Menexenus by Plato. - HTML preview

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SOCRATES: Yes, I do; and besides her I had Connus, the MENEXENUS: Then why will you not rehearse what she son of Metrobius, as a master, and he was my master in said?

music, as she was in rhetoric. No wonder that a man who SOCRATES: Because I am afraid that my mistress may be has received such an education should be a finished speaker; angry with me if I publish her speech.

even the pupil of very inferior masters, say, for example, MENEXENUS: Nay, Socrates, let us have the speech, one who had learned music of Lamprus, and rhetoric of whether Aspasias or any one elses, no matter. I hope that Antiphon the Rhamnusian, might make a figure if he were you will oblige me.

to praise the Athenians among the Athenians.

SOCRATES: But I am afraid that you will laugh at me if I MENEXENUS: And what would you be able to say if you continue the games of youth in old age.

had to speak?

MENEXENUS: Far otherwise, Socrates; let us by all means SOCRATES: Of my own wit, most likely nothing; but yes-have the speech.

terday I heard Aspasia composing a funeral oration about SOCRATES: Truly I have such a disposition to oblige you, these very dead. For she had been told, as you were saying, that if you bid me dance naked I should not like to refuse, that the Athenians were going to choose a speaker, and she since we are alone. Listen then: If I remember rightly, she repeated to me the sort of speech which he should deliver, began as follows, with the mention of the dead: (Thucyd.) partly improvising and partly from previous thought, put-There is a tribute of deeds and of words. The departed ting together fragments of the funeral oration which Pericles have already had the first, when going forth on their des-spoke, but which, as I believe, she composed.

tined journey they were attended on their way by the state MENEXENUS: And can you remember what Aspasia said?

and by their friends; the tribute of words remains to be SOCRATES: I ought to be able, for she taught me, and given to them, as is meet and by law ordained. For noble she was ready to strike me because I was always forgetting.

words are a memorial and a crown of noble actions, which 8


are given to the doers of them by the hearers. A word is countries, a stepmother to her children, but their own true needed which will duly praise the dead and gently admon-mother; she bore them and nourished them and received ish the living, exhorting the brethren and descendants of them, and in her bosom they now repose. It is meet and the departed to imitate their virtue, and consoling their fa-right, therefore, that we should begin by praising the land thers and mothers and the survivors, if any, who may chance which is their mother, and that will be a way of praising to be alive of the previous generation. What sort of a word their noble birth.

will this be, and how shall we rightly begin the praises of The country is worthy to be praised, not only by us, but these brave men? In their life they rejoiced their own friends by all mankind; first, and above all, as being dear to the with their valour, and their death they gave in exchange for Gods. This is proved by the strife and contention of the the salvation of the living. And I think that we should praise Gods respecting her. And ought not the country which the them in the order in which nature made them good, for Gods praise to be praised by all mankind? The second they were good because they were sprung from good fa-praise which may be fairly claimed by her, is that at the thers. Wherefore let us first of all praise the goodness of time when the whole earth was sending forth and creating their birth; secondly, their nurture and education; and then diverse animals, tame and wild, she our mother was free let us set forth how noble their actions were, and how wor-and pure from savage monsters, and out of all animals se-thy of the education which they had received.

lected and brought forth man, who is superior to the rest in And first as to their birth. Their ancestors were not strang-understanding, and alone has justice and religion. And a ers, nor are these their descendants sojourners only, whose great proof that she brought forth the common ancestors fathers have come from another country; but they are the of us and of the departed, is that she provided the means of children of the soil, dwelling and living in their own land.

