#22 in our series by Plato [This is probably NOT by Plato!]
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by a Platonic Imitator (see Appendix II)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
March, 1999 [Etext #1681]
*The Project Gutenberg Etext of Eryxias, by a Platonic Imitator*
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by a Platonic Imitator (see Appendix II)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
The two dialogues which are translated in the second appendix are not
mentioned by Aristotle, or by any early authority, and have no claim to be
ascribed to Plato. They are examples of Platonic dialogues to be assigned
probably to the second or third generation after Plato, when his writings
were well known at Athens and Alexandria. They exhibit considerable
originality, and are remarkable for containing several thoughts of the sort
which we suppose to be modern rather than ancient, and which therefore have
a peculiar interest for us. The Second Alcibiades shows that the
difficulties about prayer which have perplexed Christian theologians were
not unknown among the followers of Plato. The Eryxias was doubted by the
ancients themselves: yet it may claim the distinction of being, among all
Greek or Roman writings, the one which anticipates in the most striking
manner the modern science of political economy and gives an abstract form
to some of its principal doctrines.
For the translation of these two dialogues I am indebted to my friend and
secretary, Mr. Knight.
That the Dialogue which goes by the name of the Second Alcibiades is a
genuine writing of Plato will not be maintained by any modern critic, and
was hardly believed by the ancients themselves. The dialectic is poor and
weak. There is no power over language, or beauty of style; and there is a
certain abruptness and agroikia in the conversation, which is very un-
Platonic. The best passage is probably that about the poets:--the remark
that the poet, who is of a reserved disposition, is uncommonly difficult to
understand, and the ridiculous interpretation of Homer, are entirely in the
spirit of Plato (compare Protag; Ion; Apol.). The characters are ill-
drawn. Socrates assumes the 'superior person' and preaches too much, while
Alcibiades is stupid and heavy-in-hand. There are traces of Stoic
influence in the general tone and phraseology of the Dialogue (compare opos
melesei tis...kaka: oti pas aphron mainetai): and the writer seems to
have been acquainted with the 'Laws' of Plato (compare Laws). An incident
from the Symposium is rather clumsily introduced, and two somewhat
hackneyed quotations (Symp., Gorg.) recur. The reference to the death of
Archelaus as having occurred 'quite lately' is only a fiction, probably
suggested by the Gorgias, where the story of Archelaus is told, and a
similar phrase occurs;--ta gar echthes kai proen gegonota tauta, k.t.l.
There are several passages which are either corrupt or extremely ill-
expressed. But there is a modern interest in the subject of the dialogue;
and it is a good example of a short spurious work, which may be attributed
to the second or third century before Christ.
Platonic Imitator (see Appendix II above)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Much cannot be said in praise of the style or conception of the Eryxias.
It is frequently obscure; like the exercise of a student, it is full of
small imitations of Plato:--Phaeax returning from an expedition to Sicily
(compare Socrates in the Charmides from the army at Potidaea), the figure
of the game at draughts, borrowed from the Republic, etc. It has also in
many passages the ring of sophistry. On the other hand, the rather
unhandsome treatment which is exhibited towards Prodicus is quite unlike
the urbanity of Plato.
Yet there are some points in the argument which are deserving of attention.
(1) That wealth depends upon the need of it or demand for it, is the first
anticipation in an abstract form of one of the great principles of modern
political economy, and the nearest approach to it to be found in an ancient
writer. (2) The resolution of wealth into its simplest implements going on
to infinity is a subtle and refined thought. (3) That wealth is relative
to circumstances is a sound conception. (4) That the arts and sciences
which receive payment are likewise to be comprehended under the notion of
wealth, also touches a question of modern political economy. (5) The
distinction of post hoc and propter hoc, often lost sight of in modern as
well as in ancient times. These metaphysical conceptions and distinctions
show considerable power of thought in the writer, whatever we may think of
his merits as an imitator of Plato.
Platonic Imitator (see Appendix II above)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: Socrates, Eryxias, Erasistratus, Critias.
SCENE: The portico of a temple of Zeus.
