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

Now come, what do you think of the man who wants to tell the truth, but never sticks to what he says; when he shows you the way, tells you first that the road runs east, then that it runs west; and when he casts up figures, makes the total now larger, now smaller?Why, I think he shows that he doesn’t know what he thought he knew.

Are you aware that some people are called slavish?Yes.To what do they owe the name, to knowledge or to ignorance?To ignorance, obviously.To ignorance of the smiths’ trade, shall we say?Certainly not.Ignorance of carpentry perhaps?No, not to that either.Of cobbling?No, to none of these: on the contrary, those who are skilled in such trades are for the most part slavish.Then is this name given to those who are ignorant of the beautiful and good and just?That is my opinion.

Then we must strain every nerve to escape being slaves.Upon my word, Socrates, I did feel confident that I was a student of a philosophy that would provide me with the best education in all things needful to one who would be a gentleman. But you can imagine my dismay when I realise that in spite of all my pains I am even incapable of answering a question about things that one is bound to know, and yet find no other way that will lead to my improvement.Hereupon Socrates exclaimed:

Tell me, Euthydemus, have you ever been to Delphi?Yes, certainly; twice.Then did you notice somewhere on the temple the inscription Know thyself?I did.And did you pay no heed to the inscription, or did you attend to it and try to consider who you were?Indeed I did not; because I felt sure that I knew that already; for I could hardly know anything else if I did not even know myself.

And what do you suppose a man must know to know himself, his own name merely? Or must he consider what sort of a creature he is for human use and get to know his own powers; just as those who buy horses don’t think that they know the beast they want to know until they have considered whether he is docile or stubborn, strong or weak, fast or slow, and generally how he stands in all that makes a useful or a useless horse?That leads me to think that he who does not know his own powers is ignorant of himself.

Is it not clear too that through self-knowledge men come to much good, and through self-deception to much harm? For those who know themselves, know what things are expedient for themselves and discern their own powers and limitations. And by doing what they understand, they get what they want and prosper: by refraining from attempting what they do not understand, they make no mistakes and avoid failure. And consequently through their power of testing other men too, and through their intercourse with others, they get what is good and shun what is bad.

Those who do not know and are deceived in their estimate of their own powers, are in the like condition with regard to other men and other human affairs. They know neither what they want, nor what they do, nor those with whom they have intercourse; but mistaken in all these respects, they miss the good and stumble into the bad.

Furthermore, those who know what they do win fame and honour by attaining their ends. Their equals are glad to have dealings with them; and those who miss their objects look to them for counsel, look to them for protection, rest on them their hopes of better things, and for all these reasons love them above all other men.

But those who know not what they do, choose amiss, fail in what they attempt and, besides incurring direct loss and punishment thereby, they earn contempt through their failures, make themselves ridiculous and live in dishonour and humiliation.And the same is true of communities. You find that whenever a state, in ignorance of its own power, goes to war with a stronger people, it is exterminated or loses its liberty.

Socrates, answered Euthydemus, you may rest assured that I fully appreciate the importance of knowing oneself. But where should the process of self-examination begin? I look to you for a statement, please.

Well, said Socrates, I may assume, I take it, that you know what things are good and what are evil?Of course, for if I don’t know so much as that, I must be worse than a slave.Come then, state them for my benefit.Well, that’s a simple matter. First health in itself is, I suppose, a good, sickness an evil. Next the various causes of these two conditions — meat, drink, habits — are good or evil according as they promote health or sickness.

Then health and sickness too must be good when their effect is good, and evil when it is evil.But when can health possibly be the cause of evil, or sickness of good?Why, in many cases; for instance, a disastrous campaign or a fatal voyage: the able-bodied who go are lost, the weaklings who stay behind are saved.True; but you see, in the successful adventures too the able-bodied take part, the weaklings are left behind.Then since these bodily conditions sometimes lead to profit, and sometimes to loss, are they any more good than evil?No, certainly not; at least so it appears from the argument.

But wisdom now, Socrates, — that at any rate is indisputably a good thing; for what is there that a wise man would not do better than a fool?Indeed! have you not heard how Daedalus was seized by Minos because of his wisdom, and was forced to be his slave, and was robbed of his country and his liberty, and essaying to escape with his son, lost the boy and could not save himself, but was carried off to the barbarians and again lived as a slave there?That is the story, of course.And have you not heard the story of Palamedes? Surely, for all the poets sing of him, how that he was envied for his wisdom and done to death by Odysseus.Another well-known tale!And how many others, do you suppose, have been kidnapped on account of their wisdom, and haled off to the great King’s court, and live in slavery there?

Happiness seems to be unquestionably a good, Socrates.It would be so, Euthydemus, were it not made up of goods that are questionable.But what element in happiness can be called in question?None, provided we don’t include in it beauty or strength or wealth or glory or anything of the sort.But of course we shall do that. For how can anyone be happy without them?

Then of course we shall include the sources of much trouble to mankind. For many are ruined by admirers whose heads are turned at the sight of a pretty face; many are led by their strength to attempt tasks too heavy for them, and meet with serious evils: many by their wealth are corrupted, and fall victims to conspiracies; many through glory and political power have suffered great evils.

Well now, if I am at fault in praising even happiness, I confess I know not what one should ask for in one’s prayers.But perhaps you never even thought about these things, because you felt so confident that you knew them. However, as the state you are preparing yourself to direct is governed by the people, no doubt you know what popular government is?I think so, certainly.

Then do you suppose it possible to know popular government without knowing the people?Indeed I don’t.And do you know, then, what the people consists of?I think so.Of what do you suppose it to consist?The poorer classes, I presume.You know the poor, then?Of course I do.And you know the rich too?Yes, just as well as the poor.What kind of men do you call poor and rich respectively?The poor, I imagine, are those who have not enough to pay for what they want; the rich those who have more than enough.

Have you observed, then, that some who have very little not only find it enough, but even manage to save out of it, whereas others cannot live within their means, however large?Yes, certainly — thanks for reminding me — I know, in fact, of some despots even who are driven to crime by poverty, just like paupers.

Therefore, if that is so, we will include despots in the people, and men of small means, if they are thrifty, in the rich.I am forced to agree once more, cried Euthydemus, evidently by my stupidity. I am inclined to think I had better hold my tongue, or I shall know nothing at all presently. And so he went away very dejected, disgusted with himself and convinced that he was indeed a slave.

Now many of those who were brought to this pass by Socrates, never went near him again and were regarded by him as mere blockheads. But Euthydemus guessed that he would never be of much account unless he spent as much time as possible with Socrates. Henceforward, unless obliged to absent himself, he never left him, and even began to adopt some of his practices. Socrates, for his part, seeing how it was with him, avoided worrying him, and began to expound very plainly and clearly the knowledge that he thought most needful and the practices that he held to be most excellent.