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Plato’s “Laches, or Courage,”translated by Benjamin Jowett is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Document File is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

Plato’s “Laches, or Courage,”translated by Benjamin Jowett, the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

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“Laches” - Plato


At their request, Nicias and Laches have accom-panied them to see a man named Stesilaus fighting in heavy armour. The two fathers ask the two gen-by

erals what they think of this exhibition, and whether they would advise that their sons should acquire the accomplishment. Nicias and Laches are quite PLATO

willing to give their opinion; but they suggest that Socrates should be invited to take part in the consultation. He is a stranger to Lysimachus, but is Translated by Benjamin Jowett afterwards recognised as the son of his old friend Sophroniscus, with whom he never had a difference INTRODUCTION

to the hour of his death. Socrates is also known to Nicias, to whom he had introduced the excellent Lysimachus, the son of Aristides the Just, and Damon, musician and sophist, as a tutor for his Melesias, the son of the elder Thucydides, two aged son, and to Laches, who had witnessed his heroic men who live together, are desirous of educating their behaviour at the battle of Delium (compare Symp.).

sons in the best manner. Their own education, as Socrates, as he is younger than either Nicias or often happens with the sons of great men, has been Laches, prefers to wait until they have delivered their neglected; and they are resolved that their children opinions, which they give in a characteristic man-shall have more care taken of them, than they rener. Nicias, the tactician, is very much in favour of ceived themselves at the hands of their fathers.

the new art, which he describes as the gymnastics 3

“Laches” - Plato

of war—useful when the ranks are formed, and still not himself; for he has never been able to pay the more useful when they are broken; creating a gen-sophists for instructing him, and has never had the eral interest in military studies, and greatly adding wit to do or discover anything. But Nicias and to the appearance of the soldier in the field. Laches, Laches are older and richer than he is: they have the blunt warrior, is of opinion that such an art is had teachers, and perhaps have made discoveries; not knowledge, and cannot be of any value, because and he would have trusted them entirely, if they the Lacedaemonians, those great masters of arms, had not been diametrically opposed.

neglect it. His own experience in actual service has Lysimachus here proposes to resign the argument taught him that these pretenders are useless and into the hands of the younger part of the company, ridiculous. This man Stesilaus has been seen by him as he is old, and has a bad memory. He earnestly on board ship making a very sorry exhibition of requests Socrates to remain;—in this showing, as himself. The possession of the art will make the Nicias says, how little he knows the man, who will coward rash, and subject the courageous, if he certainly not go away until he has cross-examined chance to make a slip, to invidious remarks. And the company about their past lives. Nicias has of-now let Socrates be taken into counsel. As they dif-ten submitted to this process; and Laches is quite fer he must decide.

willing to learn from Socrates, because his actions, Socrates would rather not decide the question by in the true Dorian mode, correspond to his words.

a plurality of votes: in such a serious matter as the Socrates proceeds: We might ask who are our education of a friend’s children, he would consult teachers? But a better and more thorough way of the one skilled person who has had masters, and examining the question will be to ask, ‘What is Vir-has works to show as evidences of his skill. This is tue?’—or rather, to restrict the enquiry to that part 4

“Laches” - Plato

of virtue which is concerned with the use of weap-he could only tell.

ons—’What is Courage?’ Laches thinks that he Nicias is now appealed to; and in reply he offers knows this: (1) ‘He is courageous who remains at a definition which he has heard from Socrates him-his post.’ But some nations fight flying, after the self, to the effect that (1) ‘Courage is intelligence.’

manner of Aeneas in Homer; or as the heavy-armed Laches derides this; and Socrates enquires, ‘What Spartans also did at the battle of Plataea. (2) sort of intelligence?’ to which Nicias replies, ‘Intel-Socrates wants a more general definition, not only ligence of things terrible.’ ‘But every man knows of military courage, but of courage of all sorts, tried the things to be dreaded in his own art.’ ‘No they both amid pleasures and pains. Laches replies that do not. They may predict results, but cannot tell this universal courage is endurance. But courage is whether they are really terrible; only the courageous a good thing, and mere endurance may be hurtful man can tell that.’ Laches draws the inference that and injurious. Therefore (3) the element of intelli-the courageous man is either a soothsayer or a god.

gence must be added. But then again unintelligent Again, (2) in Nicias’ way of speaking, the term endurance may often be more courageous than the

‘courageous’ must be denied to animals or children, intelligent, the bad than the good. How is this con-because they do not know the danger. Against this tradiction to be solved? Socrates and Laches are inversion of the ordinary use of language Laches not set ‘to the Dorian mode’ of words and actions; reclaims, but is in some degree mollified by a com-for their words are all confusion, although their ac-pliment to his own courage. Still, he does not like tions are courageous. Still they must ‘endure’ in an to see an Athenian statesman and general descend-argument about endurance. Laches is very willing, ing to sophistries of this sort. Socrates resumes the and is quite sure that he knows what courage is, if argument. Courage has been defined to be intelli-5

