Erastai

by Plato

translated by George Burges (1855)


I entered the school of Dionysius, the teacher of grammar, and I saw there those of the young men, who were deemed to be the most remarkable for their personal appearance and the good repute of their fathers, and their admirers likewise. Two of the youths happened to be disputing, but about what I did not very well hear. They appeared however to be disputing about Anaxagoras, or Oenopides; as they were describing circles, and imitating by their hands certain inclinations, with great earnestness. And, for I was sitting near an admirer of one of the young persons, nudged him with my elbow, and asked — On what were the two youths so earnestly engaged? and I said, Surely it is a subject important and beautiful, on which they have bestowed so serious an attention. — What call you important and beautiful? said he. They are prating about things above in the sky, and trifling away their time in philosophizing. — And I, in wonder at such an answer, said — Do you think it, young man, to be a disgraceful thing to philosophize? or why do you speak so harshly? — But another person, who was a rival admirer of the youths, and happened to be sitting near, on hearing me asking the question, and the answer, said — It is not for you, Socrates, to ask this man, whether he thinks it disgraceful to philosophize. Know you not that he has spent all his time in being throstled, and cramming himself, and sleeping? so that what other answer think you he would give, but that it is disgraceful to philosophize? — Now this person had employed his whole time in mental cultivation, but the other, whom he abused, in bodily exercises. It seemed then to me that I ought to dismiss the one, who had been interrogated, for he did not pretend even to be skilled in words, but in deeds; and to interrogate thoroughly the other, who pretended to be rather clever, in order that I might, if I could, be benefited by him in knowledge. I said therefore to him, that I had proposed my question in common for all; but if you think you will give a better answer, I put the same question to you as I did to him, Whether you think it honourable to philosophize or not? — Just as we were conversing thus, the two youths, overhearing us, became silent; and ceasing from the dispute, became listeners. Now, what their admirers suffered, I know not; but I was struck with astonishment. For I am always struck so in the case of the young and handsome. One of them, however, seemed to me in no less an agony than myself; and he answered with the air of a person eager for honour. — Should I ever, Socrates, said he, consider it disgraceful to philosophize, I should no longer deem myself a human being nor, indeed, anyone else, so disposed, pointing to his rival, and speaking with a loud voice, so that the objects of their admiration might hear. — To you, then, said I, it seems honourable to philosophize. — Most highly, replied he. — What then, said I; does it seem to you possible for a man to know anything whatever, whether it is disgraceful or honourable, who does not know at all what that thing is? — No, said he. — Know you then, said I, what it is to philosophize? — Perfectly, said he. — What is it then? said I. — What else, said he, than according to the sentiment of Solon? For Solon says somewhere,

Even as I grow old, still much I learn.

And it appears to me that the man, who would philosophize, ought to be always learning some one thing at least, when he is either young or old, in order that he may during life learn the greatest number of things. — At first it seemed to me that he had said something to the purpose; but afterwards, on thinking thrice, I asked him, whether he considered philosophy to be much learning? — Completely so, said he. — And do you consider, said I, that philosophy is only honourable? or good likewise? — It is likewise very good, said he. — Do you perceive this to be something peculiar to philosophy? or does it seem to you to be the case in other things likewise? For instance, do you consider a love of gymnastic exercises to be not only honourable but good likewise, or not? — To this he said very ironically two things. To this man let it be said, that it is neither; but to you, Socrates, I acknowledge it to be both honourable and good. — I then asked him, Do you think that in these exercises the undergoing much toil is a love of exercise? — By all means, said he; just as in philosophizing, I consider that much learning is philosophy. — Do you think then, said I, that the lovers of those exercises desire anything else than that, which will cause the body to be in a good state? — That very thing, he replied. — Do then, said I, many labours, cause the body to be in a good state? — Certainly, said he; for how should a person have, from little labour, his body in a good state? — Here I thought it best to call upon the lover of gymnastics, in order that he might assist me through his knowledge of the gymnastic art. And I asked him, Why are you silent, O best of men, while this person is talking thus? Or to you likewise do persons seem to have their bodies in a good state from much labour or little? For my part, Socrates, said he, I thought he had known the saying, that moderate labour is best for the body. How so? said I. — I speak not of a man sleepless, and foodless, and having his neck not worn down and attenuated by care. On his saying this the youths were delighted, and burst into a laugh; but the other party blushed. — I then said, What then, do you now concede that neither much nor little labour causes human beings to have their bodies in a good state, but only what is moderate? Or will you contest with us two? — Against him, said he, I would enter the lists with much pleasure, and I know well that I should be competent to support the proposition I have laid down, if I had laid down one weaker than this; for he is nothing. But against you I beg not to contend in favour of a paradox; and I admit, that not many, but moderate exercises procure for men a good habit of body. And what in the case of food? said I. Is it the moderate, or much? — He admitted it in the case of food. And thus I compelled him to confess that, in the case of all the other things relating to the body, the moderate is the most beneficial, and not the much or little. And he confessed the moderate and all this he granted me. — What then, said I, as regards the soul? Of the things applied to it do the moderate or the immoderate benefit it? — The moderate, said he. — Is not learning one of the things applied to the soul? — He admitted it. — Of learning then, the moderate quantity benefits, but not the great. — He assented. — Of whom then, making an inquiry, should we justly inquire what kind of exercise and of food are moderate for the body? We all three agreed that it is a physician or a master of exercise. And of whom shall we inquire about the sowing of seeds? About this, we confessed the husbandman. But inquiring of whom, should we justly inquire respecting the planting and sowing of learning in the soul, how many, and of what kinds of it are moderate? We were here all full of difficulty. Upon which I said, by way of a joke, Since we are all at a loss, are you willing for us to ask these youths here? Or perhaps we are ashamed, as Homer says the suitors were, who deemed that no one else was fit to stretch the bow.

