If any hold the opinion expressed in some written and spoken criticisms of Socrates
that are based on inference, and think, that though he was consummate in exhorting men to virtue, he was an incompetent guide to it, let them consider not only the searching cross-examination with which he chastised those who thought themselves omniscient,1
but his daily talks with his familiar friends, and then judge whether he was capable of improving his companions.
I will first state what I once heard him say about the godhead in conversation with Aristodemus the dwarf, as he was called. On learning that he was not known to sacrifice or pray or use divination, and actually made a mock of those who did so, he said: “Tell me, Aristodemus, do you admire any human beings for wisdom?”
“I do,” he answered.
“Tell us their names.”
“In epic poetry Homer comes first, in my opinion; in dithyramb, Melanippides; in tragedy, Sophocles; in sculpture, Polycleitus; in painting, Zeuxis.”
“Which, think you, deserve the greater admiration, the creators of phantoms without sense and motion, or the creators of living, intelligent, and active beings?”
“Oh, of living beings, by far, provided only they are created by design and not mere chance.”
“Suppose that it is impossible to guess the purpose of one creature's existence, and obvious that another's serves a useful end, which, in your judgment, is the work of chance, and which of design?”
“Presumably the creature that serves some useful end is the work of design.”
“Do you not think then that he who created man from the beginning had some useful end in view when he endowed him with his several senses, giving eyes to see visible objects, ears to hear sounds? Would odours again be of any use to us had we not been endowed with nostrils? What perception should we have of sweet and bitter and all things pleasant to the palate had we no tongue in our mouth to discriminate between them?
Besides these, are there not other contrivances that look like the results of forethought? Thus the eyeballs, being weak, are set behind eyelids, that open like doors when we want to see, and close when we sleep: on the lids grow lashes through which the very winds filter harmlessly: above the eyes is a coping of brows that lets no drop of sweat from the head hurt them. The ears catch all sounds, but are never choked with them. Again, the incisors of all creatures are adapted for cutting, the molars for receiving food from them and grinding it. And again, the mouth, through which the food they want goes in, is set near the eyes and nostrils; but since what goes out is unpleasant, the ducts through which it passes are turned away and removed as far as possible from the organs of sense. With such signs of forethought in these arrangements, can you doubt whether they are the works of chance or design?”
“No, of course not.
When I regard them in this light they do look very like the handiwork of a wise and loving creator.”
“What of the natural desire to beget children, the mother's desire to rear her babe, the child's strong will to live and strong fear of death?”
“Undoubtedly these, too, look like the contrivances of one who deliberately willed the existence of living creatures.”
“Do you think you have any wisdom yourself?”
“Oh! Ask me a question and judge from my answer.”
“And do you suppose that wisdom is nowhere else to be found, although you know that you have a mere speck of all the earth in your body and a mere drop of all the water, and that of all the other mighty elements you received, I suppose, just a scrap towards the fashioning of your body? But as for mind, which alone, it seems, is without mass, do you think that you snapped it up by a lucky accident, and that the orderly ranks of all these huge masses, infinite in number, are due, forsooth, to a sort of absurdity?”
“Yes; for I don't see the master hand, whereas I see the makers of things in this world.”
“Neither do you see your own soul,2
which has the mastery of the body; so that, as far as that goes, you may say that you do nothing by design, but everything by chance.”
Here Aristodemus exclaimed:
, I don't despise the godhead. But I think it is too great to need my service.”
“Then the greater the power that deigns to serve you, the more honour it demands of you.”
“I assure you, that if I believed that the gods pay any heed to man, I would not neglect them.”
“Then do you think them unheeding? In the first place, man is the only living creature that they have caused to stand upright; and the upright position gives him a wider range of vision in front and a better view of things above, and exposes him less to injury. Secondly, to grovelling creatures they have given feet that afford only the power of moving, whereas they have endowed man with hands, which are the instruments to which we chiefly owe our greater happiness.
Again, though all creatures have a tongue, the tongue of man alone has been formed by them to be capable of contact with different parts of the mouth, so as to enable us to articulate the voice and express all our wants to one another. Once more, for all other creatures they have prescribed a fixed season of sexual indulgence; in our case the only time limit they have set is old age.
“Nor was the deity content to care for man's body. What is of yet higher moment, he has implanted in him the noblest type of soul. For in the first place what other creature's soul has apprehended the existence of gods who set in order the universe, greatest and fairest of things? And what race of living things other than man worships gods? And what soul is more apt than man's to make provision against hunger and thirst, cold and heat, to relieve sickness and promote health, to acquire knowledge by toil, and to remember accurately all that is heard, seen, or learned?
For is it not obvious to you that, in comparison with the other animals, men live like gods, by nature peerless both in body and in soul? For with a man's reason and the body of an ox we could not carry out our wishes, and the possession of hands without reason is of little worth. Do you, then, having received the two most precious gifts, yet think that the gods take no care of you? What are they to do, to make you believe that they are heedful of you?”
“I will believe when they send counsellors, as you declare they do, saying, ‘Do this, avoid that.’”
“But when the Athenians inquire of them by divination and they reply, do you not suppose that to you, too, the answer is given? Or when they send portents for warning to the Greeks, or to all the world? Are you their one exception, the only one consigned to neglect?
Or do you suppose that the gods would have put into man a belief in their ability to help and harm, if they had not that power; and that man throughout the ages would never have detected the fraud? Do you not see that the wisest and most enduring of human institutions, cities and nations, are most god-fearing, and that the most thoughtful period of life is the most religious?
Be well assured, my good friend, that the mind within you directs your body according to its will; and equally you must think that Thought indwelling in the Universal disposes all things according to its pleasure. For think not that your eye can travel over many furlongs and yet god's eye cannot see the the whole world at once; that your soul can ponder on things in Egypt
and in Sicily
, and god's thought is not sufficient to pay heed to the whole world at once.
Nay, but just as by serving men you find out who is willing to serve you in return, by being kind who will be kind to you in return, and by taking counsel, discover the masters of thought, so try the gods by serving them, and see whether they will vouchsafe to counsel you in matters hidden from man. Then you will know that such is the greatness and such the nature of the deity that he sees all things3
and hears all things alike, and is present in all places and heedful of all things.”
To me at least it seemed that by these sayings he kept his companions from impiety, injustice, and baseness, and that not only when they were seen by men, but even in solitude; since they ever felt that no deed of theirs could at any time escape the gods.