On the Sign of Socrates
(De genio Socratis)

By Plutarch


In the De Genio Socratis Caphisias, Epameinondas’ brother, gives Archedamus and a distinguished circle at Athens an account of the recent exploits and discussions at Thebes.1 The exploits were those of the conspiracy that freed the city from Spartan domination; the discussions took place at the conspirators’ meetings, and were concerned with the meaning of an ancient inscription, the question when benefactions should be rejected, and above all with the interpretation of Socrates’ sign.

Thebes was liberated in December, 379 B.C.2 The story is also told by Plutarch in the Life of Pelopidas (chapters vi-xiii), and brief accounts are preserved in Xenophon’s Hellenica (v. 4. 1-13), in Nepos’ Pelopidas (ii. 1-iv. 1), and in Diodorus Siculus (xv. 25-27).3 There are irreconcilable differences between the accounts |362| of Xenophon, Diodorus, and Plutarch;4 and there are even a few discrepancies between Plutarch’s briefer account in the Life of Pelopidas and his fuller account here.5 Such incidents, however, as the assassination of Androcleidas at Athens, the execution of Hismenias, the meeting at Charon’s house, Chlidon’s failure to deliver the message to the exiles, the letter from Archias of Athens to Archias of Thebes, and the banquet given for Archias by Phyllidas, appear in either Nepos or Xenophon (or both) as well as in the Life of Pelopidas. Xenophon6 differs from Plutarch7 in setting the number of returning exiles at seven, rather than at twelve,8 and |363| in stressing the rôle of Melon, he does not even mention Pelopidas’ part in the exploit. Again, he places a day’s interval between the return of the exiles and the revolt,9 and he gives two versions of the entrance of the conspirators into the presence of Archias. In the first, three were disguised as ladies, the rest as maids; in the second, they entered as revellers.10 Plutarch says that some were attired as revellers, and a few disguised as women (596 d). Xenophon goes on to say that after the seven had killed Archias, Phyllidas went with three of them to kill Leontiades;11 whereas in Plutarch the exiles divide into two groups, Melon’s group killing Archias and Philippus, Pelopidas’ Leontiades and Hypates (577 c, 596 c-d, 596 f–598 a).

Most of the personages of the dialogue are known from other sources and may be considered historical. Archedamus is evidently an Athenian public figure with well-known Theban sympathies (575 d, f). Such a person was Archedemus of Pelex, surnamed “the blear-eyed,” and mentioned by Aeschines (Or. ii. 139) as one who had risked much for the sake of Thebes.12 There is no external evidence for Caphisias, whom Plutarch presents as a brother of Epameinondas, or for his embassy to Athens. But there is no reason |364| to doubt the existence of a brother of that name; and embassies from Thebes must have been fairly frequent at Athens in the stirring times that followed the liberation. As the philosophical discussions are scarcely historical, there is no compelling reason to suppose that the personages exclusively concerned with them are authentic. Timarchus, the hero of the myth, is probably a fiction of Plutarch’s,13 and the same may hold true of the Pythagorean Theanor (literally, “man of God”); no other ancient author speaks of them. No mention is found elsewhere of the conspirators Bacchylidas, Eumolpidas, Hismenodorus, Lysitheus, and Samidas; but here there is no reason to suppose that the names were invented. Plutarch, a local patriot, was well read in Boeotian history, and there are other instances where he alone has preserved some detail of it.14

The dialogue opens with a speech by Archedamus, who asks Caphisias for the story of the events he had taken part in and for an account of the discussions he had heard at the time. Caphisias asks where he shall begin; and Archedamus, briefly sketching the events already known to himself and the audience, tells him to begin with the return of the exiles and the overthrow15 of the tyrants. |365|

The rest of the dialogue consists of Caphisias’ narrative. A messenger from Athens informs the conspirators that the exiles will arrive at nightfall, and asks to what house they shall proceed. Charon offers his own. The party, which includes Charon, Caphisias, and Theocritus, a diviner, is now met by Archias (the leading spirit among the Theban oligarchs), Lysanoridas (the Spartan commander), and Phyllidas, a conspirator who is secretary to the Theban polemarchs. Theocritus is called away for a private conversation with Lysanoridas, and Phyllidas, drawing Caphisias aside, learns that the exiles are to come that evening, and congratulates himself on having chosen that time for a banquet to which Archias will be invited and made drunk. At the house of Simmias, the meeting-place of the conspirators, Pheidolaüs asks the party to wait, as Simmias is closeted with Leontiades, an influential oligarch, interceding for the life of Amphitheus, an imprisoned democrat.

While they are waiting, Theocritus asks Pheidolaüs about the discoveries made by the Spartans who excavated Alcmena’s tomb in the territory of Pheidolaüs’ native city of Haliartus. An inscription in unknown characters was the most remarkable, and Agesilaüs was reported to have sent a copy to Egypt for the priests to interpret.

Meanwhile Leontiades leaves. The party enter and find Simmias very downcast; his intercession had evidently failed. As Simmias had recently returned from Egypt, Theocritus asks whether the priests succeeded in reading the inscription. Simmias answers that such a document had been interpreted by a priest with whom Plato and he had studied |366| philosophy; and that it contained a divine command that the Greeks should settle their disputes by appealing not to arms, but to the Muses and discussion. Plato had remembered this message when the Delians consulted him about the duplication of the cube: they had received an oracle to the effect that when the cubical altar at Delos had been doubled the miseries of Delos and of all Greece would be at an end. Plato promised help, but told them that Apollo’s real purpose was to urge the Greeks to cultivate geometry, great proficiency being required for the solution, and to make an end of war by calming their passions in such mathematical and philosophical pursuits.

So ends the first discussion. Polymnis, the father of Epameinondas and Caphisias, now enters with the news that Epameinondas is bringing a Pythagorean stranger who had spent the night at the tomb of Lysis, a Pythagorean who had trained the sons of Polymnis in philosophy. The stranger had intended to remove the remains to Italy, if no sign from heaven should prevent him; and had brought a large sum of gold, with which he insisted on rewarding Epameinondas for supporting Lysis in his old age.

Galaxidorus, in a burst of indignation at the stranger’s superstitious practices, denounces religious mummery in general, contrasting it with the simplicity and frankness of Socrates. Theocritus retorts that Socrates after all had a divine sign; to this Galaxidorus replies that Socrates allowed himself to be guided by the signs of ordinary divination — sneezes and chance remarks overheard — when the rational grounds for a decision were evenly balanced. Polymnis adds that he has heard that the sign was a |367| sneeze, but is astonished that Socrates did not call it so. The sneeze, Galaxidorus answers, was a mere instrument, the real agent being Heaven; and Socrates, who knew the proper use of words, spoke therefore of receiving intimations from Heaven (to daimonion),16 not from its instrument.

{A to daimonion is an inward mentor conceived as partaking of the nature of a demon, a spirit, or inspired by one.}

The conversation is interrupted by the entrance of Epameinondas and the Pythagorean. Theanor (for that is the stranger’s name) begs the company to judge between them: Epameinondas rejects the proffered money. A dialogue follows between the two on the question when it is right to accept a benefaction; and Epameinondas justifies his refusal by the need to refrain from even legitimate gain if he would harden himself against profiting from injustice. Simmias’ decision is that the disputants must settle the question themselves.

Phyllidas now enters with Hippostheneidas, another conspirator, and draws Charon, Theocritus, and Caphisias aside. It appears that Hippostheneidas, alarmed among other things by an ominous dream, had sent a mounted messenger to meet the exiles at the frontier and tell them to turn back. Theocritus shows that the dream was actually a propitious omen, and the whole episode ends happily when the messenger appears and tells how a violent quarrel with his wife prevented him from setting out.

Caphisias and Theocritus return to Simmias, who has answered Galaxidorus in the interval, and is now presenting his own theory. The sign was Socrates’ perception of the unspoken language of the higher powers. Simmias goes on to tell the story or myth |368| of Timarchus. The substance of Timarchus’ vision is this: all souls have understanding or intellect, but some are so deeply sunk in the body that their understanding loses its character and becomes irrational. Others keep partly clear of the body, and the portion not immersed in it is called the daemon. Souls that obey this daemon from their earliest years are those of seers and divine men, and such was Socrates.

Theanor has the last word. Setting aside the myth, he combines parts of the explanations of Simmias and Galaxidorus, maintaining that the gods view certain persons with special favour and communicate with them directly by symbols. Others they help indirectly: when the cycle of birth is over, good men become daemons, and are allowed by the gods to call out to and help those who are approaching the end of their cycle.

At the conclusion of the discussion Theocritus, Galaxidorus, and Caphisias urge Epameinondas to join them in killing the oligarchs. Epameinondas gives his reasons for refusing.

Toward nightfall the exiles slip into the city and gather at Charon’s house. When all the conspirators have assembled there two officers appear and summon Charon to the presence of Archias and Philippus. The rest, convinced that the plot is discovered, are preparing a desperate sortie when Charon returns with the joyful news that the magistrates have no definite information and are already the worse for drink.

The conspirators now set out in two parties, the one to attack Leontiades and Hypates, the other, Archias and Philippus. Meanwhile a letter is brought |369| to Archias, revealing the whole plot. The bearer says that it deals with serious business; but Archias slips it under his cushion with the remark that serious business can wait for the morrow. Both parties are completely successful: Archias, Philippus, Leontiades, and Hypates are all dispatched. Epameinondas and his followers join the conspirators and call the citizenry to arms. The Spartan sympathizers flee to the citadel; and the terrified garrison makes no descent into the lower town. The Spartans capitulate and withdraw their forces.

By the very nature of its dramatic setting the De Genio Socratis contains no reference to the events of Plutarch’s own time. No absolute date can then be fixed. Von Arnim,17 comparing the myths of the De Defectu Oraculorum, De Facie in Orbe Lunae, De Genio Socratis, and De Sera Numinis Vindicta, supposes that the four were composed in that order. If so — and many of his arguments are hardly cogent18 — the De Genio Socratis was written after 95 or thereabouts, the approximate date of Plutarch’s election to the Delphic priesthood.19

A few translations can be added to those listed in the Preface.20 Only two manuscripts contain the dialogue, E and B. In estimating the length of lacunas we mention E first. |370| The work is No. 69 in the catalogue of Lamprias, where it is called περι Σωκράτους δαιμονίου προς Άλκιδάμάντα.

K. S. Guthrie, Three Selections from Plutarch’s Genius of Socrates (New York, 1904).

A. O. Prickard, The Return of the Theban Exiles 379-378 B.C. (Oxford, 1926). This is a revision of the excellent version Mr. Prickard published in 1918.

A. Kontos, Πλουτάρχον Ήθικά· Περι του Σωκράτους Δαιμονίου (Athens, 1939).

W. Ax, Plutarch Moralia (Leipzig, 1942), pp. 202-261.

E. des Places, S. J., Le Démon de Socrate de Plutarque (Paris, 1950), published with H. Pourrat, Le Sage et son démon. |372|

1^ That Plutarch composed his dialogue with Plato’s Phaedo in mind was long ago pointed out by R. Hirzel (Der Dialog, Zweiter Theil, Leipzig, 1895, pp. 148-151; cf. also W. Christ, “Plutarch’s Dialog vom Daimonion des Sokrates,” in Sitz. Munich, 1901, pp. 59-110, K. Kahle, De Plut. Rat. Dialogorum Componendorum, Gottingen, 1912, pp. 17-19, and G. M. Lattanzi, Il “De genio Socratis” di Plutarco, Rome, 1933, pp. 15-17).

2^ E. Meyer, Gesch. des Altertums, vol. v, pp. 373 f.

3^ Cf. also Polyaenus, ii. 3. 1 and ii. 4. 3.

4^ For the fullest discussion of the different accounts cf. the two works of Ernst von Stern: Gesch. d. spart. u. theb. Hegemonie vom Konigsfrieden bis zur Schlacht bei Mantinea, Dorpat, 1884, and Xenophon’s Hellenica u. d. böot. Geschichts-überlieferung, Dorpat, 1887.

5^ In the dialogue (576 c-d) a messenger arrives the day the exiles cross the frontier, informs the conspirators of the fact, and is told where the exiles are to lodge; in the Life (chaps, vii. 4, viii. 3, 281 b, d) the house where they are to lodge is agreed upon in advance. In the Life (chap. x. 5, 283 a-b) Charon tells the truth about his interview to Pelopidas alone, inventing a fictitious story for the rest; in the dialogue (595 f ff.) he tells the truth to all. In the Life (chap. xi. 8, 283 f) Cephisodorus dies before Leontiades is killed, in the dialogue (597 f), after. Again, in the dialogue (596 d) only a few of the conspirators in Melon’s group are dressed as women; in the Life (chap. xi. 2, 283 c-d) all apparently are. Cf. Lattanzi, p. 81.

6^ Hellenica v. 4. 1 and 3.

7^ 576 c; cf. Nepos, Pelopidas ii.

8^ Of the conspirators named in the course of the dialogue three, Pelopidas, Damocleidas, and Theopompus, evidently (594 d) belong to the twelve. We learn of two more, Melon and Menecleidas, from the Life of Pelopidas (chap. viii. 2, 281 c, and chap. xxv. 5, 290 f). Possibly Eumolpidas, Samidas, Lysitheus, and Cephisodorus can be added to the number; but there is no proof that they were exiles.

9^ Hellenica v. 4. 3.

10^ Hellenica v. 4. 6 f.

11^ Hellenica v. 4. 5-7.

12^ Cf. Kirchner, Prosop. Att. no. 2326. The form Archedamos is not Attic, although not unknown at Athens (cf. ibid. no. 2312; the name Archidamos occurs seven times: ibid. nos. 2482-2488). The forms Archedamos and Archidamos both occur in Boeotian inscriptions: cf. the index to IG, vol. vii. Plutarch may have used the Boeotian form to show the bearer’s intimacy with Boeotians and friendliness to Thebes.

13^ Like Plutarch, Timarchus is a Chaeronean, and his name was presumably modelled on Plutarch’s own; cf. also the unhistorical detail about Lamprocles (590 a with the note, and von Arnim, “Plutarch über Dämonen und Mantik,” in Verhandelingen d. K. Akad. van Wetenschappen te Amsterdam, Afd. Lett. Nieuwe Reeks, Deel xxii (1921), pp. 17 f.).

