Plato: Alcibiades (part 3)

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SOCRATES: Then let us consider, by comparing our lot with theirs, whether the Spartan and Persian kings appear to be of inferior birth. Do we not know that the former are descendants of Hercules and the latter of Achaemenes, and that the line of Hercules and the line of Achaemenes go back to Perseus, son of Zeus?

[121a] ALCIBIADES: Yes, and mine, Socrates, to Eurysaces, and that of Eurysaces to Zeus!

SOCRATES: Yes, and mine, noble Alcibiades, to Daedalus, and Daedalus to Hephaestus, son of Zeus! But take the lines of those people, going back from them: you have a succession of kings reaching to Zeus -- on the one hand, kings of Argos and Sparta; on the other, of Persia, which they have always ruled, and frequently Asia also, as at present; whereas we are private persons ourselves, and so were our fathers. And then, [121b] suppose that you had to make what show you could of your ancestors, and of Salamis as the native land of Eurysaces, or of Aegina as the home of the yet earlier Aeacus, to impress Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, how you must expect to be laughed at! Why, I am afraid we are quite outdone by those persons in pride of birth and upbringing altogether. Or have you not observed how great are the advantages of the Spartan kings, and how their wives are kept under statutory ward of the ephors, in order that every possible precaution may be taken against the king being born[121c] of any but the Heracleidae? And the Persian king so far surpasses us that no one has a suspicion that he could have been born of anybody but the king before him; and hence the king's wife has nothing to guard her except fear. When the eldest son, the heir to the throne, is born, first of all the king's subjects who are in his palace have a feast, and then for ever after on that date the whole of Asia celebrates the king's birthday with sacrifice and feasting: but when we are born, as the comic poet says, [121d] “even the neighbors barely notice it,” Alcibiades. After that comes the nurture of the child, not at the hands of a woman-nurse of little worth, but of the most highly approved eunuchs in the king's service, who are charged with the whole tendance of the new-born child, and especially with the business of making him as handsome as possible by moulding his limbs into a correct shape; and while doing this they are in high honor. [121e] When the boys are seven years old they are given horses and have riding lessons, and they begin to follow the chase. And when the boy reaches fourteen years he is taken over by the royal tutors, as they call them there: these are four men chosen as the most highly esteemed among the Persians of mature age, namely, the wisest one, the justest one, the most temperate one, [122a] and the bravest one. The first of these teaches him the magian lore of Zoroaster, son of Horomazes; and that is the worship of the gods: he teaches him also what pertains to a king. The justest teaches him to be truthful all his life long; the most temperate, not to be mastered by even a single pleasure, in order that he may be accustomed to be a free man and a veritable king, who is the master first of all that is in him, not the slave; while the bravest trains him to be fearless and undaunted, telling him that to be daunted is to be enslaved. But you, [122b] Alcibiades, had a tutor set over you by Pericles from amongst his servants,who was old as to be the most useless of them, Zopyrus the Thracian. I might describe to you at length the nurture and education of your competitors, were it not too much of a task; and besides, what I have said suffices to show the rest that follows thereon. But about your birth, Alcibiades, or nurture or education, or about those of any other Athenian, one may say that nobody cares, unless it be some lover whom you chance to have. And again, if you chose to glance at the wealth, the luxury, [122c] the robes with sweeping trains, the anointings with myrrh, the attendant troops of menials, and all the other refinements of the Persians, you would be ashamed at your own case, on perceiving its inferiority to theirs. Should you choose, again, to look at the temperance and orderliness, the facility and placidity, the magnanimity and discipline, the courage and endurance, and