Greek Ethical Thought from Homer to the Stoics

By Hilda D. Oakeley | Go to book overview

XENOPHON'S "MEMORABILIA"

Socrates ( 470-399 B.C.) wrote nothing himself, but devoted his life to arousing his fellow-citizens, individually, especially the young, to serious thought about life, and to the recognition that self-knowledge is the precondition of all useful activity. His effect upon them is described in Plato Dialogues as analogous to the electric shock of the torpedo-fish. According to Aristotle, we owe to Socrates the beginnings of logic and of ethical enquiry. How far Plato's Socrates is the real Socrates is a problem which will never be solved. The immense personal effect he had upon Plato must have been due to great philosophic as well as moral power. By Plato Socrates seems to have been regarded as the spirit of philosophy itself, always searching, and serving truth alone, in thought and life, always rejoicing if his fellow-workers can show him a better way. Xenophon presents to us only a part portrait of such a man, but not inconsistent in the main features.

The following passages will illustrate the method of Socrates, so far as it was appreciated by Xenophon.

In the Memorabilia Xenophon aimed at presenting Socrates' way of life and discourses in such a way as to disprove the charges that he was irreligious and a corrupter of youth, on which he was condemned to death.


Self-knowledge

MEMORABILIA Bk. III. ch. vii. sect. 1. The text is that of the Rev. Percival Frost (nearly corresponding with Kühner's).

Observing that Charmides, the son of Glaucon, was a man of remarkable gifts, and much more able than those who were at that time exercising political power, but hesitating to come before the people and take a part in public affairs, Socrates said to him:

"Tell me, Charmides--What sort of man would you deem him to be who though capable of winning the wreath of victory in the great contests, and through this gaining honour for himself and greater fame for his fatherland in Greece, should be unwilling to compete?"

-46-

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