“Noble Socrates reproached fathers who did not teach their sons and then, when they were destitute, took their sons to court and sued them as ungrateful because they did not support their parents. He said that the fathers were expecting something impossible: those who have not learned just actions are incapable of performing them”
Valerius Maximus, Memorable Sayings and Deeds 7.6 ext 1b-c
“[Socrates] used to say that those who act as so that they become as they would wish to seem finish short and well-known roads to glory. With this saying he was clearly warning that humans should drink virtue itself rather than follow its shadow.
Socrates also, when asked by a certain young man whether he should take a wife or abstain from matrimony altogether, said that whichever he did he would regret it. “From second option, you will experience loneliness, childlessness, the end of your family, and a foreign heir; from the other option, you will have perpetual annoyance, a weaving of complaints, questions about the dowry, the down-turned brows of inlaws, a talkative mother-in-law, a hunter for other people’s marriages, and the uncertain bearing of children.’ He would not endure that the youth believe he was making a choice of happy material in the context of harsh matters.”
Idem expedita et compendiaria via eos ad gloriam pervenire dicebat qui id agerent ut quales videri vellent, tales etiam essent. qua quidem praedicatione aperte monebat ut homines ipsam potius virtutem haurirent quam umbram eius consectarentur.
Idem, ab adulescentulo quodam consultus utrum uxorem duceret an se omni matrimonio abstineret, respondit utrum eorum fecisset, acturum paenitentiam. ‘hinc te’ inquit ‘solitudo, hinc orbitas, hinc generis interitus, hinc heres alienus excipiet, illinc perpetua sollicitudo, contextus querellarum, dotis exprobratio, adfinium grave supercilium, garrula socrus lingua, subsessor alieni matrimonii, incertus liberorum eventus.’ non passus est iuvenem in contextu rerum asperarum quasi laetae materiae facere dilectum.
Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, 7.6 ext 1
“Our time won’t last while I relate the native examples, since our empire finds its safety and growth not so much from strength of bodies as from vigor of our minds. Therefore, let Roman intelligence for the most part be put aside under silent admiration—instead we will turn to similar examples from foreign peoples.
Socrates, some kind of an earth-bound oracle of human wisdom, believed that nothing more should be sought from the immortal gods beyond asking them for good. This is because only they know what is helpful for each individual and we often pray for that which it would be better if we did not have. Indeed, would that the mortal mind be enveloped in the darkest shadows, since it so often spreads the blindest prayers into wide open error!
You seek riches which were the death of many! You desire honors which have ruined more than a few. You contemplate those very reigns that are often known to end in misery. You have reached your hand to glorious marriages which sometimes make homes shine while they shake others to the ground. So stop drooling stupidly over future causes of your troubles as if they are the most fortunate matters and entrust yourself entirely to divine will since those who are in the habit of easily giving good things can also choose them appropriately”
Tempus deficiet domestica narrantem, quoniam imperium nostrum non tam robore corporum quam animorum vigore incrementum ac tutelam sui comprehendit. maiore itaque ex parte Romana prudentia in admiratione tacita reponatur, alienigenisque huius generis exemplis detur aditus.
Socrates, humanae sapientiae quasi quoddam terrestre oraculum, nihil ultra petendum a dis immortalibus arbitrabatur quam ut bona tribuerent, quia ii demum scirent quid unicuique esset utile, nos autem plerumque id votis expeteremus quod non impetrasse melius foret: etenim densissimis tenebris involuta mortalium mens, in quam late patentem errorem caecas precationes tuas spargis! divitias appetis, quae multis exitio fuerunt; honores concupiscis, qui complures pessum dederunt; regna tecum ipsa volvis, quorum exitus saepenumero miserabiles cernuntur; splendidis coniugiis inicis manus: at haec ut aliquando illustrant, ita nonnumquam funditus domos evertunt. desine igitur stulta futuris malorum tuorum causis quasi felicissimis rebus inhiare, teque totam caelestium arbitrio permitte, quia qui tribuere bona ex facili solent, etiam eligere aptissime possunt.
