Sunday, July 30, 2017

5b An interlude with Xenophon’s Hellenica – the speech of Theramenes, with reference to Plato’s Seventh Letter and Charmides

Theramens continued: “I objected likewise when they took away from the people their arms (anteipon de kai hote ta hopla tou plêthous parê̢rounto), because I thought that we ought not to make the state weak (ou nomizôn chrênai asthenê tên polin poiein); for I saw that, in preserving us, the purpose of the Lacedaemonians had not been (oude gar tous Lakedaimonious heôrôn toutou heneka boulomenous perisôsai hêmas) that we might become few in number (hopôs oligoi genomenoi) and unable to do them any service (mêden dunaimeth’ autous ôphelein); for if this had been what they desired, it was within their power (exên gar autois, ei toutou g’ edeonto), by keeping up the pressure of famine a little while longer, to leave not a single man alive (kai mêdena lipein oligon eti chronon tô̢ limô̢ piesantas). Again, the hiring of guardsmen did not please me (oude ge tous phrourous misthousthai sunêreske moi), for we might have enlisted in our service an equal number of our own citizens (exon autôn tôn politôn tosoutous proslambanein), until (heôs) we, the rulers, should easily have made ourselves masters of our subjects (ra̢diôs emellomen hoi archontes tôn archomenôn kratêsein). And further, when I saw that many in the city were becoming hostile to this government (epei ge mên pollous heôrôn en tê̢ polei tê̢ archê̢ tê̢de dusmeneis) and that many were becoming exiles (pollous de phugadas gignomenous), it did not seem to me best to banish either Thrasybulus or Anytus or Alcibiades (ouk au edokei moi oute Thrasuboulon oute Anuton oute Alkibiadên phugadeuein); for I knew (e̢dein gar) that by such measures (hoti houtô ge) the opposition (to antipalon) would be made strong (ischuron esoito), if once the commons should acquire capable leaders (ei tô̢ men plêthei hêgemones hikanoi prosgenêsointo) and if those who wished to be leaders (tois d’ hêgeisthai boulomenois) should find a multitude of supporters (summachoi polloi phanêsointo).

“Now would the man who offers openly this sort of admonition be fairly regarded as a well-wisher, or as a traitor (Ho tauta men nouthetôn en tô̢ phanerô̢ potera eumenês an dikaiôs ê prodotês nomizoito;)? It is not, Critias, the men who prevent one’s making enemies in abundance (ouch hoi echthrous, ô Kritia, kôluontes pollous poieisthai) nor the men who teach one how to gain allies in the greatest number, – it is not these, I say, who make one’s enemies strong (oud’ hoi summachous pleistous didaskontes ktasthai, houtoi tous polemious ischurous poiousin); but it is much rather those who unjustly rob others of property (alla polu mallon hoi adikôs te chrêmata aphairoumenoi) and put to death people who are guilty of no wrong (kai tous ouden adikountas apokteinontes), who, I say, make their opponents numerous (houtoi eisin hoi kai pollous tous enantious poiountes) and betray (kai prodidontes) not only their friends (ou monon tous philous) but also themselves (alla kai heautous), and all to satisfy their covetousness (di’ aischrokerdeian).” (II. iii. 41-43, tr. Brownson)

When the Thirty assumed power, Plato was undoubtedly convinced that if they were to ‘administer the city so as to lead it out of an unjust way of life into a just way’ (ek tinos adikou biou epi dikaion tropon agontas dioikêsein tên polin, Ep. 7, 324d4-5), they needed Critias as a political leader, and Socrates a moral guide; this is what the Charmides was all about. In the initial stages of the reign of the Thirty Theramenes too was undoubtedly convinced of the leadership qualities of Critias, viewing him as a true aristocrat (aristos ‘best’, krateô ‘rule’, ‘hold power’). But as Theramenes acutely observed, Critias and the rest of the Thirty by their unbridled ‘desire of having more’ (pleonektein), by their covetousness (di’ aischrokerdeian), betrayed not only their friends, but betrayed themselves.

Theramens continued: “And if it is not evident in any other way that what I say is true (ei de mê allôs gnôston hoti alêthê legô), look at the matter in this way (hôde episkepsasthe): do you suppose (poteron oiesthe) that Thrasybulus (Thrasuboulon) and Anytus (kai Anuton) and the other exiles (kai tous allous phugadas) would prefer to have us follow here the policy which I am urging by word (ha egô legô mallon an enthade boulesthai gignesthai), or the policy which these men are carrying in deed (ê ha houtoi prattousin;)? For my part, I fancy (egô men gar oimai) that now they believe every spot is full of allies (nun men autous nomizein summachôn panta mesta einai), while if the best element in the state (ei de to kratiston tês poleôs) were friendly to us (prosphilôs hêmin eiche), they would count it difficult (chalepon an hêgeisthai einai) even to set foot anywhere in the land! (kai to epibainein poi tês chôras)” (II. iii. 41-44, tr. Brownson)

In the Seventh letter, speaking about the restoration of democracy, Plato says that ‘the exiles who had returned at that time exercised no little moderation (pollê̢ echrêsanto hoi tote katelthontes epieikeia̢), but by some ill fortune then again (kata de tina tuchên au), some of those in power brought my friend Socrates to trial before a court of law (ton hetairon hêmôn Sôkratê touton dunasteuontes tines eisagousin eis dikastêrion, Ep. 7, 325b4-6).’

Bury notes: ‘Meletus and Anytus, the accusers of Socrates; see the Apology.’ But only Anytus fits Plato’s ‘some of those in power’. Plato speaks in plural, meaning one person, as Greeks often did, and as he himself does in the same sentence when he speaks of ‘my friend Socrates’ in plural: ‘our friend Socrates’ (hetairon hêmôn Sôkratê). The ‘then again’ in Plato’s ‘but by some ill fortune then again’ (kata de tina tuchên au) refers to the attempt of the Thirty to implicate Socrates in their crimes by sending him with four others to Salamis to arrest Leon the Salaminian and bring him to Athens for execution; ‘Socrates did not obey (ho d’ ouk epeitheto), risking all consequences (pan de parekinduneusen pathein) rather than be made to share in their unholy deeds’ (prin anosiôn autois ergôn genesthai koinônos, Ep. 7, 324e-325a).

No wonder Plato saw some tuchê (‘fate’, ‘chance’, ‘some agent or cause beyond human control’ L&S) at work in these events. By some tuchê Theramenes in his speech refers to the incident concerning Leon the Salaminian as the point at which he began openly to disagree with Critias and the rest of the Thirty, and ‘then again’ he speaks of his efforts to strengthen the aristocratic regime, so that Anytus and the other exiles could not return to Athens.

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