Odysseus false and wily?
Hippias I was.
Socrates And now do you perceive that the same person has turned out to be false as well as true? If Odysseus is false he is also true, and if Achilles is true he is also false, and so the two men are not opposed to one another, but they are alike.
Hippias O Socrates, you are always weaving the meshes of an argument, selecting the most difficult point, and fastening upon details instead of grappling with the matter in hand as a whole. Come now, and I will demonstrate to you, if you will allow me, by many satisfactory proofs, that Homer has made Achilles a better man than Odysseus, and a truthful man too; and that he has made the other crafty, and a teller of many untruths, and inferior to Achilles. And then, if you please, you shall make a speech on the other side, in order to prove that Odysseus is the better man; and this may be compared to mine, and then the company will know which of us is the better speaker.

O Hippias, I do not doubt that you are wiser than I am. But I have a way, when anybody else says anything, of giving close attention to him, especially if the speaker appears to me to be a wise man. Having a desire to understand, I question him, and I examine and analyse and put together what he says, in order that I may understand; but if the speaker appears to me to be a poor hand, I do not interrogate him, or trouble myself about him, and you may know by this who they are whom I deem to be wise men, for you will see that when I am talking with a wise man, I am very attentive to what he says; and I ask questions of him, in order that I may learn, and be improved by him. And I could not help remarking while you were speaking, that when you recited the verses in which Achilles, as you argued, attacks Odysseus as a deceiver, that you must be strangely mistaken, because Odysseus, the man of wiles, is never found to tell a lie; but Achilles is found to be wily on your own showing. At any rate he speaks falsely; for first he utters these words, which you just now repeated⁠—

“He is hateful to me even as the gates of death who thinks one thing and says another”:⁠—

And then he says, a little while afterwards, he will not be persuaded by Odysseus and Agamemnon, neither will he remain at Troy; but, says he⁠—

“Tomorrow, when I have offered sacrifices to Zeus and all the Gods, having loaded my ships well, I will drag them down into the deep; and then you shall see, if you have a mind, and if such things are a care to you, early in the morning my ships sailing over the fishy Hellespont, and my men eagerly plying the oar; and, if the illustrious shaker of the earth gives me a good voyage, on the third day I shall reach the fertile Phthia.”

And before that, when he was reviling Agamemnon, he said⁠—

“And now to Phthia I will go, since to return home in the beaked ships is far better, nor am I inclined to stay here in dishonour and amass wealth and riches for you.”

But although on that occasion, in the presence of the whole army, he spoke after this fashion, and on the other occasion to his companions, he appears never to have made any preparation or attempt to draw down the ships, as if he had the least intention of sailing home; so nobly regardless was he of the truth. Now I, Hippias, originally asked you the question, because I was in doubt as to which of the two heroes was intended by the poet to be the best, and because I thought that both of them were the best, and that it would be difficult to decide which was the better of them, not only in respect of truth and falsehood, but of virtue generally, for even in this matter of speaking the truth they are much upon a par.

Hippias There you are wrong, Socrates; for in so far as Achilles speaks falsely, the falsehood is obviously unintentional. He is compelled against his will to remain and rescue the army in their misfortune. But when Odysseus speaks falsely he is voluntarily and intentionally false.
Socrates You, sweet Hippias, like Odysseus, are a deceiver yourself.
Hippias Certainly not, Socrates; what makes you say so?
Socrates Because you say that Achilles does not speak falsely from design, when he is not only a deceiver, but besides being a braggart, in Homer’s description of him is so cunning, and so far superior to Odysseus in lying and pretending, that he dares to contradict himself, and Odysseus does not find him out; at any rate he does not appear to say anything to him which would imply that he perceived his falsehood.
Hippias What do you mean, Socrates?
Socrates Did you not observe that afterwards, when he is speaking to Odysseus, he says that he will sail away with the early dawn; but to Ajax he tells quite a different story?
Hippias Where is that?

Where he says⁠—

“I will not think about bloody war until the son of warlike Priam, illustrious Hector, comes to the tents and ships of the Myrmidons, slaughtering the Argives, and burning the ships with fire; and about my tent and dark ship, I suspect that Hector, although eager for the battle, will nevertheless stay his hand.”

Now, do you really think, Hippias, that the son of Thetis, who had been the pupil of the sage Cheiron, had such a bad memory, or would have carried the art of lying to such an extent (when he had been assailing liars in the most violent terms only the instant before) as to say to Odysseus that he would sail away, and to Ajax that he would remain, and that he was not rather practising upon the simplicity of Odysseus, whom he regarded as an ancient, and thinking that he would get the better of him by his own cunning and falsehood?

Hippias No, I do not agree with you, Socrates; but I believe that Achilles is induced to say one thing to Ajax, and another to Odysseus in the innocence of his heart, whereas Odysseus, whether he speaks falsely or truly, speaks always with a purpose.
Socrates Then Odysseus would appear after all to be better than Achilles?
Hippias Certainly not, Socrates.
Socrates Why, were not the voluntary liars only just now shown to be better than the involuntary?
Hippias And how, Socrates, can those who intentionally err, and voluntarily and designedly commit iniquities, be better than those who err and do wrong involuntarily? Surely there is a great excuse to be made for a man telling a falsehood, or doing an injury or any sort of harm to another in ignorance. And the laws are obviously far more severe on those who lie or do evil, voluntarily, than on those who do evil involuntarily.
Socrates You see, Hippias, as I have already told you, how pertinacious I am in asking questions of wise men. And I think that this is the only good point about me, for I am full of defects, and always getting wrong in some way or other. My deficiency is proved to me by the fact that when I meet one of you who are famous for wisdom, and to whose wisdom all the Hellenes are witnesses, I am found out to know nothing. For speaking generally, I hardly ever have the same opinion about anything which you have, and what proof of ignorance can be greater than to differ from wise men? But I have one singular good quality, which is my salvation; I am not ashamed to learn, and I ask and enquire, and am very grateful to those who answer me, and never fail to give them my grateful thanks; and when I learn a thing I never deny my teacher, or pretend that the lesson is a discovery of my own; but I praise his wisdom, and proclaim what I have learned from him. And now I cannot agree in what you are saying, but I strongly disagree. Well, I know that this is my own fault, and is a defect in my character, but I will not pretend to be more than I am; and my opinion, Hippias, is the very contrary of what you are saying. For I maintain that those who hurt or injure mankind, and speak falsely and deceive, and err voluntarily, are better far than those who do wrong involuntarily. Sometimes, however, I am of the opposite opinion; for I am all abroad in my ideas about this matter, a condition obviously occasioned by ignorance. And just now I happen to be in a crisis of my disorder at which those who err voluntarily appear to me better than those who err involuntarily. My present state of mind is due to our previous argument, which inclines me to believe that in general those who do wrong involuntarily are worse than those who do wrong voluntarily, and therefore I hope that you will be good to me, and not refuse to heal me; for you will do me a much greater benefit if you cure my soul of ignorance, than you would if you were to cure my body of disease. I must, however, tell you beforehand, that if you make a long oration to me you will not cure me, for I shall not be able to follow you; but if you will answer me, as you did just now, you will do me a great deal of good, and I do not think that you will be any the worse yourself. And I have some claim upon you also, O son of Apemantus, for you incited me to converse with Hippias; and now, if Hippias will not answer me, you must entreat him on my behalf.
Eudicus But I do not think, Socrates, that Hippias will require any entreaty of mine; for he has already said that he will refuse to answer no man.⁠—Did you not say so, Hippias?
Hippias Yes, I did; but then, Eudicus, Socrates is always troublesome in an argument, and appears to be dishonest.601
Socrates Excellent Hippias, I do not do so intentionally (if I did, it would show me to be a wise man and a master of wiles, as you would argue), but unintentionally, and therefore you must pardon me; for, as you say, he who is unintentionally dishonest should be pardoned.
Eudicus Yes, Hippias, do as he says; and for our sake, and also that you may not belie your profession, answer whatever Socrates asks you.
Hippias I will answer, as you request me; and do you ask whatever you like.
Socrates I am very desirous, Hippias, of examining this question, as to which are the better⁠—those who err voluntarily or involuntarily? And if you will answer me, I think that I can put you in the way of approaching the subject: You would admit, would you not, that there are good runners?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And there are bad runners?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And he who runs well is a good runner, and he who runs ill is a bad runner?
Hippias Very true.
Socrates And he who runs slowly runs ill, and he who runs quickly runs well?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then in a race, and in running, swiftness is a good, and slowness is an evil quality?
Hippias To be sure.
Socrates Which of the two then is a better runner? He who runs slowly voluntarily, or he who runs slowly involuntarily?
Hippias He who runs slowly voluntarily.
Socrates And is not running a species of doing?
Hippias Certainly.
Socrates And if a species of doing, a species of action?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then he who runs badly does a bad and dishonourable action in a race?
Hippias Yes; a bad action, certainly.
Socrates And he who runs slowly runs badly?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then the good runner does this bad and disgraceful action voluntarily, and the bad involuntarily?
Hippias That is to be inferred.
Socrates Then he who involuntarily does evil actions, is worse in a race than he who does them voluntarily?
Hippias Yes, in a race.
Socrates Well, but at a wrestling match⁠—which is the better wrestler, he who falls voluntarily or involuntarily?
Hippias He who falls voluntarily, doubtless.
Socrates And is it worse or more dishonourable at a wrestling match, to fall, or to throw another?
Hippias To fall.
Socrates Then, at a wrestling match, he who voluntarily does base and dishonourable actions is a better wrestler than he who does them involuntarily?
Hippias That appears to be the truth.
Socrates And what would you say of any other bodily exercise⁠—is not he who is better made able to do both that which is strong and that which is weak⁠—that which is fair and that which is foul?⁠—so that when he does bad actions with the body, he who is better made does them voluntarily, and he who is worse made does them involuntarily.
Hippias Yes, that appears to be true about strength.
Socrates And what do you say about grace, Hippias? Is not he who is better made able to assume evil and disgraceful figures and postures voluntarily, as he who is worse made assumes them involuntarily?
Hippias True.
Socrates Then voluntary ungracefulness comes from excellence of the bodily frame, and involuntary from the defect of the bodily frame?
Hippias True.
Socrates And what would you say of an unmusical voice; would you prefer the voice which is voluntarily or involuntarily out of tune?
Hippias That which is voluntarily out of tune.
Socrates The involuntary is the worse of the two?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And would you choose to possess goods or evils?
Hippias Goods.
Socrates And would you rather have feet which are voluntarily or involuntarily lame?
Hippias Feet which are voluntarily lame.
Socrates But is not lameness a defect or deformity?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And is not blinking a defect in the eyes?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And would you rather always have eyes with which you might voluntarily blink and not see, or with which you might involuntarily blink?
Hippias I would rather have eyes which voluntarily blink.
Socrates Then in your own case you deem that which voluntarily acts ill, better than that which involuntarily acts ill?
Hippias Yes, certainly, in cases such as you mention.
Socrates And does not the same hold of ears, nostrils, mouth, and of all the senses⁠—those which involuntarily act ill are not to be desired, as being defective; and those which voluntarily act ill are to be desired as being good?
Hippias I agree.
Socrates And what would you say of instruments;⁠—which are the better sort of instruments to have to do with?⁠—those with which a man acts ill voluntarily or involuntarily? For example, had a man better have a rudder with which he will steer ill, voluntarily or involuntarily?
Hippias He had better have a rudder with which he will steer ill voluntarily.
Socrates And does not the same hold of the bow and the lyre, the flute and all other things?
Hippias Very true.
Socrates And would you rather have a horse of such a temper that you may ride him ill voluntarily or involuntarily?
Hippias I would rather have a horse which I could ride ill voluntarily.
Socrates That would be the better horse?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then with a horse of better temper, vicious actions would be produced voluntarily; and with a horse of bad temper involuntarily?
Hippias Certainly.
Socrates And that would be true of a dog, or of any other animal?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And is it better to possess the mind of an archer who voluntarily or involuntarily misses the mark?
Hippias Of him who voluntarily misses.
Socrates This would be the better mind for the purposes of archery?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then the mind which involuntarily errs is worse than the mind which errs voluntarily?
Hippias Yes, certainly, in the use of the bow.
Socrates And what would you say of the art of medicine;⁠—has not the mind which voluntarily works harm to the body, more of the healing art?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then in the art of medicine the voluntary is better than the involuntary?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Well, and in lute-playing and in flute-playing, and in all arts and sciences, is not that mind the better which voluntarily does what is evil and dishonourable, and goes wrong, and is not the worse that which does so involuntarily?
Hippias That is evident.
Socrates And what would you say of the characters of slaves? Should we not prefer to have those who voluntarily do wrong and make mistakes, and are they not better in their mistakes than those who commit them involuntarily?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And should we not desire to have our own minds in the best state possible?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And will our minds be better if they do wrong and make mistakes voluntarily or involuntarily?
Hippias O, Socrates, it would be a monstrous thing to say that those who do wrong voluntarily are better than those who do wrong involuntarily!
Socrates And yet that appears to be the only inference.
Hippias I do not think so.
Socrates But I imagined, Hippias, that you did. Please to answer once more: Is not justice a power, or knowledge, or both? Must not justice, at all events, be one of these?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates But if justice is a power of the soul, then the soul which has the greater power is also the more just; for that which has the greater power, my good friend, has been proved by us to be the better.
Hippias Yes, that has been proved.
Socrates And if justice is knowledge, then the wiser will be the juster soul, and the more ignorant the more unjust?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates But if justice be power as well as knowledge⁠—then will not the soul which has both knowledge and power be the more just, and that which is the more ignorant be the more unjust? Must it not be so?
Hippias Clearly.
Socrates And is not the soul which has the greater power and wisdom also better, and better able to do both good and evil in every action?
Hippias Certainly.
Socrates The soul, then, which acts ill, acts voluntarily by power and art⁠—and these either one or both of them are elements of justice?
Hippias That seems to be true.
Socrates And to do injustice is to do ill, and not to do injustice is to do well?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates And will not the better and abler soul when it does wrong, do wrong voluntarily, and the bad soul involuntarily?
Hippias Clearly.
Socrates And the good man is he who has the good soul, and the bad man is he who has the bad?
Hippias Yes.
Socrates Then the good man will voluntarily do wrong, and the bad man involuntarily, if the good man is he who has the good soul?
Hippias Which he certainly has.
Socrates Then, Hippias, he who voluntarily does wrong and disgraceful things, if there be such a man, will be the good man?
Hippias There I cannot agree with you.
Socrates Nor can I agree with myself, Hippias; and yet that seems to be the conclusion which, as far as we can see at present, must follow from our argument. As I was saying before, I am all abroad, and being in perplexity am always changing my opinion. Now, that I or any ordinary man should wander in perplexity is not surprising; but if you wise men also wander, and we cannot come to you and rest from our wandering, the matter begins to be serious both to us and to you.

First Alcibiades


The “First Alcibiades” is a conversation between Socrates and Alcibiades. Socrates is represented in the character which he attributes to himself in the “Apology” of a know-nothing who detects the conceit of knowledge in others. The two have met already in the “Protagoras” and in the “Symposium”; in the latter dialogue, as in this, the relation between them is that of a lover and his beloved. But the narrative of their loves is told differently in different places; for in the “Symposium” Alcibiades is depicted as the impassioned but rejected lover; here, as coldly receiving the advances of Socrates, who, for the best of purposes, lies in wait for the aspiring and ambitious youth.

Alcibiades, who is described as a very young man, is about to enter on public life, having an inordinate opinion of himself, and an extravagant ambition. Socrates, “who knows what is in man,” astonishes him by a revelation of his designs. But has he the knowledge which is necessary for carrying them out? He is going to persuade the Athenians⁠—about what? Not about any particular art, but about politics⁠—when to fight and when to make peace. Now, men should fight and make peace on just grounds, and therefore the question of justice and injustice must enter into peace and war; and he who advises the Athenians must know the difference between them. Does Alcibiades know? If he does, he must either have been taught by some master, or he must have discovered the nature of them himself. If he has had a master, Socrates would like to be informed who he is, that he may go and learn of him also. Alcibiades admits that he has never learned. Then has he enquired for himself? He may have, if he was ever aware of a time when he was ignorant. But he never was ignorant; for when he played with other boys at dice, he charged them with cheating, and this implied a knowledge of just and unjust. According to his own explanation, he had learned of the multitude. Why, he asks, should he not learn of them the nature of justice, as he has learned the Greek language of them? To this Socrates answers, that they can teach Greek, but they cannot teach justice; for they are agreed about the one, but they are not agreed about the other: and therefore Alcibiades, who has admitted that if he knows he must either have learned from a master or have discovered for himself the nature of justice, is convicted out of his own mouth.

Alcibiades rejoins, that the Athenians debate not about what is just, but about what is expedient; and he asserts that the two principles of justice and expediency are opposed. Socrates, by a series of questions, compels him to admit that the just and the expedient coincide. Alcibiades is thus reduced to the humiliating conclusion that he knows nothing of politics, even if, as he says, they are concerned with the expedient.

However, he is no worse than other Athenian statesmen; and he will not need training, for others are as ignorant as he is. He is reminded that he has to contend, not only with his own countrymen, but with their enemies⁠—with the Spartan kings and with the great king of Persia; and he can only attain this higher aim of ambition by the assistance of Socrates. Not that Socrates himself professes to have attained the truth, but the questions which he asks bring others to a knowledge of themselves, and this is the first step in the practice of virtue.

The dialogue continues:⁠—We wish to become as good as possible. But to be good in what? Alcibiades replies⁠—“Good in transacting business.” But what business? “The business of the most intelligent men at Athens.” The cobbler is intelligent in shoemaking, and is therefore good in that; he is not intelligent, and therefore not good, in weaving. Is he good in the sense which Alcibiades means, who is also bad? “I mean,” replies Alcibiades, “the man who is able to command in the city.” But to command what⁠—horses or men? and if men, under what circumstances? “I mean to say, that he is able to command men living in social and political relations.” And what is their aim? “The better preservation of the city.” But when is a city better? “When there is unanimity, such as exists between husband and wife.” Then, when husbands and wives perform their own special duties, there can be no unanimity between them; nor can a city be well ordered when each citizen does his own work only. Alcibiades, having stated first that goodness consists in the unanimity of the citizens, and then in each of them doing his own separate work, is brought to the required point of self-contradiction, leading him to confess his own ignorance.

But he is not too old to learn, and may still arrive at the truth, if he is willing to be cross-examined by Socrates. He must know himself; that is to say, not his body, or the things of the body, but his mind, or truer self. The physician knows the body, and the tradesman knows his own business, but they do not necessarily know themselves. Self-knowledge can be obtained only by looking into the mind and virtue of the soul, which is the diviner part of a man, as we see our own image in another’s eye. And if we do not know ourselves, we cannot know what belongs to ourselves or belongs to others, and are unfit to take a part in political affairs. Both for the sake of the individual and of the state, we ought to aim at justice and temperance, not at wealth or power. The evil and unjust should have no power⁠—they should be the slaves of better men than themselves. None but the virtuous are deserving of freedom.

And are you, Alcibiades, a freeman? “I feel that I am not; but I hope, Socrates, that by your aid I may become free, and from this day forward I will never leave you.”

The “Alcibiades” has several points of resemblance to the undoubted dialogues of Plato. The process of interrogation is of the same kind with that which Socrates practises upon the youthful Cleinias in the “Euthydemus”; and he characteristically attributes to Alcibiades the answers which he has elicited from him. The definition of good is narrowed by successive questions, and virtue is shown to be identical with knowledge. Here, as elsewhere, Socrates awakens the consciousness not of sin but of ignorance. Self-humiliation is the first step to knowledge, even of the commonest things. No man knows how ignorant he is, and no man can arrive at virtue and wisdom who has not once in his life, at least, been convicted of error. The process by which the soul is elevated is not unlike that which religious writers describe under the name of “conversion,” if we substitute the sense of ignorance for the consciousness of sin.

In some respects the dialogue differs from any other Platonic composition. The aim is more directly ethical and hortatory; the process by which the antagonist is undermined is simpler than in other Platonic writings, and the conclusion more decided. There is a good deal of humour in the manner in which the pride of Alcibiades, and of the Greeks generally, is supposed to be taken down by the Spartan and Persian queens; and the dialogue has considerable dialectical merit. But we have a difficulty in supposing that the same writer, who has given so profound and complex a notion of the characters both of Alcibiades and Socrates in the “Symposium,” should have treated them in so thin and superficial a manner in the Alcibiades, or that he would have ascribed to the ironical Socrates the rather unmeaning boast that Alcibiades could not attain the objects of his ambition without his help (105 D following); or that he should have imagined that a mighty nature like his could have been reformed by a few not very conclusive words of Socrates. For the arguments by which Alcibiades is reformed are not convincing; the writer of the dialogue, whoever he was, arrives at his idealism by crooked and tortuous paths, in which many pitfalls are concealed. The anachronism of making Alcibiades about twenty years old during the life of his uncle, Pericles, may be noted; and the repetition of the favourite observation, which occurs also in the “Laches” and “Protagoras,” that great Athenian statesmen, like Pericles, failed in the education of their sons. There is none of the undoubted dialogues of Plato in which there is so little dramatic verisimilitude.

