Plato: Symposium (excerpt, part 2)

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"You shall hear it this moment," said Alcibiades; "but there is something you must do. If I say anything that is false, [215a] have the goodness to take me up short and say that there I am lying; for I will not lie if I can help it. Still, you are not to be surprised if I tell my reminiscences at haphazard; it is anything but easy for a man in my condition to give a fluent and regular enumeration of your oddities.

“The way I shall take, gentlemen, in my praise of Socrates, is by similitudes. Probably he will think I do this for derision; but I choose my similitude for the sake of truth, not of ridicule. For I say [215b] he is likest to the Silenus-figures that sit in the statuaries' shops; those, I mean, which our craftsmen make with pipes or flutes in their hands: when their two halves are pulled open, they are found to contain images of gods. And I further suggest that he resembles the satyr Marsyas. Now, as to your likeness, Socrates, to these in figure, I do not suppose even you yourself will dispute it; but I have next to tell you that you are like them in every other respect. You are a fleering fellow, eh? If you will not confess it, I have witnesses at hand. Are you not a piper? [215c] Why, yes, and a far more marvellous one than the satyr. His lips indeed had power to entrance mankind by means of instruments; a thing still possible today for anyone who can pipe his tunes: for the music of Olympus' flute belonged, I may tell you, to Marsyas his teacher. So that if anyone, whether a fine flute-player or paltry flute-girl, can but flute his tunes, they have no equal for exciting a ravishment, and will indicate by the divinity that is in them who are apt recipients of the deities and their sanctifications. You differ from him in one point only -- that you produce the same effect with simple prose unaided by instruments. For example, when we hear any other person -- [215d] quite an excellent orator, perhaps -- pronouncing one of the usual discourses, no one, I venture to say, cares a jot; but so soon as we hear you, or your discourses in the mouth of another, -- though such person be ever so poor a speaker, and whether the hearer be a woman or a man or a youngster -- we are all astounded and entranced. As for myself, gentlemen, were it not that I might appear to be absolutely tipsy, I would have affirmed on oath all the strange effects I personally have felt from his words, and still feel even now. For when I hear him [215e] I am worse than any wild fanatic; I find my heart leaping and my tears gushing forth at the sound of his speech, and I see great numbers of other people having the same experience. When I listened to Pericles and other skilled orators I thought them eloquent, but I never felt anything like this; my spirit was not left in a tumult and had not to complain of my being in the condition of a common slave: whereas the influence of our Marsyas here has often thrown me into such a state [216a] that I thought my life not worth living on these terms. In all this, Socrates, there is nothing that you can call untrue. Even now I am still conscious that if I consented to lend him my ear, I could not resist him, but would have the same feeling again. For he compels me to admit that, sorely deficient as I am, I neglect myself while I attend to the affairs of Athens. So I withhold my ears perforce as from the Sirens, and make off as fast as I can, for fear I should go on sitting beside him till old age was upon me. [216b] And there is one experience I have in presence of this man alone, such as nobody would expect in me; and that is, to be made to feel ashamed; he alone can make me feel it. For he brings home to me that I cannot disown the duty of doing what he bids me, but that as soon as I turn from his company I fall a victim to the favors of the crowd. So I take a runaway's leave of him and flee away; [216c] when I see him again I think of those former admissions, and am ashamed. Often I could wish he had vanished from this world; yet again, should this befall, I am sure I should be more distressed than ever; so I cannot tell what to do with the fellow at all.