Last year we posted a lot of fables. Why? Because they are fabulous. But, also, because they are fun, fascinating, and a fine way to seek shelter from current events (while still doing some thinking). Ancient literature does not include a great deal of critical reflection on the Fable, but we do find it prized at the beginning of an education (by Quintilian) and the end of Socrates’ life.
Quintilian, Inst. Orat. 1.9.1-3
“Therefore, let children learn to relay Aesop’s fables—which follow closely the stories of the nursery, in a simple speech and without adding too much and then to write them down in the same unadorned fashion. They should first analyze the verse, then interpret it in their own words, and finally expand it in their own version in which they may either compress some parts or elaborate others with without losing the poet’s meaning.”
 igitur Aesopi fabellas, quae fabulis nutricularum proxime succedunt, narrare sermone puro et nihil se supra modum extollente, deinde eandem gracilitatem stilo exigere condiscant; versus primo solvere, mox mutatis verbis interpretari, tum paraphrasi audacius vertere, qua et breviare quaedam et exornare salvo modo poetae sensu permittitur.
Diogenes Laertius, Vita Philosophorum 2.5.45
“Then they sentenced[Socrates] to death, adding 80 additional votes to this tally. After he was imprisoned for just a few days, he drank the hemlock, but not without having a few exemplary conversations which Plato describes in the Phaedrus. He also composed a paian which begins: “Hail, Delian Apollo, and Artemis, famous children”. Dionysodôros says that this paian is not his. He also composed Aesopic tales in verse, though not completely well, one of which begins:
“Aesop once said to the men who live in Korinth,
Do not judge virtue according to a jury’s opinion”
And then he was taken from the world of men. Soon, the Athenians changed their minds and closed the wrestling floor and gymnasium. They banished the accusers but put Meletos to death. They honored Socrates with a bronze statue which they placed in the Pompeion. It was mad by Lysippos. As soon as Anytos visited Heracleia, the people expelled him. Not only did the Athenians suffer concerning Socrates, but according to Heracleides they fined Homer fifty drachmae because he was insane and they said Tyrtaeus was out of his mind and they even honored Astydamas and others more than Aeschylus with a bronze statue. Euripides rebukes them in his Palamedes when he says:
“You have butchered/ you have butchered
The all-wise nightingale of the muses
Who caused no harm”
This is one story. But Philochorus claims that Euripides died before Socrates.”
Diogenes is not completely fabricating material here. Plato’s Phaedo records that Socrates while imprisoned composed “poems, arranged versions of Aesop’s tales and a prooimon to Apollo” (ποιημάτων ὧν πεποίηκας ἐντείνας τοὺς τοῦ Αἰσώπου λόγους καὶ τὸ εἰς τὸν Ἀπόλλω προοίμιον, 60d). When asked why he was occupying his time in this way, Socrates responds (Phaedo 60e-61a):
“The same dream often came to me in my past life, appearing in different forms from time to time, but saying the same things: “Socrates, make music and work on it.” In earlier time, I believe that it was compelling me and encouraging me to do what I was doing—just as some cheer on runners, in the same way the dream was telling me to do what I was doing, to make music, since philosophy is the greatest music of all and I was working on that. But now that the trial is complete and the festival has delayed my death, it seemed right to me, if the frequent dream really meant for me to make what is normally called music, not to disobey it but to compose.”
Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 4.47–49 (On Bion)
“To speak truly concerning other matters, Bion was a shifty guy, a diverse-minded sophist, and someone who gave many avenues of attack to those who wanted to harm philosophy. In some manners, he was puffed up and capable of great arrogance. He left a great many commentaries and sayings which can be very useful. For example, when he was reproached for not hunting after a young man he said “it’s not possible to grab soft cheese with a hook.”
When someone asked who suffers more from worry, he said “whoever wants to prosper the most”. When he was asked if someone should get married—for this story is also reported about Bion—he said if you marry an ugly woman, you will have a burden; if she is pretty, you will have her in common.” He said that old age is a harbor for all evils: at least, they all retreat into the same place. He called fame the mother of virtues, beauty a foreign good, and wealth the tendons of business. To someone who had eaten up his inheritance, he said “The land consumed Amphiarus, but you ate your land.” To be incapable of enduring an evil is a great evil. He used to condemn those who burned men as if they could not feel but cauterize them as if they do.
