Alcibiades' Speech



hen Socrates had done speaking, the company applauded, and Aristophanes was beginning to say something in answer to the reference Socrates had made to his own speech, when suddenly there was a loud knocking at the door of the house, as of revelers, and the sound of a flute-girl was heard. Agathon told the attendants to go and see who were the intruders. ‘If they're friends of ours,’ he said, ‘invite them in, but if not, say that the drinking is over.’ A little while afterwards they heard the voice of Alcibiades resounding in the court. He was very drunk, and kept roaring and shouting ‘Where's Agathon? Lead me to Agathon,’ and after a while, supported by the flute-girl and some of his attendants, he found his way to the party. ‘Hail, friends,’ he said, appearing at the door crowned with a massive garland of ivy and violets, his head flowing with ribbons. ‘Will you accept a very drunken man as a companion at your party? Or shall I crown Agathon, which was my intention in coming, and go away? For I was unable to come yesterday, and therefore I am here today, carrying on my head these garlands, that taking them from my own head, I may crown the head of this fairest and wisest of men, as I may be allowed to call him. Will you laugh at me because I'm drunk? Yet I know very well that I'm speaking the truth, although you may laugh. But first tell me, if I come in shall we have the understanding of which I spoke? Will you drink with me or not?’

The company were vociferous in begging that he would take his place among them, and Agathon specially invited him. With that he was led in by the people who were with him, and as he was being led, intending to crown Agathon, he took the garlands from his own head and held them in front of his eyes.  He was thus prevented from seeing Socrates, who made way for him, and Alcibiades took the vacant place between Agathon and Socrates, and he embraced Agathon and crowned him. Take off his sandals, said Agathon, and let him be the third person on the couch.

By all means, but who makes the third partner in our revels? asked Alcibiades, turning around and starting up as he caught sight of Socrates. By Heracles, he said, what's this? Here is Socrates always lying in wait for me, and always, as is his way, coming out at all sorts of unsuspected places. And now, what have do you have to say for yourself, and why are you lying here, where I see that you have managed to find a place, not by a comedian or lover of jokes, like Aristophanes, but by the most handsome man here?

Socrates turned to Agathon and said: I must ask you to protect me, Agathon, for the passion of this man has become quite a serious matter to me. Since I became his admirer, I have never been allowed to speak to any other handsome person, or so much as look at him. If I do, he goes wild with envy and jealousy, and not only abuses me, but can hardly keep his hands off me, and at this moment he may do me some harm. Please to see to this, and either reconcile me to him, or, if he attempts violence, protect me, since I'm in bodily fear of his mad and passionate attempts.

There can never be reconciliation between you and me, said Alcibiades, but for the moment I will put off chastising you. And I must beg you, Agathon, to give me back some of the garlands so that I may crown the marvelous head of this universal despot. I would not have him complain about me for crowning you, and neglecting him, who in conversation is the conqueror of all mankind; and this not only once, as you were the day before yesterday, but always. Then, taking some of the garlands, he crowned Socrates, and again reclined.

Then he said: You seem, my friends, to be sober, which is a terrible thing. You  have to drink, since that was our agreement, and I elect myself master of the feast until you are good and drunk. Let's have a large goblet, Agathon, or rather, he said, addressing the attendant, bring me that wine cooler. The wine cooler which had caught his eye was a vessel holding more than two quarts—this he filled and emptied, and had the attendant fill it again for Socrates. Observe, my friends, said Alcibiades, that this ingenious trick of mine will have no effect on Socrates, since he can drink any quantity of wine and not come closer to being drunk. Socrates drank the cup which the attendant filled for him.

Eryximachus said: What's this, Alcibiades? Are we to have neither conversation nor singing over our cups, but simply drink as if we were thirsty?

Alcibiades replied: Hail, worthy son of a most wise and worthy father!

The same to you, said Eryximachus, but what shall we do?

I leave that to you, said Alcibiades.

‘The wise physician skilled in healing our wounds ’

shall prescribe and we will obey. What do you want?