”Such then is the effect that our satyr can work upon me and many another with his piping; but let me tell you how like he is in other respects to the figures of my comparison, and what a wondrous power he wields. I assure you, not one of you knows him; [216d] well, I shall reveal him, now that I have begun. Observe how Socrates is amorously inclined to handsome persons; with these he is always busy and enraptured. Again, he is utterly stupid and ignorant, as he affects. Is not this like a Silenus? Exactly. It is an outward casing he wears, similarly to the sculptured Silenus. But if you opened his inside, you cannot imagine how full he is, good cup-companions, of sobriety. I tell you, all the beauty a man may have is nothing to him; he despises it [216e] more than any of you can believe; nor does wealth attract him, nor any sort of honor that is the envied prize of the crowd. All these possessions he counts as nothing worth, and all of us as nothing, I assure you; he spends his whole life in chaffing and making game of his fellow-men. Whether anyone else has caught him in a serious moment and opened him, and seen the images inside, I know not; but I saw them one day, and thought them so [217a] divine and golden, so perfectly fair and wondrous, that I simply had to do as Socrates bade me. And believing he had a serious affection for my youthful bloom, I supposed I had here a godsend and a rare stroke of luck, thinking myself free at any time by gratifying his desires to hear all that our Socrates knew; for I was enormously proud of my youthful charms. So with this design [217b] I dismissed the attendant whom till then I invariably brought to my meetings with Socrates, and I would go and meet him alone: I am to tell you the whole truth; you must all mark my words, and, Socrates, you shall refute me if I lie. Yes, gentlemen, I went and met him, and the two of us would be alone; and I thought he would seize the chance of talking to me as a lover does to his dear one in private, and I was glad. But nothing of the sort occurred at all: he would merely converse with me in his usual manner, and when he had spent the day with me he would leave me and go his way. After that I proposed he should go with me to the trainer's, [217c] and I trained with him, expecting to gain my point there. So he trained and wrestled with me many a time when no one was there. The same story! I got no further with the affair. Then, as I made no progress that way, I resolved to charge full tilt at the man, and not to throw up the contest once I had entered upon it: I felt I must clear up the situation. Accordingly I invited him to dine with me, for all the world [217d] like a lover scheming to ensnare his favorite. Even this he was backward to accept; however, he was eventually persuaded. The first time he came, he wanted to leave as soon as he had dined. On that occasion I was ashamed and let him go. The second time I devised a scheme: when we had dined I went on talking with him far into the night, and when he wanted to go I made a pretext of the lateness of the hour and constrained him to stay. So he sought repose on the couch next to me, on which he had been sitting at dinner, and no one was sleeping in the room but ourselves.

[217e] "Now up to this point my tale could fairly be told to anybody; but from here onwards I would not have continued in your hearing were it not, in the first place, that wine, as the saying goes, whether you couple 'children' with it or no, is 'truthful'; and in the second, I consider it dishonest, when I have started on the praise of Socrates, to hide his deed of lofty disdain. Besides, I share the plight of the man who was bitten by the snake: you know it is related of one in such a plight that he refused [218a] to describe his sensations to any but persons who had been bitten themselves, since they alone would understand him and stand up for him if he should give way to wild words and actions in his agony. Now I have been bitten by a more painful creature, in the most painful way that one can be bitten: in my heart, or my soul, or whatever one is to call it, I am stricken and stung by his philosophic discourses, which adhere more fiercely than any adder when once they lay hold of a young and not ungifted soul, and force it to do or say whatever they will; I have only to look around me, and there is a Phaedrus, an Agathon, an Eryximachus, [218b] a Pausanias, an Aristodemus, and an Aristophanes -- I need not mention Socrates himself -- and all the rest of them; every one of you has had his share of philosophic frenzy and transport, so all of you shall hear. You shall stand up alike for what then was done and for what now is spoken. But the domestics, and all else profane and clownish, must clap the heaviest of doors upon their ears.

"Well, gentlemen, when the lamp had been put out [218c] and the servants had withdrawn, I determined not to mince matters with him, but to speak out freely what I intended. So I shook him and said, 'Socrates, are you asleep?'

“‘Why, no,' he replied.

“‘Let me tell you what I have decided.’

“‘What is the matter?' he asked.

“‘I consider,' I replied, 'that you are the only worthy lover I have had, and it looks to me as if you were shy of mentioning it to me. My position is this: I count it sheer folly not to gratify you in this as in any other need you may have [218d] of either my property or that of my friends. To me nothing is more important than the attainment of the highest possible excellence, and in this aim I believe I can find no abler ally than you. So I should feel a far worse shame before sensible people for not gratifying such a friend than I should before the senseless multitude for gratifying him.’

“When he heard this, he put on that innocent air which habit has made so characteristic of him, and remarked: 'My dear Alcibiades, I daresay you are not really a dolt, if what you say of me is the actual truth, [218e] and there is a certain power in me that could help you to be better; for then what a stupendous beauty you must see in me, vastly superior to your comeliness! And if on espying this you are trying for a mutual exchange of beauty for beauty, it is no slight advantage you are counting on -- you are trying to get genuine in return for reputed beauties, [219a] and in fact are designing to fetch off the old bargain of ‘gold for bronze.’ But be more wary, my gifted friend: you may be deceived and I may be worthless. Remember, the intellectual sight begins to be keen when the visual is entering on its wane; but you are a long way yet from that time.’

“To this I answered: ‘You have heard what I had to say; not a word differed from the feeling in my mind: it is for you now to consider what you judge to be best for you and me.’

“‘Ah, there you speak to some purpose,' he said: 'for in the days that are to come [219b] we shall consider and do what appears to be best for the two of us in this and our other affairs.’