It happened by chance that Eryxias the Steirian was walking with me in the
Portico of Zeus the Deliverer, when there came up to us Critias and
Erasistratus, the latter the son of Phaeax, who was the nephew of
Erasistratus. Now Erasistratus had just arrived from Sicily and that part
of the world. As they approached, he said, Hail, Socrates!
SOCRATES: The same to you, I said; have you any good news from Sicily to
ERASISTRATUS: Most excellent. But, if you please, let us first sit down;
for I am tired with my yesterday's journey from Megara.
SOCRATES: Gladly, if that is your desire.
ERASISTRATUS: What would you wish to hear first? he said. What the
Sicilians are doing, or how they are disposed towards our city? To my
mind, they are very like wasps: so long as you only cause them a little
annoyance they are quite unmanageable; you must destroy their nests if you
wish to get the better of them. And in a similar way, the Syracusans,
unless we set to work in earnest, and go against them with a great
expedition, will never submit to our rule. The petty injuries which we at
present inflict merely irritate them enough to make them utterly
intractable. And now they have sent ambassadors to Athens, and intend, I
suspect, to play us some trick.--While we were talking, the Syracusan
envoys chanced to go by, and Erasistratus, pointing to one of them, said to
me, That, Socrates, is the richest man in all Italy and Sicily. For who
has larger estates or more land at his disposal to cultivate if he please?
And they are of a quality, too, finer than any other land in Hellas.
Moreover, he has all the things which go to make up wealth, slaves and
horses innumerable, gold and silver without end.
I saw that he was inclined to expatiate on the riches of the man; so I
asked him, Well, Erasistratus, and what sort of character does he bear in
ERASISTRATUS: He is esteemed to be, and really is, the wickedest of all
the Sicilians and Italians, and even more wicked than he is rich; indeed,
if you were to ask any Sicilian whom he thought to be the worst and the
richest of mankind, you would never hear any one else named.
I reflected that we were speaking, not of trivial matters, but about wealth
and virtue, which are deemed to be of the greatest moment, and I asked
Erasistratus whom he considered the wealthier,--he who was the possessor of
a talent of silver or he who had a field worth two talents?
ERASISTRATUS: The owner of the field.
SOCRATES: And on the same principle he who had robes and bedding and such
things which are of greater value to him than to a stranger would be richer
than the stranger?
SOCRATES: And if any one gave you a choice, which of these would you
ERASISTRATUS: That which was most valuable.
SOCRATES: In which way do you think you would be the richer?
ERASISTRATUS: By choosing as I said.
SOCRATES: And he appears to you to be the richest who has goods of the
ERASISTRATUS: He does.
SOCRATES: And are not the healthy richer than the sick, since health is a
possession more valuable than riches to the sick? Surely there is no one
who would not prefer to be poor and well, rather than to have all the King
of Persia's wealth and to be ill. And this proves that men set health
above wealth, else they would never choose the one in preference to the
SOCRATES: And if anything appeared to be more valuable than health, he
would be the richest who possessed it?
ERASISTRATUS: He would.
SOCRATES: Suppose that some one came to us at this moment and were to ask,
Well, Socrates and Eryxias and Erasistratus, can you tell me what is of the
greatest value to men? Is it not that of which the possession will best
enable a man to advise how his own and his friend's affairs should be
administered?--What will be our reply?
ERASISTRATUS: I should say, Socrates, that happiness was the most precious
of human possessions.
SOCRATES: Not a bad answer. But do we not deem those men who are most
prosperous to be the happiest?
ERASISTRATUS: That is my opinion.
SOCRATES: And are they not most prosperous who commit the fewest errors in
respect either of themselves or of other men?
SOCRATES: And they who know what is evil and what is good; what should be
done and what should be left undone;--these behave the most wisely and make
the fewest mistakes?
Erasistratus agreed to this.
SOCRATES: Then the wisest and those who do best and the most fortunate and
the richest would appear to be all one and the same, if wisdom is really
the most valuable of our possessions?
