We are now in a position to reconstruct something of the development of Socrates as a person and as a thinker in this early period. We know that he began life in a very humble stratum of society as a free artisan or even as a slave. 55
This latter point cannot be pressed too far. Duris, in a tradition preserved by Diogenes Laertius, II, 19, represents him as a slave. There is nothing inherently improbable in this conjecture. We know from Thucydides that the great majority of the slaves who deserted during the Peloponnesian War were cheirotechnai, or craftsmen. We know that in building the Erechtheon in 409-8, / 40 / of those employed 28 % were free men as opposed to 72% metics: and slaves. The proportion would not be as high in the early part of the century, but the balance of probability is, on the face of it, still strong. Socrates was certainly not a metic.
He seems to have married a woman of his own class, Xanthippe, at an early age. Later he married a lady of patrician family, one Myrto, the great-granddaughter of Aristides the Just. 56
The chronology of this second marriage is decidedly questionable. Aristides died a few years after the ostracism of Themistocles which occurred some time between 476-471. It would, therefore, not be far wrong to place the date of Aristides' death at about 470. Since he was 65 at the time he could hardly have been more than a very recent grandfather. Assuming this as a probable view, then Aristides' great-granddaughter, Myrto, could not have been of marriageable age before 425. Thus we may reasonably conclude that Socrates made his second marriage when he was in his late forties-sometime near or shortly after the production of the Clouds. But there is one serious difficulty involved in this view -- namely, that Plato in the Phaedo (60A) represents Xanthippe as present in Socrates' prison cell after the trial. But as she is represented carrying a little child and as Socrates was 70 and Xanthippe must have been nearly as old, we are forced to a certain uneasiness about the literal veracity of Plato. The dramatic value of the scene, however, is great; Socrates' disregard for ordinary human family ties, his brutal dismissal of the lady, contrast vividly with his passion for transcendental notions and his tender caresses for the lovely locks of Phaedo.
Grant's view is worth quoting.
Diogenes Laertius, Athenaeus, and Plutarch all state that Socrates was married twice. At the time of his death he had one grown-up son, Lamprocles, and two infants. The Memorabilia mentions a conversation with Lamprocles, who complained of his mother's temper, while Socrates good-naturedly urged that it was of no consequence. But who was / 41 / the mother of Lamprocles? Diogenes says that the two wives were Myrto (great-granddaughter of Aristides) and Xanthippe, but that it is doubtful which was the first wife. Evidently the first wife, the mother of Lamprocles, was the scold. Plato in the Phaedo definitely mentions Xanthippe as coming to the condemned cell of Socrates. This would make her the second wife. Equally definitely Xenophon in the Banquet mentions Xanthippe as married to Socrates, and as famous for her bad temper, twenty years before. This would probably make her the first wife. Between these two authorities the issue must lie. On the whole, in a matter of this kind it seems more likely that Plato made a slip. Xanthippe's name was perhaps so familiar as being the wife of Socrates that Plato forgot the second marriage with Myrto when introducing the wife in the death scene, at which he himself had not been present. Poor Xanthippe's tongue had probably been "stopped with dust" ere this scene occurred.
The implications of this second marriage will be discussed in connection with Socrates' later life.
In the early part of his life, his interests were those of the democratic, radical, skeptical group, and his intellectual affinities were with the scientific materialists-the school of Anaxagoras (particularly as developed by Archelaus) and the radical social thinkers, the sophists. To this period of his life, too, belongs his association with Protagoras, the eminent sophist and the leading skeptical thinker. Plato describes their relationship as having been a friendly one and mentions Protagoras' opinion of the young Socrates to the effect that "he thought him the ablest man of his years that he had ever met and feels confident of his future." 57 It seems evident from the Protagoras that the relationship between them was not confined to the chance meeting at which the dialogue took place; the young student in the dialogue came to Socrates to get an introduction to Protagoras. The inference is that in the past Socrates had known the older man very well. According to two references / 42 / in the Platonic dialogues he even seems to have attended the lectures of the famous sophist, Prodicus.