“Laches” - Plato

gence or knowledge of the terrible; and courage is the scene; the Laches has more play and develop-not all virtue, but only one of the virtues. The ter-ment of character. In the Lysis and Charmides the rible is in the future, and therefore the knowledge youths are the central figures, and frequent allu-of the terrible is a knowledge of the future. But sions are made to the place of meeting, which is a there can be no knowledge of future good or evil palaestra. Here the place of meeting, which is also separated from a knowledge of the good and evil of a palaestra, is quite forgotten, and the boys play a the past or present; that is to say, of all good and subordinate part. The seance is of old and elder evil. Courage, therefore, is the knowledge of good men, of whom Socrates is the youngest.

and evil generally. But he who has the knowledge First is the aged Lysimachus, who may be com-of good and evil generally, must not only have cour-pared with Cephalus in the Republic, and, like him, age, but also temperance, justice, and every other withdraws from the argument. Melesias, who is only virtue. Thus, a single virtue would be the same as his shadow, also subsides into silence. Both of them, all virtues (compare Protagoras). And after all the by their own confession, have been ill-educated, as two generals, and Socrates, the hero of Delium, are is further shown by the circumstance that still in ignorance of the nature of courage. They Lysimachus, the friend of Sophroniscus, has never must go to school again, boys, old men and all.

heard of the fame of Socrates, his son; they belong Some points of resemblance, and some points of to different circles. In the Meno their want of edu-difference, appear in the Laches when compared cation in all but the arts of riding and wrestling is with the Charmides and Lysis. There is less of po-adduced as a proof that virtue cannot be taught.

etical and simple beauty, and more of dramatic in-The recognition of Socrates by Lysimachus is ex-terest and power. They are richer in the externals of tremely graceful; and his military exploits naturally 6

“Laches” - Plato

connect him with the two generals, of whom one Socrates; and is disposed to be angry with the re-has witnessed them. The characters of Nicias and finements of Nicias.

Laches are indicated by their opinions on the exhi-In the discussion of the main thesis of the Dia-bition of the man fighting in heavy armour. The logue—’What is Courage?’ the antagonism of the more enlightened Nicias is quite ready to accept two characters is still more clearly brought out; and the new art, which Laches treats with ridicule, seem-in this, as in the preliminary question, the truth is ing to think that this, or any other military ques-parted between them. Gradually, and not without tion, may be settled by asking, ‘What do the difficulty, Laches is made to pass on from the more Lacedaemonians say?’ The one is the thoughtful popular to the more philosophical; it has never oc-general, willing to avail himself of any discovery in curred to him that there was any other courage than the art of war (Aristoph. Aves); the other is the prac-that of the soldier; and only by an effort of the mind tical man, who relies on his own experience, and is can he frame a general notion at all. No sooner has the enemy of innovation; he can act but cannot this general notion been formed than it evanesces speak, and is apt to lose his temper. It is to be noted before the dialectic of Socrates; and Nicias appears that one of them is supposed to be a hearer of from the other side with the Socratic doctrine, that Socrates; the other is only acquainted with his ac-courage is knowledge. This is explained to mean tions. Laches is the admirer of the Dorian mode; knowledge of things terrible in the future. But and into his mouth the remark is put that there are Socrates denies that the knowledge of the future is some persons who, having never been taught, are separable from that of the past and present; in other better than those who have. Like a novice in the art words, true knowledge is not that of the soothsayer of disputation, he is delighted with the hits of but of the philosopher. And all knowledge will thus 7

“Laches” - Plato

be equivalent to all virtue—a position which else-image and harmony of both is only realized in where Socrates is not unwilling to admit, but which Socrates himself.

will not assist us in distinguishing the nature of The Dialogue offers one among many examples courage. In this part of the Dialogue the contrast of the freedom with which Plato treats facts. For between the mode of cross-examination which is the scene must be supposed to have occurred be-practised by Laches and by Socrates, and also the tween B.C. 424, the year of the battle of Delium, manner in which the definition of Laches is made and B.C. 418, the year of the battle of Mantinea, to approximate to that of Nicias, are worthy of at-at which Laches fell. But if Socrates was more than tention.

seventy years of age at his trial in 399 (see Apol-Thus, with some intimation of the connexion and ogy), he could not have been a young man at any unity of virtue and knowledge, we arrive at no dis-time after the battle of Delium.

tinct result. The two aspects of courage are never harmonized. The knowledge which in the Protagoras is explained as the faculty of estimating pleasures and pains is here lost in an unmeaning and tran-scendental conception. Yet several true intimations of the nature of courage are allowed to appear: (1) That courage is moral as well as physical: (2) That true courage is inseparable from knowledge, and yet (3) is based on a natural instinct. Laches exhibits one aspect of courage; Nicias the other. The perfect 8

“Laches” - Plato


LYSIMACHUS: You have seen the exhibition of the man fighting in armour, Nicias and Laches, but OR COURAGE

we did not tell you at the time the reason why my friend Melesias and I asked you to go with us and by

see him. I think that we may as well confess what this was, for we certainly ought not to have any Plato

reserve with you. The reason was, that we were intending to ask your advice. Some laugh at the very notion of advising others, and when they are asked Translated by Benjamin Jowett will not say what they think. They guess at the wishes of the person who asks them, and answer PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: according to his, and not according to their own, opinion. But as we know that you are good judges, Lysimachus, son of Aristides.

and will say exactly what you think, we have taken Melesias, son of Thucydides.

you into our counsels. The matter about which I Their sons.

am making all this preface is as follows: Melesias Nicias, Laches, Socrates.

and I have two sons; that is his son, and he is named Thucydides, after his grandfather; and this is mine, who is also called after his grandfather, Aristides.

