On the God of Socrates
Plato has made a triple division of all nature, and especially of that
part of it which comprises animated beings; and he is of opinion, that
there are Gods of the highest, the middle, and the lowest station.
Understand, however, that this division is based not only upon local separation, but also upon
comparative dignity of nature, which is itself distinguished not
in one or two, but in many modes. It was the clearer way, however, to
begin with the distinction of locality; for this has assigned the
heavens to the immortal Gods, conformably to what their majesty
demands. And of these celestial Gods, some we form a notion of by
sight, while others we endeavor to comprehend by the intellect.
"—You refulgent ministers of light,
We do not, however, perceive by the eyes, those principal Gods only, the Sun the maker of the day, the Moon the rival of the Sun, and the glory of night; whether she is horned or divided, whether gibbous or full; exhibiting a varying brightness in her light; being more largely illuminated the farther she departs from the Sun; and, by an equal increase both of her path and her light, defining the month by means of her increments, and afterwards by means of her decrements in like degree: whether it is, as the Chaldeans think, that she possesses a proper or permanent light of her own, and is on one side gifted with light, but destitute of brightness on the other, and so changes her appearance by manifold revolutions of her various colored face; or whether it is that being wholly void of brightness of her own, and standing in need of foreign light, with an opaque body, or with a body polished like a mirror, she receives either obliquely or direct the rays of the Sun, and, to use the words of Lucretius, Book IV.—
"—Throws from her orb a spurious light."
Whichever of these opinions is true, (for that I
shall afterwards consider,) there is not any Greek, or any barbarian,
You who are of
the same opinion with Plato, must also rank in the same number of
visible Gods those other stars,
The rainy Hyades, Arcturus, both the Bears; [Virgil, Aeneid, Book III]
and likewise the other radiant Gods, by whom we perceive, in a serene sky, the celestial choir bedecked and crowned, when the nights are painted with a severe grace and a stern beauty; beholding, as Ennius says, in this most ''perfect shield of the universe," engravings wrought with surprising brilliancy.
There is another species of Gods, which nature has denied to our sight; and still we
may contemplate them with admiration through intellect, acutely
surveying them with the eye of the mind. In the number of these are
those twelve Gods who are included by Ennius, with a metrical
arrangement of their names, in two verses:
Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus, Mars,
and others of the like kind, whose names, indeed, have been long known to our ears, but whose powers are conjectured by our minds, our attention being called to them through the various benefits which they impart to us in the affairs of life in those things over which they severally preside. The crowd, however, of the ignorant, who are rejected by Philosophy as uninitiated, whose notions of holiness are misplaced, who are deprived of genuine reason, who are destitute of religion, and incapable of grasping the truth, dishonor the Gods, either by a worship most over acted, or a most insolent disdain of them; one part being always in alarm through superstition, while the other is always swelling with contempt. Very many there are who venerate all these Gods, established in the lofty heights of the firmament, and far removed from human contagion: but not in such manner as they ought: all fear them, but through ignorance; a few deny their existence, but in a spirit of impiety. Plato thought these Gods to be incorporeal and animated natures without an end or beginning, but eternal both with reference to time past and time to come; spontaneously separated from the contact of the body by the nature peculiar to themselves; through perfection of intellect possessing supreme beatitude; good, not through participation in any extraneous good, but of themselves; and able to procure for themselves every thing requisite, with a facility which is prompt, simple, unrestrained, and absolute.
