Book II
VII
 

He had two ways of dealing with the difficulties of his friends: where ignorance was the cause, he tried to meet the trouble by a dose of common sense; or where want and poverty were to blame, by lessoning them that they should assist one another according to their ability; and here I may mention certain incidents which occurred within my own knowledge. How, for instance, he chanced upon Aristarchus wearing the look of one who suffered from a fit of the "sullens," and thus accosted him.

Socrates. You seem to have some trouble on your mind, Aristarchus; if so, you should share it with your friends. Perhaps together we might lighten the weight of it a little.

Aristarchus answered: Yes, Socrates, I am in sore straits indeed. Ever since the party strife declared itself in the city,[1] what with the rush of people to Piraeus, and the wholesale banishments, I have been fairly at the mercy of my poor deserted female relatives. Sisters, nieces, cousins, they have all come flocking to me for protection. I have fourteen free-born souls, I tell you, under my single roof, and how are we to live? We can get nothing out of the soil--that is in the hands of the enemy; nothing from my house property, for there is scarcely a living soul left in the city; my furniture? no one will buy it; money? there is none to be borrowed--you would have a better chance to find it by looking for it on the road than to borrow it from a banker. Yes, Socrates, to stand by and see one's relatives die of hunger is hard indeed, and yet to feed so many at such a pinch impossible.

After he listened to the story, Socrates asked: How comes it that Ceramon,[2] with so many mouths to feed, not only contrives to furnish himself and them with the necessaries of life, but to realise a handsome surplus, whilst you being in like plight[3] are afraid you will one and all perish of starvation for want of the necessaries of life?

Aristodemus. Why, bless your soul, do you not see he has only slaves and I have free-born souls to feed?

Socrates. And which should you say were the better human beings, the free- born members of your household or Ceramon's slaves?

Aristodemus. The free souls under my roof without a doubt.

Socrates. Is it not a shame, then, that he with his baser folk to back him should be in easy circumstances, while you and your far superior household are in difficulties?

Aristodemus. To be sure it is, when he has only a set of handicraftsmen to feed, and I my liberally-educated household.

Socrates. What is a handicraftsman? Does not the term apply to all who can make any sort of useful product or commodity?

Aristodemus. Certainly.

Socrates. Barley meal is a useful product, is it not?

Aristodemus. Pre-eminently so.

Socrates. And loaves of bread?

Aristodemus. No less.

Socrates. Well, and what do you say to cloaks for men and for women-- tunics, mantles, vests?[4]

Aristodemus. Yes, they are all highly useful commodities.

Socrates. Then your household do not know how to make any of these?

Aristodemus. On the contrary, I believe they can make them all.

Socrates. Then you are not aware that by means of the manufacture of one of these alone--his barley meal store--Nausicydes[5] not only maintains himself and his domestics, but many pigs and cattle besides, and realises such large profits that he frequently contributes to the state benevolences;[6] while there is Cyrebus, again, who, out of a bread factory, more than maintains the whole of his establishment, and lives in the lap of luxury; and Demeas of Collytus gets a livelihood out of a cloak business, and Menon as a mantua-maker, and so, again, more than half the Megarians[7] by the making of vests.

Aristodemus. Bless me, yes! They have got a set of barbarian fellows, whom they purchase and keep, to manufacture by forced labour whatever takes their fancy. My kinswomen, I need not tell you, are free-born ladies.

Socrates. Then, on the ground that they are free-born and your kinswomen, you think that they ought to do nothing but eat and sleep? Or is it your opinion that people who live in this way--I speak of free-born people in general--lead happier lives, and are more to be congratulated, than those who give their time and attention to such useful arts of life as they are skilled in? Is this what you see in the world, that for the purpose of learning what it is well to know, and of recollecting the lessons taught, or with a view to health and strength of body, or for the sake of acquiring and preserving all that gives life its charm, idleness and inattention are found to be helpful, whilst work and study are simply a dead loss? Pray, when those relatives of yours were taught what you tell me they know, did they learn it as barren information which they would never turn to practical account, or, on the contrary, as something with which they were to be seriously concerned some day, and from which they were to reap advantage? Do human beings in general attain to well-tempered manhood by a course of idling, or by carefully attending to what will be of use? Which will help a man the more to grow in justice and uprightness, to be up and doing, or to sit with folded hands revolving the ways and means of existence? As things now stand, if I am not mistaken, there is no love lost between you. You cannot help feeling that they are costly to you, and they must see that you find them a burthen? This is a perilous state of affairs, in which hatred and bitterness have every prospect of increasing, whilst the pre-existing bond of affection[8] is likely to be snapped.