First Alcibiades

Persons of the dialogue:

  • Alcibiades

  • Socrates

Socrates I dare say that you may be surprised to find, O son of Cleinias, that I, who am your first lover, not having spoken to you for many years, when the rest of the world were wearying you with their attentions, am the last of your lovers who still speaks to you. The cause of my silence has been that I was hindered by a power more than human, of which I will some day explain to you the nature; this impediment has now been removed; I therefore here present myself before you, and I greatly hope that no similar hindrance will again occur. Meanwhile, I have observed that your pride has been too much for the pride of your admirers; they were numerous and high-spirited, but they have all run away, overpowered by your superior force of character; not one of them remains. And I want you to understand the reason why you have been too much for them. You think that you have no need of them or of any other man, for you have great possessions and lack nothing, beginning with the body, and ending with the soul. In the first place, you say to yourself that you are the fairest and tallest of the citizens, and this everyone who has eyes may see to be true; in the second place, that you are among the noblest of them, highly connected both on the father’s and the mother’s side, and sprung from one of the most distinguished families in your own state, which is the greatest in Hellas, and having many friends and kinsmen of the best sort, who can assist you when in need; and there is one potent relative, who is more to you than all the rest, Pericles the son of Xanthippus, whom your father left guardian of you, and of your brother, and who can do as he pleases not only in this city, but in all Hellas, and among many and mighty barbarous nations. Moreover, you are rich; but I must say that you value yourself least of all upon your possessions. And all these things have lifted you up; you have overcome your lovers, and they have acknowledged that you were too much for them. Have you not remarked their absence? And now I know that you wonder why I, unlike the rest of them, have not gone away, and what can be my motive in remaining.
Alcibiades Perhaps, Socrates, you are not aware that I was just going to ask you the very same question⁠—What do you want? And what is your motive in annoying me, and always, wherever I am, making a point of coming?602 I do really wonder what you mean, and should greatly like to know.
Socrates Then if, as you say, you desire to know, I suppose that you will be willing to hear, and I may consider myself to be speaking to an auditor who will remain, and will not run away?
Alcibiades Certainly, let me hear.
Socrates You had better be careful, for I may very likely be as unwilling to end as I have hitherto been to begin.
Alcibiades Proceed, my good man, and I will listen.
Socrates I will proceed; and, although no lover likes to speak with one who has no feeling of love in him,603 I will make an effort, and tell you what I meant: My love, Alcibiades, which I hardly like to confess, would long ago have passed away, as I flatter myself, if I saw you loving your good things, or thinking that you ought to pass life in the enjoyment of them. But I shall reveal other thoughts of yours, which you keep to yourself; whereby you will know that I have always had my eye on you. Suppose that at this moment some God came to you and said: Alcibiades, will you live as you are, or die in an instant if you are forbidden to make any further acquisition?⁠—I verily believe that you would choose death. And I will tell you the hope in which you are at present living: Before many days have elapsed, you think that you will come before the Athenian assembly, and will prove to them that you are more worthy of honour than Pericles, or any other man that ever lived, and having proved this, you will have the greatest power in the state. When you have gained the greatest power among us, you will go on to other Hellenic states, and not only to Hellenes, but to all the barbarians who inhabit the same continent with us. And if the God were then to say to you again: Here in Europe is to be your seat of empire, and you must not cross over into Asia or meddle with Asiatic affairs, I do not believe that you would choose to live upon these terms; but the world, as I may say, must be filled with your power and name⁠—no man less than Cyrus and Xerxes is of any account with you. Such I know to be your hopes⁠—I am not guessing only⁠—and very likely you, who know that I am speaking the truth, will reply, Well, Socrates, but what have my hopes to do with the explanation which you promised of your unwillingness to leave me? And that is what I am now going to tell you, sweet son of Cleinias and Dinomache. The explanation is, that all these designs of yours cannot be accomplished by you without my help; so great is the power which I believe myself to have over you and your concerns; and this I conceive to be the reason why the God has hitherto forbidden me to converse with you, and I have been long expecting his permission. For, as you hope to prove your own great value to the state, and having proved it, to attain at once to absolute power, so do I indulge a hope that I shall be the supreme power over you, if I am able to prove my own great value to you, and to show you that neither guardian, nor kinsman, nor anyone is able to deliver into your hands the power which you desire, but I only, God being my helper. When you were young604 and your hopes were not yet matured, I should have wasted my time, and therefore, as I conceive, the God forbade me to converse with you; but now, having his permission, I will speak, for now you will listen to me.
Alcibiades Your silence, Socrates, was always a surprise to me. I never could understand why you followed me about, and now that you have begun to speak again, I am still more amazed. Whether I think all this or not, is a matter about which you seem to have already made up your mind, and therefore my denial will have no effect upon you. But granting, if I must, that you have perfectly divined my purposes, why is your assistance necessary to the attainment of them? Can you tell me why?
Socrates You want to know whether I can make a long speech, such as you are in the habit of hearing; but that is not my way. I think, however, that I can prove to you the truth of what I am saying, if you will grant me one little favour.
Alcibiades Yes, if the favour which you mean be not a troublesome one.
Socrates Will you be troubled at having questions to answer?
Alcibiades Not at all.
Socrates Then please to answer.
Alcibiades Ask me.
Socrates Have you not the intention which I attribute to you?
Alcibiades I will grant anything you like, in the hope of hearing what more you have to say.
Socrates You do, then, mean, as I was saying, to come forward in a little while in the character of an adviser of the Athenians? And suppose that when you are ascending the bema, I pull you by the sleeve and say, Alcibiades, you are getting up to advise the Athenians⁠—do you know the matter about which they are going to deliberate, better than they?⁠—How would you answer?
Alcibiades I should reply, that I was going to advise them about a matter which I do know better than they.
Socrates Then you are a good adviser about the things which you know?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And do you know anything but what you have learned of others, or found out yourself?
Alcibiades That is all.
Socrates And would you have ever learned or discovered anything, if you had not been willing either to learn of others or to examine yourself?
Alcibiades I should not.
Socrates And would you have been willing to learn or to examine what you supposed that you knew?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates Then there was a time when you thought that you did not know what you are now supposed to know?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates I think that I know tolerably well the extent of your acquirements; and you must tell me if I forget any of them: according to my recollection, you learned the arts of writing, of playing on the lyre, and of wrestling; the flute you never would learn; this is the sum of your accomplishments, unless there were some which you acquired in secret; and I think that secrecy was hardly possible, as you could not have come out of your door, either by day or night, without my seeing you.
Alcibiades Yes, that was the whole of my schooling.
Socrates And are you going to get up in the Athenian assembly, and give them advice about writing?
Alcibiades No, indeed.
Socrates Or about the touch of the lyre?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And they are not in the habit of deliberating about wrestling, in the assembly?
Alcibiades Hardly.
Socrates Then what are the deliberations in which you propose to advise them? Surely not about building?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates For the builder will advise better than you will about that?
Alcibiades He will.
Socrates Nor about divination?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates About that again the diviner will advise better than you will?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Whether he be little or great, good or ill-looking, noble or ignoble⁠—makes no difference.
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates A man is a good adviser about anything, not because he has riches, but because he has knowledge?
Alcibiades Assuredly.
Socrates Whether their counsellor is rich or poor, is not a matter which will make any difference to the Athenians when they are deliberating about the health of the citizens; they only require that he should be a physician.
Alcibiades Of course.
Socrates Then what will be the subject of deliberation about which you will be justified in getting up and advising them?
Alcibiades About their own concerns, Socrates.
Socrates You mean about shipbuilding, for example, when the question is what sort of ships they ought to build?
Alcibiades No, I should not advise them about that.
Socrates I suppose, because you do not understand shipbuilding:⁠—is that the reason?
Alcibiades It is.
Socrates Then about what concerns of theirs will you advise them?
Alcibiades About war, Socrates, or about peace, or about any other concerns of the state.
Socrates You mean, when they deliberate with whom they ought to make peace, and with whom they ought to go to war, and in what manner?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And they ought to go to war with those against whom it is better to go to war?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And when it is better?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And for as long a time as is better?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates But suppose the Athenians to deliberate with whom they ought to close in wrestling, and whom they should grasp by the hand, would you, or the master of gymnastics, be a better adviser of them?
Alcibiades Clearly, the master of gymnastics.
Socrates And can you tell me on what grounds the master of gymnastics would decide, with whom they ought or ought not to close, and when and how? To take an instance: Would he not say that they should wrestle with those against whom it is best to wrestle?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And as much as is best?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And at such times as are best?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Again; you sometimes accompany the lyre with the song and dance?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates When it is well to do so?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And as much as is well?
Alcibiades Just so.
Socrates And as you speak of an excellence or art of the best in wrestling, and of an excellence in playing the lyre, I wish you would tell me what this latter is;⁠—the excellence of wrestling I call gymnastic, and I want to know what you call the other.
Alcibiades I do not understand you.
Socrates Then try to do as I do; for the answer which I gave is universally right, and when I say right, I mean according to rule.
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And was not the art of which I spoke gymnastic?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And I called the excellence in wrestling gymnastic?
Alcibiades You did.
Socrates And I was right?
Alcibiades I think that you were.
Socrates Well, now⁠—for you should learn to argue prettily⁠—let me ask you in return to tell me, first, what is that art of which playing and singing, and stepping properly in the dance, are parts⁠—what is the name of the whole? I think that by this time you must be able to tell.
Alcibiades Indeed I cannot.
Socrates Then let me put the matter in another way: what do you call the Goddesses who are the patronesses of art?
Alcibiades The Muses do you mean, Socrates?
Socrates Yes, I do; and what is the name of the art which is called after them?
Alcibiades I suppose that you mean music.
Socrates Yes, that is my meaning; and what is the excellence of the art of music, as I told you truly that the excellence of wrestling was gymnastic⁠—what is the excellence of music⁠—to be what?
Alcibiades To be musical, I suppose.
Socrates Very good; and now please to tell me what is the excellence of war and peace; as the more musical was the more excellent, or the more gymnastical was the more excellent, tell me, what name do you give to the more excellent in war and peace?
Alcibiades But I really cannot tell you.
Socrates But if you were offering advice to another and said to him⁠—This food is better than that, at this time and in this quantity, and he said to you⁠—What do you mean, Alcibiades, by the word “better”? you would have no difficulty in replying that you meant “more wholesome,” although you do not profess to be a physician: and when the subject is one of which you profess to have knowledge, and about which you are ready to get up and advise as if you knew, are you not ashamed, when you are asked, not to be able to answer the question? Is it not disgraceful?
Alcibiades Very.
Socrates Well, then, consider and try to explain what is the meaning of “better,” in the matter of making peace and going to war with those against whom you ought to go to war? To what does the word refer?
Alcibiades I am thinking, and I cannot tell.
Socrates But you surely know what are the charges which we bring against one another, when we arrive at the point of making war, and what name we give them?
Alcibiades Yes, certainly; we say that deceit or violence has been employed, or that we have been defrauded.
Socrates And how does this happen? Will you tell me how? For there may be a difference in the manner.
Alcibiades Do you mean by “how,” Socrates, whether we suffered these things justly or unjustly?
Socrates Exactly.
Alcibiades There can be no greater difference than between just and unjust.
Socrates And would you advise the Athenians to go to war with the just or with the unjust?
Alcibiades That is an awkward question; for certainly, even if a person did intend to go to war with the just, he would not admit that they were just.
Socrates He would not go to war, because it would be unlawful?
Alcibiades Neither lawful nor honourable.
Socrates Then you, too, would address them on principles of justice?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates What, then, is justice but that better, of which I spoke, in going to war or not going to war with those against whom we ought or ought not, and when we ought or ought not to go to war?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates But how is this, friend Alcibiades? Have you forgotten that you do not know this, or have you been to the schoolmaster without my knowledge, and has he taught you to discern the just from the unjust? Who is he? I wish you would tell me, that I may go and learn of him⁠—you shall introduce me.
Alcibiades You are mocking, Socrates.
Socrates No, indeed; I most solemnly declare to you by Zeus, who is the God of our common friendship, and whom I never will forswear, that I am not; tell me, then, who this instructor is, if he exists.
Alcibiades But, perhaps, he does not exist; may I not have acquired the knowledge of just and unjust in some other way?
Socrates Yes; if you have discovered them.
Alcibiades But do you not think that I could discover them?
Socrates I am sure that you might, if you enquired about them.
Alcibiades And do you not think that I would enquire?
Socrates Yes; if you thought that you did not know them.
Alcibiades And was there not a time when I did so think?
Socrates Very good; and can you tell me how long it is since you thought that you did not know the nature of the just and the unjust? What do you say to a year ago? Were you then in a state of conscious ignorance and enquiry? Or did you think that you knew? And please to answer truly, that our discussion may not be in vain.
Alcibiades Well, I thought that I knew.
Socrates And two years ago, and three years ago, and four years ago, you knew all the same?
Alcibiades I did.
Socrates And more than four years ago you were a child⁠—were you not?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And then I am quite sure that you thought you knew.
Alcibiades Why are you so sure?
Socrates Because I often heard you when a child, in your teacher’s house, or elsewhere, playing at dice or some other game with the boys, not hesitating at all about the nature of the just and unjust; but very confident⁠—crying and shouting that one of the boys was a rogue and a cheat, and had been cheating. Is it not true?
Alcibiades But what was I to do, Socrates, when anybody cheated me?
Socrates And how can you say, “What was I to do?” if at the time you did not know whether you were wronged or not?
Alcibiades To be sure I knew; I was quite aware that I was being cheated.
Socrates Then you suppose yourself even when a child to have known the nature of just and unjust?
Alcibiades Certainly; and I did know then.
Socrates And when did you discover them⁠—not, surely, at the time when you thought that you knew them?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And when did you think that you were ignorant⁠—if you consider, you will find that there never was such a time?
Alcibiades Really, Socrates, I cannot say.
Socrates Then you did not learn them by discovering them?
Alcibiades Clearly not.
Socrates But just before you said that you did not know them by learning; now, if you have neither discovered nor learned them, how and whence do you come to know them?
Alcibiades I suppose that I was mistaken in saying that I knew them through my own discovery of them; whereas, in truth, I learned them in the same way that other people learn.
Socrates So you said before, and I must again ask, of whom? Do tell me.
Alcibiades Of the many.
Socrates Do you take refuge in them? I cannot say much for your teachers.
Alcibiades Why, are they not able to teach?
Socrates They could not teach you how to play at draughts, which you would acknowledge (would you not) to be a much smaller matter than justice?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And can they teach the better who are unable to teach the worse?
Alcibiades I think that they can; at any rate, they can teach many far better things than to play at draughts.
Socrates What things?
Alcibiades Why, for example, I learned to speak Greek of them, and I cannot say who was my teacher, or to whom I am to attribute my knowledge of Greek, if not to those good-for-nothing teachers, as you call them.
Socrates Why, yes, my friend; and the many are good enough teachers of Greek, and some of their instructions in that line may be justly praised.
Alcibiades Why is that?
Socrates Why, because they have the qualities which good teachers ought to have.
Alcibiades What qualities?
Socrates Why, you know that knowledge is the first qualification of any teacher?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And if they know, they must agree together and not differ?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And would you say that they knew the things about which they differ?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Then how can they teach them?
Alcibiades They cannot.
Socrates Well, but do you imagine that the many would differ about the nature of wood and stone? are they not agreed if you ask them what they are? and do they not run to fetch the same thing, when they want a piece of wood or a stone? And so in similar cases, which I suspect to be pretty nearly all that you mean by speaking Greek.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates These, as we were saying, are matters about which they are agreed with one another and with themselves; both individuals and states use the same words about them; they do not use some one word and some another.
Alcibiades They do not.
Socrates Then they may be expected to be good teachers of these things?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And if we want to instruct anyone in them, we shall be right in sending him to be taught by our friends the many?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates But if we wanted further to know not only which are men and which are horses, but which men or horses have powers of running, would the many still be able to inform us?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And you have a sufficient proof that they do not know these things and are not the best teachers of them, inasmuch as they are never agreed about them?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And suppose that we wanted to know not only what men are like, but what healthy or diseased men are like⁠—would the many be able to teach us?
Alcibiades They would not.
Socrates And you would have a proof that they were bad teachers of these matters, if you saw them at variance?
Alcibiades I should.
Socrates Well, but are the many agreed with themselves, or with one another, about the justice or injustice of men and things?
Alcibiades Assuredly not, Socrates.
Socrates There is no subject about which they are more at variance?
Alcibiades None.
Socrates I do not suppose that you ever saw or heard of men quarrelling over the principles of health and disease to such an extent as to go to war and kill one another for the sake of them?
Alcibiades No indeed.
Socrates But of the quarrels about justice and injustice, even if you have never seen them, you have certainly heard from many people, including Homer; for you have heard of the Iliad and Odyssey?
Alcibiades To be sure, Socrates.
Socrates A difference of just and unjust is the argument of those poems?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Which difference caused all the wars and deaths of Trojans and Achaeans, and the deaths of the suitors of Penelope in their quarrel with Odysseus.
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates And when the Athenians and Lacedaemonians and Boeotians fell at Tanagra, and afterwards in the battle of Coronea, at which your father Cleinias met his end, the question was one of justice⁠—this was the sole cause of the battles, and of their deaths.
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates But can they be said to understand that about which they are quarrelling to the death?
Alcibiades Clearly not.
Socrates And yet those whom you thus allow to be ignorant are the teachers to whom you are appealing.
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates But how are you ever likely to know the nature of justice and injustice, about which you are so perplexed, if you have neither learned them of others nor discovered them yourself?
Alcibiades From what you say, I suppose not.
Socrates See, again, how inaccurately you speak, Alcibiades!
Alcibiades In what respect?
Socrates In saying that I say so.
Alcibiades Why, did you not say that I know nothing of the just and unjust?
Socrates No; I did not.
Alcibiades Did I, then?
Socrates Yes.
Alcibiades How was that?
Socrates Let me explain. Suppose I were to ask you which is the greater number, two or one; you would reply “two”?
Alcibiades I should.
Socrates And by how much greater?
Alcibiades By one.
Socrates Which of us now says that two is more than one?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates Did not I ask, and you answer the question?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then who is speaking? I who put the question, or you who answer me?
Alcibiades I am.
Socrates Or suppose that I ask and you tell me the letters which make up the name Socrates, which of us is the speaker?
Alcibiades I am.
Socrates Now let us put the case generally: whenever there is a question and answer, who is the speaker⁠—the questioner or the answerer?
Alcibiades I should say, Socrates, that the answerer was the speaker.
Socrates And have I not been the questioner all through?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And you the answerer?
Alcibiades Just so.
Socrates Which of us, then, was the speaker?
Alcibiades The inference is, Socrates, that I was the speaker.
Socrates Did not someone say that Alcibiades, the fair son of Cleinias, not understanding about just and unjust, but thinking that he did understand, was going to the assembly to advise the Athenians about what he did not know? Was not that said?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates Then, Alcibiades, the result may be expressed in the language of Euripides. I think that you have heard all this “from yourself, and not from me”; nor did I say this, which you erroneously attribute to me, but you yourself, and what you said was very true. For indeed, my dear fellow, the design which you meditate of teaching what you do not know, and have not taken any pains to learn, is downright insanity.
Alcibiades But, Socrates, I think that the Athenians and the rest of the Hellenes do not often advise as to the more just or unjust; for they see no difficulty in them, and therefore they leave them, and consider which course of action will be most expedient; for there is a difference between justice and expediency. Many persons have done great wrong and profited by their injustice; others have done rightly and come to no good.
Socrates Well, but granting that the just and the expedient are ever so much opposed, you surely do not imagine that you know what is expedient for mankind, or why a thing is expedient?
Alcibiades Why not, Socrates?⁠—But I am not going to be asked again from whom I learned, or when I made the discovery.
Socrates What a way you have! When you make a mistake which might be refuted by a previous argument, you insist on having a new and different refutation; the old argument is a worn-our garment which you will no longer put on, but someone must produce another which is clean and new. Now I shall disregard this move of yours, and shall ask over again⁠—Where did you learn and how do you know the nature of the expedient, and who is your teacher? All this I comprehend in a single question, and now you will manifestly be in the old difficulty, and will not be able to show that you know the expedient, either because you learned or because you discovered it yourself. But, as I perceive that you are dainty, and dislike the taste of a stale argument, I will enquire no further into your knowledge of what is expedient or what is not expedient for the Athenian people, and simply request you to say why you do not explain whether justice and expediency are the same or different? And if you like you may examine me as I have examined you, or, if you would rather, you may carry on the discussion by yourself.
Alcibiades But I am not certain, Socrates, whether I shall be able to discuss the matter with you.
Socrates Then imagine, my dear fellow, that I am the demus and the ecclesia; for in the ecclesia, too, you will have to persuade men individually.
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And is not the same person able to persuade one individual singly and many individuals of the things which he knows? The grammarian, for example, can persuade one and he can persuade many about letters.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And about number, will not the same person persuade one and persuade many?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And this will be he who knows number, or the arithmetician?
Alcibiades Quite true.
Socrates And cannot you persuade one man about that of which you can persuade many?
Alcibiades I suppose so.
