Book I
III
 

It may serve to illustrate the assertion that he benefited his associates partly by the display of his own virtue and partly by verbal discourse and argument, if I set down my various recollections[1] on these heads. And first with regard to religion and the concerns of heaven. In conduct and language his behaviour conformed to the rule laid down by the Pythia[2] in reply to the question, "How shall we act?" as touching a sacrifice or the worship of ancestors, or any similar point. Her answer is: "Act according to the law and custom of your state, and you will act piously." After this pattern Socrates behaved himself, and so he exhorted others to behave, holding them to be but busybodies and vain fellows who acted on any different principle.

His formula or prayer was simple: "Give me that which is best for me," for, said he, the gods know best what good things are--to pray for gold or silver or despotic power were no better than to make some particular throw at dice or stake in battle or any such thing the subject of prayer, of which the future consequences are manifestly uncertain.[3]

If with scant means he offered but small sacrifices he believed that he was in no wise inferior to those who make frequent and large sacrifices from an ampler store. It were ill surely for the very gods themselves, could they take delight in large sacrifices rather than in small, else oftentimes must the offerings of bad men be found acceptable rather than of good; nor from the point of view of men themselves would life be worth living if the offerings of a villain rather than of a righteous man found favour in the sight of Heaven. His belief was that the joy of the gods is greater in proportion to the holiness of the giver, and he was ever an admirer of that line of Hesiod which says,

According to thine ability do sacrifice to the immortal gods.[4]

"Yes," he would say, "in our dealings with friends and strangers alike, and in reference to the demands of life in general, there is no better motto for a man than that: 'let a man do according to his ability.'"

Or to take another point. If it appeared to him that a sign from heaven had been given him, nothing would have induced him to go against heavenly warning: he would as soon have been persuaded to accept the guidance of a blind man ignorant of the path to lead him on a journey in place of one who knew the road and could see; and so he denounced the folly of others who do things contrary to the warnings of God in order to avoid some disrepute among men. For himself he despised all human aids by comparison with counsel from above.

The habit and style of living to which he subjected his soul and body was one which under ordinary circumstances[5] would enable any one adopting it to look existence cheerily in the face and to pass his days serenely: it would certainly entail no difficulties as regards expense. So frugal was it that a man must work little indeed who could not earn the quantum which contented Socrates. Of food he took just enough to make eating a pleasure--the appetite he brought to it was sauce sufficient; while as to drinks, seeing that he only drank when thirsty, any draught refreshed.[6] If he accepted an invitation to dinner, he had no difficulty in avoiding the common snare of over- indulgence, and his advice to people who could not equally control their appetite was to avoid taking what would allure them to eat if not hungry or to drink if not thirsty.[7] Such things are ruinous to the constitution, he said, bad for stomachs, brains, and soul alike; or as he used to put it, with a touch of sarcasm,[8] "It must have been by feasting men on so many dainty dishes that Circe produced her pigs; only Odysseus through his continency and the 'promptings[9] of Hermes' abstained from touching them immoderately, and by the same token did not turn into a swine." So much for this topic, which he touched thus lightly and yet seriously.

But as to the concerns of Aphrodite, his advice was to hold strongly aloof from the fascination of fair forms: once lay finger on these and it is not easy to keep a sound head and a sober mind. To take a particular case. It was a mere kiss which, as he had heard, Critobulus[10] had some time given to a fair youth, the son of Alcibiades.[11] Accordingly Critobulus being present, Socrates propounded the question.

Socrates. Tell me, Xenophon, have you not always believed Critobulus to be a man of sound sense, not wild and self-willed? Should you not have said that he was remarkable for his prudence rather than thoughtless or foolhardy?

Xenophon. Certainly that is what I should have said of him.

Socrates. Then you are now to regard him as quite the reverse--a hot- blooded, reckless libertine: this is the sort of man to throw somersaults into knives,[12] or to leap into the jaws of fire.

Xenophon. And what have you seen him doing, that you give him so bad a character?

