The Memorabilia

Author: Xenophon


At this point I will endeavour to explain in what way Socrates fostered this greater "dialectic" capacity among his intimates.[1] He held firmly to the opinion that if a man knew what each reality was, he would be able to explain this knowledge to others; but, failing the possession of that knowledge, it did not surprise him that men should stumble themselves and cause others to stumble also.[2] It was for this reason that he never ceased inquiring with those who were with him into the true nature of things that are.[3] It would be a long business certainly to go through in detail all the definitions at which he arrived; I will therefore content myself with such examples as will serve to show his method of procedure. As a first instance I will take the question of piety. The mode of investigation may be fairly represented as follows.

[1] Lit. "essayed to make those who were with him more potent in

[2] Or, "Socrates believed that any one who knew the nature of
anything would be able to let others into his secret; but, failing
that knowledge, he thought the best of men would be but blind
leaders of the blind, stumbling themselves and causing others to
stumble also."

[3] Or add, "’What is this among things? and what is its definition?’
—such was the ever-recurrent question for which he sought an

Tell me (said he), Euthydemus, what sort of thing you take piety to be?

Something most fair and excellent, no doubt (the other answered).[4]

[4] Or, "A supreme excellence, no doubt."

Soc. And can you tell me what sort of person the pious man is?[5]

[5] Or, "can you give me a definition of the pious man?"; "tell me who
and what the pious man is."

I should say (he answered) he is a man who honours the gods.

Soc. And is it allowable to honour the gods in any mode or fashion one likes?

Euth. No; there are laws in accordance with which one must do that.

Soc. Then he who knows these laws will know how he must honour the gods?

I think so (he answered).

Soc. And he who knows how he must honour the gods conceives that he ought not to do so except in the manner which accords with his knowledge?[6] Is it not so?

[6] i.e. "his practice must square with his knowledge and be the
outward expression of his belief?"

Euth. That is so.[7]

[7] "That is so; you rightly describe his frame of mind and

Soc. And does any man honour the gods otherwise than he thinks he ought?[8]

[8] "As he should and must." See K. Joel, op. cit. p. 322 foll.

I think not (he answered).

Soc. It comes to this then: he who knows what the law requires in reference to the gods will honour the gods in the lawful way?[9]

[9] Or, "he who knows what is lawful with regard to Heaven pays honour
to Heaven lawfully."

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. But now, he who honours lawfully honours as he ought?[10]

[10] "As he should and must."

Euth. I see no alternative.

Soc. And he who honours as he ought is a pious man?

Euth. Certainly.

Soc. It would appear that he who knows what the law requires with respect to the gods will correctly be defined as a pious man, and that is our definition?

So it appears to me, at any rate (he replied).[11]

[11] "I accept it at any rate as mine." N.B.—in reference to this
definition of Piety, the question is never raised {poion ti esti
nomos}; nor yet {poioi tines eisin oi theoi}; but clearly there is
a growth in {ta nomima}. Cf. the conversation recorded in St. John
iv. 7 foll., and the words (verse 23) {pneuma o Theos kai tous
proskunountas auton en pneumati kai aletheia dei proskunein},
which the philosopher Socrates would perhaps readily have assented

Soc. But now, with regard to human beings; is it allowable to deal with men in any way one pleases?[12]

[12] Or, "may a man deal with his fellow-men arbitrarily according to
his fancy?" See above, II. vii. 8.

Euth. No; with regard to men also, he will be a law-observing man[13] who knows what things are lawful as concerning men, in accordance with which our dealings with one another must be conducted.[14]

[13] Or, "he is a man full of the law (lawful) and law-abiding who
knows," etc.

[14] Reading {kath’ a dei pros allelous khresthai}, subaud.
{allelois}, or if vulg. {kath’ a dei pos allelois khresthai},
translate "must be specifically conducted."

Soc. Then those who deal with one another in this way, deal with each other as they ought?[15]

[15] "As they should and must."

Obviously (he answered).

Soc. And they who deal with one another as they ought, deal well and nobly—is it not so?

Certainly (he answered).

Soc. And they who deal well and nobly by mankind are well-doers in respect of human affairs?

