Soc. Then of two good and useful things, one, which is knowledge, has been set aside, and cannot be supposed to be our guide in political life.
Men. I think not.
Soc. And therefore not by any wisdom, and not because they were wise, did Themistocles and those others of whom Anytus spoke govern states. This was the reason why they were unable to make others like themselves — because their virtue was not grounded on knowledge.
Men. That is probably true, Socrates.
Soc. But if not by knowledge, the only alternative which remains is that statesmen must have guided states by right opinion, which is in politics what divination is in religion ; for diviners and also prophets say many things truly, but they know not what they say.
Men. So I believe.
Soc. And may we not, Meno, truly call those men “divine” who, having no understanding, yet succeed in many a grand deed and word ?
Soc. Then we shall also be right in calling divine those whom we were just now speaking of as diviners and prophets, including the whole tribe of poets. Yes, and statesmen above all may be said to be divine and illumined, being inspired and possessed of God, in which condition they say many grand things, not knowing what they say.
Soc. And the women too, Meno, call good men divine — do they not ? and the Spartans, when they praise a good man, say “that he is a divine man.”
Men. And I think, Socrates, that they are right ; although very likely our friend Anytus may take offence at the word.
Soc. I do not care ; as for Anytus, there will be another opportunity of talking with him. To sum up our enquiry — the result seems to be, if we are at all right in our view, that virtue is neither natural nor acquired, but an instinct given by God to the virtuous. Nor is the instinct accompanied by reason, unless there may be supposed to be among statesmen some one who is capable of educating statesmen. And if there be such an one, he may be said to be among the living what Homer says that Tiresias was among the dead, “he alone has understanding ; but the rest are flitting shades” ; and he and his virtue in like manner will be a reality among shadows.
Men. That is excellent, Socrates.
Soc. Then, Meno, the conclusion is that virtue comes to the virtuous by the gift of God. But we shall never know the certain truth until, before asking how virtue is given, we enquire into the actual nature of virtue. I fear that I must go away, but do you, now that you are persuaded yourself, persuade our friend Anytus. And do not let him be so exasperated ; if you can conciliate him, you will have done good service to the Athenian people.