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Heavens, Socrates, how admirably you argue! Now answer us sincerely, Nicias, and say whether those animals, which we all admit to be courageous, are wiser than we are; or whether you dare, in contradiction of everyone else, describe them as not even courageous.

No, Laches, I do not describe animals, or anything else that from thoughtlessness has no fear of the dreadful, as courageous, but rather as fearless and foolish. Or do you suppose I describe all children [197b] as courageous, that have no fear because they are thoughtless? I rather hold that the fearless and the courageous are not the same thing. In my opinion very few people are endowed with courage and forethought, while rashness, boldness, and fearlessness, with no forethought to guide it, are found in a great number of men, women, children, and animals. So you see, the acts that you and most people call courageous, I call rash, and it is the prudent acts [197c] which I speak of that are courageous.

Mark you, Socrates, how finely, as he fancies, my friend decks himself out with his words! And how he attempts to deprive of the distinction of courage those whom everyone admits to be courageous!

I am not referring to you, Laches, so do not be fiightened: for I grant that you, and Lamachus also, are wise, since you are courageous, and I say the same of numerous other Athenians.

I will not say what I could say in answer to that, lest you call me a true son of Aexone.1 [197d]

No, say nothing, Laches: for in fact you seem to me to have failed to perceive that he has acquired his wisdom from Damon, our good friend; and Damon constantly associates with Prodicus, who is supposed to be the cleverest of the sophists at distinguishing terms like these.

Yes, for it is more suitable, Socrates, for a sophist to make a show of such refinements than for a man whom the State thinks worthy to govern her. [197e]

Indeed it is suitable, I presume, my amiable friend, for a man in the highest seat of government to be gifted with the highest degree of wisdom. But it seems to me that Nicias is worthy of further attention, so that we may learn in what connexion he uses this word “courage.”

Then attend to him yourself, Socrates.

That is what I propose to do, my good sir: still, you are not to think that I will release you from your due share of the argument. No, you must put your mind to it and join in weighing well what is said.

Well, so be it, if you think that I ought.

Indeed I do. Now, Nicias, please go back to the beginning2 and answer us:

1 A deme or district of Attica, noted for the abusive wit of its people.

2 Cf. 190 c.

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    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 324
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Antigone, 360
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