In order to support my opinion that he benefited his companions, alike by actions that revealed his own character and by his conversation, I will set down what I recollect of these.First, then, for his attitude towards religion; his deeds and words were clearly in harmony with the answer given by the Priestess at Delphi to such questions as What is my duty about sacrifice? or about cult of ancestors. For the answer of the Priestess is, Follow the custom of the State: that is the way to act piously. And so Socrates acted himself and counselled others to act. To take any other course he considered presumption and folly.
And again, when he prayed he asked simply for good gifts,[*](Cyropaedia I. vi. 5.)for the gods know best what things are good. To pray for gold or silver or sovereignty or any other such thing, was just like praying for a gamble or a fight or anything of which the result is obviously uncertain.
Though his sacrifices were humble, according to his means, he thought himself not a whit inferior to those who made frequent and magnificent sacrifices out of great possessions. The gods (he said) could not well delight more in great offerings than in small — for in that case must the gifts of the wicked often have found more favour in their sight than the gifts of the upright — and man would not find life worth having, if the gifts of the wicked were received with more favour by the gods than the gifts of the upright. No, the greater the piety of the giver, the greater (he thought) was the delight of the gods in the gift. He would quote with approval the line:
and he would add that in our treatment of friends and strangers, and in all our behaviour, it is a noble principle to render according to our power.
- According to thy power render sacrifice to the immortal gods,[*](Hes. WD 336)
If ever any warning seemed to be given him from heaven, he would more easily have been persuaded to choose a blind guide who did not know the road in preference to one who could see and knew the way, than to disregard the admonition. All men, in fact, who flouted the warnings of the gods in their anxiety to avoid the censure of men, he denounced for their foolishness. He himself despised all human opinions in comparison with counsel given by the gods.
He schooled his body and soul by following, a system which, in all human calculation, would give him a life of confidence and security, and would make it easy to meet his expenses. For he was so frugal that it is hardly possible to imagine a man doing so little work as not to earn enough to satisfy the needs of Socrates. He ate just sufficient food to make eating a pleasure, and he was so ready for his food that he found appetite the best sauce[*](Cyropaedia I. v. 12.): and any kind of drink he found pleasant, because he drank only when he was thirsty.
Whenever he accepted an invitation to dinner, he resisted without difficulty the common temptation to exceed the limit of satiety; and he advised those who could not do likewise to avoid appetizers that encouraged them to eat and drink what they did not want: for such trash was the ruin of stomach and brain and soul.
I believe, he said in jest, it was by providing a feast of such things that Circe made swine; and it was partly by the prompting of Hermes,[*](In Odyssey, X. 281 f.) partly through his own self-restraint and avoidance of excessive indulgence in such things, that Odysseus was not turned into a pig.
This was how he would talk on the subject, half joking, half in earnest.Of sensual passion he would say: Avoid it resolutely: it is not easy to control yourself once you meddle with that sort of thing. Thus, on hearing that Critobulus had kissed Alcibiades’ pretty boy, he put this question to Xenophon before Critobulus:
Tell me, Xenophon, did you not suppose Critobulus to be a sober person, and by no means rash; prudent, and not thoughtless or adventurous?Certainly, said Xenophon.Then you are to look on him henceforth as utterly hot-headed and reckless: the man would do a somersault into a ring of knives; he would jump into fire.
What on earth has he done to make you think so badly of him? asked Xenophon.What has the man done? He dared to kiss Alcibiades’ son, and the boy is very good-looking and attractive.Oh, if that is the sort of adventure you mean, I think I might make that venture myself.Poor fellow!
What do you think will happen to you through kissing a pretty face? Won’t you lose your liberty in a trice and become a slave, begin spending large sums on harmful pleasures, have no time to give to anything fit for a gentleman, be forced to concern yourself with things that no madman even would care about?
Heracles! what alarming power in a kiss! cried Xenophon.What? Does that surprise you? continued Socrates. Don’t you know that the scorpion, though smaller than a farthing, if it but fasten on the tongue, inflicts excruciating and maddening pain?Yes, to be sure; for the scorpion injects something by its bite.
And do you think, you foolish fellow, that the fair inject nothing when they kiss, just because you don’t see it? Don’t you know that this creature called fair and young is more dangerous than the scorpion, seeing that it need not even come in contact, like the insect, but at any distance can inject a maddening poison into anyone who only looks at it?Maybe, too, the loves are called archers for this reason, that the fair can wound even at a distance.Nay, I advise you, Xenophon, as soon as you see a pretty face to take to your heels and fly: and you, Critobulus, I advise to spend a year abroad. It will certainly take you at least as long as that to recover from the bite.
Thus in the matter of carnal appetite, he held that those whose passions were not under complete control should limit themselves to such indulgence as the soul would reject unless the need of the body were pressing, and such as would do no harm when the need was there. As for his own conduct in this matter, it was evident that he had trained himself to avoid the fairest and most attractive more easily than others avoid the ugliest and most repulsive.
Concerning eating and drinking then and carnal indulgence such were his views, and he thought that a due portion of pleasure would be no more lacking to him than to those who give themselves much to these, and that much less trouble would fall to his lot.