It is due to him that a conversation he had with Antiphon the Sophist should not go unrecorded. Antiphon came to Socrates
with the intention of drawing his companions away from him, and spoke thus in their presence.
, I supposed that philosophy must add to one's store of happiness. But the fruits you have reaped from philosophy are apparently very different. For example, you are living a life that would drive even a slave to desert his master. Your meat and drink are of the poorest: the cloak you wear is not only a poor thing, but is never changed summer or winter; and you never wear shoes or tunic.
Besides you refuse to take money, the mere getting of which is a joy, while its possession makes one more independent and happier. Now the professors of other subjects try to make their pupils copy their teachers: if you too intend to make your companions do that, you must consider yourself a professor of unhappiness.”
To this Socrates
“Antiphon, you seem to have a notion that my life is so miserable, that I feel sure you would choose death in preference to a life like mine. Come then, let us consider together what hardship you have noticed in my life.
Is it that those who take money are bound to carry out the work for which they get a fee, while I, because I refuse to take it, am not obliged to talk with anyone against my will? Or do you think my food poor because it is less wholesome than yours or less nourishing? or because my viands are harder to get than yours, being scarcer and more expensive? or because your diet is more enjoyable than mine? Do you not know that the greater the enjoyment of eating the less the need of sauce; the greater the enjoyment of drinking, the less the desire for drinks that are not available?
As for cloaks, they are changed, as you know, on account of cold or heat. And shoes are worn as a protection to the feet against pain and inconvenience in walking. Now did you ever know me to stay indoors more than others on account of the cold, or to fight with any man for the shade because of the heat, or to be prevented from walking anywhere by sore feet?
Do you not know that by training, a puny weakling comes to be better at any form of exercise he practises, and gets more staying power, than the muscular prodigy who neglects to train? Seeing then that I am always training my body to answer any and every call on its powers, do you not think that I can stand every strain better than you can without training?
For avoiding slavery to the belly or to sleep and incontinence, is there, think you, any more effective specific than the possession of other and greater pleasures, which are delightful not only to enjoy, but also because they arouse hopes of lasting benefit? And again, you surely know that while he who supposes that nothing goes well with him is unhappy, he who believes that he is successful in farming or a shipping concern or any other business he is engaged in is happy in the thought of his prosperity.
Do you think then that out of all this thinking there comes anything so pleasant as the thought: ‘I am growing in goodness and I am making better friends?’ And that, I may say, is my constant thought.
“Further, if help is wanted by friends or city, which of the two has more leisure to supply their needs, he who lives as I am living or he whose life you call happy? Which will find soldiering the easier task, he who cannot exist without expensive food or he who is content with what he can get? Which when besieged will surrender first, he who wants what is very hard to come by or he who can make shift with whatever is at hand?
“You seem, Antiphon, to imagine that happiness consists in luxury and extravagance. But my belief is that to have no wants is divine;1
to have as few as possible comes next to the divine; and as that which is divine is supreme, so that which approaches nearest to its nature is nearest to the supreme.”
In another conversation with Socrates
, I for my part believe you to be a just, but by no means a wise man. And I think you realise it yourself. Anyhow, you decline to take money for your society. Yet if you believed your cloak or house or anything you possess to be worth money, you would not part with it for nothing or even for less than its value.
Clearly, then, if you set any value on your society, you would insist on getting the proper price for that too. It may well be that you are a just man because you do not cheat people through avarice; but wise you cannot be, since your knowledge is not worth anything.”
To this Socrates
“Antiphon, it is common opinion among us in regard to beauty and wisdom that there is an honourable and a shameful way of bestowing them. For to offer one's beauty for money to all comers is called prostitution; but we think it virtuous to become friendly with a lover who is known to be a man of honour. So is it with wisdom. Those who offer it to all comers for money are known as sophists, prostitutors of wisdom, but we think that he who makes a friend of one whom he knows to be gifted by nature, and teaches him all the good he can, fulfils the duty of a citizen and a gentleman.
That is my own view, Antiphon. Others have a fancy for a good horse or dog or bird: my fancy, stronger even than theirs, is for good friends. And I teach them all the good I can, and recommend them to others from whom I think they will get some moral benefit. And the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set much store on being useful to one another.”
For my part, when I heard these words fall from his lips, I judged him to be a happy man himself and to be putting his hearers in the way of being gentlemen.
On yet another occasion Antiphon asked him: “How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?”
“How now, Antiphon?” he retorted, “should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?”