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The Erotic Essay

61.1Well, since you wish to hear the essay, I shall bring it out and read it aloud; but first you must understand its purpose. The writer's desire is to praise Epicrates, note whom he thought to be the most charming young man in the city, although there were many fine gentlemen among those of his own age, and to surpass him more in understanding than in beauty of person. Observing also that, generally speaking, most erotic compositions attach shame rather than honor to those about whom they are written, he has taken precautions that this should not happen in his case, and has written only what he says he is convinced of by his judgement, believing that an honest lover would neither do anything shameful nor request it. note 61.2Now, that part of my essay which you may find to be the most erotic, so to speak, is on this topic, but the rest of it in part praises the lad himself and in part counsels about his education and his design for living. note whole essay is written as one would put it into a book, because discourses intended to be delivered ought to be written simply and just as one might speak offhand, while those of the other kind, which are planned to last longer, are properly composed in the manner of poetry and ornately. note For it is the function of the former to win converts and of the latter to display one's skill. Accordingly, to avoid spoiling the essay for you or rehearsing my own opinions about these questions, I ask you to lend your attention, since you are immediately going to hear the essay itself, because Epicrates is also at hand, whom I wished to hear it.

61.3Observing that certain of those who are loved and possess their share of good looks make the right use of neither one of these blessings, but put on grand airs because of the comeliness of their appearance and exhibit reluctance to associate with their admirers, note and so far fail in judging what is best that, because of those who pervert the thing, they assume a surly attitude toward those also who desire to associate with them from pure motives, I concluded that such young men not only defeat their own interests but also engender evil habits in the rest, 61.4and that the high-minded should not follow their foolish example, bearing in mind particularly that, since actions are not absolutely either honorable or shameful but for most part vary according to the persons concerned, note it is unreasonable to adopt the same attitude toward both classes of men, and secondly, that it is the height of absurdity to envy those who have a host of firm friends but to repulse their admirers, who are a separate group and alone feel drawn by nature, not toward all, but only to the beautiful and modest.

61.5Moreover, although those who have never yet seen such a friendship turn out well or have severely condemned themselves on the ground that they would be incapable of associating innocently with casual acquaintances, it is perhaps not unreasonable to entertain this prejudice note; but for those so disposed as yourself, who have not utterly refused to hear how very many benefits accrue through love without shame and have lived the rest of their lives with the utmost circumspection, it is not reasonable to have even a suspicion that they would do anything shameful. 61.6Consequently I have felt all the more a moved to write this essay, feeling sure I should not fail to secure two most honorable rewards. note For when I have described the good qualities you possess, I hope that at one and the same time I shall prove you to be worthy of admiration and myself not senseless if I love you, being what you are; and secondly, in tendering the advice that is most urgently needed I believe I shall present proof of my own goodwill and furnish a basis for our mutual friendship.

61.7And yet it does not escape me that it is difficult to describe your character in keeping with your deserts and that it is more hazardous still to give advice when the adviser is bound to make himself answerable for his advice to the one who accepts it. note It is my judgement, however, that, while it becomes the recipients of merited eulogies to baffle by the excess of their real virtue the ability of those who praise them, yet in my counsel I shall not miss the mark, being well aware that no advice could be innocently carried out if proffered by men who are senseless and quite ruined by incontinence, not even if they advise supremely well, but that not even the advice that is only moderately pondered can altogether miss the mark if tendered by men who choose to live pure and self disciplined lives.

61.8Cherishing such hopes I enter upon my theme. All men would agree with me, I believe, that it is of the utmost importance for young men of your age to possess beauty in respect of person, self-discipline in respect of soul, and manliness in respect of both, and consistently to possess charm in respect of speech. As for these two kinds of qualities, natural and acquired, Fortune has so generously blessed you with nature's gifts that you consistently enjoy distinction and admiration, and the other kind you are bringing to such perfection through your own diligence that no fair-minded person could have fault to find with you. 61.9And yet what ought he to possess who is worthy of the highest eulogies? note Must he not manifestly be loved by the gods and among men be admired, for some qualities on his own account, for others because of his good fortune? Now the longer list of your virtuous qualities it will perhaps be fitting to describe summarily later on, but the praise I have to utter for each of the gifts of Fortune I shall now try to declare with truthfulness.

