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Callias—The Fall of Athens by  Alfred J. Church


 

 

SOCRATES

[72] CALLIAS lost no time in cultivating the acquaintance of his new friend. The very next day he called upon him at as early an hour as etiquette permitted, and was lucky enough to find him at home. He had lately returned, indeed, from drilling with the troop of Knights to which he belonged, and was just finishing his breakfast, which had been delayed till his military duties had been performed.

"Will you drink a cup to our new friendship—if you will allow me to call it so?" said Xenophon, to the young man as he entered the room.

"Excuse me," replied Callias, "if I decline."

"You are right," said Xenophon, "this is one of the offers which formality commands us to make—whether rightly or wrongly, I cannot say—but which I always myself refuse, and am glad to see refused by others. But what will you? A game of kottabos, or a walk to the springs of the Ilissus?

"Either," replied Callias, "would be agreeable, but first now I have set my heart on something else. You are a disciple of Socrates, I am told. Can you manage that I may have the privilege of hearing him? I have never had the chance of doing so."

Xenophon's face brightened with pleasure when he heard the request. "Excellent, my dear sir, you could not have [73] suggested anything that would have pleased me better. We shall certainly be good friends. I always judge a man by what he thinks of Socrates. You are ready, I know, to admire and love him, and I offer you my friendship in advance. Now let us go and find him. It will not be difficult, for I know his ways pretty well. There is a sacrifice in the Temple of Theseus, and he will probably be there. There is no more diligent attendant at such functions, and yet the fools and knaves say that he is an atheist. We shall catch him just as he is leaving.

The subject of conversation between the two young men as they walked along was naturally the character of this philosopher whom they were about to see. Callias had much to ask, and Xenophon had still more to tell.

"As you are going to see this man for the first time," said the latter, "you will be interested in hearing how I first came to make his acquaintance. It was about nine years ago, very soon, I remember, after the first expedition sailed for Syracuse. I had been hearing a course of lectures by Prodicus of Ceos, who was then all the fashion in Athens, and was hurrying home to be in time for the midday meal. Socrates met us in a narrow alley, and put his staff across it to bar the way. What a strange figure he was, I thought. I had never seen him before, you must know; for we had been living for some years on my father's estate in Euba. Certainly he looked more like a Silenus than an Apollo. 'Well, my son,' he said, looking at me with a smile that made him look quite beautiful, 'can you tell me where a good tunic is to be bought?' I thought it was an odd question, though certainly he might want a tunic for himself, for his own was exceedingly shabby. However I answered it to the best of my ability. 'And a good sword—where may that be purchased?' That I told him also as [74] well as I could. Some half dozen more things he asked me about, and I did my best to reply. At last he said, 'Tell me then, my son, since you know so well where so many good things are to be procured, tell me where the true gentleman is to be found?' That puzzled me exceedingly, and I could only lift my eyebrows and shrug my shoulders. How could I answer such a question? Then he said, 'Follow me my son, and be taught.' I never went near Prodicus again, you may be sure. My father was somewhat vexed, for he had paid a quarter of a talent as fee for the course of lectures. However it did not cost him anything, for Socrates will never take a fee. From that day to this I have never missed an opportunity when I was not campaigning of hearing him. But see, there he is!"

Socrates was standing in the open space in front of the Temple of Poseidon, with the customary group of listeners round him. As the two young men came up the discussion which had been going on came to an end, and the philosopher turned to greet the newcomers. "Hail! Xenophon," he cried, "and you, too, sir, for the friends of Xenophon are always welcome." "You, sir," he went on addressing Callias, "are recently back from the war; now tell me this." And he asked questions which showed that military details were perfectly well known to him, better known to him in fact than they were to Callias himself. These questions were becoming a little perplexing, for Socrates had an inveterate habit of driving into a corner, it may be said, everyone with whom he conversed. Luckily for Callias, another friend came up at the moment, and the great examiner's attention was diverted.

"Ho! Aristarchus," he cried to the newcomer, "how fare you?"

[75] "But poorly, Socrates," was the reply. "Things are going very ill with me."

"And indeed," said the philosopher, "I thought that you had a somewhat gloomy look. But tell me—what is your trouble? Xenophon here is your kinsman, I know, and you will not mind speaking before him, and he will answer for the discretion of his friend. Or would you prefer that we should go apart and talk, for to that too, I doubt not, these two gentlemen will consent?"

