Socrates' Favorite Pupil
As you have already heard, Socrates was a teacher. He did not, however, have a school like yours with desks, and books, and maps, and blackboards. His pupils gathered about him at his workshop, or in the cool porticoes, or under the trees in the garden of the Academy.
Then, while hammering his stone, or while slowly pacing up and down, the philosopher talked to his scholars so gently and wisely, that even the richest and noblest youths of Athens were proud to call him their teacher. He also visited the house of the noted Aspasia, and was a friend of Pericles, Phidias, and Anaxagoras, besides being the teacher of three very celebrated men,—Plato, Xenophon, and Alcibiades. Plato and Xenophon, even in their youth, were noted for their coolness and right-mindedness; but Alcibiades, a general favorite, was very different from them both. He was an orphan, and the ward of Pericles. His father had left him a large fortune; and, as Alcibiades was handsome, intelligent, and very high-spirited, he was made much of and greatly spoiled.
Even as a little child he was very headstrong, and, as he had no father and mother to check him, he was often led by his willfulness into great danger. We are told that once, when he saw a wagon coming down the street where he and his playmates were playing, he called to the man to stop. The man, who cared nothing for their game, drove on, and the other children quickly sprang aside so as not to be run over. Alcibiades, however, flung himself down across the road, in front of his playthings, and dared the driver to come on.
Alcibiades dared the Driver to come on.
This was of course very foolish; and if the driver had given him a few sharp cuts with his whip, it might have done Alcibiades a great deal of good. But the man was so amused by the little fellow's pluck, that he actually turned around and drove through another street.
When Alcibiades grew a little older, he went to listen to the teachings of Socrates. In the presence of this wise man, Alcibiades forgot all his vanity and willfulness, talked sensibly, and showed himself well informed and kind-hearted.
He seemed so earnest and simple that Socrates soon grew very fond of him. They often walked together on the street; and it must have been pleasing to see this tall, handsome, and aristocratic youth, eagerly listening to the wise words of the homely, toil-worn workman beside him.
Unfortunately, however, Alcibiades could not pass all his time with the good philosopher, and when he left him it was to spend the rest of the day with his own class. As he was rich, generous, and handsome, his companions always flattered him, approved of all he did, and admired everything he said.
This constant flattery was very bad for the young man; and, as he was anxious to please everybody, it often led him to do foolish things. He gave costly banquets, drove fast horses, boasted a great deal, and even started out for his first battle in a magnificent suit of armor all inlaid with gold.
His shield was also inlaid with gold and ivory, and on it was a picture of Cupid throwing the thunderbolts of Jove (Zeus). All his flatterers, instead of telling him frankly that such armor was ridiculous, admired him greatly, and vowed that he looked like the god of the sun.
In the midst of the battle, Alcibiades, who was very brave, rushed into the thick of the foe. His armor was not as strong as a plainer suit would have been; and he soon found himself hemmed round, and almost ready to fall. His fine friends had of course deserted the lad; but, fortunately for him, Socrates was there. The philosopher rushed into the midst of the fray, caught up the young man in his strong arms, and bore him off the battlefield to a place of safety, where he tenderly bound up his wounds.
As Alcibiades was a good-hearted youth, he felt deeply grateful to Socrates for saving his life, and ever after proudly claimed him as a friend. In spite of the philosopher's advice, however, the young man continued to frequent the same society; and, as he was genial and open-handed with all, he daily grew more popular.