A passage in the Meno is very clear. Socrates complains that Gorgias had performed inadequately the education of the young Meno, and that Prodicus had not sufficiently educated him. 58 In the Cratylus, too, he mentions Prodicus as his teacher. 59 In the Menexenus Plato makes Socrates refer quite intimately to a long conversation with Aspasia and indicates that she had taught him literature. 60 In the same context Connus is mentioned as his instructor in rhetoric. 61 All in all there seems ample reason for connecting the early Socrates both with the sophistic movement and its leading personalities.
Two references to Prodicus in Aristophanes give us a strong hint of Prodicus' interests in cosmology and cosmological speculation. In the Clouds he is addressed by the sovereign and cloudy deities as the most pre-eminent of the "sky-way sophists" (meteorosophistai). 62 In the Birds, the promise is definitely given in the "Grand Chorus." 63 The Birds will instruct mortals in cosmology.
We will tell you of things transcendental: of Springs, and of Rivers, the mighty upheaval;
The nature of Birds; and the birth of the gods; and of Chaos and Darkness primaeval.
When this ye shall know, let old Prodicus go, and be hanged without hope of reprieval.
This burlesque of a semi-Orphic and mystical cosmogeny is set in sharp contrast to the "scientific" views of the sophist.
The Birds will thus give mortals the necessary information to refute the scientific theories of Prodicus. This does not bear out the theory of Burnet that the interests of the sophists were antiscientific.
Of this period in the life of Socrates we can assume that the Clouds gives a true, if caricatured, picture. In fact only on such an assumption does the Clouds become a drama with any real content. As we mentioned before, Aristophanes intended his play, like all/ 43 / his plays, to be real social satire. As Taylor well argues, "The caricature must be or must be believed by the public to be, like its original And the likeness must be such that there can be no possible doubt in the mind of the public as to the person aimed at." 64 The Clouds clearly is an attack by an essentially conservative playwright on the foremost and best-known exponents of popular materialism and radical skepticism at Athens. It is extremely significant that he picks out Socrates as the central figure for his derisive portrait of these tendencies. It means that Socrates had by this time attracted a great deal of attention and that Aristophanes' portrayal could be accepted by the public as characteristic of this group.
Now several points emerge into focus from the Clouds. In the first place it appears that Socrates was poor and that his followers belonged to the poorer classes-were, in fact, slaves or artisans. We can conjecture that two associates mentioned only by Diogenes were among this group of followers: There was Simon, a cobbler, who took notes on his leather materials, and, if we can judge from the tides of his dialogues preserved by Diogenes Laertius," later followed Socrates into idealism. Then, too, there was a certain Phaedon, a man of noble family who had come to an unfortunate end and was now forcibly detained in a house of ill-fame. However, we are told he "used to close the door and so contrived to join Socrates' circle." 66
In the second place, the nature of the intellectual interests of the school are quite clear from Aristophanes' buffoonery. The scholars were interested in scientific investigation and practical experimental science above all else. One of the high points in the drama is the remarkably clever description of the school's laboratory work. They measure the length of a flea's jump; they arc eager to discover with which end of his anatomy a gnat makes a noise; Socrates is depicted in a basket observing heavenly phenomena. In reply to a question of Strepsiades, Socrates explains his / 44 / task: "I am treading on air and thinking my way round the sun." 67 The result of this sort of speculation is clearly atheistic; Zeus is banished and vortex is king.
Lastly Strepsiades is interested in Socrates' teaching as tending to logical skepticism (the famous dissoi logoi, or "two arguments") and practical citizenship; the clever conduct of one's own affairs in the law courts and in business. In this sense, he is the typical sophist.