Socrates And that of which you can persuade either is clearly what you know?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the only difference between one who argues as we are doing, and the orator who is addressing an assembly, is that the one seeks to persuade a number, and the other an individual, of the same things.
Alcibiades I suppose so.
Socrates Well, then, since the same person who can persuade a multitude can persuade individuals, try conclusions upon me, and prove to me that the just is not always expedient.
Alcibiades You take liberties, Socrates.
Socrates I shall take the liberty of proving to you the opposite of that which you will not prove to me.
Alcibiades Proceed.
Socrates Answer my questions⁠—that is all.
Alcibiades Nay, I should like you to be the speaker.
Socrates What, do you not wish to be persuaded?
Alcibiades Certainly I do.
Socrates And can you be persuaded better than out of your own mouth?
Alcibiades I think not.
Socrates Then you shall answer; and if you do not hear the words, that the just is the expedient, coming from your own lips, never believe another man again.
Alcibiades I won’t; but answer I will, for I do not see how I can come to any harm.
Socrates A true prophecy! Let me begin then by enquiring of you whether you allow that the just is sometimes expedient and sometimes not?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And sometimes honourable and sometimes not?
Alcibiades What do you mean?
Socrates I am asking if you ever knew anyone who did what was dishonourable and yet just?
Alcibiades Never.
Socrates All just things are honourable?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And are honourable things sometimes good and sometimes not good, or are they always good?
Alcibiades I rather think, Socrates, that some honourable things are evil.
Socrates And are some dishonourable things good?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates You mean in such a case as the following:⁠—In time of war, men have been wounded or have died in rescuing a companion or kinsman, when others who have neglected the duty of rescuing them have escaped in safety?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And to rescue another under such circumstances is honourable, in respect of the attempt to save those whom we ought to save; and this is courage?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But evil in respect of death and wounds?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the courage which is shown in the rescue is one thing, and the death another?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Then the rescue of one’s friends is honourable in one point of view, but evil in another?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And if honourable, then also good: Will you consider now whether I may not be right, for you were acknowledging that the courage which is shown in the rescue is honourable? Now is this courage good or evil? Look at the matter thus: which would you rather choose, good or evil?
Alcibiades Good.
Socrates And the greatest goods you would be most ready to choose, and would least like to be deprived of them?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates What would you say of courage? At what price would you be willing to be deprived of courage?
Alcibiades I would rather die than be a coward.
Socrates Then you think that cowardice is the worst of evils?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates As bad as death, I suppose?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And life and courage are the extreme opposites of death and cowardice?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And they are what you would most desire to have, and their opposites you would least desire?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Is this because you think life and courage the best, and death and cowardice the worst?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And you would term the rescue of a friend in battle honourable, in as much as courage does a good work?
Alcibiades I should.
Socrates But evil because of the death which ensues?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Might we not describe their different effects as follows:⁠—You may call either of them evil in respect of the evil which is the result, and good in respect of the good which is the result of either of them?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And they are honourable in so far as they are good, and dishonourable in so far as they are evil?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Then when you say that the rescue of a friend in battle is honourable and yet evil, that is equivalent to saying that the rescue is good and yet evil?
Alcibiades I believe that you are right, Socrates.
Socrates Nothing honourable, regarded as honourable, is evil; nor anything base, regarded as base, good.
Alcibiades Clearly not.
Socrates Look at the matter yet once more in a further light: he who acts honourably acts well?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And he who acts well is happy?
Alcibiades Of course.
Socrates And the happy are those who obtain good?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And they obtain good by acting well and honourably?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then acting well is a good?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And happiness is a good?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then the good and the honourable are again identified.
Alcibiades Manifestly.
Socrates Then, if the argument holds, what we find to be honourable we shall also find to be good?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And is the good expedient or not?
Alcibiades Expedient.
Socrates Do you remember our admissions about the just?
Alcibiades Yes; if I am not mistaken, we said that those who acted justly must also act honourably.
Socrates And the honourable is the good?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the good is expedient?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then, Alcibiades, the just is expedient?
Alcibiades I should infer so.
Socrates And all this I prove out of your own mouth, for I ask and you answer?
Alcibiades I must acknowledge it to be true.
Socrates And having acknowledged that the just is the same as the expedient, are you not (let me ask) prepared to ridicule anyone who, pretending to understand the principles of justice and injustice, gets up to advise the noble Athenians or the ignoble Peparethians, that the just may be the evil?
Alcibiades I solemnly declare, Socrates, that I do not know what I am saying. Verily, I am in a strange state, for when you put questions to me I am of different minds in successive instants.
Socrates And are you not aware of the nature of this perplexity, my friend?
Alcibiades Indeed I am not.
Socrates Do you suppose that if someone were to ask you whether you have two eyes or three, or two hands or four, or anything of that sort, you would then be of different minds in successive instants?
Alcibiades I begin to distrust myself, but still I do not suppose that I should.
Socrates You would feel no doubt; and for this reason⁠—because you would know?
Alcibiades I suppose so.
Socrates And the reason why you involuntarily contradict yourself is clearly that you are ignorant?
Alcibiades Very likely.
Socrates And if you are perplexed in answering about just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable, good and evil, expedient and inexpedient, the reason is that you are ignorant of them, and therefore in perplexity. Is not that clear?
Alcibiades I agree.
Socrates But is this always the case, and is a man necessarily perplexed about that of which he has no knowledge?
Alcibiades Certainly he is.
Socrates And do you know how to ascend into heaven?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And in this case, too, is your judgment perplexed?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Do you see the reason why, or shall I tell you?
Alcibiades Tell me.
Socrates The reason is, that you not only do not know, my friend, but you do not think that you know.
Alcibiades There again; what do you mean?
Socrates Ask yourself; are you in any perplexity about things of which you are ignorant? You know, for example, that you know nothing about the preparation of food.
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates And do you think and perplex yourself about the preparation of food: or do you leave that to someone who understands the art?
Alcibiades The latter.
Socrates Or if you were on a voyage, would you bewilder yourself by considering whether the rudder is to be drawn inwards or outwards, or do you leave that to the pilot, and do nothing?
Alcibiades It would be the concern of the pilot.
Socrates Then you are not perplexed about what you do not know, if you know that you do not know it?
Alcibiades I imagine not.
Socrates Do you not see, then, that mistakes in life and practice are likewise to be attributed to the ignorance which has conceit of knowledge?
Alcibiades Once more, what do you mean?
Socrates I suppose that we begin to act when we think that we know what we are doing?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates But when people think that they do not know, they entrust their business to others?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And so there is a class of ignorant persons who do not make mistakes in life, because they trust others about things of which they are ignorant?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Who, then, are the persons who make mistakes? They cannot, of course, be those who know?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates But if neither those who know, nor those who know that they do not know, make mistakes, there remain those only who do not know and think that they know.
Alcibiades Yes, only those.
Socrates Then this is ignorance of the disgraceful sort which is mischievous?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And most mischievous and most disgraceful when having to do with the greatest matters?
Alcibiades By far.
Socrates And can there be any matters greater than the just, the honourable, the good, and the expedient?
Alcibiades There cannot be.
Socrates And these, as you were saying, are what perplex you?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates But if you are perplexed, then, as the previous argument has shown, you are not only ignorant of the greatest matters, but being ignorant you fancy that you know them?
Alcibiades I fear that you are right.
Socrates And now see what has happened to you, Alcibiades! I hardly like to speak of your evil case, but as we are alone I will: My good friend, you are wedded to ignorance of the most disgraceful kind, and of this you are convicted, not by me, but out of your own mouth and by your own argument; wherefore also you rush into politics before you are educated. Neither is your case to be deemed singular. For I might say the same of almost all our statesmen, with the exception, perhaps of your guardian, Pericles.
Alcibiades Yes, Socrates; and Pericles is said not to have got his wisdom by the light of nature, but to have associated with several of the philosophers; with Pythocleides, for example, and with Anaxagoras, and now in advanced life with Damon, in the hope of gaining wisdom.
Socrates Very good; but did you ever know a man wise in anything who was unable to impart his particular wisdom? For example, he who taught you letters was not only wise, but he made you and any others whom he liked wise.
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And you, whom he taught, can do the same?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And in like manner the harper and gymnastic-master?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates When a person is enabled to impart knowledge to another, he thereby gives an excellent proof of his own understanding of any matter.
Alcibiades I agree.
Socrates Well, and did Pericles make anyone wise; did he begin by making his sons wise?
Alcibiades But, Socrates, if the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, what has that to do with the matter?
Socrates Well, but did he make your brother, Cleinias, wise?
Alcibiades Cleinias is a madman; there is no use in talking of him.
Socrates But if Cleinias is a madman and the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, what reason can be given why he neglects you, and lets you be as you are?
Alcibiades I believe that I am to blame for not listening to him.
Socrates But did you ever hear of any other Athenian or foreigner, bond or free, who was deemed to have grown wiser in the society of Pericles⁠—as I might cite Pythodorus, the son of Isolochus, and Callias, the son of Calliades, who have grown wiser in the society of Zeno, for which privilege they have each of them paid him the sum of a hundred minae605 to the increase of their wisdom and fame.
Alcibiades I certainly never did hear of anyone.
Socrates Well, and in reference to your own case, do you mean to remain as you are, or will you take some pains about yourself?
Alcibiades With your aid, Socrates, I will. And indeed, when I hear you speak, the truth of what you are saying strikes home to me, and I agree with you, for our statesmen, all but a few, do appear to be quite uneducated.
Socrates What is the inference?
Alcibiades Why, that if they were educated they would be trained athletes, and he who means to rival them ought to have knowledge and experience when he attacks them; but now, as they have become politicians without any special training, why should I have the trouble of learning and practising? For I know well that by the light of nature I shall get the better of them.
Socrates My dear friend, what a sentiment! And how unworthy of your noble form and your high estate!
Alcibiades What do you mean, Socrates; why do you say so?
Socrates I am grieved when I think of our mutual love.
Alcibiades At what?
Socrates At your fancying that the contest on which you are entering is with people here.
Alcibiades Why, what others are there?
Socrates Is that a question which a magnanimous soul should ask?
Alcibiades Do you mean to say that the contest is not with these?
Socrates And suppose that you were going to steer a ship into action, would you only aim at being the best pilot on board? Would you not, while acknowledging that you must possess this degree of excellence, rather look to your antagonists, and not, as you are now doing, to your fellow combatants? You ought to be so far above these latter, that they will not even dare to be your rivals; and, being regarded by you as inferiors, will do battle for you against the enemy; this is the kind of superiority which you must establish over them, if you mean to accomplish any noble action really worthy of yourself and of the state.
Alcibiades That would certainly be my aim.
Socrates Verily, then, you have good reason to be satisfied, if you are better than the soldiers; and you need not, when you are their superior and have your thoughts and actions fixed upon them, look away to the generals of the enemy.
Alcibiades Of whom are you speaking, Socrates?
Socrates Why, you surely know that our city goes to war now and then with the Lacedaemonians and with the great king?
Alcibiades True enough.
Socrates And if you meant to be the ruler of this city, would you not be right in considering that the Lacedaemonian and Persian king were your true rivals?
Alcibiades I believe that you are right.
Socrates Oh no, my friend, I am quite wrong, and I think that you ought rather to turn your attention to Midias the quail-breeder and others like him, who manage our politics; in whom, as the women would remark, you may still see the slaves’ cut of hair, cropping out in their minds as well as on their pates; and they come with their barbarous lingo to flatter us and not to rule us. To these, I say, you should look, and then you need not trouble yourself about your own fitness to contend in such a noble arena: there is no reason why you should either learn what has to be learned, or practise what has to be practised, and only when thoroughly prepared enter on a political career.
Alcibiades There, I think, Socrates, that you are right; I do not suppose, however, that the Spartan generals or the great king are really different from anybody else.
Socrates But, my dear friend, do consider what you are saying.
Alcibiades What am I to consider?
Socrates In the first place, will you be more likely to take care of yourself, if you are in a wholesome fear and dread of them, or if you are not?
Alcibiades Clearly, if I have such a fear of them.
Socrates And do you think that you will sustain any injury if you take care of yourself?
Alcibiades No, I shall be greatly benefited.
Socrates And this is one very important respect in which that notion of yours is bad.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates In the next place, consider that what you say is probably false.
Alcibiades How so?
Socrates Let me ask you whether better natures are likely to be found in noble races or not in noble races?
Alcibiades Clearly in noble races.
Socrates Are not those who are well born and well bred most likely to be perfect in virtue?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Then let us compare our antecedents with those of the Lacedaemonian and Persian kings; are they inferior to us in descent? Have we not heard that the former are sprung from Heracles, and the latter from Achaemenes, and that the race of Heracles and the race of Achaemenes go back to Perseus, son of Zeus?
Alcibiades Why, so does mine go back to Eurysaces, and he to Zeus!
Socrates And mine, noble Alcibiades, to Daedalus, and he to Hephaestus, son of Zeus. But, for all that, we are far inferior to them. For they are descended “from Zeus,” through a line of kings⁠—either kings of Argos and Lacedaemon, or kings of Persia, a country which the descendants of Achaemenes have always possessed, besides being at various times sovereigns of Asia, as they now are; whereas, we and our fathers were but private persons. How ridiculous would you be thought if you were to make a display of your ancestors and of Salamis the island of Eurysaces, or of Aegina, the habitation of the still more ancient Aeacus, before Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes. You should consider how inferior we are to them both in the derivation of our birth and in other particulars. Did you never observe how great is the property of the Spartan kings? And their wives are under the guardianship of the Ephori, who are public officers and watch over them, in order to preserve as far as possible the purity of the Heracleid blood. Still greater is the difference among the Persians; for no one entertains a suspicion that the father of a prince of Persia can be anyone but the king. Such is the awe which invests the person of the queen, that any other guard is needless. And when the heir of the kingdom is born, all the subjects of the king feast; and the day of his birth is forever afterwards kept as a holiday and time of sacrifice by all Asia; whereas, when you and I were born, Alcibiades, as the comic poet says, the neighbours hardly knew of the important event. After the birth of the royal child, he is tended, not by a good-for-nothing woman-nurse, but by the best of the royal eunuchs, who are charged with the care of him, and especially with the fashioning and right formation of his limbs, in order that he may be as shapely as possible; which being their calling, they are held in great honour. And when the young prince is seven years old he is put upon a horse and taken to the riding-masters, and begins to go out hunting. And at fourteen years of age he is handed over to the royal schoolmasters, as they are termed: these are four chosen men, reputed to be the best among the Persians of a certain age; and one of them is the wisest, another the justest, a third the most temperate, and a fourth the most valiant. The first instructs him in the magianism of Zoroaster, the son of Oromasus, which is the worship of the Gods, and teaches him also the duties of his royal office; the second, who is the justest, teaches him always to speak the truth; the third, or most temperate, forbids him to allow any pleasure to be lord over him, that he may be accustomed to be a freeman and king indeed⁠—lord of himself first, and not a slave; the most valiant trains him to be bold and fearless, telling him that if he fears he is to deem himself a slave; whereas Pericles gave you, Alcibiades, for a tutor Zopyrus the Thracian, a slave of his who was past all other work. I might enlarge on the nurture and education of your rivals, but that would be tedious; and what I have said is a sufficient sample of what remains to be said. I have only to remark, by way of contrast, that no one cares about your birth or nurture or education, or, I may say, about that of any other Athenian, unless he has a lover who looks after him. And if you cast an eye on the wealth, the luxury, the garments with their flowing trains, the anointings with myrrh, the multitudes of attendants, and all the other bravery of the Persians, you will be ashamed when you discern your own inferiority; or if you look at the temperance and orderliness and ease and grace and magnanimity and courage and endurance and love of toil and desire of glory and ambition of the Lacedaemonians⁠—in all these respects you will see that you are but a child in comparison of them. Even in the matter of wealth, if you value yourself upon that, I must reveal to you how you stand; for if you form an estimate of the wealth of the Lacedaemonians, you will see that our possessions fall far short of theirs. For no one here can compete with them either in the extent and fertility of their own and the Messenian territory, or in the number of their slaves, and especially of the Helots, or of their horses, or of the animals which feed on the Messenian pastures. But I have said enough of this: and as to gold and silver, there is more of them in Lacedaemon than in all the rest of Hellas, for during many generations gold has been always flowing in to them from the whole Hellenic world, and often from the barbarian also, and never going out, as in the fable of Aesop the fox said to the lion, “The prints of the feet of those going in are distinct enough”; but who ever saw the trace of money going out of Lacedaemon? And therefore you may safely infer that the inhabitants are the richest of the Hellenes in gold and silver, and that their kings are the richest of them, for they have a larger share of these things, and they have also a tribute paid to them which is very considerable. Yet the Spartan wealth, though great in comparison of the wealth of the other Hellenes, is as nothing in comparison of that of the Persians and their kings. Why, I have been informed by a credible person who went up to the king (at Susa), that he passed through a large tract of excellent land, extending for nearly a day’s journey, which the people of the country called the queen’s girdle, and another, which they called her veil; and several other fair and fertile districts, which were reserved for the adornment of the queen, and are named after her several habiliments. Now, I cannot help thinking to myself, What if someone were to go to Amestris, the wife of Xerxes and mother of Artaxerxes, and say to her, There is a certain Dinomache, whose whole wardrobe is not worth fifty minae⁠—and that will be more than the value⁠—and she has a son who is possessed of a three-hundred acre patch at Erchiae, and he has a mind to go to war with your son⁠—would she not wonder to what this Alcibiades trusts for success in the conflict? “He must rely,” she would say to herself, “upon his training and wisdom⁠—these are the things which Hellenes value.” And if she heard that this Alcibiades who is making the attempt is not as yet twenty years old, and is wholly uneducated, and when his lover tells him that he ought to get education and training first, and then go and fight the king, he refuses, and says that he is well enough as he is, would she not be amazed, and ask “On what, then, does the youth rely?” And if we replied: He relies on his beauty, and stature, and birth, and mental endowments, she would think that we were mad, Alcibiades, when she compared the advantages which you possess with those of her own people. And I believe that even Lampido, the daughter of Leotychides, the wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, all of whom were kings, would have the same feeling; if, in your present uneducated state, you were to turn your thoughts against her son, she too would be equally astonished. But how disgraceful, that we should not have as high a notion of what is required in us as our enemies’ wives and mothers have of the qualities which are required in their assailants! O my friend, be persuaded by me, and hear the Delphian inscription, “Know thyself”⁠—not the men whom you think, but these kings are our rivals, and we can only overcome them by pains and skill. And if you fail in the required qualities, you will fail also in becoming renowned among Hellenes and Barbarians, which you seem to desire more than any other man ever desired anything.
Alcibiades I entirely believe you; but what are the sort of pains which are required, Socrates⁠—can you tell me?
Socrates Yes, I can; but we must take counsel together concerning the manner in which both of us may be most improved. For what I am telling you of the necessity of education applies to myself as well as to you; and there is only one point in which I have an advantage over you.
Alcibiades What is that?
Socrates I have a guardian who is better and wiser than your guardian, Pericles.
Alcibiades Who is he, Socrates?
Socrates God, Alcibiades, who up to this day has not allowed me to converse with you; and he inspires in me the faith that I am especially designed to bring you to honour.
Alcibiades You are jesting, Socrates.
Socrates Perhaps, at any rate, I am right in saying that all men greatly need pains and care, and you and I above all men.
Alcibiades You are not far wrong about me.
Socrates And certainly not about myself.
Alcibiades But what can we do?
Socrates There must be no hesitation or cowardice, my friend.
Alcibiades That would not become us, Socrates.
Socrates No, indeed, and we ought to take counsel together: for do we not wish to be as good as possible?
Alcibiades We do.
Socrates In what sort of virtue?
Alcibiades Plainly, in the virtue of good men.
Socrates Who are good in what?
Alcibiades Those, clearly, who are good in the management of affairs.
Socrates What sort of affairs? Equestrian affairs?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates You mean that about them we should have recourse to horsemen?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Well, naval affairs?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates You mean that we should have recourse to sailors about them?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then what affairs? And who do them?
Alcibiades The affairs which occupy Athenian gentlemen.
Socrates And when you speak of gentlemen, do you mean the wise or the unwise?
Alcibiades The wise.
Socrates And a man is good in respect of that in which he is wise?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And evil in respect of that in which he is unwise?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates The shoemaker, for example, is wise in respect of the making of shoes?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then he is good in that?
Alcibiades He is.
Socrates But in respect of the making of garments he is unwise?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then in that he is bad?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then upon this view of the matter the same man is good and also bad?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But would you say that the good are the same as the bad?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates Then whom do you call the good?
Alcibiades I mean by the good those who are able to rule in the city.
Socrates Not, surely, over horses?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates But over men?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates When they are sick?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Or on a voyage?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Or reaping the harvest?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates When they are doing something or nothing?
Alcibiades When they are doing something, I should say.
Socrates I wish that you would explain to me what this something is.