support for her offspring. For as a woman proves her moth-And the country which brought them up is not like other erhood by giving milk to her young ones (and she who has 9


no fountain of milk is not a mother), so did this our land ment is the nurture of man, and the government of good prove that she was the mother of men, for in those days she men is good, and of bad men bad. And I must show that alone and first of all brought forth wheat and barley for hu-our ancestors were trained under a good government, and man food, which is the best and noblest sustenance for man, for this reason they were good, and our contemporaries whom she regarded as her true offspring. And these are truer are also good, among whom our departed friends are to be proofs of motherhood in a country than in a woman, for the reckoned. Then as now, and indeed always, from that time woman in her conception and generation is but the imitation to this, speaking generally, our government was an aristoc-of the earth, and not the earth of the woman. And of the fruit racya form of government which receives various names, of the earth she gave a plenteous supply, not only to her own, according to the fancies of men, and is sometimes called but to others also; and afterwards she made the olive to spring democracy, but is really an aristocracy or government of up to be a boon to her children, and to help them in their the best which has the approval of the many. For kings we toils. And when she had herself nursed them and brought have always had, first hereditary and then elected, and au-them up to manhood, she gave them Gods to be their rulers thority is mostly in the hands of the people, who dispense and teachers, whose names are well known, and need not offices and power to those who appear to be most deserv-now be repeated. They are the Gods who first ordered our ing of them. Neither is a man rejected from weakness or lives, and instructed us in the arts for the supply of our daily poverty or obscurity of origin, nor honoured by reason of needs, and taught us the acquisition and use of arms for the the opposite, as in other states, but there is one principle

defence of the country.

he who appears to be wise and good is a governor and ruler.

Thus born into the world and thus educated, the ances-The basis of this our government is equality of birth; for tors of the departed lived and made themselves a govern-other states are made up of all sorts and unequal condi-ment, which I ought briefly to commemorate. For govern-tions of men, and therefore their governments are unequal; 10


there are tyrannies and there are oligarchies, in which the ond place. They already have their reward, and I say no one party are slaves and the others masters. But we and our more of them; but there are other worthy deeds of which citizens are brethren, the children all of one mother, and no poet has worthily sung, and which are still wooing the we do not think it right to be one anothers masters or ser-poets muse. Of these I am bound to make honourable vants; but the natural equality of birth compels us to seek mention, and shall invoke others to sing of them also in for legal equality, and to recognize no superiority except in lyric and other strains, in a manner becoming the actors.

the reputation of virtue and wisdom.

And first I will tell how the Persians, lords of Asia, were And so their and our fathers, and these, too, our breth-enslaving Europe, and how the children of this land, who ren, being nobly born and having been brought up in all were our fathers, held them back. Of these I will speak freedom, did both in their public and private capacity many first, and praise their valour, as is meet and fitting. He who noble deeds famous over the whole world. They were the would rightly estimate them should place himself in thought deeds of men who thought that they ought to fight both at that time, when the whole of Asia was subject to the third against Hellenes for the sake of Hellenes on behalf of free-king of Persia. The first king, Cyrus, by his valour freed the dom, and against barbarians in the common interest of Persians, who were his countrymen, and subjected the Hellas. Time would fail me to tell of their defence of their Medes, who were their lords, and he ruled over the rest of country against the invasion of Eumolpus and the Ama-Asia, as far as Egypt; and after him came his son, who ruled zons, or of their defence of the Argives against the all the accessible part of Egypt and Libya; the third king Cadmeians, or of the Heracleids against the Argives; be-was Darius, who extended the land boundaries of the em-sides, the poets have already declared in song to all man-pire to Scythia, and with his fleet held the sea and the is-kind their glory, and therefore any commemoration of their lands. None presumed to be his equal; the minds of all deeds in prose which we might attempt would hold a sec-men were enthralled by himso many and mighty and war-11


like nations had the power of Persia subdued. Now Darius Lacedaemonians, and they arrived a day too late for the had a quarrel against us and the Eretrians, because, as he battle; but the rest were panic-stricken and kept quiet, too said, we had conspired against Sardis, and he sent 500,000