Yes, said Eryxias, interposing, but what use would it be if a man had the
wisdom of Nestor and wanted the necessaries of life, food and drink and
clothes and the like? Where would be the advantage of wisdom then? Or how
could he be the richest of men who might even have to go begging, because
he had not wherewithal to live?
I thought that what Eryxias was saying had some weight, and I replied,
Would the wise man really suffer in this way, if he were so ill-provided;
whereas if he had the house of Polytion, and the house were full of gold
and silver, he would lack nothing?
ERYXIAS: Yes; for then he might dispose of his property and obtain in
exchange what he needed, or he might sell it for money with which he could
supply his wants and in a moment procure abundance of everything.
SOCRATES: True, if he could find some one who preferred such a house to
the wisdom of Nestor. But if there are persons who set great store by
wisdom like Nestor's and the advantages accruing from it, to sell these, if
he were so disposed, would be easier still. Or is a house a most useful
and necessary possession, and does it make a great difference in the
comfort of life to have a mansion like Polytion's instead of living in a
shabby little cottage, whereas wisdom is of small use and it is of no
importance whether a man is wise or ignorant about the highest matters? Or
is wisdom despised of men and can find no buyers, although cypress wood and
marble of Pentelicus are eagerly bought by numerous purchasers? Surely the
prudent pilot or the skilful physician, or the artist of any kind who is
proficient in his art, is more worth than the things which are especially
reckoned among riches; and he who can advise well and prudently for himself
and others is able also to sell the product of his art, if he so desire.
Eryxias looked askance, as if he had received some unfair treatment, and
said, I believe, Socrates, that if you were forced to speak the truth, you
would declare that you were richer than Callias the son of Hipponicus. And
yet, although you claimed to be wiser about things of real importance, you
would not any the more be richer than he.
I dare say, Eryxias, I said, that you may regard these arguments of ours as
a kind of game; you think that they have no relation to facts, but are like
the pieces in the game of draughts which the player can move in such a way
that his opponents are unable to make any countermove. (Compare Republic.)
And perhaps, too, as regards riches you are of opinion that while facts
remain the same, there are arguments, no matter whether true or false,
which enable the user of them to prove that the wisest and the richest are
one and the same, although he is in the wrong and his opponents are in the
right. There would be nothing strange in this; it would be as if two
persons were to dispute about letters, one declaring that the word Socrates
began with an S, the other that it began with an A, and the latter could
gain the victory over the former.
Eryxias glanced at the audience, laughing and blushing at once, as if he
had had nothing to do with what had just been said, and replied,--No,
indeed, Socrates, I never supposed that our arguments should be of a kind
which would never convince any one of those here present or be of advantage
to them. For what man of sense could ever be persuaded that the wisest and
the richest are the same? The truth is that we are discussing the subject
of riches, and my notion is that we should argue respecting the honest and
dishonest means of acquiring them, and, generally, whether they are a good
thing or a bad.
Very good, I said, and I am obliged to you for the hint: in future we will
be more careful. But why do not you yourself, as you introduced the
argument, and do not think that the former discussion touched the point at
issue, tell us whether you consider riches to be a good or an evil?
I am of opinion, he said, that they are a good. He was about to add
something more, when Critias interrupted him:--Do you really suppose so,
Certainly, replied Eryxias; I should be mad if I did not: and I do not
fancy that you would find any one else of a contrary opinion.
And I, retorted Critias, should say that there is no one whom I could not
compel to admit that riches are bad for some men. But surely, if they were
a good, they could not appear bad for any one?