Alcibiades When they are having dealings with one another, and using one another’s services, as we citizens do in our daily life.
Socrates Those of whom you speak are ruling over men who are using the services of other men?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Are they ruling over the signalmen who give the time to the rowers?
Alcibiades No; they are not.
Socrates That would be the office of the pilot?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates But, perhaps you mean that they rule over flute-players, who lead the singers and use the services of the dancers?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates That would be the business of the teacher of the chorus?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then what is the meaning of being able to rule over men who use other men?
Alcibiades I mean that they rule over men who have common rights of citizenship, and dealings with one another.
Socrates And what sort of an art is this? Suppose that I ask you again, as I did just now, What art makes men know how to rule over their fellow-sailors⁠—how would you answer?
Alcibiades The art of the pilot.
Socrates And, if I may recur to another old instance, what art enables them to rule over their fellow-singers?
Alcibiades The art of the teacher of the chorus, which you were just now mentioning.
Socrates And what do you call the art of fellow-citizens?
Alcibiades I should say, good counsel, Socrates.
Socrates And is the art of the pilot evil counsel?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates But good counsel?
Alcibiades Yes, that is what I should say⁠—good counsel, of which the aim is the preservation of the voyagers.
Socrates True. And what is the aim of that other good counsel of which you speak?
Alcibiades The aim is the better order and preservation of the city.
Socrates And what is that of which the absence or presence improves and preserves the order of the city? Suppose you were to ask me, what is that of which the presence or absence improves or preserves the order of the body? I should reply, the presence of health and the absence of disease. You would say the same?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And if you were to ask me the same question about the eyes, I should reply in the same way, “the presence of sight and the absence of blindness”; or about the ears, I should reply, that they were improved and were in better case, when deafness was absent, and hearing was present in them.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And what would you say of a state? What is that by the presence or absence of which the state is improved and better managed and ordered?
Alcibiades I should say, Socrates:⁠—the presence of friendship and the absence of hatred and division.
Socrates And do you mean by friendship agreement or disagreement?
Alcibiades Agreement.
Socrates What art makes cities agree about numbers?
Alcibiades Arithmetic.
Socrates And private individuals?
Alcibiades The same.
Socrates And what art makes each individual agree with himself?
Alcibiades The same.
Socrates And what art makes each of us agree with himself about the comparative length of the span and of the cubit? Does not the art of measure?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Individuals are agreed with one another about this; and states, equally?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the same holds of the balance?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But what is the other agreement of which you speak, and about what? what art can give that agreement? And does that which gives it to the state give it also to the individual, so as to make him consistent with himself and with another?
Alcibiades I should suppose so.
Socrates But what is the nature of the agreement?⁠—answer, and faint not.
Alcibiades I mean to say that there should be such friendship and agreement as exists between an affectionate father and mother and their son, or between brothers, or between husband and wife.
Socrates But can a man, Alcibiades, agree with a woman about the spinning of wool, which she understands and he does not?
Alcibiades No, truly.
Socrates Nor has he any need, for spinning is a female accomplishment.
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And would a woman agree with a man about the science of arms, which she has never learned?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates I suppose that the use of arms would be regarded by you as a male accomplishment?
Alcibiades It would.
Socrates Then, upon your view, women and men have two sorts of knowledge?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Then in their knowledge there is no agreement of women and men?
Alcibiades There is not.
Socrates Nor can there be friendship, if friendship is agreement?
Alcibiades Plainly not.
Socrates Then women are not loved by men when they do their own work?
Alcibiades I suppose not.
Socrates Nor men by women when they do their own work?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Nor are states well administered, when individuals do their own work?
Alcibiades I should rather think, Socrates, that the reverse is the truth.606
Socrates What! do you mean to say that states are well administered when friendship is absent, the presence of which, as we were saying, alone secures their good order?
Alcibiades But I should say that there is friendship among them, for this very reason, that the two parties respectively do their own work.
Socrates That was not what you were saying before; and what do you mean now by affirming that friendship exists when there is no agreement? How can there be agreement about matters which the one party knows, and of which the other is in ignorance?
Alcibiades Impossible.
Socrates And when individuals are doing their own work, are they doing what is just or unjust?
Alcibiades What is just, certainly.
Socrates And when individuals do what is just in the state, is there no friendship among them?
Alcibiades I suppose that there must be, Socrates.
Socrates Then what do you mean by this friendship or agreement about which we must be wise and discreet in order that we may be good men? I cannot make out where it exists or among whom; according to you, the same persons may sometimes have it, and sometimes not.
Alcibiades But, indeed, Socrates, I do not know what I am saying; and I have long been, unconsciously to myself, in a most disgraceful state.
Socrates Nevertheless, cheer up; at fifty, if you had discovered your deficiency, you would have been too old, and the time for taking care of yourself would have passed away, but yours is just the age at which the discovery should be made.
Alcibiades And what should he do, Socrates, who would make the discovery?
Socrates Answer questions, Alcibiades; and that is a process which, by the grace of God, if I may put any faith in my oracle, will be very improving to both of us.
Alcibiades If I can be improved by answering, I will answer.
Socrates And first of all, that we may not peradventure be deceived by appearances, fancying, perhaps, that we are taking care of ourselves when we are not, what is the meaning of a man taking care of himself? and when does he take care? Does he take care of himself when he takes care of what belongs to him?
Alcibiades I should think so.
Socrates When does a man take care of his feet? Does he not take care of them when he takes care of that which belongs to his feet?
Alcibiades I do not understand.
Socrates Let me take the hand as an illustration; does not a ring belong to the finger, and to the finger only?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the shoe in like manner to the foot?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And when we take care of our shoes, do we not take care of our feet?
Alcibiades I do not comprehend, Socrates.
Socrates But you would admit, Alcibiades, that to take proper care of a thing is a correct expression?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And taking proper care means improving?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And what is the art which improves our shoes?
Alcibiades Shoemaking.
Socrates Then by shoemaking we take care of our shoes?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And do we by shoemaking take care of our feet, or by some other art which improves the feet?
Alcibiades By some other art.
Socrates And the same art improves the feet which improves the rest of the body?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates Which is gymnastic?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Then by gymnastic we take care of our feet, and by shoemaking of that which belongs to our feet?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates And by gymnastic we take care of our hands, and by the art of graving rings of that which belongs to our hands?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And by gymnastic we take care of the body, and by the art of weaving and the other arts we take care of the things of the body?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates Then the art which takes care of each thing is different from that which takes care of the belongings of each thing?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Then in taking care of what belongs to you, you do not take care of yourself?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates For the art which takes care of our belongings appears not to be the same as that which takes care of ourselves?
Alcibiades Clearly not.
Socrates And now let me ask you what is the art with which we take care of ourselves?
Alcibiades I cannot say.
Socrates At any rate, thus much has been admitted, that the art is not one which makes any of our possessions, but which makes ourselves better?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But should we ever have known what art makes a shoe better, if we did not know a shoe?
Alcibiades Impossible.
Socrates Nor should we know what art makes a ring better, if we did not know a ring?
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates And can we ever know what art makes a man better, if we do not know what we are ourselves?
Alcibiades Impossible.
Socrates And is self-knowledge such an easy thing, and was he to be lightly esteemed who inscribed the text on the temple at Delphi? Or is self-knowledge a difficult thing, which few are able to attain?
Alcibiades At times I fancy, Socrates, that anybody can know himself; at other times the task appears to be very difficult.
Socrates But whether easy or difficult, Alcibiades, still there is no other way; knowing what we are, we shall know how to take care of ourselves, and if we are ignorant we shall not know.
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates Well, then, let us see in what way the self-existent can be discovered by us; that will give us a chance of discovering our own existence, which otherwise we can never know.
Alcibiades You say truly.
Socrates Come, now, I beseech you, tell me with whom you are conversing?⁠—with whom but with me?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates As I am, with you?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates That is to say, I, Socrates, am talking?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And Alcibiades is my hearer?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And I in talking use words?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And talking and using words have, I suppose, the same meaning?
Alcibiades To be sure.
Socrates And the user is not the same as the thing which he uses?
Alcibiades What do you mean?
Socrates I will explain; the shoemaker, for example, uses a square tool, and a circular tool, and other tools for cutting?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates But the tool is not the same as the cutter and user of the tool?
Alcibiades Of course not.
Socrates And in the same way the instrument of the harper is to be distinguished from the harper himself?
Alcibiades It is.
Socrates Now the question which I asked was whether you conceive the user to be always different from that which he uses?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates Then what shall we say of the shoemaker? Does he cut with his tools only or with his hands?
Alcibiades With his hands as well.
Socrates He uses his hands too?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And does he use his eyes in cutting leather?
Alcibiades He does.
Socrates And we admit that the user is not the same with the things which he uses?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then the shoemaker and the harper are to be distinguished from the hands and feet which they use?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates And does not a man use the whole body?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And that which uses is different from that which is used?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Then a man is not the same as his own body?
Alcibiades That is the inference.
Socrates What is he, then?
Alcibiades I cannot say.
Socrates Nay, you can say that he is the user of the body.
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And the user of the body is the soul?
Alcibiades Yes, the soul.
Socrates And the soul rules?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Let me make an assertion which will, I think, be universally admitted.
Alcibiades What is it?
Socrates That man is one of three things.
Alcibiades What are they?
Socrates Soul, body, or both together forming a whole.
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates But did we not say that the actual ruling principle of the body is man?
Alcibiades Yes, we did.
Socrates And does the body rule over itself?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates It is subject, as we were saying?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Then that is not the principle which we are seeking?
Alcibiades It would seem not.
Socrates But may we say that the union of the two rules over the body, and consequently that this is man?
Alcibiades Very likely.
Socrates The most unlikely of all things; for if one of the members is subject, the two united cannot possibly rule.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But since neither the body, nor the union of the two, is man, either man has no real existence, or the soul is man?
Alcibiades Just so.
Socrates Is anything more required to prove that the soul is man?
Alcibiades Certainly not; the proof is, I think, quite sufficient.
Socrates And if the proof, although not perfect, be sufficient, we shall be satisfied;⁠—more precise proof will be supplied when we have discovered that which we were led to omit, from a fear that the enquiry would be too much protracted.
Alcibiades What was that?
Socrates What I meant, when I said that absolute existence must be first considered; but now, instead of absolute existence, we have been considering the nature of individual existence, and this may, perhaps, be sufficient; for surely there is nothing which may be called more properly ourselves than the soul?
Alcibiades There is nothing.
Socrates Then we may truly conceive that you and I are conversing with one another, soul to soul?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates And that is just what I was saying before⁠—that I, Socrates, am not arguing or talking with the face of Alcibiades, but with the real Alcibiades; or in other words, with his soul.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Then he who bids a man know himself, would have him know his soul?
Alcibiades That appears to be true.
Socrates He whose knowledge only extends to the body, knows the things of a man, and not the man himself?
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates Then neither the physician regarded as a physician, nor the trainer regarded as a trainer, knows himself?
Alcibiades He does not.
Socrates The husbandmen and the other craftsmen are very far from knowing themselves, for they would seem not even to know their own belongings? When regarded in relation to the arts which they practise they are even further removed from self-knowledge, for they only know the belongings of the body, which minister to the body.
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates Then if temperance is the knowledge of self, in respect of his art none of them is temperate?
Alcibiades I agree.
Socrates And this is the reason why their arts are accounted vulgar, and are not such as a good man would practise?
Alcibiades Quite true.
Socrates Again, he who cherishes his body cherishes not himself, but what belongs to him?
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates But he who cherishes his money, cherishes neither himself nor his belongings, but is in a stage yet further removed from himself?
Alcibiades I agree.
Socrates Then the moneymaker has really ceased to be occupied with his own concerns?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And if anyone has fallen in love with the person of Alcibiades, he loves not Alcibiades, but the belongings of Alcibiades?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But he who loves your soul is the true lover?
Alcibiades That is the necessary inference.
Socrates The lover of the body goes away when the flower of youth fades?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But he who loves the soul goes not away, as long as the soul follows after virtue?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And I am the lover who goes not away, but remains with you, when you are no longer young and the rest are gone?
Alcibiades Yes, Socrates; and therein you do well, and I hope that you will remain.
Socrates Then you must try to look your best.
Alcibiades I will.
Socrates The fact is, that there is only one lover of Alcibiades the son of Cleinias; there neither is nor ever has been seemingly any other; and he is his darling⁠—Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And did you not say, that if I had not spoken first, you were on the point of coming to me, and enquiring why I only remained?
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates The reason was that I loved you for your own sake, whereas other men love what belongs to you; and your beauty, which is not you, is fading away, just as your true self is beginning to bloom. And I will never desert you, if you are not spoiled and deformed by the Athenian people; for the danger which I most fear is that you will become a lover of the people and will be spoiled by them. Many a noble Athenian has been ruined in this way. For the demus of the greathearted Erechteus is of a fair countenance, but you should see him naked; wherefore observe the caution which I give you.
Alcibiades What caution?
Socrates Practise yourself, sweet friend, in learning what you ought to know, before you enter on politics; and then you will have an antidote which will keep you out of harm’s way.
Alcibiades Good advice, Socrates, but I wish that you would explain to me in what way I am to take care of myself.
Socrates Have we not made an advance? for we are at any rate tolerably well agreed as to what we are, and there is no longer any danger, as we once feared, that we might be taking care not of ourselves, but of something which is not ourselves.
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates And the next step will be to take care of the soul, and look to that?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Leaving the care of our bodies and of our properties to others?
Alcibiades Very good.
Socrates But how can we have a perfect knowledge of the things of the soul?⁠—For if we know them, then I suppose we shall know ourselves. Can we really be ignorant of the excellent meaning of the Delphian inscription, of which we were just now speaking?
Alcibiades What have you in your thoughts, Socrates?
Socrates I will tell you what I suspect to be the meaning and lesson of that inscription. Let me take an illustration from sight, which I imagine to be the only one suitable to my purpose.
Alcibiades What do you mean?
Socrates Consider; if someone were to say to the eye, “See thyself,” as you might say to a man, “Know thyself,” what is the nature and meaning of this precept? Would not his meaning be:⁠—That the eye should look at that in which it would see itself?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates And what are the objects in looking at which we see ourselves?
Alcibiades Clearly, Socrates, in looking at mirrors and the like.
Socrates Very true; and is there not something of the nature of a mirror in our own eyes?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Did you ever observe that the face of the person looking into the eye of another is reflected as in a mirror; and in the visual organ which is over against him, and which is called the pupil, there is a sort of image of the person looking?
Alcibiades That is quite true.
Socrates Then the eye, looking at another eye, and at that in the eye which is most perfect, and which is the instrument of vision, will there see itself?
Alcibiades That is evident.
Socrates But looking at anything else either in man or in the world, and not to what resembles this, it will not see itself?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates Then if the eye is to see itself, it must look at the eye, and at that part of the eye where sight which is the virtue of the eye resides?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And if the soul, my dear Alcibiades, is ever to know herself, must she not look at the soul; and especially at that part of the soul in which her virtue resides, and to any other which is like this?
Alcibiades I agree, Socrates.
Socrates And do we know of any part of our souls more divine than that which has to do with wisdom and knowledge?
Alcibiades There is none.
Socrates Then this is that part of the soul which resembles the divine; and he who looks at this and at the whole class of things divine, will be most likely to know himself?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates And self-knowledge we agree to be wisdom?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But if we have no self-knowledge and no wisdom, can we ever know our own good and evil?
Alcibiades How can we, Socrates?
Socrates You mean, that if you did not know Alcibiades, there would be no possibility of your knowing that what belonged to Alcibiades was really his?
Alcibiades It would be quite impossible.
Socrates Nor should we know that we were the persons to whom anything belonged, if we did not know ourselves?
Alcibiades How could we?
Socrates And if we did not know our own belongings, neither should we know the belongings of our belongings?
Alcibiades Clearly not.
Socrates Then we were not altogether right in acknowledging just now that a man may know what belongs to him and yet not know himself; nay, rather he cannot even know the belongings of his belongings; for the discernment of the things of self, and of the things which belong to the things of self, appear all to be the business of the same man, and of the same art.
Alcibiades So much may be supposed.
Socrates And he who knows not the things which belong to himself, will in like manner be ignorant of the things which belong to others?
Alcibiades Very true.
Socrates And if he knows not the affairs of others, he will not know the affairs of states?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates Then such a man can never be a statesman?
Alcibiades He cannot.
Socrates Nor an economist?
Alcibiades He cannot.
Socrates He will not know what he is doing?
Alcibiades He will not.
Socrates And will not he who is ignorant fall into error?
Alcibiades Assuredly.
Socrates And if he falls into error will he not fail both in his public and private capacity?
Alcibiades Yes, indeed.
Socrates And failing, will he not be miserable?
Alcibiades Very.
Socrates And what will become of those for whom he is acting?
Alcibiades They will be miserable also.
Socrates Then he who is not wise and good cannot be happy?
Alcibiades He cannot.
Socrates The bad, then, are miserable?
Alcibiades Yes, very.
Socrates And if so, not he who has riches, but he who has wisdom, is delivered from his misery?
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates Cities, then, if they are to be happy, do not want walls, or triremes, or docks, or numbers, or size, Alcibiades, without virtue?607
Alcibiades Indeed they do not.
Socrates And you must give the citizens virtue, if you mean to administer their affairs rightly or nobly?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates But can a man give that which he has not?
Alcibiades Impossible.
Socrates Then you or anyone who means to govern and superintend, not only himself and the things of himself, but the state and the things of the state, must in the first place acquire virtue.
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates You have not therefore to obtain power or authority, in order to enable you to do what you wish for yourself and the state, but justice and wisdom.
Alcibiades Clearly.
Socrates You and the state, if you act wisely and justly, will act according to the will of God?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates As I was saying before, you will look only at what is bright and divine, and act with a view to them?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates In that mirror you will see and know yourselves and your own good?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And so you will act rightly and well?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates In which case, I will be security for your happiness.
Alcibiades I accept the security.
Socrates But if you act unrighteously, your eye will turn to the dark and godless, and being in darkness and ignorance of yourselves, you will probably do deeds of darkness.
Alcibiades Very possibly.
Socrates For if a man, my dear Alcibiades, has the power to do what he likes, but has no understanding, what is likely to be the result, either to him as an individual or to the state⁠—for example, if he be sick and is able to do what he likes, not having the mind of a physician⁠—having moreover tyrannical power, and no one daring to reprove him, what will happen to him? Will he not be likely to have his constitution ruined?
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates Or again, in a ship, if a man having the power to do what he likes, has no intelligence or skill in navigation, do you see what will happen to him and to his fellow-sailors?
Alcibiades Yes; I see that they will all perish.
Socrates And in like manner, in a state, and where there is any power and authority which is wanting in virtue, will not misfortune, in like manner, ensue?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Not tyrannical power, then, my good Alcibiades, should be the aim either of individuals or states, if they would be happy, but virtue.
Alcibiades That is true.
Socrates And before they have virtue, to be commanded by a superior is better for men as well as for children?608
Alcibiades That is evident.
Socrates And that which is better is also nobler?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And what is nobler is more becoming?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Then to the bad man slavery is more becoming, because better?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Then vice is only suited to a slave?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And virtue to a freeman?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And, O my friend, is not the condition of a slave to be avoided?
Alcibiades Certainly, Socrates.
Socrates And are you now conscious of your own state? And do you know whether you are a freeman or not?
Alcibiades I think that I am very conscious indeed of my own state.
Socrates And do you know how to escape out of a state which I do not even like to name to my beauty?
Alcibiades Yes, I do.
Socrates How?
Alcibiades By your help, Socrates.
Socrates That is not well said, Alcibiades.
Alcibiades What ought I to have said?
Socrates By the help of God.
Alcibiades I agree; and I further say, that our relations are likely to be reversed. From this day forward, I must and will follow you as you have followed me; I will be the disciple, and you shall be my master.
Socrates O that is rare! My love breeds another love: and so like the stork I shall be cherished by the bird whom I have hatched.
Alcibiades Strange, but true; and henceforward I shall begin to think about justice.
Socrates And I hope that you will persist; although I have fears, not because I doubt you; but I see the power of the state, which may be too much for both of us.