That would seem to follow (he replied).

Soc. I presume that those who obey the laws do what is just and right?

Without a doubt, (he answered).

Soc. And by things right and just you know what sort of things are meant?

What the laws ordain (he answered).

Soc. It would seem to follow that they who do what the laws ordain both do what is right and just and what they ought?[16]

[16] "What they should and must."

Euth. I see no alternative.

Soc. But then, he who does what is just and right is upright and just?[17]

[17] This proposition, as Kuhner argues (ad loc.), is important as
being the middle term of the double syllogism (A and B)—

A. Those who do what the law demands concerning men do what is
just and right.

Those who do what is just and right are righteous and just.

Ergo—Those who do what the law demands concerning men are
righteous and just.

B. Those who know what is just and right ought (and are bound,
cf. above, III. ix. 4) to do also what is just and right.

Those who do what is just and right are righteous and just.

Ergo—Righteous and Just ({dikaioi}) may be defined as "Those
who know what the law demands (aliter things right and just)
concerning men."

I should say so myself (he answered).

Soc. And should you say that any one obeys the laws without knowing what the laws ordain?

I should not (he answered).

Soc. And do you suppose that any one who knows what things he ought to do supposes that he ought not to do them?[18]

[18] Or, "and no one who knows what he must and should do imagines
that he must and should not do it?"

No, I suppose not (he answered).

Soc. And do you know of anybody doing other than what he feels bound to do?[19]

[19] Or, "and nobody that you know of does the contrary of what he
thinks he should do?"

No, I do not (he answered).

Soc. It would seem that he who knows what things are lawful[20] as concerning men does the things that are just and right?

[20] Or, "of lawful obligation."

Without a doubt (he answered).

Soc. But then, he who does what is just and right is upright and just?[21]

[21] N.B.—In reference to this definition of justice, see K. Joel,
op. cit. p. 323 foll., "Das ist eine Karrikatur des Sokratischen

Who else, if not? (he replied).

Soc. It would seem, then, we shall have got to a right definition if we name as just and upright those who know the things which are lawful as concerning men?

That is my opinion (he answered).

Soc. And what shall we say that wisdom is? Tell me, does it seem to you that the wise are wise in what they know,[22] or are there any who are wise in what they know not?

[22] Or, "in that of which they have the knowledge ({episteme})."

Euth. Clearly they are wise in what they know;[23] for how could a man have wisdom in that which he does not know?

[23] Or, "their wisdom is confined to that of which they have the
{episteme}. How could a man be wise in what he lacks the knowledge

Soc. In fact, then, the wise are wise in knowledge?

Euth. Why, in what else should a man be wise save only in knowledge?

Soc. And is wisdom anything else than that by which a man is wise, think you?

Euth. No; that, and that only, I think.

Soc. It would seem to follow that knowledge and wisdom are the same?

Euth. So it appears to me.

Soc. May I ask, does it seem to you possible for a man to know all the things that are?

Euth. No, indeed! not the hundredth part of them, I should say.

Soc. Then it would seem that it is impossible for a man to be allwise?

Quite impossible (he answered).

Soc. It would seem the wisdom of each is limited to his knowledge; each is wise only in what he knows?

Euth. That is my opinion.[24]

[24] Cf. Plat. "Theaet." 145 D. N.B.—For this definition of wisdom
see K. Joel, ib. p. 324 foll.

Soc. Well! come now, Euthydemus, as concerning the good: ought we to search for the good in this way?

What way? (he asked).

Soc. Does it seem to you that the same thing is equally advantageous to all?

No, I should say not (he answered).

Soc. You would say that a thing which is beneficial to one is sometimes hurtful to another?

Decidedly (he replied).

Soc. And is there anything else good except that which is beneficial, should you say?[25]

[25] Or reading (1) {allo d’ an ti phaies e agathon einai to
ophelimon}; or else (2) {allo d’ an ti phaies agathon einai to
ophelimon}; (in which case {alloti} = {allo ti e};) translate (1)
"and what is beneficial is good (or a good), should you not say?"
lit. "could you say that the beneficial is anything else than good
(or a good)?" or else (2) "and what is beneficial is good (or a
good)? or is it anything else?"