Well, said Eryximachus, before you appeared we had passed a resolution that each one of us in turn should make a speech in praise of love, and as good a one as he could. The turn was passed around from left to right, and as all of us have spoken. Since you have not spoken, but have drunken well, you ought to speak, and then impose upon Socrates any task you please, and he on his right hand neighbor, and so on.

That's good, Eryximachus, said Alcibiades, and yet the comparison of a drunken man’s speech with those of sober men is hardly fair, And I should like to know, sweet friend, whether you really believe what Socrates was just now saying; for I can assure you that the very reverse is true, and that if I praise any one but himself in his presence, whether God or man, he will hardly keep his hands off me.

For shame, said Socrates.

Hold your tongue, said Alcibiades, for by Poseidon, there is no one else whom I will praise when you're around.

Well then, said Eryximachus, if you like praise Socrates.

What do you think, Eryximachus? said Alcibiades. Shall I attack him and inflict the punishment before all of you?

What are you about? said Socrates;. Are you going to raise a laugh at my expense? Is that the meaning of your praise?

I am going to speak the truth, if you will permit me.

I not only permit, but demand that you speak the truth.

Then I'll begin at once, said Alcibiades, and if I say anything which isn't true, you may interrupt me if you want, and say ‘that is a lie,’ though my intention is to speak the truth. But don't be surprsied when I speak as things come into my mind, for the fluent and orderly enumeration of all your unique traits is not a task which is easy for a man in my condition.

And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear to him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him, but only for the truth’s sake. I say that he is exactly like the busts of Silenus, which are set up in the statuaries’ shops, holding pipes and flutes in their mouths; and they are made to open in the middle, and have images of gods inside them. I say also that he is like Marsyas the satyr. You yourself will not deny, Socrates, that your face is like that of a satyr. Yes, and there is a resemblance in other points too. For example, you are a bully, as I can prove by witnesses, if you will not confess. And aren't you a flute player? That you are, and a performer far more wonderful than Marsyas. He with instruments used to charm the souls of men by the power of his breath by using musical instruments, and the players of his music still do so: for the melodies of the gods are derived from Marsyas who taught them, and these, whether they are played by a great master or by a lowly flute-girl, have a power which no others have. They alone possess the soul and reveal the desires of those who need the gods and mysteries, because they are divine. But you produce the same effect with your words only, and do not require the flute: that's the difference between you and him. When we hear any other speaker, even a very good one, he produces absolutely no effect upon us, or not much, whereas the mere fragments of you and your words, even at second-hand, and however imperfectly repeated, amaze and possess the souls of every man, woman, and child who comes within hearing of them. And if I were not afraid that you would think me hopelessly drunk, I would have sworn as well as spoken to the influence which they have always had and still have over me. For my heart leaps within me more than that of any Corybantian reveler, and my eyes rain tears when I hear them. And I observe that many others are affected in the same way. I have heard Pericles and other great orators, and I thought that they spoke well, but I never had any similar feeling. My soul was not stirred by them, nor was I angry at the thought of my own slavish state. But this Marsyas has often brought me to such a state that I have felt as if I could hardly endure the life I'm leading (this, Socrates, you will admit); and I'm conscious that if I did not shut my ears against him, and fly as from the voice of the siren, my fate would be like that of others: he would transfix me, and I would grow old sitting at his feet. For he makes me confess that I ought not to live as I do, neglecting the wants of my own soul, and busying myself with the concerns of the Athenians, so I hold my ears and tear myself away from him. And he is the only person who ever made me ashamed, which you might think not to be in my nature, and there is no one else who does the same. For I know that I can't answer him or say that I shouldn't do as he bids, but when I leave his presence the love of popularity gets the better of me. And so I run away and fly from him, and when I see him I'm ashamed of what I've confessed to him. I've often wished that he were dead, and yet I know that I would be much more sorry than glad, if he were to die, so that I am at my wit’s end.