happy in having escaped for a time. He who has present to men in transports and vessels of war, and 300 ships, and his mind that conflict will know what manner of men they Datis as commander, telling him to bring the Eretrians and were who received the onset of the barbarians at Marathon, Athenians to the king, if he wished to keep his head on his and chastened the pride of the whole of Asia, and by the shoulders. He sailed against the Eretrians, who were re-victory which they gained over the barbarians first taught puted to be amongst the noblest and most warlike of the other men that the power of the Persians was not invin-Hellenes of that day, and they were numerous, but he concible, but that hosts of men and the multitude of riches quered them all in three days; and when he had conquered alike yield to valour. And I assert that those men are the them, in order that no one might escape, he searched the fathers not only of ourselves, but of our liberties and of the whole country after this manner: his soldiers, coming to liberties of all who are on the continent, for that was the the borders of Eretria and spreading from sea to sea, joined action to which the Hellenes looked back when they ven-hands and passed through the whole country, in order that tured to fight for their own safety in the battles which en-they might be able to tell the king that no one had escaped sued: they became disciples of the men of Marathon. To them. And from Eretria they went to Marathon with a like them, therefore, I assign in my speech the first place, and intention, expecting to bind the Athenians in the same yoke the second to those who fought and conquered in the sea of necessity in which they had bound the Eretrians. Having fights at Salamis and Artemisium; for of them, too, one effected one-half of their purpose, they were in the act of might have many things to sayof the assaults which they attempting the other, and none of the Hellenes dared to endured by sea and land, and how they repelled them. I assist either the Eretrians or the Athenians, except the will mention only that act of theirs which appears to me to 12


be the noblest, and which followed that of Marathon and side of the barbarians, and there was a report that the great came nearest to it; for the men of Marathon only showed king was going to make a new attempt upon the Hellenes, the Hellenes that it was possible to ward off the barbarians and therefore justice requires that we should also make by land, the many by the few; but there was no proof that mention of those who crowned the previous work of our they could be defeated by ships, and at sea the Persians salvation, and drove and purged away all barbarians from retained the reputation of being invincible in numbers and the sea. These were the men who fought by sea at the river wealth and skill and strength. This is the glory of the men Eurymedon, and who went on the expedition to Cyprus, who fought at sea, that they dispelled the second terror which and who sailed to Egypt and divers other places; and they had hitherto possessed the Hellenes, and so made the fear should be gratefully remembered by us, because they com-of numbers, whether of ships or men, to cease among them.

pelled the king in fear for himself to look to his own safety And so the soldiers of Marathon and the sailors of Salamis instead of plotting the destruction of Hellas.

became the schoolmasters of Hellas; the one teaching and And so the war against the barbarians was fought out to habituating the Hellenes not to fear the barbarians at sea, the end by the whole city on their own behalf, and on be-and the others not to fear them by land. Third in order, for half of their countrymen. There was peace, and our city the number and valour of the combatants, and third in the was held in honour; and then, as prosperity makes men salvation of Hellas, I place the battle of Plataea. And now jealous, there succeeded a jealousy of her, and jealousy begat the Lacedaemonians as well as the Athenians took part in envy, and so she became engaged against her will in a war the struggle; they were all united in this greatest and most with the Hellenes. On the breaking out of war, our citizens terrible conflict of all; wherefore their virtues will be cel-met the Lacedaemonians at Tanagra, and fought for the ebrated in times to come, as they are now celebrated by us.

freedom of the Boeotians; the issue was doubtful, and was But at a later period many Hellenic tribes were still on the decided by the engagement which followed. For when the 13


Lacedaemonians had gone on their way, leaving the perior prowess of the Athenians in the former war with the Boeotians, whom they were aiding, on the third day after barbarians, that their doubts had no foundationshowing the battle of Tanagra, our countrymen conquered at by their victory in the civil war with Hellas, in which they Oenophyta, and righteously restored those who had been subdued the other chief state of the Hellenes, that they could unrighteously exiled. And they were the first after the Per-conquer single-handed those with whom they had been alsian war who fought on behalf of liberty in aid of Hellenes lied in the war against the barbarians. After the peace there against Hellenes; they were brave men, and freed those followed a third war, which was of a terrible and desperate whom they aided, and were the first too who were nature, and in this many brave men who are here interred honourably interred in this sepulchre by the state. After-lost their livesmany of them had won victories in Sicily, wards there was a mighty war, in which all the Hellenes whither they had gone over the seas to fight for the liberties joined, and devastated our country, which was very ungrate-of the Leontines, to whom they were bound by oaths; but, ful of them; and our countrymen, after defeating them in a owing to the distance, the city was unable to help them, and naval engagement and taking their leaders, the Spartans, at they lost heart and came to misfortune, their very enemies Sphagia, when they might have destroyed them, spared their and opponents winning more renown for valour and tem-lives, and gave them back, and made peace, considering perance than the friends of others. Many also fell in naval that they should war with the fellow-countrymen only until engagements at the Hellespont, after having in one day taken they gained a victory over them, and not because of the all the ships of the enemy, and defeated them in other na-private anger of the state destroy the common interest of val engagements. And what I call the terrible and desperate Hellas; but that with barbarians they should war to the death.

