Socrates


Diogenes Laertius, book II Socrates

Demetrius of Byzantium relates that Crito removed him from his workshop and educated him, being struck by his beauty of soul; 21. that he discussed moral questions in the workshops and the market-place, being convinced that the study of nature is no concern of ours; and that he claimed that his inquiries embraced

Whatso'er is good or evil in an house;[31]

that frequently, owing to his vehemence in argument, men set upon him with their fists or tore his hair out; and that for the most part he was despised and laughed at, yet bore all this ill-usage patiently. So much so that, when he had been kicked, and some one expressed surprise at his taking it so quietly, Socrates rejoined, "Should I have taken the law of a donkey, supposing that he had kicked me?" Thus far Demetrius.

He took care to exercise his body and kept in good condition. At all events he served on the expedition to Amphipolis; and when in the battle of Delium Xenophon had fallen from his horse, he stepped in and saved his life. 23. For in the general flight of the Athenians he personally retired at his ease, quietly turning round from time to time and ready to defend himself in case he were attacked. Again, he served at Potidaea, whither he had gone by sea, as land communications were interrupted by the war;[32] and while there he is said to have remained a whole night without changing his position, and to have won the prize of valour. But he resigned it to Alcibiades, for whom he cherished the tenderest affection.

24. His strength of will and attachment to the democracy are evident from his refusal to yield to Critias and his colleagues when they ordered him to bring the wealthy Leon of Salamis before them for execution, and further from the fact that he alone voted for the acquittal of the ten generals; and again from the facts that when he had the opportunity to escape from the prison he declined to do so, and that he rebuked his friends for weeping over his fate, and addressed to them his most memorable discourses in the prison.

He was a man of great independence and dignity of character. Pamphila in the seventh book of her Commentaries tells how Alcibiades once offered him a large site on which to build a house; but he replied, "Suppose, then, I wanted shoes and you offered me a whole hide to make a pair with, would it not be ridiculous in me to take it?" 25. Often when he looked at the multitude of wares exposed for sale, he would say to himself, "How many things I can do without!" And he would continually recite the lines:

The purple robe and silver's shine
More fits an actor's need than mine.[33]

He showed his contempt for Archelaus of Macedon and Scopas of Cranon and Eurylochus of Larissa by refusing to accept their presents or to go to their court. He was so orderly in his way of life that on several occasions when pestilence broke out in Athens he was the only man who escaped infection.

27. He could afford to despise those who scoffed at him. He prided himself on his plain living, and never asked a fee from anyone. He used to say that he most enjoyed the food which was least in need of condiment, and the drink which made him feel the least hankering for some other drink; and that he was nearest to the gods in that he had the fewest wants. This may be seen from the Comic poets, who in the act of ridiculing him give him high praise. Thus Aristophanes:[34]

O man that justly desirest great wisdom, how blessed will be thy life amongst Athenians and Greeks, retentive of memory and thinker that thou art, with endurance of toil for thy character; never art thou weary whether standing or walking, never numb with cold, never hungry for breakfast; from wine and from gross feeding and all other frivolities thou dost turn away.

28. Ameipsias too, when he puts him on the stage wearing a cloak, says:[35]

a. You come to join us, Socrates, worthiest of a small band and emptiest by far! You are a robust fellow. Where can we get you a proper coat?
b. Your sorry plight is an insult to the cobblers.
a. And yet, hungry as he is, this man has never stooped to flatter.

Lysis, again, he turned, by exhortation, into a most virtuous character. For he had the skill to draw his arguments from facts. And when his son Lamprocles was violently angry with his mother, Socrates made him feel ashamed of himself, as I believe Xenophon has told us.

He used to say it was strange that, if you asked a man how many sheep he had, he could easily tell you the precise number; whereas he could not name his friends or say how many he had, so slight was the value he set upon them. Seeing Euclides keenly interested in eristic arguments, he said to him: "You will be able to get on with sophists, Euclides, but with men not at all." For he thought there was no use in this sort of hair-splitting, as Plato shows us in the Euthydemus.

31. Again, when Charmides offered him some slaves in order that he might derive an income from them, he declined the offer; and according to some he scorned the beauty of Alcibiades. He would extol leisure as the best of possessions, according to Xenophon in the Symposium. There is, he said, only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance; wealth and good birth bring their possessor no dignity, but on the contrary evil. At all events, when some one told him that Antisthenes' mother was a Thracian, he replied, "Nay, did you expect a man so noble to have been born of two Athenian parents?" He made Crito ransom Phaedo who, having been taken prisoner in the war, was kept in degrading slavery, and so won him for philosophy.

