|"The Death of Socrates" by Jacques-Louis David (1787)|
The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates was written by one of his students, Xenophon, as a defense of Socrates against his accusers. Socrates was accused of heresy and corrupting the youth and was put to death in 399 BC by drinking hemlock. Since a large part of Xenophon's argument centered around Socrates being virtuous, it truly surprised me how Judeo-Christian some of his ideas seemed. He seemed to take joy in nothing else but to teach young men in the way of virtue—to be free from the grip of alcohol and debauchery, to be sexually chaste and responsible, and to love one's neighbor. Favorite subjects of his were also to teach young men how to manage money and a household, how to govern a Republic, and to stay away from comfort and excess.
On matters of religion he tailored his discourses for the youth to which he was speaking: once he blasted the foolishness of worshipping blocks of wood, and another time he encouraged piety in his listeners to a supreme divinity. Being uneducated into Greek paganism, I don't know what this "supreme" and "good" deity is, or if it even existed in the Greek religion. Furthermore, Socrates also claimed to be guided and advised by a "demon," which he called "my demon." I would like to read more about the religious overtones in the book and in Socrates' life, but so far I have only read the Memorable Thoughts and the Five Dialogues. If anyone could point me to a good book, I'd be interested to read it.
Here are some interesting quotes I found in the book:
"If we were engaged in a war," said he, "and were to choose a general, would we make choice of a man given to wine or women, and who could not support fatigues and hardships? Could we believe that such a commander would be capable to defend us and to conquer our enemies? Or if we were lying on our deathbed, and were to appoint a guardian and tutor for our children, to take care to instruct our sons in the principles of virtue, to breed our daughters in the paths of honor and to be faithful in their management of their fortunes, should we think a debauched person fit for that employment? Would we entrust our flocks and our granaries in the hands of a drunkard? Would we rely on him for the conduct of any enterprise; and in short, if a present were made us of such a slave, should we not make it a difficulty to accept him? If then, we have so great an aversion for debauchery in the person of the meanest servant, ought we not ourselves to be careful not to fall into the same fault? Besides, a covetous man has the satisfaction of enriching himself, and, though he takes away another's estate, he enriches his own; but a debauched man is both troublesome to others and injurious to himself. We may say of him that he is hurtful to all the world, and yet more hurtful to himself, if to ruin, not only his family, but his body and soul likewise, is to be hurtful. (Xenophon, Loc. 420 of 2078)I found that one to be relevant to electing corrupt politicians. Here's one that is just useful, common wisdom, as it relates to employment capabilities:
"The shortest and surest way to live with honor in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be." (Xenophon, Loc. 905 of 2078)So, no lying on resumes. Noted. On managing budgets:
"...for between the conduct of a family and that of a State the sole difference is that of a greater or lesser number; for as to all besides there is much conformity between them." (Xenophon, Loc. 1147 of 2078)Interesting. So yes, the managing the federal budget really is a bit like managing a household budget. It would be nice if we had one, let alone followed it, since it is after all the first enumerated power of Congress, but I digress.
And a few more:
"...it is likewise folly for a man to persuade himself that, being rich and having no merit, he will pass for a man of parts; or that, not having a reputation for being a man of parts, he shall nevertheless be esteemed." (Xenophon, Loc. 1572 of 2078)
"Learn to know yourself better, Charmidas, and take care not to fall into a fault that is almost general; for all men inquire curiously enough into the affairs of others, but they never enter into their own bosoms to examine themselves as they ought." (Xenophon, Loc. 1310 of 2078)
"Know you not," said Socrates, "that in all things men readily obey those whom they believe to be most capable?" (Xenophon, Loc. 1096 of 2078)Socrates had many other things to say on virtue, on not overestimating one's abilities yet being available and useful in the skills one does truly possess, on government, and even on exercise (he held that moderate exercise makes for a healthier and sharper mind). This was an interesting and engaging book that at times I couldn't put down. I found Socratic wisdom to be very practical and valuable. A lot of it I've already agreed with for a long time, but it was nice to have reminders to put those things into practice. It's not the Bible or anything, but I think that some of these principles do make for a happier and more productive life, so this is definitely now one of my favorites.
1. Xenophon, The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates, trans. Edward Bysshe (London, Paris, New York & Melbourne: Cassell & Company, Limited, 1888), Loc. 420, 905, 1147, 1572, 1310, and 1096 of 2078.