Here I interposed and said to them: If you two were having an argument
about equitation and what was the best way of riding, supposing that I knew
the art myself, I should try to bring you to an agreement. For I should be
ashamed if I were present and did not do what I could to prevent your
difference. And I should do the same if you were quarrelling about any
other art and were likely, unless you agreed on the point in dispute, to
part as enemies instead of as friends. But now, when we are contending
about a thing of which the usefulness continues during the whole of life,
and it makes an enormous difference whether we are to regard it as
beneficial or not,--a thing, too, which is esteemed of the highest
importance by the Hellenes:--(for parents, as soon as their children are,
as they think, come to years of discretion, urge them to consider how
wealth may be acquired, since by riches the value of a man is judged):--
When, I say, we are thus in earnest, and you, who agree in other respects,
fall to disputing about a matter of such moment, that is, about wealth, and
not merely whether it is black or white, light or heavy, but whether it is
a good or an evil, whereby, although you are now the dearest of friends and
kinsmen, the most bitter hatred may arise betwixt you, I must hinder your
dissension to the best of my power. If I could, I would tell you the
truth, and so put an end to the dispute; but as I cannot do this, and each
of you supposes that you can bring the other to an agreement, I am
prepared, as far as my capacity admits, to help you in solving the
question. Please, therefore, Critias, try to make us accept the doctrines
which you yourself entertain.
CRITIAS: I should like to follow up the argument, and will ask Eryxias
whether he thinks that there are just and unjust men?
ERYXIAS: Most decidedly.
CRITIAS: And does injustice seem to you an evil or a good?
ERYXIAS: An evil.
CRITIAS: Do you consider that he who bribes his neighbour's wife and
commits adultery with her, acts justly or unjustly, and this although both
the state and the laws forbid?
CRITIAS: And if the wicked man has wealth and is willing to spend it, he
will carry out his evil purposes? whereas he who is short of means cannot
do what he fain would, and therefore does not sin? In such a case, surely,
it is better that a person should not be wealthy, if his poverty prevents
the accomplishment of his desires, and his desires are evil? Or, again,
should you call sickness a good or an evil?
ERYXIAS: An evil.
CRITIAS: Well, and do you think that some men are intemperate?
CRITIAS: Then, if it is better for his health that the intemperate man
should refrain from meat and drink and other pleasant things, but he cannot
owing to his intemperance, will it not also be better that he should be too
poor to gratify his lust rather than that he should have a superabundance
of means? For thus he will not be able to sin, although he desire never so
Critias appeared to be arguing so admirably that Eryxias, if he had not
been ashamed of the bystanders, would probably have got up and struck him.
For he thought that he had been robbed of a great possession when it became
obvious to him that he had been wrong in his former opinion about wealth.
I observed his vexation, and feared that they would proceed to abuse and
quarrelling: so I said,--I heard that very argument used in the Lyceum
yesterday by a wise man, Prodicus of Ceos; but the audience thought that he
was talking mere nonsense, and no one could be persuaded that he was
speaking the truth. And when at last a certain talkative young gentleman
came in, and, taking his seat, began to laugh and jeer at Prodicus,
tormenting him and demanding an explanation of his argument, he gained the
ear of the audience far more than Prodicus.
Can you repeat the discourse to us? Said Erasistratus.
SOCRATES: If I can only remember it, I will. The youth began by asking
Prodicus, In what way did he think that riches were a good and in what an
evil? Prodicus answered, as you did just now, that they were a good to
good men and to those who knew in what way they should be employed, while
to the bad and the ignorant they were an evil. The same is true, he went
on to say, of all other things; men make them to be what they are
themselves. The saying of Archilochus is true:--
'Men's thoughts correspond to the things which they meet with.'
Well, then, replied the youth, if any one makes me wise in that wisdom
whereby good men become wise, he must also make everything else good to me.
Not that he concerns himself at all with these other things, but he has
converted my ignorance into wisdom. If, for example, a person teach me
grammar or music, he will at the same time teach me all that relates to
grammar or music, and so when he makes me good, he makes things good to me.
Prodicus did not altogether agree: still he consented to what was said.
And do you think, said the youth, that doing good things is like building a
house,--the work of human agency; or do things remain what they were at
first, good or bad, for all time?
Prodicus began to suspect, I fancy, the direction which the argument was
likely to take, and did not wish to be put down by a mere stripling before
all those present:--(if they two had been alone, he would not have
minded):--so he answered, cleverly enough: I think that doing good things
is a work of human agency.
And is virtue in your opinion, Prodicus, innate or acquired by instruction?
The latter, said Prodicus.
