[339a] of a man's education is to be skilled in the matter of verses; that is, to be able to apprehend, in the utterances of the poets, what has been rightly and what wrongly composed, and to know how to distinguish them and account for them when questioned. Accordingly my question now will be on the same subject that you and I are now debating, namely virtue, but taken in connexion with poetry: that will be the only difference. Now, Simonides, I think, somewhere remarks to Scopas, the son of Creon of Thessaly— [339b]
Do you know the ode, or shall I recite the whole?To this I replied: There is no need, for I know it it happens that I have especially studied that ode.I am glad to hear it, he said. Now do you regard it as finely and correctly composed or not?Very finely and correctly, I replied.And do you regard it as finely composed, if the poet contradicts himself?No, I replied.Then observe it more closely, he said. [339c] My good sir, I have given it ample attention.Are you aware, then, he asked, that as the ode proceeds he says at one point—
“For a man, indeed, to become good truly is hard,
In hands and feet and mind foursquare,
Fashioned without reproach.
”Simonides Fr. 37.1
Do you note that this and the former are statements of the same person?I know that, I said.Then do you think the second agrees with the first?So far as I can see, it does, I replied (at the same time, though, I was afraid there was something in what he said). Why, I asked, does it not seem so to you? [339d] How can anyone, he replied, be thought consistent, who says both of these things? First he laid it down himself that it is hard for a man to become good in truth, and then a little further on in his poem he forgot, and he proceeds to blame Pittacus for saying the same as he did—that it is hard to be good, and refuses to accept from him the same statement that he made himself. Yet, as often as he blames the man for saying the same as himself he obviously blames himself too, so that in either the former or the latter place his statement is wrong.This speech of his won a clamorous approval [339e] from many of his hearers; and at first I felt as though I had been struck by a skilful boxer, and was quite blind and dizzy with the effect of his words and the noise of their applause. Then—to tell you the honest truth—in order to gain time for considering the poet's meaning, I turned to Prodicus and calling him—Prodicus, I said, surely Simonides was your townsman: it behoves you to come to the man's rescue. Accordingly I allow myself to call for your assistance—
“Nor ringeth true to me
That word of Pittacus—1
And yet 'twas a sage who spake—Hard, quoth he, to be good.
”Simonides Fr. 37.1.11