Now, we are resolved to take the greatest care of the youths, and not to let them run about as they 9

“Laches” - Plato

like, which is too often the way with the young, youth, while they were occupied with the concerns when they are no longer children, but to begin at of others; and we urge all this upon the lads, point-once and do the utmost that we can for them. And ing out to them that they will not grow up to honour knowing you to have sons of your own, we thought if they are rebellious and take no pains about them-that you were most likely to have attended to their selves; but that if they take pains they may, per-training and improvement, and, if perchance you haps, become worthy of the names which they bear.

have not attended to them, we may remind you They, on their part, promise to comply with our that you ought to have done so, and would invite wishes; and our care is to discover what studies or you to assist us in the fulfilment of a common duty.

pursuits are likely to be most improving to them.

I will tell you, Nicias and Laches, even at the risk of Some one commended to us the art of fighting in being tedious, how we came to think of this.

armour, which he thought an excellent accomplish-Melesias and I live together, and our sons live with ment for a young man to learn; and he praised the us; and now, as I was saying at first, we are going to man whose exhibition you have seen, and told us confess to you. Both of us often talk to the lads to go and see him. And we determined that we about the many noble deeds which our own fathers would go, and get you to accompany us; and we did in war and peace—in the management of the were intending at the same time, if you did not allies, and in the administration of the city; but object, to take counsel with you about the educa-neither of us has any deeds of his own which he tion of our sons. That is the matter which we wanted can show. The truth is that we are ashamed of this to talk over with you; and we hope that you will contrast being seen by them, and we blame our fa-give us your opinion about this art of fighting in thers for letting us be spoiled in the days of our armour, and about any other studies or pursuits 10

“Laches” - Plato

which may or may not be desirable for a young man the youth have any noble study or pursuit, such as to learn. Please to say whether you agree to our you are enquiring after.


LYSIMACHUS: Why, Laches, has Socrates ever NICIAS: As far as I am concerned, Lysimachus and attended to matters of this sort?

Melesias, I applaud your purpose, and will gladly assist you; and I believe that you, Laches, will be LACHES: Certainly, Lysimachus.

equally glad.

NICIAS: That I have the means of knowing as well LACHES: Certainly, Nicias; and I quite approve of as Laches; for quite lately he supplied me with a the remark which Lysimachus made about his own teacher of music for my sons,—Damon, the disciple father and the father of Melesias, and which is ap-of Agathocles, who is a most accomplished man in plicable, not only to them, but to us, and to every every way, as well as a musician, and a companion one who is occupied with public affairs. As he says, of inestimable value for young men at their age.

such persons are too apt to be negligent and care-less of their own children and their private concerns.

LYSIMACHUS: Those who have reached my time There is much truth in that remark of yours, of life, Socrates and Nicias and Laches, fall out of Lysimachus. But why, instead of consulting us, do acquaintance with the young, because they are gen-you not consult our friend Socrates about the edu-erally detained at home by old age; but you, O son cation of the youths? He is of the same deme with of Sophroniscus, should let your fellow demesman you, and is always passing his time in places where have the benefit of any advice which you are able 11

“Laches” - Plato

to give. Moreover I have a claim upon you as an old give him up; for I can assure you that I have seen friend of your father; for I and he were always com-him maintaining, not only his father’s, but also his panions and friends, and to the hour of his death country’s name. He was my companion in the re-there never was a difference between us; and now it treat from Delium, and I can tell you that if others comes back to me, at the mention of your name, had only been like him, the honour of our country that I have heard these lads talking to one another would have been upheld, and the great defeat would at home, and often speaking of Socrates in terms of never have occurred.

the highest praise; but I have never thought to ask them whether the son of Sophroniscus was the per-LYSIMACHUS: That is very high praise which is son whom they meant. Tell me, my boys, whether accorded to you, Socrates, by faithful witnesses and this is the Socrates of whom you have often spo-for actions like those which they praise. Let me tell ken?

you the pleasure which I feel in hearing of your fame; and I hope that you will regard me as one of SON: Certainly, father, this is he.

your warmest friends. You ought to have visited us long ago, and made yourself at home with us; but LYSIMACHUS: I am delighted to hear, Socrates, now, from this day forward, as we have at last found that you maintain the name of your father, who one another out, do as I say—come and make ac-was a most excellent man; and I further rejoice at quaintance with me, and with these young men, the prospect of our family ties being renewed.

that I may continue your friend, as I was your father’s. I shall expect you to do so, and shall ven-LACHES: Indeed, Lysimachus, you ought not to ture at some future time to remind you of your duty.