And this is what I and many others have suffered from the flute-playing of this satyr. Yet hear me once more while I show you how exact the image is, and how marvelous his power. For let me tell you, none of you know him, but I will reveal him to you. Having begun, I must go on. See you how fond he is of the beautiful? He's always with them and always being smitten by them, and then again he knows nothing and is ignorant of all things, that's the show he puts on. Isn't he like a Silenus in this? Of course he is: his outer mask is the carved head of the Silenus, but, my fellow drinked, when he's opened, what temperance there is inside! Realize that beauty and wealth and honor, which the many prise, are of no account with him, and are utterly despised by him. He has no reagrd for the persons gifted with them.  Mankind are nothing to him; his whole life is spent mocking and flouting them. But when I opened him, and looked within at his serious purpose, I saw in him divine and golden images of such fascinating beauty that I was ready to do in a moment whatever Socrates commanded. They may have escaped the observation of others, but I saw them. Now I imagined that he was seriously enamored of my beauty, and I thought that I would therefore have a great opportunity to hear him tell what he knew, for I had a wonderful opinion of the my youthful good looks. In pursuit of this design, the next time I went to him, I sent away the servant who usually accompanied me. (I will confess the whole truth, and beg you to listen, and if I speak falsely, Socrates can expose the falsehood). Well, he and I were alone together, and I thought that when there was nobody with us, I would hear him speak the language lovers use with their beloveds when the two are alone with one another, and I was delighted. Nothing of the sort happened. He conversed as usual, and spent the day with me and then went away. Afterwards I challenged him to a wrestling match, and he wrestled with me several times when there was no one present. I thought that I might succeed in this way. Not a bit. I couldn't make any headway with him. Finally, since everything else had failed, I thought that I must take stronger measures and approach him boldly, and not let him go until I discovered how matters stood between him and me. So I invited him to have dinner with me, just as if he were a handsome youth, and I a designing lover. He was not easily persuaded to come, but after a while accepted the invitation. When he came the first time, he wanted to leave as soon as dinner was over, and I didn't have the nerve to detain him. The second time, still in pursuit of my goal, after we had dined, I went on talking far into the night, and when he wanted to go away, I pretended that it was late and that he would be better off staying. So he lay down on the couch next to me, the same on which he had dined, and there was no one but us sleeping in the apartment. All this may be told without shame to any one. But what follows I could hardly tell you if I were sober. Yet as the proverb says, ‘There is truth in wine,’ whether with boys, or without them, and therefore I must speak. I wouldn't be justified in concealing the lofty actions of Socrates when I came to praise him. Moreover I have felt the serpent’s sting, and he who has suffered, as they say, is willing to tell his fellow-sufferers only, as they alone will be likely to understand him, and will not be extreme in judging what he has said or done from agony. For I have been bitten by a more than viper’s tooth. I have known in my soul, or in my heart, or in some other part, that worst of pangs, more violent in innocent youth than any serpent’s tooth, the pang of philosophy, which will make a man say or do anything. And you whom I see around me, Phaedrus and Agathon and Eryximachus and Pausanias and Aristodemus and Aristophanes, all of you, and I need not say Socrates himself, have had experience of the same madness and passion in your longing after wisdom. Therefore listen and excuse my words and actions now, but let the servents and other profane and unmannered persons close their ears.

When the lamp was put out and the servants had gone away, I thought that I must be plain with him and have no more ambiguity. So I gave him a shake, and I said: ‘Socrates, are you asleep?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘Do you know what I'm thinking? ‘What you're thinking?’ he said. ‘I think,’ I replied, ‘that of all the lovers I've ever had you are the only one worthy of me, but you appear to be too modest to speak. Now I feel that I would be a fool to refuse you this or any other favor, and therefore I come to lay at your feet all that I have and all that my friends have, in the hope that you will assist me in the way of virtue, which I desire above all things, and in which I believe that you can help me better than any one else. And I would certainly have more reason to be ashamed of what wise men would say if I were to refuse a favor to one like you, than of what the world, who are mostly fools, would say of me if I granted it.’ He replied to these words in the ironic manner so characteristic of him. ‘Alcibiades, my friend, you have indeed an elevated aim if what you say is true, and if there really is in me any power by which you may become better. Truly you must see in me some rare beauty of a kind infinitely higher than any I see in you, and therefore, if you mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you'll have a great advantage over me. You will gain true beauty in return for appearance — like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass. But look again, sweet friend, and see whether you are not deceived about me. The mind begins to grow critical when the bodily eye fails, and it will be a long time before you get old.’ Hearing this, I said: ‘I have told you my purpose, which is quite serious, so consider what you think best for you and me.’ ‘That's good,’ he said, ‘ and at some other time then we will consider and act as seems best about this and about other matters.’ At this, I imagined that he was smitten, and that the words I had uttered had wounded him like arrows. So without waiting to hear more I got up, and throwing my coat over him, I crept under his threadbare cloak, since it was winter, and there I lay during the whole night having this wonderful monster in my arms. Again, you can't deny this Socrates. And yet, in spite of everything, he was so superior to my solicitations, so contemptuous and derisive and disdainful of my beauty, which really, I imagine, had some attractions, — hear, O judges, for judges you shall be of the haughty virtue of Socrates — that nothing more happened, but in the morning when I awoke (let all the gods and goddesses be my witnesses) I arose as from the couch of a father or an elder brother.