But of the parent of these, who is the lord and author of all things, and who is tree from all obligations to act or to suffer, not being bound by any necessity to the performance of any duties, why should I now begin to speak? For Plato, who was endowed with a heavenly eloquence, discoursing in language worthy of the immortal Gods, frequently proclaims that on account of the incredible and ineffable transcendency of his majesty, he cannot possibly be even in the slightest degree comprehended, under any definition, through the poverty of human language; and that the intellectual apprehension of this God can hardly flash upon wise men, when they have separated themselves from body, as much as possible, through the vigor of the intellect; and that sometimes this knowledge does blaze forth with a most instantaneous flash, like a dazzling light amid the most profound darkness. I will therefore omit the discussion of this theme, for which all words adequate to the amplitude of the subject are not only wanting to me, but could not even be found by my master Plato. Hence I shall at once sound a retreat, as to things which very far surpass my humble powers, and at length bring down my discourse from heaven to earth, in which we men are the principal animated things, though most of us, through the neglect of training, are so depraved, and are so imbued with all errors and the most atrocious crimes, and have become so utterly ferocious, through having nearly quite abandoned the mildness of our nature, that it may seem there is not an animal on the earth more vile than man. But at present our object is not to discuss feelings, but to treat of the natural distribution of things.
Men, therefore, dwell on the earth, possessing the gift of speech, having immortal souls, but mortal members, with frivolous and anxious minds, with bodies brutish and infirm, of dissimilar manners, but similar errors, of presumptuous audacity, long-lived hope, laboring in vain, with variable fortunes, severally mortal, but taken altogether in their whole species, eternal, quitting the scene in regular succession, and leaving offspring to supply their place, fleeting in their time, tardy at gaining wisdom, speedy in meeting with death, and dissatisfied in life. You have, then, in the meantime, two kinds of animated beings, Gods entirely differing from men, in the sublimity of their abode, in the eternity of their existence, in the perfection of their nature, and having no proximate communication with them; since those that are supreme are separated from the lowest habitations by such a vast interval of distance; and life is there eternal and never-failing, but here decaying and interrupted, and the natures are there sublimated to beatitude, while those below are depressed to wretchedness. What then? Has nature connected itself by no bond, but allowed itself to be separated into the divine and human parts, and to be thus split and crippled, as it were? For, as the same Plato remarks, "No God mingles with men." But this is the principal mark of their sublime nature, that they are not contaminated by any contact with us. One part of them only is to be seen by us with our blunted vision; as the stars, about whose magnitude and color men are still in doubt, while the rest are only known to our understandings, and that by no prompt perception. This, however, ought by no means to be wondered at with reference to the immortal Gods, since even among men, who are raised to opulence by the favor of Fortune, and are elevated to the tottering throne and the unsteady tribunal of a kingdom, access is rare, all beholders being kept at a distance, and they enjoy their dignity in retirement; familiarity breeds contempt, but privacy gains admiration.
"What, then, shall I do," some
person may object, "after this very celestial, but almost inhuman
decision of yours? if, so it is,
"Now by this head I swear, by which before
doubt, lulus, your father might use this oath among Trojans, who were
allied to him by birth, and also perhaps among Greeks, who were known
to him in battle; but among the Rutuli, who were but recently known
by you, if no one believed in this head, what God would you have to be
surety for you? Would you have your right hand and your dart,
like the ferocious Mezentius? For these only, by which he defended
himself, did he adjure:
"For me my right hand and the missile dart,
Away, I beseech you, with such sanguinary Gods; a right hand weary with slaughter, and a dart rusted with gore. Neither of these is a fit object for you to adjure, nor that you should swear by them, for this is an honor that is peculiar to the highest of the Gods. For a solemn oath, as Ennius says, is also called Jovisjurandum. What, then, is your opinion? Am I to swear by Jupiter, in the shape of a stone, after the most ancient custom of the Romans? Why, if the opinion of Plato is true, that God never mingles with men, a stone will hear me more easily than Jupiter.
Such is not the fact: for Plato shall answer for his opinion in my words. "I do not affirm," says he, "that the Gods are so far separated and alienated from us, that not even our prayers can reach them; for I have not removed them from attention to the affairs of mankind, but only from contact with them."
