This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
PLATO, a man most devoted to the truth and most ready to point it out to all, has said truly and nobly, though not from the mouth of a dignified or suitable character, all that in general may be said against those idle and worthless fellows, who, sheltered under the name of philosophy, follow profitless idleness and darkness of speech and life. For although Callicles, whom he makes his speaker, being ignorant of true philosophy, heaps dishonourable and undeserved abuse upon philosophers, yet what he says is to be taken in such a way that we may gradually come to understand it as a warning to ourselves not to deserve such reproofs, and not by idle and foolish sloth to feign the pursuit and cultivation of philosophy. I have written down Plato's own words on this subject from the book called Gorgias, not attempting to translate them, because no Latinity, much less my own, can emulate their qualities: 1 “Philosophy, Socrates, is indeed a nice thing, if one pursue it in youth with moderation; but if one occupy oneself with it longer than is proper, it is a corrupter of men. For even if a man be well endowed by nature and follow philosophy when past his youth, he must necessarily be ignorant of all those things in which a man ought to be versed if he is to be honourable, good and of high repute. For such men are ignorant both of the laws relating to the city, and of the language which [p. 275] it is necessary to use in the intercourse of human society, both privately and publicly, and of the pleasures and desires of human life; in brief, they are wholly unacquainted with manners. Accordingly, when they engage in any private or public business, they become a laughing-stock; just exactly as statesmen, I suppose, become ridiculous when they enter into your debates and discussions.” A little later he adds the following: "But I think it best to take part in both. It is good to pursue philosophy merely as a matter of education, and to be a philosopher is not dishonourable when one is young; but when one who is already older persists in the business, the thing becomes laughable, Socrates, and I for my part feel the same towards those who philosophize as towards those who lisp and play. Whenever I see a little boy, to whom it is fitting to speak thus, lisping and playing, I am pleased, and it seems to me becoming and liberal and suited to the age of childhood; but when I hear a small boy speaking with precision, it seems to me to be a disagreeable thing; it wounds my ears and appears to be something befitting a slave. When, however, one hears a man lisping, or sees him playing, it appears ridiculous, unmanly and deserving of stripes. I feel just the same way towards the philosophers When I see philosophy in a young man, I rejoice; it seems to me fitting, and I think that the young man in question is ingenuous; that he who does not study philosophy is not ingenuous and will never himself be worthy of anything noble or generous. But when I see an older man still philosophizing and not giving it up, such a man, Socrates, seems to me to deserve stripes. For, as I have just said, it is possible for such a man, even [p. 277] though naturally well endowed, to become unmanly, avoiding the business of the city and the marketplace, where, as the poet says, 2 men become “most eminent,” and living the rest of his life in hiding with young men, whispering in a corner with three or four of them, but never accomplishing anything liberal, great or satisfactory. These sentiments, as I have said, Plato put into the mouth of a man of no great worth indeed, yet possessing a reputation for common sense and understanding and a kind of uncompromising frankness. He does not, of course, refer to that philosophy which is the teacher of all the virtues, which excels in the discharge of public and private duties alike, and which, if nothing prevents, governs cities and the State with firmness, courage and wisdom; but rather to that futile and childish attention to trifles which contributes nothing to the conduct and guidance of life, but in which people of that kind grow old in “ill-timed playmaking,” 3 regarded as philosophers by the vulgar, as they were by him from whose lips the words that I have quoted come. 4
1 Gorgias 40, p. 484 C-D; 485 A-E.
3 Cf. Hor. Odes iv. 6 15, Troas male feriatos. Since Gellius mentions Horace by name only once, and once by possible implication (see Index), the expression had doubtless become proverbial.
4 That is, Callicles; see § 2.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.