32. Moreover, in his old age he learnt to play the lyre, declaring that he saw no absurdity in learning a new accomplishment. As Xenophon relates in the Symposium, it was his regular habit to dance, thinking that such exercise helped to keep the body in good condition. He used to say that his supernatural sign warned him beforehand of the future; that to make a good start was no trifling advantage, but a trifle turned the scale; and that he knew nothing except just the fact of his ignorance. He said that, when people paid a high price for fruit which had ripened early, they must despair of seeing the fruit ripen at the proper season. And, being once asked in what consisted the virtue of a young man, he said, "In doing nothing to excess." He held that geometry should be studied to the point at which a man is able to measure the land which he acquires or parts with.

33. On hearing the line of Euripides' play Auge where the poet says of virtue:

'Tis best to let her roam at will,[39]

he got up and left the theatre. For he said it was absurd to make a hue and cry about a slave who could not be found, and to allow virtue to perish in this way. Some one asked him whether he should marry or not, and received the reply, "Whichever you do you will repent it." He used to express his astonishment that the sculptors of marble statues should take pains to make the block of marble into a perfect likeness of a man, and should take no pains about themselves lest they should turn out mere blocks, not men. He recommended to the young the constant use of the mirror, to the end that handsome men might acquire a corresponding behaviour, and ugly men conceal their defects by education.

34. He had invited some rich men and, when Xanthippe said she felt ashamed of the dinner, "Never mind," said he, "for if they are reasonable they will put up with it, and if they are good for nothing, we shall not trouble ourselves about them." He would say that the rest of the world lived to eat, while he himself ate to live. Of the mass of men who do not count he said it was as if some one should object to a single tetradrachm as counterfeit and at the same time let a whole heap made up of just such pieces pass as genuine. Aeschines said to him, "I am a poor man and have nothing else to give, but I offer you myself," and Socrates answered, "Nay, do you not see that you are offering me the greatest gift of all?" To one who complained that he was overlooked when the Thirty rose to power, he said, "You are not sorry for that, are you?" 35. To one who said, "You are condemned by the Athenians to die," he made answer, "So are they, by nature." But some ascribe this to Anaxagoras. When his wife said, "You suffer unjustly," he retorted, "Why, would you have me suffer justly?" He had a dream that some one said to him:[40]

and he told Aeschines, "On the third day I shall die."[41] When he was about to drink the hemlock, Apollodorus offered him a beautiful garment to die in: "What," said he, "is my own good enough to live in but not to die in?" When he was told that So-and-so spoke ill of him, he replied, "True, for he has never learnt to speak well." 36. When Antisthenes turned his cloak so that the tear in it came into view, "I see," said he, "your vanity through your cloak." To one who said, "Don't you find so-and-so very offensive?" his reply was, "No, for it takes two to make a quarrel." We ought not to object, he used to say, to be subjects for the Comic poets, for if they satirize our faults they will do us good, and if not they do not touch us. When Xanthippe first scolded him and then drenched him with water, his rejoinder was, "Did I not say that Xanthippe's thunder would end in rain?" When Alcibiades declared that the scolding of Xanthippe was intolerable, "Nay, I have got used to it," said he, "as to the continued rattle of a windlass. And you do not mind the cackle of geese." 37. "No," replied Alcibiades, "but they furnish me with eggs and goslings." "And Xanthippe," said Socrates, "is the mother of my children." When she tore his coat off his back in the market-place and his acquaintances advised him to hit back, "Yes, by Zeus," said he, "in order that while we are sparring each of you may join in with `Go it, Socrates!' `Well done, Xanthippe!' " He said he lived with a shrew, as horsemen are fond of spirited horses, "but just as, when they have mastered these, they can easily cope with the rest, so I in the society of Xanthippe shall learn to adapt myself to the rest of the world." The philosopher then, after Lysias had written a defence for him, read it through and said: "A fine speech, Lysias; it is not, however, suitable to me." For it was plainly more forensic than philosophical. 41. Lysias said, "If it is a fine speech, how can it fail to suit you?" "Well," he replied, "would not fine raiment and fine shoes be just as unsuitable to me?"

"Judge not, ye men of Corinth," Aesop cried, "Of virtue as the jury-courts decide."

He was sharply criticized, according to Aristotle in his third book On Poetry, by a certain Antilochus of Lemnos, and by Antiphon the soothsayer, just as Pythagoras was by Cylon of Croton, or as Homer was assailed in his lifetime by Syagrus, and after his death by Xenophanes of Colophon. So too Hesiod was criticized in his lifetime by Cercops, and after his death by the aforesaid Xenophanes; Pindar by Amphimenes of Cos; thales by Pherecydes; Bias by Salarus of Priene; Pittacus by Antimenidas and Alcaeus; Anaxagoras by Sosibius; and Simonides by Timocreon.

They say that Socrates, seeing how he was pinched by poverty, advised him to borrow from himself by reducing his rations


pg. 143-144 in Sophists

To someone who asked who is richest, socrates replied, "He who is satisfied with the least." - Stobaeus 3-5-31

When Socrates was asked how one can become wealthy, he said, "By being poor in one's desires." - Stobaeus 3-17-30

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