14^ Cf. Mor. 548 f-549 a with Reiske’s note: “Res Boeoticas alii auctores negligentius tractarunt, quas, ut patrias, attingere Plutarchus amat.”

15^ Plutarch avoids the terms “assassination” and “conspiracy.”

16^ To daimonion is also the name of the divine sign, the “genius” of Socrates.

17^ Op. cit. pp. 21-27, 42-46.

18^ Cf. W. Hamilton, “The Myth in Plutarch’s De Genio” in The Classical Quarterly, vol. xxviii (1934), pp. 175-182.

19^ Cf. p. 173, note e, supra. For the question of the relative dates of the De Genio Socratis and the Life of Pelopidas see the papers quoted by K. Ziegler in Pauly-Wissowa, vol. xxi. 1, coll. 842 f.

20^ J. Mähly, Plutarch, Über den Genius des Sokrates. Politische Vorschriften (Stuttgart, 1890).

On the Sign of Socrates

(The persons who take part in the dialogue are Archedamus, an Athenian, and Caphisias, a Theban.)

§1. I recall, Caphisias, that a painter once gave me, in the form of a comparison, no bad description of those who view pictures. Spectators who are laymen and without instruction in the art resemble, he said, those who greet a large company with a single salutation, whereas cultivated and artistic spectators resemble men who have a private word of welcome for everyone they meet; for the general impression that the first obtain of the performance is inaccurate and as it were a mere sketch; whereas the others use their critical judgement for a separate scrutiny of each detail, and thus allow nothing well or poorly executed to pass without a look or word of recognition. I think the same is true of real events: duller minds are content with history if they learn the mere general drift and upshot of the matter, whereas the spectator fired with emulation and the love of noble conduct, when he views the works which virtue, like a great art, has executed, is more delighted with the particulars, feeling that in the outcome much is due |375| to chance, whereas in the actions themselves and in their causes he observes the details of the struggles of virtue pitted against fortune, and the sober acts of daring in peril that come of reason blended with the stress and passion of the moment.1 Take us to be spectators of this sort; tell us of your enterprise from the beginning, and impart to us the discussion that we hear was held at the time in your presence; for you may rest assured that to hear the story I should not have shrunk from journeying all the way to Thebes, except that the Athenians consider me unduly pro-Boeotian as it is.

—Indeed, Archedamus, seeing this friendly eagerness of yours to know what happened, I, for my part, should have been obliged to hold it a duty “transcending any business,” as Pindar2 says, to come here to tell the story; as it is, when I am already here on an embassy and at leisure until the assembly delivers its reply, to refuse and be uncivil with one so sympathetic and friendly, would be enough, I think, to revive the ancient reproach against Boeotians of hostility to discussion,3 just when that reproach was dying out … 4 Yet consider whether the |377| company is disposed to hear a narrative involving so much history and philosophy combined; it will not be short in the telling, as you would have me include the discussions with the rest.

—You are unacquainted, Caphisias, with these gentlemen. I assure you that they are well worth knowing: their fathers were excellent men and good friends of your country. This is Lysitheides,5 nephew of Thrasybulus;6 this, Timotheus,7 son of Conon; these are the sons of Archinus;8 and the rest, like these, are all men of our society. Your narrative, then, will have a friendly and interested audience.

Excellent. But at what point would it suit you for me to begin the tale so as to connect it with the events you already know?

We know pretty well, Caphisias, how matters stood at Thebes before the exiles’ return. Thus, the news that after inducing Phoebidas to seize the Cadmeia in time of peace,9 Archias and Leontiades had expelled some of your countrymen and were holding the rest in terrified submission, exercising authority themselves in defiance of the laws and by |379| the use of force, reached us here,10 as we had opened our homes to Melon and Pelopidas, as you know, and for the duration of their exile were constantly in their company. Again, we have heard that although the Lacedaemonians fined Phoebidas for seizing the Cadmeia and relieved him of the command against Olynthus,11 they nevertheless sent in his place Lysanoridas with two others12 and strengthened the garrison in the citadel; we have also learned that Hismenias, immediately after his trial, met death not in its noblest form; all this Gorgidas reported in letters to the exiles here. So all that remains for you to tell is the story how your friends returned and over-threw the tyrants.13

1^ A desperate and much-emended sentence. The meaning is uncertain.

2^ Isthmian Odes, i. 2.

3^ Cf. Mor. 864 d.

4^ The Greek is corrupt. The sense was possibly: “now that Simmias and Cebes have distinguished themselves by their zeal for philosophy through their association with your countryman Socrates, and we [that is, Caphisias and Epameinondas] through ours with the holy Lysis.”

5^ Cf. Kirchner, Prosop. Att. no. 9392.

6^ The celebrated Athenian statesman: cf. Kirchner, ibid. no. 7305.

7^ The celebrated Athenian admiral: cf. Kirchner, ibid. no. 13700.

8^ An Athenian statesman: cf. Kirchner, ibid. no. 2526.

9^ The “King’s Peace” or Peace of Antalcidas of 386 B.C. is meant. The Cadmeia was seized in 382.

10^ At Athens.

11^ The army sent against Olynthus had seized the Cadmeia on the way.

12^ That is, Arcesus and Herippidas: cf. 598 f, infra.

13^ The oligarchic usurpers in Thebes are meant: Leontiades, Archias, Philippus, and Hypates.

§2. In those days, Archedamus, all who were in the plot used to forgather at the house of Simmias, who was recovering from a wound in the leg. Our real purpose was to see each other as the need arose, but ostensibly we met for philosophical discussion; often, to avoid suspicion, we brought Archias and Leontiades along, who were not entire strangers to such pursuits. Indeed, after a long stay abroad and much travel among strange peoples, Simmias had but recently returned to Thebes with a great store of all manner |381| of foreign legends and information; to this Archias delighted to listen in his leisure moments, mingling affably with the youthful company and preferring that we should spend our time in talk rather than attend to what he and his party were doing.

On the day when the exiles were to come secretly to the walls after dark, a messenger from Pherenicus,1 known to none of us except Charon, arrived from here with word that the youngest exiles, twelve in number, had taken hounds and gone out to hunt on Cithaeron,2 intending to reach Thebes that evening;3 he had been sent, he said, to give notice of this and to learn who would provide a house for their concealment when they slipped into the city, so that with this information they could proceed to it at once. In the midst of our hesitation and perplexity, Charon offered to provide his own house.4 The messenger, then, determined to rejoin the exiles with all speed.

1^ A Theban exile at Athens; cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. v. 3 (280 c) and chap. viii. 1 (281 c).

2^ A mountain range between Attica and Boeotia.

3^ Cf. Nepos, Pelopidas, chap. ii. 5. Xenophon, Hellenica v. 4. 3, sets the number at seven.

4^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. vii. 4 (281 b).

§3. Grasping my hand firmly, with his eyes on Charon, who was going on before,1 Theocritus2 the soothsayer said: “This man, Caphisias, is no philosopher, nor has he, like your brother Epameinondas, had any schooling of a distinguished and exceptional kind; yet you observe that he is naturally guided to noble conduct by the laws, and willingly assumes the gravest risks for his country’s sake. Whereas |383| Epameinondas, who feels that by reason of his schooling he is superior in virtue to all other Boeotians, is not keen or eager3 to help the men who are braving danger for their country. Yet what better occasion can he desire than this for putting himself to use, splendidly equipped as he is by nature and training?”

I replied: “We, my eager friend, are carrying out our own decisions, whereas Epameinondas has been unsuccessful in his endeavour to persuade us to drop them, as he believes would be for the best. It is hardly surprising, then, that he refuses our invitation to proceedings that run counter to his nature and his judgement. Suppose a physician promised to cure a disease without recourse to the knife or cautery: here too it would be unreasonable of you, I think, to compel him to cut or sear the diseased member.” Theocritus admitted this was true, and I pursued: “And is not Epameinondas in the same case? He asserts, does he not? that unless driven to it by extreme necessity, he will put no countryman to death untried, but will gladly join forces with all who endeavour without resorting to civil bloodshed and slaughter to set our city free.4 But since the majority are against him, and we are already engaged in this course, he would have us allow him to await the favourable moment for intervention, remaining innocent and guiltless of bloodshed. Thus interest |385| as well as justice will be served. For, he contends, no distinction will be drawn in the actual fighting; Pherenicus perhaps and Pelopidas will turn their arms against those most deep in guilt and crime, but Eumolpidas and Samidas,5 men white-hot in anger and passionate in temper, once they get a free hand in the night, will not lay their swords aside until they have filled the entire city with slaughter and destroyed many of their personal enemies.”

1^ We are not told where the messenger found the conspirators; no doubt it was at Charon’s house, as Charon alone was known to him. At all events the conspirators now leave and meet Archias and his party on the way; they then proceed to Simmias’ house. Cf. G. M. Lattanzi, Il “De genio Socratis” di Plutarco, p. 19 note 4.

2^ Mentioned in the Life of Pelopidas, chap. xxii. 3 (289 c).

3^ There is a long lacuna in the text here; we translate a conjectural supplement.

4^ In the Greek text rendered by these three sentences are three considerable lacunas. The translation is conjectural.

5^ The correct form is possibly Samiadas.

§4. As I was thus conversing with Theocritus Galaxidorus1 interrupted us to announce that Archias and Lysanoridas the Spartan were close at hand, hastening from the Cadmeia as if bent on meeting us. We, then, broke off; and Archias, summoning Theocritus and taking him to Lysanoridas, talked privately for a long time, withdrawing a short distance from the street to the foot of the Amphion,2 so that we were in an agony of fear that some suspicion or intelligence had reached them and they were interrogating Theocritus about it.

Meanwhile Phyllidas3 — you know the man, Archedamus — at that time secretary to Archias and the other polemarchs,4 who was in the secret of the exiles’ intended return and one of the conspiracy, took my |387| hand and made a show of twitting me in his usual fashion about my fondness for exercise and wrestling; then, when he had drawn me aside from the rest, he asked if the exiles were keeping to the appointed day. When I answered that they were, he said: “I did well, then, to prepare for today the entertainment in which I am to receive Archias into my house and make him an easy prey for our men at a drunken banquet.”

“Well done indeed, Phyllidas,” I answered; “and endeavour to bring all or most of our enemies together.”

“That is no easy matter,” he said; “or rather it is impossible, as Archias, who expects a visit at that very time from a certain lady of rank, does not desire Leontiades to be present. You must therefore split forces and take the houses separately; for with Archias and Leontiades both disposed of I imagine the rest will take to flight and be out of the way, or make no trouble if they remain, only too glad to be offered safety.”

“That we will do,” I said. “But what business have these men with Theocritus that they are talking about?”

Phyllidas answered: “I cannot tell you definitely and do not speak from knowledge, but I have heard that disquieting and ominous portents and prophecies bode ill for Sparta.”

Meantime Theocritus rejoined us and we proceeded to Simmias’ house, where5 we were met by Pheidolaüs6 of Haliartus. “Simmias,” he said, “asks you |389| to await him here a moment; he is conferring in private with Leontiades about Amphitheüs,7 entreating him to wait until he can arrange for a sentence of banishment instead of death.”

1^ Mentioned in Xenophon, Hellenica iii. 5. 1.

2^ The Amphion or Ampheion was taken by Plutarch to be a hill in the neighbourhood of the Cadmeia: cf. F. Schober in Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. “Thebai” (vol. v. A, col. 1446. 34-62).

3^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. vii. 4 (281 b); Xenophon, Hellenica v. 4.2.

4^ There were probably three polemarchs. The names of two, Archias and Philippus, are known.

5^ The words “Meantime … where” are a guess at the sense of words that have been lost in a long lacuna.

6^ Otherwise unknown.

7^ A leader of the anti-Spartan party, now in prison: cf. 598 b, infra.

§5. “You come most opportunely and as if by design,” said Theocritus. “I had been desiring to hear what objects were found and what was the general appearance of Alcmena’s tomb when it was opened up in your country — that is, if you were present when the remains were removed to Sparta on orders received from Agesilaüs.”1

“I was not present,” Pheidolaüs replied,” and although I expressed to my countrymen my strong indignation and exasperation at the outrage, they left me helpless. Be that as it may, in the tomb itself no remains were found, but only a stone,2 together with a bronze bracelet of no great size and two pottery urns containing earth which had by then, through the passage of time, become a petrified and solid mass. Before the tomb, however, lay a bronze tablet with a long inscription of such amazing antiquity that nothing could be made of it, although it came out clear when the bronze was washed; but the characters had a peculiar and foreign conformation, greatly resembling that of Egyptian writing. Agesilaüs accordingly, it was said, dispatched copies to the king,3 with the request to submit them to the priests for possible interpretation. But about these matters Simmias might perhaps have something to tell us, as at that time he saw a good deal of the priests in Egypt in the pursuit of his philosophical inquiries. At Haliartus the great failure of crops and encroachment of the lake4 are held to have been no mere accident, but a judgement on us for having allowed the excavation of the tomb.”

After a short pause Theocritus replied: “No more do the Lacedaemonians themselves appear to have escaped the wrath of heaven, as is evinced by the portents about which Lysanoridas was consulting me just now; indeed he is now leaving for Haliartus to close up the tomb and pour libations to Alcmena and Aleüs,5 in obedience to some oracle — though quite in the dark as to who this Aleüs was — and on his return he intends to search out the tomb of Dirce, which is unknown to any Theban who has not served as hipparch. For the retiring hipparch takes his successor and shows him the tomb in private and |393| at night; and upon performing certain rites there in which no fire is used, they rub out and destroy all trace of them and return their separate ways in the darkness. Now I commend our opponents’ zeal, Pheidolaüs, for the performance of the rites, but they will not, I think, find it easy to discover the place of the tomb, as most of those who have legally held the office of hipparch are in exile, or rather all of them except Gorgidas and Platon6 — and from these they would not even attempt to secure the information, so greatly do they fear them — whereas the present magistrates on the Cadmeia take over the spear and the seal in utter ignorance of both the ritual and the tomb.”

