Monday, June 27, 2016

12 Socrates in Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon

The Clouds say to Strepsiades: ’O man, you who desire the great wisdom from us (ȏ tȇs megalȇs epithumȇsas sophias anthrȏpe par hȇmȏn, 412), how happy you will become among the Athenians and the Greeks (hȏs eudaimȏn en Athȇnaiois kai tois Hellȇsi genȇsei, 413), if your memory is good, if you are a good thinker, if the ability to endure hardship is (ei mnȇmȏn ei kai phrontistȇs kai to talaipȏron enesti, 414) in your soul, and neither standing nor walking makes you weary (en tȇi psuchȇi, kai mȇ kamneis mȇth’ hestȏs mȇte badizȏn, 415), and you are neither too bothered by cold nor pine for a second meal (mȇte rigȏn achthei lian mȇt’ aristan epithumeis, 416), if you abstain from wine, of naked games and other foolish things (oinou t’ apechei kai gumnasiȏn kai tȏn allȏn anoȇtȏn, 417), and if you think this to be the best thing – as behoves a spirited man (kai beltiston touto nomizeis, hoper eikos dexion andra, 418) – to be victorious in your actions and deliberations and in fighting with your tongue (nikan prattȏn kai bouleuȏn kai tȇi glȏttȇi polemizȏn, 419).’

Dover notes on anoȇtȏn (‘foolish things‘) in line 417: ‘Probably to be taken, as mȏros (‘stupid’) often is, as a euphemistic allusion to sexual pleasures; cf. X. M. II. i. 1 lagneia (‘sexual indulgence’), I. ii. 1 aphrodisia (‘erotic appetite’), in descriptions of Socrates’ enkrateia (‘self-control’).’

Xenophon says in Memorabilia I. ii. 1: ‘No less wonderful is it to me (Thaumaston de phainetai moi) that some believed (kai to peisthȇnai tinas) the charge brought against Socrates of corrupting the youth (hȏs Sȏkratȇs tous neous diephtheiren). In the first place, apart from what I have said (hos pros tois eirȇmenois prȏton men), in control of his own erotic passions (aphrodisiȏn) and appetites of belly (kai gastros) he was the strictest of men (pantȏn anthrȏpȏn enkratestatos ȇn); further (eita), cold (pros cheimȏna) and heat (kai theros) and every kind of toil (kai pantas ponous) he was the ablest to endure (karterikȏtatos); and besides (eti de pros), his needs were so schooled to moderation (to metriȏn deisthai pepaideumenos houtȏs) that having very little (hȏste panu mikra kektȇmenos) he was yet very content (panu raidiȏs echein arkounta).’ In Memorabilia II. ii. 1 he says: ‘I thought (Edokei de moi) he exhorted (protrepein) his companions (tous sunontas) to practice (askein) self-control (enkrateian) in the matter of eating (brȏtou) and drinking (kai potou), and sexual indulgence (kai lagneias), and sleeping (kai hupnou), and endurance of cold (kai rigous) and heat (kai thalpous) and toil (kai ponou, tr. Marchant).’

On the margin of my Oxford edition of Aristophanes I noted Starkie’s comment on ‘standing’ in line 415 (‘if … neither standing nor walking makes you weary’: ‘See the anecdote about Socrates told by Alcibiades in Plato’s Symposium 220c.’