Nothing else (he answered).

Soc. It would seem to follow that the beneficial is good relatively to him to whom it is beneficial?

That is how it appears to me (he answered).

Soc. And the beautiful: can we speak of a thing as beautiful in any other way than relatively? or can you name any beautiful thing, body, vessel, or whatever it be, which you know of as universally beautiful?[26]

[26] i.e. "beautiful in all relations into which it enters." Reading
{to de kalon ekhoimen an pos allos eipein e estin onomazein kalon
e soma e skeuos e all’ otioun, o oistha pros tanta kalon on; Ma
Di’, ouk egog’, ephe}. For other emendations of the vulg., and the
many interpretations which have been given to the passage, see R.
Kuhner ad loc.

Euth. I confess I do not know of any such myself.[27]

[27] Or, adopting the reading {ekhois an} in place of {ekhoimen an}
above, translate "I certainly cannot, I confess."

Soc. I presume to turn a thing to its proper use is to apply it beautifully?

Euth. Undoubtedly it is a beautiful appliance.[28]

[28] Or, "I presume it is well and good and beautiful to use this,
that, and the other thing for the purpose for which the particular
thing is useful?"—"That nobody can deny (he answered)." It is
impossible to convey simply the verbal play and the quasi-
argumentative force of the Greek {kalos ekhei pros ti tini
khresthai}. See K. Joel, p. 426.

Soc. And is this, that, and the other thing beautiful for aught else except that to which it may be beautifully applied?

Euth. No single thing else.

Soc. It would seem that the useful is beautiful relatively to that for which it is of use?

So it appears to me (he answered).

Soc. And what of courage,[29] Euthydemus? I presume you rank courage among things beautiful? It is a noble quality?[30]

[29] Or, perhaps better, "fortitude." See H. Sidgwick, "Hist. of
Ethics," p. 43.

[30] It is one of {ta kala}. See K. Joel, ib. p. 325, and in reference
to the definitions of the Good and of the Beautiful, ib. p. 425

Nay, one of the most noble (he answered).

Soc. It seems that you regard courage as useful to no mean end?

Euth. Nay, rather the greatest of all ends, God knows.

Soc. Possibly in face of terrors and dangers you would consider it an advantage to be ignorant of them?

Certainly not (he answered).

Soc. It seems that those who have no fear in face of dangers, simply because they do not know what they are, are not courageous?

Most true (he answered); or, by the same showing, a large proportion of madmen and cowards would be courageous.

Soc. Well, and what of those who are in dread of things which are not dreadful, are they—

Euth. Courageous, Socrates?—still less so than the former, goodness knows.

Soc. Possibly, then, you would deem those who are good in the face of terrors and dangers to be courageous, and those who are bad in the face of the same to be cowards?

Certainly I should (he answered).

Soc. And can you suppose any other people to be good in respect of such things except those who are able to cope with them and turn them to noble account?[31]

[31] {kalos khresthai}, lit. "make a beautiful use of them."

No; these and these alone (he answered).

Soc. And those people who are of a kind to cope but badly with the same occurrences, it would seem, are bad?

Who else, if not they? (he asked).

Soc. May it be that both one and the other class do use these circumstances as they think they must and should?[32]

[32] Or, "feel bound and constrained to do."

Why, how else should they deal with them? (he asked).

Soc. Can it be said that those who are unable to cope well with them or to turn them to noble account know how they must and should deal with them?[33]

[33] Or, "Can it be said that those who are unable to cope nobly with
their perilous surroundings know how they ought to deal with

I presume not (he answered).

Soc. It would seem to follow that those who have the knowledge how to behave are also those who have the power?[34]

[34] "He who kens can."

Yes; these, and these alone (he said).

Soc. Well, but now, what of those who have made no egregious blunder (in the matter); can it be they cope ill with the things and circumstances we are discussing?

I think not (he answered).

Soc. It would seem, conversely, that they who cope ill have made some egregious blunder?

Euth. Probably; indeed, it would appear to follow.

