Jowett: Menexenus 246a-249e — Conselhos

And now we have related many of the noble deeds done by the men who are lying here, and by all the others who have died in defence of their city ; yet far more numerous and more noble are those that remain unmentioned ; [246b] for many days and nights would not suffice were one to relate them all in full. Wherefore it is right that every man, bearing these men in mind, should exhort these men’s children, just as in time of war, not to fall out of rank with their fathers nor to give way to cowardice and beat a retreat. And I myself for my own part, o ye children of valiant men, am now exhorting you and in the future, wheresoever I shall encounter any of you, [246c] I shall continue to remind you and admonish you to be zealous to show yourselves supremely valiant. But on this occasion it is my duty to record the message which your fathers, at the time when they were about to risk their lives, enjoined us, in case any ill befell them, to give to those who survived them. I will repeat to you both the words which I heard from their lips and those which they would now desire to say to you, if they had the power, judging from what they actually said on that occasion. You must, however, imagine that you are hearing from their own lips the message which I shall deliver. This, then, is what they said :

[246d] “O children, that ye are born of valiant sires is clearly shown by the facts now before you : we, who might have ignobly lived choose rather to die nobly, before we bring you and those after you to disgrace, and before we bring shame upon our own fathers and all our earlier forebears, since we deem that life is unworthy to be lived for the man who brings shame upon his own, and that such an one has no friend amongst gods or man, either here on earth, or under the earth when he is dead. Wherefore ye must bear in mind our words, [246e] and whatsoever else ye practice ye must practice it in union with valor, being well assured that when divorced from this all possessions and pursuits are base and ignoble. For neither does wealth bring honor to its possessor if combined with cowardice — for such an one is rich for another rather than for himself, — nor do beauty and strength appear comely, but rather uncomely, when they are attached to one that is cowardly and base, since they make their possessor more conspicuous and show up his cowardice ; and every form of knowledge [247a] when sundered from justice and the rest of virtue is seen to be plain roguery rather than wisdom. For these reasons do ye make it your endeavor, first and last and always, in every way to show all zeal that ye may exceed, if possible, both us and those who went before us in renown ; but if not, be ye well assured that if we vanquish you in virtue our victory brings us shame, whereas, if we are defeated, our defeat brings happiness. And most of all would we be the vanquished, you the victors, if ye are careful in your conduct not to trade upon the glory of your ancestors [247b] nor yet to squander it, believing that for a man who holds himself of some account there is nothing more shameful than to find himself held in honor not for his own sake but because of the glory of his ancestors. In the honors which belong to their parents, the children truly possess a noble and splendid treasure ; but to use up one’s treasure, whether of wealth or of honor, and bequeath none to one’s children, is the base and unmanly act of one who lacks all wealth and distinctions of his own. And if ye practise these precepts [247c] ye will come unto us as friends unto friends whensoever the appointed doom shall convey you hither ; but if ye neglect them and play the coward, ye will be welcomed graciously by none. Let such, then, be the words we address to our children.

Those of us who have fathers or mothers must counsel them always to bear their calamity — if so be that such has befallen them — as cheerfully as possible, and not join in their lamentations ; for in sooth they will need no further cause of grief ; [247d] the present misfortune will provide grief in plenty. Rather should we mollify and assuage their sorrow by reminding them that in the greatest matters the gods have already hearkened unto their prayers. For they prayed not that their sons should become immortal, but valiant and renowned ; and these, which are the greatest of boons, they obtained. But that all things should turn out thus according to his mind, in respect of his own life, is for a mortal man no easy matter. Moreover, by bearing their calamities thus bravely they will clearly show that they are in truth the fathers of brave sons [247e] and of a like bravery themselves ; whereas if they give way they will afford grounds for suspecting either that they are no fathers of ours or that we have been falsely belauded. But neither of these should they allow ; rather should they belaud us most by their actions, showing themselves plainly to be in very truth the manly fathers of us men. That ancient saying, ‘Nothing overmuch’ is judged to be a noble saying ; and in truth it is well said. For that man is best prepared for life who makes all that concerns his welfare depend upon himself, or nearly so, [248a] instead of hanging his hopes on other men, whereby with their rise or fall his own fortunes also inevitably sway up or down : he it is that is temperate, he it is that is courageous and wise he it is that, when gaining or losing riches or children, will best exemplify the proverb ; for, because he puts his trust in himself, he will neither be seen rejoicing nor yet grieving overmuch.