61.10I shall begin by praising that quality of yours which all who see you will recognize first, your beauty, and the hue of your flesh, by virtue of which your limbs and your whole body are rendered resplendent. Wondering what fitting comparison for this I may offer, I find none, but it is my privilege to request those who read this essay to see you and contemplate you, so that I may be pardoned for declaring that I have no suitable simile. 61.11For to what could anyone liken something mortal which arouses immortal longing in the beholder, the sight of which does not satiate, and when removed from sight lingers in the memory, which in human form possesses a natural beauty worthy of the gods, like a flower in its comeliness, beyond suspicion of imperfections? Furthermore, it is impossible to impute to your person even those blemishes which in the past have marred many another who has shared in beauty. 61.12For either through ungainliness of mien they have ruined all their natural comeliness or through some unfortunate mannerism have involved their natural attractions in the same disfavor. By none of these could we find your person afflicted, for whichever of the gods it was that took forethought for your person has so diligently guarded you against all such mishaps as to leave nothing calling for criticism and to render your general appearance superb. 61.13Moreover, since the face is the most conspicuous of the parts that are seen, and of the face itself the eyes, even more in these did the god reveal the goodwill that he had toward you. For he not only furnished you with eyes adequate to perform the necessary functions but, although the virtue of some men is not recognized even from their actions, of your character he has placed in a clear light the fine qualities through the evidence of your glance, displaying it as gentle and kind toward those who look at you, dignified and serious toward those who converse with you, manly and proper to all men.

61.14And here is a matter that may be particularly surprising. For while other men are assumed to be mean-spirited because they are gentle and to be arrogant because they are dignified, and are thought overbearing because they are manly, and stupid because they keep quiet, Fortune in your case has taken qualities so mutually contradictory and caused them all to be properly harmonized, as if fulfilling a prayer or wishing to set an example for others, but not framing a mere mortal nature, as was her usual way.

61.15Now if it were possible to do justice to such beauty as yours in words, or if this were the only quality of yours worthy of praise, we should think it necessary to omit praise of none of your good points; but as things are, I am afraid that we may find our bearers refusing to hear praise of your other merits and that we may defeat ourselves by harping on this theme. 61.16For how could anyone overdo the verbal description of your appearance, since not even works of art executed by the skill of the best masters could do more than justice to it? Nor is this astonishing; for works of art have a motionless aspect, so that it is uncertain what they would look like if they possessed life, but your personality enhances in your every action the superb comeliness of your body. Only this much, therefore, I have to say in praise of your beauty, omitting a great deal.

61.17As for discreetness of conduct, it is my privilege to pass the finest of compliments, namely, that though such youthfulness readily invites scandal, it has been your lot to be praised instead. For so far from overstepping the mark, you have chosen to live more prudently than is expected of your years. Of this the most convincing evidence is your deportment toward others; for although many make your acquaintance, and reveal characters of every kind and sort, and all seek to entice you into intimacies, you have so managed such people that all are content to feel friendship for you. 61.18This is an index of those whose choice it is to live in the esteem and affection of men. And yet some men in the past have been well thought of who have advised against welcoming the company of all comers, as is also true of some who have taken their advice. For they claim that it is necessary either to humor low-minded people and so be maligned among the multitude, or else to be constantly on guard against such reproaches and so incur the dislike of such acquaintances themselves. 61.19Personally I think you deserve to be eulogized all the more for this reason, that, while the other lads think it one of the impossible things to please men of every type, note you have so surpassed these as to have risen superior to all the difficult and troublesome people, allowing the others no reason even for suspecting immoral relations with any and overcoming your annoyance with them by the adaptability of your manners.

61.20Now touching your admirers, if it is right to speak also of these, you seem to me to deport yourself so admirably and sensibly toward them, that, though most of them cannot be patient even with the object of their preference, you succeed in pleasing them all exceedingly. And this is a most unmistakable proof of your goodness; for not one finds himself disappointed of favors from you which it is just and fair to ask, but no one is permitted even to hope for such liberties as lead to shame. So great is the latitude your discreetness permits to those who have the best intentions; so great is the discouragement it presents to those who would fling off restraint. 61.21Furthermore, while the majority of men, when young, seek a reputation for prudence by keeping silent, you are so superior to them in natural gifts that you gain men's good opinion of you not less by your speech and demeanor in casual company than by all your other merits; so great is the grace and charm of your words whether in jest or in earnest. For you are ingenuous without doing wrong, clever without being malicious, kindly without sacrifice of independence, and, taking all in all, like a child of Virtue sired by Love. note

61.22Turning now to courage—for it will not do to omit this either, not because I would intimate that your character does not still admit of great development nor that the future will fail to furnish richer material for eulogy to those who wish to praise you, but rather that words of praise mean most at your age when to do no wrong is the best hope for other lads—your courage a man might extol on many other grounds but especially because of your training for athletic sports, of which you have a multitude of witnesses. 61.23And perhaps it is in place first to say that you have done well in choosing this kind of contest. For to judge rightly when one is young what line of action one should pursue note is the token of an honest soul and of sound judgement alike, and on neither ground would it be right to omit praise of your choice.

