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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Life of Socrates
By Diogenes Laertius (Third Century A.D.)
 
From the ‘Lives and Sayings of the Philosophers’: Translation of William Cranston Lawton

SOCRATES was the son of Sophroniscus a sculptor and Phænarete a midwife [as Plato also states in the ‘Theætetus’], and an Athenian, of the deme Alopeke. He was believed to aid Euripides in composing his dramas. Hence Mnesimachus speaks thus:—
  “This is Euripides’s new play, the ‘Phrygians’:
And Socrates has furnished him the sticks.”
And again:—
  “Euripides, Socratically patched.”
Callias also, in his ‘Captives,’ says:—
  A—“Why art so solemn, putting on such airs?
B—Indeed I may; the cause is Socrates.”
Aristophanes, in the ‘Clouds,’ again, remarks:—
  “And this is he who for Euripides
Composed the talkative wise tragedies.”
He was a pupil of Anaxagoras, according to some authorities, but also of Damon, as Alexander states in his ‘Successions.’ After the former’s condemnation he became a disciple of Archelaus the natural philosopher. But Douris says he was a slave, and carried stones. Some say, too, that the Graces on the Acropolis are his; they are clothed figures. Hence, they say, Timon in his ‘Silli’ declares:—
  “From them proceeded the stone-polisher,
Prater on law, enchanter of the Greeks,
Who taught the art of subtle argument,
The nose-in-air, mocker of orators,
Half Attic, the adept in irony.”
  1
  For he was also clever in discussion. But the Thirty Tyrants, as Xenophon tells us, forbade him to teach the art of arguing. Aristophanes also brings him on in comedy, making the Worse Argument seem the better. He was moreover the first, with his pupil Æschines, to teach oratory. He was likewise the first who conversed about life, and the first of the philosophers who came to his end by being condemned to death. We are also told that he lent out money. At least, investing it, he would collect what was due, and then after spending it invest again. But Demetrius the Byzantine says it was Crito who, struck by the charm of his character, took him out of the workshop and educated him.  2
  Realizing that natural philosophy was of no interest to men, it is said, he discussed ethics, in the workshops and in the agora, and used to say he was seeking
  “Whatsoever is good in human dwellings, or evil.”
And very often, we are told, when in these discussions he conversed too violently, he was beaten or had his hair pulled out, and was usually laughed to scorn. So once when he was kicked, and bore it patiently, some one expressed surprise; but he said, “If an ass had kicked me, would I bring an action against him?”
  3
  Foreign travel he did not require, as most men do, except when he had to serve in the army. At other times, remaining in Athens, he disputed in argumentative fashion with those who conversed with him, not so as to deprive them of their belief, but to strive for the ascertainment of truth. They say Euripides gave him the work of Heraclitus, and asked him, “What do you think of it?” And he said, “What I understood is fine; I suppose what I did not understand is, too; only it needs a Delian diver!” He attended also to physical training, and was in excellent condition. Moreover, he went on the expedition to Amphipolis, and when Xenophon had fallen from his horse in the battle of Delium he picked him up and saved him. Indeed, when all the other Athenians were fleeing he retreated slowly, turning about calmly, and on the lookout to defend himself if attacked. He also joined the expedition to Potidæa—by sea, for the war prevented a march by land; and it was there he was said once to have remained standing in one position all night. There too, it is said, he was pre-eminent in valor, but gave up the prize to Alcibiades, of whom he is stated to have been very fond. Ion of Chios says moreover that when young he visited Samos with Archelaus, and Aristotle states that he went to Delphi. Favorinus again, in the first book of his ‘Commentaries’ says he went to the Isthmus.  4
  He was also very firm in his convictions and devoted to the democracy, as was evident from his not yielding to Critias and his associates when they bade him bring Leon of Salamis, a wealthy man, to them to be put to death. He was also the only one who opposed the condemnation of the ten generals. When he could have escaped from prison, too, he would not. The friends who wept at his fate he reproved, and while in prison he composed those beautiful discourses.  5
  He was also temperate and austere. Once, as Pamphila tells us in the seventh book of her ‘Commentaries,’ Alcibiades offered him a great estate, on which to build a house; and he said, “If I needed sandals, and you offered me a hide from which to make them for myself, I should be laughed at if I took it.” Often, too, beholding the multitude of things for sale, he would say to himself, “How many things I do not need!” He used constantly to repeat aloud these iambic verses:—
  “But silver plate and garb of purple dye
To actors are of use,—but not in life.”
