Xenophon in Seven Volumes Vol 4; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, translator; Marchant, E. C. (Edgar Cardew), 1864-1960, editor

No less wonderful is it to me that some believed the charge brought against Socrates of corrupting the youth. In the first place, apart from what I have said, in control of his own passions and appetites he was the strictest of men; further, in endurance of cold and heat and every kind of toil he was most resolute; and besides, his needs were so schooled to moderation that having very little he was yet very content.

Such was his own character: how then can he have led others into impiety, crime, gluttony, lust, or sloth? On the contrary, he cured these vices in many, by putting into them a desire for goodness, and by giving them confidence that self-discipline would make them gentlemen.

To be sure he never professed to teach this; but, by letting his own light shine, he led his disciples to hope that they through imitation of him would attain to such excellence.

Furthermore, he himself never neglected the body, and reproved such neglect in others. Thus over-eating followed by over-exertion he disapproved. But he approved of taking as much hard exercise as is agreeable to the soul;[*](Cyropaedia I. vi. 17.) for the habit not only insured good health, but did not hamper the care of the soul.

On the other hand, he disliked foppery and pretentiousness in the fashion of clothes or shoes or in behaviour. Nor, again, did he encourage love of money in his companions. For while he checked their other desires, he would not make money himself out of their desire for his companionship.

He held that this self-denying ordinance insured his liberty. Those who charged a fee for their society he denounced for selling themselves into bondage; since they were bound to converse with all from whom they took the fee.

He marvelled that anyone should make money by the profession of virtue, and should not reflect that his highest reward would be the gain of a good friend; as though he who became a true gentleman could fail to feel deep gratitude for a benefit so great.

Socrates indeed never promised any such boon to anyone; but he was confident that those of his companions who adopted his principles of conduct would throughout life be good friends to him and to one another. How, then, should such a man corrupt the youth? Unless, perchance, it be corruption to foster virtue.

But, said his accuser, he taught his companions to despise the established laws by insisting on the folly of appointing public officials by lot, when none would choose a pilot or builder or flautist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft. Such sayings, he argued, led the young to despise the established constitution and made them violent.

But I hold[*](Cyropaedia I. iv. 21.) that they who cultivate wisdom and think they will be able to guide the people in prudent policy never lapse into violence: they know that enmities and dangers are inseparable from violence, but persuasion produces the same results safely and amicably. For violence, by making its victims sensible of loss, rouses their hatred: but persuasion, by seeming to confer a favour, wins goodwill. It is not, then, cultivation of wisdom that leads to violent methods, but the possession of power without prudence.

Besides, many supporters are necessary to him who ventures to use force: but he who can persuade needs no confederate, having confidence in his own unaided power of persuasion. And such a man has no occasion to shed blood; for who would rather take a man’s life than have a live and willing follower?But his accuser argued thus.

Among the associates of Socrates were Critias and Alcibiades; and none wrought so many evils to the state. For Critias in the days of the oligarchy bore the palm for greed and violence: Alcibiades, for his part, exceeded all in licentiousness and insolence under the democracy.

Now I have no intention of excusing the wrong these two men wrought the state; but I will explain how they came to be with Socrates.

Ambition was the very life-blood of both: no Athenian was ever like them. They were eager to get control of everything and to outstrip every rival in notoriety. They knew that Socrates was living on very little, and yet was wholly independent; that he was strictly moderate in all his pleasures; and that in argument he could do what he liked with any disputant.

Sharing this knowledge and the principles I have indicated, is it to be supposed that these two men wanted to adopt the simple life of Socrates, and with this object in view sought his society? Did they not rather think that by associating with him they would attain the utmost proficiency in speech and action?

For my part I believe that, had heaven granted them the choice between the life they saw Socrates leading and death, they would have chosen rather to die. Their conduct betrayed their purpose; for as soon as they thought themselves superior to their fellow-disciples they sprang away from Socrates and took to politics; it was for political ends that they had wanted Socrates.

But it may be answered: Socrates should have taught his companions prudence before politics. I do not deny it; but I find that all teachers show their disciples how they themselves practise what they teach, and lead them on by argument. And I know that it was so with Socrates: he showed his companions that he was a gentleman himself, and talked most excellently of goodness and of all things that concern man.

I know further that even those two were prudent so long as they were with Socrates, not from fear of fine or blow, but because at that time they really believed in prudent conduct.

But many self-styled lovers of wisdom may reply: A just man can never become unjust; a prudent man can never become wanton; in fact no one having learned any kind of knowledge can become ignorant of it. I do not hold with this view.[*](Cyropaedia VII. v. 75. Against Antisthenes.) I notice that as those who do not train the body cannot perform the functions proper to the body, so those who do not train the soul cannot perform the functions of the soul: for they cannot do what they ought to do nor avoid what they ought not to do.

For this cause fathers try to keep their sons, even if they are prudent lads, out of bad company: for the society of honest men is a training in virtue, but the society of the bad is virtue’s undoing. As one of the poets says:

  1. From the good shalt thou learn good things; but if thou minglest with the bad thou shalt lose even what thou hast of wisdom.
TheognisAnd another says:
  1. Ah, but a good man is at one time noble, at another base.