What do you suppose must have been my feelings, after this rejection, at the thought of my own dishonor? And yet I could not help wondering at his natural temperance and self-restraint and manliness. I never imagined that I could have met with a man such as he is in wisdom and endurance. And therefore I couldn't be angry with him or renounce his company, any more than I could hope to win him. For I well knew that if Ajax could not be wounded by steel, much less could Socrates by money, and my only chance of captivating him by my personal attractions had failed. So I was at my wit’s end. No one was ever more hopelessly enslaved by another. All this happened before he and I went on the military expedition to Potidaea. There we camped together, and I had the opportunity of observing his extraordinary power of sustaining fatigue. His endurance was simply marvelous when, being cut off from our supplies, we were compelled to go without food. On such occasions, which often happen in time of war, he was superior not only to me but to everybody; there was no one to be compared to him. Yet at a festival he was the only person who had any real powers of enjoyment. Though he never wanted to drink, if forced to he could beat us all at that. Wonderful to relate, no human being had ever seen Socrates drunk, and his powers, if I am not mistaken, will be tested before long. His fortitude in enduring cold was also surprising. There was a severe frost, for the winter in that region is really difficult, and everybody else either remained indoors, or if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes, and were well shod, and had their feet wrapped in felt and fleeces. In the midst of this, Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in his ordinary dress marched better than the other soldiers who had shoes, and they looked daggers at him because he seemed to despise them.

I have told you one tale, and now I must tell you another, which is worth hearing, ‘Of the actions and sufferings of the enduring man’ while he was on the expedition. One morning he was thinking about something which he could not resolve. He would not give it up, but continued thinking from early dawn until noon. There he stood transfixed in thought. At noon, attention was drawn to him, and the rumor ran through the wondering crowd that Socrates had been standing and thinking about something ever since the break of day. At last, in the evening after supper, some Ionians out of curiosity (I should explain that this was not in winter but in summer), brought out their mats and slept in the open air that they might watch him and see whether he would stand all night. There he stood until the following morning, and with the return of light he offered up a prayer to the sun, and went his way. I will also tell, if you like — and indeed I am bound to tell — of his courage in battle, for who but he saved my life? Now this was the engagement in which I received the prize of valor, because I was wounded and he would not leave me, but he rescued me and my arms. He ought to have received the prize of valor which the generals wanted to confer on me partly on account of my rank, and I told them so (this, again, Socrates will not impeach or deny). But he was more eager than the generals that I and not he should have the prize. There was another occasion on which his behavior was very remarkable, in the flight of the army after the battle of Delium, where he served among the heavily armored. I had a better opportunity of seeing him than at Potidaea, since I was myself on horseback, and therefore comparatively out of danger. He and Laches were retreating, for the troops were in flight, and I met them and told them not to be discouraged, and promised to remain with them.  And there you might imagine him, Aristophanes, as you describe (in the comic play, The Clouds), just as he is in the streets of Athens, stalking like a pelican, and rolling his eyes, calmly contemplating enemies as well as friends, and making very clear to anybody, even from a distance, that whoever attacked him would be likely to meet with a stiff resistance. And in this way he and his companion escaped, for this is the sort of man who is never touched in war. Only those are pursued who are running away headlong. I particularly observed how superior he was to Laches in presence of mind. Many are the marvels which I might narrate in praise of Socrates. Most of his behavior might perhaps be paralleled in other men, but his absolute unlikeness to any human being that is or ever has been is perfectly astonishing. You may imagine Brasidas and others to have been like Achilles, or you may imagine Nestor and Antenor to have been like Pericles, and the same may be said of other famous men. But able to find any likeness of this strange being, however remote, either among living men or those now dead, other than what I have already suggested about Silenus and the satyrs, and they represent in imagination not only him, but his words. For, although I forgot to mention this to you before, his words are like the images of Silenus which open. They are ridiculous when you first hear them. He clothes himself in language that is like the skin of the wanton satyr, for he talks about donkeys and smiths and cobblers and curriers, and he is always repeating the same things in the same words, so that any ignorant or inexperienced person might feel disposed to laugh at him. But he who opens the bust and sees what's inside will find that they are the only words which have real meaning in them, and also the most divine, full with beautiful images of virtue, and of the widest significance, extending to the entire duty of a good and honorable man.

