‘Tell me, Xenophon, have you not always believed Critobulus to be a man of sound sense, not wild and self-willed? Should you not have said that he was remarkable for his prudence rather than thoughtless or foolhardy?’
‘Certainly that is what I should have said of him.’ said Xenophon
‘Then you are now to regard him as quite the reverse—a hot-blooded, reckless libertine: this is the sort of man to throw somersaults into knives, or to leap into the jaws of fire.’
‘And what have you seen him doing, that you give him so bad a character?’ asked Xenophon.
‘Doing?’ replied Socrates. ‘Why, has not the fellow dared to steal a kiss from the son of Alcibiades, most fair of youths and in the golden prime?’
Xenophon laughed and responded ‘Nay, then, if that is the foolhardy adventure, it is a danger which I could well encounter myself.’
‘Pour soul!’ said Socrates. And what do you expect your fate to be after that kiss? Let me tell you. On the instant you will lose your freedom, the indenture of your bondage will be signed; it will be yours on compulsion to spend large sums on hurtful pleasures; you will have scarcely a moment’s leisure left for any noble study; you will be driven to concern yourself most zealously with things which no man, not even a madman, would choose to make an object of concern.’
‘O Heracles! How fell a power to reside in a kiss!’ Xenophon cried.
‘Does it surprise you?’ asked Socrates. ‘Do you not know that the tarantula, which is no bigger than a threepenny bit, has only to touch the mouth and it will afflict its victim with pains and drive him out of his senses?
‘Yes,’ replied Xenophon, ‘but then the creature injects something with its bite.’
‘Ah, fool!’ scorned Socrates, ‘And do you imagine that these lovely creatures infuse nothing with their kiss, simply because you do not see the poison? Do you not know that this wild beast which men call beauty in its bloom is all the more terrible than the tarantula in that the insect must first touch its victim, but this at a mere glance of the beholder, without even contact, will inject something into him—yards away—which will make him mad.
My advice to you, Xenophon, is, whenever you catch sight of one of these beauties, to run for your life without a glance behind!’
MEMORABILIA, by Xenophon
from CONVERSATIONS OF SOCRATES
Memorabilia is part of a collection of Socratic dialogues (published as Conversations of Socrates) by Xenophon, who was a student of Socrates. The lengthiest and most famous of Xenophon’s Socratic writings, the Memorabilia is essentially a defence of philosopher Socrates, who was tried and executed by the polity of Athens, in which Xenophon offers edifying examples of Socrates’ conversations and activities, along with commentary from Xenophon. Read more…