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“And now I asked, ‘How is it then, Ischomachus, if the operations of husbandry are so easy to learn and all alike know what must needs be done, that all have not the same fortune? How is it that some farmers live in abundance and have more than they want, while others cannot get the bare necessaries of life, and even run into debt?’

“‘Oh, I will tell you, Socrates. [2] It is not knowledge nor want of knowledge on the part of farmers that causes one to thrive while another is needy. [3] You won't hear a story like this running about: The estate has gone to ruin because the sower sowed unevenly, or because he didn't plant the rows straight, or because someone, not knowing the right soil for vines, planted them in barren ground, or because someone didn't know that it is well to prepare the fallow for sowing, or because someone didn't know that it is well to manure the land. [4] No, you are much more likely to hear it said: The man gets no corn from his field because he takes no trouble to see that it is sown or manured. Or, The man has got no wine, for he takes no trouble to plant vines or to make his old stock bear. Or, The man has neither olives nor figs, because he doesn't take the trouble; he does nothing to get them. [5] It is not the farmers reputed to have made some clever discovery in agriculture who differ in fortune from others: it is things of this sort that make all the difference, Socrates. [6] This is true of generals also: there are some branches of strategy in which one is better or worse than another, not because he differs in intelligence, but in point of carefulness, undoubtedly. For the things that all generals know, and most privates, are done by some commanders and left undone by others. [7] For example, they all know that when marching through an enemy's country, the right way is to march in the formation in which they will fight best, if need be. Well, knowing this, some observe the rule, others break it. [8] All know that it is right to post sentries by day and night before the camp; but this too is a duty that some attend to, while others neglect it. [9] Again, where will you find the man who does not know that, in marching through a defile, it is better to occupy the points of vantage first? Yet this measure of precaution too is duly taken by some and neglected by others. [10] So, too, everyone will say that in agriculture there is nothing so good as manure, and their eyes tell them that nature produces it. All know exactly how it is produced, and it is easy to get any amount of it; and yet, while some take care to have it collected, others care nothing about it. [11] Yet the rain is sent from heaven, and all the hollows become pools of water, and the earth yields herbage of every kind which must be cleared off the ground by the sower before sowing; and the rubbish he removes has but to be thrown into water, and time of itself will make what the soil likes. For every kind of vegetation, every kind of soil in stagnant water turns into manure. [12]

“‘And again, all the ways of treating the soil when it is too wet for sowing or too salt for planting are familiar to all men—how the land is drained by ditches, how the salt is corrected by being mixed with saltless substances, liquid or dry. Yet these matters, again, do not always receive attention. [13] Suppose a man to be wholly ignorant as to what the land can produce, and to be unable to see crop or tree on it, or to hear from anyone the truth about it, yet is it not far easier for any man to prove a parcel of land than to test a horse or to test a human being? For the land never plays tricks, but reveals frankly and truthfully what she can and what she cannot do. [14] I think that just because she conceals nothing from our knowledge and understanding, the land is the surest tester of good and bad men. For the slothful cannot plead ignorance, as in other arts: land, as all men know, responds to good treatment. [15] Husbandry is the clear accuser of the recreant soul. For no one persuades himself that man could live without bread; therefore if a man will not dig and knows no other profit-earning trade, he is clearly minded to live by stealing or robbery or begging—or he is an utter fool. [16]

“‘Farming,’ he added, ‘may result in profit or in loss; it makes a great difference to the result, even when many labourers are employed, whether the farmer takes care that the men are working during the working hours or is careless about it. For one man in ten by working all the time may easily make a difference, and another by knocking off before the time; [17] and, of course, if the men are allowed to be slack all the day long, the decrease in the work done may easily amount to one half of the whole. [18] Just as two travellers on the road, both young and in good health, will differ so much in pace that one will cover two hundred furlongs to the other's hundred, because the one does what he set out to do, by going ahead, while the other is all for ease, now resting by a fountain or in the shade, now gazing at the view, now wooing the soft breeze; [19] so in farm work there is a vast difference in effectiveness between the men who do the job they are put on to do and those who, instead of doing it, invent excuses for not working and are allowed to be slack. [20] In fact, between good work and dishonest slothfulness there is as wide a difference as between actual work and actual idleness. Suppose the vines are being hoed to clear the ground of weeds: if the hoeing is so badly done that the weeds grow ranker and more abundant, how can you call that anything but idleness?’ [21]

“‘These, then, are the evils that crush estates far more than sheer lack of knowledge. For the outgoing expenses of the estate are not a penny less; but the work done is insufficient to show a profit on the expenditure; after that there's no need to wonder if the expected surplus is converted into a loss. [22] On the other hand, to a careful man, who works strenuously at agriculture, no business gives quicker returns than farming. My father taught me that and proved it by his own practice. For he never allowed me to buy a piece of land that was well farmed; but pressed me to buy any that was uncultivated and unplanted owing to the owner's neglect or incapacity. [23] “Well farmed land,” he would say, “costs a large sum and can't be improved;” and he held that where there is no room for improvement there is not much pleasure to be got from the land: landed estate and livestock must be continually coming on to give the fullest measure of satisfaction. Now nothing improves more than a farm that is being transformed from a wilderness into fruitful fields. [24] I assure you, Socrates, that we have often added a hundredfold to the value of a farm. There is so much money in this idea, Socrates, and it is so easy to learn, that no sooner have you heard of it from me than you know as much as I do, and can go home and teach it to someone else, if you like. [25] Moreover, my father did not get his knowledge of it at secondhand, nor did he discover it by much thought; but he would say that, thanks to his love of husbandry and hard work, he had coveted a farm of this sort in order that he might have something to do, and combine profit with pleasure. [26] For I assure you, Socrates, no Athenian, I believe, had such a strong natural love of agriculture as my father.’

“Now on hearing this I asked, ‘Did your father keep all the farms that he cultivated, Ischomachus, or did he sell when he could get a good price?’

“‘He sold, of course,’ answered Ischomachus, ‘but, you see, owing to his industrious habits, he would promptly buy another that was out of cultivation.’ [27]

“‘You mean, Ischomachus, that your father really loved agriculture as intensely as merchants love corn. So deep is their love of corn that on receiving reports that it is abundant anywhere, merchants will voyage in quest of it: they will cross the Aegean, the Euxine, the Sicilian sea; [28] and when they have got as much as possible, they carry it over the sea, and they actually stow it in the very ship in which they sail themselves. And when they want money, they don't throw the corn away anywhere at haphazard, but they carry it to the place where they hear that corn is most valued and the people prize it most highly, and deliver it to them there. Yes, your father's love of agriculture seems to be something like that.’ [29]

“‘You're joking, Socrates,’ rejoined Ischomachus; ‘but I hold that a man has a no less genuine love of building who sells his houses as soon as they are finished and proceeds to build others.’

“‘Of course; and I declare, Ischomachus, on my oath that I believe you, that all men naturally love whatever they think will bring them profit.’”

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