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Socrates

“Antiphon once said to Socrates in a conversation: ‘Socrates, I, for my part, hold that you are just, but not in any way wise. And in my opinion you even recognize this yourself. At any rate, you demand no money in exchange for associating with you. And yet if you thought that your cloak or your house or any other of your possessions were worth money, you would not only not give it to anyone for free, but you wouldn’t even take less for it than it is worth.

‘Surely it is clear that if you thought as well that associating with you were worth anything, you would exact no less money for this too than it is worth. Just, then, you may be, in that you do not deceive on account of greed, but not wise, since what you understand is worthless.’

And Socrates replied to this: ‘Antiphon, among us it is held that youthful bloom and wisdom are nobly bestowed, or shamefully bestowed, in like fashion. For if someone wishes to sell his youthful bloom for money to whoever wishes it, they call him a prostitute; but if someone makes a friend of one whom he recognizes to be a lover who is both noble and good, we hold that he is moderate. Similarly, those also who sell wisdom for money to whoever wishes it they call sophists just as it they were prostitutes; but we hold that whoever makes a friend by teaching whatever good he possesses to someone he recognizes as having a good nature – this one does what benefits a gentlemanly (noble and good) citizen.

Accordingly, Antiphon, just as another is pleased by a good horse or a dog or a bird, so I myself am even more pleased by good friends, and if I possess something good I teach it, and I introduce them to others from whom, I believe, they will receive some benefit with a view to virtue. And reading collectively with my friends, I go through the treasures of the wise men of old which they wrote and left behind in their books; and if we see something good, we pick it out; and we hold that it is a great gain if we become friends with one another.’

When I heard these things, I formed the opinion that Socrates himself was blessed and that he led those who heard him to nobility and goodness.

And again Antiphon once questioned him about how he could believe that he made others fit for political affairs, since he himself did not engage in political affairs. Socrates said, ‘In which case, Antiphon, would I more engage in political affairs, if I engaged in them by myself, or if I should attend to there being as many as possible competent to engage in them?’”

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From Book I, Chapter VI of Xenophon’s Memorabilia (Amy Bonnette’s translation).

Like Jesus of Nazareth, Socrates never wrote a book. We know his words through the conversations and monologues that his acolytes recorded.

Cornell West was once asked what question of history most sparked his imagination. His answer: “I sometimes wonder why Jesus never laughed and Socrates never cried.”