Aristophanes' use of the two logoi in the Clouds 68 illustrates very clearly the clever way in which the idealists handled the position of the sophists in terms of the categories of their own thinking. The passage clearly refers to the famous "promise" of Protagoras to which Aristotle refers: 69 that the sophists can make the weaker argument the stronger and can teach others who take their course in rhetoric to do the same thing. The meaning of this in the system of Protagoras should be quite clear. Protagoras, be it remembered, was a relativist. Individual man was the measure of all things; and it seems probable that he was primarily thinking in terms of ethics and political systems when he took this position. This is made quite apparent in the passage already quoted from Sextus Empiricus; the very fact that Protagoras does not transfer his concept of relativity to the physical world, but instead posit an objective substratum of material reality, shows that the emphasis in his thinking was on the problem of social relations. There is no absolute system of morality. Laws, constitutions and ethical precepts are a matter of "convention" and have no sanction in the innermost "nature" of things. In other words, we are dealing her in another form, with the famous contribution of the sophists - the distinction between "nature" and "convention." But for the idealists and conservatives there was no such distinction; a system justice and a code of laws are absolute and "just." Human nature and social law are related phases of the transcendent moral id, This point is made exceptionally clear in Plato.
Since, therefore, the sophists held that there was nothing absolute or sanctified about a code of law or an ethical system, they considered it neither moral nor immoral for a man to use skillful and subtle argument in order to escape from the compulsions / 45 / and possible penalties of an arbitrary custom. There is a close connection between the Protagorean statement that "man is the measure of all things," and the distinction made by the sophists between "nature" and "convention." Following their logic we can see their position as follows: since individual man is the criterion of any truth and it is only a truth in so far as he perceives it, there can be no universal morality above and beyond his own judgment. The state and its social laws that are forced on him he need not accept, for they are artificial regulations, valid only as "conventions," and are not "natural" laws. Similarly the absolute relativists, like Protagoras, did not condemn the existence of custom or man-made law as a violation of any moral-right, but simply adopted the position that no law can be universally binding for a whole society, since every individual is his own measuring-rod, his own determinant of right or wrong.
We have analyzed the implications of the sophistic point of view in order to demonstrate that it led to a final negation of morality and a skeptical, amoral relativism. In practice, the sophists utilized the art of rhetoric, and offered to train men in the science of debate. This, they maintained, was the simplest way to avoid legal "convention"; if a man were clever enough he could circumvent the law. This is also what Protagoras must have meant by "making the weaker [argument] the stronger." Translated literally the phrase means nothing more. It suggests a man with a weak case (perhaps a lawsuit) making it stronger and more effective.
It is important to see how Aristophanes, as a typical conservative and champion of the ethical absolutes, treats the sophistic point of view as it is expressed in the Protagorean statement of the "weaker" and "stronger" arguments. Aristophanes gives the thing an ethical twist by adding the phrase "more unjustly." He makes the "weaker" argument mean the morally baser and the "stronger" the morally nobler. Commentators and critics have tended to fall into the trap which Aristophanes and his idealist friends have set for them. They have failed to realize that Protagoras could not possibly have been using the words with any eth-/ 46 / ical or moral connotation; the only connotation is a legal one. Nevertheless, even to this day, there is a tendency to translate the phrase "make the weaker, the stronger argument" by some such equivalent as "make the worse appear the better cause (or reason)."
It is easy to see how the position of Protagoras led naturally to that of Thrasymachus. Protagoras had a concept of individual relativism; Thrasymachus of social relativism. In the first book of The Republic it is interesting to notice that the "weaker" is equated with the governed, the "stronger" with the ruler! The social implications of the argument become perfectly clear. 70
For our purposes the main point is that Socrates is caricatured by Aristophanes as the typical Protagorean, as a master of the "two arguments," as the teacher who could enable men by verbal skill to evade the payment of their "just" debts. This is sufficient refutation of those who, like Taylor, strive to make of the early Socrates a Pythagorean. 71
One other point in this passage is worth noticing. The young Phidippides is depicted as something of a social climber. But even at the urgent request of his father he refuses to enter the "thinking shop" of Socrates, on the ground that he would lose face with the Knights, or young men of the upper class. Here is another indication that Socrates' circle was not at that time as socially distinguished as it was in his later life. No young and aspiring social climber would hesitate to enter the circle of Alcibiades or Critias.
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