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The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates Part 8

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He exhorted his friends to take care of their health, and to that purpose to consult with the learned; and to observe, besides, each in his own particular, what meat, what drink, and what exercise is best for him, and how to use them to preserve himself in health. For when a man has thus studied his own const.i.tution, he cannot have a better physician than himself.

If any one desired to attempt or to learn things that were above the power or capacity of human nature, he advised him to apply himself to divination; for he who knows by what means the G.o.ds generally signify their mind to men, or how it is they used to give them counsel and aid, such a person never fails to obtain from the Deity all that direction and a.s.sistance that is necessary for him.

CHAPTER VIII. BEHAVIOUR OF SOCRATES FROM THE TIME OF HIS CONDEMNATION TO HIS DEATH.--HIS CHARACTER SUMMED UP IN A FEW WORDS.

To conclude: if, because Socrates was condemned to death, any one should believe that he was a liar to say that he had a good demon that guided him, and gave him instructions what he should or should not do, let him consider, in the first place, that he was arrived to such an age that if he had not died when he did, he could not have lived much longer; that by dying when he did he avoided the most toilsome part of life, in which the mind loses much of its vigour; and that in amends for it he discovered to the whole world the greatness of his soul, acquired to himself an immortal glory, by the defence he made before his judges, in behaving himself with a sincerity, courage, and probity that were indeed wonderful, and in receiving his sentence with a patience and resolution of mind never to be equalled; for it is agreed by all that no man ever suffered death with greater constancy than Socrates.

He lived thirty days after his condemnation, because the Delian feasts happened in that month, and the law forbids to put any man to death till the consecrated vessel that is sent to the Isle of Delos be come back to Athens. During that time his friends, who saw him continually, found no change in him; but that he always retained that tranquillity of mind and agreeableness of temper which before had made all the world admire him.

Now, certainly no man can die with greater constancy than this; this is doubtless the most glorious death that can be imagined; but if it be the most glorious, it is the most happy; and if it be the most happy, it is the most acceptable to the Deity.

Hermogenes has told me, that being with him a little after Melitus had accused him, he observed, that he seemed to decline speaking of that affair: from whence he took occasion to tell him that it would not be amiss for him to think of what he should answer in his own justification.

To which Socrates replied: "Do you believe I have done anything else all my life than think of it?" And Hermogenes asking him what he meant by saying so? Socrates told him that he had made it the whole business of his life to examine what was just and what unjust; that he had always cherished justice and hated injustice, and that he did not believe there was any better way to justify himself.

Hermogenes said further to him--"Do you not know that judges have often condemned the innocent to death, only because their answers offended them, and that, on the contrary, they have often acquitted the guilty?"

"I know it very well," answered Socrates; "but I a.s.sure you, that having set myself to think what I should say to my judges, the demon that advises me dissuaded me from it." At which Hermogenes seeming surprised, Socrates said to him, "Why are you surprised that this G.o.d thinks it better for me to leave this world than to continue longer in it? Sure, you are not ignorant that I have lived as well and as pleasantly as any man, if to live well be, as I take it, to have no concern but for virtue, and if to live pleasantly be to find that we have made some progress in it. Now, I have good reason to believe that this is my happy case, that I have always had a steady regard for virtue, and made progress in it, because I perceive that my mind, at this time, doth not misgive me, nay, I have the sincere testimony of my conscience that I have done my duty; and in this belief I strengthen myself by the conversation I have had with others, and by comparing myself with them. My friends, too, have believed the same thing of me, not because they wish me well, for in that sense every friend would think as much of his friend, but because they thought they advanced in virtue by my conversation.

"If I were to live longer, perhaps I should fall into the inconveniences of old age: perhaps my sight should grow dim, my hearing fail me, my judgment become weak, and I should have more trouble to learn, more to retain what I had learnt; perhaps, too, after all, I should find myself incapable of doing the good I had done before. And if, to complete my misery, I should have no sense of my wretchedness, would not life be a burden to me? And, on the other hand, say I had a sense of it, would it not afflict me beyond measure? As things now stand, if I die innocent the shame will fall on those who are the cause of my death, since all sort of iniquity is attended with shame. But who will ever blame me because others have not confessed my innocence, nor done me justice? Past experience lets us see that they who suffer injustice, and they who commit it, leave not a like reputation behind them after their death. And thus, if I die on this occasion, I am most certain that posterity will more honour my memory than theirs who condemn me; for it will be said of me, that I never did any wrong, never gave any ill advice to any man; but that I laboured all my life long to excite to virtue those who frequented me."

This was the answer that Socrates gave to Hermogenes, and to several others. In a word, all good men who knew Socrates daily regret his loss to this very hour, reflecting on the advantage and improvement they made in his company.

For my own part, having found him to be the man I have described, that is to say, so pious as to do nothing without the advice of the Deity; so just as never to have in the least injured any man, and to have done very signal services to many; so chaste and temperate as never to have preferred delight and pleasure before modesty and honesty; so prudent as never to have mistaken in the discernment of good and evil, and never to have had need of the advice of others, to form a right judgment of either; moreover, most capable to deliberate and resolve in all sorts of affairs, most capable to examine into men, to reprehend them for their vices, and to excite them to virtue; having, I say, found all these perfections in Socrates, I have always esteemed him the most virtuous and most happy of all men; and if any one be not of my opinion, let him take the pains to compare him with other men, and judge of him afterwards.

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The Memorable Thoughts of Socrates Part 8 summary

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