Besides, there are certain divine powers of a middle nature, situate in this interval of the air, between the highest aether and the earth below, through whom our aspirations and our deserts are conveyed to the Gods. These the Greeks call by name "daemons," and, being placed as messengers between the inhabitants of earth and those of heaven, they carry from the one to the other, prayers and bounties, supplications and assistance, being a kind of interpreter and message carriers for both. Through these same demons, as Plato says in his Symposium, all revelations, the various miracles of magicians, and all kinds of presages, are carried on. For specially appointed individuals of this number, administer everything according to the province assigned to each; either by framing dreams, or causing ominous fissures in entrails, or governing the flights of some birds, or instructing others in song, or inspiring prophets, or by launching thunders, or causing the lightning to flash in the clouds, or other things to take place by means of which we obtain a knowledge of future events. And we have reason to believe that all these particulars are by the will, the power, and the authority of the celestial Gods, but through the obedience, aid, and services of demons; for it was through the employment, the services, and the care of these, that dreams forewarned Hannibal of the loss of one of his eyes; that inspection of the entrails foretold to Flaminius a perilous carnage; and that auguries assured to Attius Navius the miracle of the whetstone. Just in the same manner, tokens of future empire are imparted beforehand to certain persons; as, for instance, an eagle hovered over the cap on the head of Tarquinius Priscus, and a flame shone from the head of Servius Tullius. And lastly, to these are owing all the presages of diviners, the expiatory sacrifices of the Etrurians, the sacrificial enclosure of places struck by lightning, and the verses of the Sibyls; all which, as I have said, are effected by certain influences that carry on the communication between men and Gods.
Nor, indeed, would it be conformable to the majesty of the celestial
Gods, that any one of them should either frame a dream for Hannibal,
or withdraw the victim from Flaminius, or direct the flight of the
bird for Attius Navius, or form in verse the predictions of the
Sibyl, or be willing to snatch the hat from the head of Tarquin, and
restore it, or place a splendid flame upon the head of Servius, but so
as not to burn him. It is not becoming that the Gods of heaven should
condescend to things of this nature. This is the province of
the intermediate Gods, who dwell in the regions of the air, which are
adjacent to the earth, and on the confines of the heavens, just as in
each part of the world there are animals peculiarly adapted to it,
those which fly living in the air, and those which walk, on the earth.
For since there are four elements universally known, nature being as
it were divided into four grand portions, and
there are animals peculiar to earth, water, and flame; (for Aristotle
informs us that certain animals peculiar thereto, and furnished with
wings, fly about in burning furnaces, and pass the whole period of their
existence in fire [Book v., Chap. xix. of Aristotle's
History of Animals], come to life therein, and with it die), and
besides this, since, as we have already observed, so many stars are beheld floating above in
aether, that is to say, in the very
brightest heat of fire,— since this is the case, why should
nature suffer this fourth element, the air, which is so widely
extended, to be the only one void of every thing, and destitute of
its own inhabitants? Why should not animated beings be generated
in this air in the same manner as animals that exist in flame are
generated in fire, animals that float, in water, and those of an
earthly nature, on earth? For you have every reason to pronounce his
opinion false who assigns the birds to the air; for not one of them
raises itself above the summit of Mount Olympus, which, though it is
said to be the highest of all mountains, yet if you measure its height
in a straight line, the distance to its summit is not equal, according
to the opinions of geometricians, to ten stadia; whereas the immense mass of air extends as far as the nearest portion of the cycle of
the moon, beyond which aether takes its rise in an upward direction.
