94. Memorabilia Socratis (Memoirs of Socrates) by Xenophon (c.370 BC)

Plot: A defence of Socrates’ character and piety, mostly via an assortment of short encounters between Socrates and others, prefaced by Xenophon’s own defence of the specific charges made against Socrates leading to his death. Unlike Plato’s Socratic dialogues, these short snippets do not rigorously lead the reader through a single philosophical argument but rather appear more like parables or fables using logic to make their point.

My version is Memoirs of Socrates, & The Symposium, translated by Hugh Tredennick and published in 1970 by Penguin  (0140442294)

My thoughts:  Certainly easier to read than Plato, even if not reaching so deeply into the Socrates phenomenon. It understandably attacks Critias (who I met in the last Plato) as the betrayer who used Socrates’ teachings to improve his own political prowess only to turn on and become one of the major accusers at Socrates’  trial.

Interesting sections

  • Socrates’ dialogue with Aristodemes provides a good defense of creationism over evolution (not using those terms of course) and the concept of omnipotence (Book 1, chapter 4)
  • Socrates’ intriguing academic flirtation with the courtesan Theodote (Book 3, chapter 11) – is he flirting or offering himself as a pimp?
  • Xenophon using Socrates as a mouthpiece on various military opinions on generalship and cavalry command.

The final book ends with a description of Socrates as the best and noblest of men, who perhaps welcomed death while still in full possession of his faculties.  Xenophon’s tribute takes some beating:

“Socrates was, as I have described him, so devout that he never did anything without the sanction of the Gods, so upright that he never did the smallest harm to anybody, but conferred the greatest benefits upon those who associated with him; so self-disciplined that he never chose the more pleasant course instead of the better; so judicious that he never made a mistake in deciding between better and worse …… he seemed to me to be the perfect example of goodness and happiness”  (pages 227-228)

Favourite lines/passages:  There is so much common sense in the words of Xenophon’s Socrates that I find myself admiring him more than in Plato’s depictions. This does not seem to be the common consensus when comparing the two authors, but then Xenophon doesn’t make me work so hard!

The making and keeping of friends : “I myself feel a kindness towards anyone whom I imagine to be kindly disposed towards me”         (Book 2, chapter 6, page 102)

The nature of work (this struck home rather forcibly to me due to my current situation) : “If a job is within your power, you must put up with it; if it is not, you must avoid it; and whatever you do, you must give it your best and keenest attention”  (Book 2, chapter 8, page 111)

Personal rating: Not riveting reading but not convoluted either. 4.

Next :  We are invited to a banquet to listen to more Socrates (yes, more!)  in Xenophon’s Symposium  (also called the Dinner Party)

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