Tuesday, June 7, 2016

7 Socrates in Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon

Dover says in the ‘Introduction’ to his edition of The Clouds: ‘Nothing could be more alien from the Socrates of Plato and Xenophon than to teach young men how to achieve worldly success by exploitation of the arts to which the world yields. He professes total unfamiliarity with the lawcourts (Pl. Ap. 17 d) and the machinery of public life (ibid. 32 a b, Grg. 473 e), and his hostility to rhetoric is outspoken (Grg. passim, cf. X. M. i. 2. 60, 6. 3), he likens such a procedure to prostitution (ibid. 6.13). (Dover xlv.)

Dover’s mistaken view that Aristophanes’ Socrates taught forensic rhetoric for payment does not invalidate his attempt to use Plato and Xenophon in developing a picture of Socrates that can be meaningfully contrasted with the Socrates in The Clouds. In Plato’s Apology 17d-18a Socrates says: ‘I am more than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time before a court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country: – Am I making an unfair request of you? Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the truth of my word, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.’ This is Jowett’s translation, and Dover’s claim that Socrates ‘professes total unfamiliarity with the lawcourts’ is in full accord with it.

Jowett in his translation failed to express the moral certainty with which Socrates determines what justice requires from a judge and what it requires from an orator; he appears to have given a lot of thought to law-courts. Jowett’s ‘Am I making an unfair request of you?’ stands for Socrates’ kai dȇ kai nun touto humȏn deomai dikaion ‘and now I ask from you to adhere to this principle of justice’: ‘consider and examine only this (auto de touto skopein) and only to this pay your attention (kai toutȏi noun prosechein), whether what I say is just or no (ei dikaia legȏ ȇ mȇ); for this is the virtue of a judge (dikastou men gar hautȇ aretȇ), that of an orator is telling the truth (rȇtoros de t’alȇthȇ legein, 18a3-6).

How seriously Socrates meant his request becomes clear when the court finds him guilty. Socrates’ accuser proposed death as the penalty: ‘And what shall I propose on my part, O men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is my due? What ought I to have done to me, or to pay – a man who has never had the wit to keep quiet during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care for – wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties. Reflecting that I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live, I did not go where I could do no good to you or to myself; but where I could do privately the greatest good (as I affirm it to be) to everyone of you, thither I went, and sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this should be the order which he observes in all his actions. What shall be done to such an one? Doubtless some good thing, O men of Athens, if he has his reward; and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, and who desires leisure that he may instruct you? There can be no reward so fitting as maintenance in the Prytaneum [Wikipedia: ‘The Prytaneum was regarded as the religious and political center of the community and was thus the nucleus of all government, and the official "home" of the whole people.’], O men of Athens, a reward which he deserves far more than the citizen who won the prize at Olympia in the horse or chariot race, whether the chariots were drawn by two horses or many. For I am in want, and he has enough; and he only gives you the appearance of happiness, and I give you the reality. And if I am to estimate the penalty fairly, I should say that maintenance in the Prytaneum is the just return.’ (36b3-37a1, tr. Jowett)

Throughout his whole defence Socrates refrained from referring to the members of the jury as ‘judges’; he reserved this title only for those who voted ‘not guilty’: ‘O my judges (ȏ andres dikastai) – for you I may truly call judges (humas gar dikastas kalȏn orthȏs an kaloiȇn).’ (40a2-3, tr. Jowett)

In The Clouds Socrates snatched away the cloak from the wrestling-school with his performance in geometry; Strepsiades had to take off his cloak and enter Socrates’ House-of-thinking naked. In Plato’s Theaetetus, staged in a gymnasium at which Socrates stops on his way to the office of the King Archon to face the charges raised against him by Meletus, Socrates meets Theodorus, an expert in geometry, and ‘strips him naked’. Theodorus complains: ‘It isn’t easy to avoid saying something when one’s sitting with you, Socrates. I was talking nonsense just now, when I claimed that you’d let me keep my clothes on and not make me take them off … you seem to me to act a part more like that of Antaeus [a famous robber]: you don’t let go of anyone who comes up to you until you’ve forced him to take his clothes off and wrestle with you in an argument.’ (169a-b, tr. McDowell)

In the light of Aristophanes’ Clouds and Plato’s Theaetetus, Socrates at his trial stripped the jury naked. At the end of The Clouds Aristophanes shows that stripping was what hurt Strepsiades most; setting Socrates’ House-of-thinking on fire, he proclaimed himself to be the one ‘whose cloak you took away’. (See my 4th entry on ‘Socrates in Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon’, posted on the 3rd of June.)

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