1^ This act is elsewhere unrecorded.

2^ For the disappearance of Alcmena’s body at her burial and the substitution for it of a stone cf. Life of Romulus, chap, xxviii. 7 (35 e); Pherecydes, Frag. 84 (ed. Jacoby); and Pausanias, ix. 16. 7.

3^ The king of Egypt is meant, doubtless Nektanebis, whose reign began about 380 (cf. M. Pieper in Pauly-Wissowa, xvi, col. 2234; Beloch, Griech. Gesch. iii. 2, pp. 123 f.). On his visit to Egypt Eudoxus carried a letter of introduction from Agesilaüs to Nektanebis (cf. Diogenes Laert. viii. 87).

4^ These events are not recorded elsewhere. In modern times the Copaic lake reached its greatest height in February or March (cf. J. G. Frazer, Pausanias’s Description of Greece, v, p. 1 12). This would be at the latest in the opening months of 379, as the Cadmeia was freed in the December of that year.

5^ The people of Haliartus identified Aleüs with Rhadamanthys, whom Alcmena married after Amphitryon’s death; cf. Life of Lysander, chap. xxviii. 8 (499 d).

6^ Gorgidas was boeotarch in 379 and founded the Sacred Band; Platon is otherwise unknown.

§6. While Theocritus spoke Leontiades and his friends left. We entered and greeted Simmias, who was sitting up on his couch, very downcast and distressed, doubtless because his petition had failed. Looking up at all of us, he exclaimed: “Good God! What cruel and barbarous natures! Was that not a most excellent answer of Thales of old, when asked by his friends on his return from a long absence abroad for the greatest curiosity he had discovered: ‘a tyrant in old age’?1 For even if a man happens to have endured no personal injury, yet his disgust at the offensive and brutal society of such men is in |395| itself enough to make him an enemy to lawless and irresponsible domination. But these matters Heaven will perhaps attend to. Does your family, Caphisias, know who the stranger is that has come to see them?”

“I do not know whom you mean,” I replied.

“Yet Leontiades,” said he, “asserts that a man making an imposing figure with a numerous and splendid retinue has been seen breaking camp before dawn at the tomb of Lysis, where he had lodged on rude beds, couches of chaste tree and tamarisk being found there — and traces of burnt offerings and libations of milk as well — and that this morning he had asked passers-by whether he should find the sons of Polymnis in town.”

“Who indeed could the stranger be?” I said. “From your description he seems to be of some consequence and not a private person.”

1^ Cf. Mor. 147 b, Gnomologium Vaticanum, 321 e (ed. Sternbach) and Philodemus, On Death, xxxviii. 29-31.

§7. “He does indeed,” said Pheidolaüs; “and we shall make him welcome when he comes. But at present, Simmias, to return to the inscription we were wondering about just now, give us what further information you may have; for it is said that the priests in Egypt were able to read the inscription which was written on the tablet and which Agesilaüs took from us at Haliartus when he dismantled Alcmena’s tomb.”

Simmias at once recollected: “Of your tablet, Pheidolaüs, I know nothing. But Agetoridas1 the Spartan came to Memphis with a long document from Agesilaüs for the spokesman of the god, Chonuphis,2 |397| with whom Plato, Ellopion3 of Peparethos and I had many philosophical discussions in those days. He brought orders from the king that Chonuphis should translate the writing, if he could make anything of it, and send the translation to him at once. Chonuphis shut himself up for three days, conning scripts of all kinds in the ancient books, and then wrote his answer to the king, of which he also informed us. The document, he said, ordered the celebration of a contest in honour of the Muses; the characters had the forms of the script current in the time of King Proteus, which Heracles, the son of Amphitryon, had learned; and the god was using the inscription to instruct and urge the Greeks to live in the enjoyment of leisure and peace by always taking philosophy as their field of contention, laying their arms aside and settling their disputes about right and wrong by an appeal to the Muses and discussion. As for ourselves, we felt at the time that Chonuphis was right; we felt so yet more when on our return from Egypt a party of Delians met us in Caria and requested Plato, as a geometer, to solve a problem set them by the god in a strange oracle. The oracle was to this effect: the present troubles of the Delians and the rest of the Greeks would be at an end when they had doubled the altar at Delos.4 As |399| they not only were unable to penetrate its meaning, but failed absurdly in constructing the altar (for upon doubling all four sides they discovered to their surprise that in their ignorance of the progression from which the linear double5 is obtained they had produced by this increase a solid eight times as large), they called on Plato for help in their difficulty. Plato, recalling the Egyptian, replied that the god was rallying the Greeks for their neglect of education, deriding, as it were, our ignorance and bidding us engage in no perfunctory study of geometry; for no ordinary or near-sighted intelligence, but one well versed in the subject, was required to find two mean proportionals, that being the only way in which a body cubical in shape can be doubled with a similar increment in all dimensions. This would be done for them by Eudoxus of Cnidus or Helicon6 of Cyzicus; they were not, however, to suppose that it was this the god desired, but rather that he was ordering the entire Greek nation to give up war and its miseries and cultivate the Muses, and by calming their passions through the practice of discussion and study of mathematics, so to live with one another that their intercourse should be not injurious, but profitable.”

1^ Otherwise unknown.

2^ Chonuphis of Memphis taught Eudoxus: cf. Mor. 354 e and Clement, Strom. i. 15. 69. 1.

3^ Otherwise unknown.

4^ Cf. Mor. 386 e. For the “Delian problem,” that of constructing a cube with twice the volume of a given cube, cf. Theon of Smyrna, p. 2 (ed. Hiller). Cf. also Mor. 718 e-f; E. Hiller, Eratosthenis Carminum Rel. pp. 122-137; M. Cantor, Vorlesungen über Gesch. d. Math. 3, vol. i, pp. 211, 226-234; Sir T. Heath, A Hist, of Greek Math. vol. i, pp. 244-270; I. Thomas, Selections Illustrating the Hist, of Greek Math. vol. i, pp. 256-308 (in the L.C.L.).

5^ The progression is a : x :: x : y :: y : 2a, where a is the volume of the given cube, 2a that of its double; x then is the cube root of 2a, and the three ratios are each equal to the ratio 1 : 3√2 The square root of 2 was called “double in power” of 1; and a similar expression was doubtless used for the cube root of 2. The “linear” double of 1 is 2.

6^ Helicon is mentioned in the Life of Dion, chap. xix. 6 (966 a).

§8. While Simmias was speaking my father Polymnis entered. Sitting down beside Simmias he said: “Epameinondas entreats you and the whole |401| company, unless you have some pressing business, to await him here, as he wishes to acquaint you with the stranger, a man of generous spirit who has been sent on a generous and noble errand by the Pythagoreans in Italy. He comes to offer libations at the grave of the aged Lysis, in consequence, he says, of certain vivid dreams and apparitions; and he brings with him a large sum of gold, thinking it proper to repay Epameinondas for the support of Lysis in his old age. This he is very intent on doing, although we neither ask nor desire him to relieve our poverty.”

Simmias exclaimed, in great delight, “An admirable man, and worthy of philosophy! But why does he not join us directly?”

“As he had, I believe, spent the night at Lysis’ grave,” my father replied, “Epameinondas was first taking him to the Hismenus to wash himself clean; they will then join us here. His motive in encamping at the tomb before meeting us was to take up the remains and remove them to Italy, unless some sign from heaven should appear in the night to forbid it.” With this my father fell silent.

§9. “Good God!” exclaimed Galaxidorus. “How hard it is to find a man untainted with humbug and superstition1 Some, through no desire of their own, succumb to these disorders from ignorance or weakness, whereas others, to be reputed the favourites of heaven and above the common sort, invest their doings with a character of sanctity, hiding what |403| occurs to their intelligence behind a pretence of dreams and apparitions and the like mummery. For men engaged in public affairs and compelled to live at the caprice of a self-willed and licentious mob this may have its use — to treat the superstition of the populace as a bridle,1 and thereby pull them back to the profitable course and set them right; but for Philosophy such outward seeming appears not only unseemly but in open conflict with her claims. Professing to teach the whole of the good and the profitable by the sole use of reason, she nevertheless withdraws from the government of conduct to take refuge with the gods, as if holding reason in contempt, and scorning demonstration, where her chief excellence is supposed to lie, resorts to divination and the visions seen in dreams, wherein the least of men is often no less rewarded with success than the greatest. For this reason, Simmias, I think your friend Socrates embraced a manner of teaching and speaking that had more of the true philosophic stamp, choosing that simplicity and sincerity of his for its manliness and great affinity to truth; as for humbug, the mere vapour as it were of philosophy, he sent it flying to the sophists.”

“What is this, Galaxidorus?” Theocritus broke in. “Has Meletus convinced you too that Socrates had no use for things divine? That was the charge Meletus brought against him before the Athenians.”

“Socrates by no means ignored things really divine; but he took philosophy, … in a wild state of exaltation, and trained her to face reality with steadfast understanding … and to rely on sober reason in the pursuit of truth.”

“Things really divine,” he answered, “he by no means ignored; but he took philosophy, left by Pythagoras and his company a prey to phantoms, |405| fables, and superstition, and by Empedocles in a wild state of exaltation, and trained her to face reality with steadfast understanding2 as it were, and to rely on sober reason in the pursuit of truth.”

1^ Cf. Life of Numa, chap. iv. 12 (62 e).

2^ Cf. Homer, Od. x. 494 f. of Teiresias:

To him alone, though dead, Persephone
Gave steadfast wit; the rest are fleeting shades.

§10. “Very well,” said Theocritus, “but what, my dear sir, do we call Socrates’ sign?1 An imposture? For my part, nothing reported of Pythagoras’ skill in divination has struck me as so great or so divine; for exactly as Homer2 has represented Athena as ‘standing at Odysseus’ ‘side in all his labours,’ so Heaven seems to have attached to Socrates from his earliest years as his guide in life a vision of this kind, which alone

Showed him the way, illumining his path3

in matters dark and inscrutable to human wisdom, through the frequent concordance of the sign with his own decisions, to which it lent a divine sanction. For further and greater instances you must ask Simmias and Socrates’ other friends; but I was myself present (I had come to visit Euthyphron the soothsayer) when Socrates — you recall the incident, Simmias — happened to be making the ascent toward the Symbolon4 and the house of Andocides,5 putting some question to Euthyphron the while and sounding |407| him out playfully. Suddenly he stopped short and fell silent, lost for a good time in thought; at last he turned back, taking the way through the street of the cabinetmakers, and called out to the friends who had already gone onward to return, saying that the sign had come to him. Most turned back with him, I with the rest, clinging close to Euthyphron; but certain young fellows went straight ahead, imagining that they would discredit Socrates’ sign, and drew along Charillus6 the flute-player, who had also come to Athens with me to visit Cebes. As they were walking along the street of the statuaries past the law-courts, they were met by a drove of swine, covered with mud and so numerous that they pressed against one another; and as there was nowhere to step aside, the swine ran into some and knocked them down, and befouled the rest. Charillus came home like the others, his legs and clothes covered with mud; so that we always mentioned Socrates’ sign with laughter, at the same time marvelling that Heaven never deserted or neglected him.”

1^ Daimonion, here rendered “sign” or “sign from Heaven,” is literally “the divine thing” or (pressing the etymology) “the daemonic thing.”

2^ Od. xiii. 301 (cf. Iliad x. 279); cf. also Apuleius, De Deo Socratis, 165 ff.

3^ Homer, Iliad. xx. 95; cf. Od. xix. 34.

4^ Otherwise unknown; perhaps it was a city square — D-shaped to judge by its name; cf. W, Judeich, Topographie von Athen 2, p. 178.

5^ Cf. W. Judeich, ibid. p. 353; Life of Alcibiades, chap. xxi. 2 (201 f).

6^ Otherwise unknown.

§11. “You suppose, then, Theocritus,” replied Galaxidorus, “that Socrates’ sign had some peculiar and extraordinary power, and that he did not, upon verifying from experience some rule of ordinary divination, let it turn the scale in matters dark and beyond the reach of reason? For just as a single |409| drachm does not by itself tip the beam, but when joined to a weight in equilibrium with another inclines the whole mass in the direction of its own pull, so too a sneeze or chance remark or any such omen cannot, being trivial and light, incline a weighty mind to action; but when it is joined to one of two opposing reasons, it solves the dilemma by destroying the balance, and thus allows a movement and propulsion to arise.”1

“Just so, Galaxidorus,” my father broke in. “I have it from one of the Megarian school, who had it from Terpsion, that Socrates’ sign was a sneeze, his own and others’: thus, when another sneezed at his right, whether behind or in front, he proceeded to act, but if at his left, desisted; while of his own sneezes the one that occurred when he was on the point of acting confirmed him in what he had set out to do, whereas the one occurring after he had already begun checked and prevented his movement. But what astonishes me is that, supposing he relied on sneezes, he did not speak to his friends of being prompted or deterred by these, but by a sign from Heaven; for here again, my dear friend, we have a form of hollow affectation and boasting, and not the sincerity and simplicity that made him to our feeling truly great and superior to the generality of men — to be upset at odd moments by such external matters as a voice or sneeze, and thus be diverted from his actions and abandon his decisions. Nay, Socrates’ |411| movements are observed to have had an indeflectible force and intensity in all he did, which implies that they were launched forth from a correct and powerful judgement and foundation; for of his own free will to have remained poor throughout his life when he could have had money which the donors would have been delighted and thankful to see him accept, and not to have forsaken philosophy despite so many obstacles, and in the end, although his followers had spared no efforts to save his life and had contrived a perfectly feasible means of escape, neither to have yielded to their entreaties nor to have flinched at the approach of death, but to have faced its terrors with reasoning unshaken, are not acts of a man whose views are at the mercy of voices or sneezes, but of one guided by a higher authority and principle to noble conduct.