The “Menexenus” has more the character of a rhetorical exercise than any other of the Platonic works. The writer seems to have wished to emulate Thucydides, and the far slighter work of Lysias. In his rivalry with the latter, to whom in the “Phaedrus” Plato shows a strong antipathy, he is entirely successful, but he is not equal to Thucydides. The “Menexenus,” though not without real Hellenic interest, falls very far short of the rugged grandeur and political insight of the great historian. The fiction of the speech having been invented by Aspasia is well sustained, and is in the manner of Plato, notwithstanding the anachronism which puts into her mouth an allusion to the peace of Antalcidas, an event occurring forty years after the date of the supposed oration. But Plato, like Shakespeare, is careless of such anachronisms, which are not supposed to strike the mind of the reader. The effect produced by these grandiloquent orations on Socrates, who does not recover after having heard one of them for three days and more, is truly Platonic.

Such discourses, if we may form a judgment from the three which are extant (for the so-called “Funeral Oration” of Demosthenes is a bad and spurious imitation of Thucydides and Lysias), conformed to a regular type. They began with Gods and ancestors, and the legendary history of Athens, to which succeeded an almost equally fictitious account of later times. The Persian war usually formed the centre of the narrative; in the age of Isocrates and Demosthenes the Athenians were still living on the glories of Marathon and Salamis. The “Menexenus” veils in panegyric the weak places of Athenian history. The war of Athens and Boeotia is a war of liberation; the Athenians gave back the Spartans taken at Sphacteria out of kindness⁠—indeed, the only fault of the city was too great kindness to their enemies, who were more honoured than the friends of others (compare Thucydides II 41, which seems to contain the germ of the idea); we democrats are the aristocracy of virtue, and the like. These are the platitudes and falsehoods in which history is disguised. The taking of Athens is hardly mentioned.

The author of the “Menexenus,” whether Plato or not, is evidently intending to ridicule the practice, and at the same time to show that he can beat the rhetoricians in their own line, as in the “Phaedrus” he may be supposed to offer an example of what Lysias might have said, and of how much better he might have written in his own style. The orators had recourse to their favourite loci communes, one of which, as we find in Lysias, was the shortness of the time allowed them for preparation. But Socrates points out that they had them always ready for delivery, and that there was no difficulty in improvising any number of such orations. To praise the Athenians among the Athenians was easy⁠—to praise them among the Lacedaemonians would have been a much more difficult task. Socrates himself has turned rhetorician, having learned of a woman, Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles; and anyone whose teachers had been far inferior to his own⁠—say, one who had learned from Antiphon the Rhamnusian⁠—would be quite equal to the task of praising men to themselves. When we remember that Antiphon is described by Thucydides as the best pleader of his day, the satire on him and on the whole tribe of rhetoricians is transparent.

The ironical assumption of Socrates, that he must be a good orator because he had learnt of Aspasia, is not coarse, as Schleiermacher supposes, but is rather to be regarded as fanciful. Nor can we say that the offer of Socrates to dance naked out of love for Menexenus, is any more un-Platonic than the threat of physical force which Phaedrus uses towards Socrates (236 C). Nor is there any real vulgarity in the fear which Socrates expresses that he will get a beating from his mistress, Aspasia: this is the natural exaggeration of what might be expected from an imperious woman. Socrates is not to be taken seriously in all that he says, and Plato, both in the “Symposium” and elsewhere, is not slow to admit a sort of Aristophanic humour. How a great original genius like Plato might or might not have written, what was his conception of humour, or what limits he would have prescribed to himself, if any, in drawing the picture of the Silenus Socrates, are problems which no critical instinct can determine.

On the other hand, the dialogue has several Platonic traits, whether original or imitated may be uncertain. Socrates, when he departs from his character of a “know nothing” and delivers a speech, generally pretends that what he is speaking is not his own composition. Thus in the “Cratylus” he is run away with (410 E); in the “Phaedrus” he has heard somebody say something (235 C)⁠—is inspired by the genius loci (238 D); in the “Symposium” he derives his wisdom from Diotima of Mantinea, and the like. But he does not impose on Menexenus by his dissimulation. Without violating the character of Socrates, Plato, who knows so well how to give a hint, or someone writing in his name, intimates clearly enough that the speech in the “Menexenus” like that in the “Phaedrus” is to be attributed to Socrates. The address of the dead to the living at the end of the oration may also be compared to the numerous addresses of the same kind which occur in Plato, in whom the dramatic element is always tending to prevail over the rhetorical. The remark has been often made, that in the “Funeral Oration” of Thucydides there is no allusion to the existence of the dead. But in the “Menexenus” a future state is clearly, although not strongly, asserted.

Whether the “Menexenus” is a genuine writing of Plato, or an imitation only, remains uncertain. In either case, the thoughts are partly borrowed from the “Funeral Oration” of Thucydides; and the fact that they are so, is not in favour of the genuineness of the work. Internal evidence seems to leave the question of authorship in doubt. There are merits and there are defects which might lead to either conclusion. The form of the greater part of the work makes the enquiry difficult; the introduction and the finale certainly wear the look either of Plato or of an extremely skilful imitator. The excellence of the forgery may be fairly adduced as an argument that it is not a forgery at all. In this uncertainty the express testimony of Aristotle, who quotes, in the Rhetoric,609 the well-known words, “It is easy to praise the Athenians among the Athenians,” from the “Funeral Oration,” may perhaps turn the balance in its favour. It must be remembered also that the work was famous in antiquity, and is included in the Alexandrian catalogues of Platonic writings.


Persons of the dialogue:

  • Socrates

  • Menexenus

Socrates Whence come you, Menexenus? Are you from the Agora?
Menexenus Yes, Socrates; I have been at the Council.
Socrates And what might you be doing at the Council? And yet I need hardly ask, for I see that you, believing yourself to have arrived at the end of education and of philosophy, and to have had enough of them, are mounting upwards to things higher still, and, though rather young for the post, are intending to govern us elder men, like the rest of your family, which has always provided someone who kindly took care of us.
Menexenus Yes, Socrates, I shall be ready to hold office, if you allow and advise that I should, but not if you think otherwise. I went to the council chamber because I heard that the Council was about to choose someone who was to speak over the dead. For you know that there is to be a public funeral?
Socrates Yes, I know. And whom did they choose?
Menexenus No one; they delayed the election until tomorrow, but I believe that either Archinus or Dion will be chosen.
Socrates O Menexenus! Death in battle is certainly in many respects a noble thing. The dead man gets a fine and costly funeral, although he may have been poor, and an elaborate speech is made over him by a wise man who has long ago prepared what he has to say, although he who is praised may not have been good for much. The speakers praise him for what he has done and for what he has not done⁠—that is the beauty of them⁠—and they steal away our souls with their embellished words; in every conceivable form they praise the city; and they praise those who died in war, and all our ancestors who went before us; and they praise ourselves also who are still alive, until I feel quite elevated by their laudations, and I stand listening to their words, Menexenus, and become enchanted by them, and all in a moment I imagine myself to have become a greater and nobler and finer man than I was before. And if, as often happens, there are any foreigners who accompany me to the speech, I become suddenly conscious of having a sort of triumph over them, and they seem to experience a corresponding feeling of admiration at me, and at the greatness of the city, which appears to them, when they are under the influence of the speaker, more wonderful than ever. This consciousness of dignity lasts me more than three days, and not until the fourth or fifth day do I come to my senses and know where I am; in the meantime I have been living in the Islands of the Blest. Such is the art of our rhetoricians, and in such manner does the sound of their words keep ringing in my ears.
Menexenus You are always making fun of the rhetoricians, Socrates; this time, however, I am inclined to think that the speaker who is chosen will not have much to say, for he has been called upon to speak at a moment’s notice, and he will be compelled almost to improvise.
Socrates But why, my friend, should he not have plenty to say? Every rhetorician has speeches ready made; nor is there any difficulty in improvising that sort of stuff. Had the orator to praise Athenians among Peloponnesians, or Peloponnesians among Athenians, he must be a good rhetorician who could succeed and gain credit. But there is no difficulty in a man’s winning applause when he is contending for fame among the persons whom he is praising.
Menexenus Do you think not, Socrates?
Socrates Certainly “not.”
Menexenus Do you think that you could speak yourself if there should be a necessity, and if the Council were to choose you?
Socrates That I should be able to speak is no great wonder, Menexenus, considering that I have an excellent mistress in the art of rhetoric⁠—she who has made so many good speakers, and one who was the best among all the Hellenes⁠—Pericles, the son of Xanthippus.
Menexenus And who is she? I suppose that you mean Aspasia.
Socrates Yes, I do; and besides her I had Connus, the son of Metrobius, as a master, and he was my master in music, as she was in rhetoric. No wonder that a man who has received such an education should be a finished speaker; even the pupil of very inferior masters, say, for example, one who had learned music of Lamprus, and rhetoric of Antiphon the Rhamnusian, might make a figure if he were to praise the Athenians among the Athenians.
Menexenus And what would you be able to say if you had to speak?
Socrates Of my own wit, most likely nothing; but yesterday I heard Aspasia composing a funeral oration about these very dead. For she had been told, as you were saying, that the Athenians were going to choose a speaker, and she repeated to me the sort of speech which he should deliver, partly improvising and partly from previous thought, putting together fragments of the funeral oration which Pericles spoke, but which, as I believe, she composed.
Menexenus And can you remember what Aspasia said?
Socrates I ought to be able, for she taught me, and she was ready to strike me because I was always forgetting.
Menexenus Then why will you not rehearse what she said?
Socrates Because I am afraid that my mistress may be angry with me if I publish her speech.
Menexenus Nay, Socrates, let us have the speech, whether Aspasia’s or anyone else’s, no matter. I hope that you will oblige me.
Socrates But I am afraid that you will laugh at me if I continue the games of youth in old age.
Menexenus Far otherwise, Socrates; let us by all means have the speech.

Truly I have such a disposition to oblige you, that if you bid me dance naked I should not like to refuse, since we are alone. Listen then: If I remember rightly, she began as follows, with the mention of the dead:610

There is a tribute of deeds and of words. The departed have already had the first, when going forth on their destined journey they were attended on their way by the state and by their friends; the tribute of words remains to be given to them, as is meet and by law ordained. For noble words are a memorial and a crown of noble actions, which are given to the doers of them by the hearers. A word is needed which will duly praise the dead and gently admonish the living, exhorting the brethren and descendants of the departed to imitate their virtue, and consoling their fathers and mothers and the survivors, if any, who may chance to be alive of the previous generation. What sort of a word will this be, and how shall we rightly begin the praises of these brave men? In their life they rejoiced their own friends with their valour, and their death they gave in exchange for the salvation of the living. And I think that we should praise them in the order in which nature made them good, for they were good because they were sprung from good fathers. Wherefore let us first of all praise the goodness of their birth; secondly, their nurture and education; and then let us set forth how noble their actions were, and how worthy of the education which they had received.

And first as to their birth. Their ancestors were not strangers, nor are these their descendants sojourners only, whose fathers have come from another country; but they are the children of the soil, dwelling and living in their own land. And the country which brought them up is not like other countries, a stepmother to her children, but their own true mother; she bore them and nourished them and received them, and in her bosom they now repose. It is meet and right, therefore, that we should begin by praising the land which is their mother, and that will be a way of praising their noble birth.

The country is worthy to be praised, not only by us, but by all mankind; first, and above all, as being dear to the Gods. This is proved by the strife and contention of the Gods respecting her. And ought not the country which the Gods praise to be praised by all mankind? The second praise which may be fairly claimed by her, is that at the time when the whole earth was sending forth and creating diverse animals, tame and wild, she our mother was free and pure from savage monsters, and out of all animals selected and brought forth man, who is superior to the rest in understanding, and alone has justice and religion. And a great proof that she brought forth the common ancestors of us and of the departed, is that she provided the means of support for her offspring. For as a woman proves her motherhood by giving milk to her young ones (and she who has no fountain of milk is not a mother), so did this our land prove that she was the mother of men, for in those days she alone and first of all brought forth wheat and barley for human food, which is the best and noblest sustenance for man, whom she regarded as her true offspring. And these are truer proofs of motherhood in a country than in a woman, for the woman in her conception and generation is but the imitation of the earth, and not the earth of the woman. And of the fruit of the earth she gave a plenteous supply, not only to her own, but to others also; and afterwards she made the olive to spring up to be a boon to her children, and to help them in their toils. And when she had herself nursed them and brought them up to manhood, she gave them Gods to be their rulers and teachers, whose names are well known, and need not now be repeated. They are the Gods who first ordered our lives, and instructed us in the arts for the supply of our daily needs, and taught us the acquisition and use of arms for the defence of the country.

Thus born into the world and thus educated, the ancestors of the departed lived and made themselves a government, which I ought briefly to commemorate. For government is the nurture of man, and the government of good men is good, and of bad men bad. And I must show that our ancestors were trained under a good government, and for this reason they were good, and our contemporaries are also good, among whom our departed friends are to be reckoned. Then as now, and indeed always, from that time to this, speaking generally, our government was an aristocracy⁠—a form of government which receives various names, according to the fancies of men, and is sometimes called democracy, but is really an aristocracy or government of the best which has the approval of the many. For kings we have always had, first hereditary and then elected, and authority is mostly in the hands of the people, who dispense offices and power to those who appear to be most deserving of them. Neither is a man rejected from weakness or poverty or obscurity of origin, nor honoured by reason of the opposite, as in other states, but there is one principle⁠—he who appears to be wise and good is a governor and ruler. The basis of this our government is equality of birth; for other states are made up of all sorts and unequal conditions of men, and therefore their governments are unequal; there are tyrannies and there are oligarchies, in which the one party are slaves and the others masters. But we and our citizens are brethren, the children all of one mother, and we do not think it right to be one another’s masters or servants; but the natural equality of birth compels us to seek for legal equality, and to recognize no superiority except in the reputation of virtue and wisdom.

And so their and our fathers, and these, too, our brethren, being nobly born and having been brought up in all freedom, did both in their public and private capacity many noble deeds famous over the whole world. They were the deeds of men who thought that they ought to fight both against Hellenes for the sake of Hellenes on behalf of freedom, and against barbarians in the common interest of Hellas. Time would fail me to tell of their defence of their country against the invasion of Eumolpus and the Amazons, or of their defence of the Argives against the Cadmeians, or of the Heracleids against the Argives; besides, the poets have already declared in song to all mankind their glory, and therefore any commemoration of their deeds in prose which we might attempt would hold a second place. They already have their reward, and I say no more of them; but there are other worthy deeds of which no poet has worthily sung, and which are still wooing the poet’s muse. Of these I am bound to make honourable mention, and shall invoke others to sing of them also in lyric and other strains, in a manner becoming the actors. And first I will tell how the Persians, lords of Asia, were enslaving Europe, and how the children of this land, who were our fathers, held them back. Of these I will speak first, and praise their valour, as is meet and fitting. He who would rightly estimate them should place himself in thought at that time, when the whole of Asia was subject to the third king of Persia. The first king, Cyrus, by his valour freed the Persians, who were his countrymen, and subjected the Medes, who were their lords, and he ruled over the rest of Asia, as far as Egypt; and after him came his son, who ruled all the accessible part of Egypt and Libya; the third king was Darius, who extended the land boundaries of the empire to Scythia, and with his fleet held the sea and the islands. None presumed to be his equal; the minds of all men were enthralled by him⁠—so many and mighty and warlike nations had the power of Persia subdued. Now Darius had a quarrel against us and the Eretrians, because, as he said, we had conspired against Sardis, and he sent 500,000 men in transports and vessels of war, and 300 ships, and Datis as commander, telling him to bring the Eretrians and Athenians to the king, if he wished to keep his head on his shoulders. He sailed against the Eretrians, who were reputed to be amongst the noblest and most warlike of the Hellenes of that day, and they were numerous, but he conquered them all in three days; and when he had conquered them, in order that no one might escape, he searched the whole country after this manner: his soldiers, coming to the borders of Eretria and spreading from sea to sea, joined hands and passed through the whole country, in order that they might be able to tell the king that no one had escaped them. And from Eretria they went to Marathon with a like intention, expecting to bind the Athenians in the same yoke of necessity in which they had bound the Eretrians. Having effected one-half of their purpose, they were in the act of attempting the other, and none of the Hellenes dared to assist either the Eretrians or the Athenians, except the Lacedaemonians, and they arrived a day too late for the battle; but the rest were panic-stricken and kept quiet, too happy in having escaped for a time. He who has present to his mind that conflict will know what manner of men they were who received the onset of the barbarians at Marathon, and chastened the pride of the whole of Asia, and by the victory which they gained over the barbarians first taught other men that the power of the Persians was not invincible, but that hosts of men and the multitude of riches alike yield to valour. And I assert that those men are the fathers not only of ourselves, but of our liberties and of the liberties of all who are on the continent, for that was the action to which the Hellenes looked back when they ventured to fight for their own safety in the battles which ensued: they became disciples of the men of Marathon. To them, therefore, I assign in my speech the first place, and the second to those who fought and conquered in the sea fights at Salamis and Artemisium; for of them, too, one might have many things to say⁠—of the assaults which they endured by sea and land, and how they repelled them. I will mention only that act of theirs which appears to me to be the noblest, and which followed that of Marathon and came nearest to it; for the men of Marathon only showed the Hellenes that it was possible to ward off the barbarians by land, the many by the few; but there was no proof that they could be defeated by ships, and at sea the Persians retained the reputation of being invincible in numbers and wealth and skill and strength. This is the glory of the men who fought at sea, that they dispelled the second terror which had hitherto possessed the Hellenes, and so made the fear of numbers, whether of ships or men, to cease among them. And so the soldiers of Marathon and the sailors of Salamis became the schoolmasters of Hellas; the one teaching and habituating the Hellenes not to fear the barbarians at sea, and the others not to fear them by land. Third in order, for the number and valour of the combatants, and third in the salvation of Hellas, I place the battle of Plataea. And now the Lacedaemonians as well as the Athenians took part in the struggle; they were all united in this greatest and most terrible conflict of all; wherefore their virtues will be celebrated in times to come, as they are now celebrated by us. But at a later period many Hellenic tribes were still on the side of the barbarians, and there was a report that the great king was going to make a new attempt upon the Hellenes, and therefore justice requires that we should also make mention of those who crowned the previous work of our salvation, and drove and purged away all barbarians from the sea. These were the men who fought by sea at the river Eurymedon, and who went on the expedition to Cyprus, and who sailed to Egypt and divers other places; and they should be gratefully remembered by us, because they compelled the king in fear for himself to look to his own safety instead of plotting the destruction of Hellas.

And so the war against the barbarians was fought out to the end by the whole city on their own behalf, and on behalf of their countrymen. There was peace, and our city was held in honour; and then, as prosperity makes men jealous, there succeeded a jealousy of her, and jealousy begat envy, and so she became engaged against her will in a war with the Hellenes. On the breaking out of war, our citizens met the Lacedaemonians at Tanagra, and fought for the freedom of the Boeotians; the issue was doubtful, and was decided by the engagement which followed. For when the Lacedaemonians had gone on their way, leaving the Boeotians, whom they were aiding, on the third day after the battle of Tanagra, our countrymen conquered at Oenophyta, and righteously restored those who had been unrighteously exiled. And they were the first after the Persian war who fought on behalf of liberty in aid of Hellenes against Hellenes; they were brave men, and freed those whom they aided, and were the first too who were honourably interred in this sepulchre by the state. Afterwards there was a mighty war, in which all the Hellenes joined, and devastated our country, which was very ungrateful of them; and our countrymen, after defeating them in a naval engagement and taking their leaders, the Spartans, at Sphagia, when they might have destroyed them, spared their lives, and gave them back, and made peace, considering that they should war with the fellow-countrymen only until they gained a victory over them, and not because of the private anger of the state destroy the common interest of Hellas; but that with barbarians they should war to the death. Worthy of praise are they also who waged this war, and are here interred; for they proved, if anyone doubted the superior prowess of the Athenians in the former war with the barbarians, that their doubts had no foundation⁠—showing by their victory in the civil war with Hellas, in which they subdued the other chief state of the Hellenes, that they could conquer single-handed those with whom they had been allied in the war against the barbarians. After the peace there followed a third war, which was of a terrible and desperate nature, and in this many brave men who are here interred lost their lives⁠—many of them had won victories in Sicily, whither they had gone over the seas to fight for the liberties of the Leontines, to whom they were bound by oaths; but, owing to the distance, the city was unable to help them, and they lost heart and came to misfortune, their very enemies and opponents winning more renown for valour and temperance than the friends of others. Many also fell in naval engagements at the Hellespont, after having in one day taken all the ships of the enemy, and defeated them in other naval engagements. And what I call the terrible and desperate nature of the war, is that the other Hellenes, in their extreme animosity towards the city, should have entered into negotiations with their bitterest enemy, the king of Persia, whom they, together with us, had expelled;⁠—him, without us, they again brought back, barbarian against Hellenes, and all the hosts, both of Hellenes and barbarians, were united against Athens. And then shone forth the power and valour of our city. Her enemies had supposed that she was exhausted by the war, and our ships were blockaded at Mitylene. But the citizens themselves embarked, and came to the rescue with sixty other ships, and their valour was confessed of all men, for they conquered their enemies and delivered their friends. And yet by some evil fortune they were left to perish at sea, and therefore are611 not interred here. Ever to be remembered and honoured are they, for by their valour not only that sea-fight was won for us, but the entire war was decided by them, and through them the city gained the reputation of being invincible, even though attacked by all mankind. And that reputation was a true one, for the defeat which came upon us was our own doing. We were never conquered by others, and to this day we are still unconquered by them; but we were our own conquerors, and received defeat at our own hands. Afterwards there was quiet and peace abroad, but there sprang up war at home; and, if men are destined to have civil war, no one could have desired that his city should take the disorder in a milder form. How joyful and natural was the reconciliation of those who came from the Piraeus and those who came from the city; with what moderation did they order the war against the tyrants in Eleusis, and in a manner how unlike what the other Hellenes expected! And the reason of this gentleness was the veritable tie of blood, which created among them a friendship as of kinsmen, faithful not in word only, but in deed. And we ought also to remember those who then fell by one another’s hands, and on such occasions as these to reconcile them with sacrifices and prayers, praying to those who have power over them, that they may be reconciled even as we are reconciled. For they did not attack one another out of malice or enmity, but they were unfortunate. And that such was the fact we ourselves are witnesses, who are of the same race with them, and have mutually received and granted forgiveness of what we have done and suffered. After this there was perfect peace, and the city had rest; and her feeling was that she forgave the barbarians, who had severely suffered at her hands and severely retaliated, but that she was indignant at the ingratitude of the Hellenes, when she remembered how they had received good from her and returned evil, having made common cause with the barbarians, depriving her of the ships which had once been their salvation, and dismantling our walls, which had preserved their own from falling. She thought that she would no longer defend the Hellenes, when enslaved either by one another or by the barbarians, and did accordingly. This was our feeling, while the Lacedaemonians were thinking that we who were the champions of liberty had fallen, and that their business was to subject the remaining Hellenes. And why should I say more? for the events of which I am speaking happened not long ago and we can all of us remember how the chief peoples of Hellas, Argives and Boeotians and Corinthians, came to feel the need of us, and, what is the greatest miracle of all, the Persian king himself was driven to such extremity as to come round to the opinion, that from this city, of which he was the destroyer, and from no other, his salvation would proceed.