nature of the war, is that the other Hellenes, in their ex-Worthy of praise are they also who waged this war, and are treme animosity towards the city, should have entered into here interred; for they proved, if any one doubted the su-negotiations with their bitterest enemy, the king of Persia, 14


whom they, together with us, had expelled;him, without up war at home; and, if men are destined to have civil war, us, they again brought back, barbarian against Hellenes, and no one could have desired that his city should take the dis-all the hosts, both of Hellenes and barbarians, were united order in a milder form. How joyful and natural was the against Athens. And then shone forth the power and valour reconciliation of those who came from the Piraeus and those of our city. Her enemies had supposed that she was ex-who came from the city; with what moderation did they hausted by the war, and our ships were blockaded at order the war against the tyrants in Eleusis, and in a man-Mitylene. But the citizens themselves embarked, and came ner how unlike what the other Hellenes expected! And the to the rescue with sixty other ships, and their valour was reason of this gentleness was the veritable tie of blood, which confessed of all men, for they conquered their enemies and created among them a friendship as of kinsmen, faithful delivered their friends. And yet by some evil fortune they not in word only, but in deed. And we ought also to re-were left to perish at sea, and therefore are not interred member those who then fell by one anothers hands, and here. Ever to be remembered and honoured are they, for on such occasions as these to reconcile them with sacrifices by their valour not only that sea-fight was won for us, but and prayers, praying to those who have power over them, the entire war was decided by them, and through them the that they may be reconciled even as we are reconciled. For city gained the reputation of being invincible, even though they did not attack one another out of malice or enmity, attacked by all mankind. And that reputation was a true but they were unfortunate. And that such was the fact we one, for the defeat which came upon us was our own do-ourselves are witnesses, who are of the same race with them, ing. We were never conquered by others, and to this day and have mutually received and granted forgiveness of what we are still unconquered by them; but we were our own we have done and suffered. After this there was perfect conquerors, and received defeat at our own hands. After-peace, and the city had rest; and her feeling was that she wards there was quiet and peace abroad, but there sprang forgave the barbarians, who had severely suffered at her 15


hands and severely retaliated, but that she was indignant at could justly urgethat she was too compassionate and too the ingratitude of the Hellenes, when she remembered how favourable to the weaker side. And in this instance she was they had received good from her and returned evil, having not able to hold out or keep her resolution of refusing aid made common cause with the barbarians, depriving her of to her injurers when they were being enslaved, but she was the ships which had once been their salvation, and disman-softened, and did in fact send out aid, and delivered the tling our walls, which had preserved their own from falling.

Hellenes from slavery, and they were free until they after-She thought that she would no longer defend the Hellenes, wards enslaved themselves. Whereas, to the great king she when enslaved either by one another or by the barbarians, refused to give the assistance of the state, for she could not and did accordingly. This was our feeling, while the forget the trophies of Marathon and Salamis and Plataea; Lacedaemonians were thinking that we who were the cham-but she allowed exiles and volunteers to assist him, and they pions of liberty had fallen, and that their business was to sub-were his salvation. And she herself, when she was compelled, ject the remaining Hellenes. And why should I say more?

entered into the war, and built walls and ships, and fought for the events of which I am speaking happened not long ago with the Lacedaemonians on behalf of the Parians. Now and we can all of us remember how the chief peoples of the king fearing this city and wanting to stand aloof, when Hellas, Argives and Boeotians and Corinthians, came to feel he saw the Lacedaemonians growing weary of the war at the need of us, and, what is the greatest miracle of all, the sea, asked of us, as the price of his alliance with us and the Persian king himself was driven to such extremity as to come other allies, to give up the Hellenes in Asia, whom the round to the opinion, that from this city, of which he was the Lacedaemonians had previously handed over to him, he destroyer, and from no other, his salvation would proceed.