“I also hear that he foretold to some of his friends the loss of the Athenian forces in Sicily.2 And still earlier, when Pyrilampes,3 the son of Antiphon, who had been wounded with a javelin and taken prisoner by us in the pursuit at Delion, was told by the commissioners that came from Athens to negotiate a truce that Socrates had reached the coast at Oropus4 with Alcibiades and Laches5 and come home safe, he often invoked the name of Socrates, and often |413| those of certain friends and members of his company who had fled with him toward Mount Parnes and been killed by our cavalry, as they had (he said) disregarded Socrates’ sign and taken a different way, not following where Socrates led, in their retreat from the battle.6 Simmias too has heard of this I think.”

“Many times,” said Simmias, “and from many persons; for these events led to no little talk at Athens about Socrates’ sign.”

1^ Plutarch’s statics may be at fault. If so, he inferred the physical process from the mental: cf. Mor. 1045 b-c.

2^ Cf. Life of Nicias, chap. xiii. 9 (532 b); Life of Alcibiades, chap. xvii. 5 (199 r); [Plato], Theages, 129 c-d.

3^ Pyrilampes was Plato’s stepfather.

4^ “At Oropus” translates a conjecture. Thucydides (iv. 96. 7) mentions three routes taken by the defeated Athenians: to Delion and the sea, to Oropus, and toward Parnes. The corruption in the Greek text doubtless conceals a reference to one of the former two.

5^ Cf. Plato, Symposium, 221a, and Laches, 181e.

6^ The story is also found in Cicero, De Div. i. 54 (123), and Pseudo-Socrates, Ep. 1. 9.

§12. “Are we, then, Simmias,” said Pheidolaüs, “to let Galaxidorus in sport reduce so mighty a work of divination to sneezes and chance remarks? Even the ignorant multitude rely on these in trivial matters and in playful moods, but when graver dangers and actions of greater moment confront them, the words of Euripides1 come true:

None talks such folly when the fray impends.”

“I am ready, Pheidolaüs,” rejoined Galaxidorus, “to listen to what Simmias has to say about these matters, if he has himself heard Socrates talk of them, and to share your forbearance; but what you and Polymnis have said is not hard to refute. For as in medicine a rapid pulse or a blister, trifling in itself, is a sign of something by no means trifling, and as for a skipper the cry of a marine bird or the passing of a wisp of yellow cloud betokens wind and a rising sea, so for a mind expert in divination a sneeze or random utterance, in itself no great matter, may yet |413| be a sign of some great event;2 for in no art is the prediction of great things from small, or of many things from few, neglected. No; if a man ignorant of the significance of writing, on seeing letters few in number and mean in appearance, should doubt that a literate person3 could gather from them the story of great wars that happened to men in the past, of foundations of cities, and of acts and sufferings of kings, and should then assert that what revealed and recounted all this to that student of history was something divine, you would, my friend, be moved to hearty laughter at the fellow’s simplicity; so here too take heed lest it be simplicity in us, in our ignorance of the significance for the future of the various signs interpreted by the art of divination, to resent the notion that a man of intelligence can draw from them some statement about things hidden from our view — and that too when it is the man himself who says that it is no sneeze or utterance that guides his acts, but something divine. For I shall now deal with you, Polymnis, who are astonished that Socrates, a man who by his freedom from humbug and affectation had more than any other made philosophy human, should have termed his token not a ‘sneeze’ or ‘omen’ but in high tragic style ‘the sign from Heaven.’4 I, on the contrary, should have been astonished if a master of dialectic and the use of words, like Socrates, had spoken of receiving intimations not from ‘Heaven’ |417| but from the ‘Sneeze’: it is as if a man should say that the arrow wounded him, and not the archer with the arrow, or that the scales, and not the weigher with the scales, measured the weight. For the act does not belong to the instrument, but to the person to whom the instrument itself belongs, who uses it for the act; and the sign used by the power that signals is an instrument like any other. But, as I said, if Simmias should have anything to say, we must listen to him, as he is better informed.”

1^ From the Autolycus: Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Eur. 282. 22; quoted also in Mor. 803 b.

2^ Cf. Mor. 410 d.

3^ For a comparison of divination to reading cf. Plotinus, Enn. iii. 1. 6.

4^ Cf. the words of Polymnis, 581 b, supra.

§13. “First,” said Theocritus, “we must see who the persons are that are entering the room — but I see it is Epameinondas, who is apparently bringing the stranger to meet us.”

We looked toward the door and saw Epameinondas in the lead, with Hismenodorus, Bacchyllidas,1 and Melissus the fluteplayer among our friends in the plot, while the stranger came last, a man of no ignoble presence, but showing gentleness and kindness in his demeanour and in person magnificently attired. When the stranger had taken his place beside Simmias, my brother beside me, and the rest as they happened to find seats, and all had fallen silent, Simmias called out to my brother: “Well, Epameinondas, what name and title are we to give the stranger, and what is his country? Such inquiries are the usual preliminaries to intercourse and acquaintance.”

Epameinondas answered: ”His name, Simmias, |419| is Theanor; he is a native of Croton, one of the philosophers of that region, and reflects no dishonour on the great fame of Pythagoras; indeed, he has come here at present on a long journey from Italy, confirming noble doctrines by noble works.”

Here the stranger spoke: “Are not you, Epameinondas, preventing the noblest of those works? For if it is a noble act to benefit friends, it is no disgrace to be benefited by them; for the favour, requiring a recipient no less than a giver, needs both to be made perfect in nobility. He who refuses to accept the favour, like the man who refuses to catch a well-directed ball, disgraces it, allowing it to fall to the ground without achieving its end.2 For what target is so delightful to hit and so painful to miss, as a man deserving kindness at whom we aim a favour? Yet in the case of the target the man who misses has only himself to blame, as the mark is fixed; whereas with favours, the man who declines and moves aside is guilty of an offence against the favour, allowing it to fall short of its goal. To you I have already recounted the motives of my voyage hither; but I desire to recount them to these others as well and let them judge between us.

“After the Pythagorean societies throughout the different cities had been defeated by the revolutionaries and driven out, and after the partisans of Cylon,3 heaping fuel about the house where the society that still held together at Metapontum4 was in session, and setting fire to it, had destroyed them |421| all in the conflagration except Philolaüs and Lysis,5 who were still young and forced a way through the flames by strength and agility, Philolaüs escaped to Lucania and from there reached in safety our remaining adherents, who had once more begun to assemble and prevail over Cylon’s party, but for a long time no one knew what had become of Lysis; at last Gorgias of Leontini, on his return from Greece to Sicily,6 brought definite word, and told Aresas7 of meeting Lysis, who was living in Thebes. Aresas so felt his absence that he proposed with no more ado to make the voyage himself, but from age and infirmity proving quite unequal to the effort, he charged us to bring Lysis back to Italy alive if possible, or his remains if dead. The intervening wars, seditions and usurpations, however, kept his friends from carrying out the task for him during his lifetime. But when the daemon {spirit} of Lysis — who had died in the interval — clearly revealed to us his death, and reports from men well acquainted with the circumstances told, Polymnis, how he had been cared for by your family and lived with you — that in the poverty of your household he had received rich provision for his age and departed in felicity, enrolled as father of your sons — I was sent, young and uncompanied, by a company numerous and advanced in years, offering money, of which they have provision, to you who have |423| none in return for great favour and friendship. Lysis has had from you a fitting burial, and better in his sight than a fitting burial is favour requited to friends by friends and fellows.”8

1^ Perhaps one of the seven boeotarchs who commanded at Leuctra: cf. Pausanias, ix. 13. 7.

2^ For the comparison of the ball cf. Chrysippus, quoted in Seneca, De Beneficiis, ii. 17. 3, and Plutarch, Comm. in Hesiodum, 32 (vol. vii, p. 68. 11-16 Bern.).

3^ The head of the anti-Pythagorean faction.

4^ Most ancient authorities agree that Pythagoras died at Metapontum, but put the conflagration at Croton: cf. Diogenes Laert. viii. 39 f. with the passages adduced by A. Delatte (La Vie de Pythagore de Diogène Laërce, Brussels, 1922, pp. 136 f.).

5^ Archippus is usually mentioned as escaping with Lysis: cf. Zeller, Die Philos. d. Griechen, i. 1 6 , p. 419, note. Olympiodorus (In Plat. Phaedon. Comm. p. 9. 16-20 Norvin) says that Lysis and Hipparchus were the two that escaped, and that Philolaiis went to Thebes to offer libations at the grave of Lysis, his teacher.

6^ Perhaps on the return from his embassy to Athens in 427.

7^ The head of the Pythagorean societies: cf. Iamblichus, De Vita Pythagorica, 266 f.

8^ Theanor’s style is as elaborate as his dress.

§14. While the stranger spoke my father wept a long time at the memory of Lysis. My brother said, smiling gently at me, as is his wont: “What are we doing, Caphisias? Are we yielding up our poverty to riches without a word?”

“Let us by no means yield up,” said I, “that dear and ‘goodly nurse of youth’:1 fly to her defence; it is for you to speak.”

“Well, my dear father,” he said, “I had feared that in the defences of our household against money there was but this one vulnerable spot: Caphisias’ person, which requires fine dress that he may display himself to advantage to his numerous admirers, and unstinted and abundant food to sustain him in his exercises and his bouts on the wrestling grounds; but now that we see him refusing to surrender his ancestral poverty or let its tempered edge be taken off, but instead, for all his youth, displaying himself in frugality2 and content with what he has, how could we lay the money out and use it? Are we to gild our arms and like Nicias of Athens3 decorate our shields with a blend of purple and gold? Are we, father, to buy you a Milesian mantle and our mother a tunic bordered with purple? For surely we shall not expend |425| the bounty on our belly by treating ourselves to more sumptuous fare, as if we had admitted wealth to our house as a burdensome guest.”

“Heaven forbid, my son,” said my father, “may I never live to see our way of life so changed!”

“Nor yet,” Epameinondas pursued, “shall we sit at home to guard a wealth that remains idle; for then the favour would be no favour and our ownership without honour.”

“Of course we shall not,” said my father.

“Lately,” Epameinondas went on, “when Jason, the prince of Thessaly,4 sent me a great sum of gold and begged me to accept it, I was openly rude, was I not? when I replied that he was the assailant in a hand-to-hand affair,5 since to gratify his lust for royal power, he was tempting with money a common citizen of a free and independent state.6 As for you, sir, I welcome your kind thought and am delighted with it — it was generous and worthy a philosopher — but you come with medicine to friends who are not ill. If you had heard that we were under hostile attack and sailed to our aid with arms and missiles, but found on arrival that all was friendliness and peace, you would not have felt called upon to offer and leave those provisions with men who had no use for them. Just so you have come to help us against Poverty, supposing us molested by her; whereas we find her most companionable and a friendly member |427| of our household; no armament of riches, then, is needed against her who gives us no offence. No; report to your comrades abroad that while they put riches to the best of uses themselves, they here have friends who make good use of poverty; and that Lysis has repaid us himself for the cost of his keeping and burial by teaching us, among other lessons, to feel no disgust at poverty.”

1^ Homer, Od. ix. 27; cf. Plutarch, Contra Divitias, Frag. 4 (vol. vii, p. 124. 3-6 Bern.).

2^ For the phrase cf. Mor. 406 d.

3^ Cf. Life of Nicias, chap, xxviii. 6 (542 b).

4^ Jason of Pherae: cf. Mor. 193 b; Aelian, Var. Hist. xi. 9.

5^ A play on the phrase ἄρχειν χειρῶν ἀδίκων, literally “to begin unrighteous hands,” that is, to strike the first blow in a case of assault and battery. Hands are also the donors and recipients of bribes.

6^ This incident is doubtless here placed too early in Epameinondas’ career. Jason was not elected prince until some years after the liberation of Thebes (cf. Busolt, Griech. Gesch. iii. 2, pp. 237 f.).

§15. Theanor rejoined: “Is it vulgar to feel disgust at poverty, and yet not absurd to dread and shun wealth?”

“It is absurd,” replied Epameinondas,” if what moves a man to reject it is not reason, but a pose arising from coarseness or a kind of vanity.”

“Indeed! And what reason, Epameinondas,” he said, “would forbid its acquisition by noble and honest means? Or rather tell me this (for I beg you to show me a milder temper than you did the Thessalian in your answers on this point): do you think it sometimes proper to give money, but never to accept it, or do you think that under all circumstances givers are at fault as well as takers?”

“Not at all,” said Epameinondas; “but in wealth as in other things I hold that the conferring and acceptance of a favour are sometimes shameful and sometimes honourable.”

“Does not,” Theanor went on, “the man who pays his debt willingly and cheerfully, do well in giving?”

Epameinondas agreed.

“And does not he who accepts a gift well given do |429| well in receiving? Or how could money be more honestly accepted than by accepting it from one who gives it honestly?”

“In no other way,” was the reply.

“Therefore, Epameinondas,” he went on, “if of two friends the one ought to give, the other surely ought to accept; in battles one should elude the enemy who casts well, but in the matter of favours it is not right either to evade or to repulse the friend who gives well; for granting poverty no burden, no more is wealth in its turn so valueless and undesirable as all that.”

“True,” said Epameinondas; “yet there is a case where the rightly offered gift is more valuable and honourable if not accepted. Consider the point with me in the light of the following considerations.

“There are, I take it, many desires, and these have many objects. Some desires, called innate, spring up in the body with the necessary pleasures as objects. Others are adventitious,1 and seek to gratify mere empty fancies. Yet when a man has had a poor upbringing, long habit makes them strong and violent, and often they drag the soul along and humble it more forcibly than do the necessary desires. Habit and practice, however, have been known to enable reason to abate much of even the innate passions; and one must apply the whole might of a strict course of training, my dear friend, to the intrusive and superfluous desires and wear them down and cut them off by letting reason chasten them with repeated repression and restraint. For if thirst and hunger are overpowered by the resistance of reason |431| to food and drink, it is surely far easier to check the appetites for wealth and fame and break their power in the end by abstaining from what they desire and holding them back. Do you not agree?”

The stranger assented.

“Do you observe,” he asked, “a difference between a course of training and the goal such training serves; and as you would say that in athletics the goal is to compete with one’s opponent for the crown, whereas the training is the preparation of the body for that end through exercise, so do you agree that in virtue as well the goal is one thing and the training another?”