He disdained the tyrants,—Archelaus of Macedon, Scopas of Crannon, Eurylochus of Melissa,—not accepting gifts from them nor visiting them. He was so regular in his way of living that he was frequently the only one not ill when Athens was attacked by the plague.
  6
  Aristotle says he wedded two wives, the first Xanthippe, who bore him Lamprocles, and the second Myrto, daughter of Aristides the Just, whom he received without dowry and by whom he had Sophroniscus and Menexenus. Some however say he married Myrto first; and some again that he had them both at once, as the Athenians on account of scarcity of men passed a law to increase the population, permitting any one to marry one Athenian woman and have children by another; so Socrates did this.  7
  He was a man also able to disdain those who mocked him. He prided himself on his simple manner of living, and never exacted any pay. He used to say he who ate with best appetite had least need of delicacies, and he who drank with best appetite had least need to seek a draught not at hand; and that he who had fewest needs was nearest the gods. This indeed we may learn from the comic poets, who in their very ridicule covertly praise him. Thus Aristophanes says:—
  “O thou who hast righteously set thy heart on attaining to noble wisdom,
How happy the life thou wilt lead among the Athenians and the Hellenes!
Shrewdness and memory both are thine, and energy unwearied
Of mind; and never art thou tired from standing or from walking.
By cold thou art not vexed at all, nor dost thou long for breakfast.
Wine thou dost shun, and gluttony, and every other folly.”
  8
  Ameipsias also, bringing him upon the stage in the philosopher’s cloak, says:—
  “O Socrates, best among few men, most foolish of many, thou also
Art come unto us; thou’rt a patient soul; but where didst get that doublet?
That wretched thing in mockery was presented by the cobblers!
Yet though so hungry, he never however has stooped to flatter a mortal.”
  9
  This disdain and arrogance in Socrates has also been exposed by Aristophanes, who says:—
  “Along the streets you haughtily strut; your eyes roll hither and thither:
Barefooted, enduring discomforts, you go with countenance solemn among us.”
And yet sometimes, suiting himself to the occasion, he dressed finely; as when for instance in Plato’s ‘Symposium’ he goes to Agathon’s.
  10
  He was a man able both to urge others to action, and to dissuade them. Thus, when he conversed with Theætetus on Knowledge, he sent him away inspired, as Plato says. Again, when Euthyphron had indicted his own father for manslaughter, by conversing with him on piety Socrates turned him from his purpose. Lysis also by his exhortations he rendered a most moral man. He was moreover skillful in fitting his arguments to the circumstances. He changed the feeling of his son Lamprocles when he was enraged with his mother, as Xenophon somewhere relates. Plato’s brother Glaucon, who wished to be active in politics, he dissuaded because of his inexperience, as Xenophon states; but Charmides on the other hand, who was well fitted, he urged on. He roused the spirit of Iphicrates the general also, pointing out to him the cocks of Midias the barber fighting those of Callias. He said it was strange that every man could tell easily how many sheep he had, but could not call by name the friends whom he had acquired, so negligent were men in that regard. Once seeing Euclid devoting great pains to captious arguments, he said, “O Euclid, you will be able to manage sophists—but men, never!” For he thought hair-splitting on such matters useless, as Plato also says in his ‘Euthydemus.’  11
  When Glaucon offered him some slaves, so that he might make a profit on them, he did not take them.  12
  He praised leisure as the best of possessions, as Xenophon also says in his ‘Symposium.’ He used to say, too, that there was but one good—knowledge; and one evil—ignorance. Wealth and birth, he said, had no value, but were on the contrary wholly an evil. So when some one told him Antisthenes’s mother was a Thracian, “Did you think,” quoth he, “so fine a man must be the child of two Athenians?” When Phædo had been captured in war and shamefully enslaved, Socrates bade Crito ransom him, and made him a philosopher.  13