This, friends, is my praise of Socrates. I have added my blame of him for his ill-treatment of me, and he has badly treated not only me, but Charmides, the son of Glaucon, and Euthydemus, the son of Diocles, and many others in the same way. Beginning as their lover, he has ended by making them pay their addresses to him. So I say to you, Agathon, ‘Don't be deceived by him. Learn from me and be warned, and don't be a fool and learn by experience, as the proverb says.’

When Alcibiades had finished, there was laughter at his outspokenness, since he seemed to be still in love with Socrates. You are sober, Alcibiades, said Socrates, or you would never have gone to such lengths to hide the purpose of your satyr’s praises, for this entire long story is only an ingenious round about way of making the point that comes at the end. You want to cause a quarrel between Agathon and me, because you think that I ought to love you and nobody else, and that you and only you ought to love Agathon. But I've seen through the plot of this Satyric or Silenic drama, and you must not allow him to set us at odds, Agathon.

I think you're right, said Agathon, and I suspect that his intention in placing himself between you and me was only to divide us. But he won't gain anything by that move, beause I will go and lie on the couch next to you.

Yes, yes, replied Socrates, by all means come here and lie on the couch below me.

Alas, said Alcibiades, how I'm fooled by this man. He's determined to get the better of me at every turn. I beg you to allow Agathon to lie between us.

Certainly not, said Socrates. Since you praised me, and I in turn ought to praise my neighbor on the right, he will be out of order in praising me again, when I should be praising him. I beg you to consent to this, and not be jealous, for I have a great desire to praise the youth.

Hurrah! cried Agathon, I will rise instantly, so Socrates can praise me.

Its the usual situation, said Alcibiades. When Socrates is around, no one else has any chance with the handsome. How easily has he invented a false reason for attracting Agathon to himself.

Agathon arose to take his place on the couch by Socrates, when suddenly a band of revelers entered, and spoiled the decorum of the banquet. Some one who was going out left the door open, and they had found their way in,making themselves at home.  Great confusion ensued, and every one was forced to drink large quantities of wine. Aristodemus said that Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and others went away. He himself fell asleep, and since the nights were long had a good rest. He was awakened towards daybreak by crowing roosters, and when he awoke, the others were either asleep, or had left. There remained only Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon, who were drinking out of a large goblet which they passed round, and Socrates was discoursing to them. Aristodemus was only half awake, and did not hear the beginning of the discourse. The main thing he remembered was Socrates making the other two acknowledge that the genius of comedy was the same as that of tragedy, and that the true artist in tragedy was also an artist in comedy. They were forced to agree with this, being drowsy, and not quite following the argument. First of all Aristophanes dropped off, then, when the day was already dawning, Agathon. Socrates, having laid them to sleep, rose to leave, Aristodemus, as was his habit, following him. At the Lyceum Socrates took a bath, and passed the day as usual. In the evening he went to rest at his own home.



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