And if a person desired to bring a deserved accusation against our city, he would find only one charge which he could justly urge⁠—that she was too compassionate and too favourable to the weaker side. And in this instance she was not able to hold out or keep her resolution of refusing aid to her injurers when they were being enslaved, but she was softened, and did in fact send out aid, and delivered the Hellenes from slavery, and they were free until they afterwards enslaved themselves. Whereas, to the great king she refused to give the assistance of the state, for she could not forget the trophies of Marathon and Salamis and Plataea; but she allowed exiles and volunteers to assist him, and they were his salvation. And she herself, when she was compelled, entered into the war, and built walls and ships, and fought with the Lacedaemonians on behalf of the Parians. Now the king fearing this city and wanting to stand aloof, when he saw the Lacedaemonians growing weary of the war at sea, asked of us, as the price of his alliance with us and the other allies, to give up the Hellenes in Asia, whom the Lacedaemonians had previously handed over to him, he thinking that we should refuse, and that then he might have a pretence for withdrawing from us. About the other allies he was mistaken, for the Corinthians and Argives and Boeotians, and the other states, were quite willing to let them go, and swore and covenanted, that, if he would pay them money, they would make over to him the Hellenes of the continent, and we alone refused to give them up and swear. Such was the natural nobility of this city, so sound and healthy was the spirit of freedom among us, and the instinctive dislike of the barbarian, because we are pure Hellenes, having no admixture of barbarism in us. For we are not like many others, descendants of Pelops or Cadmus or Egyptus or Danaus, who are by nature barbarians, and yet pass for Hellenes, and dwell in the midst of us; but we are pure Hellenes, uncontaminated by any foreign element, and therefore the hatred of the foreigner has passed unadulterated into the lifeblood of the city. And so, notwithstanding our noble sentiments, we were again isolated, because we were unwilling to be guilty of the base and unholy act of giving up Hellenes to barbarians. And we were in the same case as when we were subdued before; but, by the favour of Heaven, we managed better, for we ended the war without the loss of our ships or walls or colonies; the enemy was only too glad to be quit of us. Yet in this war we lost many brave men, such as were those who fell owing to the ruggedness of the ground at the battle of Corinth, or by treason at Lechaeum. Brave men, too, were those who delivered the Persian king, and drove the Lacedaemonians from the sea. I remind you of them, and you must celebrate them together with me, and do honour to their memories.

Such were the actions of the men who are here interred, and of others who have died on behalf of their country; many and glorious things I have spoken of them, and there are yet many more and more glorious things remaining to be told⁠—many days and nights would not suffice to tell of them. Let them not be forgotten, and let every man remind their descendants that they also are soldiers who must not desert the ranks of their ancestors, or from cowardice fall behind. Even as I exhort you this day, and in all future time, whenever I meet with any of you, shall continue to remind and exhort you, O ye sons of heroes, that you strive to be the bravest of men. And I think that I ought now to repeat what your fathers desired to have said to you who are their survivors, when they went out to battle, in case anything happened to them. I will tell you what I heard them say, and what, if they had only speech, they would fain be saying, judging from what they then said. And you must imagine that you hear them saying what I now repeat to you:⁠—

“Sons, the event proves that your fathers were brave men; for we might have lived dishonourably, but have preferred to die honourably rather than bring you and your children into disgrace, and rather than dishonour our own fathers and forefathers; considering that life is not life to one who is a dishonour to his race, and that to such a one neither men nor Gods are friendly, either while he is on the earth or after death in the world below. Remember our words, then, and whatever is your aim let virtue be the condition of the attainment of your aim, and know that without this all possessions and pursuits are dishonourable and evil. For neither does wealth bring honour to the owner, if he be a coward; of such a one the wealth belongs to another, and not to himself. Nor does beauty and strength of body, when dwelling in a base and cowardly man, appear comely, but the reverse of comely, making the possessor more conspicuous, and manifesting forth his cowardice. And all knowledge, when separated from justice and virtue, is seen to be cunning and not wisdom; wherefore make this your first and last and constant and all-absorbing aim, to exceed, if possible, not only us but all your ancestors in virtue; and know that to excel you in virtue only brings us shame, but that to be excelled by you is a source of happiness to us. And we shall most likely be defeated, and you will most likely be victors in the contest, if you learn so to order your lives as not to abuse or waste the reputation of your ancestors, knowing that to a man who has any self-respect, nothing is more dishonourable than to be honoured, not for his own sake, but on account of the reputation of his ancestors. The honour of parents is a fair and noble treasure to their posterity, but to have the use of a treasure of wealth and honour, and to leave none to your successors, because you have neither money nor reputation of your own, is alike base and dishonourable. And if you follow our precepts you will be received by us as friends, when the hour of destiny brings you hither; but if you neglect our words and are disgraced in your lives, no one will welcome or receive you. This is the message which is to be delivered to our children.

“Some of us have fathers and mothers still living, and we would urge them, if, as is likely, we shall die, to bear the calamity as lightly as possible, and not to condole with one another; for they have sorrows enough, and will not need anyone to stir them up. While we gently heal their wounds, let us remind them that the Gods have heard the chief part of their prayers; for they prayed, not that their children might live forever, but that they might be brave and renowned. And this, which is the greatest good, they have attained. A mortal man cannot expect to have everything in his own life turning out according to his will; and they, if they bear their misfortunes bravely, will be truly deemed brave fathers of the brave. But if they give way to their sorrows, either they will be suspected of not being our parents, or we of not being such as our panegyrists declare. Let not either of the two alternatives happen, but rather let them be our chief and true panegyrists, who show in their lives that they are true men, and had men for their sons. Of old the saying, ‘Nothing too much,’ appeared to be, and really was, well said. For he whose happiness rests with himself, if possible, wholly, and if not, as far as is possible⁠—who is not hanging in suspense on other men, or changing with the vicissitude of their fortune⁠—has his life ordered for the best. He is the temperate and valiant and wise; and when his riches come and go, when his children are given and taken away, he will remember the proverb⁠—‘Neither rejoicing overmuch nor grieving overmuch,’ for he relies upon himself. And such we would have our parents to be⁠—that is our word and wish, and as such we now offer ourselves, neither lamenting overmuch, nor fearing overmuch, if we are to die at this time. And we entreat our fathers and mothers to retain these feelings throughout their future life, and to be assured that they will not please us by sorrowing and lamenting over us. But, if the dead have any knowledge of the living, they will displease us most by making themselves miserable and by taking their misfortunes too much to heart, and they will please us best if they bear their loss lightly and temperately. For our life will have the noblest end which is vouchsafed to man, and should be glorified rather than lamented. And if they will direct their minds to the care and nurture of our wives and children, they will soonest forget their misfortunes, and live in a better and nobler way, and be dearer to us.

“This is all that we have to say to our families: and to the state we would say⁠—Take care of our parents and of our sons: let her worthily cherish the old age of our parents, and bring up our sons in the right way. But we know that she will of her own accord take care of them, and does not need any exhortation of ours.”

This, O ye children and parents of the dead, is the message which they bid us deliver to you, and which I do deliver with the utmost seriousness. And in their name I beseech you, the children, to imitate your fathers, and you, parents, to be of good cheer about yourselves; for we will nourish your age, and take care of you both publicly and privately in any place in which one of us may meet one of you who are the parents of the dead. And the care of you which the city shows, you know yourselves; for she has made provision by law concerning the parents and children of those who die in war; the highest authority is specially entrusted with the duty of watching over them above all other citizens, and they will see that your fathers and mothers have no wrong done to them. The city herself shares in the education of the children, desiring as far as it is possible that their orphanhood may not be felt by them; while they are children she is a parent to them, and when they have arrived at man’s estate she sends them to their several duties, in full armour clad; and bringing freshly to their minds the ways of their fathers, she places in their hands the instruments of their fathers’ virtues; for the sake of the omen, she would have them from the first begin to rule over their own houses arrayed in the strength and arms of their fathers. And as for the dead, she never ceases honouring them, celebrating in common for all rites which become the property of each; and in addition to this, holding gymnastic and equestrian contests, and musical festivals of every sort. She is to the dead in the place of a son and heir, and to their sons in the place of a father, and to their parents and elder kindred in the place of a guardian⁠—ever and always caring for them. Considering this, you ought to bear your calamity the more gently; for thus you will be most endeared to the dead and to the living, and your sorrows will heal and be healed. And now do you and all, having lamented the dead in common according to the law, go your ways.

You have heard, Menexenus, the oration of Aspasia the Milesian.

Menexenus Truly, Socrates, I marvel that Aspasia, who is only a woman, should be able to compose such a speech; she must be a rare one.
Socrates Well, if you are incredulous, you may come with me and hear her.
Menexenus I have often met Aspasia, Socrates, and know what she is like.
Socrates Well, and do you not admire her, and are you not grateful for her speech?
Menexenus Yes, Socrates, I am very grateful to her or to him who told you, and still more to you who have told me.
Socrates Very good. But you must take care not to tell of me, and then at some future time I will repeat to you many other excellent political speeches of hers.
Menexenus Fear not, only let me hear them, and I will keep the secret.
Socrates Then I will keep my promise.

Appendix II

The two dialogues which are translated in the second appendix are not mentioned by Aristotle, or by any early authority, and have no claim to be ascribed to Plato. They are examples of Platonic dialogues to be assigned probably to the second or third generation after Plato, when his writings were well known at Athens and Alexandria. They exhibit considerable originality, and are remarkable for containing several thoughts of the sort which we suppose to be modern rather than ancient, and which therefore have a peculiar interest for us. The “Second Alcibiades” shows that the difficulties about prayer which have perplexed Christian theologians were not unknown among the followers of Plato. The “Eryxias” was doubted by the ancients themselves: yet it may claim the distinction of being, among all Greek or Roman writings, the one which anticipates in the most striking manner the modern science of political economy and gives an abstract form to some of its principal doctrines.

For the translation of these two dialogues I am indebted to my friend and secretary, Mr. Knight.

That the Dialogue which goes by the name of the “Second Alcibiades” is a genuine writing of Plato will not be maintained by any modern critic, and was hardly believed by the ancients themselves. The dialectic is poor and weak. There is no power over language, or beauty of style; and there is a certain abruptness and ἀγροικία in the conversation, which is very un-Platonic. The best passage is probably that about the poets, 147:⁠—the remark that the poet, who is of a reserved disposition, is uncommonly difficult to understand, and the ridiculous interpretation of Homer, are entirely in the spirit of Plato (compare “Protagoras” 339 following; “Ion” 534; “Apology” 22 D). The characters are ill-drawn. Socrates assumes the “superior person” and preaches too much, while Alcibiades is stupid and heavy-in-hand. There are traces of Stoic influence in the general tone and phraseology of the Dialogue (compare 138 B, ὅπως μὴ λήσει τις⁠ ⁠… κακά: 139 C, ὅτι πᾶς ἄφρων μαίνεται): and the writer seems to have been acquainted with the Laws of Plato (compare Laws 3, 687, 688; 7, 801; 11, 931 B). An incident from the “Symposium” (213 E) is rather clumsily introduced (151 A), and two somewhat hackneyed quotations (“Symposium” 174 D, “Gorgias” 484 E) recur at 140 A and 146 A. The reference to the death of Archelaus as having occurred “quite lately” (141 D) is only a fiction, probably suggested by the “Gorgias,” 470 D, where the story of Archelaus is told, and a similar phrase occurs;⁠—τὰ γὰρ ἐχθὲς καὶ πρώην γεγονότα ταῦτα, κ.τ.λ. There are several passages which are either corrupt or extremely ill-expressed (see 144, 145, 146, 147, 150). But there is a modern interest in the subject of the dialogue; and it is a good example of a short spurious work, which may be attributed to the second or third century before Christ.

Second Alcibiades

Persons of the dialogue:

  • Socrates

  • Alcibiades

Socrates Are you going, Alcibiades, to offer prayer to Zeus?
Alcibiades Yes, Socrates, I am.
Socrates you seem to be troubled and to cast your eyes on the ground, as though you were thinking about something.
Alcibiades Of what do you suppose that I am thinking?
Socrates Of the greatest of all things, as I believe. Tell me, do you not suppose that the Gods sometimes partly grant and partly reject the requests which we make in public and private, and favour some persons and not others?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates Do you not imagine, then, that a man ought to be very careful, lest perchance without knowing it he implore great evils for himself, deeming that he is asking for good, especially if the Gods are in the mood to grant whatever he may request? There is the story of Oedipus, for instance, who prayed that his children might divide their inheritance between them by the sword: he did not, as he might have done, beg that his present evils might be averted, but called down new ones. And was not his prayer accomplished, and did not many and terrible evils thence arise, upon which I need not dilate?
Alcibiades Yes, Socrates, but you are speaking of a madman: surely you do not think that anyone in his senses would venture to make such a prayer?
Socrates Madness, then, you consider to be the opposite of discretion?
Alcibiades Of course.
Socrates And some men seem to you to be discreet, and others the contrary?
Alcibiades They do.
Socrates Well, then, let us discuss who these are. We acknowledge that some are discreet, some foolish, and that some are mad?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And again, there are some who are in health?
Alcibiades There are.
Socrates While others are ailing?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And they are not the same?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates Nor are there any who are in neither state?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates A man must either be sick or be well?
Alcibiades That is my opinion.
Socrates Very good: and do you think the same about discretion and want of discretion?
Alcibiades How do you mean?
Socrates Do you believe that a man must be either in or out of his senses; or is there some third or intermediate condition, in which he is neither one nor the other?
Alcibiades Decidedly not.
Socrates He must be either sane or insane?
Alcibiades So I suppose.
Socrates Did you not acknowledge that madness was the opposite of discretion?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And that there is no third or middle term between discretion and indiscretion?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And there cannot be two opposites to one thing?
Alcibiades There cannot.
Socrates Then madness and want of sense are the same?
Alcibiades That appears to be the case.
Socrates We shall be in the right, therefore, Alcibiades, if we say that all who are senseless are mad. For example, if among persons of your own age or older than yourself there are some who are senseless⁠—as there certainly are⁠—they are mad. For tell me, by heaven, do you not think that in the city the wise are few, while the foolish, whom you call mad, are many?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates But how could we live in safety with so many crazy people? Should we not long since have paid the penalty at their hands, and have been struck and beaten and endured every other form of ill-usage which madmen are wont to inflict? Consider, my dear friend: may it not be quite otherwise?
Alcibiades Why, Socrates, how is that possible? I must have been mistaken.
Socrates So it seems to me. But perhaps we may consider the matter thus:⁠—
Alcibiades How?
Socrates I will tell you. We think that some are sick; do we not?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And must every sick person either have the gout, or be in a fever, or suffer from ophthalmia? Or do you believe that a man may labour under some other disease, even although he has none of these complaints? Surely, they are not the only maladies which exist?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And is every kind of ophthalmia a disease?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And every disease ophthalmia?
Alcibiades Surely not. But I scarcely understand what I mean myself.
Socrates Perhaps, if you give me your best attention, “two of us” looking together, we may find what we seek.
Alcibiades I am attending, Socrates, to the best of my power.
Socrates We are agreed, then, that every form of ophthalmia is a disease, but not every disease ophthalmia?
Alcibiades We are.
Socrates And so far we seem to be right. For everyone who suffers from a fever is sick; but the sick, I conceive, do not all have fever or gout or ophthalmia, although each of these is a disease, which, according to those whom we call physicians, may require a different treatment. They are not all alike, nor do they produce the same result, but each has its own effect, and yet they are all diseases. May we not take an illustration from the artizans?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates There are cobblers and carpenters and sculptors and others of all sorts and kinds, whom we need not stop to enumerate. All have their distinct employments and all are workmen, although they are not all of them cobblers or carpenters or sculptors.
Alcibiades No, indeed.
Socrates And in like manner men differ in regard to want of sense. Those who are most out of their wits we call “madmen,” while we term those who are less far gone “stupid” or “idiotic,” or, if we prefer gentler language, describe them as “romantic” or “simple-minded,” or, again, as “innocent” or “inexperienced” or “foolish.” You may even find other names, if you seek for them; but by all of them lack of sense is intended. They only differ as one art appeared to us to differ from another or one disease from another. Or what is your opinion?
Alcibiades I agree with you.
Socrates Then let us return to the point at which we digressed. We said at first that we should have to consider who were the wise and who the foolish. For we acknowledged that there are these two classes? Did we not?
Alcibiades To be sure.
Socrates And you regard those as sensible who know what ought to be done or said?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates The senseless are those who do not know this?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates The latter will say or do what they ought not without their own knowledge?
Alcibiades Exactly.
Socrates Oedipus, as I was saying, Alcibiades, was a person of this sort. And even nowadays you will find many who (have offered inauspicious prayers), although, unlike him, they were not in anger nor thought that they were asking evil. He neither sought, nor supposed that he sought for good, but others have had quite the contrary notion. I believe that if the God whom you are about to consult should appear to you, and, in anticipation of your request, enquired whether you would be contented to become tyrant of Athens, and if this seemed in your eyes a small and mean thing, should add to it the dominion of all Hellas; and seeing that even then you would not be satisfied unless you were ruler of the whole of Europe, should promise, not only that, but, if you so desired, should proclaim to all mankind in one and the same day that Alcibiades, son of Cleinias, was tyrant:⁠—in such a case, I imagine, you would depart full of joy, as one who had obtained the greatest of goods.
Alcibiades And not only I, Socrates, but anyone else who should meet with such luck.
Socrates Yet you would not accept the dominion and lordship of all the Hellenes and all the barbarians in exchange for your life?
Alcibiades Certainly not: for then what use could I make of them?
Socrates And would you accept them if you were likely to use them to a bad and mischievous end?
Alcibiades I would not.

You see that it is not safe for a man either rashly to accept whatever is offered him, or himself to request a thing, if he is likely to suffer thereby or immediately to lose his life. And yet we could tell of many who, having long desired and diligently laboured to obtain a tyranny, thinking that thus they would procure an advantage, have nevertheless fallen victims to designing enemies. You must have heard of what happened only the other day, how Archelaus of Macedonia was slain by his beloved,612 whose love for the tyranny was not less than that of Archelaus for him. The tyrannicide expected by his crime to become tyrant and afterwards to have a happy life; but when he had held the tyranny three or four days, he was in his turn conspired against and slain. Or look at certain of our own citizens⁠—and of their actions we have been not hearers, but eyewitnesses⁠—who have desired to obtain military command: of those who have gained their object, some are even to this day exiles from the city, while others have lost their lives. And even they who seem to have fared best, have not only gone through many perils and terrors during their office, but after their return home they have been beset by informers worse than they once were by their foes, insomuch that several of them have wished that they had remained in a private station rather than have had the glories of command. If, indeed, such perils and terrors were of profit to the commonwealth, there would be reason in undergoing them; but the very contrary is the case. Again, you will find persons who have prayed for offspring, and when their prayers were heard, have fallen into the greatest pains and sufferings. For some have begotten children who were utterly bad, and have therefore passed all their days in misery, while the parents of good children have undergone the misfortune of losing them, and have been so little happier than the others that they would have preferred never to have had children rather than to have had them and lost them. And yet, although these and the like examples are manifest and known of all, it is rare to find anyone who has refused what has been offered him, or, if he were likely to gain aught by prayer, has refrained from making his petition. The mass of mankind would not decline to accept a tyranny, or the command of an army, or any of the numerous things which cause more harm than good: but rather, if they had them not, would have prayed to obtain them. And often in a short space of time they change their tone, and wish their old prayers unsaid. Wherefore also I suspect that men are entirely wrong when they blame the gods as the authors of the ills which befall them:613 “their own presumption,” or folly (whichever is the right word)⁠—

“Has brought these unmeasured woes upon them.”614

He must have been a wise poet, Alcibiades, who, seeing as I believe, his friends foolishly praying for and doing things which would not really profit them, offered up a common prayer in behalf of them all:⁠—

“King Zeus, grant us good whether prayed for or unsought by us;
But that which we ask amiss, do thou avert.”615

In my opinion, I say, the poet spoke both well and prudently; but if you have anything to say in answer to him, speak out.