the toil-loving, success-loving, honor-loving spirit of the Spartans, you would count yourself but a child[122d] in all these things. If again you regard wealth, and think yourself something in that way, I must not keep silence on this point either, if you are to realize where you stand. For in this respect you have only to look at the wealth of the Spartans, and you will perceive that our riches here are far inferior to theirs. Think of all the land that they have both in their own and in the Messenian country: not one of our estates could compete with theirs in extent and excellence, nor again in ownership of slaves, and especially of those of the helot class, nor yet of horses, [122e] nor of all the flocks and herds that graze in Messene. However, I pass over all these things: but there is more gold and silver privately held in Lacedaemon than in the whole of Greece; for during many generations treasure has been passing in to them from every part of Greece, and often from the barbarians also, but not passing out to anyone; and just as in the fable of Aesop, [123a] where the fox remarked to the lion on the direction of the footmarks, the traces of the money going into Lacedaemon are clear enough, but nowhere are any to be seen of it coming out; so that one can be pretty sure that those people are the richest of the Greeks in gold and silver, and that among themselves the richest is the king; for the largest and most numerous receipts of the kind are those of the kings, [123b] and besides there is the levy of the royal tribute in no slight amount, which the Spartans pay to their kings. Now, the Spartan fortunes, though great compared with the wealth of other Greeks, are nought beside that of the Persians and their king. For I myself was once told by a trustworthy person, who had been up to their court, that he traversed a very large tract of excellent land, nearly a day's journey, which the inhabitants called the girdle of the king's wife, and another which was similarly called her veil; [123c] and many other fine and fertile regions reserved for the adornment of the consort; and each of these regions was named after some part of her apparel. So I imagine, if someone should say to the king's mother Amestris, who was wife of Xerxes, "The son of Deinomach1 intends to challenge your son; the mother's dresses are worth perhaps fifty minae at the outside, while the son has under three hundred acres at Erchiae," she would wonder to what on earth this [123d] Alcibiades could be trusting, that he proposed to contend against Artaxerxes; and I expect she would remark -- "The only possible things that the man can be trusting to for his enterprise are industry and wisdom; for these are the only things of any account among the Greeks." Whereas if she were informed that this Alcibiades who is actually making such an attempt is, in the first place, as yet barely twenty years old, and secondly, altogether uneducated; and further, that when his lover tells him that he must first learn, and take pains over himself, and practise, [123e] before he enters on a contest with the king, he refuses, and says he will do very well as he is; I expect she would ask in surprise, "On what, then, can the youngster rely?" And if we told her, "On beauty, stature, birth, wealth, and mental gifts," she would conclude we were mad, Alcibiades, when she compared the advantages of her own people in all these respects. And I imagine that even Lampido, daughter of Leotychides [124a] and wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, who have all been kings, would wonder in the same way, when she compared her people's resources, at your intention of having a contest with her son despite your bad upbringing. And yet, does it not strike you as disgraceful that our enemies' wives should have a better idea of the qualities that we need for an attempt against them than we have ourselves? Ah, my remarkable friend, listen to me and the Delphic motto, [124b] "Know thyself"; for these people are our competitors, not those whom you think; and there is nothing that will give us ascendancy over them save only pains and skill. If you are found wanting in these, you will be found wanting also in achievement of renown among Greeks and barbarians both; and of this I observe you to be more enamored than anyone else ever was of anything.