Since then they now seemed to be dispirited on the question, I endeavoured to view it in another light, and I said — What kinds of learning do we best conjecture those are, which a philosopher ought to learn? Since they are not all or many. Whereupon the wiser person, taking up the discourse, observed that the most beautiful kinds of learning, and the most becoming, are those by which a person would obtain the highest reputation for philosophy; and that he would obtain the highest, if he seemed to be skilled in all arts and, if not all, at least in as many as possible, and especially those of the greatest account, after having learnt such of them as are fitting for freemen to learn, and are connected with intellect, and not with a handicraft merely. — Do you mean in the same way, said I, as in carpentry? For there you may purchase a tip-top carpenter for five or six minas but you could not buy an architect even for ten thousand drachmas; so few of these are to be found amongst all the Greeks. Are you speaking of some such thing? — And he, on hearing, admitted that he was speaking of such a thing. — I then asked him, if it was not impossible for one person to learn thus only two arts, much less, many and great. — Do not understand me, Socrates, said he, as if I were saying that a philosopher ought to know each of the arts accurately, as he does, who makes it his profession ; but to be able, as becomes a person of a liberal education, to follow better than the persons present, what is said by the handicraftsman; and to give his opinion so as to appear, in what is said and done relating to the arts, to have a finer taste, and more knowledge, than those who happen to be present. — Then I — for I was still doubtful what he meant by his speech — said to him, Do I conceive rightly what kind of person you call a philosopher? For you seem to me to speak of a person, such as are the competitors in five kinds of contest, compared with the runner, or the wrestlers. For the former fall short of the latter, as regards the contests of the latter, and are second to them but of all the other competitors, they are the first, and are the victors. Some such thing you mean perhaps that the study of philosophy effects in those, who pursue it, in that in the intellect relating to the arts, but in attaining the second, they are superior to all the rest; so that he, who has studied philosophy, becomes in everything a person under the tip-top man. Somesuch person you seem to me to point out. — You appear to me, Socrates, said he, to understand correctly what relates to a philosopher, in likening him to a competitor in five contests. For he is really such a man, as not to be a slave to anything nor has he laboured upon any one thing with such accuracy, as, through his attention to that one thing, to be deficient in all the rest, as are handicraftsmen, but he has touched moderately upon all.

After this reply, I was anxious to know clearly what he meant, and I inquired of him, whether he considered good persons to be useful or useless. — Useful, surely, Socrates, said he. — If then the good are useful, are not the bad useless? — He agreed. — Well then, said I, do you deem philosophers to be useful, or not? — He acknowledged they were useful; and moreover he said, that he deemed them the most useful of all persons. — Come now, said I, let us see whether you say what is true. How can these second-rate men be of any use to us? For it is plain that the philosopher is inferior to each of those who possess their respective arts. — He acknowledged it. — Come then, said I, if either yourself were unwell, or any of your friends, for whom you have a great regard, would you, being desirous to recover health, introduce that second-rate person, the philosopher, to your family; or take a physician. — Both of them, said he. — Do not say both, I replied; but which in preference, and the first? — No man, said he, would hesitate about this, that I would take the physician in preference and first. — What then, in a vessel tossed in a storm? To whom would you rather intrust yourself and your property? To a pilot, or to a philosopher? — To a pilot, for my part, said he. — And so, too, in all other affairs; so long as there is a person of skill in a profession, the philosopher is of no use. — It appears so, said he. — The philosopher, therefore, said I, is some useless person; for there are surely persons of skill in all professions. But we have agreed that the good are useful, and the wicked useless. — He was forced to own it.