Then you would consider him a simpleton who supposed that he could obtain
by praying to the Gods the knowledge of grammar or music or any other art,
which he must either learn from another or find out for himself?
Prodicus agreed to this also.
And when you pray to the Gods that you may do well and receive good, you
mean by your prayer nothing else than that you desire to become good and
wise:--if, at least, things are good to the good and wise and evil to the
evil. But in that case, if virtue is acquired by instruction, it would
appear that you only pray to be taught what you do not know.
Hereupon I said to Prodicus that it was no misfortune to him if he had been
proved to be in error in supposing that the Gods immediately granted to us
whatever we asked:--if, I added, whenever you go up to the Acropolis you
earnestly entreat the Gods to grant you good things, although you know not
whether they can yield your request, it is as though you went to the doors
of the grammarian and begged him, although you had never made a study of
the art, to give you a knowledge of grammar which would enable you
forthwith to do the business of a grammarian.
While I was speaking, Prodicus was preparing to retaliate upon his youthful
assailant, intending to employ the argument of which you have just made
use; for he was annoyed to have it supposed that he offered a vain prayer
to the Gods. But the master of the gymnasium came to him and begged him to
leave because he was teaching the youths doctrines which were unsuited to
them, and therefore bad for them.
I have told you this because I want you to understand how men are
circumstanced in regard to philosophy. Had Prodicus been present and said
what you have said, the audience would have thought him raving, and he
would have been ejected from the gymnasium. But you have argued so
excellently well that you have not only persuaded your hearers, but have
brought your opponent to an agreement. For just as in the law courts, if
two witnesses testify to the same fact, one of whom seems to be an honest
fellow and the other a rogue, the testimony of the rogue often has the
contrary effect on the judges' minds to what he intended, while the same
evidence if given by the honest man at once strikes them as perfectly true.
And probably the audience have something of the same feeling about yourself
and Prodicus; they think him a Sophist and a braggart, and regard you as a
gentleman of courtesy and worth. For they do not pay attention to the
argument so much as to the character of the speaker.
But truly, Socrates, said Erasistratus, though you may be joking, Critias
does seem to me to be saying something which is of weight.
SOCRATES: I am in profound earnest, I assure you. But why, as you have
begun your argument so prettily, do you not go on with the rest? There is
still something lacking, now you have agreed that (wealth) is a good to
some and an evil to others. It remains to enquire what constitutes wealth;
for unless you know this, you cannot possibly come to an understanding as
to whether it is a good or an evil. I am ready to assist you in the
enquiry to the utmost of my power: but first let him who affirms that
riches are a good, tell us what, in his opinion, is wealth.
ERASISTRATUS: Indeed, Socrates, I have no notion about wealth beyond that
which men commonly have. I suppose that wealth is a quantity of money
(compare Arist. Pol.); and this, I imagine, would also be Critias'
SOCRATES: Then now we have to consider, What is money? Or else later on
we shall be found to differ about the question. For instance, the
Carthaginians use money of this sort. Something which is about the size of
a stater is tied up in a small piece of leather: what it is, no one knows
but the makers. A seal is next set upon the leather, which then passes
into circulation, and he who has the largest number of such pieces is
esteemed the richest and best off. And yet if any one among us had a mass
of such coins he would be no wealthier than if he had so many pebbles from
the mountain. At Lacedaemon, again, they use iron by weight which has been
rendered useless: and he who has the greatest mass of such iron is thought
to be the richest, although elsewhere it has no value. In Ethiopia
engraved stones are employed, of which a Lacedaemonian could make no use.
Once more, among the Nomad Scythians a man who owned the house of Polytion
would not be thought richer than one who possessed Mount Lycabettus among
ourselves. And clearly those things cannot all be regarded as possessions;
for in some cases the possessors would appear none the richer thereby:
but, as I was saying, some one of them is thought in one place to be money,
and the possessors of it are the wealthy, whereas in some other place it is
not money, and the ownership of it does not confer wealth; just as the
standard of morals varies, and what is honourable to some men is
dishonourable to others. And if we wish to enquire why a house is valuable
to us but not to the Scythians, or why the Carthaginians value leather
which is worthless to us, or the Lacedaemonians find wealth in iron and we
do not, can we not get an answer in some such way as this: Would an
Athenian, who had a thousand talents weight of the stones which lie about
in the Agora and which we do not employ for any purpose, be thought to be
any the richer?