What, then, are we to say of such a vast body of air, which ranges in
extent from the nearest part of the revolutions of the moon as far as
the highest summit of Mount Olympus? Will that, pray, be destitute of
its own appropriate animated beings, and will this part of nature be
without life, and impotent? Moreover, if you attentively consider the matter, birds themselves may, with greater propriety, be said
They are then by no means animals of an earthly nature, for such
have a downward tendency, through their gravity. But neither are they
of a fiery nature, lest they should be carried aloft by their heat. A
certain middle nature, therefore, must be conceived by us, in
conformity to the middle position of their locality, that so the
nature of the inhabitants may be conformable to the nature of the
region. Well, then, let us form in our mind and generate in our ideas
bodies so constituted as neither to be so sluggish as terrestrial, nor
so light as ethereal, but in a certain measure distinct from both,
or else composed of a mixture of both, either removed from, or
modified by, a participation of both. They will, however, be more
easily conceived, if admitted to be a mixture of both, than if they
assumed to be mingled with neither. The bodies of these demons,
therefore, must have some little weight, in
"The azure heavens with dreadful thunders shake,
But if the clouds fly aloft, all of which originate from the earth, and again flow downward to it, pray what should you conclude as to the bodies of demons, which are so much more attenuated in their composition? For they are not heaped up from feculent vapors and dense mists, as is the nature of clouds, but they are formed of the most pure liquid and serene element of air, and on this account they are not visible on every occasion to the human eye, but only when by divine command they allow themselves to be seen. For in them no earthly density occupies the place of light, so as to encounter our perception, and necessarily to arrest our visual ray by that solidity; but the lineaments of the bodies which they have are rare, shining, and attenuated, to such a degree, that they allow all the rays of our vision to pass through them in consequence of their rarity, refract them by their brightness, and baffle them by their subtlety. Hence that description of Minerva, in Homer, presenting herself in the midst of the assembly of the Greeks, for the purpose of checking the wrath of Achilles. If you will wait a moment I will give you the Greek line in Latin, and here it is on the spur of the moment. Minerva, then, as I said, by the command of Juno came, in order to moderate the wrath of Achilles,
"Seen by him only, by the rest unseen." [liad, lib. i. v. 198]
Hence, also, Virgil's Juturna, when in the midst of many thousands of men, for the purpose of aiding her brother,
"With soldiers mingled, though by none perceived," [Aeneid, lib. xii.]
fully accomplishing that which the captain in Plautus boasted of having effected by his shield,
"Which dazzled by its light the vision of his foes."
not to discuss prolixly the rest of the instances, the poets, from
this multitude of demons, are accustomed, in a way by no means remote
from the truth, to feign the Gods to be haters and lovers of certain
men, and to give prosperity and promotion to some, and to oppose and
afflict others. Hence, they are influenced by pity, moved by
indignation, racked with vexation, elated with joy, and are subject to
all the affections of the human mind; and are agitated by all the
fluctuations of human thought, with similar commotions of the spirit
and agitations of the feelings. All which storms and tempests are
far alien from the tranquil state of the celestial Gods. For all the
celestials always enjoy the same state of mind, with an eternal
equanimity, which in them is never driven from its own fixed state
either in the direction of pleasure or of pain; nor is it moved by
any thing from its own everlasting rule, towards any sudden line of
conduct; neither by any external force, because there is nothing
more powerful than deity; nor
And furthermore, how can he appear to have been perfect, who moves from a former condition of being to another condition which is better? And this the more especially, as no one spontaneously embraces any thing new, unless he is tired of what he had before; for a new mode of proceeding cannot be adopted, without disapproving the preceding modes. Hence, it follows, that a God ought not to be employed in any temporal functions either of beneficence or love; and, therefore, is neither to be influenced by indignation nor by pity, nor to be disquieted by any anxiety, nor elated by any hilarity; but he is free from all the passions of the mind, so as never either to grieve or to rejoice, nor on sudden impulse to will or unwill.
