Book III
VIII
 

Once when Aristippus[1] set himself to subject Socrates to a cross- examination, such as he had himself undergone at the hands of Socrates on a former occasion,[2] Socrates, being minded to benefit those who were with him, gave his answers less in the style of a debater guarding against perversions of his argument, than of a man persuaded of the supreme importance of right conduct.[3]

Aristippus asked him "if he knew of anything good,"[4] intending in case he assented and named any particular good thing, like food or drink, or wealth, or health, or strength, or courage, to point out that the thing named was sometimes bad. But he, knowing that if a thing troubles us, we immediately want that which will put an end to our trouble, answered precisely as it was best to do.[5]

Socrates. Do I understand you to ask me whether I know anything good for fever?

No (he replied), that is not my question.

Socrates. Then for inflammation of the eyes?

Aristippus. No, nor yet that.

Socrates. Well then, for hunger?

Aristippus. No, nor yet for hunger.

Well, but (answered Socrates) if you ask me whether I know of any good thing which is good for nothing, I neither know of it nor want to know.

And when Aristippus, returning to the charge, asked him "if he knew of any thing beautiful,"

He answered: Yes, many things.

Aristippus. Are they all like each other?

Socrates. On the contrary, they are often as unlike as possible.

How then (he asked) can that be beautiful which is unlike the beautiful?

Socrates. Bless me! for the simple reason that it is possible for a man who is a beautiful runner to be quite unlike another man who is a beautiful boxer,[6] or for a shield, which is a beautiful weapon for the purpose of defence, to be absolutely unlike a javelin, which is a beautiful weapon of swift and sure discharge.

Aristippus. Your answers are no better now than[7] when I asked you whether you knew any good thing. They are both of a pattern.

Socrates. And so they should be. Do you imagine that one thing is good and another beautiful? Do not you know that relatively to the same standard all things are at once beautiful and good?[8] In the first place, virtue is not a good thing relatively to one standard and a beautiful thing relatively to another standard; and in the next place, human beings, on the same principle[9] and relatively to the same standard, are called "beautiful and good"; and so the bodily frames of men relatively to the same standards are seen to be "beautiful and good," and in general all things capable of being used by man are regarded as at once beautiful and good relatively to the same standard --the standing being in each case what the thing happens to be useful for.[10]

Aristippus. Then I presume even a basket for carrying dung[11] is a beautiful thing?

Socrates. To be sure, and a spear of gold an ugly thing, if for their respective uses--the former is well and the latter ill adapted.

Aristippus. Do you mean to assert that the same things may be beautiful and ugly?

Socrates. Yes, to be sure; and by the same showing things may be good and bad: as, for instance, what is good for hunger may be bad for fever, and what is good for fever bad for hunger; or again, what is beautiful for wrestling is often ugly for running; and in general everything is good and beautiful when well adapted for the end in view, bad and ugly when ill adapted for the same.

Similarly when he spoke about houses,[12] and argued that "the same house must be at once beautiful and useful"--I could not help feeling that he was giving a good lesson on the problem: "how a house ought to be built." He investigated the matter thus:

Socrates. "Do you admit that any one purposing to build a perfect house[13] will plan to make it at once as pleasant and as useful to live in as possible?" and that point being admitted,[14] the next question would be:

"It is pleasant to have one's house cool in summer and warm in winter, is it not?" and this proposition also having obtained assent, "Now, supposing a house to have a southern aspect, sunshine during winter will steal in under the verandah,[15] but in summer, when the sun traverses a path right over our heads, the roof will afford an agreeable shade, will it not? If, then, such an arrangement is desirable, the southern side of a house should be built higher to catch the rays of the winter sun, and the northern side lower to prevent the cold winds finding ingress; in a word, it is reasonable to suppose that the pleasantest and most beautiful dwelling place will be one in which the owner can at all seasons of the year find the pleasantest retreat, and stow away his goods with the greatest security."

Paintings[16] and ornamental mouldings are apt (he said) to deprive one of more joy[17] than they confer.

The fittest place for a temple or an altar (he maintained) was some site visible from afar, and untrodden by foot of man:[18] since it was a glad thing for the worshipper to lift up his eyes afar off and offer up his orison; glad also to wend his way peaceful to prayer unsullied.[19]

[1] For Aristippus see above, p. 38; for the connection, {boulomenos tous sunontas ophelein}, between this and the preceeding chapter, see above, Conspectus, p. xxvi.

[2] Possibly in reference to the conversation above. In reference to the present dialogue see Grote, "Plato," I. xi. p. 380 foll.

[3] For {prattein ta deonta} cf. below, III. ix. 4, 11; Plat. "Charm." 164 B; but see J. J. Hartman, "An. Xen." p. 141.

[4] See Grote, "Plato," ii. 585, on Philebus.

[5] Or, "made the happiest answer."

[6] See Grote, "H. G." x. 164, in reference to Epaminondas and his gymnastic training; below, III. x. 6.

[7] Or, "You answer precisely as you did when . . ."

[8] Or, "good and beautiful are convertible terms: whatever is good is beautiful, or whatever is beautiful is good."

[9] Or, "in the same breath." Cf. Plat. "Hipp. maj." 295 D; "Gorg." 474 D.

[10] Or, "and this standard is the serviceableness of the thing in question."

[11] Cf. Plat. "Hipp. maj." 288 D, 290 D; and Grote's note, loc. cit. p. 381: "in regard to the question wherein consists {to kalon}?"

[12] See K. Joel, op. cit. p. 488; "Classical Review," vii. 262.

[13] Or, "the ideal house"; lit. "a house as it should be."

[14] See below, IV. vi. 15.

[15] Or, "porticoes" or "collonades."

[16] See "Econ." ix. 2; Plat. "Hipp. maj." 298 A; "Rep." 529; Becker, "Charicles," 268 (Engl. trans.)

[17] {euphrosunas}, archaic or "poetical" = "joyance." See "Hiero," vi. 1.

[18] e.g. the summit of Lycabettos, or the height on which stands the temple of Phygaleia. Cf. Eur. "Phoen." 1372, {Pallados khrusaspidos blepsas pros oikon euxato} of Eteocles.

[19] See Vitruvius, i. 7, iv. 5, ap. Schneid. ad loc.; W. L. Newman, op. cit. i. 338.