Xenophon. The Symposium

Translation by H. G. Dakyns

Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. He marched with the Spartans, and was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move once more, to settle in Corinth. He died in 354 B.C. The Symposium records the discussion of Socrates and company at a dinner given by Callias for the youth Autolycus. Dakyns believed that Plato knew of this work, and that it influenced him to some degree when he wrote his own 'Symposium.' THE SYMPOSIUM or The Banquet


For myself,[1] I hold to the opinion that not alone are the serious transactions of 'good and noble men'[2] most memorable, but that words and deeds distinctive of their lighter moods may claim some record.[3] In proof of which contention, I will here describe a set of incidents within the scope of my experience.[4]

[1] See Aristid. ii. foll.

[2] Or, 'nature's noblemen.'

[3] Cf. Plut. 'Ages.' 29 (Clough, iv. 35): 'And indeed if, as Xenophon says, in conversation good men, even in their sports and at their wine, let fall many sayings that are worth preserving.' See Grote, 'Plato,' ii. 228 foll. as to the sportive character of the work.

[4] Or, 'let me describe a scene which I was witnes of.' See Hug. 'Plat. Symp.' p. xv. foll.

The occasion was a horse-race[5] at the great Panathenaic festival.[6] Callias,[7] the son of Hipponicus, being a friend and lover of the boy Autolycus,[8] had brought the lad, himself the winner of the pankration,[9] to see the spectacle.

[5] See 'Hipparch,' ii. 1.

[6] 'Held towards the end of July (Hecatombaeon) every year, and with greater pomp every four years (the third of each Olympiad).'--Gow, 84, 129, n.

[7] Callias. Cobet, 'Pros. X.' p. 67 foll.; Boeckh, 'P. E. A.' p. 481.

[8] See Cobet, op. cit. p. 54; Plut. 'Lysand.' 15 (Clough, iii. 120); Grote, 'H. G.' ix. 261.

[9] 420 B.C., al. 421. The date is fixed by the 'Autolycus' of Eupolis. See Athen. v. 216. For the pankration, which comprised wrestling and boxing, see Aristot. 'Rhet.' i. S. 14.

As soon as the horse race was over,[10] Callias proceeded to escort Autolycus and his father, Lycon, to his house in the Piraeus, being attended also by Niceratus.[11] But catching sight of Socrates along with certain others (Critobulus,[12] Hermogenes, Antisthenes, and Charmides), he bade an attendant conduct the party with Autolycus, whilst he himself approached the group, exclaiming:

[10] See A. Martin, op. cit. p. 265.

[11] Niceratus. See Cobet, op. cit. 71; Boeckh, 'P. E. A.' 480; Plat. 'Lach.' 200 C; 'Hell.' II. iii. 39; Lys. xviii.; Diod. xiv. 5.

[12] Critobulus, Hermogenes, Antisthenes, Charmides. See 'Mem.'

A happy chance brings me across your path, just when I am about to entertain Autolycus and his father at a feast. The splendour of the entertainment shall be much enhanced, I need not tell you, if my hall[13] should happily be graced by worthies like yourselves, who have attained to purity of soul,[14] rather than by generals and cavalry commanders[15] and a crowd of place-hunters.[16]

[13] Or, 'dining-room.' See Becker, 'Charicles,' 265.

[14] See Grote, 'H. G.' viii. 619 foll. Cf. Plat. 'Rep.' 527 D; 'Soph.' 230 E.

[15] Lit. Strategoi, Hipparchs.

[16] Or, 'petitioners for offices of state.' Reading {spoudarkhiais}.

Whereat Socrates: When will you have done with your gibes, Callias? Why, because you have yourself spent sums of money on Protagoras,[17] and Gorgias, and Prodicus, and a host of others, to learn wisdom, must you pour contempt on us poor fellows, who are but self-taught tinkers[18] in philosophy compared with you?