But all these, and other qualities of the like kind, properly accord with the middle nature of demons. For they are intermediate between us and the Gods, both in the place of their habitation, and in their nature; having immortality in common with the Gods of heaven, and passions in common with subordinate beings. For they are capable, just as we are, of being affected by all that soothes as well as all that moves the mind; so as to be stimulated by anger, influenced by pity, allured by gifts, appeased by prayers, exasperated by affronts, soothed by honors, and swayed by all other circumstances, just in the same way that we are. For, to embrace the nature of them in a definition, demons are as to genus animated beings, as to mind rational, as to feelings passive, as to body aerial, as to duration eternal. Of these five characteristics which I have mentioned, the three first are the same as those which we possess, the fourth is peculiar to themselves, and the last they possess in common with the immortal Gods, from whom they differ in being subject to passion. Hence, according to my idea, I have not absurdly called demons passive, because they are subject to the same perturbations as we are: and on this account it is that we may place some confidence in the different observances of religions, and the various propitiatory offerings made in sacred rites. There are likewise some among this number of Gods who rejoice in victims, or ceremonies, or observances, nocturnal or diurnal, public or performed in secret, replete with the greatest joy or marked with extreme sadness. Thus, the Egyptian deities are almost all of them delighted with lamentations, the Grecian in general with dances, and those of the Barbarians with the sound produced by cymbals, tambourines, and pipes. So, in like manner, other points relating to sacred rites present considerable diversities, according to different regions; as, for instance, the crowds that swell the sacred processions, the mysteries, the duties performed by the priests, and the observances performed by the devotees: and then, again, the images of the Gods, and their insignia, the rites performed in, and the situations of, their temples, and the variety of blood and color in their victims. All these particulars are regulated and set forth in the accustomed form peculiar to the usage of each place, so much so that we have frequently ascertained by means of dreams, oracles and prophecies especially, that the Divinities have been indignant, if anything in their sacred rites has been neglected through slothfulness or contumacy; of which circumstances I have an abundance of examples. They are, however, so universally mentioned, and so generally known, that no one could attempt to recount them, without omitting a great number more than he mentioned. On this account, I shall desist for the present from expending words upon these particulars, which if they have not obtained assured credit with all men, still, at least, are universally within the knowledge of all. It will be more advisable, therefore, to discuss this point in the Latin tongue, that there are kinds of demons enumerated by the philosophers, in order that you may more clearly and more fully come to an understanding on the presage of Socrates, and his familiar demon.
Now, according to a certain signification, the human soul, even when it is still situate in the body, is called a demon.
"O say, Euryalus, do Gods inspire
If, then, this is the case, a longing of the soul that is of good tendency is a good demon. Hence it is that some think, as we have already observed, that the blessed are called ευδαιμονες, eudaemones, the demon of whom is good, that is, whose mind is perfect in virtue. You may call this demon in our language, according to my mode of interpretation, by the name of "Genius," whether quite correctly I am not altogether sure, but at all events, at any risk you may so call it; because this God, who is the mind of every one, though immortal, is nevertheless, after a certain manner, generated with man; so that those prayers in which we implore the Genius, and which we employ when we embrace the knees [genua] of those whom we supplicate, seem to me to testify this connection and union, since they comprehend in two words the body and the mind, through the communion and conjunction of which we exist.
There is also another species of demons, according to a second
signification, and this is the human soul, after it has performed its duties in the present life, and quitted the body: I find that this is called in the ancient Latin language by the name
of Lemur. Now, of these Lemures, the one who, undertaking the
guardianship of his posterity, dwells in a house with propitious and
tranquil influence, is called the "familiar" Lar. But those who,
having no fixed habitation of their own, are punished with vague
wandering, as with a kind of exile, on account of the evil deeds of
their life, are usually called "Larvae," thus becoming a vain terror
to the good, but a source of punishment to the bad. But when it is
uncertain what is the allotted condition of any one of these, and
whether it is Lar or Larva, it is called a God Manes; the name of
God being added for the sake of honor. For those only are called
But there is another species of demons, more exalted and august, not fewer in number, but far superior in dignity, who, being for ever liberated from the bonds and conjunction of the body, preside over certain powers. In the number of these are Sleep and Love, who possess powers of a different nature; Love, of exciting to wakefulness, Sleep of lulling to rest. From this more elevated order of demons, Plato is of opinion that a peculiar demon is allotted to every man, to be a witness and a guardian of his conduct in life, who, without being visible to any one, is always present, and is an overseer not only of his actions, but even of his thoughts. But when life is finished, and the soul has to return to its judges, then the demon who has presided over it immediately seizes, and leads it as his charge to judgment, and is there present with it while it pleads its cause; and censures it if it is guilty of any untruthfulness; corroborates what it says, if it asserts what is true; and conformably to its testimony, sentence is passed. All you, therefore, who hear this divine opinion of Plato, as explained by me, so adapt your minds to whatever you may have to do, or to whatever may be the subject of your meditation, as men who know that there is nothing concealed from those guardians either within the mind or external to it; but that the demon scrupulously takes part in all these matters, sees all things, understands all things, and dwells in the most profound recesses of the mind, in the place of conscience. He of whom I speak is entirely our guardian, our individual keeper, our watcher at home, our own proper regulator, a searcher Into our inmost fibres, our constant observer, our inseparable witness, a reprover of our evil actions, an approver of our good ones; if he is becomingly attended to, sedulously examined and devoutly worshipped, in the way in which he was worshipped by Socrates in justice and in innocence; he is our forewarner in uncertainty, our monitor in matters of doubt, our defender in danger, and our assistant in need. He is able also by dreams, and by tokens, and perhaps even openly, when necessity demands it, to avert from you evil, to increase your blessings, to aid you when depressed, to support you when falling, to lighten your darkness, to regulate your prosperity, and modify your adversity.