When the stranger had agreed, Epameinondas continued: “First take the case of continence: do you regard abstention from shameful and unlawful pleasures as training or rather as the goal and evidence of training?”

“The goal and evidence,” he replied.

“And do you not consider it as training and practice in continence to achieve it as you have all achieved it to this day? Exercising till your appetites, like so many animals, have been stirred up, you place yourselves for some time before splendid tables and varied meats; then, relinquishing to your slaves the enjoyment of the feast, you partake yourselves of plain and simple fare with desires which by that time have been chastened.2 For abstention from pleasure in what is allowed is a training of the soul to resist what is forbidden.” |433|

“Assuredly,” he said.

“For justice too, then, my dear friend, a mode of training exists, whereby we resist the appetite for riches and money. It does not lie in abstention from going about at night to steal our neighbours’ goods or strip men of their cloaks; nor yet does the man who refuses to betray country and friends for gold train himself to resist the passion for money (here, actually, it is perhaps the law and fear that keeps his cupidity from crime); it is instead the man who of his own free will repeatedly holds back from profits honourable and conceded by the law, that trains and accustoms himself to keep well aloof from all dishonest and unlawful gain.3 For neither in the midst of great but unseemly and harmful pleasures can the mind remain unmoved, unless it has often, while free to enjoy it, held pleasure in contempt; nor yet is it easy to forgo sordid profits and lucrative but dishonest gains, when they come within our power, if a man’s avarice, instead of being subdued well in advance and chastened, has been bred to profit without stint where profit is legitimate, and so is all agog for fraud and crime, held back just barely and with difficulty from unrightful gain. He, on the other hand, who does not yield himself up to the favours of friends or the bounty of kings, but rejects even the windfalls of fortune, and on discovering hidden treasure, calls off the cupidity that leaps at it, finds that his cupidity does not rise in |435| rebellion against him at the prospect of wrongdoing nor throw his thoughts into turmoil; instead, he readily disposes of himself for all good ends, holding his head high and conscious of the presence in his soul of nothing but the noblest thoughts. In our admiration for such men, dear Simmias, Caphisias and I entreat this grace of the stranger — to allow us practice enough in our poverty to achieve that excellence.”

1^ Cf. Moralia 989 b-c and Aristoxenus, quoted by Stobaeus, vol. iii, p. 424. 15-18 (ed. Hense).

2^ For this practice of the Pythagoreans cf. Diodorus, x. 5. 2, and Iamblichus, De Vita Pythagorica, chap. xxi. 187.

3^ Cf. Moralia 522 b.

§16. When my brother had done, Simmias nodded some two or three times in assent, and said: “Epameinondas is a great man, great indeed, and his greatness is due to Polymnis here, who from their early years provided his sons with the best upbringing, schooling them in philosophy. But this dispute, sir, you must settle with them yourself. To return to Lysis: if it is lawful for us to be told, are you going to remove him from his grave and take him to Italy, or will you permit him to remain here with us? He will find us good and friendly neighbours when we join him there.”

Theanor smiled at this and said: “It would appear, Simmias, that Lysis is attached to his present abode, since, thanks to Epameinondas, he lacks no honourable provision. For a certain special rite1 is performed at the burials of Pythagoreans, and without it we do not feel in full possession of the blessed end that is proper to our sect. And so, when we learned from our dreams of Lysis’ death (we tell by a certain |437| token appearing in our sleep whether the apparition is of the dead or of the living) a it occurred to many that Lysis had been improperly buried in a foreign land and that we must remove him so that over there2 he might have the benefit of our customary rites. It was with this in mind that I came here; and as soon as the people of the country had led me to the grave (it was evening by then) I poured libations, summoning the soul of Lysis to return and reveal what course I should take. As the night advanced I saw no vision, but seemed to hear a voice that said ‘touch not the inviolable,’3 as Lysis’ friends had given his body consecrated burial, while his soul, already judged, had been joined by lot to another daemon4 and released for another birth. Moreover, on meeting Epameinondas this morning and hearing how he had buried Lysis, I recognized that he had been well instructed by that other,5 even in the secrets, and that he had the same daemon for his life, if I have any skill to judge of the skipper by the navigation. For while the paths of life are numberless, yet those are few on which men are guided by daemons.” On saying this Theanor looked at Epameinondas as though in renewed study of his character and appearance.

1^ The rite is unknown. For the funeral observances of the Pythagoreans cf. F. Cumont, “A propos des dernieres paroles de Socrate” in Comptes-Rendus, Ac, des Inscr. et Belles-Lettres (1943), pp. 114 f.

2^ G. Meautis, Recherches sur le pythagorisme (Neuchatel, 1922), pp. 34 f., compares Moralia 564 d and 300 c to show that if the apparition blinked its eyes or cast a shadow it was taken to belong to a living person.

3^ Probably “in Italy”; but possibly the meaning is “in the other world.”

4^ Literally “not to move (or disturb) what may not be moved (or disturbed).”

5^ For theories about the daemon of the Pythagoreans cf. P. C. van der Horst, Les Vers d’or pythagoriciens (Leyden, 1932), pp. 49-53.

6^ Literally “that man,” an expression of respect among the Pythagoreans. Cf. P. Shorey in Classical Philology, xii. (1917), p. 436.

§17. Meanwhile the physician approached Simmias |439| and removed the bandage, preparing to dress the wound. But Phyllidas entered with Hippostheneidas, and calling Charon, Theocritus, and myself aside, led us to a corner of the peristyle, in great agitation as his face revealed.1 When I asked: “Has anything unexpected occurred, Phyllidas?” he replied: “Nothing I had not expected, Caphisias; I knew and forewarned you that Hippostheneidas was a weakling and begged you not to inform him of our plans or include him in the execution.”

We were alarmed at these words; and Hippostheneidas said: “In the name of the gods, Phyllidas, do not say that; do not, mistaking rashness for courage, bring ruin on ourselves and on our country, but allow the exiles to return (if such is their fate) in safety.”

Phyllidas said in exasperation: “Tell me, Hippostheneidas, how many do you think are in the secret of our enterprise?”

“For my part,” he answered, “I know of not less than thirty.”

“Then why,” he asked, “when the number is so great, have you, acting alone, ruined and thwarted the plans agreed upon by all? Sending a mounted messenger to the exiles, already on the way, you told them to turn back and not press on today — today when mere luck has helped to bring about most of the conditions favourable to their return.”

At these words of Phyllidas’ we were all dismayed, and Charon said, with a cold stare at Hippostheneidas, “Wretch! What have you done to us?”

“Nothing terrible,” said Hippostheneidas, “if you |441| will soften the harshness of your voice and listen to the reasons of a man of your own age with white hairs like yourself. If we are resolved to show our countrymen an example of undaunted courage and of a high spirit that holds life cheap, Phyllidas, much of the day still remains; let us not wait for nightfall, but at once set out against the tyrants, sword in hand; let us slay and be slain and be prodigal of our lives. But slaying or being slain is not difficult, whereas it is no easy task to capture Thebes when hostile arms beset us in such numbers and to repel the Spartan garrison at the cost of but two or three dead; for the store of unmixed wine laid in by Phyllidas for his banquets and entertainments is not enough to make the fifteen hundred men in Archias’ bodyguard drunk, and even if we succeed in killing Archias, we still have Herippidas and Arcesus,2 sober men, to face in the morning. Why then this haste to bring friends and kinsmen home to certain destruction, and that too when our foes are not entirely unaware of their coming? Why have the Thespians had orders these past two days to stand under arms and hold themselves ready for the summons of the Spartan commanders? They are going to interrogate Amphitheüs today, I hear, and on Archias’ return3 put him to death. Is not all this strong evidence that our plot is known? Is it not best to wait a little, just long enough to propitiate Heaven? For when they |443| sacrificed the ox to Demeter the diviners say that the flesh burnt on the altar portended great tumult and danger to the state. And for you, Charon, here is something that requires the greatest caution. Yesterday I came in from the country with Hypatodorus, son of Erianthes, an excellent person and a kinsman of mine, but quite unaware of what is afoot. ‘Charon,’ he said, ‘is a close friend of yours, Hippostheneidas, but not well known to me; you must put him on his guard, then, if you will, against a danger portended by a most ominous and extraordinary dream. Last night I dreamed that his house was in labour, as with child, and that as he and his friends in their anxiety were offering prayers and gathered around it, it groaned and gave utterance to certain inarticulate sounds; at last a great and terrible fire flared up from within, so that most of the city was in flames, though the Cadmeia was only veiled in smoke, as the fire enveloping it did not rise so high.’ Such, Charon, was the vision he recounted. For my part, I was alarmed even at the time, and on hearing today that it is at your house the exiles intend to stay, I have become much more apprehensive, for fear that we may involve ourselves in disaster and yet do the enemy no serious injury, but merely give them a fright. For I take the city to stand for ourselves, and the Cadmeia to be on their side, as indeed it is.”

1^ The story of Hippostheneidas and Chlidon is also told in the Life of Pelopidas, chap. viii. 5-9 (281 d—282 a).

2^ Herippidas and Arcesus were the Spartan commanders still remaining in Thebes. Lysanoridas, the third, had gone to Haliartus: cf 578 a, supra.

3^ Archias had left to escort Lysanoridas on the way to Haliartus: cf. 594, infra.

§18. Theocritus interposed, checking Charon, who desired to say something to Hippostheneidas. “But as for myself, Hippostheneidas,” he said, “nothing |445| has ever so encouraged me in our venture as this vision, although my sacrifices have always augured well for the exiles — if as you say a great and brilliant light arose in the city from a friendly house, while the habitation of the enemy was darkened with smoke (which never leads to anything better than tears and confusion), and indistinct sounds got abroad from our side, so that even if an attempt is made to denounce us, our enterprise, attended with but indistinct rumours and blind suspicion, will be revealed only by its triumph. As for their sacrifice, it was of course unfavourable. The official and the victim do not represent the state but the faction in power.”

While Theocritus was still speaking I asked Hippostheneidas: “Whom did you send with the message? If you have given him no great start, we will set out in pursuit.”

He replied: “I am afraid, Caphisias (I must tell you and the others the truth), that you cannot overtake him, as he has the best mount in Thebes. You all know the man: he is overseer of Melon’s charioteers and through Melon has been aware of the plot from the beginning.”

And I, who had caught sight of the man, remarked: “It must be Chlidon you mean, Hippostheneidas, who won the horse-race at the games of Heracles last year.”

“The very man,” he replied.

“And who,” I asked, “is this? He has been standing for some time at the outer door looking our way.” |447| Hippostheneidas turned and exclaimed: “Good heavens! It is Chlidon. Dear me, has anything serious happened?”

Seeing our eyes on him, Chlidon slowly advanced from the door. When Hippostheneidas had nodded to him and told him to speak out before all of us, as all were in the plot, he said: “I know the gentlemen well, Hippostheneidas. Not finding you either at home or in the market-place, I guessed that you had joined them here and came as fast as I could, so that you might all know everything that has happened.

On receiving your order to ride at full speed and meet the men on the mountain1 I went home for my horse. I called for the bridle but my wife didn’t have it, and spent a long time in the storeroom, rummaging through the contents as if looking for it. When she had had enough of making a fool of me she at last admitted lending it the evening before to our neighbour at his wife’s request. In my exasperation I railed at her; she then resorted to ominous and appalling language, cursing me with an unlucky journey and an unlucky return; by Heaven! may the gods send all of it on her own head. Finally I got so furious I beat her. Then neighbours and women came running up and a crowd collected; and it was all I could do to get here to you gentlemen, after the shameful way I had acted and been treated, so that |449| you might send someone else to meet the men, as I am just now in a thoroughly distracted and wretched state.”

1^ Cithaeron, a mountain ridge on the Attic border.

§19. As for ourselves, our feelings suffered an odd reversal; a little before we had been disappointed at the failure of our plans, while now, with the decision at hand and the need for immediate action upon us (postponement being impossible), we were yielding to anxiety and fear. Nevertheless, I spoke to Hippostheneidas and gave him my hand, encouraging him with the thought that the very gods were calling on us to act.

Thereupon Phyllidas left to prepare his entertainment and lure Archias at once to his cups, and Charon to make the necessary preparations in his house for receiving the exiles. Theocritus and I returned to Simmias for an opportunity to confer with Epameinondas.

§20. They were already well along in an inquiry of no trivial scope, the one Galaxidorus and Pheidolaüs had engaged in shortly before, when they raised the problem of the nature and mode of operation of the so-called sign of Socrates.1 Simmias’ reply to Galaxidorus’ argument we did not hear; speaking for himself, however, he said that he had once asked Socrates about the matter without receiving an answer and had therefore never asked again; but he had often heard Socrates express the view that men who laid claim to visual communication with Heaven were impostors, while to such as affirmed |451| that they had heard a voice he paid close attention and earnestly inquired after the particulars. “It thus occurred to us,” Simmias went on to say, “as we examined the question in private among ourselves, to surmise that Socrates’ sign was perhaps no vision, but rather the perception of a voice or else the mental apprehension of language that reached him in some strange way. So in sleep, where no sound is uttered, we fancy, as we receive the impression or notion of certain statements, that we hear people speaking.