  He also learned, when already an old man, to play the lyre, saying there was no absurdity in learning what one did not know. He used to dance frequently, too, thinking this exercise helpful to health. This Xenophon tells us in the ‘Symposium.’  14
  He used to say that his Dæmon foretold future events: and that he knew nothing, except that very fact that he did know nothing. Those who bought at a great price what was out of season, he said, had no hope of living till the season came around. Once being asked what was virtue in a young man, he said, “To avoid excess in all things.” He used to say one should study geometry (surveying) just enough to be able to measure land in buying and selling it.  15
  When Euripides in the ‘Auge’ said of virtue:—
  “These things were better left to lie untouched,”
he rose up and left the theatre, saying it was absurd to think it proper to seek for a slave if he was not to be found, but to let virtue perish unregarded. When his advice was asked whether to marry or not, he said, “Whichever you do, you will regret it!” He used to say that he marveled that those who made stone statues took pains to make the stone as like the man as possible, but took none with themselves, that they might not be like the stone. He thought it proper for the young to look constantly in the mirror, so that if they had beauty they might prove themselves worthy of it, and if they were ugly, that they might conceal their ugliness by their accomplishments.
  16
  When he had invited rich friends to dinner, and Xanthippe was ashamed, he said, “Do not be troubled. If they are sensible, they will bear with us. If not, we shall care nothing for them.” Most men, he said, lived to eat; but he ate to live. As to those who showed regard for the opinions of the ignoble multitude, he said it was as if a man should reject one tetradrachm [coin] as worthless, but accept a heap of such coins as good. When Æschines said, “I am poor and have nothing else, but I give you myself,” he said, “Do you then not realize you are offering me the greatest of gifts?” To him who said, “The Athenians have condemned you to death,” he responded, “And nature has condemned them also thereto:” though some ascribe this to Anaxagoras. When his wife exclaimed, “You die innocent!” he answered, “Do you wish I were guilty?”  17
  When a vision in sleep seemed to say:—
  “Three days hence thou’lt come to the fertile region of Phthia,”
he said to Æschines, “On the third day I shall die.” When he was to drink the hemlock, Apollodorus gave him a fine garment to die in: “But why,” quoth he, “is this garment of mine good enough to live in, but not to perish in?” To him who said, “So-and-so speaks ill of you,” he answered, “Yes, he has not learned to speak well.” When Antisthenes turned the ragged side of his cloak to the light, he remarked, “I see your vanity through your cloak.” He declared we ought to put ourselves expressly at the service of the comedy writers: “For if they say anything about us that is true, they will correct us; and if what they say be untrue, it does not concern us at all.”
  18
  When Xanthippe had first reviled him, then drenched him with water, “Didn’t I tell you,” said he, “it was thundering and would soon rain?” To Alcibiades, who said Xanthippe’s scolding was unbearable, he replied, “I am accustomed to it, as to a constantly creaking pulley. And you,” he added, “endure the cackling of geese.” Alcibiades said, “Yes, for they bring me eggs and goslings.” “And Xanthippe,” retorted Socrates, “bears me children.” Once when she pulled off his cloak in the agora, his friends advised him to defend himself with force. “Yes,” said he, “by Jove, so that as we fight, each of you may cry, ‘Well done, Socrates!’ ‘Good for you, Xanthippe!’” He used to say he practiced on Xanthippe just as trainers do with spirited horses. “Just as they if they master them are able to control any other horse, so I who am accustomed to Xanthippe shall get on easily with any one else.”  19
  It was for such words and acts as this that the Delphic priestess bore witness in his honor, giving to Chairephon that famous response:—
  “Wisest of all mankind is Socrates.”