thinking that we should refuse, and that then he might have And if a person desired to bring a deserved accusation a pretence for withdrawing from us. About the other allies against our city, he would find only one charge which he he was mistaken, for the Corinthians and Argives and 16


Boeotians, and the other states, were quite willing to let lost many brave men, such as were those who fell owing to them go, and swore and covenanted, that, if he would pay the ruggedness of the ground at the battle of Corinth, or by them money, they would make over to him the Hellenes of treason at Lechaeum. Brave men, too, were those who de-the continent, and we alone refused to give them up and livered the Persian king, and drove the Lacedaemonians swear. Such was the natural nobility of this city, so sound from the sea. I remind you of them, and you must celebrate and healthy was the spirit of freedom among us, and the them together with me, and do honour to their memories.

instinctive dislike of the barbarian, because we are pure Such were the actions of the men who are here interred, Hellenes, having no admixture of barbarism in us. For we and of others who have died on behalf of their country; are not like many others, descendants of Pelops or Cadmus many and glorious things I have spoken of them, and there or Egyptus or Danaus, who are by nature barbarians, and are yet many more and more glorious things remaining to yet pass for Hellenes, and dwell in the midst of us; but we be toldmany days and nights would not suffice to tell of are pure Hellenes, uncontaminated by any foreign element, them. Let them not be forgotten, and let every man remind and therefore the hatred of the foreigner has passed un-their descendants that they also are soldiers who must not adulterated into the life-blood of the city. And so, notwith-desert the ranks of their ancestors, or from cowardice fall standing our noble sentiments, we were again isolated, be-behind. Even as I exhort you this day, and in all future cause we were unwilling to be guilty of the base and unholy time, whenever I meet with any of you, shall continue to act of giving up Hellenes to barbarians. And we were in the remind and exhort you, O ye sons of heroes, that you strive same case as when we were subdued before; but, by the to be the bravest of men. And I think that I ought now to favour of Heaven, we managed better, for we ended the repeat what your fathers desired to have said to you who war without the loss of our ships or walls or colonies; the are their survivors, when they went out to battle, in case enemy was only too glad to be quit of us. Yet in this war we anything happened to them. I will tell you what I heard 17


them say, and what, if they had only speech, they would justice and virtue, is seen to be cunning and not wisdom; fain be saying, judging from what they then said. And you wherefore make this your first and last and constant and all-must imagine that you hear them saying what I now repeat absorbing aim, to exceed, if possible, not only us but all your to you:

ancestors in virtue; and know that to excel you in virtue only

Sons, the event proves that your fathers were brave men; brings us shame, but that to be excelled by you is a source of for we might have lived dishonourably, but have preferred to happiness to us. And we shall most likely be defeated, and die honourably rather than bring you and your children into you will most likely be victors in the contest, if you learn so to disgrace, and rather than dishonour our own fathers and fore-order your lives as not to abuse or waste the reputation of fathers; considering that life is not life to one who is a your ancestors, knowing that to a man who has any self-re-dishonour to his race, and that to such a one neither men spect, nothing is more dishonourable than to be honoured, nor Gods are friendly, either while he is on the earth or after not for his own sake, but on account of the reputation of his death in the world below. Remember our words, then, and ancestors. The honour of parents is a fair and noble treasure whatever is your aim let virtue be the condition of the attain-to their posterity, but to have the use of a treasure of wealth ment of your aim, and know that without this all possessions and honour, and to leave none to your successors, because and pursuits are dishonourable and evil. For neither does you have neither money nor reputation of your own, is alike wealth bring honour to the owner, if he be a coward; of such base and dishonourable. And if you follow our precepts you a one the wealth belongs to another, and not to himself. Nor will be received by us as friends, when the hour of destiny does beauty and strength of body, when dwelling in a base brings you hither; but if you neglect our words and are dis-and cowardly man, appear comely, but the reverse of comely, graced in your lives, no one will welcome or receive you.

making the possessor more conspicuous, and manifesting This is the message which is to be delivered to our chil-forth his cowardice. And all knowledge, when separated from dren.