But now, if only you allow them free scope for their energies, when you come to see how useful they can be, you will grow quite fond of them, and they, when they perceive that they can please you, will cling to their benefactor warmly. Thus, with the memory of former kindnesses made sweeter, you will increase the grace which flows from kindnesses tenfold; you will in consequence be knit in closer bonds of love and domesticity. If, indeed, they were called upon to do any shameful work, let them choose death rather than that; but now they know, it would seem, the very arts and accomplishments which are regarded as the loveliest and the most suitable for women; and the things which we know, any of us, are just those which we can best perform, that is to say, with ease and expedition; it is a joy to do them, and the result is beautiful.[9] Do not hesitate, then, to initiate your friends in what will bring advantage to them and you alike; probably they will gladly respond to your summons.

Well, upon my word (Aristarchus answered), I like so well what you say, Socrates, that though hitherto I have not been disposed to borrow, knowing that when I had spent what I got I should not be in a condition to repay, I think I can now bring myself to do so in order to raise a fund for these works.

Thereupon a capital was provided; wools were purchased; the good man's relatives set to work, and even whilst they breakfasted they worked, and on and on till work was ended and they supped. Smiles took the place of frowns; they no longer looked askance with suspicion, but full into each other's eyes with happiness. They loved their kinsman for his kindness to them. He became attached to them as helpmates; and the end of it all was, he came to Socrates and told him with delight how matters fared; "and now," he added, "they tax me with being the only drone in the house, who sit and eat the bread of idleness."

To which Socrates: Why do not you tell them the fable of the dog?[10] Once on a time, so goes the story, when beasts could speak, the sheep said to her master, "What a marvel is this, master, that to us, your own sheep, who provide you with fleeces and lambs and cheese, you give nothing, save only what we may nibble off earth's bosom; but with this dog of yours, who provides you with nothing of the sort, you share the very meat out of your mouth." When the dog heard these words, he answered promptly, "Ay, in good sooth, for is it not I who keep you safe and sound, you sheep, so that you are not stolen by man nor harried by wolves; since, if I did not keep watch over you, you would not be able so much as to graze afield, fearing to be destroyed." And so, says the tale, the sheep had to admit that the dog was rightly preferred to themselves in honour. And so do you tell your flock yonder that like the dog in the fable you are their guardian and overseer, and it is thanks to you that they are protected from evil and evildoers, so that they work their work and live their lives in blissful security.

[1] i.e. circa 404-403 B.C. See "Hell." II. iv.

[2] An employer of labour, apparently, on a grand scale.

[3] Lit. "with your large family to feed." L. Dindorf would like to read {su de oligous}, "you with your small family."

[4] For these articles of dress see Becker's "Charicles," Exc. i. to Sc. xi. "Dress."

[5] Nausicydes. Cobet, "Pros. Xen." cf. Aristoph. "Eccles." 426.

[6] Lit. "state liturgies," or "to the burden of the public services." For these see Gow, "Companion," xviii. "Athenian Finance."

[7] Cf. Arist. "Acharnians," 519, {esukophantei Megareon ta khlaniskia}. See Dr. Merry's note ad loc.

[8] Or, "the original stock of kindliness will be used up."

[9] Or, "with ease, rapidity, pleasure and effect."

[10] See Joseph Jacobs, "The Fables of Aesop," vol. i. p. 26 foll., for "a complete list of the Fables given in Greek literature up to the fall of Greek independence." Cf. Hesiod, "Works and Days," 202 foll.; Archilochus, 89 (60), Bergk; Herod. i. 141; Aesch. "Myrmid." fr. 123; Aristot. "Rhet." II. xx.