[17] As to Protagoras of Abdera, Gorgias of Leontini, Prodicus of Ceos, see Plat. 'Prot.' 314 C, 'Rep.' x. 600 C, 'Apol.' 19 E; 'Anab.' II. vi. 17; 'Mem.' II. i. 21; 'Encyc. Brit.' 'Sophists,' H. Jackson.

[18] Or, 'hand-to-mouth cultivators of philosophy,' 'roturiers.' Cf. Plat. 'Rep.' 565 A: 'A third class who work for themselves'; Thuc. i. 141: 'The Peloponnesians cultivate their own soil, and they have no wealth either public or private.' Cf. 'Econ.' v. 4.

Hitherto, no doubt (retorted Callias), although I had plenty of wise things to say, I have kept my wisdom to myself; but if only you will honour me with your company to-day, I promise to present myself in quite another light; you will see I am a person of no mean consideration after all.[19]

[19] Or, 'I will prove to you that I am worthy of infinite respect.'

Socrates and the others, while thanking Callias politely for the invitation, were not disposed at first to join the dinner party; but the annoyance of the other so to be put off was so obvious that in the end the party were persuaded to accompany their host.

After an interval devoted to gymnastic exercise (and subsequent anointing of the limbs) by some, whilst others of them took a bath, the guests were severally presented to the master of the house.

Autolycus was seated next his father, as was natural,[20] while the rest reclined on couches. Noting the scene presented, the first idea to strike the mind of any one must certainly have been that beauty has by nature something regal in it; and the more so, if it chance to be combined (as now in the person of Autolycus) with modesty and self- respect. Even as when a splendid object blazes forth at night, the eyes of men are riveted,[21] so now the beauty of Autolycus drew on him the gaze of all; nor was there one of those onlookers but was stirred to his soul's depth by him who sat there.[22] Some fell into unwonted silence, while the gestures of the rest were equally significant.

[20] Al. 'Autolycus found a seat beside his father, while the rest reclined on couches in the usual fashion.' See Schneider's note.

[21] Passage imitated by Max. Tyr. 'Or.' xxiv. 4.

[22] Cf. Plat. 'Charm.' 154.

It seems the look betokening divine possession, no matter who the god, must ever be remarkable. Only, whilst the subject of each commoner emotion passion-whirled may be distinguished by flashings of the eye, by terror- striking tones of voice, and by the vehement fervour of the man's whole being, so he who is inspired by temperate and harmonious love[23] will wear a look of kindlier welcome in his eyes; the words he utters fall from his lips with softer intonation; and every gesture of his bodily frame conform to what is truly frank and liberal. Such, at any rate, the strange effects now wrought on Callias by love. He was like one transformed, the cynosure of all initiated in the mysteries of this divinity.[24]

[23] Cf. Plat. 'Rep.' iii. 403 A: 'Whereas true love is a love of beauty and order, temperate and harmonious.'

[24] Cf. 'Econ.' xxi. 12.

So they supped in silence, the whole company, as if an injunction had been laid upon them by some superior power. But presently there came a knocking on the door! Philippus the jester bade the doorkeeper[25] announce him, with apologies for seeking a night's lodging:[26] he had come, he said, provided with all necessaries for dining, at a friend's expense: his attendant was much galled with carrying, nothing but an empty bread-basket.[27] To this announcement Callias, appealing to his guests, replied: 'It would never do to begrudge the shelter of one's roof: [28] let him come in.' And as he spoke, he glanced across to where Autolycus was seated, as if to say: 'I wonder how you take the jest.'

[25] Lit. 'him who answers the knock,' 'the concierge' or hall-porter. Cf. Theophr. 'Char.' xiv. 7; Aristot. 'Oec.' i. 6.

[26] Lit. 'and why he wished to put up.'

[27] Lit. 'and being breakfastless'; cf. Theocr. i. 51. The jester's humour resembles Pistol's ('Merry Wives,' i. 3. 23) 'O base Hungarian wight!'

[28] Or, 'How say you, my friends, it would hardly do, methinks, to shut the door upon him.' See Becker, 'Charicles,' p. 92.

Meanwhile the jester, standing at the door of the apartment where the feast was spread, addressed the

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