Book II

At another time the differences between two brothers named Chaerephon and Chaerecrates, both well known to him, had drawn his attention; and on seeing the younger of the two he thus addresed him.

Socrates. Tell me, Chaerecrates, you are not, I take it, one of those strange people who believe that goods are better and more precious than a brother;[1] and that too although the former are but senseless chattels which need protection, the latter a sensitive and sensible being who can afford it; and what is more, he is himself alone, whilst as for them their name is legion. And here again is a marvellous thing: that a man should count his brother a loss, because the goods of his brother are not his; but he does not count his fellow-citizens loss, and yet their possessions are not his; only it seems in their case he has wits to see that to dwell securely with many and have enough is better than to own the whole wealth of a community and to live in dangerous isolation; but this same doctrine as applied to brothers they ignore. Again, if a man have the means, he will purchase domestic slaves, because he wants assistants in his work; he will acquire friends, because he needs their support; but this brother of his--who cares about brothers? It seems a friend may be discovered in an ordinary citizen, but not in a blood relation who is also a brother. And yet it is a great vantage-ground towards friendship to have sprung from the same loins and to have been suckled at the same breasts, since even among beasts a certain natural craving, and sympathy springs up between creatures reared together.[2] Added to which, a man who has brothers commands more respect from the rest of the world than the man who has none, and who must fight his own battles.[3]

Chaerephon. I daresay, Socrates, where the differences are not profound, reason would a man should bear with his brother, and not avoid him for some mere trifle's sake, for a brother of the right sort is, as you say, a blessing; but if he be the very antithesis of that, why should a man lay his hand to achieve the impossible?

Socrates. Well now, tell me, is there nobody whom Chaerephon can please any more than he can please yourself; or do some people find him agreeable enough?

Chaerephon. Nay, there you hit it. That is just why I have a right to detest him. He can be pleasing enough to others, but to me, whenever he appears on the scene, he is not a blessing--no! but by every manner of means the reverse.

Socrates. May it not happen that just as a horse is no gain to the inexpert rider who essays to handle him, so in like manner, if a man tries to deal with his brother after an ignorant fashion, this same brother will kick?

Chaerephon. But is it likely now? How should I be ignorant of the art of dealing with my brother if I know the art of repaying kind words and good deeds in kind? But a man who tries all he can to annoy me by word and deed, I can neither bless nor benefit, and, what is more, I will not try.

Socrates. Well now, that is a marvellous statement, Chaerecrates. Your dog, the serviceable guardian of your flocks, who will fawn and lick the hand of your shepherd, when you come near him can only growl and show his teeth. Well; you take no notice of the dog's ill-temper, you try to propitiate him by kindness; but your brother? If your brother were what he ought to be, he would be a great blessing to you--that you admit; and, as you further confess, you know the secret of kind acts and words, yet you will not set yourself to apply means to make him your best of friends.

Chaerephon. I am afraid, Socrates, that I have no wisdom or cunning to make Chaerephon bear himself towards me as he should.

Socrates. Yet there is no need to apply any recondite or novel machinery. Only bait your hook in the way best known to yourself, and you will capture him; whereupon he will become your devoted friend.

Chaerephon. If you are aware that I know some love-charm, Socrates, of which I am the happy but unconscious possessor, pray make haste and enlighten me.

Socrates. Answer me then. Suppose you wanted to get some acquaintance to invite you to dinner when he next keeps holy day,[4] what steps would you take?

Chaerephon. No doubt I should set him a good example by inviting him myself on a like occasion.

Socrates. And if you wanted to induce some friend to look after your affairs during your absence abroad, how would you achieve your purpose?

Chaerephon. No doubt I should present a precedent in undertaking to look after his in like circumstances.

Socrates. And if you wished to get some foreign friend to take you under his roof while visiting his country, what would you do?

Chaerephon. No doubt I should begin by offering him the shelter of my own roof when he came to Athens, in order to enlist his zeal in furthering the objects of my visit; it is plain I should first show my readiness to do as much for him in a like case.

Socrates. Why, it seems you are an adept after all in all the philtres known to man, only you chose to conceal your knowledge all the while; or is it that you shrink from taking the first step because of the scandal you will cause by kindly advances to your brother? And yet it is commonly held to redound to a man's praise to have outstripped an enemy in mischief or a friend in kindness. Now if it seemed to me that Chaerephon were better fitted to lead the way towards this friendship,[5] I should have tried to persuade him to take the first step in winning your affection, but now I am persuaded the first move belongs to you, and to you the final victory.

Chaerephon. A startling announcement, Socrates, from your lips, and most unlike you, to bid me the younger take precedence of my elder brother. Why, it is contrary to the universal custom of mankind, who look to the elder to take the lead in everything, whether as a speaker or an actor.

Socrates. How so? Is it not the custom everywhere for the younger to step aside when he meets his elder in the street and to give him place? Is he not expected to get up and offer him his seat, to pay him the honour of a soft couch,[6] to yield him precedence in argument?

My good fellow, do not stand shilly-shallying,[7] but put out your hand caressingly, and you will see the worthy soul will respond at once with alacrity. Do you not note your brother's character, proud and frank and sensitive to honour? He is not a mean and sorry rascal to be caught by a bribe--no better way indeed for such riff-raff. No! gentle natures need a finer treatment. You can best hope to work on them by affection.

Chaerephon. But suppose I do, and suppose that, for all my attempts, he shows no change for the better?

Socrates. At the worst you will have shown yourself to be a good, honest, brotherly man, and he will appear as a sorry creature on whom kindness is wasted. But nothing of the sort is going to happen, as I conjecture. My belief is that as soon as he hears your challenge, he will embrace the contest; pricked on by emulous pride, he will insist upon getting the better of you in kindness of word and deed.

At present you two are in the condition of two hands formed by God to help each other, but which have let go their business and have turned to hindering one another all they can. You are a pair of feet fashioned on the Divine plan to work together, but which have neglected this in order to trammel each other's gait. Now is it not insensate stupidity[8] to use for injury what was meant for advantage? And yet in fashioning two brothers God intends them, methinks, to be of more benefit to one another than either two hands, or two feet, or two eyes, or any other of those pairs which belong to man from his birth.[9] Consider how powerless these hands of ours if called upon to combine their action at two points more than a single fathom's length apart;[10] and these feet could not stretch asunder[11] even a bare fathom; and these eyes, for all the wide-reaching range we claim for them, are incapable of seeing simultaneously the back and front of an object at even closer quarters. But a pair of brothers, linked in bonds of amity, can work each for the other's good, though seas divide them.[12]

[1] Cf. "Merchant of Venice," II. viii. 17: "Justice! the law! my ducats, and my daughter!"

[2] Or, "a yearning after their foster-brothers manifests itself in animals." See "Cyrop." VIII. vii. 14 foll. for a parallel to this discussion.

[3] Lit. "and is less liable to hostility."

[4] "When he next does sacrifice"; see "Hiero," viii. 3. Cf. Theophr. "Char." xv. 2, and Prof. Jebb's note ad loc.

[5] Reading {pros ten philian}, or if {phusin}, transl. "natural disposition."

[6] Lit. "with a soft bed," or, as we say, "the best bedroom."

[7] Or, "have no fears, essay a soothing treatment."

[8] "Boorishness verging upon monomania."

[9] "With which man is endowed at birth."

[10] "More than an 'arms'-stretch' asunder."

[11] Lit. "reach at one stretch two objects, even over that small distance."

[12] "Though leagues separate them."