Of such a character we request our friends to be, [248b] and desire them to appear, even as we now display ourselves as such, being neither aggrieved nor alarmed overmuch if so be that at this present crisis we must die. We beseech both fathers and mothers to pass the rest of their lives holding to this same conviction, and to be well assured that it is not by mourning and lamenting us that they will gratify us most ; nay, if the dead [248c] have any perception of the living, it is thus that they would gratify us least, by debasing themselves and bearing their sorrows with a heavy heart ; whereas by a light-hearted and temperate demeanor they would gratify us most. As for our own fortunes, they have already reached that climax which is the noblest of all for mortal men ; wherefore it is more fitting to magnify than to mourn them. But to our wives and children let them give care and nurture and devote their mind to them ; for thus they will best forget their ill fortune and live a life that is nobler and truer and [248d] more pleasing in our eyes.

Let this, then, suffice as our message to our kinsfolk. To the City we would add an exhortation that on our behalf they care for our parents and our sons, bestowing on the latter an orderly training, and on the former the fitting nurture of old age ; and, as it is, we are well assured that even without our exhortation the city will bestow upon them ample care.”

Such is the message, o ye children and parents of the fallen, [248e] which they enjoined upon us to deliver, and which I, with all the earnestness in my power, have now delivered ; and I myself, on their behalf, entreat the children to imitate their fathers, and the parents to have no fear for themselves, seeing that we, both privately and publicly, will give nurture to your age and bestow care upon you, wheresoever one of us meets with one of you. And as regards the care bestowed by the City, of your own selves ye know well that she has made laws regarding both the children and the begetters of those who have fallen in the war, to ensure their care ; and that the highest authority in the State is instructed to watch over them [249a] beyond all other citizens, that the fathers and mothers of these men may suffer no wrong. And the City herself helps in the bringing up of their children, endeavoring to render them as little conscious as possible of their orphaned condition ; while they are yet children she stands towards them as a father, and when they arrive at man’s estate she presents them with full military equipment and sends them back to their own place, thereby exhibiting and putting them in mind of their fathers’ profession by bestowing on each of them the instruments [249b] of his father prowess, while at the same time desiring that he should be auspiciously equipped with arms on commencing his journey to his ancestral hearth, there to rule with power. Nor does the City ever omit to pay honor to the dead heroes themselves, seeing that she herself year by year performs publicly, on behalf of all, those customary rites which are privately performed for each ; and moreover, she institutes contests in athletics and horse-racing and music of every kind. And thus, in simple fact, she stands towards the fallen in the position of son and heir, [249c] towards the sons in that of father, and towards the parents of the dead in that of guardian, thus exercising towards all all manner of care throughout all time. Laying which to heart it behoves you to bear your sorrow with the greater calm ; for thus will ye best content both the dead and the living, and tend and be tended with the greatest ease. And now that you and all the rest have already made public lamentation for the dead as the law ordains, go you your ways.”

There, Menexenus, you have the oration of Aspasia, [249d] the Milesian.

Menexenus : And by Zeus, Socrates, Aspasia, by your account, deserves to be congratulated if she is really capable of composing a speech like that, woman though she is.

Socrates : Nay, then, if you are incredulous, come along with me and listen to a speech from her own lips.

Menexenus : I have met with Aspasia many a time, Socrates, and I know well what she is like.

Socrates : Well, then, don’t you admire her, and are you not grateful to her now for her oration ?

Menexenus : Yes, I am exceedingly grateful, Socrates, for the oration [249e] to her or to him — whoever it was that repeated it to you ; and what is more, I owe many other debts of gratitude to him that repeated it.

Socrates : That will be fine ! Only be careful not to give me away, so that I may report to you later on many other fine political speeches of hers.

Menexenus : Have no fear : I won’t give you away ; only do you report them.

Socrates : Well, it shall be done.