What wonder, then, if Socrates, who was a man perfect in the highest degree, and wise even by the testimony of Apollo, should know and venerate this his God; and that hence, this Lar, his keeper, and nearly, as I may say, his co-mate and his domestic associate, should repel from him everything which ought to be repelled, foresee what ought to be foreseen, and forewarn him of what he ought to be forewarned of, if at any time, the functions of wisdom falling short, he stood in need, not of counsel, but foreknowledge; in order that when he was vacillating through doubt, he might take a firm stand through being forewarned. For there are many things respecting which even wise men have recourse to diviners and oracles. Do you not very clearly perceive in Homer, as in a kind of large mirror, these two properties of divination and of wisdom separated widely from each other? For when those two pillars of the whole expedition disagreed, Agamemnon potent in sway, and Achilles powerful in battle, and a man famed for his eloquence and renowned for his skill, was wanting, who might allay the pride of the son of Atreus, and curb the anger of the son of Peleus, command the attention of both by the weight of his character, admonish them by examples, and soothe them by his words; who, then, on such an occasion undertook to speak? Why, Nestor, the Pylian orator, who was so bland in his eloquence, wary through experience, and venerable for his age; who was known by all to have a body weakened by years, but a mind vigorous in counsel, and words flowing with honeyed sweetness.
In like manner, when in dubious and adverse circumstances, spies are to be chosen, to penetrate into the camp of the enemy at midnight, are not Ulysses and Diomedes selected for that purpose, as counsel and aid, mind and hand, spirit and sword? But, on the other hand, when the Greeks are detained in Aulis, kept back by the winds, and through weariness are shrinking from the difficulties of the war; when the means of proceeding, the tranquillity of the sea, and the clemency of the winds, have to be ascertained by means of the indications of the entrails, the courses taken by birds, and the food devoured by serpents; then were those two supreme summits of the Grecian wisdom, the Ithacan and the Pylian, both of them silent; but Calchas, who was far more skillful in divining, as soon as he had surveyed the birds, and the altars, and the tree, immediately through his divination appeased the tempests, brought the fleet out to the sea, and foretold a war which should last ten years. Just so in the Trojan army also, when affairs required the aid of divination, that wise senate is silent, nor does either Hicetaon, Lampus, or Clytius, presume to give any opinion; but all of them listen in silence, either to the distasteful auguries of Helenus, or to the discredited predictions of Cassandra. After the same manner, Socrates too, if at any time advice not within the province of wisdom was requisite, was then governed by the prophetic power of his daemon; and he was sedulously attentive to his admonitions, and on that account was acceptable in a far higher degree to his God.