You, therefore, being well aware that slaves and aliens share in the other sports but that dismounting is open only to citizens and that the best men aspire it, have eagerly applied yourself to this sport. note 61.24Discerning, moreover, that those who train for the footraces add nothing to their courage nor to their morale either, and that those who practice boxing and the like ruin their minds as well as their bodies, you have singled out the noblest and grandest of competitive exercises and the one most in harmony with your natural gifts, one which approximates to the realities of warfare through the habituation to martial weapons and the laborious effort of running, in the magnificence and majesty of the equipment simulates the might of the gods, note 61.25presents the number and the greatest variety of features and has been deemed worthy of the most valuable prizes. For, apart from those offered, getting the drill and practice in such exercises itself will possess glamor as no paltry prize in the eyes of those who are even moderately ambitious for excellence. The best evidence for this may be found in the poetry of Homer, in which he represents the Greeks and barbarians warring against one another with this equipment. note I may add that even now it is customary to employ it in contests in Greek cities, and not in the meanest cities but in the greatest. note

61.26So admirable is your choice of sport and so approved among all men. Believing also, as you do, that it is futile to desire the things most worth while, or yet to be physically endowed for all sorts of feats, unless the soul has been prepared for an ambitious career, at the very outset you exhibited diligence in the training grounds, nor in the real tests were you disappointing, but you gave extraordinary proof of the distinction of your natural gifts and particularly of the courage of your soul in the games. 61.27I hesitate to begin treating this topic for fear words may fail me in the description of what took place on that occasion, but nevertheless I shall not pass it over; for it is a shame to refuse a report of what enthralls us as spectators.

Were I to describe all the contests an unseemly length would perhaps accrue to this essay, note but by recalling a single example in which you especially distinguished yourself I shall demonstrate the same truth and be found to make a more reasonable use of the patience of my hearers. 61.28When the teams had been started and some had leaped to the fore and some were being reined in, you, prevailing over both, first one and then the other, note in proper style, seized the victory, winning that envied crown in such fashion that, glorious as it was to win it, it seemed the more glorious and astounding that you came off safely. For when the chariot of your opponents was bearing down upon you head-on and all thought the momentum of your horses beyond checking, you, aware that some drivers, though no danger should threaten, become overanxious for their own safety, not only did not lose your head or your nerve, but by your courage got control of the impetus of your team and by your speed passed even those contenders whose luck had suffered no setback. 61.29What is more, you caused such a revolution in men's minds that, though many keep insisting that nothing in equestrian contests affords such delight as a crash, and seem to speak the truth, in your case all the spectators, on the contrary, were afraid that some such accident might befall you. Such goodwill and eagerness for your success did your personality awaken in them.

61.30They had good reason to feel so, for while it is a splendid thing to become distinguished for some one excellence, it is still more splendid to combine all the qualities of which a man of sense might justly feel proud. From the following examples this will be clear: we shall find that Aeacus and Rhadamanthys were beloved by the gods for their discretion, Heracles, Castor and Pollux for their courage, and Ganymedes, Adonis, and others like them for their beauty, so that I at any rate am not astonished at those who covet your friendship but at those who are not so disposed. For when some, through sharing in one or another of the qualities I have mentioned, have been deemed worthy of the company of the gods, surely to a mere mortal it is the heights of desire to become the friend of one who has become the proud possessor of all good qualities. 61.31Certainly your father and mother and the rest of your kinsmen are rightly envied because you so far surpass those of your own age in excellence, but still more enviable are those whom you, who have been deemed worthy of such blessings, select from the whole number to be your friends, judging them worthy of your companionship. And since Fortune has appointed the former to share your affection, but the latter their own fine qualities have recommended in addition, 61.32I do not know whether to call these young men admirers or unique for their sound judgement. For, as I think, Fortune, scorning base men and wishing to arouse the minds of the good, at the very outset made your nature beautiful, not for a life of pleasure, to be beguiled thereto, but serviceable for a virtuous life, to have happiness therein. note