He always used to say that it was preferable to give favor to another than to take it. For this harms the body and the soul. And he used to slander Socrates, saying that if he had a desire for Alcibiades and resisted, he was stupid. But if he did not desire him, he did nothing impressive. He also used to say that the road to Hades was easy: at least because people get there with their eyes closed. He used to mock Alcibiades by saying that when he was young he separated men husbands from their wives; but when he was older, he stole wives from their husbands.
When the Athenians were obsessed with rhetoric, he taught philosophical subjects in Rhodes. To someone who criticized him for this, he said, “I brought wheat, can I sell barely?”
Socrates is telling a story of the invention of writing in Egypt
“When it came to the written letters, Theuth said, ‘This training, King, will make Egyptians wiser and will give them stronger memories: for it is a drug for memory and wisdom!’ But the king replied, “Most inventive Theuth, one man is able to create technology, but another judges how much harm and benefit it brings to those who use it. Just so now you, who are father of letters, declare the opposite of what they are capable because of your enthusiasm. This craft will engender forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn it from the disuse of the memory since they will trust external writing struck by others, no longer recalling their own thoughts within them. You have discovered a drug for reminding, not one for memory; you will offer students the reputation of wisdom but not the true thing. For many who become students without instruction will seem to know a lot when they are mostly ignorant and difficult to be around, since they have become wise for appearance instead of wise.’
Ph. Socrates, you can easily make up any story about Egypt that you want to”
Socrates: “Come now, if only this path wouldn’t lead through men at all, just as through slavery or dominion, you would be saying something. But, as it is, since you live among human beings, if you think it right neither to rule nor to be ruled, nor again to serve rulers willingly, I think that you may see that the stronger know how to make those weaker weep in public and in private—and how to use them as slaves. Or does it escape you that they cut the grain and harvest the trees where others have sown and planted, or that the powerful set siege to the weaker in every way until they “persuade” them to choose to serve as slaves instead of warring against the stronger? Don’t you think it’s the same in private life—that brave and capable men prey upon the weak and powerless once they have enslaved them?”
Aristippus said, “But, indeed, to avoid suffering these things, I do not bind myself to any state—I am a stranger [guest/foreigner] everywhere.”
Socrates: “You have now described a clever trick!” For since the time of Sinis, Skeiron and Procrustes died, no one has done a stranger wrong! But now men gathered together in their states and make laws so that they might not suffer harm, that they might acquire friends as help beyond what they have acquired by birth, and they have built defenses around their cities and acquired weapons to defend themselves against those who might do them wrong and, in addition to this, they have managed to make alliances in other lands. And even those who have done all these things still suffer injustice. Now you, who have none of these advantages, you spend time on the roads where men suffer harm the most and in every city you arrive you arrive you are weaker than all of the citizens—you are the sort of man who are especially exposed to those who want to harm someone. Given all this, you think that you will not suffer harm because you are a “guest”? Is it because the cities announce your safety when you are coming and going that you are so bold? Or is it because you think that you’re the kind of man who’d be of profit to no master? For who would welcome a man into his home who delights in living well but is unwilling to work?”
XVII. With what equanimity Socrates endured the intractable spirit of his wife; and also, what Marcus Varro wrote about the duty of a husband in a certain satire.
Xanthippe, the wife of the philosopher Socrates, is said to have been so given to distemper and quarreling, and to have poured out her wifely irritations upon him both day and night. Alcibiades marveled at these fits against the husband, and asked Socrates why he did not drive such a bitter woman from his house. ‘Because,’ said Socrates, ‘when I put up with her at home, I become accustomed to and exercised in the art of bearing more readily the insolence and injustice of others when I am out of the house.’