Alcibiades’ anecdote is part of his reminiscences about Socrates during the military expedition at Potidaea, in which both of them took part: ‘There we messed together (sunesitoumen ekei), and I had the opportunity of observing his extraordinary power of sustaining fatigue. His endurance was simply marvellous when, being cut off from supplies, we were compelled to go without food – on such occasions, which often happen in time of war, he was superior not only to me but to everybody (ou monon emou periȇn alla kai tȏn allȏn hapantȏn); there was no one to be compared to him. Yet at a festival (en t’ au tais euȏchiais) he was the only person who had any real powers of enjoyment (monos apolauein hoios t’ ȇn); though not willing to drink (pinein ouk ethelȏn), he could if compelled (hopote anankastheiȇ) to beat us all at that (pantas ekratei), –  wonderful to relate! (kai ho pantȏn thaumastotaton) no human being had ever seen Socrates drunk (Sȏkratȇ methuonta oudeis pȏpote heȏraken anthrȏpȏn) … His fortitude in enduring cold (pros de au tas tou cheimȏnos karterȇseis) was also surprising (thaumasia ȇrgazeto). There was a severe frost (kai pote ontos pagou hoiou deinotatou), for the winter in that region is really tremendous (deinoi gar autothi cheimȏnes), and everybody else either remained indoors (kai pantȏn ȇ ouk exiontȏn endothen), or if they went out (ȇ ei tis exioi) had on an amazing quantity of clothes (ȇmphiesmenȏn te thaumasta dȇ hosa), and were well shod (kai hupodedȇmenȏn), and had their feet swathed  (kai eneiligmenȏn tous podas) in felt (eis pilous) and fleeces (kai arnakidas): in the midst of this, Socrates (houtos d’ en toutois) with his bare feet on the ice (anupodȇtos dia tou krustallou) and in his ordinary dress (echȏn himation toiouton hoion kai proteron) marched better than the other soldiers who had shoes (raion eporeueto ȇ hoi alloi hupodedemenoi), and they looked daggers at him (hoi de stratiȏtai hupeblepon auton) because he seemed to despise them (hȏs kataphronounta sphȏn). I have told you one tale, and now I must tell you another, which is worth hearing (kai tauta men dȇ tauta), “of the doings and sufferings of the enduring man” (hoion d’ au tod’ erexe kai etlȇ karteros anȇr [Homer Odyssea IV, 242]) while he was on the expedition (ekei pote epi stratias, axion akousai). One morning he was thinking about something which he could not resolve; he would not give it up, but continued thinking from early dawn until noon – there he stood fixed in thought (heistȇkei zȇtȏn); and at noon attention was drawn to him, and the rumour ran through the wandering crowd that Socrates (hoti Sȏkratȇs) had been standing and thinking about something ever since the break of the day (ex heȏthinou phrontizȏn ti hestȇke). At last, in the evening after supper, some Ionians out of curiosity (I should explain that this was not in winter but in summer), brought out their mats and slept in the open air that they might watch him and see whether he would stand all night. There he stood until the following morning (ho de heistȇkei mechri heȏs egeneto kai hȇlios aneschen); and with the return of light he offered up a prayer to the sun and went his way (epeita ȏichet’ apiȏn proseuxamenos tȏi hȇliȏi).’ (Pl. Symp. 219e-220d, tr. B. Jowett; Jowett’s translation, although very free, captures well the atmosphere of Alcibiades’ narrative; I have supplied the Greek wherever I could find any meaningful correspondence between Plato’s Greek and Jowett’s English.)

On entering the stage, the chorus of Clouds addresses Strepsiades and Socrates as follows: ‘Be greeted, ancient old man who hunt after music loving words (chair’ ȏ presbuta palaiogenes therata logȏn philomousȏn, 358), and you, the priest of the subtlest nonsense, tell us what you need (su te leptotatȏn lȇrȏn hiereu, phraze pros hȇmas ho ti chrȇizeis, 359), for we would not respond to anyone of the meteoro-sophists of today (ou gar an allȏi hupakousaimen tȏn nun meteȏrosophistȏn, 360), except to Prodicus because of his wisdom and his thought, and to you (plȇn ȇ Prodikȏi, tȏi men sophias kai gnȏmȇs houneka, soi de, 361), for you stalk like a pelican on the roads and role your eyes (hoti brenthuei t’ en taisin hodois kai t’ȏphtalmȏ parablleis, 362), and barefoot you put up with much hardship and you have your solemn face looking up to us (k’anupodȇtos kaka poll’ anechei kaph’ hȇmin semnoprosȏpeis, 363).