ERASISTRATUS: He certainly would not appear so to me.
SOCRATES: But if he possessed a thousand talents weight of some precious
stone, we should say that he was very rich?
ERASISTRATUS: Of course.
SOCRATES: The reason is that the one is useless and the other useful?
SOCRATES: And in the same way among the Scythians a house has no value
because they have no use for a house, nor would a Scythian set so much
store on the finest house in the world as on a leather coat, because he
could use the one and not the other. Or again, the Carthaginian coinage is
not wealth in our eyes, for we could not employ it, as we can silver, to
procure what we need, and therefore it is of no use to us.
SOCRATES: What is useful to us, then, is wealth, and what is useless to us
is not wealth?
But how do you mean, Socrates? said Eryxias, interrupting. Do we not
employ in our intercourse with one another speech and violence (?) and
various other things? These are useful and yet they are not wealth.
SOCRATES: Clearly we have not yet answered the question, What is wealth?
That wealth must be useful, to be wealth at all,--thus much is acknowledged
by every one. But what particular thing is wealth, if not all things? Let
us pursue the argument in another way; and then we may perhaps find what we
are seeking. What is the use of wealth, and for what purpose has the
possession of riches been invented,--in the sense, I mean, in which drugs
have been discovered for the cure of disease? Perhaps in this way we may
throw some light on the question. It appears to be clear that whatever
constitutes wealth must be useful, and that wealth is one class of useful
things; and now we have to enquire, What is the use of those useful things
which constitute wealth? For all things probably may be said to be useful
which we use in production, just as all things which have life are animals,
but there is a special kind of animal which we call 'man.' Now if any one
were to ask us, What is that of which, if we were rid, we should not want
medicine and the instruments of medicine, we might reply that this would be
the case if disease were absent from our bodies and either never came to
them at all or went away again as soon as it appeared; and we may therefore
conclude that medicine is the science which is useful for getting rid of
disease. But if we are further asked, What is that from which, if we were
free, we should have no need of wealth? can we give an answer? If we have
none, suppose that we restate the question thus:--If a man could live
without food or drink, and yet suffer neither hunger nor thirst, would he
want either money or anything else in order to supply his needs?
ERYXIAS: He would not.
SOCRATES: And does not this apply in other cases? If we did not want for
the service of the body the things of which we now stand in need, and heat
and cold and the other bodily sensations were unperceived by us, there
would be no use in this so-called wealth, if no one, that is, had any
necessity for those things which now make us wish for wealth in order that
we may satisfy the desires and needs of the body in respect of our various
wants. And therefore if the possession of wealth is useful in ministering
to our bodily wants, and bodily wants were unknown to us, we should not
need wealth, and possibly there would be no such thing as wealth.
ERYXIAS: Clearly not.
SOCRATES: Then our conclusion is, as would appear, that wealth is what is
useful to this end?
Eryxias once more gave his assent, but the small argument considerably
SOCRATES: And what is your opinion about another question:--Would you say
that the same thing can be at one time useful and at another useless for
the production of the same result?
ERYXIAS: I cannot say more than that if we require the same thing to
produce the same result, then it seems to me to be useful; if not, not.
SOCRATES: Then if without the aid of fire we could make a brazen statue,
we should not want fire for that purpose; and if we did not want it, it
would be useless to us? And the argument applies equally in other cases.
SOCRATES: And therefore conditions which are not required for the
existence of a thing are not useful for the production of it?
ERYXIAS: Of course not.
SOCRATES: And if without gold or silver or anything else which we do not
use directly for the body in the way that we do food and drink and bedding
and houses,--if without these we could satisfy the wants of the body, they
would be of no use to us for that purpose?
ERYXIAS: They would not.