In accordance with this sentiment, even Marcus Varro wrote in a Menippean Satire about the duty of a husband, ‘The faults of a wife are either to be removed or endured. He who removes his wife’s faults makes her more pleasant; but he who bears them, makes himself better.’ These words of Varro, ‘remove’ and ‘bear’ are well-turned, but it appears that he wrote ‘to remove’ in the sense of ‘to correct.’ It even appears that Varro would think that the faults of this same wife, should they not admit of correction, should simply be born, if a husband can bear them honestly; for our faults are at any rate not as serious as crimes.
XVII.Quanta cum animi aequitate toleraverit Socrates uxoris ingenium intractabile; atque inibi quid M. Varro in quadam satura de officio mariti scripserit.
1Xanthippe, Socratis philosophi uxor, morosa admodum fuisse fertur et iurgiosa irarumque et molestiarum muliebrium per diem perque noctem scatebat. 2 Has eius intemperies in maritum Alcibiades demiratus interrogavit Socraten, quaenam ratio esset, cur mulierem tam acerbam domo non exigeret. 3 “Quoniam,” inquit Socrates “cum illam domi talem perpetior, insuesco et exerceor, ut ceterorum quoque foris petulantiam et iniuriam facilius feram.” 4 Secundum hanc sententiam M. quoque Varro in satura Menippea, quam de officio mariti scripsit: “Vitium” inquit “uxoris aut tollendum aut ferendum est. Qui tollit vitium, uxorem commodiorem praestat; qui fert, sese meliorem facit.” 5 Haec verba Varronis “tollere” et “ferre” lepide quidem composita sunt, sed “tollere” apparet dictum pro “corrigere”. 6 Id etiam apparet eiusmodi vitium uxoris, si corrigi non possit, ferendum esse Varronem censuisse, quod ferri scilicet a viro honeste potest; vitia enim flagitiis leviora sunt.
This detail doesn’t fit the basic narrative of an impoverished philosopher with a nagging wife. There is an explanation in the tradition found in Diogenes Laertius’, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers 2.26
“Aristotle records that Socrates had two wives. The first was Xanthippe who gave him a son, Lamprokles. The second was Myrto, who was the daughter of Aristeides the Just, whom he married without a dowry. She gave him two sons, Sophroniskos and Menexenos. Others report that he married Myrto second. And some—including Satyros and Hieronymous of Rhodes— claim that he married both at the same time. (They assert that because the Athenians had a lack of men and wanted to increase their number, they voted that citizen may marry one woman and have children with another. This is what Socrates did.)”
Most of the anecdotes in Diogenes’ life speak of Xanthippe and not Myrto. Athenaeus repeats the detail (13.556a) and notes that if it were true, it probably would have been mentioned by the comic poets. But are there other records of legalized polygamy in classical Greece?
And what about the sons? Regardless of the mother, the number accords with what Plato has Socrates say in the Apology (34d) “I have three sons, Athenians, one an adolescent and two still children….” (μοί εἰσι καὶ ὑεῖς γε, ὦ ἄνδρες ᾿Αθηναῖοι, τρεῖς, εἷς μὲν μειράκιον ἤδη, δύο δὲ παιδία·)
In this passage Socrates argues against the sophists’ practice of taking money to teach about wisdom. In modern terms, Socrates might be seen as arguing against the commodification of our everyday relationships and exchanges. One can only imagine his responses to the notion of the ‘sharing economy’.
“Socrates responded to these things, “Antiphon, we share the belief that there is both a noble and a shameful way to share beauty and wisdom. For if someone offers beauty to anyone who wants it for money, people call him a prostitute. But if someone makes someone he knows who is a good and noble lover into a friend, we consider it prudent. It is the same way with wisdom: people call men who sell it to anyone who wishes for money a sophist [just like prostitutes] but whoever makes a friend of anyone he knows as capable and teaches him whatever good he can, we think that he has accomplished the duties of a good and noble citizen.
This, then, is how I proceed myself, Antiphon, just as some might get excited about a good horse, or a dog or a bird, I am so much more eager for good friends. And, if I know anything good, I teach it and I suggest others to them from whom I think they might gain some benefit concerning virtue. I also work through the treasures left by the wise men of old—those they have left in writing their books—opening them with my friends and picking out whatever good we discover. We consider this a great profit, if we become mutual friends* in this way.”