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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Causes of Dislike toward Socrates
By Ernst Curtius (1814–1896)
 
From the ‘History of Greece’

THE ATHENIANS disliked men who wished to be different from every one else; particularly when these eccentrics, instead of quietly pursuing their own path and withdrawing from the world like Timon, forced themselves among their neighbors and assumed towards them the attitude of pedagogues, as Socrates did. For what could be more annoying to an Athenian of repute than to find himself, on his way to the council meeting or the law court, unexpectedly involved in a conversation intended to confuse him, to shake his comfortable self-assurance, and to end by making him ridiculous? In any other city such conversation would have been altogether hard to manage; but at Athens the love of talk was so great that many allowed themselves to be caught, and that gradually the number became very large of those who had been the victims of this inconvenient questioner, and who carried about with them the remembrance of a humiliation inflicted on them by him. And most of all was he hated by those who had allowed themselves to be touched and moved to tears of a bitter recognition of their own selves by his words, but who had afterwards sunk back into their former ways and were now ashamed of their hours of weakness. Thus Socrates had daily to experience that the testing of men was the most ungrateful of tasks which could be pursued at Athens; nor could he, without the sacred resolution of an absolutely unselfish devotion to his mission, have without ceasing obeyed the divine voice which every morning anew bade him go forth among men.  1
  But that there were also more general and deep-seated grounds for the sense of annoyance manifested by the Attic public, is most clearly proved by the attacks of the comic stage. “To me too,” it is said in a comedy by Eupolis, “this Socrates is offensive: this beggarly talker, who has considered everything with hair-splitting ingenuity; the only matter which he has left unconsidered is the question how he will get a dinner to-day.” Far more serious were the attacks of Aristophanes. His standpoint, as well as that of Eupolis and Cratinus, was the ancient Attic view of life: he regarded the teachers of philosophy, round whom the young men gathered, as the ruin of the State; and although he could not possibly mistake the difference between Socrates and the Sophists,—although moreover he by no means belonged to the personal enemies of Socrates, with whom he rather seems to have enjoyed a certain degree of intimacy,—yet he thought it both his right and his duty, as a poet and a patriot, to combat in Socrates the Sophist, nay, the most dangerous of Sophists. The Athenian of the old school hated these conversations extending through whole hours of the broad daylight, during which the young men were kept away from the palæstræ; these painful discussions of topics of morality and politics, as to which it behooved every loyal citizen to have made up his mind once for all. If everything was submitted to examination, everything was also exposed to rejection; and what was to become of the city, if only that was to be allowed as valid which found gracious acceptance at the hands of this or that professor of talk? If everything had to be learnt, if everything was to be acquired by reflection, then there was an end of true civic virtue, which ought to be a thing inborn in a citizen and secured by his training as such. In these days all action and capability of action was being dissolved into an idle knowledge; the one-sided cultivation of the intellect was loosening the sinews of men, and making them indifferent to their country and religion. From this standpoint the poet rejects all such culture of youth as is founded upon the testing of the mind, and leading it to perfect knowledge, and lauds those young Athenians who do not care for wasting their time by sitting and talking with Socrates.  2
  The priestly party, again, was adverse to Socrates, although the highest authority in religious matters which existed in Hellas, and had at all events not been superseded by any other, had declared in his favor,—at the suggestion of Chærephon, who from his youth up was attached with devoted affection to his teacher. His was an enthusiastic nature; and he desired nothing so ardently as that the beneficent influence which he had experienced in his own soul might be shared by the largest possible number of his fellow-citizens. For this reason he was anxious for an outward recognition of the merits of his so frequently misjudged friend; and he is said to have brought home from Delphi the oracle which declared Socrates to be the wisest of all men. Now, although this oracle was incapable of giving a loftier assurance of his mission to the philosopher himself, although it could not even remove the antipathy of the public, yet it might be expected that it would disarm the calumny representing Socrates as a teacher of dangerous heresies; and in this sense he could not but personally welcome the Delphic declaration. For it must be remembered that he continued to regard the oracle as the reverend centre of the nation, as the symbol of a religious communion among the Hellenes; and in disallowing all presumptuous meditation on the right way of venerating the gods, he entirely followed the precedent of the Delphic oracle, which was in the habit of settling questions of this kind by the answer that it was according to the usage of their fathers that men should venerate the gods. At Delphi, on the other hand, there could be no question as to the importance of one who was leading the revolted world back to reverence for things holy, and who, while his contemporaries were derisively despising the obsolete ways of the past, and running after the ignes fatui of the wisdom of the day, held up before their eyes the primitive sayings of the temples; a serious consideration of which he declared to be sufficient to reveal the treasure of immortal truth contained in them. If it was confessedly impossible to put an end to the prevailing desire for independent inquiry, then the priests could not but acknowledge that this was the only way by which the old religion could be saved.  3
  Even the recognition by Delphi, however, was unable to protect Socrates against the suspicion of heresy. The fanaticism of the priestly party increased in inverse ratio to its prospects of real success; it regarded any philosophical discussion of religious truths as a desecration, and placed Socrates on the same level as Diagoras. Finally, the democrats, who after the restoration of the constitution were the ruling party, hated philosophy, because out of its school had issued a large proportion of the oligarchs; not only Critias and Theramenes, but also Pythodorus the archon of the days of anarchy, Aristoteles one of the Four Hundred and of the Thirty, Charmides, and others, were known as men of philosophical culture. Philosophy and the tendency towards political reaction accordingly seemed to be necessarily connected with one another. In a word, Socrates found opposition everywhere: some deemed him too conservative and others too liberal; he had against him both the Sophists and the enemies of the Sophists, both rigid orthodoxy and infidelity, both the patriots of the old school and the representatives of the renovated democracy.  4
  Notwithstanding all this hostile feeling, the personal security of Socrates was not endangered, because he pursued his path as a blameless man, and because it was a matter of conscience with him to avoid every offense against the law. But after the restoration of the constitution a variety of circumstances continued to imperil his position at Athens.  5
 
 
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