The reason also, has been in some measure already stated, why the demon of Socrates was generally in the habit of forbidding him to do certain things, but never exhorted him to the performance of any act. For Socrates, being of himself a man exceedingly perfect, and prompt to the performance of all requisite duties, never stood in need of any one to exhort him; though sometimes he required one to forbid him, if danger happened to lurk in any of his undertakings; in order that, being admonished, he might use due precaution, and desist for the present from his attempt, either to resume it more safely at a future period, or enter upon it in some other way. On occasions of this kind, he used to say, "That he heard a certain voice, which proceeded from the divinity." For so it is asserted by Plato; and let no one suppose that he was in the habit of deriving omens from the ordinary conversation of men. Once, for example, when he was with Phaedrus, beyond the precincts of the city, under the covering of a shady tree, and at a distance from all overlookers, he perceived a sign which announced to him that he must not pass over the small stream of the river llissus, until he had appeased Love, who was indignant at his censure of him, by a recantation. And then, besides, if he had been an observer of omens, he would sometimes also have received positive encouragement from them, as we see frequently the case with many of those, who, through a too superstitious observance of omens, are not directed by their own minds, but by the words of others; and who creeping about the lanes, gather counsel from the remarks of strangers, and, if I may use the expression, do not think with the understanding, but with the ears.
But be this as it may, it is certain that those who hear the words of soothsayers, generally receive a voice with their ears, concerning the nature of which they have no doubt, and which they know to proceed from the human mouth. But Socrates did not simply say that he heard a voice, but a "certain voice," transmitted to him: by which addition, you must certainly understand, that neither an ordinary nor a human voice is signified; for had it been so, it would have been no use to say a "certain" voice, but rather "a voice," "or the voice of some one," as the courtesan in Terence says,
"I thought just now I heard the captain's voice." [The Eunuch of Terence]
But he who says that he heard a certain voice, is either ignorant whence that voice originated, or is in some doubt concerning it, or shows that it had something unusual and mysterious about it, as Socrates did of that voice, which he said was transmitted to him opportunely and from a divine source. And, indeed, I think that he used to perceive indications of his demon, not only with his ears, but even with his eyes; for he very frequently declared that not a voice, but a divine sign, had been presented to him. This sign too might have been the form of his demon, which Socrates alone beheld, just as, in Homer, Achilles beheld Minerva.
I suppose that most of you
will with difficulty believe what I have just said, and will greatly
wonder what was the form of the demon Socrates was in the habit of
seeing. Aristotle, however, who is a pretty good authority, I think,
informs us that it was usual with the Pythagoreans to express great
surprise if any one denied that he had ever seen a demon. If, therefore, the power of beholding a divine form may be possessed
by any one, why might it not, in an especial degree, fall to the lot of
Socrates, whom the dignity of wisdom rendered equal to the very
highest divinity? For nothing is more similar and more acceptable to
Deity, than a man intellectually good in a perfect degree, for he as
much excels other men as he himself is surpassed by the immortal Gods.
Do we not, then, ourselves feel elevated by the example and mention of
Socrates? And ought we not to devote ourselves to the felicitous study of a like philosophy, and stand in awe of like Divinities? A study from which we allow ourselves to be drawn away, for what
reason I know not. And nothing is there which excites in me so much
surprise, as that all men should desire to live most happily, and
should know that they cannot so live in any other way than by
cultivating the mind, and yet leave their minds uncultivated. Just
so, if any one wishes to see clearly, it is requisite that he should
pay attention to his eyes by which he sees; if he desires to run
swiftly, attention must be paid to the feet by which he runs; and
so, too, if you wish to be a stout pugilist, your arms must be
strengthened with which you engage in that exercise. So it is with all
the other members; the care of each must be made
It is, however, especially to be wondered at, that people should still neglect to learn those things of which they by no means wish to appear ignorant, and shun at one and the same moment, both acquaintance with and ignorance of the same art. Hence, if you examine their daily outlay, you will find that they are prodigally profuse in their ordinary expenditure, but bestow nothing on themselves; I mean on proper attention to their demon, which proper attention is nothing else than the secret obligations of philosophy. They build sumptuous villas, no doubt, richly decorate their houses, and collect a numerous household; but in all these, and amidst such vast affluence, there is nothing to be ashamed of but the master himself, and with good reason; for they have an accumulation of things which they have collected with exquisite care, while they themselves wander about among them, rude, uncultivated, and ignorant.