“Well, after I had exchanged these words with him and, as it were, let fly my shafts, I fancied he felt the wound: so up I got, and without suffering the man to say a word more I wrapped my own coat about him -- it was winter-time; drew myself under his cloak, so; [219c] wound my arms about this truly spiritual and miraculous creature; and lay thus all the night long. Here too, Socrates, you are unable to give me the lie. When I had done all this, he showed such superiority and contempt, laughing my youthful charms to scorn, and flouting the very thing on which I prided myself, gentlemen of the jury -- for you are here to try Socrates for his lofty disdain: you may be sure, by gods -- and goddesses -- that when I arose I had in no more particular sense slept a night [219d] with Socrates than if it had been with my father or my elder brother.

“After that, you can imagine what a state of mind I was in, feeling myself affronted, yet marvelling at the sobriety and integrity of his nature: for I had lighted on a man such as I never would have dreamt of meeting -- so sensible and so resolute. Hence I could find neither a reason for being angry and depriving myself of his society nor a ready means [219e] of enticing him. For I was well aware that he was far more proof against money on every side than Ajax against a spear; and in what I thought was my sole means of catching him he had eluded me. So I was at a loss, and wandered about in the most abject thraldom to this man that ever was known.

“Now all this, you know, had already happened to me when we later went on a campaign together to Potidaea; and there we were messmates. Well, first of all, he surpassed not me only but every one else in bearing hardships; whenever we were cut off in some place [220a] and were compelled, as often in campaigns, to go without food, the rest of us were nowhere in point of endurance. Then again, when we had plenty of good cheer, he alone could enjoy it to the full, and though unwilling to drink, when once overruled he used to beat us all; and, most surprising of all, no man has ever yet seen Socrates drunk. Of this power I expect we shall have a good test in a moment. But it was in his endurance of winter -- [220b] in those parts the winters are awful -- that I remember, among his many marvellous feats, how once there came a frost about as awful as can be: we all preferred not to stir abroad, or if any of us did, we wrapped ourselves up with prodigious care, and after putting on our shoes we muffled up our feet with felt and little fleeces. But he walked out in that weather, clad in just such a coat as he was always wont to wear, and he made his way more easily over the ice unshod than the rest of us did in our shoes. The soldiers looked askance at him, thinking that he despised them.

[220c] "So much for that: ‘but next, the valiant deed our strong-souled hero dared’ on service there one day, is well worth hearing. Immersed in some problem at dawn, he stood in the same spot considering it; and when he found it a tough one, he would not give it up but stood there trying. The time drew on to midday, and the men began to notice him, and said to one another in wonder: 'Socrates has been standing there in a study ever since dawn!' The end of it was that in the evening some of the Ionians after they had supped -- [220d] this time it was summer -- brought out their mattresses and rugs and took their sleep in the cool; thus they waited to see if he would go on standing all night too. He stood till dawn came and the sun rose; then walked away, after offering a prayer to the Sun.

"Then, if you care to hear of him in battle -- for there also he must have his due -- on the day of the fight in which I gained my prize for valor from our commanders, [220e] it was he, out of the whole army, who saved my life: I was wounded, and he would not forsake me, but helped me to save both my armor and myself. I lost no time, Socrates, in urging the generals to award the prize for valor to you; and here I think you will neither rebuke me nor give me the lie. For when the generals, out of regard for my consequence, were inclined to award the prize to me, you outdid them in urging that I should have it rather than you. And further let me tell you, gentlemen, [221a] what a notable figure he made when the army was retiring in flight from Delium: I happened to be there on horseback, while he marched under arms. The troops were in utter disorder, and he was retreating along with Laches, when I chanced to come up with them and, as soon as I saw them, passed them the word to have no fear, saying I would not abandon them. Here, indeed, I had an even finer view of Socrates than at Potidaea -- for personally I had less reason for alarm, as I was mounted; and I noticed, first, how far he outdid Laches in collectedness, [221b] and next I felt -- to use a phrase of yours, Aristophanes -- how there he stepped along, as his wont is in our streets, ‘strutting like a proud marsh-goose, with ever a side-long glance,’ turning a calm sidelong look on friend and foe alike, and convincing anyone even from afar that whoever cares to touch this person will find he can put up a stout enough defence. The result was that both he and his comrade got away unscathed: for, as a rule, people will not lay a finger on those [221c] who show this disposition in war; it is men flying in headlong rout that they pursue.