Alcibiades had these lines in mind when he said: ‘There was another occasion on which his behaviour was very remarkable (axion ȇn theasasthai Sȏkratȇ) – in the flight of the army after the battle of Delium (hote apo Dȇliou phugȇi anechȏrei to stratopedon), where he served among the heavy-armed – I had a better opportunity of seeing him than at Potidaea (entautha dȇ kai kallion etheasamȇn Sȏkratȇ ȇ en Poteidaiai), for I was myself on horseback, and therefore comparatively out of danger (autos gar hȇtton en phobȏi ȇ dia to eph’ hippou einai). He and Laches [an Athenian general] were retreating, for the troops were in flight (anechȏrei oun eskedasmenȏn ȇdȇ tȏn anthrȏpȏn, houtos te hama kai Lachȇs) and I met them (kai egȏ peritunchanȏ) and told them not to be discouraged (kai idȏn euthus parakeleuomai te autoin tharrein), and promised to remain with them (kai elegon hoti ouk apoleipsȏ autȏ); and there you might see him (epeita emoig’ edokei), Aristophanes (ȏ Aristophanes), as you describe (to son dȇ touto), just as he is in the streets of Athens (kai ekei diaporeuesthai hȏsper kai enthade), stalking like a pelican (brenthuomenos), and rolling his eyes (kai t’ȏphtalmȏ paraballȏn), calmly contemplating (ȇrema paraskopȏn) enemies as well as friends (kai tous philious kai tous polemious), and making very intelligible to anybody (dȇlos ȏn panti), even from a distance (kai panu porrȏthen), that whoever attacked him (hoti ei tis hapsetai toutou tou andros) would be likely to meet with a stout resistance (mala errȏmenȏs amuneitai); and in this way he and his companion escaped (dio kai asphalȏs apȇiei kai houtos kai ho hetairos) – for this is the sort of man who is never touched in war (schedon gar ti tȏn houtȏ diakeimenȏn en tȏi polemȏi oude haptontai); those only are pursued who are running away headlong (alla tous protropadȇn pheugontas diȏkousin). I particularly observed how superior he was to Laches in presence of mind.’ (Pl. Symp. 220e8-221c1; tr. Jowett)

Again, Jowett’s translation captures well the atmosphere of Alcibiades’ narrative, but it is at places only loosely related to Alcibiades’ narrative. For example, Jowett’s last sentence ‘I particularly observed how superior he was to Laches in presence of mind’ paraphrases Alcibiades’ prȏton men hoson periȇn Lachȇtos tȏi emphrȏn einai, but in Alcibiades’ narrative this clause follows the clause ‘I had a better opportunity of seeing him than at Potidaea (entautha dȇ kai kallion etheasamȇn Sȏkratȇ ȇ en Poteidaiai), for I was myself on horseback, and therefore comparatively out of danger (autos gar hȇtton en phobȏi ȇ dia to eph’ hippou einai)’. Jowett obviously thought that in these passages Plato’s text needed some improving. In Greek the whole sentence stands as follows: entautha dȇ kai kallion etheasamȇn Sȏkratȇ ȇ en Poteidaiai – autos gar hȇtton en phobȏi ȇ dia to eph’ hippou einai – prȏton men hoson periȇn Lachȇtos tȏi emphrȏn einai (221a5-b1).


If we compare the pronouncements of the Clouds quoted above with the related passages in Xenophon’s Memorabilia and Plato’s Symposium, we can see that they represent a caricature of the Socratic principles of self-control. But as far as their perception of Strepsiades are concerned – ‘O man, you who desire the great wisdom from us … Be greeted, ancient old man who hunt after music loving words’ – they have completely misjudged him. Doesn’t this colossal misjudgement on their part caricature as well something profoundly characteristic about the historical Socrates? When Socrates says in the Apology that he was doing the greatest good to everyone by seeking to persuade each that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom, was he not profoundly misjudging his fellow citizens (36c-e)? When in Plato’s Meno, after bringing Meno’s slave with his questions to a solution of a mathematic-geometric problem, he tells Meno: ‘At present (Kai nun men ge) these notions have just been stirred up in him, as in a dream (autȏi hȏsper onar arti anakekinȇntai hai doxai hautai); but if he were frequently asked (ei de auton tis anerȇsetai pollakis) the same questions (ta auta tauta), in different forms (kai pantachȇi), he would know as well as anyone at last (oisth’ hoti teleutȏn oudenos hȇtton akribȏs epistȇsetai peri toutȏn)? (85c9-12) … he may be made to do the same with all geometry (houtos gar poiȇsei peri pasȇs geȏmetrias t’auta tauta) and every other branch of knowledge (kai tȏn allȏn mathȇmatȏn hapantȏn)’. (85e1-3, tr. Jowett) – Wasn’t a misjudgement of human nature involved in Socrates’ theory of ‘recollection’?

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