At this some of the company urged Critobulus to take his kisses, the need of victory; others advised him to get the consent of the young people’s legal guardian; and others indulged in other badinage. But even then Hermogenes kept silent. And Socrates, calling him by name, inquired, Hermogenes, could you define convivial unpleasantness for us? If you ask me what it actually is, he answered, I do not know; but I am willing to tell you what I think it is. Soc. Very well, tell us that.
Herm. My definition of convivial unpleasantness is the annoying of one’s companions at their drink.Soc. Well, do you realize that at the present moment you conform to the definition by annoying us with your taciturnity?Herm. What! while you are talking?No, but in the intervals.Why, don’t you see that a person could not insert even a hair in the interstices of your talk, much less a word?
Callias, said Socrates, appealing to him, could you come to the rescue of a man hard put to it for an answer? Yes, indeed, said he: we are absolutely quiet every time the flute is played. Hermogenes retorted, Is it your wish that I should converse with you to the accompaniment of a flute, the way the actor Nicostratus used to recite tetrameter verses?
In Heaven’s name, do so, Hermogenes, urged Socrates. For I believe that precisely as a song is more agreeable when accompanied on the flute, so your discourse would be embellished somewhat by the music, especially if you were to gesticulate and pose, like the flute-girl, to point your words.
What is the tune to be, asked Callias, when Antisthenes here gets some one at the banquet cornered in an argument? For the discomfited disputant, said Antisthenes, I think the appropriate music would be a hissing.
The Syracusan, seeing that with such conversation going on the banqueters were paying no attention to his show, but were enjoying one another’s company, said spitefully to Socrates, Socrates, are you the one nick-named the Thinker? Well, isn’t that preferable, he rejoined, to being called the Thoughtless? Yes, if it were not that you are supposed to be a thinker on celestial subjects.[*](The Syracusan uses the word applied by the Greeks first to astronomical and then to philosophical (especially ontological) inquiry, a word of reproach for radical thinkers that was used against Socrates in Aristophanes’ burlesque, the Clouds, and later played a more serious part in Socrates’ trial.)
Do you know, asked Socrates, anything more celestial than the gods? Syr. No; but that is not what people say you are concerned with, but rather with the most unbeneficial things. Soc. Even granting the expression, it would still be the gods that are my concern; for (1) they cause rain under the heavens and so are beneficial,[*](This translation is an attempt to reproduce Socrates’ bad logic and worse pun whereby he takes the Syracusan’s expression ἀν-ωφελεστάτων (most useless, most unbeneficial) and not only splits it in twp but changes the negative prefix into the adverb ἄνωθεν (from above).) and (2) they produce light, also under the heavens, and are thus again beneficial. If the pun is strained, he added, you have only yourself to blame for it, for annoying me.
Syr. Well, let that pass. But tell me the distance between us in flea’s feet; for people say that your geometry includes such measurements as that.[*](In a famous passage in the Clouds (144 ff., cf. also 830 f.), published two years before this banquet was supposed to have been held, Aristophanes had represented Socrates and Chaerephon as measuring a flea’s jump in terms of its own feet.)At this Antisthenes said to Philip: You are clever at hitting off a person’s likeness; wouldn’t you say that our friend here resembles one with a penchant for abuse?Yes, indeed, came the answer; and I see a resemblance in him to many another kind of person, too.
Nevertheless, interposed Socrates, do not draw the comparison, lest you take on a similar likeness to one stooping to abuse. But suppose I am likening him to all the upright, the very elite; then I should deserve to be compared to a eulogist, rather than to a detractor. Ah, you resemble the latter right now, for you are asserting that every one is better than he.[*](i.e., (if the text is sound), by saying that he resembles the virtuous, thus assuming that he is not actually one of them.)
Would you have me compare him to those who excel him in villainy?No, not those, either.What, to no one?No; don’t compare him to any one in any particular.But if I hold my peace, I do not understand how I am going to render services suitable to such a fine dinner.That is easily effected, said Socrates, if you will be reticent on matters that should not be talked about. Thus was quenched this bit of convivial unpleasantness.