What then, said I, shall I ask you about what comes after this? Or is it not rather rude to put a question? — Ask what you please, said he. — I desire nothing else, said I, than to repeat the concessions already made. Now the matter stands thus. We have conceded that philosophy is an honourable thing, and that we are ourselves philosophers and that philosophers are good; and that the good are useful, and the wicked useless. Again, on the other hand, we have conceded that philosophers are useless, as long as there are persons of skill in any particular profession; and that such persons are existing at all times. For was not all this conceded? — Certainly, said he. — We concede, therefore, agreeably to your own reasoning, that if it be philosophy to be skilled in arts in the manner you state, such persons are wicked and useless as long as there are artists. But see, my friend, if the case be so, and that to philosophize is not to attend to arts, nor to busy oneself about many things, nor to be living like a workman, bending over his work, nor to be learning many things, but something else? Since I thought, it was a reproach for persons, much occupied in arts, to be called artisans.

But we shall know more clearly by this means, whether I am speaking truly, if you will answer me this. Who know how to punish horses correctly? Whether they, who make them better, or others? — They who make them better. Well then, do not they, who know how to make dogs better, know how to chastise dogs properly? — Yes. — The same art then makes better, and chastises properly. — I agree, said he. Well then, is the art, which makes better and chastises properly, the same as that which knows the good and the vicious, or is it a different one? — It is, said he, the same. — Are you then willing, said I, to concede this, in the case of human beings likewise, that the art, which makes men better, is that, which chastises properly, and knows the good and the bad? By all means, said he. — Does not then the art which applies to one apply to many too, and that which applies to many apply to one likewise? And so too as regards horses and all other things? — I confess it, said he. — What then is the science, which chastises properly the licentious and the lawless in civil states? Is it not the judicial science? — Yes. — Do you mean by justice any other science than this? — No other. — Do not then men know the good and the bad by that science, by which they chastise properly? — By that. — And he, who knows one, will know many? — Yes. — And whoever does not know many, will not know one. — I confess it. — If then a horse, as being but a horse, knows not good and bad horses, he would not know of which kind he is himself? — I admit it. — And if an ox, being but an ox, knows not good and bad oxen, he would not know of which kind he is himself? — True, said he. — And so too, in the case of a dog? — He admitted it. — What then, if a man knows not the good men and the bad, would he not be ignorant whether he is good or bad, inasmuch as he too is a man? — He agreed. — Now to be ignorant of oneself, is it to be of sound mind, or not sound? — Not sound. — To know then oneself, is to be of sound mind. — I admit it, said he. — To this then, as it seems, the Delphic inscription exhorts, namely, to exercise a sound mind, and justice. — It seems so. — And by the very same science we know too how to chastise properly. — I admit it, said he. — Is not then justice that, by which we know how to chastise properly? but soundness of mind that, by which we have the skill to know ourselves and others? — It seems so, said he. — Justice then, said I, and soundness of mind are the same thing. — It appears so.

In this way, said I, states are well governed, when they, who do wrong, suffer punishment. — You speak the truth. — The same science too, said I, is that of the statesman. — He assented. — What then, when a single man administers correctly the affairs of a state, he is not a tyrant, and a king? — I admit it. — Does he not administer affairs by the art of the king? or the tyrant? — Just so. — These arts then are the same with those. — They appear so. — Well then, when one man administers the affairs of a household correctly, what is his name? Is it not steward, or master? — Yes. — Whether by justice would he administer the affairs of a household correctly? or by any other art? — By justice. — The same kind of person then, it seems, is a king, a tyrant, a statesman, a steward, a master, a man of sound mind, and a just man; and one is the art of the king, of the tyrant, of the statesman, of the master, of the steward, of the just man, and the man of sound mind. — So it appears, said he.

Is it not then disgraceful for a philosopher, when the physician is speaking about persons who are ill, not to be able to follow what is said, nor to give an opinion on what is said or done, and similarly, when any one skilled artisan is speaking? And when a judge, or a king, or anyone else of those whom we have just now enumerated, is speaking of things belonging to his office, is it not disgraceful for a philosopher not to follow what they say or do, nor to be able to give an opinion respecting them? How, Socrates, said he, is it not disgraceful for him, to be able to give no opinion on subjects so important? — Shall we assert then, said I, that on these points the philosopher must be a competitor in five contests, and be second-rate, having the second prize after all, and be useless, so long as there exists any of the first-rate? Or must he in the first place not commit his household to another person, nor have the second place in that business; but ought himself to chastise after being the judge, if his household is about to be administered correctly. — In this he agreed with me. And then, said I, should his friends submit an award to him, or the state order him to decide upon anything, or to act the judge, would it not, my friend, be disgraceful for him to appear in such cases to be second or third, and not to take the lead? — So it seems to me. To philosophize therefore, thou best of men, wants much of being great in learning, or the busying oneself about arts. — On my saying this, the wise man, ashamed of what he had before asserted, was silent; but the illiterate person said, it was in that way, and the rest approved of what had been stated.


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