06.12.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today’s soundtrack is clipping.: Splendor & Misery.

This afternoon, I'm reading the first 20 pages of the first chapter of Plato's The Dialogues of Socrates, "Charmides."

Socrates returned from Potidaea and visited his friends. He told them about his adventures, then asked whether there were any beautiful young men who were interested in philosophy. Critias told Socrates that his cousin, Charmides, was a beautiful person in both body and mind, a philosopher and poet. Socrates asked to speak with him, so Critias called Charmides over and introduced Socrates as a physician who would give Charmides the cure to the headache of which he had been complaining.

Socrates told Charmides that the cure for his headache was “a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail” (p. 12). But not only the headache would be cured, claimed Socrates. For healing the part requires healing the whole, for as Socrates learned from King Zalmoxis, “‘you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul’” (p. 14).

So the charm begins by healing the soul first, then the body; the first thing to do is use “fair words” (p. 14), which will lead to self-control, and the self-control will lead to health. But those who already possess temperance can go straight to curing the part - in Charmides case, the ache in his head. So Socrates asked Charmides whether he already possessed temperance. Charmides didn’t know how to respond to this; he didn’t want to boast about himself. Socrates offered to find out for himself whether Charmides possessed temperance, and Charmides agreed to this.

Socrates began by asking Charmides what temperance is. Charmides “said that he thought that temperance was doing things orderly and quietly” (p. 16). Socrates countered, asking whether temperance was “of the class of the noble and good” (p. 17), to which Charmides replied to the affirmative. Socrates then gave many examples of good things which are better done quickly than quietly, including studying, boxing, playing music, and all things that are to do with physical activity, showing Charmides that “temperance is not quietness, nor is the temperate life quiet” (p. 18). This Charmides agrees with, then says that temperance must be modesty. Socrates points out though that Homer says, “‘Modesty is not good for a needy man’” (p. 19). So if modesty is sometimes good and sometimes not good, but temperance is always good, is temperance modesty? No.

Charmides then says that he heard from someone once that “‘temperance is doing our own business’” (p. 20) and asks Socrates whether this is correct. Socrates points out that someone who writes someone else’s name is not doing his own business, but he is also not being intemperate, so this cannot be the definition that was meant. The same is true for someone who washes someone else’s coat, for not every man washes his own coat. But perhaps there was a hidden definition within this phrase of a man doing his own business.