Memorabilia (Xenophon)

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Memorabilia (Greek Ἀπομνημονεύματα) is a collection of Socratic dialogues by Xenophon, a student of Socrates.

Quotes[edit]

  • ὁρῶ γὰρ ὥσπερ τὰ τοῦ σώματος ἔργα τοὺς μὴ τὰ σώματα ἀσκοῦντας οὐ δυναμένους ποιεῖν, οὕτω καὶ τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς ἔργα τοὺς μὴ τὴν ψυχὴν ἀσκοῦντας οὐ δυναμένους.
    • As those who do not train the body cannot perform the functions proper to the body, so those who do not train the soul cannot perform the functions of the soul.
      • 1.2.19
  • ὁρῶ γὰρ ὥσπερ τῶν ἐν μέτρῳ πεποιημένων ἐπῶν τοὺς μὴ μελετῶντας ἐπιλανθανομένους, οὕτω καὶ τῶν διδασκαλικῶν λόγων τοῖς ἀμελοῦσι λήθην ἐγγιγνομένην.
    • Just as poetry is forgotten unless it is often repeated, so instruction, when no longer heeded, fades from the mind.
      • 1.2.21
  • To forget good counsel is to forget the experiences that prompted the soul to desire prudence: and when those are forgotten, it is not surprising that prudence itself is forgotten.
    • 1.2.21
  • Many who are careful with their money no sooner fall in love than they begin to waste it: and when they have spent it all, they no longer shrink from making more by methods which they formerly avoided because they thought them disgraceful.
    • 1.2.22
  • In the same body along with the soul are planted the pleasures which call to her: “Abandon prudence, and make haste to gratify us and the body.”
    • 1.2.23
  • As athletes who gain an easy victory in the games are apt to neglect their training, so the honour in which he was held, the cheap triumph he won with the people, led him to neglect himself.
  • “Can you teach me what a law is?” …
“There is no great difficulty about what you desire. You wish to know what a law is. Laws are all the rules approved and enacted by the majority in assembly, whereby they declare what ought and what ought not to be done.” …
“But if, as happens under an oligarchy, not the majority, but a minority meet and enact rules of conduct, what are these?”
“Whatsoever the sovereign power in the State, after deliberation, enacts and directs to be done is known as a law.”
“If, then, a despot, being the sovereign power, enacts what the citizens are to do, are his orders also a law?”
“Yes, whatever a despot as ruler enacts is also known as a law.”
“But force, the negation of law, what is that, Pericles? Is it not the action of the stronger when he constrains the weaker to do whatever he chooses, not by persuasion, but by force?”
“That is my opinion.”
“Then whatever a despot by enactment constrains the citizens to do without persuasion, is the negation of law?”
“I think so: and I withdraw my answer that whatever a despot enacts without persuasion is a law.”
  • “Alcibiades,” said Pericles, “at your age, I may tell you, we, too, were very clever at this sort of thing. For the puzzles we thought about and exercised our wits on were just such as you seem to think about now.”
“Ah, Pericles,” cried Alcibiades, “if only I had known you intimately when you were at your cleverest in these things!”
  • If you clap fetters on a man for his ignorance, you deserve to be kept in gaol yourself by those whose knowledge is greater than your own.
  • If we were at war and wanted to choose a leader most capable of helping us to save ourselves and conquer the enemy, should we choose one whom we knew to be the slave of the belly, or of wine, or lust, or sleep?
  • Should not every man hold self-control to be the foundation of all virtue, and first lay this foundation firmly in his soul? For who without this can learn any good or practise it worthily? Or what man that is the slave of his pleasures is not in an evil plight body and soul alike? From my heart I declare that every free man should pray not to have such a man among his slaves; and every man who is a slave to such pleasures should entreat the gods to give him good masters: thus, and only thus, may he find salvation.
  • Socrates, I supposed that philosophy must add to one’s store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic. Besides you refuse to take money, the mere getting of which is a joy, while its possession makes one more independent and happier. Now the professors of other subjects try to make their pupils copy their teachers: if you too intend to make your companions do that, you must consider yourself a professor of unhappiness.”
To this Socrates replied: “Antiphon, you seem to have a notion that my life is so miserable, that I feel sure you would choose death in preference to a life like mine. Come then, let us consider together what hardship you have noticed in my life. Is it that those who take money are bound to carry out the work for which they get a fee, while I, because I refuse to take it, am not obliged to talk with anyone against my will? Or do you think my food poor because it is less wholesome than yours or less nourishing? or because my viands are harder to get than yours, being scarcer and more expensive? ... You seem, Antiphon, to imagine that happiness consists in luxury and extravagance. But my belief is that to have no wants is divine; to have as few as possible comes next to the divine; and as that which is divine is supreme, so that which approaches nearest to its nature is nearest to the supreme.”
  • Socrates, I for my part believe you to be a just, but by no means a wise man. And I think you realise it yourself. Anyhow, you decline to take money for your society. Yet if you believed your cloak or house or anything you possess to be worth money, you would not part with it for nothing or even for less than its value. Clearly, then, if you set any value on your society, you would insist on getting the proper price for that too. It may well be that you are a just man because you do not cheat people through avarice; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth anything.”
To this Socrates replied:
“Antiphon, it is common opinion among us in regard to beauty and wisdom that there is an honourable and a shameful way of bestowing them. For to offer one’s beauty for money to all comers is called prostitution; but we think it virtuous to become friendly with a lover who is known to be a man of honour. So is it with wisdom. Those who offer it to all comers for money are known as sophists, prostitutors of wisdom, but we think that he who makes a friend of one whom he knows to be gifted by nature, and teaches him all the good he can, fulfils the duty of a citizen and a gentleman. That is my own view, Antiphon. Others have a fancy for a good horse or dog or bird: my fancy, stronger even than theirs, is for good friends. And I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another.”