  20
  He became extremely unpopular on account of this oracle; but also because he convicted of ignorance those who had a great opinion of themselves, particularly Anytus, as Plato also says in the ‘Meno.’ For Anytus, enraged at the ridicule Socrates brought upon him, first urged Aristophanes and the rest on to attack him, and then induced Meletus to join in indicting him for impiety and for corrupting the young men. Plato in the ‘Apology’ says there were three accusers,—Anytus, Lycon, and Meletus: Anytus being incensed at him in behalf of the artisans and politicians, Lycon for the orators, and Meletus for the poets, all of whom Socrates pulled to pieces. The sworn statement of the plaintiffs ran as follows; for it is still recorded, Favorinus says, in the State archives:—“Socrates is guilty, not honoring the gods whom the State honors, but introducing other strange divinities; and he is further guilty of corrupting the young. Penalty, death.”  21
  When Lysias wrote a speech for his defense, he read it, and said, “A fine speech, Lysias, but not suited to me;” for indeed it was rather a lawyer’s plea than a philosopher’s. Lysias said, “But why, if the speech is a fine one, should it not be suitable for you?” Socrates replied, “Would not fine robes, then, and sandals, be unfitting for me?”  22
  While he was on trial, it is stated that Plato ascended the bema and began, “Being the youngest, O men of Athens, of all who ever came upon the bema”—but at this point the judges cried out, “Come down! come down!” So he was convicted by two hundred and eighty-one votes more than were cast for his acquittal. And when the judges considered what penalty or fine he should receive, he said he would pay five-and-twenty drachmæ. Euboulides says he agreed to pay a hundred, but when the judges expressed their indignation aloud, he said, “For what I have done, I consider the proper return to be support at the public expense in the town hall.” But they condemned him to death, the vote being larger than before by eighty.  23
  Not many days later he drank the hemlock in the prison, after uttering many noble words, recorded by Plato in the ‘Phædo.’ According to some, he wrote a poem beginning—
  “Greeting, Apollo of Delos, and Artemis, youthful and famous.”
  24
  He also versified, not very successfully, a fable of Æsop’s which began—
  “Æsop once to the people who dwell in the city of Corinth
Said, ‘Let virtue be judged not by the popular voice.’”
  25
  So he passed from among men; but straightway the Athenians repented of their action, so that they closed the gymnasia, and exiling the other accusers, put Meletus to death. Socrates they honored with a statue of bronze, the work of Lysippus, which was set up in the Pompeion. Anytus in exile, entering Heraclea, was warned out of town that very day.  26
  The Athenians have had the same experience not only in Socrates’s case, but with many others. Indeed, it is stated that they fined Homer as a madman, and adjudged Tyrtæus to be crazy. Euripides reproves them in the ‘Palamedes,’ saying:—
          “Ye have slain, ye have slain the all-wise, the harmless nightingale of the Muses.”
That is so. But Philochorus says Euripides died before Socrates.
  27
  Socrates and Euripides were both disciples of Anaxagoras. It appears to me, too, that Socrates did talk on natural philosophy. In fact, Xenophon says so, though he states that Socrates held discourse only upon moral questions. Plato indeed, in the ‘Apology,’ mentioning Anaxagoras and other natural philosophers, himself says of them things whereof Socrates denies any knowledge; yet it is all ascribed to Socrates.  28
  Aristotle states that a certain mage from Syria came to Athens, and among other prophecies concerning Socrates foretold that his death would be a violent one.  29
  The following verses upon him are our own:—
  Drink, in the palace of Zeus, O Socrates, seeing that truly
Thou by a god wert called wise, who is wisdom itself.
Foolish Athenians, who to thee offered the potion of hemlock,
Through thy lips themselves draining the cup to the dregs!
  30
 
 
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