I will now explain how he helped those who were eager to win distinction by making them qualify themselves for the honours they coveted.
He once heard that Dionysodorus had arrived at Athens
, and gave out that he was going to teach generalship. Being aware that one of his companions wished to obtain the office of general from the state, he addressed him thus:
“Young man, surely it would be disgraceful for one who wishes to be a general in the state to neglect the opportunity of learning the duties, and he would deserve to be punished by the state much more than one who carved statues without having learned to be a sculptor.
For in the dangerous times of war the whole state is in the general's hands, and great good may come from his success and great evil from his failure. Therefore anyone who exerts himself to gain the votes, but neglects to learn the business, deserves punishment.”
This speech persuaded the man to go and learn.
When he had learnt his lesson and returned, Socrates
chaffed him. “Don't you think, sirs,” he said, “that our friend looks more ‘majestic,’ as Homer called Agamemnon, now that he has learnt generalship? For just as he who has learnt to play the harp is a harper even when he doesn't play, and he who has studied medicine is a doctor even though he doesn't practise, so our friend will be a general for ever, even if no one votes for him. But your ignoramus is neither general nor doctor, even if he gets every vote.
But,” he continued, “in order that any one of us who may happen to command a regiment or platoon under you may have a better knowledge of warfare, tell us the first lesson he gave you in generalship.”
“The first was like the last,” he replied; “he taught me tactics — nothing else.”
“But then that is only a small part of generalship. For a general must also be capable of furnishing military equipment and providing supplies for the men;1
he must be resourceful, active, careful, hardy and quick-witted; he must be both gentle and brutal, at once straightforward and designing, capable of both caution and surprise, lavish and rapacious, generous and mean, skilful in defence and attack; and there are many other qualifications, some natural, some acquired, that are necessary to one who would succeed as a general.
It is well to understand tactics too; for there is a wide difference between right and wrong disposition of the troops,2
just as stones, bricks, timber and tiles flung together anyhow are useless, whereas when the materials that neither rot nor decay, that is, the stones and tiles, are placed at the bottom and the top, and the bricks and timber are put together in the middle, as in building, the result is something of great value, a house, in fact.”
“Your analogy is perfect, Socrates
,” said the youth; “for in war one must put the best men in the van and the rear,3
and the worst in the centre, that they may be led by the van and driven forward by the rearguard.”
“Well and good, provided that he taught you also to distinguish the good and the bad men. If not, what have you gained by your lessons? No more than you would have gained if he had ordered you to put the best money at the head and tail, and the worst in the middle, without telling you how to distinguish good from base coin.”
“I assure you he didn't; so we should have to judge for ourselves which are the good men and which are the bad.”
“Then we had better consider how we may avoid mistaking them.”
“I want to do so,” said the youth.
“Well now,” said Socrates
, “if we had to lay hands on a sum of money, would not the right arrangement be to put the most covetous men in the front?”
“I think so.”
“And what should we do with those who are going to face danger? Should our first line consist of the most ambitious?’
“Oh yes: they are the men who will face danger for the sake of glory. About these, now, there is no mystery: they are conspicuous everywhere, and so it is easy to find them.”
“But,” said Socrates
, “did he teach you only the disposition of an army, or did he include where and how to use each formation?”
“Not at all.”
“And yet there are many situations that call for a modification of tactics and strategy.”
“I assure you he didn't explain that.”
“Then pray go back and ask him. If he knows and has a conscience, he will be ashamed to send you home ill-taught, after taking your money.”