Accordingly, you will find the things on which they have lavished their patrimony, to be most pleasing to the view, and most exquisitely built; villas raised that rival cities, houses decorated like temples, most numerous retinues of servants, with carefully curled locks, costly furniture, every thing betokening affluence, every thing bespeaking opulence, every thing bearing marks of refinement, except the master himself; who alone, just like Tantalus, needy, poor, and in want in the midst of his riches, though he does not snatch at retreating fruit, nor endeavor to quench his thirst with shifting water, still hungers and thirsts for want of true beatitude, that is to say, a genuine life, and a happy and discreet existence. For he does not perceive that 'tis usual to look upon rich men in the same way that we do horses when we buy them; for in purchasing horses we do not look to the trappings, nor the decorations of the belt, nor do we contemplate the riches of the neck with all its ornaments, and examine whether chains of various patterns, and made of silver, gold, or gems, are hanging from it; whether elaborate baubles surround the head and neck; whether the bits are embossed, the saddle painted, and the girths gilt; but all this outside show being removed, we survey the bare horse itself, and direct our attention only to his body and his temper, in order to ascertain whether he is of handsome form, vigorous for the race, and strong for purposes of carriage. In the first place, we consider whether there is in his body
"A head that's slender, and a belly small,
And besides, whether a twofold spine passes along
his loins; for I would have him not only to carry me swiftly, but to
In a similar manner, therefore, in examining men, do not take into account these foreign particulars, but closely consider the man himself, and look upon him in a state of poverty, as was my Socrates. But I call those things foreign which our parents have produced, and which Fortune has bestowed, none of which do I mingle with the praises of my Socrates; no nobility of birth, no high pedigree, no long line of ancestors, no envied riches, for all these, I say, are foreign. It is glory sufficient derived from Protaonius, if he was such a man that he was not a disgrace to his grandson. In like manner, may you enumerate every thing of a foreign nature. Is he of noble birth? You praise his parents. Is he rich? I put no trust in Fortune; nor do I admire these things a bit the more. Is he strong? He will be weakened by sickness. Is he swift in the race? He will fall into old age. Is he beautiful? Wait a little, and he will be so no longer. But is he well instructed, and extremely learned in the pursuits of philosophy, and wise, and skilled in the knowledge of good, as much as it is possible for man to be? Now, then, at last you praise the man himself. For this is neither an hereditary possession from his father, nor depending on chance, nor yet on the suffrages of the people, nor subject to bodily decay, nor mutable through age. All these my Socrates possessed, and therefore cared not for the possession of other things. Why, then, do not you apply yourself to the study of wisdom, or, at least, strive that you may hear nothing of an alien nature in your praises? but that he who wishes to compliment you, may praise you in the same manner as Accius praises Ulysses, in his Philoctetes, where he says, at the beginning of that tragedy
"Fam'd hero, in a little island born,
He mentions his father last of all. But you have heard all the praises of that man; Laertes, Anticlea, and Acrisius, claim no share of it. The whole of the praises are, as you see, a possession belonging to Ulysses alone. Nor does Homer teach you anything else with regard to the same Ulysses, in always representing Wisdom as his companion, whom he poetically calls Minerva. Hence, attended by her, he encounters all terrific dangers, and rises superior to all adverse circumstances. For, assisted by her, he entered the cavern of the Cyclops, but escaped from it; saw the oxen of the Sun, but abstained from them, and descended to the realms beneath, but emerged from them. With the same Wisdom for his companion, he passed by Scylla, and was not seized by her; he was surrounded by Charybdis, and was not retained by her; he drank the cup of Circe, and was not transformed; he came to the Lotophagi, yet did not remain with them; he heard the Sirens, yet did not approach them.