  • When we see a woman bartering beauty for gold, we look upon such a one as no other than a common prostitute; but she who rewards the passion of some worthy youth with it, gains at the same time our approbation and esteem. It is the very same with philosophy: he who sets it forth for public sale, to be disposed of to the highest bidder, is a sophist, a public prostitute.
    • Antiphon and Socrates, 1.6.11, T. Stanley, trans., p. 535
  • On yet another occasion Antiphon asked him: “How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?”
“How now, Antiphon?” he retorted, “should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?”
  • [Some animals,] you know, are so greedy, that in spite of extreme timidity in some cases, they are drawn irresistibly to the bait to get food, and are caught; and others are snared by drink.”
“Yes, certainly.”
“Others again—quails and partridges, for instance—are so amorous, that when they hear the cry of the female, they are carried away by desire and anticipation, throw caution to the winds and blunder into the nets. Is it not so?”
He agreed again.
“Now, don’t you think it disgraceful that a man should be in the same plight as the silliest of wild creatures?"
  • “For my part I am no candidate for slavery; but there is, as I hold, a middle path in which I am fain to walk. That way leads neither through rule nor slavery, but through liberty, which is the royal road to happiness.”
“Ah,” said Socrates, “if only that path can avoid the world as well as rule and slavery, there may be something in what you say. But, since you are in the world, if you intend neither to rule nor to be ruled, and do not choose to truckle to the rulers—I think you must see that the stronger have a way of making the weaker rue their lot both in public and in private life, and treating them like slaves. You cannot be unaware that where some have sown and planted, others cut their corn and fell their trees, and in all manner of ways harass the weaker if they refuse to bow down, until they are persuaded to accept slavery as an escape from war with the stronger. So, too, in private life do not brave and mighty men enslave and plunder the cowardly and feeble folk?”
“Yes, but my plan for avoiding such treatment is this. I do not shut myself up in the four corners of a community, but am a stranger in every land.”
  • If we wanted a good friend, how should we start on the quest? Should we seek first for one who is no slave to eating and drinking, lust, sleep, idleness? For the thrall of these masters cannot do his duty by himself or his friend.
  • “What of the man who is such a keen man of business that he has no leisure for anything but the selfish pursuit of gain?”
“We must avoid him too, I think.”
  • It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord.
  • A man was angry because his greeting was not returned. “Ridiculous!” Socrates exclaimed; “you would not have been angry if you had met a man in worse health; and yet you are annoyed because you have come across someone with ruder manners!”
    • 3.8.1
  • Though pleasure is the one and only goal to which incontinence is thought to lead men, she herself cannot bring them to it, whereas nothing produces pleasure so surely as self-control.
  • The delights of learning something good and excellent, and of studying some of the means whereby a man knows how to regulate his body well and manage his household successfully, to be useful to his friends and city and to defeat his enemies—knowledge that yields not only very great benefits but very great pleasures—these are the delights of the self-controlled; but the incontinent have no part in them. For who, should we say, has less concern with these than he who has no power of cultivating them because all his serious purposes are centered in the pleasures that lie nearest?
  • Whatever it befits a gentleman to know he taught most zealously, so far as his own knowledge extended; if he was not entirely familiar with a subject, he took them to those who knew. He also taught them how far a well-educated man should make himself familiar with any given subject.
For instance, he said that the study of geometry should be pursued until the student was competent to measure a parcel of land accurately. ... He was against carrying the study of geometry so far as to include the more complicated figures, on the ground that he could not see the use of them. ...He said that they were enough to occupy a lifetime, to the complete exclusion of many other useful studies.
Similarly he recommended them to make themselves familiar with astronomy, but only so far as to be able to find the time of night, month and year. ... He strongly deprecated studying astronomy so far as to include the knowledge of bodies revolving in different courses, and of planets and comets, and wearing oneself out with the calculation of their distance from the earth, their periods of revolution and the causes of these. Of such researches, again he said that he could not see what useful purpose they served. He had indeed attended lectures on these subjects too; but these again, he said, were enough to occupy a lifetime to the complete exclusion of many useful studies.
In general, with regard to the phenomena of the heavens, he deprecated curiosity to learn how the deity contrives them: he held that their secrets could not be discovered by man, and believed that any attempt to search out what the gods had not chosen to reveal must be displeasing to them. He said that he who meddles with these matters runs the risk of losing his sanity as completely as Anaxagoras, who took an insane pride in his explanation of the divine machinery. ...
He also recommended the study of arithmetic. But in this case as in the others he recommended avoidance of vain application; and invariably, whether theories or ascertained facts formed the subject of his conversation, he limited it to what was useful.
  • ἄριστα μὲν γὰρ οἶμαι ζῆν τοὺς ἄριστα ἐπιμελομένους τοῦ ὡς βελτίστους γίγνεσθαι, ἥδιστα δὲ τοὺς μάλιστα αἰσθανομένους ὅτι βελτίους γίγνονται.
    • They live best, I think, who strive best to become as good as possible: and the pleasantest life is theirs who are conscious that they are growing in goodness.

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