Socrates. Doing? Why, has not the fellow dared to steal a kiss from the son of Alcibiades, most fair of youths and in the golden prime?

Xenophon. Nay, then, if that is the foolhardy adventure, it is a danger which I could well encounter myself.

Socrates. Pour soul! and what do you expect your fate to be after that kiss? Let me tell you. On the instant you will lose your freedom, the indenture of your bondage will be signed; it will be yours on compulsion to spend large sums on hurtful pleasures; you will have scarcely a moment's leisure left for any noble study; you will be driven to concern yourself most zealously with things which no man, not even a madman, would choose to make an object of concern.

Xenophon. O Heracles! how fell a power to reside in a kiss!

Socrates. Does it surprise you? Do you not know that the tarantula, which is no bigger than a threepenny bit,[13] has only to touch the mouth and it will afflict its victim with pains and drive him out of his senses.

Xenophon. Yes, but then the creature injects something with its bite.

Socrates. Ah, fool! and do you imagine that these lovely creatures infuse nothing with their kiss, simply because you do not see the poison? Do you not know that this wild beast which men call beauty in its bloom is all the more terrible than the tarantula in that the insect must first touch its victim, but this at a mere glance of thebeholder, without even contact, will inject something into him--yards away-- which will make him man. And may be that is why the Loves are called "archers," because these beauties wound so far off.[14] But my advice to you, Xenophon, is, whenever you catch sight of one of these fair forms, to run helter-skelter for bare life without a glance behind; and to you, Critobulus, I would say, "Go abroad for a year: so long time will it take to heal you of this wound."

Such (he said), in the affairs of Aphrodite, as in meats and drinks, should be the circumspection of all whose footing is insecure. At least they should confine themselves to such diet as the soul would dispense with, save for some necessity of the body; and which even so ought to set up no disturbance.[15] But for himself, it was clear, he was prepared at all points and invulnerable. He found less difficulty in abstaining from beauty's fairest and fullest bloom than many others from weeds and garbage. To sum up:[16] with regard to eating and drinking and these other temptations of the sense, the equipment of his soul made him independent; he could boast honestly that in his moderate fashion[17] his pleasures were no less than theirs who take such trouble to procure them, and his pains far fewer.

[1] Hence the title of the work, {'Apomenmoneumata}, "Recollections, Memoirs, Memorabilia." See Diog. Laert. "Xen." II. vi. 48.

[2] The Pythia at Delphi.

[3] See (Plat.) "Alcib. II." 142 foll.; Valerius Max. vii. 2; "Spectator," No. 207.

[4] Hesiod, "Works and Days," 336. See "Anab." III. ii. 9.

[5] {ei me ti daimonion eie}, "save under some divinely-ordained calamity." Cf. "Cyrop." I. vi. 18; "Symp." viii. 43.

[6] See "Ages." ix; Cic. "Tusc." v. 34, 97; "de Fin." ii. 28, 90.

[7] Cf. Plut. "Mor." 128 D; Clement, "Paedag." 2. 173, 33; "Strom." 2, 492, 24; Aelian, "N. A." 8, 9.

[8] "Half in gibe and half in jest," in ref. to "Od." x. 233 foll.: "So she let them in . . ."

[9] {upothemosune}, "inspiration." Cf. "Il." xv. 412; "Od." xvi. 233.

[10] For Critobulus (the son of Crito) see "Econ." i. 1 foll.; "Symp." i. 3 foll.

[11] See Isocr. "Or." xvi. Cobet conj. {ton tou 'Axiokhou uion}, i.e. Clinias.

[12] Cf. "Symp." ii. 10, iv. 16. See Schneider ad loc.

[13] Lit. "a half-obol piece." For the {phalaggion} see Aristot. "H. A." ix. 39, 1.

[14] L. Dindorf, etc. regard the sentence as a gloss. Cf. "Symp." iv. 26 [{isos de kai . . . entimoteron estin}].

[15] Cf. "Symp." iv. 38.

[16] L. Dindorf [brackets] this passage as spurious.

[17] On the principle "enough is as good as a feast," {arkountos}.