Alcibiades It is difficult, Socrates, to oppose what has been well said. And I perceive how many are the ills of which ignorance is the cause, since, as would appear, through ignorance we not only do, but what is worse, pray for the greatest evils. No man would imagine that he would do so; he would rather suppose that he was quite capable of praying for what was best: to call down evils seems more like a curse than a prayer.
Socrates But perhaps, my good friend, someone who is wiser than either you or I will say that we have no right to blame ignorance thus rashly, unless we can add what ignorance we mean and of what, and also to whom and how it is respectively a good or an evil?
Alcibiades How do you mean? Can ignorance possibly be better than knowledge for any person in any conceivable case?
Socrates So I believe:⁠—you do not think so?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates And yet surely I may not suppose that you would ever wish to act towards your mother as they say that Orestes and Alcmeon and others have done towards their parent.
Alcibiades Good words, Socrates, prithee.
Socrates You ought not to bid him use auspicious words, who says that you would not be willing to commit so horrible a deed, but rather him who affirms the contrary, if the act appear to you unfit even to be mentioned. Or do you think that Orestes, had he been in his senses and knew what was best for him to do, would ever have dared to venture on such a crime?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates Nor would anyone else, I fancy?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates That ignorance is bad then, it would appear, which is of the best and does not know what is best?
Alcibiades So I think, at least.
Socrates And both to the person who is ignorant and everybody else?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Let us take another case. Suppose that you were suddenly to get into your head that it would be a good thing to kill Pericles, your kinsman and guardian, and were to seize a sword and, going to the doors of his house, were to enquire if he were at home, meaning to slay only him and no one else:⁠—the servants reply, “Yes”: (Mind, I do not mean that you would really do such a thing; but there is nothing, you think, to prevent a man who is ignorant of the best, having occasionally the whim that what is worst is best?
Alcibiades No.)
Socrates —If, then, you went indoors, and seeing him, did not know him, but thought that he was someone else, would you venture to slay him?
Alcibiades Most decidedly not (it seems to me).616
Socrates For you designed to kill, not the first who offered, but Pericles himself?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And if you made many attempts, and each time failed to recognize Pericles, you would never attack him?
Alcibiades Never.
Socrates Well, but if Orestes in like manner had not known his mother, do you think that he would ever have laid hands upon her?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates He did not intend to slay the first woman he came across, nor anyone else’s mother, but only his own?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates Ignorance, then, is better for those who are in such a frame of mind, and have such ideas?
Alcibiades Obviously.
Socrates You acknowledge that for some persons in certain cases the ignorance of some things is a good and not an evil, as you formerly supposed?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates And there is still another case which will also perhaps appear strange to you, if you will consider it?617
Alcibiades What is that, Socrates?
Socrates It may be, in short, that the possession of all the sciences, if unaccompanied by the knowledge of the best, will more often than not injure the possessor. Consider the matter thus:⁠—Must we not, when we intend either to do or say anything, suppose that we know or ought to know that which we propose so confidently to do or say?
Alcibiades Yes, in my opinion.
Socrates We may take the orators for an example, who from time to time advise us about war and peace, or the building of walls and the construction of harbours, whether they understand the business in hand, or only think that they do. Whatever the city, in a word, does to another city, or in the management of her own affairs, all happens by the counsel of the orators.
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But now see what follows, if I can (make it clear to you).618 You would distinguish the wise from the foolish?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates The many are foolish, the few wise?
Alcibiades Certainly.
Socrates And you use both the terms, “wise” and “foolish,” in reference to something?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates Would you call a person wise who can give advice, but does not know whether or when it is better to carry out the advice?
Alcibiades Decidedly not.
Socrates Nor again, I suppose, a person who knows the art of war, but does not know whether it is better to go to war or for how long?
Alcibiades No.
Socrates Nor, once more, a person who knows how to kill another or to take away his property or to drive him from his native land, but not when it is better to do so or for whom it is better?
Alcibiades Certainly not.
Socrates But he who understands anything of the kind and has at the same time the knowledge of the best course of action:⁠—and the best and the useful are surely the same?⁠—
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates —Such an one, I say, we should call wise and a useful adviser both of himself and of the city. What do you think?
Alcibiades I agree.
Socrates And if anyone knows how to ride or to shoot with the bow or to box or to wrestle, or to engage in any other sort of contest or to do anything whatever which is in the nature of an art⁠—what do you call him who knows what is best according to that art? Do you not speak of one who knows what is best in riding as a good rider?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And in a similar way you speak of a good boxer or a good flute-player or a good performer in any other art?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates But is it necessary that the man who is clever in any of these arts should be wise also in general? Or is there a difference between the clever artist and the wise man?
Alcibiades All the difference in the world.
Socrates And what sort of a state do you think that would be which was composed of good archers and flute-players and athletes and masters in other arts, and besides them of those others about whom we spoke, who knew how to go to war and how to kill, as well as of orators puffed up with political pride, but in which not one of them all had this knowledge of the best, and there was no one who could tell when it was better to apply any of these arts or in regard to whom?
Alcibiades I should call such a state bad, Socrates.

You certainly would when you saw each of them rivalling the other and esteeming that of the greatest importance in the state,

“Wherein he himself most excelled.”619

—I mean that which was best in any art, while he was entirely ignorant of what was best for himself and for the state, because, as I think, he trusts to opinion which is devoid of intelligence. In such a case should we not be right if we said that the state would be full of anarchy and lawlessness?

Alcibiades Decidedly.
Socrates But ought we not then, think you, either to fancy that we know or really to know, what we confidently propose to do or say?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates And if a person does that which he knows or supposes that he knows, and the result is beneficial, he will act advantageously both for himself and for the state?
Alcibiades True.
Socrates And if he do the contrary, both he and the state will suffer?
Alcibiades Yes.
Socrates Well, and are you of the same mind, as before?
Alcibiades I am.
Socrates But were you not saying that you would call the many unwise and the few wise?
Alcibiades I was.
Socrates And have we not come back to our old assertion that the many fail to obtain the best because they trust to opinion which is devoid of intelligence?
Alcibiades That is the case.
Socrates It is good, then, for the many, if they particularly desire to do that which they know or suppose that they know, neither to know nor to suppose that they know, in cases where if they carry out their ideas in action they will be losers rather than gainers?
Alcibiades What you say is very true.
Socrates Do you not see that I was really speaking the truth when I affirmed that the possession of any other kind of knowledge was more likely to injure than to benefit the possessor, unless he had also the knowledge of the best?
Alcibiades I do now, if I did not before, Socrates.

The state or the soul, therefore, which wishes to have a right existence must hold firmly to this knowledge, just as the sick man clings to the physician, or the passenger depends for safety on the pilot. And if the soul does not set sail until she have obtained this she will be all the safer in the voyage through life. But when she rushes in pursuit of wealth or bodily strength or anything else, not having the knowledge of the best, so much the more is she likely to meet with misfortune. And he who has the love of learning,620 and is skilful in many arts, and does not possess the knowledge of the best, but is under some other guidance, will make, as he deserves, a sorry voyage:⁠—he will, I believe, hurry through the brief space of human life, pilotless in mid-ocean, and the words will apply to him in which the poet blamed his enemy:⁠—

“… Full many a thing he knew;
But knew them all badly.”621

Alcibiades How in the world, Socrates, do the words of the poet apply to him? They seem to me to have no bearing on the point whatever.
Socrates Quite the contrary, my sweet friend: only the poet is talking in riddles after the fashion of his tribe. For all poetry has by nature an enigmatical character, and it is by no means everybody who can interpret it. And if, moreover, the spirit of poetry happen to seize on a man who is of a begrudging temper and does not care to manifest his wisdom but keeps it to himself as far as he can, it does indeed require an almost superhuman wisdom to discover what the poet would be at. You surely do not suppose that Homer, the wisest and most divine of poets, was unaware of the impossibility of knowing a thing badly: for it was no less a person than he who said of Margites that “he knew many things, but knew them all badly.” The solution of the riddle is this, I imagine:⁠—By “badly” Homer meant “bad” and “knew” stands for “to know.” Put the words together;⁠—the metre will suffer, but the poet’s meaning is clear;⁠—“Margites knew all these things, but it was bad for him to know them.” And, obviously, if it was bad for him to know so many things, he must have been a good-for-nothing, unless the argument has played us false.
Alcibiades But I do not think that it has, Socrates: at least, if the argument is fallacious, it would be difficult for me to find another which I could trust.
Socrates And you are right in thinking so.
Alcibiades Well, that is my opinion.
Socrates But tell me, by Heaven:⁠—you must see now the nature and greatness of the difficulty in which you, like others, have your part. For you change about in all directions, and never come to rest anywhere: what you once most strongly inclined to suppose, you put aside again and quite alter your mind. If the God to whose shrine you are going should appear at this moment, and ask before you made your prayer, “Whether you would desire to have one of the things which we mentioned at first, or whether he should leave you to make your own request”:⁠—what in either case, think you, would be the best way to take advantage of the opportunity?
Alcibiades Indeed, Socrates, I could not answer you without consideration. It seems to me to be a wild thing622 to make such a request; a man must be very careful lest he pray for evil under the idea that he is asking for good, when shortly after he may have to recall his prayer, and, as you were saying, demand the opposite of what he at first requested.
Socrates And was not the poet whose words I originally quoted wiser than we are, when he bade us (pray God) to defend us from evil even though we asked for it?
Alcibiades I believe that you are right.

The Lacedaemonians, too, whether from admiration of the poet or because they have discovered the idea for themselves, are wont to offer the prayer alike in public and private, that the Gods will give unto them the beautiful as well as the good:⁠—no one is likely to hear them make any further petition. And yet up to the present time they have not been less fortunate than other men; or if they have sometimes met with misfortune, the fault has not been due to their prayer. For surely, as I conceive, the Gods have power either to grant our requests, or to send us the contrary of what we ask.

And now I will relate to you a story which I have heard from certain of our elders. It chanced that when the Athenians and Lacedaemonians were at war, our city lost every battle by land and sea and never gained a victory. The Athenians being annoyed and perplexed how to find a remedy for their troubles, decided to send and enquire at the shrine of Ammon. Their envoys were also to ask, “Why the Gods always granted the victory to the Lacedaemonians?” “We,” (they were to say,) “offer them more and finer sacrifices than any other Hellenic state, and adorn their temples with gifts, as nobody else does; moreover, we make the most solemn and costly processions to them every year, and spend more money in their service than all the rest of the Hellenes put together. But the Lacedaemonians take no thought of such matters, and pay so little respect to the Gods that they have a habit of sacrificing blemished animals to them, and in various ways are less zealous than we are, although their wealth is quite equal to ours.” When they had thus spoken, and had made their request to know what remedy they could find against the evils which troubled them, the prophet made no direct answer⁠—clearly because he was not allowed by the God to do so;⁠—but he summoned them to him and said: “Thus saith Ammon to the Athenians: ‘The silent worship of the Lacedaemonians pleaseth me better than all the offerings of the other Hellenes.’ ” Such were the words of the God, and nothing more. He seems to have meant by “silent worship” the prayer of the Lacedaemonians, which is indeed widely different from the usual requests of the Hellenes. For they either bring to the altar bulls with gilded horns or make offerings to the Gods, and beg at random for what they need, good or bad. When, therefore, the Gods hear them using words of ill omen they reject these costly processions and sacrifices of theirs. And we ought, I think, to be very careful and consider well what we should say and what leave unsaid. Homer, too, will furnish us with similar stories. For he tells us how the Trojans in making their encampment,

“Offered up whole hecatombs to the immortals,”

and how the “sweet savour” was borne “to the heavens by the winds;

“But the blessed Gods were averse and received it not.
For exceedingly did they hate the holy Ilium,
Both Priam and the people of the spear-skilled king.”

So that it was in vain for them to sacrifice and offer gifts, seeing that they were hateful to the Gods, who are not, like vile usurers, to be gained over by bribes. And it is foolish for us to boast that we are superior to the Lacedaemonians by reason of our much worship. The idea is inconceivable that the Gods have regard, not to the justice and purity of our souls, but to costly processions and sacrifices, which men may celebrate year after year, although they have committed innumerable crimes against the Gods or against their fellow-men or the state. For the Gods, as Ammon and his prophet declare, are no receivers of gifts, and they scorn such unworthy service. Wherefore also it would seem that wisdom and justice are especially honoured both by the Gods and by men of sense; and they are the wisest and most just who know how to speak and act towards Gods and men. But I should like to hear what your opinion is about these matters.

Alcibiades I agree, Socrates, with you and with the God, whom, indeed, it would be unbecoming for me to oppose.
Socrates Do you not remember saying that you were in great perplexity, lest perchance you should ask for evil, supposing that you were asking for good?
Alcibiades I do.
Socrates You see, then, that there is a risk in your approaching the God in prayer, lest haply he should refuse your sacrifice when he hears the blasphemy which you utter, and make you partake of other evils as well. The wisest plan, therefore, seems to me that you should keep silence; for your “highmindedness”⁠—to use the mildest term which men apply to folly⁠—will most likely prevent you from using the prayer of the Lacedaemonians. You had better wait until we find out how we should behave towards the Gods and towards men.
Alcibiades And how long must I wait, Socrates, and who will be my teacher? I should be very glad to see the man.

It is he who takes an especial interest in you. But first of all, I think, the darkness must be taken away in which your soul is now enveloped, just as Athene in Homer removes the mist from the eyes of Diomede that

“He may distinguish between God and mortal man.”

Afterwards the means may be given to you whereby you may distinguish between good and evil. At present, I fear, this is beyond your power.

Alcibiades Only let my instructor take away the impediment, whether it pleases him to call it mist or anything else! I care not who he is; but I am resolved to disobey none of his commands, if I am likely to be the better for them.
Socrates And surely he has a wondrous care for you.
Alcibiades It seems to be altogether advisable to put off the sacrifice until he is found.
Socrates You are right: that will be safer than running such a tremendous risk.
Alcibiades But how shall we manage, Socrates?⁠—At any rate I will set this crown of mine upon your head, as you have given me such excellent advice, and to the Gods we will offer crowns and perform the other customary rites when I see that day approaching: nor will it be long hence, if they so will.

I accept your gift, and shall be ready and willing to receive whatever else you may proffer. Euripides makes Creon say in the play, when he beholds Teiresias with his crown and hears that he has gained it by his skill as the first-fruits of the spoil:⁠—

“An auspicious omen I deem thy victor’s wreath:
For well thou knowest that wave and storm oppress us.”

And so I count your gift to be a token of good-fortune; for I am in no less stress than Creon, and would fain carry off the victory over your lovers.



Much cannot be said in praise of the style or conception of the “Eryxias.” It is frequently obscure; like the exercise of a student, it is full of small imitations of Plato:⁠—Phaeax returning from an expedition to Sicily (compare Socrates in the “Charmides” from the army at Potidaea), the figure of the game at draughts, 395 B, borrowed from the Republic, VI 487, etc. It has also in many passages the ring of sophistry. On the other hand, the rather unhandsome treatment which is exhibited towards Prodicus is quite unlike the urbanity of Plato.

Yet there are some points in the argument which are deserving of attention. (1) That wealth depends upon the need of it or demand for it, is the first anticipation in an abstract form of one of the great principles of modern political economy, and the nearest approach to it to be found in an ancient writer. (2) The resolution of wealth into its simplest implements going on to infinity is a subtle and refined thought. (3) That wealth is relative to circumstances is a sound conception. (4) That the arts and sciences which receive payment are likewise to be comprehended under the notion of wealth, also touches a question of modern political economy. (5) The distinction of post hoc and propter hoc, often lost sight of in modern as well as in ancient times. These metaphysical conceptions and distinctions show considerable power of thought in the writer, whatever we may think of his merits as an imitator of Plato.


Persons of the dialogue:

  • Socrates

  • Eryxias

  • Erasistratus

  • Critias

Scene: The portico of a temple of Zeus.

It happened by chance that Eryxias the Steirian was walking with me in the Portico of Zeus the Deliverer, when there came up to us Critias and Erasistratus, the latter the son of Phaeax, who was the nephew of Erasistratus. Now Erasistratus had just arrived from Sicily and that part of the world. As they approached, he said, Hail, Socrates!

Socrates: The same to you, I said; have you any good news from Sicily to tell us?

Erasistratus: Most excellent. But, if you please, let us first sit down; for I am tired with my yesterday’s journey from Megara.

Socrates: Gladly, if that is your desire.

Erasistratus: What would you wish to hear first? he said. What the Sicilians are doing, or how they are disposed towards our city? To my mind, they are very like wasps: so long as you only cause them a little annoyance they are quite unmanageable; you must destroy their nests if you wish to get the better of them. And in a similar way, the Syracusans, unless we set to work in earnest, and go against them with a great expedition, will never submit to our rule. The petty injuries which we at present inflict merely irritate them enough to make them utterly intractable. And now they have sent ambassadors to Athens, and intend, I suspect, to play us some trick.⁠—While we were talking, the Syracusan envoys chanced to go by, and Erasistratus, pointing to one of them, said to me, That, Socrates, is the richest man in all Italy and Sicily. For who has larger estates or more land at his disposal to cultivate if he please? And they are of a quality, too, finer than any other land in Hellas. Moreover, he has all the things which go to make up wealth, slaves and horses innumerable, gold and silver without end.

I saw that he was inclined to expatiate on the riches of the man; so I asked him, Well, Erasistratus, and what sort of character does he bear in Sicily?

Erasistratus: He is esteemed to be, and really is, the wickedest of all the Sicilians and Italians, and even more wicked than he is rich; indeed, if you were to ask any Sicilian whom he thought to be the worst and the richest of mankind, you would never hear anyone else named.

I reflected that we were speaking, not of trivial matters, but about wealth and virtue, which are deemed to be of the greatest moment, and I asked Erasistratus whom he considered the wealthier⁠—he who was the possessor of a talent of silver or he who had a field worth two talents?

Erasistratus: The owner of the field.

Socrates: And on the same principle he who had robes and bedding and such things which are of greater value to him than to a stranger would be richer than the stranger?

Erasistratus: True.

Socrates: And if anyone gave you a choice, which of these would you prefer?

Erasistratus: That which was most valuable.

Socrates: In which way do you think you would be the richer?

Erasistratus: By choosing as I said.

Socrates: And he appears to you to be the richest who has goods of the greatest value?

Erasistratus: He does.

Socrates: And are not the healthy richer than the sick, since health is a possession more valuable than riches to the sick? Surely there is no one who would not prefer to be poor and well, rather than to have all the King of Persia’s wealth and to be ill. And this proves that men set health above wealth, else they would never choose the one in preference to the other.

Erasistratus: True.

Socrates: And if anything appeared to be more valuable than health, he would be the richest who possessed it?

Erasistratus: He would.

Socrates: Suppose that someone came to us at this moment and were to ask, Well, Socrates and Eryxias and Erasistratus, can you tell me what is of the greatest value to men? Is it not that of which the possession will best enable a man to advise how his own and his friend’s affairs should be administered?⁠—What will be our reply?

Erasistratus: I should say, Socrates, that happiness was the most precious of human possessions.

Socrates: Not a bad answer. But do we not deem those men who are most prosperous to be the happiest?

Erasistratus: That is my opinion.

Socrates: And are they not most prosperous who commit the fewest errors in respect either of themselves or of other men?

Erasistratus: Certainly.

Socrates: And they who know what is evil and what is good; what should be done and what should be left undone;⁠—these behave the most wisely and make the fewest mistakes?

Erasistratus agreed to this.

Socrates: Then the wisest and those who do best and the most fortunate and the richest would appear to be all one and the same, if wisdom is really the most valuable of our possessions?

Yes, said Eryxias, interposing, but what use would it be if a man had the wisdom of Nestor and wanted the necessaries of life, food and drink and clothes and the like? Where would be the advantage of wisdom then? Or how could he be the richest of men who might even have to go begging, because he had not wherewithal to live?

I thought that what Eryxias was saying had some weight, and I replied, Would the wise man really suffer in this way, if he were so ill-provided; whereas if he had the house of Polytion, and the house were full of gold and silver, he would lack nothing?

Eryxias: Yes; for then he might dispose of his property and obtain in exchange what he needed, or he might sell it for money with which he could supply his wants and in a moment procure abundance of everything.

Socrates: True, if he could find someone who preferred such a house to the wisdom of Nestor. But if there are persons who set great store by wisdom like Nestor’s and the advantages accruing from it, to sell these, if he were so disposed, would be easier still. Or is a house a most useful and necessary possession, and does it make a great difference in the comfort of life to have a mansion like Polytion’s instead of living in a shabby little cottage, whereas wisdom is of small use and it is of no importance whether a man is wise or ignorant about the highest matters? Or is wisdom despised of men and can find no buyers, although cypress wood and marble of Pentelicus are eagerly bought by numerous purchasers? Surely the prudent pilot or the skilful physician, or the artist of any kind who is proficient in his art, is more worth than the things which are especially reckoned among riches; and he who can advise well and prudently for himself and others is able also to sell the product of his art, if he so desire.

Eryxias looked askance, as if he had received some unfair treatment, and said, I believe, Socrates, that if you were forced to speak the truth, you would declare that you were richer than Callias the son of Hipponicus. And yet, although you claimed to be wiser about things of real importance, you would not any the more be richer than he.