“But whereas some men actually have this sort of apprehension in dreams, hearing better asleep, when the body is quiet and undisturbed, while when they are awake2 their soul can hear the higher powers but faintly, and moreover, as they are overwhelmed by the tumult of their passions and the distractions of their wants, they cannot listen or attend to the message; Socrates, on the other hand, had an understanding which, being pure and free from passion, and commingling with the body but little, for necessary ends, was so sensitive and delicate as to respond at once to what reached him. What reached him, one would conjecture, was not spoken language, but the unuttered words of a daemon, making voiceless contact with his intelligence by their sense alone.3 |453| For speech is like a blow4 — when we converse with one another, the words are forced through our ears and the soul is compelled to take them in — whereas the intelligence of the higher power guides the gifted soul, which requires no blows, by the touch of its thought; and the soul on its part yields to the slackening and tightening of its movements by the higher intelligence. No constraint is exerted, as no passion pulls the other way, and the movements of the soul respond easily and gently, like reins that give. This should occasion no surprise, when we observe that large merchantmen are brought round by small tillers, and that potters’ wheels whirl about evenly at the touch of the finger tip; for these, though inanimate, nevertheless, being constructed to revolve easily, move so smoothly that they respond to the mover at the slightest pressure. But the soul of man, which is strung with countless inward movements, as with resilient cords,5 is, when rationally dealt with, by far the most sensitive of all instruments,6 moving at a slight impulse toward the goal conceived by the understanding. For here it is in the understanding, to which they are made fast and taut, that the passions and inward movements have their origins; and when that is struck, these are pulled and thereby exercise traction on the man and give him tension. Indeed, it is most of all by this that we are enabled to comprehend the great power of an idea. For insensate bones and thews and flesh saturated with humours, and the inert and prostrate mass they constitute, the instant the soul conceives |455| a purpose in the understanding and sets its movement going for that end, arise as a whole, tense and coordinate in all its parts, and fly as if winged to carry the idea to execution.7

Moreover, it is no hard or hopeless task to understand by what manner of impact, co-ordination, and suggestion the soul receives a thought and thereby with its movements draws after it the corporeal mass.8 But if the body is moved with so little trouble by a notion that enters the understanding without the help of spoken language, it cannot be hard, I think, to believe that the understanding may be guided by a higher understanding and a diviner soul, that lays hold of it from without by a touch, which is the way in which it is the nature of thought to impinge on thought,9 just as light produces a reflection. For in very truth our recognition of one another’s thoughts through the medium of the spoken word is like groping in the dark; whereas the thoughts of daemons are luminous and shed their light on the daemonic man. Their thoughts have no need of verbs or nouns, which men use as symbols in their intercourse, and thereby behold mere counterfeits and likenesses of what is present in thought, but are unaware of the originals except for those persons who are illuminated, as I have said, by some special and daemonic radiance. Even so the phenomenon of speech serves in a way |457| to allay the doubts of the incredulous. For on receiving the impression of articulate sounds, the air is fully changed to language and speech and conveys the thought to the soul of the hearer. Need we then feel surprised that the air, with its ready susceptibility, should also be transformed by the mere ideas of higher beings and thereby indicate to divine and exceptional men the meaning of him who conceived the idea? For just as the sound of sappers’ blows is detected by bronze shields,10 which re-echo it as it rises from the depths of the earth and strikes them, whereas through everything else it slips unnoticed; so the messages of daemons pass through all other men, but find an echo in those only whose character is untroubled and soul unruffled, the very men in fact we call holy and daemonic. In popular belief, on the other hand, it is only in sleep that men receive inspiration from on high; and the notion that they are so influenced when awake and in full possession of their faculties is accounted strange and incredible. This is like supposing that a musician uses his lyre when the strings are slack, but does not touch or play it when it has been adjusted to a scale and attuned. This belief arises from ignorance of the cause of this insensibility: the inner lack of attunement and the confusion in the men themselves. From this my friend Socrates was free, as is shown by the oracle delivered to his father when Socrates was yet a boy. It bade him let the child do whatever came into his |459| mind, and not do violence to his impulses or divert them, but allow them free play, taking no further trouble about him than to pray to Zeus Agoraeus11 and the Muses, surely implying by this that he had a better guide of life in himself than a thousand teachers and attendants.

1^ Cf. K. Reinhardt, Poseidonios, pp. 464 ff.

2^ Cf. Cicero, De Div. i. 49 (110): “Sed vigilantes animi vitae necessitatibus serviunt diiunguntque se a societate divina vinclis corporis inpediti”; ibid. i. 53 f. (121 f.) and 57 (129 f.).

3^ Cf. Chalcidius, chap, cclv, p. 288 (ed. Wrobel): “Now the voice that Socrates heard was not, I think, of the sort that is made when air is struck; rather it revealed to his soul, which was, by reason of his great purity, unpolluted and therefore more perceptive, the presence and society of his familiar deity, since only the pure may meet and mingle with the pure. And as in dreams we fancy that we hear voices and the words of spoken language, and yet here there is no voice, but only meaning, doing the duty of voice; so the mind of Socrates, by the token of a vivid sign, could divine in waking moments the presence of the deity.”

4^ For definitions and descriptions of “speech” or “voice” (phone) as a “blow on the air” cf. Plato, Timaeus, 67 b, and Aristotle, De Anima, ii. 8 (420 b 29).

5^ Hyspleges (rendered “resilient cords”) are probably here the twisted cords that supplied the motive power in certain ancient automata (cf. Hero, Automata, ii. 8).

6^ Cf. Moralia 163 e.

7^ Cf. Moralia 442 c-e.

8^ Cf. Life of Coriolanus, chap, xxxii. 7-8 (229 d-e).

9^ “Thought” (logos) can mean notion or the rational soul.

10^ Cf. Herodotus, iv. 200. 2-3; Aeneas Tacticus, chap, xxxvii. 6-7.

11^ That is, “Zeus of the Market-Place”: cf. Moralia 789 d, 792 f. For Socrates’ conversations in the market-place cf. Plato, Apology, 17 c.

§21. “Such was the notion, Pheidolaüs, that we for our part held about Socrates’ sign while he was alive and still hold now he is dead; we have scant use for those who account for it by chance remarks overheard or sneezes or the like. The story I had about it from Timarchus of Chaeroneia, as it more resembles a myth or fiction than an argument,1 I had better perhaps leave untold.”

“Do no such thing,” said Theocritus, “but let us have it; for myths, too, despite the loose manner in which they do so, have a way of reaching the truth. But first tell us who this Timarchus was, as I do not recognize the name.”

“And little wonder, Theocritus,” said Simmias, “for he died very young, after asking Socrates’ leave to be buried beside Lamprocles,2 Socrates’ son, his friend and agefellow, who had died a few days |461| before. Timarchus, then, in his desire to learn the nature of Socrates’ sign, acted like the high-spirited young initiate in philosophy he was: consulting no one but Cebes and me, he descended into the crypt of Trophonius, first performing the rites that are customary at the oracle.3 He remained underground two nights and a day, and most people had already given up hope, and his family were lamenting him for dead, when he came up in the morning with a radiant countenance.4 He did obeisance to the god, and as soon as he had escaped the crowd, began to tell us of many wonders seen and heard.

1^ For the contrast of “myth” and “argument” cf. Moralia 561 b and note.

2^ Lamprocles, the eldest of Socrates’ children, was presumably alive at the time of his father’s death (cf. Zeller, Die Phil. der Griechen, ii. I 4, pp. 54, note 2, and 56, note). This unhistorical detail may have been added to warn the reader that Timarchus, like his story, is a fable.

3^ Those who wished to consult the oracle of Trophonius, at Lebadeia in Boeotia, descended into a cave and waited there for the divine message to be revealed in a dream: cf, Pausanias, ix. 39. 5-14.

4^ And so belying the proverb εἰς Τροφωνίου μεμάντευται “he has consulted Trophonius’ oracle,” used of persons with a gloomy countenance (cf. Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroem. Gr. i, p. 72. 1 and note).

§22. “He said that on descending into the oracular crypt his first experience was of profound darkness; next, after a prayer, he lay a long time not clearly aware whether he was awake or dreaming. It did seem to him, however, that at the same moment he heard a crash and was struck on the head, and that the sutures parted and released his soul. As it withdrew and mingled joyfully with air that was translucent and pure, it felt in the first place that now, after long being cramped, it had again found relief, and was growing larger than before, spreading out like a sail; and next that it faintly caught the whir of something revolving overhead with a pleasant sound.1 |463| When he lifted his eyes the earth was nowhere to be seen; but he saw islands illuminated by one another with soft fire, taking on now one colour, now another, like a dye, as the light kept varying with their mutations. They appeared countless in number and huge in size, and though not all equal, yet all alike round; and he fancied that their circular movement made a musical whirring in the aether, for the gentleness of the sound resulting from the harmony of all the separate sounds corresponded to the evenness of their motion. In their midst lay spread a sea or lake,2 through whose blue transparency the colours passed in their migrations; and of the islands a few sailed out in a channel and crossed the current,3 while many others4 were carried along with it, the sea itself drifting around, as it were, smoothly and evenly in a circle. In places it was very deep, mainly toward the south, but elsewhere there were faint shoals and shallows;5 and in many parts it overflowed and again receded, never extending |465| very far.6 Some of it was of the pure hue of the high seas, while elsewhere the colour was not unmixed, but turbid and like that of a pool.7 As they crested the surge8 the islands9 came back, without, however, returning to their point of departure or completing a circle; but with each new circuit they advanced slightly beyond the old, describing a single spiral in their revolution.10 The sea containing these was inclined at an angle of somewhat less than eight parts of the whole11 toward the midmost and largest portion of the surrounding envelope12 as he made out; and it had two openings receiving rivers of fire emptying into it across from one another, so that it was forced far back, boiling, and its blue colour was turned to white.13 All this he viewed with enjoyment of the |467| spectacle. But looking down he saw a great abyss, round, as though a sphere had been cut away; most terrible and deep it was, and filled with a mass of darkness that did not remain at rest, but was agitated14 and often welled up. From it could be heard innumerable roars and groans of animals, the wailing of innumerable babes, the mingled lamentations of men and women, and noise and uproar of every kind, coming faintly from far down in the depths, all of which startled him not a little.15

“After an interval someone he did not see addressed him: ‘Timarchus, what would you have me explain?’

“‘Everything,’ he answered; ‘for what is here that is not marvellous?’

“‘Nay,’ the voice replied, ‘in the higher regions we others16 have but little part, as they belong to gods; but you may, if you wish, inquire into the portion of Persephone, administered by ourselves; it is one of the four17 and marked off by the course of the Styx.’

“‘What is the Styx?’ he asked. ‘It is the path to Hades,’ came the answer; ‘it passes across from you here, cleaving the light with its vertex; it extends upward, as you see, from Hades below, and |469| where in its revolution it also touches the world of light, it bounds the last region of all.18 Four principles there are of all things: the first is of life, the second of motion, the third of birth, and the last of decay; the first is linked to the second by Unity at the invisible,19 the second to the third by Mind at the sun, and the third to the fourth by Nature at the moon.20 A Fate, daughter of Necessity, holds the keys and presides over each link: over the first Atropos, over the second Clotho, and over the link at the moon Lachesis. The turning point of birth21 is at the moon. For while the rest of the islands belong to gods, the moon belongs to terrestrial daemons and avoids the Styx by passing slightly above it; it is caught, however, once in a hundred and seventy-seven secondary measures.22 As the Styx draws near the souls cry out23 in terror, for many slip off24 and are carried away by Hades; others, whose cessation of birth25 falls out at the proper moment, swim up from below26 and are rescued by the Moon, the foul and unclean excepted.27 These the Moon, with lightning and a terrible roar, forbids to approach, and bewailing their |471| lot they fall away and are borne downward again to another birth, as you see.’28

“‘But I see nothing,’ said Timarchus; ‘only many stars trembling about the abyss, others sinking into it, and others again shooting up from below.’

“‘Then without knowing it,’ the being replied, ‘you see the daemons themselves. I will explain: every soul partakes of understanding; none is irrational or unintelligent. But the portion of the soul that mingles with flesh and passions suffers alteration and becomes in the pleasures and pains it undergoes irrational.29 Not every soul mingles to the same extent: some sink entirely into the body, and becoming disordered throughout, are during their life wholly distracted by passions; others mingle in part, but leave outside what is purest in them. This is not dragged in with the rest, but is like a buoy attached to the top, floating on the surface in contact with the man’s head, while he is as it were submerged in the depths; and it supports as much of the soul, which is held upright about it, as is obedient and not overpowered by the passions. Now the part carried submerged30 in the body is called the soul, whereas the part left free from corruption is called by the multitude the understanding, who take it to be within themselves, as they take reflected objects to be in the mirrors that reflect them; but those who conceive the matter rightly call it a daemon,31 as being external. Thus, Timarchus,’ the voice pursued, ‘in the stars that are apparently extinguished, you must understand that you see the souls that sink entirely into the body; in the stars |473| that are lighted again, as it were, and reappear from below, you must understand that you see the souls that float back from the body after death, shaking off a sort of dimness and darkness as one might shake off mud; while the stars that move about on high are the daemons of men said to “possess understanding.”32 See whether you can make out in each the manner of its linkage and union with the soul.’

“Hearing this, he attended more carefully and saw that the stars bobbed about, some more, some less, like the corks we observe riding on the sea to mark nets; a few described a confused and uneven spiral, like spindles as they twist the thread, and were unable to reduce their movement to a straight and steady course. The voice explained that the daemons whose motion was straight and ordered had souls which good nurture and training had made submissive to the rein,33 and whose irrational part was not unduly hard-mouthed and restive; whereas those which were constantly deviating in all directions from a straight course in an uneven and confused motion, as though jerked about on a tether, were contending with a character refractory and unruly from lack of training, at one moment prevailing over it and wheeling to the right, at another yielding to their passions and dragged along by their errors, only to resist them later and oppose them with force. For, exerting a contrary pull on the tie, which is like a bridle inserted into the irrational part of the soul, the daemon |475| applies what is called remorse to the errors, and shame for all lawless and wilful pleasures — remorse and shame being really the painful blow inflicted from this source upon the soul as it is curbed by its controlling and ruling part — until from such chastening the soul, like a docile animal, becomes obedient and accustomed to the reins, needing no painful blows, but rendered keenly responsive to its daemon by signals and signs. ‘These souls indeed,’ the voice pursued, ‘are brought to their duty and made firm in it late and gradually; but from those other souls, which from their very beginning and birth are docile to the rein and obedient to their daemon,34 comes the race of diviners and of men inspired. Among such souls you have doubtless heard of that of Hermodorus35 of Clazomenae — how night and day it used to leave his body entirely and travel far and wide, returning after it had met with and witnessed many things said and done in remote places, until his wife betrayed him and his enemies found his body at home untenanted by his soul and burnt it. The story as thus told is indeed not true: his soul did not leave his body, but gave its daemon free play by always yielding to it and slackening the tie, permitting it to move about and roam at will, so that the daemon could see and hear much that passed in the world outside and return with the report. The men who destroyed his body as he slept are still atoning for the deed in Tartarus. Of these matters,’ the voice |477| said, ‘you will have better knowledge, young man, in the third month from now; for the present, depart.’