61.33Although I have still much to say in praise of you, I think I shall cease my eulogy at this point, fearing that I may seem to plead your cause in terms exceeding human limitations. For so far, as it seems, does the power of words fall short of that of vision that, while none would think of mistrusting the evidence of his eyes, people think the praise of things men say they have seen, even if it falls short of the truth, to be incredible. 61.34Accordingly, I shall leave this topic and now endeavor to counsel you on the means of rendering your life still more worthy of esteem. To the words I am about to utter I would not have you give heed as to a matter of trivial importance, nor to leap to the conclusion that I have, after all, addressed you thus, not for your good, but from a desire to display my skill; otherwise you may miss the truth and, by choosing haphazard counsel in place of the best, fall short of the best in judging your own interests. 61.35For we do not reproach men of humble and insignificant natural gifts even when they commit a dishonorable act, but to those who, like yourself, have attained distinction, even a bit of negligence in some matter of high honor brings disgrace. note Again, those who go astray in other domains fail merely t make the best decision in some single, isolated matter, but those who miss the right advice on the conduct of life, or scorn it, have reminders of their own folly to live with their whole life long.

61.36Now you must not fall into any of these errors but rather seek to discover what is of supreme consequence in human affairs, and what it is that turning out well would do us the most good, but turning out badly would hurt us most along life's pathway. For it requires no proof that upon this factor we must expend the greatest care, which more than anything else possesses the power to tip the scale to one side or the other. 61.37Now of the powers residing in human beings we shall find that intelligence leads all the rest and that philosophy alone is capable of educating this rightly and training it. In this study I think you ought to participate, and not balk at or flee from the labors involved in it, reflecting that through idleness and indolence even quite superficial things become difficult, while through persistence and diligence none of the worthwhile things is unattainable, 61.38and that of all things the most irrational is to be ambitious for wealth, bodily strength, and such things, and for their sakes to submit to many hardships, all of which prizes are perishable and usually slaves to intelligence, but not to aim at the improvement of the mind, which has supervision over all other powers, abides continually with those who possess it, and guides the whole life. note 61.39And yet, although it is a fine thing to be admired among high-minded people even on account of fortuitous success, it is much finer through care bestowed upon one's self to gain a share in all the accomplishments that are esteemed; for often it has fallen to the lot of vulgar men to share in the former but none have a part in the latter except those who excel in real manliness.

61.40However, touching the subject of philosophy, some future occasion will afford me more suitable opportunities to review carefully the particulars, but the outlines of it nothing will prevent me from running over at once. This one point, therefore, you must grasp clearly at the outset, that all education consists in understanding something and then putting it into practice, note and this is even more true of philosophy than of any other studies, for the synthesis of learning and practice is likely to be more perfect in proportion as the instructors are more clear on this point. 61.41And yet, since intelligence commands the province of speaking and deliberating, and philosophy confers facility in each of these, what reason can there be why we should refuse to get a firm grasp of this study, through which we shall become masters of both alike? Because life may then too be expected to make a great advance for us when we reach out for the things of supreme importance and find ourselves able to secure by rule and precept such as can be taught and the rest by practice and habituation. 61.42It certainly is not permissible to make the assertion that it is not through acquired knowledge that we surpass one another in sound judgement; for, speaking generally, all natural ability is improved by the addition of the appropriate education, note and this is especially true of talents which at the outset are inherently superior to the rest, because the one kind is capable only of improving upon itself while the other may also surpass the rest.

61.43Be well assured also that the facility acquired solely from practical experience is treacherous and useless for subsequent needs of life, but the education secured through the pursuit of philosophy is happily blended in all these needs. There is no denying, of course, that in the past some men who got practical training just by good luck in action have won admiration, but for you the proper thing is to disregard these men and to take yourself seriously in hand. For in matters of the utmost importance you should not be extemporizing instead of really knowing what to do or in emergencies be studying your arguments instead of really knowing how to debate an issue on its merits.

61.44Be convinced too that all philosophical learning confers precious benefits upon those who take advantage of it, but especially is this true of the knowledge that deals with practical affairs and political discussions. No doubt it is disgraceful to be quite ignorant of geometry and other such subjects of study, but to become a topmost contender in this field is too low an ambition for merit like yours. note In that kind of philosophy, however, not only is it a worthy ambition to excel, but to remain ignorant is altogether ridiculous.

61.45You may infer this to be true on many other grounds and especially by scanning the careers of those who have become eminent before your time. You will hear first that Pericles, who is thought to have far surpassed all men of his age in intellectual grasp, addressed himself to Anaxagoras of Clazomenae and only after being his pupil note acquired this power of judgement. You will next discover that Alcibiades, though his natural disposition was far inferior in respect to virtue and it was his pleasure to behave himself now arrogantly, now obsequiously, note now licentiously, yet, as a fruit of his association with Socrates, he made correction of many errors of his life and over the rest drew a veil of oblivion by the greatness of his later achievements. 61.46But not to spend our time rehearsing ancient examples while others are available closer to our own times, note you will discover that Timotheus was deemed worthy of the highest repute and numerous honors, not because of his activities as a younger man, but because of his performances after he had studied with Isocrates. note You will discover also that Archytas of Tarentum became ruler of his city and managed its affairs so admirably and so considerately as to spread the record of that achievement to all mankind; yet at first he was despised and he owed his remarkable progress to studying with Plato. note 61.47Of these examples not one worked out contrary to reason note; for it would be much stranger if we were obliged to achieve paltry ends through acquiring knowledge and putting it into practice, but were capable of accomplishing the big things without this effort.