SOCRATES: They would no longer be regarded as wealth, because they are
useless, whereas that would be wealth which enabled us to obtain what was
useful to us?
ERYXIAS: O Socrates, you will never be able to persuade me that gold and
silver and similar things are not wealth. But I am very strongly of
opinion that things which are useless to us are not wealth, and that the
money which is useful for this purpose is of the greatest use; not that
these things are not useful towards life, if by them we can procure wealth.
SOCRATES: And how would you answer another question? There are persons,
are there not, who teach music and grammar and other arts for pay, and thus
procure those things of which they stand in need?
ERYXIAS: There are.
SOCRATES: And these men by the arts which they profess, and in exchange
for them, obtain the necessities of life just as we do by means of gold and
SOCRATES: Then if they procure by this means what they want for the
purposes of life, that art will be useful towards life? For do we not say
that silver is useful because it enables us to supply our bodily needs?
ERYXIAS: We do.
SOCRATES: Then if these arts are reckoned among things useful, the arts
are wealth for the same reason as gold and silver are, for, clearly, the
possession of them gives wealth. Yet a little while ago we found it
difficult to accept the argument which proved that the wisest are the
wealthiest. But now there seems no escape from this conclusion. Suppose
that we are asked, 'Is a horse useful to everybody?' will not our reply be,
'No, but only to those who know how to use a horse?'
SOCRATES: And so, too, physic is not useful to every one, but only to him
who knows how to use it?
SOCRATES: And the same is the case with everything else?
SOCRATES: Then gold and silver and all the other elements which are
supposed to make up wealth are only useful to the person who knows how to
SOCRATES: And were we not saying before that it was the business of a good
man and a gentleman to know where and how anything should be used?
SOCRATES: The good and gentle, therefore will alone have profit from these
things, supposing at least that they know how to use them. But if so, to
them only will they seem to be wealth. It appears, however, that where a
person is ignorant of riding, and has horses which are useless to him, if
some one teaches him that art, he makes him also richer, for what was
before useless has now become useful to him, and in giving him knowledge he
has also conferred riches upon him.
ERYXIAS: That is the case.
SOCRATES: Yet I dare be sworn that Critias will not be moved a whit by the
CRITIAS: No, by heaven, I should be a madman if I were. But why do you
not finish the argument which proves that gold and silver and other things
which seem to be wealth are not real wealth? For I have been exceedingly
delighted to hear the discourses which you have just been holding.
SOCRATES: My argument, Critias (I said), appears to have given you the
same kind of pleasure which you might have derived from some rhapsode's
recitation of Homer; for you do not believe a word of what has been said.
But come now, give me an answer to this question. Are not certain things
useful to the builder when he is building a house?
CRITIAS: They are.
SOCRATES: And would you say that those things are useful which are
employed in house building,--stones and bricks and beams and the like, and
also the instruments with which the builder built the house, the beams and
stones which they provided, and again the instruments by which these were
CRITIAS: It seems to me that they are all useful for building.
SOCRATES: And is it not true of every art, that not only the materials but
the instruments by which we procure them and without which the work could
not go on, are useful for that art?
SOCRATES: And further, the instruments by which the instruments are
procured, and so on, going back from stage to stage ad infinitum,--are not
all these, in your opinion, necessary in order to carry out the work?
CRITIAS: We may fairly suppose such to be the case.
SOCRATES: And if a man has food and drink and clothes and the other things
which are useful to the body, would he need gold or silver or any other
means by which he could procure that which he now has?
CRITIAS: I do not think so.
SOCRATES: Then you consider that a man never wants any of these things for
the use of the body?
CRITIAS: Certainly not.
SOCRATES: And if they appear useless to this end, ought they not always to
appear useless? For we have already laid down the principle that things
cannot be at one time useful and at another time not, in the same process.
CRITIAS: But in that respect your argument and mine are the same. For you
maintain if they are useful to a certain end, they can never become
useless; whereas I say that in order to accomplish some results bad things
are needed, and good for others.
SOCRATES: But can a bad thing be used to carry out a good purpose?