"Nay," said the man who had been addressed as Aristarchus, "I am not ashamed or unwilling to speak before Xenophon and his friend Callias, in whom I have the pleasure of recognizing a kinsman of my own. For that from which I am suffering, though it troubles me, has nothing shameful in it."

"Speak on then," said Socrates, "and, perhaps, among us we shall be able to find some remedy for your trouble. For surely it is of some use to share a burden if it be too heavy for one."

"Listen then, Socrates," said Aristarchus, "I have been compelled for kindred's sake to take into my home not a few ladies, sisters, and nieces, and cousins, whose husbands or fathers, or other lawful protectors, have either perished in the war, or have been banished. There are fourteen of them in all. Now, as you know, nothing comes in from my country estate, for who will farm that which at any time the enemy may ravage? And from my houses in the city there comes but very little, for how few are they who are able to pay rent? And no business is being done in the city, nor can I borrow any money. Verily there is more chance of finding money in the street, than of borrowing. O, Socrates, 'tis a grievous thing to see my own flesh and blood perish of hunger, and yet, when things are as they are, I cannot find food for so many."

[76] "'Tis grievous indeed," said Socrates. "But tell me—how comes it to pass that Keramon feeds many persons in his name, and yet can not only provide what is needful for himself and his inmates, but has so much over that he grows rich while you are afraid of perishing of hunger?"

"Nay, Socrates, why ask such a question? The many persons whom he so keeps are slaves, while the inmates of my house are free."

"Which then, think you, are the worthier, your free persons, or Keramon's slaves?"

"Doubtless my free persons."

"But, surely, it is a shame, that he having the less worthy should prosper, and you with the more worthy, be in poverty."

"Doubtless 'tis because his folk are artisans while mine have been liberally educated."

"By artisans you mean such as know how to make useful things."

"And bread?"

"Very much so."

"And men's and women's cloaks, and short frocks, and mantles, and vests?"

"Very much so."

"But your folk don't know how to make any of these things. Is it so?"

"Nay, but they know how to make them all."

"Do you not know then, how Nausicydes not only supports himself and his household by making barley meal, but has become so rich that he is often called upon to make special contributions to the state and how Corbus, the [77] baker, lives in fine style on the profits of bread-making, and Demias on mantle-making, and Menon on cloak-making, and nearly everyone in Megara on the making of vests?

"That is very true, Socrates. But all these buy barbarians for slaves, and make them work; but my people are free by birth and kinsfolk of my own."

"And because they are free and kinsfolk of yours must they do nothing but eat and sleep? Do you suppose that other free people are happier when they live in this indolent fashion, or when they employ themselves in useful occupations? What about your kinsfolk, my friend? At present I take it, you do not love them, and they do not love you, for you think them a great trouble and loss to you, and they see that you feel them to be a burden. It is only too likely that all natural affection will turn under these circumstances to positive dislike. But if you will put them in the way of making their own livelihood, every thing will go right; you will have a kindly feeling for them because they will be helping you, and they will have as much regard for you, because they will see that you are pleased with them. They know, you say, how to do the things that are a woman's becoming work; don't hesitate therefore to set them in the way of doing it. I am sure that they will be glad enough to follow."

"By all the gods, Socrates, you are right. I dare say I could borrow a little money to set the thing going; but to tell you the truth, I did not like to run into debt, when all the motley would simply be eaten. It is a different thing, now that there will be a chance of paying it back, and I have no doubt that there will be some way of managing it."

Just at this point a little boy came up with a message for Socrates. "My mistress bids me say," he cried in a somewhat undertone, "that the dinner is waiting, and that you must [78] come at once." "There are commands which all must obey," said the philosopher with a smile,"and this is one of them. And indeed it would be ungrateful to the excellent Xanthippe, if after hearing she has taken so much pains to prepare one's dinner, one was to refuse the very easy return of eating it. Farewell, my friends."

And the philosopher went his way.

To Callias the conversation which he had just heard was peculiarly interesting, because the theory in his family was that which was probably accepted in almost every upper class house in Athens, that it was a disgrace for a free-born woman to work for her living, and that all handicrafts, even in those who constantly exercised them, were degrading and lowering to the character. Xenophon already knew what his master thought upon these points, but to his younger friend this "gospel of work," as it may be called, was a positive revelation. He did not value it even when, a few days later, he heard from Aristarchus that the experiment had succeeded to admiration. "I only had to buy a few pounds of wool," he said; "the women are as happy as queens, and I have not got to think all day and night, but never find out, how to make both ends meet."


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