ALCIBIADES: Well then, what are the pains that I must take, Socrates? Can you enlighten me? For I must say your words are remarkably like the truth.

SOCRATES: Yes, I can: but we must put our heads together, you know, as to the way in which[124c] we can improve ourselves to the utmost. For observe that when I speak of the need of being educated I am not referring only to you, apart from myself; since my case is identical with yours except in one point.

ALCIBIADES: What is that?

SOCRATES: My guardian is better and wiser than your one, Pericles.

ALCIBIADES: Who is he, Socrates?

SOCRATES: God, Alcibiades, who until this day would not let me converse with you; and trusting in him I say that through no other man but me will you attain to eminence.

[124d] ALCIBIADES: You are jesting, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Perhaps; I am right, however, in saying that we need to take pains -- all men rather badly, but we two very badly indeed.

ALCIBIADES: As to me, you are not wrong.

SOCRATES: Nor, I fear, as to myself either.

ALCIBIADES: Then what can we do?

SOCRATES: There must be no crying off or skulking, my good friend.

ALCIBIADES: No, for that would indeed be unseemly, Socrates.

SOCRATES: It would; so let us consider in common. Now tell me: [124e] we say, do we not, that we wish to be as good as possible?


SOCRATES: In what excellence?

ALCIBIADES: Clearly that which is the aim of good men.

SOCRATES: Good in what?

ALCIBIADES: Clearly, good in the management of affairs.

SOCRATES: What sort of affairs? Horsemanship?


SOCRATES: Because we should apply to horsemen?


SOCRATES: Well, seamanship, do you mean?


SOCRATES: Because we should apply to seamen?


SOCRATES: Well, what sort of thing? The business of what men?

ALCIBIADES: Of Athenian gentlemen.

[125a] SOCRATES: Do you mean by "gentlemen" the intelligent or the unintelligent?

ALCIBIADES: The intelligent.

SOCRATES: And everyone is good in that wherein he is intelligent?


SOCRATES: And bad wherein he is unintelligent?

ALCIBIADES: Of course.

SOCRATES: Then is the shoemaker intelligent in the making of foot-gear?

ALCIBIADES: Certainly.

SOCRATES: So he is good in that article?


SOCRATES: Well now, is not the shoemaker unintelligent in the making of clothes?


[125b] SOCRATES: So he is bad in that?


SOCRATES: Then, on this showing, the same man is both bad and good.

ALCIBIADES: Apparently.

SOCRATES: Well, can you say that good men are also bad?

ALCIBIADES: No, indeed.

SOCRATES: But whoever do you mean by the good?

ALCIBIADES: I mean those who are able to rule in the city.

SOCRATES: Not, I presume, over horses?


SOCRATES: But over men?


SOCRATES: When they are sick?


SOCRATES: Or at sea?

ALCIBIADES: I say, no.

SOCRATES: Or harvesting?


[125c] SOCRATES: Doing nothing, or doing something?

ALCIBIADES: Doing something, I say.

SOCRATES: Doing what? Try and let me know.

ALCIBIADES: Well, men who do business with each other and make use of one another, as is our way of life in our cities.

SOCRATES: Then you speak of ruling over men who make use of men?


SOCRATES: Over boatswains who make use of rowers?


SOCRATES: Because that is the pilot's distinction?


SOCRATES: Well, do you mean ruling over men who are flute-players, [125d] and who lead the singing and make use of dancers?


SOCRATES: Because, again, that is the chorus-teacher's function?

ALCIBIADES: To be sure.

SOCRATES: But whatever do you mean by being able to rule over men who make use of men?

ALCIBIADES: I mean ruling over men in the city who share in it as fellow-citizens, and do business with each other.

SOCRATES: Well, what art is this? Suppose I should ask you over again, as I did just now, what art makes men know how to rule over fellow-sailors?

ALCIBIADES: The pilot's.

[125e] SOCRATES: And what knowledge -- to repeat what was said a moment ago -- makes them rule over their fellow-singers?

ALCIBIADES: That which you just mentioned, the chorus-teacher's.

SOCRATES: Well now, what do you call the knowledge of one's fellow-citizens?

ALCIBIADES: Good counsel, I should say, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Well, and is the pilot's knowledge evil counsel?


SOCRATES: Rather good counsel?

[126a] ALCIBIADES: So I should think, for the preservation of his passengers.

SOCRATES: Quite right. And now, for what is the good counsel of which you speak?

ALCIBIADES: For the better management and preservation of the city.

SOCRATES: And what is it that becomes present or absent when we get this better management and preservation? If, for example, you should ask me, "What is it that becomes present or absent when the body is better managed and preserved?" -- I should reply, "Health becomes present, and disease absent." Do not you think so too?

[126b] ALCIBIADES: Yes.

SOCRATES: And if, again, you asked me, "What becomes present in a better condition of the eyes?" -- I should answer in just the same way, "Sight becomes present, and blindness absent." So, in the case of the ears, deafness is caused to be absent, and hearing to be present, when they are improved and getting better treatment.


SOCRATES: Well then, what is it that becomes present or absent when a state is improved and has better treatment and management?

[126c] ALCIBIADES: To my mind, Socrates, friendship with one another will be there, while hatred and faction will be absent.