"There are many more quite wonderful things that one could find to praise in Socrates: but although there would probably be as much to say about any other one of his habits, I select his unlikeness to anybody else, whether in the ancient or in the modern world, as calling for our greatest wonder. You may take the character of Achilles and see his parallel in Brasidas or others; you may couple [221d] Nestor, Antenor, or others I might mention, with Pericles; and in the same order you may liken most great men; but with the odd qualities of this person, both in himself and in his conversation, you would not come anywhere near finding a comparison if you searched either among men of our day or among those of the past, unless perhaps you borrowed my words and matched him, not with any human being, but with the Silenuses and satyrs, in his person and his speech.

"For there is a point I omitted when I began -- how his talk most of all resembles the Silenuses [221e] that are made to open. If you chose to listen to Socrates' discourses you would feel them at first to be quite ridiculous; on the outside they are clothed with such absurd words and phrases -- all, of course, the gift of a mocking satyr. His talk is of pack-asses, smiths, cobblers, and tanners, and he seems always to be using the same terms for the same things; so that anyone inexpert and thoughtless might laugh his speeches to scorn. [222a] But when these are opened, and you obtain a fresh view of them by getting inside, first of all you will discover that they are the only speeches which have any sense in them; and secondly, that none are so divine, so rich in images of virtue, so largely -- nay, so completely -- intent on all things proper for the study of such as would attain both grace and worth.

"This, gentlemen, is the praise I give to Socrates: at the same time, I have seasoned it with a little fault-finding, and have told you his rude behavior towards me. [222b] However, I am not the only person he has treated thus: there are Charmides, son of Glaucon, Euthydemus, son of Diocles, and any number of others who have found his way of loving so deceitful that he might rather be their favorite than their lover. I tell you this, Agathon, to save you from his deceit, that by laying our sad experiences to heart you may be on your guard and escape learning by your own pain, like the loon in the adage."

[222c] When Alcibiades had thus spoken, there was some laughter at his frankness, which showed him still amorously inclined to Socrates; who then remarked: "I believe you are sober, Alcibiades; else you would never have enfolded yourself so charmingly all about, trying to screen from sight your object in all this talk, nor would have put it in as a mere incident at the end. The true object of all you have said [222d] was to stir up a quarrel between me and Agathon: for you think you must keep me as your undivided lover, and Agathon as the undivided object of your love. But now you are detected: your Satyric or Silenic play-scene is all shown up. Dear Agathon, do not let the plot succeed, but take measures to prevent anyone from setting you and me at odds."

[222e] To which Agathon replied: "Do you know, Socrates, I fancy you have hit on the truth. Besides, I take his sitting down between us two as an obvious attempt to draw us apart. See, he shall not gain his point: I will come and sit by your side."

"By all means," said Socrates; "here is a place for you beyond me."

"Good God!" said Alcibiades, "here's the fellow at me again. He has set his heart on having the better of me every way. But at least, you surprising person, do allow Agathon to sit between us."

"That cannot be," said Socrates: "you have praised me, and so it behoves me to praise my neighbor on the right. Thus if Agathon sits beyond you, he must surely be praising me again, before receiving his due praises from me. So let him be, my good soul, and [223a] do not grudge the lad those praises of mine: for I am most eager to pronounce his eulogy."

"Ha, ha! Alcibiades," said Agathon; "there can be no question of my staying here: I shall jump up and at once, if that will make Socrates praise me."

"There you are," said Alcibiades; "just as usual: when Socrates is present, nobody else has a chance with the handsome ones. You see how resourceful he was in devising a plausible reason why our young friend should sit beside him."

[223b] So Agathon was getting up in order to seat himself by Socrates, when suddenly a great crowd of revellers arrived at the door, which they found just opened for some one who was going out. They marched straight into the party and seated themselves: the whole place was in an uproar and, losing all order, they were forced to drink a vast amount of wine. Then, as Aristodemus related, Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and some others took their leave and departed; [223c] while he himself fell asleep, and slumbered a great while, for the nights were long. He awoke towards dawn, as the cocks were crowing; and immediately he saw that all the company were either sleeping or gone, except Agathon, Aristophanes, and Socrates, who alone remained awake and were drinking out of a large vessel, from left to right; and Socrates was arguing with them. As to most of the talk, Aristodemus had no recollection, [223d] for he had missed the beginning and was also rather drowsy; but the substance of it was, he said, that Socrates was driving them to the admission that the same man could have the knowledge required for writing comedy and tragedy -- that the fully skilled tragedian could be a comedian as well. While they were being driven to this, and were but feebly following it, they began to nod; first Aristophanes dropped into a slumber, and then, as day began to dawn, Agathon also. When Socrates had seen them comfortable, he rose and went away, -- followed in the usual manner by my friend; on arriving at the Lyceum, he washed himself, and then spent the rest of the day in his ordinary fashion; and so, when the day was done, he went home for the evening and reposed.

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