The Memorabilia

Author: Xenophon


In this context some discussions with Antiphon the sophist[1] deserve record. Antiphon approaches Socrates in hope of drawing away his associates, and in their presence thus accosts him.

[1] {o teratoskopos}, "jealous of Socrates," according to Aristotle
ap. Diog. Laert. II. v. 25. See Cobet, "Pros. Xen."

Antiphon. Why, Socrates, I always thought it was expected of students of philosophy to grow in happiness daily; but you seem to have reaped other fruits from your philosophy. At any rate, you exist, I do not say live, in a style such as no slave serving under a master would put up with. Your meat and your drink are of the cheapest sort, and as to clothes, you cling to one wretched cloak which serves you for summer and winter alike; and so you go the whole year round, without shoes to your feet or a shirt to your back. Then again, you are not for taking or making money, the mere seeking of which is a pleasure, even as the possession of it adds to the sweetness and independence of existence. I do not know whether you follow the common rule of teachers, who try to fashion their pupils in imitation of themselves,[2] and propose to mould the characters of your companions; but if you do you ought to dub yourself professor of the art of wretchedness.[3]

[2] Or, "try to turn out their pupils as copies of themselves."

[3] See Arist. "Clouds," {on o kakodaimon Sokrates kai Khairephon}.

Thus challenged, Socrates replied: One thing to me is certain, Antiphon; you have conceived so vivid an idea of my life of misery that for yourself you would choose death sooner than live as I do. Suppose now we turn and consider what it is you find so hard in my life. Is it that he who takes payment must as a matter of contract finish the work for which he is paid, whereas I, who do not take it, lie under no constraint to discourse except with whom I choose? Do you despise my dietary on the ground that the food which I eat is less wholesome and less stengthening than yours, or that the articles of my consumption are so scarce and so much costlier to procure than yours? Or have the fruits of your marketing a flavour denied to mine? Do you not know the sharper the appetite the less the need of sauces, the keener the thirst the less the desire for out-of-the-way drinks? And as to raiment, clothes, you know, are changed on account of cold or else of heat. People only wear boots and shoes in order not to gall their feet and be prevented walking. Now I ask you, have you ever noticed that I keep more within doors than others on account of the cold? Have you ever seen me battling with any one for shade on account of the heat? Do you not know that even a weakling by nature may, by dint of exercise and practice, come to outdo a giant who neglects his body? He will beat him in the particular point of training, and bear the strain more easily. But you apparently will not have it that I, who am for ever training myself to endure this, that, and the other thing which may befall the body, can brave all hardships more easily than yourself for instance, who perhaps are not so practised. And to escape slavery to the belly or to sleep or lechery, can you suggest more effective means than the possession of some powerful attraction, some counter-charm which shall gladden not only in the using, but by the hope enkindled of its lasting usefulness? And yet this you do know; joy is not to him who feels that he is doing well in nothing—it belongs to one who is persuaded that things are progressing with him, be it tillage or the working of a vessel,[4] or any of the thousand and one things on which a man may chance to be employed. To him it is given to rejoice as he reflects, "I am doing well." But is the pleasured derived from all these put together half as joyous as the consciousness of becoming better oneself, of acquiring better and better friends? That, for my part, is the belief I continue to cherish.

[4] "The business of a shipowner or skipper."

Again, if it be a question of helping one’s friends or country, which of the two will have the larger leisure to devote to these objects—he who leads the life which I lead to-day, or he who lives in the style which you deem so fortunate? Which of the two will adopt a soldier’s life more easily—the man who cannot get on without expensive living, or he to whom whatever comes to hand suffices? Which will be the readier to capitulate and cry "mercy" in a siege—the man of elaborate wants, or he who can get along happily with the readiest things to hand? You, Antiphon, would seem to suggest that happiness consists of luxury and extravagance; I hold a different creed. To have no wants at all is, to my mind, an attribute of Godhead;[5] to have as few wants as possible the nearest approach to Godhead; and as that which is divine is mightiest, so that is next mightiest which comes closest to the divine.

[5] Cf. Aristot. "Eth. N." x. viii. 1.

Returning to the charge at another time, this same Antiphon engaged Socrates in conversation thus.

Ant. Socrates, for my part, I believe you to be a good and upright man; but for your wisdom I cannot say much. I fancy you would hardly dispute the verdict yourself, since, as I remark, you do not ask a money payment for your society; and yet if it were your cloak now, or your house, or any other of your possessions, you would set some value upon it, and never dream, I will not say of parting with it gratis, but of exchanging it for less than its worth. A plain proof, to my mind, that if you thought your society worth anything, you would ask for it not less than its equivalent in gold.[6] Hence the conclusion to which I have come, as already stated: good and upright you may be, since you do not cheat people from pure selfishness; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth a cent.

[6] Or rather "money," lit. "silver."

To this onslaught Socrates: Antiphon, it is a tenet which we cling to that beauty and wisdom have this in common, that there is a fair way and a foul way in which to dispose of them. The vendor of beauty purchases an evil name, but supposing the same person have discerned a soul of beauty in his lover and makes that man his friend, we regard his choice as sensible.[7] So is it with wisdom; he who sells it for money to the first bidder we name a sophist,[8] as though one should say a man who prostitutes his wisdom; but if the same man, discerning the noble nature of another, shall teach that other every good thing, and make him his friend, of such a one we say he does that which it is the duty of every good citizen of gentle soul to do. In accordance with this theory, I too, Antiphon, having my tastes, even as another finds pleasure in his horse and his hounds,[9] and another in his fighting cocks, so I too take my pleasure in good friends; and if I have any good thing myself I teach it them, or I commend them to others by whom I think they will be helped forwards on the path of virtue. The treasures also of the wise of old, written and bequeathed in their books,[10] I unfold and peruse in common with my friends. If our eye light upon any good thing we cull it eagerly, and regard it as great gain if we may but grow in friendship with one another.

[7] Add "and a sign of modesty," {sophrona nomizomen}.

[8] {sophistas}. See Grote, "H. G." viii. 482 foll.; "Hunting," xi.

[9] Cf. Plat. "Lys." 211 E.

[10] Cf. "Symp." iv. 27.

As I listened to this talk I could not but reflect that he, the master, was a person to be envied, and that we, his hearers, were being led by him to beauty and nobility of soul.

Again on some occasion the same Antiphon asked Socrates how he expected to make politicians of others when, even if he had the knowledge, he did not engage in politics himself.

Socrates replied: I will put to you a question, Antiphon: Which were the more statesmanlike proceeding, to practise politics myself singlehanded, or to devote myself to making as many others as possible fit to engage in that pursuit?


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Chicago: Xenophon, "VI," The Memorabilia, ed. Firth, John B. and trans. Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham) in The Memorabilia Original Sources, accessed July 17, 2024,

MLA: Xenophon. "VI." The Memorabilia, edited by Firth, John B., and translated by Dakyns, H. G. (Henry Graham), in The Memorabilia, Original Sources. 17 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Xenophon, 'VI' in The Memorabilia, ed. and trans. . cited in , The Memorabilia. Original Sources, retrieved 17 July 2024, from