Now I do not know what call there is to say more on these topics, for not even at the outset did I introduce them because I assumed you were absolutely ignorant, but because I thought that such exhortations both arouse those who lack knowledge and spur on those who possess it;. note 61.48And do not make any such assumption as this, that in speaking these words I am presumably offering to teach you any of these branches myself, for I should feel no shame in saying that there is still much I need myself to learn, and that I have chosen rather to be a contender in political life than a teacher of the other arts. note Not that in disavowing these subjects of instruction I am impugning the reputation of those who have chosen the profession of sophist, but my reason is that the truth of the matter happens to be as follows: 61.49for I am aware, of course, that many men have risen to eminence from humble and obscure estate through the practice of this art, and that Solon, both living and dead, was deemed worthy of the highest renown. He was not disqualified for the other honors note but left behind him a memorial of his courage in the trophy of victory over the Megarians, 61.50of his astuteness in the recovery of Salamis, and of general sagacity in the laws which the majority of the Greeks continue using to this day. Yet in spite of these great claims to distinction he set his heart upon nothing as much as becoming one of the Seven Sages, note believing that philosophy was no reproach but that it brought honor to those who pursued it, having been no less wise in this very judgement than in the others in which he showed himself superior.

61.51My own judgement is not different from Solon's and I recommend to you to study philosophy, bearing in mind the advantages you have possessed from the beginning. Indeed it was with this purpose in view I ran through the list of them myself in the first part of my essay, note not expecting to make a conquest of you by praising your natural gifts, but that I may the better urge you to take up philosophy if you shall escape the error of putting a low value on it, or, through pride in your present advantages, of under-valuing the advantages yet to be gained. 61.52Again, even if you are better than the common run of men, note do not seek to be superior in no respect to the talented remainder, but deem it the highest purpose to be first among all, and that it is more to your advantage to be seen striving for this than merely being foremost among the rank and file. And do not bring shame upon your natural gifts or cause to be cheated of their hopes those who are proud of you, but endeavor by your own ability to surpass the desires of those who have your interests most at heart. 61.53And bear in mind that speeches of the other kinds, when they fulfil their purpose, only crown their authors with glory, but that good counsels attach benefit and honor to those who hearken to them; and that the decisions we make about all other matters make plain the power of perception we possess, but that the choices we make of careers put our whole character to the test. And as you pass judgement in these matters, count upon being judged at the same time yourself by all men, and do not forget that I, who have been so ready to praise you, will also be involved in the hazard of the test. 61.54The proofs by which you must be judged worthy of my praises must also acquit me of all censure for the friendship I bear you.

I would not be pressing you so urgently to study philosophy note unless I thought that in this I was making you a most precious contribution as evidence of my goodwill, and unless I observed that our city often makes use of ordinary men for lack of men of the best type, and through their bungling incurs the gravest misfortunes. 61.55So, then, in order that our city may enjoy abilities such as yours and you the honors which these abilities deserve, I have urged you with some vehemence. Neither do I think that it will be in your power to live as chance decrees, but that the City will appoint you to be in charge of some department of her business, and in proportion as your natural gifts are the more conspicuous it will judge you worthy of greater responsibilities and will the sooner desire to make trial of you. The wise plan, therefore is to train your mind that you may not fail when that day comes.

61.56Now it has been my part to tell you note what studies I think it is to your advantage to have pursued, but it is yours to decide concerning them. There is an obligation also on the rest, those who seek to be on intimate terms with you, not to be content with superficial pleasures and pastimes, nor to summon you to these, but to consider diligently how they may render your career most brilliant. By so doing they would bring most credit to themselves and become instruments of the greatest service to you. 61.57Neither am I now finding fault with any one of those who keep company with you, for this also seems to me one element of your general good fortune, that you have found no base admirer, but select as friends from the young men of your own age such only as any man would gladly choose. I urge you, however, while being friendly and agreeable to all of these, to heed those of them who have the most sense, so that you may seem even more worthy of respect to this particular group and to the rest of the citizens. Farewell.

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