Book III

Aspirants to honour and distinction[1] derived similar help from Socrates, who in each case stimulated in them a persevering assiduity towards their several aims, as the following narratives tend to show. He had heard on one occasion of the arrival in Athens of Dionysodorus,[2] who professed to teach the whole duty of a general.[3] Accordingly he remarked to one of those who were with him --a young man whose anxiety to obtain the office of Strategos[4] was no secret to him:

Socrates. It would be monstrous on the part of any one who sought to become a general[5] to throw away the slightest opportunity of learning the duties of the office. Such a person, I should say, would deserve to be fined and punished by the state far more than the charlatan who without having learnt the art of a sculptor undertakes a contract to carve a statue. Considering that the whole fortunes of the state are entrusted to the general during a war, with all its incidental peril, it is only reasonable to anticipate that great blessings or great misfortunes will result in proportion to the success or bungling of that officer. I appeal to you, young sir, do you not agree that a candidate who, while taking pains to be elected neglects to learn the duties of the office, would richly deserve to be fined?

With arguments like these he persuaded the young man to go and take lessons. After he had gone through the course he came back, and Socrates proceeded playfully to banter him.

Socrates. Behold our young friend, sirs, as Homer says of Agamemnon, of mein majestical,[6] so he; does he not seem to move more majestically, like one who has studied to be a general? Of course, just as a man who has learned to play the harp is a harper, even if he never touch the instrument, or as one who has studied medicine is a physician, though he does not practise, so our friend here from this time forward is now and ever shall be a general, even though he does not receive a vote at the elections. But the dunce who has not the science is neither general nor doctor, no, not even if the whole world appointed him. But (he proceeded, turning to the youth), in case any of us should ever find ourselves captain or colonel[7] under you, to give us some smattering of the science of war, what did the professor take as the starting-point of his instruction in generalship? Please inform us.

Then the young man: He began where he ended; he taught me tactics[8]-- tactics and nothing else.

Yet surely (replied Socrates) that is only an infinitisemal part of generalship. A general[9] must be ready in furnishing the material of war: in providing the commissariat for his troops; quick in devices, he must be full of practical resource; nothing must escape his eye or tax his endurance; he must be shrewd, and ready of wit, a combination at once of clemency and fierceness, of simplicity and of insidious craft; he must play the part of watchman, of robber; now prodigal as a spendthrift, and again close-fisted as a miser, the bounty of his munificence must be equalled by the narrowness of his greed; impregnable in defence, a very dare-devil in attack--these and many other qualities must he possess who is to make a good general and minister of war; they must come to him by gift of nature or through science. No doubt it is a grand thing also to be a tactician, since there is all the difference in the world between an army properly handled in the field and the same in disorder; just as stones and bricks, woodwork and tiles, tumbled together in a heap are of no use at all, but arrange them in a certain order--at bottom and atop materials which will not crumble or rot, such as stones and earthen tiles, and in the middle between the two put bricks and woodwork, with an eye to architectural principle,[10] and finally you get a valuable possession--to wit, a dwelling-place.

The simile is very apt, Socrates[11] (replied the youth), for in battle, too, the rule is to draw up the best men in front and rear, with those of inferior quality between, where they may be led on by the former and pushed on by the hinder.

Socrates. Very good, no doubt, if the professor taught you to distinguish good and bad; but if not, where is the use of your learning? It would scarcely help you, would it, to be told to arrange coins in piles, the best coins at top and bottom and the worst in the middle, unless you were first taught to distinguish real from counterfeit.

The Youth. Well no, upon my word, he did not teach us that, so that the task of distinguishing between good and bad must devolve on ourselves.

Socrates. Well, shall we see, then, how we may best avoid making blunders between them?

I am ready (replied the youth).

Socrates. Well then! Let us suppose we are marauders, and the task imposed upon us is to carry off some bullion; it will be a right disposition of our forces if we place in the vanguard those who are the greediest of gain?[12]

The Youth. I should think so.

Socrates. Then what if there is danger to be faced? Shall the vanguard consist of men who are greediest of honour?

The Youth. It is these, at any rate, who will face danger for the sake of praise and glory.[13] Fortunately such people are not hid away in a corner; they shine forth conspicuous everywhere, and are easy to be discovered.

Socrates. But tell me, did he teach you how to draw up troops in general, or specifically where and how to apply each particular kind of tactical arrangement?

The Youth. Nothing of the sort.

Socrates. And yet there are and must be innumerable circumstances in which the same ordering of march or battle will be out of place.

The Youth. I assure you he did not draw any of these fine distinctions.

He did not, did not he? (he answered). Bless me! Go back to him again, then, and ply him with questions; if he really has the science, and is not lost to all sense of shame, he will blush to have taken your money and then to have sent you away empty.

[1] {ton kalon} = everything which the {kalos te kagathos} should aim at, but especially the honourable offices of state such as the Archonship, Strategia, Hipparchia, etc. See Plat. "Laches."

[2] Dionysodorus of Chios, presumably. See Plat. "Euthyd." 271 C foll.

[3] A professor of the science and art of strategy.

[4] Lit. "that honour," sc. the Strategia.

[5] i.e. "head of the war department, and commander-in-chief," etc.

[6] "Il." iii. 169, 170.

[7] Or, "brigadier or captain," lit. taxiarch or lochagos.

[8] Cf. "Cyrop." I. vi. 12 foll.; VIII. v. 15.

[9] A strategos. For the duties and spheres of action of this officer, see Gow, op. cit. xiv. 58.

[10] "As in the building of a house." See Vitrivius, ii. 3; Plin. xxv. 14.

[11] Cf. "Il." iv. 297 foll.; "Cyrop." VI. iii. 25; Polyb. x. 22.

[12] "Whose fingers itch for gold."

[13] Cf. Shakesp. "seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth."