Monday, July 11, 2011

2 senses of context in the startling Xenophon: Stone's Trial of Socrates, part 2

See part 1 here.

In chapter 15 of The Trial of Socrates, “How Socrates might easily have won acquittal,” Izzy imagines Socrates appealing to the Athenian jury (the 500) in the light of Athens's own principles of free speech (isegoria). Izzy reports in “The Four Words” that Athenians had for freedom of speech – again a model, scholarly speaking, for thinking about Athens in its splendor. “You who value deliberation so much are accusing me of having taught Critias. But the teacher may easily be misunderstood by a student (One might add here as Izzy does not recognize, ”I have taught democrats too, Chaerophon, and particularly Polemarchos, who died as a leader of the democrats, fighting to overthrow the Tyranny of the Thirty in the Piraeus.”). And each student follows her own course, finds his or her own destiny.*

“But I refused to do Critias’ bidding. I did not participate in, but shunned the murders. I would have stopped them if I could. I am accused only of having anti-democratic ideas. But in Athens which defends free speech, it would be a betrayal of the regime to put me to death merely for expressing unpopular ideas.” (In the Apology, Socrates also points out that but for a “scrap of time” until he would have died of natural causes, the Athenians are going to acquire the reputation of the city that puts to death its wise man or a man thought to be wise. Plato and Socrates, were in this respect, prescient…).”

Socrates could have said – Izzy inspires me to say – 3 additional things. First, philosophy itself could be more explicitly invoked in his defense. For it is asking questions, not providing answers beyond at most policies since ideas of the whole, of justice in the sense of the good, are not easy, are provisional, remain questions which is the core of democracy. Now there is also a core of moral standards or preconditions about justice (see my Democratic Individuality or roughly, Rawls's idea of the right as distinct from the good) which is mutually understood and cannot be violated. For instance, Izzy’s point is that there is, to a high degree, a high estimation of freedom of speech in Athens, something not yet a “right’ but, nonetheless, a deep understanding about what membership in a decent regime entails. A decent regime halts power when it seeks to kill unjustly or in modern terms, violate individual rights.

Socrates could have said: I served honorably in battle (see the Apology and especially Alcibiades’s account in the Symposium here), cleaved to my station (as I do in pursuing the riddle of the god, questioning others), honored or participated attentively in religious observances (see the opening of Xenophon’s Memorabilia)** But it is also observable that Athens had wiped out many innocents, for example, in Melos. Questioning policies and proposals, even when they come from the influential, the powerful, is the exemplary action both of democracy and of public deliberation when it is good. (Note that there is a Socratic edge of criticism of Athens in these remarks that might not have gone over well with its fanatic – “my city right or wrong” - “defenders”).

Second and relatedly, in Pericles’ famous funeral oration, the leading sentence about Athens, in contrast to Sparta, is that it pursues a kind of democratic individuality (with a stress more on democratic than on individuality, in contrast to the modern time, see my Democratic Individuality, ch. 1). “We do not cast censorious looks (this is a phrase from Hobbes’s elegant, 17th century translation of Thucydides) on one another’s eccentricities, so long as we come together for a public good.” In this context, Socrates might have said: “my speaking out critically about the democracy, sometimes in an anti-democratic vein, even sneering at my fellow artisans (there is perhaps an inflection of the aristocrat Plato, son of Ariston – the best - here) and my soldiering for the democracy exactly illustrates your or perhaps our greatest leader, Pericles’s thought. As I said in the Apology, I stuck to my post in battle, and did the same, following the riddle of the God told to Chaerophon, your democratic colleague and my best student and friend, as a gadfly: asked questions and fashioned arguments daily about justice and other leading issues about how to live, approximating but never reaching truth. I know that I do not know (or to make the statement not self-refuting, know little about, must search anew for what the idea of the good is…).

Third, Socrates is charged with not believing in the Athenian gods. In the first book of the Republic, Plato makes fun of this charge. “Yesterday I went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon, son of Ariston, to see the new festival of Bendis.” The sailors in the navy, the core of the democracy, were having a festival for a moon goddess from Thrace. There is no persona among the Athenian gods quite like Bendis (not Athena, not Hera, not Aphodite, not Artemis…). But the Athenians themselves, liking free speech and free thought and in some crisis with the war, were looking around for (not to say, in a sexist vein, “whoring after”) foreign gods.

Socrates is then arrested by Polemarcos (threatened to be beaten up unless he comes; Glaucon agrees to come and only then and for that reason, Socrates comes) and brought to the house of Cephalos, a rich man, an immigrant in Athens, and father of Polemarchos. Polemarchos is the leader of the democratic party; his view of justice is to benefit friends and harm enemies. The latter is a tyrant’s view as Socrates shows.

Cephalos (his name means the head or brain – the English "cephalic index" comes from it) is on the verge of death, slipping away, making sacrifices to the gods, paying his earthly debts. Thus, the most pious man in Athens, the father of a democratic war-leader (which is what the name Polemarchos means – in English, polemic, monarch have the same roots), is a rich metic, an immigrant. Who else would have such zeal for Athenian piety?

In the myth of Er in book 10 of the Republic, the first soul who chooses a guiding spirit rushes in, against a prophet’s warning, to seize the life of the greatest tyrant, and only afterwards notices that it fates him to eat his own children. He then howls against the gods for his own choice. He had been good by habit in the life before and gone on a “thousand year” (not earth time) journey of the blessed before he took up this fate. Plato means one to recall Cephalos. The charge of blasphemy about the Athenian gods against Socrates in this trial is frivolous and unintentionally ironic.

But the acceptance of other gods was not just a feature of Athenian decline. When I came to Athens four years ago, I was shown the monument to the unknown god on the Acropolis. I thus discovered (I did not know from my academic learning in these matters) that the Athenians always expected new gods. St. Paul came and sermonized for Jesus at this spot, and certain fundamentalists are much more likely to know about the monument and Athenian toleration (sadly, they often do not value it) than scholars.

But toleration about the gods was deep, in the bone, in Athens. This point adds to Izzy’s fine account of the democracy. So Socrates could also have said: “You who are most tolerant about the gods, who expect an unknown god, can hardly try a man for also believing in other gods (Socrates's daimon).”

Socrates, as Plato often shows, is somewhat critical of the Athenian gods (Zeus the rapist, Hera the slaughterer of rivals, etc. are doubtfully avatars to worship…). But this was neither a major sin (any one for offering daughters, sisters, mothers to Zeus?) nor even the charge against him according to Plato and Xenophon.

Socrates could have said all this, in addition to Izzy’s speech, and won the acquittal, given who he was, and Athenian principles. He did not quite. Izzy rightly concludes that he was not trying to win acquittal. But he goes too easily for Xenophon’s misguided theory, being absent during the trial as a mercenary fighting for the Persian emperor, informed by Hermogenes about what happened, in his Defense of Socrates at his Trial – that Socrates was committing suicide. There is some evidence for this theory, which is also Plato, to some extent. The Socrates of the Phaedo expresses a desire for swift death to other philosophers, Simmias and Cebes, Pythagoreans – as, perhaps, was Plato.*** The Phaedo’s Socrates maintains that the home of the soul is against, away from the body, and therefore one should, as a philosopher, yearn to leave.

But one should be careful here. Socrates famously jokes around and what he said about Evenus - well, if he is a philosopher, he should want to join me quickly -is plainly meant to be viewed skeptically by his and Plato’s students. The Phaedo is a narrated dialogue, long after the event, by Phaedo, with the most objections and questions to Socrates’s argument, the most failure to be convinced, of all the dialogues, and the physical absence of Plato…(Plato, perhaps, did not want to weep publically, against Socrates's wishes, like the others…).

In contrast or adopting the notion as a kind of surface extreme, Xenophon’s Memorabilia conclude with a claim that Socrates wanted simply to avoid the loss of philosophical powers of old age. He also, Xenophon shows, acted with moral fortitude, a lack of complaint. The latter is a good point and perhaps connects with the teaching of virtue, but is surprising non-philosophical (the surface of Xenophon’s Socrates is never philosophical):

“First, he had already reached such an age, that had he not died then, death must soon have come for him. Second, he escaped the most irksome stage of life and the inevitable diminution of mental powers and instead won glory for the moral strength revealed in the wonderful frankness and honesty and probity of his defense, and in the equanimity and manliness with which he bore the sentence of death.” Memorabilia, 4. 7. 1-2.****

A central weakness in Izzy’s account is that he does not take up Socrates defending questioning (philosophy) in Athens. It is that for which he went to his death. Repeatedly in the Crito, Socrates’ speech – the laws’ speech - says: it would not be dignified for me to slink off in the disguise of a slave for a symposium (a banquet in Thessaly). It would not be, as a matter of self-respect for a philosopher, becoming or livable to have defended raising questions in Athens and to have rejected exile when he could have proposed it in the sentencing phase of his trial, and to slink off now, to do without the permission of the democracy now what he could have had the permission of the city to do then.

The first argument of the laws, that Socrates is their “slave” and that they deserve obedience more than a father, is of course, the common prejudice which philosophy, at its starting point, famously rejects (cf. Aristophanes where Phidippides learns in the thinkery to beat his parents and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, ch. 1). See my "How to read Plato" here. The later part of this same speech mocks the idea of Socrates’ living like a slave, in case the reader – especially one of Plato’s students – had been inclined to the rather stupid argument, advanced with an increasingly agitated rhetoric if one reads it aloud, by the laws at first.***** The point about slavery, about the lack of dignity in Crito’s proposed escape, is repeated. It is an important clue to understanding what Socrates did.

Socrates stands up for doing philosophy in the trial. He says he does not deserve punishment for asking questions, thinking about arguments. He says he will not, as is customary, grovel to the court for life. He regards the trial as a farce in which the democrats are likely unjustly and “lightly” to put him to death (they would soon raise him and others back up if they could…). Socrates says what he can, given the need to defend philosophy as he understands it. He is not lawyering for himself, as Izzy, mistakenly, is against him. He is right and, in fact, admirable to do this (as many readers have sensed for 2400 years…).

Though his inner voice had told Socrates he would die (and had not warned him against speaking as he did), he did nearly win acquittal with a defense of being a philosopher. That honors Athens (though the trial itself is not admirable). Socrates thought his defense honorable. He was prepared to go to his death. The story that he just committed suicide, for instance, because he was aging and wanted to die, is, in fact, an offshoot of this higher purpose. Xenophon did not see it. His defense merely emphasizes Socrates’s “big talk” in the court, without a gesture at what the talk was to defend.

Nonetheless, perhaps Leo Strauss’s unlikely analogy that Xenophon is like Jane Austen, a writer of supreme subtlety, is right. ****** The first chapter of the Memorabilia suggests this (with a little too much about how Socrates was just piously for making his interlocutors good, too little explicitly, here and elsewhere in Xenephon’s writing, on what the ascent of philosophy, the dizziness and delight, is).

ln the Phaedo, Socrates addresses his fellow philosophers, who also, like Crito, want him to escape, do not have the idea that he needs to go to his death to defend and thus establish philosophy in Athens , or perhaps in a more ideal Athens. See here and here. The modern democracies are better, in this respect, for they have equal freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of thought and academic freedom, precisely as Martin Luther King said, because of Socrates. Athens putting Socrates to death for questioning is the root of equal basic rights, rights which should, if honored here, have protected the gadfly I.F. Stone against the vile persecution of the Truman-McCarthy period and its subsequent echoes after his death.

The main point is that Socrates defended questioning, philosophy, and went to his death for it. All of his friends were dismayed to lose him and, at the end, wept (Socrates says, in a sexist vein, “I sent the women away…”; Plato did not attend.) How will we ever have such good conversations, ever have as much fun listening to and talking with anyone else? In this respect, Socrates and Plato commend self-reliance. Learning from the model, one might try oneself, as Plato did, to ask a question, put in a word…

Izzy spent 10 years working on Greek and Socrates. He got much farther than most scholars in setting the context for the trial, and politically, in spelling out some aspects of Athens that were genuinely admirable and worth fighting for. But the literature is weak on, and he did not ask himself the question: what was Plato trying to teach his students? (I ask this question in: “Do Philosophers counsel tyrants?,” Constellations, 2009, here). He saw that Plato was hiding messages about the trial in the Apology. But he never thought about what a dialogue is, how there might be other, or perhaps broader, connected hidden messages in Plato.

Did the dialogues tell all that Plato thought, if read correctly, or are they the start on a philosophical/mystical pathway (one suggested by the dazzling idea of the good in the Republic, which brings all things to life in the noetic universe, as the sun all life in the physical universe; in the Republic, this is just a metaphor at which those newly initiated in the Socratic/Platonic journey can hardly make a gesture). Further, Plato’s hidden teaching appears to rely on numbers and again, one is just at a start in the Republic. The tyrant has 729 times less happiness than the just man, Socrates says. 729 is 9 to the power of 3 or 3 to the power of 5, and one might look further into these numbers….

The mystery religions in which Socrates and Plato participated used among other means, poppies (see here and here) and worshipped Demeter and Persephone (the heritage of the mother-led spiritually, comparatively egalitarian island civilizations which the mainland had destroyed (even Athens was a prison for women; in contrast, Socrates and Plato, defend women as guardians and as philosophers, for instance, in the idea of love explained by the prophetess Diotima in the Symposium, and were founders of the first enlightenment as Hilary Putnam sometimes speaks of it (h/t Steve Wagner). Put another way, and in one respect, Socrates thought doing philosophy was a better high than the mystery religions.

Izzy also baldly asserts that Socrates and Plato were pro-slavery:

“Socrates and Plato never questioned slavery and Aristotle thought it ‘natural.’" (p. 45) He then asserts, foolishly, a maxim often true, but not for a thinker as complex as Socrates or Plato: "The moral is even the greatest philosopher may share the blinkers of their time, where clearer vision would threaten a property right."(p. 45)

Izzy alludes to the Meno; he misses, however, the counterevidence right there. The dialogue is about whether virtue can be taught. Meno, the beautiful, young interlocutor from Thessaly (interestingly, the place where Critias goes, according to Xenophon in the first book of the Memorabilia, and is corrupted), is reduced to silence by Socrates’s questioning, and analogizes Socrates to a “sting-ray” which has numbed him, otherwise able to speak eloquently, made him unable to talk. Socrates then says: I perplex you because I am perplexed. He asks him to bring any slave who speaks Greek and under questioning, gets the slave to prove an advanced theorem of Euclidean geometry. The slave, by the way, is notably quicker than Meno (h/t Steve Wagner).

Socrates then suggests that the slave, since he could do this in response to questioning, thinking he knows but discovering a mistake, learning further from questions,***** must have had this knowledge from eternity. Truth in Greek is aletheia, not-forgetting (Unvergorgenheit) as Heidegger brilliantly translates it (lethe is the River Lethe, the river at the border of Hades where those who cross forget, the river of forgetfulness…) The particle a in Greek means not. See here.

Socrates says: all souls have this knowledge from eternity (both when they are in human form and not) and are thus equal. This is the most radical anti-slavery argument ever put down on paper (Stone cites a fragment of another anti-slavery advocate, Alcidamas, a sophist, of whom an important phrase survives: “God has left all men free. Nature has made none a slave.” (p. 45)

Not only is Socrates against slavery, Plato’s city in speech in the Republic, hierarchical though it is, includes no slaves. Aristotle is Izzy’s favorite who says some more favorable things theoretically about democracy than Plato (citizenship is ruling and being ruled in turn, for example, or that the many sometimes see things that the wise man or great leader does not). But Izzy ignores that Aristotle was also for the rule of the outstanding man, and advised Alexander the Great, went down the line for tyranny in a way that Plato eschewed, at least after the bitter experiment in Syracuse in which neither Dionysius nor Dion became a philosopher-king; neither followed the recommendation of the Seventh Letter: to uphold laws. (Dion, though engaged in personal vengeance against Dionysius, acted also as a philosopher, but was murdered by his ostensible friend, Calippus).

Plato was the teacher of Demosthenes, the biting critic of Phillip of Macedon, Alexander’s father – see Demosthenes’s Phillipics – whom Alexander’s agents murdered. It was perhaps not accidental that Aristotle, in many ways Plato’s best student, was not chosen to head the Academy when Plato died. In any case, even Aristotle’s idea of natural slavery is hedged. Such slavery, he says perhaps ironically in book 1 of the Politics, is one that nature intends though it so rarely achieves its goal, and never among Greeks nor even in barbarian Carthage, one of the three best cities in book 2. Aristotle’s idea of natural slavery is a challenge to Plato’s argument in the Republic and most to Plato’s teacher, Socrates. But Socrates was right, as Izzy would have agreed if he had noticed.

When I was a graduate student at Harvard, I knew many people in philosophy (many colleagues in SDS). A dogma in the Harvard Philosophy Department at that time apparently was that no Greek philosopher opposed slavery. That idea, which Izzy imbibed from reading the literature, is false.

Reading Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Izzy brilliantly recovers Thersites, the alleged buffoon whom Odysseus upbraids. Socrates is alleged by an accuser Polycrates, writing just after the trial, to have often conjured this story from Homer’s Odyssey. (Thersites’s spirit is also sneered at in Plato’s Myth of Er in the tenth book of the Republic, getting into the body of an ape). Thersites is an ordinary soldier, discontented when as soldiers are often, misused; he resembles the rowers in the Athenian navy. Izzy rightly gets the anti-democratic sentiment hinted at but disguised in Xenophon, and makes a powerful point about Xenophon’s, Plato’s and Socrates’ anti-democracy. As I have underlined here, Plato and even Socrates defended democracy only against tyranny.

Polycrates, as Xenophon relates,

“accused [Socrates] of constantly quoting the passage from Homer (Iliad, 2,88-91, 199-203), which says about Odysseus:

‘Whenever he met some king or man of distinction,
He would stand there and try to stop him with gentle words:
‘Sir, you ought not to be scared, like any base coward;
Keep a grip on yourself and check the rest of the people….’
But when he came across a common man and found him wailing,
He would lash out with his staff and dress him imperiously:
‘Sir, stop your trembling and listen to the words of others
Who are your betters – you unsoldierly weakling.
Worthless in battle and in counsel. (Memorabilia,1.2. 57-59)

Xenophon tries, deliberately and unsuccessfully as Izzy underlines, to deflect a sleepy reader from the obvious, anti-poor people, anti-citizen sentiment here:

“It was alleged that [Socrates] interpreted this as meaning that the poet commended the beating of commoners and poor people. But that was not what Socrates meant. If it had been, he would have thought he ought to have been beaten himself.” (1.2.58-59)

Now Socrates, as Plato’s Apology and Symposium, show us, was fearless in battle. So he would not have fit that part of the indictment. And kings are sometimes, as Homer suggests, shaky (and cannot easily be replaced). So one could not beat Henry the fifth – the best example of an ideal, brutal soldier (Shakespeare shows him ordering the killing of baggage boys away from the fighting) -for doubts.

Still, the core here is pretty irreducibly anti-democratic. Xenophon tries to fob it off, saying it refers to the rich, too, and that Socrates was democratic in being willing to speak to anyone, unlike sophists who charged a high price. Both points are true. But Xenophon’s very effort underlines (quite deliberately for some readers, I suspect) the point.

“What he did say was that any people who could neither say nor do anything useful, and who were incapable, if the need arose, of helping the army of the city or even the citizen body, ought to be placed under every kind of restraint (especially if they are presumptuous too) even if they happen to be very rich. No, on the contrary, Socrates was obviously a friend of the people [too rhetorical, this is nonetheless true, for instance in upholding a genuine common good like not murdering citizens or doing philosophy] and well disposed toward all mankind. Although he gained many admirers, both native and foreign, he never charged any of them a fee for his company, but shared his resources unhesitatingly with everyone. Some people, after getting some scraps of wisdom from him free, sold them to others at a high price, and were not as democratic as he was, because they refused to converse with those could not pay." (1.2.59-60)

Izzy rightly thinks he has discovered, through investigating, the context in one important sense, that Xenophon is concealing Socrates’s anti-democratic sentiments and implied enthusiasm for Critias and the Thirty. This important sense of context differs from a second sense which I have emphasized: that Plato’s dialogues are complex, often offering false trails in argument (some deliberately deceptive or obviously contradictory) for students to assess. As I will show below, Xenophon’s writing, though not explicitly philosophical, is a paradigm of this second sense, too.******

But in his own sense of contextual research, Izzy, mistakenly, leaves out the rest of Xenophon’s argument. Critias and Alcibiades (whom Xenophon treats less subtly and interestingly than Plato) are but two of Socrates’s students. To each of his students, Xenophon shows, Socrates taught, by example, a disciplined life. Critias and Alcibiades, least of all , led such a life, but had eyes for politics, glory, wealth (“where’s the relish?,” asks Glaucon of Socrates’s austere city, early in the Republic).

Listen to Xenophon’s depiction of how Socrates annoyed Critias (Xenophon’s Socrates is also a sometimes nasty, in your face gossip) and how Critias came to venge himself on philosophy and Socrates. These passages – defying and mocking tyrants and showing little concern for death - sound no more like timid subordination or support than what Socrates offered in the democracy, in fact, rather less so. On both Xenophon’s and Plato’s descriptions, Socrates often defied force or threats against him. In addition, Izzy’s claim of the alleged favorability of Socratics toward Critias will not survive reading Xenophon:

“However, even though [Socrates] himself did nothing discreditable, if he had expressed approval of these men when he saw them behaving badly, he would have deserved censure. Well, when he noticed that Critias was in love with Euthydemus and was trying to seduce him, like one seeking to gratify his sexual appetite, Socrates tried to dissuade him by insisting that it was slavish and improper for a truly good man to solicit his favorite, to whom he wishes to appear in a creditable light, importuning him like a beggar and entreating him to grant his favors, especially when those favors are far from honorable. And when Critias paid no attention to these protests and was not to be diverted from his purpose, Socrates is reported to have said, in the presence of several people including Euthydemus himself, that Critias seemed to be suffering from pig’s itch; he wanted to scratch himself against Euthydemus like a piglet scratching himself against a stone [Kritias epithumon Euthydemo prosknesthai hoster ta hudia tois lithois.” (Memorabilia, 1.2, 29-31 trans. Hugh Tredennick and Robin Waterfield).*******

Critias was incensed. For there was more to the story than Xenophon lets slip at the outset. In book 4( the final book), Euthydemus is the leading character and Socrates’s plots to and succeeds in enticing Euthydemus in becoming his student. In effect, there is an erotic rivalry between Socrates and Critias over Euthydemus, and at Critias’s expense, Socrates wins Euthydemus’s affections.********

Tyrannically (though motivated by the sting of jealousy and envy as well as fear), Critias sought to silence his former teacher:

“This made Critias take a dislike to Socrates so that when as one of the Tyranny of the Thirty [the apt democratic name; originally, as introduced by Sparta, it was "the Thirty," an oligarchy] he became a legislator along with Charicles, he held it against Socrates and introduced a law against teaching the ‘art of debate.’ [logon technon, literally the art of words]. He did this out of spite toward Socrates since he had no means of attacking him other than misrepresenting him to the public by applying to him the usual layman’s allegation against all philosophers [unclear: perhaps “making the worse argument the better,” mocked in Aristophanes’s The Clouds]. I never heard Socrates do this myself, nor did I ever know anyone else to claim that he had done so.” (1.2, 31-32)

Socrates was also outspoken in his criticisms of Critias politically, so outspoken that Critias made a law against Socrates conversing with the young. As Izzy fails to recognize, the authoritarian persecutors in the democracy and Critias echoed one and the same charge against Socrates: he corrupts the youth. He must be silenced through a law against teaching the art of debate, the art of words…

Had Izzy not been too engaged in trying to conjure the good of democracy, he would have noticed that this was a powerful defense for Socrates. Tyranny – including ones emerging from within a democracy - seek to suppress philosophy. Anytus (who also fought the Tyranny of the Thirty, like Polemarchos, in the Piraeus) and Meletus have thus much in common with Critias, join with him to suppress and, finally, murder Socrates. Genuine democrats should have shunned this, as 220 did. In America, this is the tyranny of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, McCarthyites and the neo-cons…

“[Socrates] made his position quite clear. When the Thirty were putting to death many of the citizens (and those not the worst among them [sic – murder of innocents is enough; Xenephon suggests here, as in his famous dialogue On Tyranny or Hiero here and here, that some might usefully be murdered, a rather different idea] and were inciting many others to do wrong, Socrates observed

'It seems strange that a one herdsman [genomenos boun] who made his cattle fewer and worse than they were before should not admit that he was a bad tender of cattle [kakos boukolos], and still more extraordinary that a man appointed a political leader[genomenos poleus] who makes the citizens [politas] fewer and worse than they were before was not ashamed and did not consider himself a bad political leader.'” (1.2.32-33)

When these remarks were reported to Critias, Socrates was summoned and threatened. Xenophon’s account of this dialogue again shows Socrates’s mocking their commands, suggesting that their words and threats go beyond their meanings (but what, asks Socrates to Thrasymachos in book 1 of the Republic if the stronger mistakes his advantage…?), and making a fool out of a belligerent interlocutor Charicles (typically, as in Plato, Socrates does with Thrasymachos or Callicles), and reducing him to threats. Note that Critias, who was a student of Socrates, knows perfectly well what is going on – Socrates intends him to – and is silent:

“This was reported to the tyrants, and so Critias and Charicles summoned Socrates, and calling his attention to the law, forbade him to converse with the young. Socrates asked them if he was allowed to ask for information about anything in their proclamation that he did not understand. They said he could.

‘Well, ’ said he, ‘I am prepared to obey the laws, but in order that I may not unwittingly offend through ignorance, I want you to make this point clear to me. When you order abstention from the art of debate, is it because you think it is accompanied by correctness or by incorrectness of speech? If by correctness, clearly I would have to refrain from speaking correctly; and if by incorrectness, clearly I would have to try to speak correctly.’

Charicles was annoyed with him and said, ‘As you are so dense [agnoies], Socrates [this is projection on Charicles’s part], we issue you this warning which is easier to grasp: do not converse with the young at all [tois neois holos me dialegesthai].”

‘Well, then,’ said Socrates, ‘that there may be no question raised about my obedience, give me a definition of the age up to which one should regard people as young.’

Charicles replied: ‘As long as they are considered to be too immature to serve on the Council; on this principle, you are not to converse with men below the age of thirty.’

‘Not even if I am buying something,’ asked Socrates, ‘and the seller is below the age of thirty? Can’t I even ask what the price is?’

‘ Yes, of course you can ask that sort of question,’ said Charicles. ‘But Socrates, most of the questions you like to ask are ones to which you know the answers. That is the kind you must stop asking.’

‘Am I not to reply either, then,’ said Socrates, ‘when a young man asks me something, if I know the answer – like ‘Where does Charicles live?’ or ‘Where’s Critias’?

‘Yes, of course you can answer that kind,’ said Charicles.

Critias interrupted: ‘The people you will have to keep off, Socrates are the cobblers and carpenters and smiths. They must be worn out by now with all your talk about them.’[1.2.32-37]

In Xenophon as a writer, like Plato, the interruption is significant. Socrates makes a fool out of Charicles. But Critias then warns him against talking with, asking questions of the demos: cobblers and carpenters and smiths and rowers/soldiers. Why did the tyrants try to bar Socrates from teaching? It is because, very likely, his teaching would encourage not just aristocrats or rich democrats (Polemarchos) to think, but rather, spur democratic questioning and revolt. Socrates would make the better argument the better…

Were Critias right – “they” must be exhausted with Socrates’s talk –the point of banning it would be slight. People just wouldn’t listen. It appears that the tyrants feared philosophy and sought to curb it – just as Meletus and Anytus, acting tyrannically, urge the same crime on the democracy. That, too, is a devastating point, Socrates could have made in his defense. But contra Izzy, perhaps he thought that disobeying commands to fetch people to be murdered was sufficient…

Even if Critias meant merely Socrates’ use of the people as examples in argument (also a possible meaning of the Greek), his unique intervention betrays the quasi-conscious worry which the above wording renders explicitly: Socrates’s questioning will stir up dissidence against injustice.

Xenophon continues:

“’Then must I also keep off the topics that they lead to,’ said Socrates, ‘morality and piety and so on?’

‘Certainly,’ said Charicles, ‘and from herdsman [kai ton boukolon]. Otherwise you had better take care or else you may find the cattle decrease. “ (1.2.37-38]

Here again, Charicles threatens Socrates; Critias is silent. But Critias’s role in this incident was also known to Plato; he speaks of the Tyranny making the democracy seem a golden polity at the outset of the Seventh Letter and one should look, unlike Izzy, with deep skepticism, at the role of Critias in other dialogues. For instance, Critias’s account of Socrates’ city in the Timaeus, existing before the storm and flood, has only guardians and laborers and lacks a philosopher-king. (h/t Peter Minowitz) What it lacks, therefore, among other things, is the role of wisdom, and of guardians tempered from brutality (mere gymnastics) by music, and perhaps Plato means to criticize the authoritarianism and wanton murderousness of Critias for his students by drawing this difference.

Xenophon concludes “This made it plain that their hostility to Socrates was due to their having been told of his remark about the cattle.” It is interesting – Strauss insists on Xenophon’s Jane Austen-like delicacy of statement – that Xenophon does not underline the threat to Socrates in Caricles’ last remark.

Xenophon denounces Critias and Alcibiades for pride (hubris) and wantonness. Critias, he says, was able to restrain his desires while listening to Socrates (Xenophon makes the clever point that Socrates prevented Critias from doing damage while young, but Critias then sought out worse teachers…1.2.26-28). Becoming political, “Critias was banished to Thessaly and attached himself to men who indulged more in law-breaking than in justice [anomia mallon he dikaiosune].” (1.2.24) Thessaly was for Critias training in becoming the grandest in anomia and self-indulgence – the tyrant. Of the hubris of Critias and Alcibiades, Xenophon says:

“Since this is what happened to Alcibiades and Critias, and since they were exalted by their birth, elated by their wealth, puffed up with their power, and spoiled by many people, is it any wonder, when they were corrupted for all these reasons and long separated from Socrates, they became overbearing? (Memorabilia, 1.2.25 – one might think also of the common corruption of potential philosophers in the Republic against which his daimon makes Socrates unusual).

Plato’s Apology indicates, perhaps more forcefully than Xenophon, that Socrates did not put on airs, that his wisdom (being aware of his own ignorance…) was of a merely “human sort,” that most spoke in areas of which they had no knowledge, affected god-like powers,and as politicians, "lightly" murdered others.

I will take up distinctons between Xenophon (some additional points Xenophon makes in favor of a philosopher-tyrant and Izzy’s account), Plato and Socrates in part 3.

*I was once the teacher of Condi Rice, see here and here.

**The opening shows that Socrates wore the outer garment of the law as Joseph Campbell says of sufis and other mystics, and was spiritual; it carefully does not say what he actually – philosophically – thought about the Athenian gods or, as Plato sometimes refers, the god.

***We do not know not much about what Pythagoras taught, except that the universe was explicable mathematically and the Pythagorean theorem, or about the mathematical mysteries of Plato’s Academy.

****Leo Strauss’s greatest personal virtue, as he saw it, was probity. Unlike Socrates, the probity was for national socialism…

*****Here Plato’s discussion does not quite illustrate the point. Neither Socrates nor Meno is perplexed about the theorem. But nonetheless, becoming perplexed and perplexing interlocutors are vital to thinking, fashioning arguments….

******Many people, even some translators like Robin Waterfield, read Xenophon stupidly. Waterfield gets some of Xenophon's points, but has the illusion that he is smarter or more careful than Xenophon.

*******See my discussion of Alcibiades’s account of so-called Platonic love in the Symposium here in which Socrates comments on sexuality allegedly being “far from honorable.” But none of this implies sexual abstinence – just self-restraint…

********The story of Euthydemus has a deeper meaning for Xenophon, made clear only in book 4 (the last book) of the Memorabilia where Xenophon tells the back story of Euthydemus the beautiful (to kalon - in this, Euthydemus is like Alcibiades). Euthydemus collected books of philosophy, trying to make himself wise without a teacher. Socrates goes several times to entrap him and finally does in discussion. Euthydemus wants to be a statesperson, a political leader. Here is again a warning from Xenophon that Socrates's aim, as we will see, is to produce good political leaders. But the danger here is of course that a good political leader for Xenophon (see his Hiero or on tyranny) often stems from a certain kind of tyrant and rules without laws.

Much like Meno, this Socrates shows that Euthydemus is good at speaking, and thinks he knows, but does not. Euthydemus is smarter, however, than Meno. Meno becomes a mercenary in Persia and after a year or so, the Emperor impales him. After realizing his ignorance, Euthydemus annexes himself to Socrates.

Much of what Socrates says to Euthydemus is wholesome (Xenophon is at pains to emphasize the useful and the decent, how much attention Socrates pays to family obligations and the like. But of course, all this, as Plato and Aristophanes show, is blowing smoke (exoteric in Strauss's terms). How much his advice to Euthydemus is geared to statesmanship is revealed at the end of a first long discussion where Xenophon reveals his attentiveness to Plato's Crito and Apology. This is stepping aside from the seeming discussion and making clear what the significance is (Strauss's notion of manifesting a quasi-hidden meaning in Persecution and the Art of Writing).

In addition, though Socrates emphasizes obedience to the laws (also in his discussion with Hippias that obedience to law and justice are the same), he is shown to oppose lawlessness by those in authority (his role as part of the Prytany against those democrats who wished to put the naval leaders to death who had failed to pick up the bodies of fighters in the midst of a sea battle - see also Plato's Apology) - and not to obey the command, arguably the law if Critias and the Thirty were a regime, to arrest Leon. The latter, as Xenophon does not recognize though Plato does, is a different kind of act, a precursor to civil disobedience, as is Socrates's refusal to give up questioning. Here is a sharp difference between Xenephon and Plato. In Xenophon's words,

"Again, concerning justice, he did not hide his opinion but proclaimed it by his actions. All his private conduct was lawful and helpful: to public authority he rendered such scrupulous obedience in all that the laws required both in civil life and in military service, that he was a pattern of good discipline to all. When chairperson in the Assemblies, he would not permit the people to record an illegal vote, but upholding the laws, resisted a popular impulse that might have overcome any but himself."

This is a striking point about Socrates's unusual strength of character, his fearlessness in the face of death as Plato's Apology, inter alia, tells us. Xenophon continues:

"And when the Thirty laid a command on him that was illegal, he refused to obey. Thus, he disregarded their repeated injunction not to talk with young men”

Here one might particularly think that Socrates had committed (proto-)civil disobedience against them, as Xenophon seems to recognize, in a way that mirrors what he did against proto-tyrannical democrats like Anytus:

"and when they commanded him and certain other citizens to arrest a man on a capital charge, he alone refused, because the command laid on him was illegal. Again, when he was tried on the charge brought by Meletus, whereas it is the custom of defendants to curry favor with the jury and to indulge in flattery and illegal appeals, and many by such means have been known to gain a verdict of acquittal, he rejected utterly the familiar chicanery of the courts; and though he might easily have gained a favorable verdict by even moderate indulgence in such strategems, he chose to die through his loyalty to the laws rather than to live through violating them. (4. 3.18-4.5).

This point is the same as the speech of the laws in the Crito, except, again, that Socrates refuses explicitly and “unlawfully” (corrupting the young is what he was on trial for on an obscure law against blasphemy), in Plato’s Apology but not in Xenophon, not to raise questions.

Reading book 4 of the Memorabilia, the rivalry of Socrates and Critias over the beautiful appears to be that Socrates gives Euthydemus advice in virtue (to attend to the good) and to be self-restrained, and on how to argue, and Critias generally, a la Dominique Strauss-Kahn, wants to throw himself on Euthydemus. This point resembles closely Alcibiades's description of how Socrates gets to lie next to Agathon whom Alcibiades wishes to court (though he is still in love with Socrates) in the Symposium. That erotic or romantic rivalry is characteristic of Socrates, and that he wins and in the end, probably sexually (as he produced children, he doesn’t seem to have especially practiced “abstinence” and every love is perhaps not as unconsummated as with Alcibiades), leaves Critias with some malignant bitterness. But the other side is that Euthydemus does not become one of the thirty, is not famous for evil, does not betray himself in his relationship with Critias, and becomes, in contrast to Critias, the virtuous person (though perhaps not quite the leader) he hoped to be. That is like Glaucon in the Republic. So Xenophon seems to have some scruple about tyranny, despite the Hiero, even if he did not arrive at the conclusions of Plato (see my "Going down," here, here and here), nor was he, in the deepest and most attractive sense, besotted by philosophy.

Plato also has a dialogue named Euthydemus, but it is about a foreign philosopher or expert in eristics (fighting) so perhaps not the same Euthydemus.

*******In his account of Socrates’s moral advice to his son Lamprocles, not to hate and defy Xantippe’s sometimes biting advice to her son, Xenophon goes out of his way to answer this charge – here is Socrates arguing at length for gratitude to a mother and parents. And yet there is deliberately no mention of the father – who is shown giving this advice – nor of his not getting along with Xantippe nor of philosophy as questioning the fathers. Strauss repeatedly drives home Xenophon’s thought that Socrates is not among the married men…

Xenophon knows how to feint, perhaps as well as Plato, in defense of philosophy or at least hidden meanings….

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