SOCRATES: Now, by friendship do you mean agreement or disagreement?

ALCIBIADES: Agreement.

SOCRATES: And what art is it that causes states to agree about numbers?

ALCIBIADES: Arithmetic.

SOCRATES: And what of individuals? Is it not the same art?


SOCRATES: And it makes each single person agree with himself?


SOCRATES: And what art makes each of us agree with himself [126d] as to which is the longer, a span or a cubit? Is it not mensuration?

ALCIBIADES: Of course.

SOCRATES: And it makes both individuals and states agree with each other?


SOCRATES: And what about the balance? Is it not the same here too?


SOCRATES: Then what is that agreement of which you speak, and about what? And what art secures it? And is it the same in an individual as in a state, when one agrees with oneself and with another?

ALCIBIADES: Most likely.

SOCRATES: Well, what is it? Do not flag in your answers, [126e] but do your best to tell me.

ALCIBIADES: I suppose I mean the friendship and agreement that you find when a father and mother love their son, and between brother and brother, and husband and wife.

SOCRATES: Then do you suppose, Alcibiades, that a husband can possibly agree with his wife about woolwork, when he does not understand it, and she does?


SOCRATES: Nor has he any need, since that is a woman's pursuit.


[127a] SOCRATES: Or again, could a woman agree with a man about soldiering, when she has not learnt it?


SOCRATES: Because, I expect you will say again, that is a man's affair.


SOCRATES: Then, by your account, there are some pursuits belonging to women, and some to men?

ALCIBIADES: Of course.

SOCRATES: So in these, at any rate, there is no agreement between men and women.


SOCRATES: And hence no friendship either, if, as we said, friendship is agreement.

ALCIBIADES: Apparently not.

SOCRATES: So women are not loved by men, in so far as they do their own work.

[127b] ALCIBIADES: It seems not.

SOCRATES: Nor are men by women, in so far as they do theirs.


SOCRATES: And states, therefore, are not well ordered in so far as each person does his own business?

ALCIBIADES: I think they are, Socrates.

SOCRATES: How can you say that? Without the presence of friendship, which we say must be there if states are well ordered, as otherwise they are not?

ALCIBIADES: But it seems to me that friendship arises among them just on that account -- that each of the two parties does its own business.

[127c] SOCRATES: It was not so a moment since: but now, what do you mean this time? Does friendship arise where there is no agreement? And is it possible that agreement should arise where some know about the business, but others do not?

ALCIBIADES: Impossible.

SOCRATES: And are they doing what is just or unjust, when each man does his own business?

ALCIBIADES: What is just, of course.

SOCRATES: And when the citizens do what is just in the city, does not friendship arise among them?

ALCIBIADES: Again I think that must be so, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Then whatever do you mean by that friendship or agreement [127d] about which we must be wise and well-advised in order that we may be good men? For I am unable to learn either what it is, or in whom; since it appears that the same persons sometimes have it, and sometimes not, by your account.

ALCIBIADES: Well, by Heaven, Socrates, I do not even know what I mean myself, and I fear that for some time past I have lived unawares in a disgraceful condition.

SOCRATES: But you must take heart. For had you perceived your plight [127e] at fifty, it would be hard for you to take pains with yourself; whereas here you are at the time of life when one ought to perceive it.

ALCIBIADES: Then what should one do on perceiving it, Socrates?

SOCRATES: Answer the questions asked, Alcibiades: only do that, and with Heaven's favor -- if we are to put any trust in my divination -- you and I shall both be in better case.

ALCIBIADES: That shall be, so far as my answering can avail.

SOCRATES: Come then, what is "taking pains over oneself" -- [128a] for we may perchance be taking, unawares, no pains over ourselves, though we think we are -- and when does a man actually do it? Does he take pains over himself at the same time as over his own things?

ALCIBIADES: I at least believe so.

SOCRATES: Well now, when does a man take pains over his feet? Is it when he takes pains over what belongs to his feet?

ALCIBIADES: I do not understand.

SOCRATES: Is there anything you can name as belonging to the hand? For instance, does a ring belong to any other part of a man but the finger?