CRITIAS: I should say not.
SOCRATES: And we call those actions good which a man does for the sake of
SOCRATES: But can a man learn any kind of knowledge which is imparted by
word of mouth if he is wholly deprived of the sense of hearing?
CRITIAS: Certainly not, I think.
SOCRATES: And will not hearing be useful for virtue, if virtue is taught
by hearing and we use the sense of hearing in giving instruction?
SOCRATES: And since medicine frees the sick man from his disease, that art
too may sometimes appear useful in the acquisition of virtue, e.g. when
hearing is procured by the aid of medicine.
CRITIAS: Very likely.
SOCRATES: But if, again, we obtain by wealth the aid of medicine, shall we
not regard wealth as useful for virtue?
SOCRATES: And also the instruments by which wealth is procured?
SOCRATES: Then you think that a man may gain wealth by bad and disgraceful
means, and, having obtained the aid of medicine which enables him to
acquire the power of hearing, may use that very faculty for the acquisition
CRITIAS: Yes, I do.
SOCRATES: But can that which is evil be useful for virtue?
SOCRATES: It is not therefore necessary that the means by which we obtain
what is useful for a certain object should always be useful for the same
object: for it seems that bad actions may sometimes serve good purposes?
The matter will be still plainer if we look at it in this way:--If things
are useful towards the several ends for which they exist, which ends would
not come into existence without them, how would you regard them? Can
ignorance, for instance, be useful for knowledge, or disease for health, or
vice for virtue?
SOCRATES: And yet we have already agreed--have we not?--that there can be
no knowledge where there has not previously been ignorance, nor health
where there has not been disease, nor virtue where there has not been vice?
CRITIAS: I think that we have.
SOCRATES: But then it would seem that the antecedents without which a
thing cannot exist are not necessarily useful to it. Otherwise ignorance
would appear useful for knowledge, disease for health, and vice for virtue.
Critias still showed great reluctance to accept any argument which went to
prove that all these things were useless. I saw that it was as difficult
to persuade him as (according to the proverb) it is to boil a stone, so I
said: Let us bid 'good-bye' to the discussion, since we cannot agree
whether these things are useful and a part of wealth or not. But what
shall we say to another question: Which is the happier and better man,--he
who requires the greatest quantity of necessaries for body and diet, or he
who requires only the fewest and least? The answer will perhaps become
more obvious if we suppose some one, comparing the man himself at different
times, to consider whether his condition is better when he is sick or when
he is well?
CRITIAS: That is not a question which needs much consideration.
SOCRATES: Probably, I said, every one can understand that health is a
better condition than disease. But when have we the greatest and the most
various needs, when we are sick or when we are well?
CRITIAS: When we are sick.
SOCRATES: And when we are in the worst state we have the greatest and most
especial need and desire of bodily pleasures?
SOCRATES: And seeing that a man is best off when he is least in need of
such things, does not the same reasoning apply to the case of any two
persons, of whom one has many and great wants and desires, and the other
few and moderate? For instance, some men are gamblers, some drunkards, and
some gluttons: and gambling and the love of drink and greediness are all
SOCRATES: But desires are only the lack of something: and those who have
the greatest desires are in a worse condition than those who have none or
very slight ones?
CRITIAS: Certainly I consider that those who have such wants are bad, and
that the greater their wants the worse they are.
SOCRATES: And do we think it possible that a thing should be useful for a
purpose unless we have need of it for that purpose?
SOCRATES: Then if these things are useful for supplying the needs of the
body, we must want them for that purpose?
CRITIAS: That is my opinion.
SOCRATES: And he to whom the greatest number of things are useful for his
purpose, will also want the greatest number of means of accomplishing it,
supposing that we necessarily feel the want of all useful things?
CRITIAS: It seems so.
SOCRATES: The argument proves then that he who has great riches has
likewise need of many things for the supply of the wants of the body; for
wealth appears useful towards that end. And the richest must be in the
worst condition, since they seem to be most in want of such things.
End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of Eryxias, by a Platonic Imitator