“When the voice ceased Timarchus desired to turn (he said) and see who the speaker was. But once more he felt a sharp pain in his head, as though it had been violently compressed, and he lost all recognition and awareness of what was going on about him; but he presently recovered and saw that he was lying in the crypt of Trophonius near the entrance, at the very spot where he had first laid himself down.”

1^ This is the music of the spheres. Aristotle (De Caelo, ii. 9) argues that the sound would be excruciatingly loud. For a smooth motion producing a smooth sound cf. Plato, Timaeus, 67 b.

2^ The sea and its circular movement represent the celestial sphere and its apparent diurnal motion. Von Arnim, “Plut. über Dämonen u. Mantik,” in Verh. d. kon. Ak. v. Wet., Afd. Lett. Nieuwe Reeks, Deel xxii, Amsterdam, 1921, p. 34, takes the sea to represent the Milky Way.

3^ The current is the celestial equator (the part of the celestial sphere which has the most rapid apparent motion); the islands that cross it are the planets; the channel is the zodiac.

4^ The fixed stars.

5^ The shoals and shallows may represent nebulae and the Milky Way. The great deep in the south was suggested by the starless space around the invisible pole in Greek globes.

6^ The overflow and recession may represent the various distances separating the stars from the surface of the sphere: cf. Aetius, ii. 15. 1-2, and Geminus, chap. i. 23 with Manitius’ note. Or they may have been suggested by the Pythagorean theory of the breathing universe (cf. Aristotle, Physics, iv. 6, 213 b 22-24). Von Arnim (op. cit. pp. 34 f.) takes them to represent the variations in breadth of the Milky Way.

7^ The clouded colour belongs to the region below the moon.

8^ The “surge” may be the belt bounded by the tropics, so called from its rapid motion, or the tropics themselves, as being the shores of the planetary sea mentioned in the following sentence.

9^ The planets.

10^ The spiral (for which cf Life of Phocion, chap. ii. 6, 742 d, and Plato, Timaeus, 39 a) represents the apparent paths of the planets, which result from their own motion combined with the apparent diurnal motion of the sphere.

11^ The sea is the zodiac. “Eight parts” of the whole are eight sixtieths of a meridian (for the division into sixtieths cf. Strabo, ii. 5. 7, pp. 1 13 f.; Manilius, i. 561-593; Geminus, chap. v. 46; Achilles, Isag. chap, xxvi; and Hyginus, Astron. i. 6). This is 48°, only slightly in excess of the figures given by the astronomers for the distance between the tropics (cf. Sir T. L. Heath, Aristarchus of Samos, p. 131, note 4).

12^ The celestial equator, which “surrounds” the ecliptic: cf Plato, Timaeus, 36c, with Cornford’s discussion. A certain mystery (appropriate in a myth) results from counting both the arcs intercepted by the ecliptic and the equator on the solstitial colure in reckoning the inclination. The words “as he made out” hint that the error is Timarchus’ own. We have found no ancient measure corresponding to 3°.

13^ The reference is doubtless to the Milky Way; the openings are at the intersections of the zodiac and the galactic circle.

14^ F. Cumont, Recherches sur le symbolisme funeraire des Romains (Paris, 1942), p. 136, note 3, points out that ektarattomenou (“agitated”) contains a common etymology of Tartaros. In Moralia 940 f it is said that if an inhabitant of the moon should hear Homer’s description of Hades and Tartarus (Iliad xx. 65, viii. 16) he would take them to be in the region of the earth. Cf. also Moralia 948 e.

15^ The abyss is Hades or the earth (cf. 591 a, infra), which is a place of punishment and opposed to the world of eternal light. Cumont (op. cit. p. 56) takes the “sphere coupee” to be the lower hemisphere of the universe.

16^ The speaker is presumably a daemon: cf. 591 c, infra.

17^ The first lies outside the surface of the celestial sphere; the second between that and the path of the sun; the third between the paths of the sun and of the moon; and the fourth, “the portion of Persephone,” below the path of the moon, that is, of the earth’s shadow, which is dissipated beyond the moon. The earth is “Hades” (cf. Moralia 942 f; the etymology is “unseen”), and its shadow is the “Styx.”

18^ Cf. Stobaeus, vol. i, pp. 198. 10-12, 448. 12-16 Wachsmuth.

19^ The surface of the celestial sphere.

20^ In Moralia 943 a earth provides man’s body, the moon his soul, and the sun his intellect.

21^ Cf. Moralia 568 e, 745 b, 945 c. The ultimate source is Plato, Phaedo, 72 b.

22^ A primary measure is a “day” in Geminus’ first sense (chap. vi. 1, p. 68. 13 f. Manitius), the time from sunrise to sunset; a secondary measure is “day” in Geminus’ second sense (chap. vi. 1, p. 68. 15 f. Manitius), the time between two successive risings of the sun (cf. also Priscianus Lydus, Solut. ad Chosroem, p. 65. 22-26 Bywater). One hundred and seventy-seven days of this latter kind make six lunar months. For lunar eclipses at intervals of six lunar months cf. Moralia 933 d-e, 942 e-f and R. Flacelière in Revue des Etudes Anciennes, vol. liii (1951), pp. 203-221.

23^ Cf. Moralia 944 b.

24^ Cf. Moralia 943 d.

25^ The “cessation of birth” is the release from the cycle of birth and death.

26^ Cf. Moralia 944 b.

27^ Cf. Moralia 942 f.

28^ Cf. Moralia 943 d.

29^ Cf. Moralia 943 a.

30^ For “submerged” cf. Plato, Phaedrus, 248 a.

31^ Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 90 a.

32^ The common expression noun echein, meaning “to be sensible,” is here taken in its literal sense, “to possess understanding.” All souls, strictly speaking, possess understanding, but the daemon is explaining a popular expression (cf. 591 e, supra).

33^ Cf. Moralia 943 d and 445 b-d.

34^ Cf. Moralia 445 b.

35^ The story is elsewhere told of Hermotimus of Clazomenae: cf. J. H. Waszink’s note on Tertullian, De Anima, chap, xliv (Amsterdam, 1947), pp. 475 f.

§23. “Such then is the myth of Timarchus. When he had come to Athens and died in the third month, as the voice had foretold,1 we were amazed and told Socrates the story, who censured us for recounting it when Timarchus was no longer alive, as he would have been glad to hear it from Timarchus himself and question him about it more closely.

“My statement is now complete, Theocritus, and you have the myth along with the argument. But consider whether we should not also invite the stranger to join in the inquiry, for it is one most fitting and appropriate to inspired men.”

“Why does not Epameinondas make his contribution?” asked the stranger. “He draws upon the same doctrines as I.”

“That is his way, sir,” said my father with a smile: “to be silent and chary of speech, but insatiable of learning and listening. On this account Spintharus2 of Tarentum, who was long associated with him here, |479| keeps saying, as you know, that nowhere in his generation has he met a man of greater knowledge and fewer words. You must accordingly present your views about what has been said yourself.”

1^ The visionary often hears a prediction of his own death: cf. Moralia 566 d and note.

2^ Cf. Moralia 39 b.

§24. “I say, therefore,” he said, “that the story of Timarchus, as sacred and not to be profaned, should be dedicated to the god.1 As for Simmias’ own statement, I should be surprised if any should find it hard to accept, and when they call swans, serpents, dogs, and horses sacred, refuse to believe that men are divine and dear to God, and that too holding him no lover of birds, but of men.2 As, then, a man that loves horses does not devote the same care to all members of the species, but always singles out and sets apart some one horse that is best, training and rearing it by itself and cherishing it above the rest, so too our betters take the best of us, as from a herd, and setting a mark on us, honour us with a peculiar and exceptional schooling, guiding us not by rein or bridle, but by language expressed in symbols quite unknown to the generality and common herd of men. So too it is not the generality of hounds that understand the hunter’s signals, or of horses the horseman’s; it is only such as have been taught that readily take their orders from a mere casual whistle or clucking of the tongue and do what is required. Homer too, |481| it is evident, knew the distinction3 of which we others speak, as he calls some diviners ‘consulters of birds’4 and ‘priests,’5 but thinks that others indicate the future from an understanding and awareness of the actual conversation of the gods. These are his words:

That counsel Helenus in his heart perceived,
The son of Priam, which the gods had reached
In their deliberation6


Such speech of the immortal gods I heard.7

For as outsiders perceive and recognize the intention of kings and generals from beacons and the proclamations of heralds and the blare of trumpets, whereas to confidants and intimates it is imparted by the kings and generals themselves, so heaven consorts directly with but few, and rarely, but to the great majority gives signs, from which arises the art called divination. The gods, then, order the life of but few among men, such as they wish to make supremely blessed and in very truth divine; whereas souls delivered from birth and henceforth at rest from the body — set quite free, as it were, to range at will — are, as Hesiod8 says, daemons that watch over man. For as athletes who from old age have given up training do not entirely lose their ardour and their love of bodily prowess, but look on with pleasure as |483| others train, and call out encouragement and run along beside them, so those who are done with the contests of life, and who, from prowess of soul, have become daemons, do not hold what is done and said and striven after in this world in utter contempt, but are propitious to contenders for the same goal, join in their ardour, and encourage and help them to the attainment of virtue when they see them keeping up the struggle and all but reaching their heart’s desire. For daemons do not assist all indifferently, but as when men swim at sea, those standing on the shore merely view in silence the swimmers who are still far out and distant from land, whereas they help with hand and voice alike such as have come near, and running along and wading in beside them bring them safely in, such too, my friends, is the way of daemons: as long as we are head over ears in the welter of worldly affairs and are changing body after body, like conveyances, they allow us to fight our way out and persevere unaided, as we endeavour by our own prowess to come through safe and reach a haven; but when in the course of countless births a soul has stoutly and resolutely sustained a long series of struggles, and as her cycle draws to a close, she approaches the upper world, bathed in sweat, in imminent peril and straining every nerve to reach the shore,9 God holds it no sin for her daemon to go to the rescue, but lets whoever will lend aid. One |485| daemon is eager to deliver by his exhortations one soul, another another, and the soul on her part, having drawn close, can hear, and thus is saved; but if she pays no heed, she is forsaken by her daemon and comes to no happy end.”

1^ G. M. Lattanzi, Il “De genio Socratis” di Plutarco, p. 64, note 2, quotes Pausanias, ix. 39. 14: “Those who have made the descent into the cave of Trophonius must write what they have seen or heard on a tablet and set it up as a dedication.”

2^ Cf. Life of Numa, chap. iv. 4 (62 a-b), and [Plato], Minos, 319 a.

3^ That is, the Stoic distinction between “artificial” divination, which interprets omens, and so-called “artless” or “untaught” divination, which is found in dreams and inspiration. Cf. Pseudo-Plutarch, De Vita et Poesi Homeri, ii. 212, and Cicero, De Div. i. 6 (1 1) with Pease’s note.

4^ Cf. Iliad i. 69, vi. 76.

5^ Cf. Iliad i. 62, xxiv. 221.

6^ Iliad vii. 44 f. e Iliad vii. 53.

7^ Works and Days, 122 ff.; quoted also in Moralia 361 b, 431 e.

8^ The word ekbasis, translated “shore,” but literally “egress,” was suggested by Homer, Od. v. 410.

§25. When Theanor had done, Epameinondas looked at me and said: “Caphisias, it is time, I believe, for you to go to the gymnasium and not disappoint your companions; when we decide to break up this gathering, we will look after Theanor ourselves.”

“That I shall do,” I replied; “but I think Theocritus here would like a few words with you, in the presence of Galaxidorus and myself.”

“He shall have them; and good luck attend!” he said, rising and leading us to the angle in the colonnade. We gathered about and endeavoured to prevail upon him to join in the attack. He was perfectly well informed, he replied, of the day appointed for the exiles’ return; indeed Gorgidas and he had organized their friends for the occasion.1 But he would never put a countryman to death without trial unless driven to it by extreme necessity. Apart from this it was to the interest of democratic government at Thebes that there should be some men not chargeable with the guilt of what was done: these would enjoy the greater confidence of the people, as their counsels would be less suspected of bias. With this we agreed; and he returned to Simmias and the company while I went down to the gymnasium and joined my friends. Shifting partners as we wrestled, we exchanged information and made arrangements |487| for the execution of the plot. We also saw Archias and Philippus, freshly anointed, going off to dinner; for when Archias had returned after escorting Lysanoridas, Phyllidas immediately took him into his house, fearing that Amphitheüs might be put to death before we could prevent it; and leading Archias to hope that the married woman he desired would come to the banquet, he prevailed on him to dismiss his cares and relax with the usual companions of his debauches.2

1^ Epameinondas and Gorgidas appear on the scene with their band of followers after the assassinations: cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap, xii, 2 (284 b) and 598 c, infra.

2^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. ix. 4 (282 b).

§26. It was now late and growing colder, as a wind had arisen; and most of the townspeople had on this account withdrawn into their houses earlier than usual, when our group met and picked up Damocleidas, Pelopidas, and Theopompus, and other groups picked up the rest (for they had separated as far back as the crossing of Cithaeron); and the bad weather allowed them to muffle up their faces and pass through the city without fear. Some, as they entered the gates, saw a flash of lightning on the right, not followed by thunder; and the sign was taken to portend safety and glory — our acts would be brilliant and yet unattended with danger.1

1^ Cf. Xenophon, Hellenica v. 4. 3 ff.

§27. Now when we were all in the house, to the number of forty-eight,1 and Theocritus was taking sacrificial omens off in a room by himself, there came a loud pounding at the door. It was shortly after announced that two officers of Archias, dispatched |489| on urgent business to Charon, were knocking at the outer door and ordering it to be opened, and showed impatience at the delay in answering.2 Charon, in great alarm, gave orders to open it at once, and going to meet them in person, with a chaplet on his head, as if he was in the midst of drinking after a sacrifice, asked the officers what they wanted.

The one replied: “Archias and Philippus have sent us with orders for you to report to them at once.”

