Book II

At another time, he had noticed the angry temper shown by Lamprocles, the elder of his sons, towards their mother, and thus addressed himself to the lad.

Socrates. Pray, my son, did you ever hear of certain people being called ungrateful?

That I have (replied the young man).

Socrates. And have you understood what it is they do to get that bad name?

Lamprocles. Yes, I have: when any one has been kindly treated, and has it in his power to requite the kindness but neglects to do so, men call him ungrateful.

Socrates. And you admit that people reckon the ungrateful among wrongdoers?

Lamprocles. I do.

Socrates. And has it ever struck you to inquire whether, as regards the right or wrong of it, ingratitude may not perhaps resemble some such conduct as the enslavement, say, of prisoners, which is accounted wrong towards friends but justifiable towards enemies?

Lamprocles. Yes, I have put that question to myself. In my opinion, no matter who confers the kindness, friend or foe, the recipient should endeavour to requite it, failing which he is a wrongdoer.

Socrates. Then if that is how the matter stands, ingratitude would be an instance of pure unadulterate wrongdoing?

Lamprocles assented to the proposition.

Socrates. It follows, then, that in proportion to the greatness of the benefit conferred, the greater his misdoing who fails to requite the kindness?

Lamprocles again assented.

Socrates continued: And where can we hope to find greater benefits than those which children derive from their parents--their father and mother who brought them out of nothingness into being, who granted them to look upon all these fair sights, and to partake of all those blessings which the gods bestow on man, things so priceless in our eyes that one and all we shudder at the thought of leaving them, and states have made death the penalty for the greatest crimes, because there is no greater evil through fear of which to stay iniquity.

You do not suppose that human beings produce children for the sake of carnal pleasure[1] merely; were this the motive, street and bordell are full of means to quit them of that thrall; whereas nothing is plainer than the pains we take to seek out wives who shall bear us the finest children.[2] With these we wed, and carry on the race. The man has a twofold duty to perform: partly in cherishing her who is to raise up children along with him, and partly towards the children yet unborn in providing them with things that he thinks will contribute to their well-being--and of these as large a store as possible. The woman, conceiving, bears her precious burthen with travail and pain, and at the risk of life itself--sharing with that within her womb the food on which she herself is fed. And when with much labour she has borne to the end and brought forth her offspring, she feeds it and watches over it with tender care--not in return for any good thing previously received, for indeed the babe itself is little conscious of its benefactor and cannot even signify its wants; only she, the mother, making conjecture of what is good for it, and what will please it, essays to satisfy it;[3] and for many months she feeds it night and day, enduring the toil nor recking what return she shall receive for all her trouble. Nor does the care and kindness of parents end with nurture; but when the children seem of an age to learn, they teach them themselves whatever cunning they possess, as a guide to life, or where they feel that another is more competent, to him they send them to be taught at their expense. Thus they watch over their children, doing all in their power to enable them to grow up to be as good as possible.

So be it (the youth answered); but even if she have done all that, and twenty times as much, no soul on earth could endure my mother's cross- grained temper.

Then Socrates: Which, think you, would be harder to bear--a wild beast's savagery or a mother's?

Lamprocles. To my mind, a mother's--at least if she be such as mine.

Socrates. Dear me! And has this mother ever done you any injury--such as people frequently receive from beasts, by bite or kick?

Lamprocles. If she has not done quite that, she uses words which any one would sooner sell his life than listen to.

Socrates. And how many annoyances have you caused your mother, do you suppose, by fretfulness and peevishness in word and deed, night and day, since you were a little boy? How much sorrow and pain, when you were ill?

Lamprocles. Well, I never said or did anything to bring a blush to her cheeks.

Socrates. No, come now! Do you suppose it is harder for you to listen to your mother's speeches than for actor to listen to actor on the tragic stage,[4] when the floodgates of abuse are opened?

Lamprocles. Yes; for the simple reason that they know it is all talk on their parts. The inquisitor may cross-question, but he will not inflict a fine; the threatener may hurl his menaces, but he will do no mischief--that is why they take it all so easily.

Socrates. Then ought you to fly into a passion, who know well enough that, whatever your mother says, she is so far from meaning you mischief that she is actually wishing blessings to descend upon you beyond all others? Or do you believe that your mother is really ill disposed towards you?

Lamprocles. No, I do not think that.

Socrates. Then this mother, who is kindly disposed to you, and takes such tender care of you when you are ill to make you well again, and to see that you want for nothing which may help you; and, more than all, who is perpetually pleading for blessings in your behalf and offering her vows to Heaven[5]--can you say of her that she is cross-grained and harsh? For my part, I think, if you cannot away with such a mother, you cannot away with such blessings either.

But tell me (he proceeded), do you owe service to any living being, think you? or are you prepared to stand alone? Prepared not to please or try to please a single soul? to follow none? To obey neither general nor ruler of any sort? Is that your attitude, or do you admit that you owe allegience to somebody?

Lamprocles. Yes; certainly I owe allegiance.

Socrates. May I take it that you are willing to please at any rate your neighbour, so that he may kindle a fire for you in your need, may prove himself a ready helpmate in good fortune, or if you chance on evil and are stumbling, may friendlily stand by your side to aid?

Lamprocles. I am willing.

Socrates. Well, and what of that other chance companion--your fellow- traveller by land or sea? what of any others, you may light upon? is it indifferent to you whether these be friends or not, or do you admit that the goodwill of these is worth securing by some pains on your part?

Lamprocles. I do.

Socrates. It stands thus then: you are prepared to pay attention to this, that, and the other stranger, but to your mother who loves you more than all else, you are bound to render no service, no allegiance? Do you not know that whilst the state does not concern itself with ordinary ingratitude or pass judicial sentence on it; whilst it overlooks the thanklessness of those who fail to make return for kindly treatment, it reserves its pains and penalties for the special case? If a man render not the service and allegiance due to his parents, on him the finger of the law is laid; his name is struck off the roll; he is forbidden to hold the archonship--which is as much as to say, "Sacrifices in behalf of the state offered by such a man would be no offerings, being tainted with impiety; nor could aught else be 'well and justly' performed of which he is the doer." Heaven help us! If a man fail to adorn the sepulchre of his dead parents the state takes cognisance of the matter, and inquisition is made in the scrutiny of the magistrates.[6] And as for you, my son, if you are in your sober senses, you will earnestly entreat your mother, lest the very gods take you to be an ungrateful being, and on their side also refuse to do you good; and you will beware of men also, lest they should perceive your neglect of your parents, and with one consent hold you in dishonour;[7] and so you find yourself in a desert devoid of friends. For if once the notion be entertained that here is a man ungrateful to his parents, no one will believe that any kindness shown you would be other than thrown away.

[1] Lit. "the joys of Aphrodite."

[2] "For the procreation of children." See below, IV. iv. 22; "Pol. Lac." i.

[3] Lit. "to leave nought lacking."

[4] See Grote, "H. G." viii. 457; Plut. "Solon," xxix.

[5] Or, "paying vows."

[6] Lit. "the docimasia." See Gow, "Companion," xiv.

[7] "Visiti with atimia."