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To pass to another subject. The distresses of his friends that arose from ignorance he tried to cure by advice, those that were due to want by telling them how to help one another according to their power. On this subject too I will state what I know about him.

One day, noticing that Aristarchus looked glum, he said: “Aristarchus, you seem to have a burden on your mind. You should let your friends share it; possibly we may do something to ease you.” [2]

“Ah yes, Socrates,” replied Aristarchus, “I am in great distress. Since the revolution there has been an exodus to the Piraeus, and a crowd of my women-folk, being left behind, are come to me, — sisters, nieces and cousins, — so that we are fourteen in the house without counting the slaves. We get nothing from our land, because our enemies have seized it, and nothing from our house property, now there are so few residents in the city. Portable property finds no buyers, and it's quite impossible to borrow money anywhere: I really think a search in the street would have better result than an application for a loan. It's hard, Socrates, to let one's people die, but impossible to keep so many in times like these.”

When Socrates heard this, he asked: [3] “How is it that with so many mouths to feed Ceramon not only contrives to provide for the needs of himself and his family, but actually saves enough to make him a rich man, whereas you, with so many mouths to feed, fear you will all be starved to death?”

“The explanation, of course, is this: my dependants are gentlefolk, his are slaves.” [4]

“And which do you think are the better, his slaves or your gentlefolk?”

“My gentlefolk, I think.”

“Then is it not disgraceful that you with your gentlefolk should be in distress, while he is kept in affluence by his meaner household?”

“Of course his dependants are artisans, while mine have had a liberal education.” [5]

“What is an artisan? one who knows how to produce something useful?”


“Are groats useful?”

“Yes, very.”

“And bread?”

“No less so.”

“What about men's and women's cloaks, shirts, capes, smocks?”

“Yes, all these things too are very useful.”

“Then don't the members of your household know how to make any of these?”

“I believe they can make all of them.” [6]

“Don't you know, then, that by manufacturing one of these commodities, namely groats, Nausicydes keeps not only himself and his family, but large herds of swine and cattle as well, and has so much to spare that he often undertakes costly public duties; that Cyrebus feeds his whole family well and lives in luxury by baking bread, Demeas of Collytus by making capes, Menon by making cloaks; and most of the Megarians make a good living out of smocks?”

“Yes, of course; for they buy foreign slaves and can force them to make what is convenient, but my household is made up of gentlefolk and relations.” [7]

“And so, just because they are gentlefolk and related to you, you think they should do nothing but eat and sleep? Do you find that other gentlefolk who live this sort of life are better off and happier than those who are usefully employed in work that they understand? Or is it your experience that idleness and carelessness help men to learn what they ought to know and remember what they learn, to make themselves healthy and strong, and to get and keep things that are of practical use, but industry and carefulness are useless things? [8] When these women learned the work that you say they understand, did they regard it as of no practical use, and had they no intention of taking it up, or did they mean to occupy themselves in it and obtain some benefit from it? Which makes men more prudent, idleness or useful employment? Which makes men more just, work or idle discussions about supplies? [9] Besides, at present, I fancy, you don't love these ladies and they don't love you: you think they are a tax on you, and they see that you feel them to be a burden. And the danger in this state of things is that dislike may grow and their former gratitude fade away; but if you exert your authority and make them work, you will love them, when you find that they are profitable to you, and they will be fond of you, when they feel that you are pleased with them. Both you and they will like to recall past kindnesses and will strengthen the feeling of gratitude that these engender; thus you will be better friends and feel more at home. [10] To be sure, if they were going to do something disgraceful, death would be a better fate. But in point of fact the work they understand is, as it appears, the work considered the most honourable and the most suitable for a woman; and the work that is understood is always done with the greatest ease, speed, pride and pleasure. So do not hesitate to offer them work that will yield a return both to you and to them, and probably they will welcome your proposal.” [11]

“Well, well,” said Aristarchus, “your advice seems so good, Socrates, that I think I shall now bring myself to borrow capital to make a start. Hitherto I have had no inclination to do so, knowing that when I had spent the loan I should not have the wherewithal to repay it.” [12]

The consequence was that capital was provided and wool purchased. The women worked during dinner and only stopped at the supper hour. There were happy instead of gloomy faces: suspicious glances were exchanged for pleasant smiles. They loved him as a guardian and he liked them because they were useful. Finally Aristarchus came to Socrates and told him this with delight. “One objection they have to me,” he added: “I am the only member of the household who eats the bread of idleness.” [13]

“Then why not tell them the story of the dog?” asked Socrates. “It is said that when beasts could talk, a sheep said to her master: ‘It is strange that you give us sheep nothing but what we get from the land, though we supply you with wool and lambs and cheese, and yet you share your own food with your dog, who supplies you with none of these things.’ The dog heard this, and said: [14] ‘Of course he does. Do not I keep you from being stolen by thieves, and carried off by wolves? Why, but for my protection you couldn't even feed for fear of being killed.’ And so, they say, the sheep admitted the dog's claim to preference. Do you then tell these women that you are their watch-dog and keeper, and it is due to you that they live and work in safety and comfort, with none to harm them.”

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  • Cross-references to this page (4):
    • Raphael Kühner, Bernhard Gerth, Ausführliche Grammatik der griechischen Sprache, KG 3.5.3
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), ARTIF´ICES
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EXO´MIS
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
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