When Charon asked to what urgency this summons at such an hour was due and whether anything serious had happened, the messenger answered: “That is all we know. What shall we tell them?”

“Why, tell them,” said Charon, “that I am laying my chaplet aside this moment and putting on my cloak and following after; for if I accompany you at this hour some people will take alarm, supposing me under arrest.”

“Do so,” the man answered; “it so happens that we have an order from the authorities to convey to the guards at the foot of the citadel.”

With that they left. When Charon rejoined us with the news we were all struck with consternation, imagining ourselves betrayed; and most of us suspected that Hippostheneidas, after using Chlidon in his attempt to prevent the exiles’ return, when this failed and the crisis was upon us, had in his fear denounced the plot (being a man who would be credited); for he had not come to the house with the rest and |491| had on all counts, it was felt, shown himself base and treacherous. Still, we all felt that Charon should go in obedience to the summons he had received from the magistrates. He gave orders for his son to enter, the most handsome boy in Thebes, Archedamus, and most diligent in athletic exercise; he was, I should say, about fifteen years old, but far stronger and taller than others of his age. “Gentlemen,” he said, “this is my only child, and very dear to me, as you know; I place him in your hands, adjuring all of you in the name of gods and daemons: if it should appear that I have played you false, kill him, show us no mercy. For the rest, face what has befallen like the brave men you are; do not surrender your bodies to unmanly and inglorious destruction by your bitterest foes, but fight back, keeping your souls unconquered3 for your country’s sake.”

As Charon said this we were filled with admiration for his high heart and noble mind, but indignant at the thought of suspicion, and told him to take the boy away.

“In any case, Charon,” said Pelopidas, “I think you were ill-advised in not removing your son to another house; for why should he be exposed to danger by being shut up with us here? Even now he should be sent away, so that, if anything happens to us, he may grow up in our place to be our noble avenger upon the tyrants.”

“That may not be,” replied Charon; “here he shall stay and meet the danger with you; for him |493| too it would be no honour to fall into the hands of the enemy. But, my son, be brave in this first trial before your age of the real business of fighting, and encounter peril at the side of many brave countrymen, with freedom and virtue as the prize; much hope yet remains, and doubtless some god is watching over us as we struggle for the right.”

1^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. ix. 3 (282 a).

2^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. ix. 8 (282 c).

3^ The Stoics defined eupsychia (valour) as a science that keeps the soul unconquered (Stoicorum Vet. Frag. iii. 264, p. 64. 38 f., 269, p. 66. 19 von Arnim).

§28. Tears came to the eyes of many of us, Archedamus, at his words; but he was dry-eyed himself and unmoved as he put his son into the charge of Pelopidas and passed through the door, taking every one of us by the hand and speaking words of encouragement. Even more admirable would you have found the boy’s own radiance and fearlessness in face of danger; like Neoptolemus,1 he neither blenched nor was dismayed, but drew Pelopidas’ sword and studied it with care.

Meanwhile Cephisodorus, son of Diogeiton, one of our party, arrived, armed with a sword and wearing an iron corslet under his cloak. When he heard that Charon had been summoned by Archias, he blamed our delay and spurred us on to proceed to the houses at once; we should thus be upon them before they could attack, and failing that, it was better to get out into the open and engage with an enemy unorganized and scattered like ourselves than to remain where we were, confining ourselves in a small room for them to collect like a swarm of bees. Theocritus the diviner also urged us to act, as his sacrifice promised deliverance and triumph and assured our safety. |497|

1^ The son of Achilles: cf. Homer, Od. xi. 528-530:

“Him never have I seen
Blench from his ruddy hue, or from his cheek
Brush off the coward tears.”

§29. We were arming and preparing for combat when Charon returned with a cheerful and smiling face, and looking us straight in the eye told us to be of good courage; there was nothing to fear, and our plans were working smoothly.1 “When Archias and Philippus,” he said, “heard that I had answered the summons, they were already heavy with drink and their minds, like their bodies, had lost their vigour; it was all they could do to get up and come out to the door. ‘We hear, Charon,’ said Archias, ‘that exiles have slipped into the city and are lying concealed.’ At this I felt no ordinary alarm and asked: ‘Where are they reported to be, and who are they?’ ‘We do not know,’ he replied; ‘that is why we sent for you, to see if you had heard any more definite news.’

“Recovering my wits somewhat as from a blow, I reflected that the report was mere hearsay; that our plot had not been denounced by anyone privy to it (for if someone knowing the true state of affairs had betrayed us, they would not be ignorant of the house); and that a mere suspicion or vague report circulating in the city had reached them. And so I replied: ‘When Androcleidas2 was alive I understand that spates of such idle rumours and false reports often gave us trouble, but at present,’ I said, ‘I have heard nothing of the sort, Archias; I shall however investigate the story, if you so direct, and if I hear of anything alarming it will be brought to your attention.’ |497|

‘By all means do so, Charon,’ said Phyllidas: ‘omit no search or inquiry in this matter; for what is to keep us from making light of nothing, but being everywhere cautious and vigilant? Forethought and circumspection are an excellent thing.’ With this he took Archias in hand and led him back to the dining hall where they are now carousing.

‘Then let us not delay, gentlemen,’ he said; ‘but address our prayers to the gods and go forth.’ When Charon had thus spoken we began praying to the gods and cheering one another on.

1^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. x. 1-5 (282 f— 283 a).

2^ A Theban exile assassinated at Athens at Leontiades’ command: cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. vi. 3 (280 e).

§30. It was the hour when people are mostly at dinner; and the wind, growing stronger, had begun to bring on a fall of snow mixed with a thin drizzle, so that we found very few people abroad as we passed through the streets. The party appointed to attack Leontiades and Hypates, who lived near one another, went out in their mantles, taking none of their weapons but a knife each; among them were Pelopidas, Damocleidas, and Cephisodorus. Charon and Melon and their party, who were to set upon Archias, went out wearing the front plates of their corslets and crowned with bushy chaplets, some of silver fir and some of pine; a few were dressed in women’s clothing. Thus the party represented a band of tipsy revellers in the company of women.1

Our worse fortune, Archedamus, which would have made all the indolence and blindness of the enemy |499| a match for all our daring and preparation, and which had from the outset been enlivening the course of our enterprise, like the action of a play, with perilous incidents, now joined issue with us in the very moment of execution, involving us in a sudden and terrible ordeal that threatened unlooked-for disaster to our hopes. When Charon, on returning home from his encounter with Archias and Philippus, was disposing us for the attack, a letter came from Archias the hierophant here at Athens to the Archias at Thebes, his friend it appears and host, revealing the exiles’ return, their plot, the house they had entered, and their confederates.2 Archias, now quite overcome with wine and all agog, too, with his expectation of the women, took the letter in his hand, but when the messenger said that it concerned important business, remarked, ‘If business is important it can wait till tomorrow,’3 and slipped it under his cushion. Calling for a beaker he ordered it filled and every moment kept sending Phyllidas to the street to see if the women were coming.

1^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. xi. 1-2 (283 c-d).

2^ Cf Life of Pelopidas, chap. x. 6-10 (283 b-c); Nepos, Pelopidas, chap, iii; Paroem. Gr. i, p. 404.

3^ Cf. Moralia 619 d-e.

§31. These were the hopes that had beguiled them over the wine when we came up and, forcing a way at once through the servants to the banqueting hall, stood for a moment at the door, looking over each of the company reclining there. The sight of our chaplets and dress deceived them about our presence in |501| the city and kept them quiet;1 but when Melon, the first to make a move, set out through their midst, his hand on his sword hilt, Cabirichus, the magistrate appointed by lot, caught his arm as he passed and shouted: ‘Isn’t this Melon, Phyllidas?’ Melon, however, disengaged himself, drawing his sword as he did so, and rushing at Archias, who was having trouble getting to his feet, did not slacken his blows until he had killed him.

Philippus was wounded by Charon near the neck, and as he defended himself with the goblets set before him, Lysitheüs threw him from his couch to the ground and dispatched him.

We endeavoured to quiet Cabirichus, adjuring him not to lend aid to the tyrants but help us set his country free, as his person was sacred and consecrated to the gods in that country’s behalf. But as he was not easily to be won over to the wiser course by an appeal to reason, the wine also having its effect, but was getting to his feet, excited and confused, and couching the spear our magistrates are accustomed to keep always with them, I seized it in the middle and raising it above my head shouted to him to let go and save himself, as he would otherwise be cut down; but Theopompus came up at his right and struck him with his sword, saying: ‘Lie there with these you toadied to: may you never wear the chaplet when Thebes is free and never sacrifice again |503| to the gods before whom you have invoked so many curses on your country in your many prayers for her enemies.’ When Cabirichus had fallen, Theocritus (who was standing near) caught up the sacred spear from the blood, while we dispatched the few servants who had ventured to fight back and locked up the rest, who made no resistance, in the banqueting hall, as we did not wish them to slip away and report what had been done until we knew whether the other party had been successful.

1^ In the Life of Pelopidas (chap. xi. 3, 283 d) the appearance of the supposed women is greeted with shouts and applause.

§32. That action too was carried out as I will describe. Pelopidas’ party quietly went up to Leontiades’ outer door and knocked, telling the slave who answered that they came from Athens with a letter for Leontiades from Callistratus.1 The slave took the message and was ordered to open. When he had removed the bolt and partly opened the door, they all burst in together, bowled the fellow over, and dashed through the courtyard to the bedchamber. Leontiades guessed the truth at once, and drawing his dagger, prepared to defend himself; he was, it is true, an unjust and tyrannical man, yet firm of soul and stout of arm. He did not, however, determine to dash the lamp to the ground and close with his assailants in the dark, but was visible to them in the lamplight as he struck Cephisodorus in the side the instant the door opened and engaging with Pelopidas, who came next, called loudly for the servants. But these were held back by Samidas and the men with him, and did not risk coming to blows with opponents who were the most illustrious citizens |505| of Thebes and excellent fighters. Pelopidas struggled and fenced with Leontiades in the doorway of the chamber; as the passage was narrow and Cephisodorus had fallen between the folding doors and lay there dying, the rest were kept from coming to his aid. Finally our champion, after receiving a slight wound in the head and dealing out many, struck Leontiades to the ground and killed him over the body of Cephisodorus, still warm with life, who saw his enemy fall, gave Pelopidas his hand, and when he had saluted the rest, serenely breathed his last. This done they turned their attention to Hypates, and gaining admittance by a similar stratagem, killed him as he fled over a roof-top to the neighbouring house.

1^ Doubtless the well-known Athenian statesman. That he was no friend of Thebes can be gathered from Moralia 810 f.

§33. From there they made haste to join us and met us outside the Porch of Many Columns. After exchanging greetings and talk we proceeded to the prison. Phyllidas called the gaoler out and said: ‘Archias and Philippus order you to bring Amphitheüs to them at once.’ The man, observing the unusual hour and that Phyllidas was not talking to him coolly, but was flushed with the combat and in a ferment, saw through the trick and asked: ‘When have the polemarchs ever sent for a prisoner at such an hour? And when through you? What token of authority do you bring?’ ‘This is my authority,’ said Phyllidas, and, as he said it, ran him through the body with a cavalry lance he held, striking down a |507| vile fellow, on whom not a few women trod and spat the next day.

We then split down the gaol door and first called out the name of Amphitheus and then those of the rest with whom we were severally connected. Recognizing our voices they leapt joyfully from their pallets, dragging their chains; and those whose feet were confined in the stocks stretched out their arms and cried out, begging not to be left behind. While these were released, not a few of the people who lived near by were already joining us, getting wind of what was afoot and elated with it. The women, as one after another heard news of someone close to her, ran out into the streets to meet one another, unmindful of our Boeotian manners, and made inquiries of the passers-by. Those who had found a father or husband followed along, no one stopping them; for all who met them were mightily swayed by their own pity and the tears and entreaties of decent women.

§34. This was the situation when I heard that Epameinondas and Gorgidas were already assembling with their friends at the temple of Athena and went to find them. Many brave citizens had gathered there and more and more kept arriving.1 When I had given them a full account of what had passed, urging them to go to the market place and reinforce us, all of them at once set to summoning the citizenry to rally to the cause of liberty. The crowds that then formed found weapons in the colonnades, which were |509| full of trophies of all kinds, and in the workshops of the cutlers who dwelt near by. Hippostheneidas too appeared with his friends and servants, bringing the trumpeters who happened to be in town for the festival of Heracles. They at once set to blowing their trumpets, some in the market place, others elsewhere, from all sides filling our opponents with alarm as if the whole city had risen. The partisans of Sparta fled from the town to the Cadmeia, drawing along with them the so-called “Incomparables,” a body of men whose custom it was to bivouac nightly at the foot of the citadel. The garrison on the height, with this disordered and terrified rout pouring in, and with us visible to them down in the market place, no quarter remaining quiet, but noises and the sounds of tumult being borne up to them from all sides, were in no mood to descend into the town, although fifteen hundred strong, but were terror-struck and took refuge in the pretext that they were waiting for Lysanoridas, who had promised to return that day.2 For this reason he was later sentenced by the Spartan Elders to a large fine; Herippidas and Arcesus were put to death by them the moment they were apprehended in Corinth.3 They surrendered the Cadmeia to us under a truce and set about withdrawing with their forces.

1^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. xii. 1-4 (284 a-c) for the remaining scenes of the night.

2^ Lysanoridas had gone to Haliartus: cf. 578 a, supra.

3^ Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. xiii. 3 (284 d).

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Plutarch of Chaeronea
(46 A.D.–died after 119 A.D.)
Plutarch was a notable Greek Platonist philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo. He is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans, and the Moralia, a collection of essays and speeches.

Note: The “sign” (genio) referred to in the title of this essay is from the Latin term genius, which equates with the Greek word daemon, meaning “spirit” (a guardian spirit or guardian angel), or as Plutarch seems to use it here, as the voice of conscience.


Plutarch. “On the Sign of Socrates (De genio Socratis),” Plutarch’s Moralia, Phillip H. De Lacy and Benedict Einarson, trans. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1959, pp. 362-513. This text is in the public domain.

Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, “Daimonion.” Merriam Webster Dictionary, accessed April 28, 2022.