I dare say, Eryxias, I said, that you may regard these arguments of ours as a kind of game; you think that they have no relation to facts, but are like the pieces in the game of draughts which the player can move in such a way that his opponents are unable to make any countermove.623 And perhaps, too, as regards riches you are of opinion that while facts remain the same, there are arguments, no matter whether true or false, which enable the user of them to prove that the wisest and the richest are one and the same, although he is in the wrong and his opponents are in the right. There would be nothing strange in this; it would be as if two persons were to dispute about letters, one declaring that the word Socrates began with an s, the other that it began with an a, and the latter could gain the victory over the former.

Eryxias glanced at the audience, laughing and blushing at once, as if he had had nothing to do with what had just been said, and replied⁠—No, indeed, Socrates, I never supposed that our arguments should be of a kind which would never convince any one of those here present or be of advantage to them. For what man of sense could ever be persuaded that the wisest and the richest are the same? The truth is that we are discussing the subject of riches, and my notion is that we should argue respecting the honest and dishonest means of acquiring them, and, generally, whether they are a good thing or a bad.

Very good, I said, and I am obliged to you for the hint: in future we will be more careful. But why do not you yourself, as you introduced the argument, and do not think that the former discussion touched the point at issue, tell us whether you consider riches to be a good or an evil?

I am of opinion, he said, that they are a good. He was about to add something more, when Critias interrupted him:⁠—Do you really suppose so, Eryxias?

Certainly, replied Eryxias; I should be mad if I did not: and I do not fancy that you would find anyone else of a contrary opinion.

And I, retorted Critias, should say that there is no one whom I could not compel to admit that riches are bad for some men. But surely, if they were a good, they could not appear bad for anyone?

Here I interposed and said to them: If you two were having an argument about equitation and what was the best way of riding, supposing that I knew the art myself, I should try to bring you to an agreement. For I should be ashamed if I were present and did not do what I could to prevent your difference. And I should do the same if you were quarrelling about any other art and were likely, unless you agreed on the point in dispute, to part as enemies instead of as friends. But now, when we are contending about a thing of which the usefulness continues during the whole of life, and it makes an enormous difference whether we are to regard it as beneficial or not⁠—a thing, too, which is esteemed of the highest importance by the Hellenes:⁠—(for parents, as soon as their children are, as they think, come to years of discretion, urge them to consider how wealth may be acquired, since by riches the value of a man is judged):⁠—When, I say, we are thus in earnest, and you, who agree in other respects, fall to disputing about a matter of such moment, that is, about wealth, and not merely whether it is black or white, light or heavy, but whether it is a good or an evil, whereby, although you are now the dearest of friends and kinsmen, the most bitter hatred may arise betwixt you, I must hinder your dissension to the best of my power. If I could, I would tell you the truth, and so put an end to the dispute; but as I cannot do this, and each of you supposes that you can bring the other to an agreement, I am prepared, as far as my capacity admits, to help you in solving the question. Please, therefore, Critias, try to make us accept the doctrines which you yourself entertain.

Critias: I should like to follow up the argument, and will ask Eryxias whether he thinks that there are just and unjust men?

Eryxias: Most decidedly.

Critias: And does injustice seem to you an evil or a good?

Eryxias: An evil.

Critias: Do you consider that he who bribes his neighbour’s wife and commits adultery with her, acts justly or unjustly, and this although both the state and the laws forbid?

Eryxias: Unjustly.

Critias: And if the wicked man has wealth and is willing to spend it, he will carry out his evil purposes? whereas he who is short of means cannot do what he fain would, and therefore does not sin? In such a case, surely, it is better that a person should not be wealthy, if his poverty prevents the accomplishment of his desires, and his desires are evil? Or, again, should you call sickness a good or an evil?

Eryxias: An evil.

Critias: Well, and do you think that some men are intemperate?

Eryxias: Yes.

Critias: Then, if it is better for his health that the intemperate man should refrain from meat and drink and other pleasant things, but he cannot owing to his intemperance, will it not also be better that he should be too poor to gratify his lust rather than that he should have a superabundance of means? For thus he will not be able to sin, although he desire never so much.

Critias appeared to be arguing so admirably that Eryxias, if he had not been ashamed of the bystanders, would probably have got up and struck him. For he thought that he had been robbed of a great possession when it became obvious to him that he had been wrong in his former opinion about wealth. I observed his vexation, and feared that they would proceed to abuse and quarrelling: so I said⁠—I heard that very argument used in the Lyceum yesterday by a wise man, Prodicus of Ceos; but the audience thought that he was talking mere nonsense, and no one could be persuaded that he was speaking the truth. And when at last a certain talkative young gentleman came in, and, taking his seat, began to laugh and jeer at Prodicus, tormenting him and demanding an explanation of his argument, he gained the ear of the audience far more than Prodicus.

Can you repeat the discourse to us? Said Erasistratus.

Socrates: If I can only remember it, I will. The youth began by asking Prodicus, In what way did he think that riches were a good and in what an evil? Prodicus answered, as you did just now, that they were a good to good men and to those who knew in what way they should be employed, while to the bad and the ignorant they were an evil. The same is true, he went on to say, of all other things; men make them to be what they are themselves. The saying of Archilochus is true:⁠—

“Men’s thoughts correspond to the things which they meet with.”

Well, then, replied the youth, if anyone makes me wise in that wisdom whereby good men become wise, he must also make everything else good to me. Not that he concerns himself at all with these other things, but he has converted my ignorance into wisdom. If, for example, a person teach me grammar or music, he will at the same time teach me all that relates to grammar or music, and so when he makes me good, he makes things good to me.

Prodicus did not altogether agree: still he consented to what was said.

And do you think, said the youth, that doing good things is like building a house⁠—the work of human agency; or do things remain what they were at first, good or bad, for all time?

Prodicus began to suspect, I fancy, the direction which the argument was likely to take, and did not wish to be put down by a mere stripling before all those present:⁠—(if they two had been alone, he would not have minded):⁠—so he answered, cleverly enough: I think that doing good things is a work of human agency.

And is virtue in your opinion, Prodicus, innate or acquired by instruction?

The latter, said Prodicus.

Then you would consider him a simpleton who supposed that he could obtain by praying to the Gods the knowledge of grammar or music or any other art, which he must either learn from another or find out for himself?

Prodicus agreed to this also.

And when you pray to the Gods that you may do well and receive good, you mean by your prayer nothing else than that you desire to become good and wise:⁠—if, at least, things are good to the good and wise and evil to the evil. But in that case, if virtue is acquired by instruction, it would appear that you only pray to be taught what you do not know.

Hereupon I said to Prodicus that it was no misfortune to him if he had been proved to be in error in supposing that the Gods immediately granted to us whatever we asked:⁠—if, I added, whenever you go up to the Acropolis you earnestly entreat the Gods to grant you good things, although you know not whether they can yield your request, it is as though you went to the doors of the grammarian and begged him, although you had never made a study of the art, to give you a knowledge of grammar which would enable you forthwith to do the business of a grammarian.

While I was speaking, Prodicus was preparing to retaliate upon his youthful assailant, intending to employ the argument of which you have just made use; for he was annoyed to have it supposed that he offered a vain prayer to the Gods. But the master of the gymnasium came to him and begged him to leave because he was teaching the youths doctrines which were unsuited to them, and therefore bad for them.

I have told you this because I want you to understand how men are circumstanced in regard to philosophy. Had Prodicus been present and said what you have said, the audience would have thought him raving, and he would have been ejected from the gymnasium. But you have argued so excellently well that you have not only persuaded your hearers, but have brought your opponent to an agreement. For just as in the law courts, if two witnesses testify to the same fact, one of whom seems to be an honest fellow and the other a rogue, the testimony of the rogue often has the contrary effect on the judges’ minds to what he intended, while the same evidence if given by the honest man at once strikes them as perfectly true. And probably the audience have something of the same feeling about yourself and Prodicus; they think him a Sophist and a braggart, and regard you as a gentleman of courtesy and worth. For they do not pay attention to the argument so much as to the character of the speaker.

But truly, Socrates, said Erasistratus, though you may be joking, Critias does seem to me to be saying something which is of weight.

Socrates: I am in profound earnest, I assure you. But why, as you have begun your argument so prettily, do you not go on with the rest? There is still something lacking, now you have agreed that (wealth) is a good to some and an evil to others. It remains to enquire what constitutes wealth; for unless you know this, you cannot possibly come to an understanding as to whether it is a good or an evil. I am ready to assist you in the enquiry to the utmost of my power: but first let him who affirms that riches are a good, tell us what, in his opinion, is wealth.

Erasistratus: Indeed, Socrates, I have no notion about wealth beyond that which men commonly have. I suppose that wealth is a quantity of money;624 and this, I imagine, would also be Critias’ definition.

Socrates: Then now we have to consider, What is money? Or else later on we shall be found to differ about the question. For instance, the Carthaginians use money of this sort. Something which is about the size of a stater is tied up in a small piece of leather: what it is, no one knows but the makers. A seal is next set upon the leather, which then passes into circulation, and he who has the largest number of such pieces is esteemed the richest and best off. And yet if anyone among us had a mass of such coins he would be no wealthier than if he had so many pebbles from the mountain. At Lacedaemon, again, they use iron by weight which has been rendered useless: and he who has the greatest mass of such iron is thought to be the richest, although elsewhere it has no value. In Ethiopia engraved stones are employed, of which a Lacedaemonian could make no use. Once more, among the Nomad Scythians a man who owned the house of Polytion would not be thought richer than one who possessed Mount Lycabettus among ourselves. And clearly those things cannot all be regarded as possessions; for in some cases the possessors would appear none the richer thereby: but, as I was saying, some one of them is thought in one place to be money, and the possessors of it are the wealthy, whereas in some other place it is not money, and the ownership of it does not confer wealth; just as the standard of morals varies, and what is honourable to some men is dishonourable to others. And if we wish to enquire why a house is valuable to us but not to the Scythians, or why the Carthaginians value leather which is worthless to us, or the Lacedaemonians find wealth in iron and we do not, can we not get an answer in some such way as this: Would an Athenian, who had a thousand talents weight of the stones which lie about in the Agora and which we do not employ for any purpose, be thought to be any the richer?

Erasistratus: He certainly would not appear so to me.

Socrates: But if he possessed a thousand talents weight of some precious stone, we should say that he was very rich?

Erasistratus: Of course.

Socrates: The reason is that the one is useless and the other useful?

Erasistratus: Yes.

Socrates: And in the same way among the Scythians a house has no value because they have no use for a house, nor would a Scythian set so much store on the finest house in the world as on a leather coat, because he could use the one and not the other. Or again, the Carthaginian coinage is not wealth in our eyes, for we could not employ it, as we can silver, to procure what we need, and therefore it is of no use to us.

Erasistratus: True.

Socrates: What is useful to us, then, is wealth, and what is useless to us is not wealth?

But how do you mean, Socrates? said Eryxias, interrupting. Do we not employ in our intercourse with one another speech and violence (?) and various other things? These are useful and yet they are not wealth.

Socrates: Clearly we have not yet answered the question, What is wealth? That wealth must be useful, to be wealth at all⁠—thus much is acknowledged by everyone. But what particular thing is wealth, if not all things? Let us pursue the argument in another way; and then we may perhaps find what we are seeking. What is the use of wealth, and for what purpose has the possession of riches been invented⁠—in the sense, I mean, in which drugs have been discovered for the cure of disease? Perhaps in this way we may throw some light on the question. It appears to be clear that whatever constitutes wealth must be useful, and that wealth is one class of useful things; and now we have to enquire, What is the use of those useful things which constitute wealth? For all things probably may be said to be useful which we use in production, just as all things which have life are animals, but there is a special kind of animal which we call “man.” Now if anyone were to ask us, What is that of which, if we were rid, we should not want medicine and the instruments of medicine, we might reply that this would be the case if disease were absent from our bodies and either never came to them at all or went away again as soon as it appeared; and we may therefore conclude that medicine is the science which is useful for getting rid of disease. But if we are further asked, What is that from which, if we were free, we should have no need of wealth? can we give an answer? If we have none, suppose that we restate the question thus:⁠—If a man could live without food or drink, and yet suffer neither hunger nor thirst, would he want either money or anything else in order to supply his needs?

Eryxias: He would not.

Socrates: And does not this apply in other cases? If we did not want for the service of the body the things of which we now stand in need, and heat and cold and the other bodily sensations were unperceived by us, there would be no use in this so-called wealth, if no one, that is, had any necessity for those things which now make us wish for wealth in order that we may satisfy the desires and needs of the body in respect of our various wants. And therefore if the possession of wealth is useful in ministering to our bodily wants, and bodily wants were unknown to us, we should not need wealth, and possibly there would be no such thing as wealth.

Eryxias: Clearly not.

Socrates: Then our conclusion is, as would appear, that wealth is what is useful to this end?

Eryxias once more gave his assent, but the small argument considerably troubled him.

Socrates: And what is your opinion about another question:⁠—Would you say that the same thing can be at one time useful and at another useless for the production of the same result?

Eryxias: I cannot say more than that if we require the same thing to produce the same result, then it seems to me to be useful; if not, not.

Socrates: Then if without the aid of fire we could make a brazen statue, we should not want fire for that purpose; and if we did not want it, it would be useless to us? And the argument applies equally in other cases.

Eryxias: Clearly.

Socrates: And therefore conditions which are not required for the existence of a thing are not useful for the production of it?

Eryxias: Of course not.

Socrates: And if without gold or silver or anything else which we do not use directly for the body in the way that we do food and drink and bedding and houses⁠—if without these we could satisfy the wants of the body, they would be of no use to us for that purpose?

Eryxias: They would not.

Socrates: They would no longer be regarded as wealth, because they are useless, whereas that would be wealth which enabled us to obtain what was useful to us?

Eryxias: O Socrates, you will never be able to persuade me that gold and silver and similar things are not wealth. But I am very strongly of opinion that things which are useless to us are not wealth, and that the money which is useful for this purpose is of the greatest use; not that these things are not useful towards life, if by them we can procure wealth.

Socrates: And how would you answer another question? There are persons, are there not, who teach music and grammar and other arts for pay, and thus procure those things of which they stand in need?

Eryxias: There are.

Socrates: And these men by the arts which they profess, and in exchange for them, obtain the necessities of life just as we do by means of gold and silver?

Eryxias: True.

Socrates: Then if they procure by this means what they want for the purposes of life, that art will be useful towards life? For do we not say that silver is useful because it enables us to supply our bodily needs?

Eryxias: We do.

Socrates: Then if these arts are reckoned among things useful, the arts are wealth for the same reason as gold and silver are, for, clearly, the possession of them gives wealth. Yet a little while ago we found it difficult to accept the argument which proved that the wisest are the wealthiest. But now there seems no escape from this conclusion. Suppose that we are asked, “Is a horse useful to everybody?” will not our reply be, “No, but only to those who know how to use a horse?”

Eryxias: Certainly.

Socrates: And so, too, physic is not useful to everyone, but only to him who knows how to use it?

Eryxias: True.

Socrates: And the same is the case with everything else?

Eryxias: Yes.

Socrates: Then gold and silver and all the other elements which are supposed to make up wealth are only useful to the person who knows how to use them?

Eryxias: Exactly.

Socrates: And were we not saying before that it was the business of a good man and a gentleman to know where and how anything should be used?

Eryxias: Yes.

Socrates: The good and gentle, therefore will alone have profit from these things, supposing at least that they know how to use them. But if so, to them only will they seem to be wealth. It appears, however, that where a person is ignorant of riding, and has horses which are useless to him, if someone teaches him that art, he makes him also richer, for what was before useless has now become useful to him, and in giving him knowledge he has also conferred riches upon him.

Eryxias: That is the case.

Socrates: Yet I dare be sworn that Critias will not be moved a whit by the argument.

Critias: No, by heaven, I should be a madman if I were. But why do you not finish the argument which proves that gold and silver and other things which seem to be wealth are not real wealth? For I have been exceedingly delighted to hear the discourses which you have just been holding.

Socrates: My argument, Critias (I said), appears to have given you the same kind of pleasure which you might have derived from some rhapsode’s recitation of Homer; for you do not believe a word of what has been said. But come now, give me an answer to this question. Are not certain things useful to the builder when he is building a house?

Critias: They are.

Socrates: And would you say that those things are useful which are employed in house building⁠—stones and bricks and beams and the like, and also the instruments with which the builder built the house, the beams and stones which they provided, and again the instruments by which these were obtained?

Critias: It seems to me that they are all useful for building.

Socrates: And is it not true of every art, that not only the materials but the instruments by which we procure them and without which the work could not go on, are useful for that art?

Critias: Certainly.

Socrates: And further, the instruments by which the instruments are procured, and so on, going back from stage to stage ad infinitum⁠—are not all these, in your opinion, necessary in order to carry out the work?

Critias: We may fairly suppose such to be the case.

Socrates: And if a man has food and drink and clothes and the other things which are useful to the body, would he need gold or silver or any other means by which he could procure that which he now has?

Critias: I do not think so.

Socrates: Then you consider that a man never wants any of these things for the use of the body?

Critias: Certainly not.

Socrates: And if they appear useless to this end, ought they not always to appear useless? For we have already laid down the principle that things cannot be at one time useful and at another time not, in the same process.

Critias: But in that respect your argument and mine are the same. For you maintain if they are useful to a certain end, they can never become useless; whereas I say that in order to accomplish some results bad things are needed, and good for others.

Socrates: But can a bad thing be used to carry out a good purpose?

Critias: I should say not.

Socrates: And we call those actions good which a man does for the sake of virtue?

Critias: Yes.

Socrates: But can a man learn any kind of knowledge which is imparted by word of mouth if he is wholly deprived of the sense of hearing?

Critias: Certainly not, I think.

Socrates: And will not hearing be useful for virtue, if virtue is taught by hearing and we use the sense of hearing in giving instruction?

Critias: Yes.

Socrates: And since medicine frees the sick man from his disease, that art too may sometimes appear useful in the acquisition of virtue, e.g. when hearing is procured by the aid of medicine.

Critias: Very likely.

Socrates: But if, again, we obtain by wealth the aid of medicine, shall we not regard wealth as useful for virtue?

Critias: True.

Socrates: And also the instruments by which wealth is procured?

Critias: Certainly.

Socrates: Then you think that a man may gain wealth by bad and disgraceful means, and, having obtained the aid of medicine which enables him to acquire the power of hearing, may use that very faculty for the acquisition of virtue?

Critias: Yes, I do.

Socrates: But can that which is evil be useful for virtue?

Critias: No.

Socrates: It is not therefore necessary that the means by which we obtain what is useful for a certain object should always be useful for the same object: for it seems that bad actions may sometimes serve good purposes? The matter will be still plainer if we look at it in this way:⁠—If things are useful towards the several ends for which they exist, which ends would not come into existence without them, how would you regard them? Can ignorance, for instance, be useful for knowledge, or disease for health, or vice for virtue?

Critias: Never.

Socrates: And yet we have already agreed⁠—have we not?⁠—that there can be no knowledge where there has not previously been ignorance, nor health where there has not been disease, nor virtue where there has not been vice?

Critias: I think that we have.

Socrates: But then it would seem that the antecedents without which a thing cannot exist are not necessarily useful to it. Otherwise ignorance would appear useful for knowledge, disease for health, and vice for virtue.

Critias still showed great reluctance to accept any argument which went to prove that all these things were useless. I saw that it was as difficult to persuade him as (according to the proverb) it is to boil a stone, so I said: Let us bid “goodbye” to the discussion, since we cannot agree whether these things are useful and a part of wealth or not. But what shall we say to another question: Which is the happier and better man⁠—he who requires the greatest quantity of necessaries for body and diet, or he who requires only the fewest and least? The answer will perhaps become more obvious if we suppose someone, comparing the man himself at different times, to consider whether his condition is better when he is sick or when he is well?

Critias: That is not a question which needs much consideration.

Socrates: Probably, I said, everyone can understand that health is a better condition than disease. But when have we the greatest and the most various needs, when we are sick or when we are well?

Critias: When we are sick.

Socrates: And when we are in the worst state we have the greatest and most especial need and desire of bodily pleasures?

Critias: True.

Socrates: And seeing that a man is best off when he is least in need of such things, does not the same reasoning apply to the case of any two persons, of whom one has many and great wants and desires, and the other few and moderate? For instance, some men are gamblers, some drunkards, and some gluttons: and gambling and the love of drink and greediness are all desires?

Critias: Certainly.

Socrates: But desires are only the lack of something: and those who have the greatest desires are in a worse condition than those who have none or very slight ones?

Critias: Certainly I consider that those who have such wants are bad, and that the greater their wants the worse they are.

Socrates: And do we think it possible that a thing should be useful for a purpose unless we have need of it for that purpose?

Critias: No.

Socrates: Then if these things are useful for supplying the needs of the body, we must want them for that purpose?

Critias: That is my opinion.

Socrates: And he to whom the greatest number of things are useful for his purpose, will also want the greatest number of means of accomplishing it, supposing that we necessarily feel the want of all useful things?

Critias: It seems so.

Socrates: The argument proves then that he who has great riches has likewise need of many things for the supply of the wants of the body; for wealth appears useful towards that end. And the richest must be in the worst condition, since they seem to be most in want of such things.