Soc. It would seem, then, that those who know[35] how to cope with terrors and dangers well and nobly are courageous, and those who fail utterly of this are cowards?

[35] "Who have the {episteme}."

So I judge them to be (he answered).[36]

[36] N.B.—For this definition of courage see Plat. "Laches," 195 A
and passim; K. Joel, op. cit. p. 325 foll.

A kingdom and a tyrrany[37] were, he opined, both of them forms of government, but forms which differed from one another, in his belief; a kingdom was a government over willing men in accordance with civil law, whereas a tyranny implied the government over unwilling subjects not according to law, but so as to suit the whims and wishes of the ruler.

[37] Or, "despotism."

There were, moreover, three forms of citizenship or polity; in the case where the magistrates were appointed from those who discharged the obligations prescribed by law, he held the polity to be an aristocracy (or rule of the best);[38] where the title to office depended on rateable property, it was a plutocracy (or rule of wealth); and lastly, where all the citizens without distinction held the reins of office, that was a democracy (or rule of the people).

[38] Or, "in which the due discharge of lawful (law-appointed)
obligations gave the title to magisterial office and government,
this form of polity he held to be an aristocracy (or rule of the
best)." See Newman, op. cit. i. 212, 235.

Let me explain his method of reply where the disputant had no clear statement to make, but without attempt at proof chose to contend that such or such a person named by himself was wiser, or more of a statesman, or more courageous, and so forth, than some other person.[39] Socrates had a way of bringing the whole discussion back to the underlying proposition,[40] as thus:

[39] Or, "if any one encountered him in argument about any topic or
person without any clear statement, but a mere ipse dixit, devoid
of demonstration, that so and so," etc.

[40] Or, "question at bottom." Cf. Plat. "Laws," 949 B.

Soc. You state that so and so, whom you admire, is a better citizen that this other whom I admire?

The Disputant. Yes; I repeat the assertion.

Soc. But would it not have been better to inquire first what is the work or function of a good citizen?

The Disputant. Let us do so.

Soc. To begin, then, with the matter of expenditure: his superiority will be shown by his increasing the resources and lightening the expenditure of the state?[41]

[41] Or, "In the management of moneys, then, his strength will consist
in his rendering the state better provided with ways and means?"

Certainly (the disputant would answer).

Soc. And in the event of war, by rendering his state superior to her antagonists?

The Disputant. Clearly.

Soc. Or on an embassy as a diplomatist, I presume, by securing friends in place of enemies?

That I should imagine (replies the disputant).

Soc. Well, and in parliamentary debate, by putting a stop to party strife and fostering civic concord?

The Disputant. That is my opinion.

By this method of bringing back the argument to its true startingpoint, even the disputant himself would be affected and the truth become manifest to his mind.

His own—that is, the Socratic—method of conducting a rational discussion[42] was to proceed step by step from one point of general agreement to another: "Herein lay the real security of reasoning,"[43] he would say; and for this reason he was more successful in winning the common assent of his hearers than any one I ever knew. He had a saying that Homer had conferred on Odyesseus the title of a safe, unerring orator,[44] because he had the gift to lead the discussion from one commonly accepted opinion to another.

[42] Of, "of threading the mazes of an argument."

[43] Reading {tauton asphaleian}; aliter. {tauten ten asphaleian} =
"that this security was part and parcel of reasoning."

[44] "Od." viii. 171, {o d’ asphaleos agoreuei}, "and his speech runs
surely on its way" (Butcher and Lang), where Odysseus is
describing himself. Cf. Dion. Hal. "de Arte Rhet." xi. 8.


Related Resources

None available for this document.

Download Options

Title: The Memorabilia

Select an option:

*Note: A download may not start for up to 60 seconds.

Email Options

Title: The Memorabilia

Select an option:

Email addres:

*Note: It may take up to 60 seconds for for the email to be generated.

Chicago: Xenophon, "VI," The Memorabilia, ed. Firth, John B. and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in The Memorabilia Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Xenophon. "VI." The Memorabilia, edited by Firth, John B., and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in The Memorabilia, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Xenophon, 'VI' in The Memorabilia, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Memorabilia. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from