ALCIBIADES: No, indeed.

SOCRATES: And so the shoe also belongs to the foot, in the same way?


SOCRATES: And likewise clothes and coverlets belong to the whole body?

[128b] ALCIBIADES: Yes.

SOCRATES: Now when we take pains over our shoes, we take pains over our feet?

ALCIBIADES: I do not quite understand, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Well, but, Alcibiades, you speak of taking proper pains over this or that matter, do you not?


SOCRATES: And do you call it proper pains when someone makes a thing better?


SOCRATES: Then what art makes shoes better?

ALCIBIADES: Shoe-making.

SOCRATES: So by shoe-making we take pains over our shoes?

[128c] ALCIBIADES: Yes.

SOCRATES: And over our foot too by shoe-making? Or by that art whereby we make feet better?

ALCIBIADES: By that art.

SOCRATES: And is it not the same one for making our feet as for making the whole body better?

ALCIBIADES: I think so.

SOCRATES: And is not that gymnastic?

ALCIBIADES: Certainly.

SOCRATES: So by gymnastic we take pains over our foot, but by shoe-making over what belongs to our foot?


SOCRATES: And by gymnastic over our hands, but by ring-engraving over what belongs to the hand?


SOCRATES: And by gymnastic over the body, but by weaving[128d] and the rest over what belongs to the body?

ALCIBIADES: Absolutely so.

SOCRATES: Then for taking pains over a thing itself and over what belongs to it we use different arts.

ALCIBIADES: Apparently.

SOCRATES: So when you take pains over your belongings you are not taking pains over yourself.

ALCIBIADES: Not at all.

SOCRATES: For the arts, it seems, that one used for taking pains over oneself and over one's belongings would not be the same.

ALCIBIADES: Apparently not.

SOCRATES: Come then, whatever kind of art can we use for taking pains over ourselves?

ALCIBIADES: I cannot say.

[128e] SOCRATES: Well, so much at least has been admitted, that it is not one which would help us to make a single one of our possessions better, but one which would help to make ourselves so?

ALCIBIADES: That is true.

SOCRATES: Now, should we ever have known what art makes a shoe better, if we had not known a shoe?

ALCIBIADES: Impossible.

SOCRATES: Nor could we know what art makes rings better, if we had no cognizance of a ring.


SOCRATES: Well then, could we ever know what art makes the man himself better, if we were ignorant of what we are ourselves?

[129a] ALCIBIADES: Impossible.

SOCRATES: Well, and is it an easy thing to know oneself, and was it a mere scamp who inscribed these words on the temple at Delphi; or is it a hard thing, and not a task for anybody?

ALCIBIADES: I have often thought, Socrates, that it was for anybody; but often, too, that it was very hard.

SOCRATES: But, Alcibiades, whether it is easy or not, here is the fact for us all the same: if we have that knowledge, we are like to know what pains to take over ourselves; but if we have it not, we never can.

ALCIBIADES: That is so.

[129b] SOCRATES: Come then, in what way can the same-in-itself be discovered? For thus we may discover what we are ourselves; whereas if we remain in ignorance of it we must surely fail.

ALCIBIADES: Rightly spoken.

SOCRATES: Steady, then, in Heaven's name! To whom are you talking now? To me, are you not?


SOCRATES: And I in turn to you ?


SOCRATES: Then the talker is Socrates?

ALCIBIADES: To be sure.

SOCRATES: And the hearer, Alcibiades?


SOCRATES: And Socrates uses speech in talking?

[129c] ALCIBIADES: Of course.

SOCRATES: And you call talking and using speech the same thing, I suppose.

ALCIBIADES: To be sure.

SOCRATES: But the user and the thing he uses are different, are they not?

ALCIBIADES: How do you mean?

SOCRATES: For instance, I suppose a shoemaker uses a round tool, and a square one, and others, when he cuts.


SOCRATES: And the cutter and user is quite different from what he uses in cutting?

ALCIBIADES: Of course.

SOCRATES: And in the same way what the harper uses in harping will be different from the harper himself?


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