Callias - The Fall of Athens - Alfred J. Church

The Last Conversation

Callias, as may be supposed, did not fail to keep his appointment with the utmost punctuality. He found at Crito's house very nearly the same company that had been assembled the day before at Xenophon's. After the usual greetings had been interchanged, the host said, "I propose, if it is agreeable to you all, to hold the conversation which we are to have to-day at the house of our friend Plato. He has written to invite us, not because he can himself see us, for he is not sufficiently recovered from his late illness, but because we shall thus be able to talk with his friend Phædo; for as all know, there is no more fitting person than Phædo to tell our young friend Callias the things that he desires to hear. For though we were all present, Xenophon only excepted, on that day when the Master left us, having given us his last instructions, yet there is no one, who so well remembers and is so well able to describe all that was then said or done. I propose, therefore, that we transfer ourselves to his house."

The proposition met with general assent and the party set out.

Crito naturally took charge of Callias as being his special guest. As the two were walking, the young man said, "Tell me, Crito, if it is not unpleasing to you, whether in the thirty days during which the Master was held in prison, any efforts were made to save his life?"

"I am glad," said Crito, "that you have asked me that question privately and not before others, for, indeed, a matter which has caused me no little amount of trouble and shame. Some people blame me because, they say, though a rich man I did not bribe the jailer of the prison which Socrates was confined, and thus enable him to escape. I am blamable, indeed, but for an exactly opposite reason. I did bribe the man—this of course is in absolute confidence between you and me—and in this, as the Master showed me, I was wrong. Indeed I never received from him so severe a rebuke as I did concerning this matter. But let me tell you what happened. I had arranged everything. The jailer was to let him escape. There were people ready to carry him out of the country. I went to him early in the morning of the day when the ship was expected to return. I told him what I had done. I made light of the money that the affair was to cost. I could well afford it, I said, and if I could not there were others ready to contribute. And then I attacked him, it was an impudent thing to do, but I felt as if I could do anything that we should not lose him. I told him that it was wrong of him to do his best to let his enemies get their way. I said to him, 'Thus acting you desert your children, whom you might bring up and educate. But if you die you will leave them orphans and friendless. Either you ought not to have children or you ought to take some trouble about them. Surely this does not become one who has made virtue his study throughout his life. And remember what a disgrace will fall upon us, for it will certainly be said that we did not do our best to save your life.'

"Well, I cannot tell you now a tenth part of what he said. I have it all written down at home, but I may say what you will easily believe that I was as helpless in his hands as the veriest pretender whom he has ever cross-examined. I know that he ended by making me thoroughly ashamed of myself. One of his chief arguments was this:

"'Suppose, Crito, that as I was in the act of escaping, the state itself were to say to me: Are you not seeking to destroy by so acting the laws of the state itself? Is not that state already dissolved wherein public sentences are set aside by private persons? What should I answer to such questions? And if the laws were to say, What complaint have you got to make against us that you seek to destroy us? Do you not owe your being to us, seeing that your father and mother married according to our ordering? Have we not given you nurture, education, all the good things that you possess as being an Athenian? Have you not acknowledged us by living in the city, by having children in it? And if they were further to say, Verily, he who acts in this way in which you are about to act is a corrupter of youth—what could I answer?

"'And tell me, Crito,' he went on, 'whither would you have me betake myself? Not surely to any well-ordered city seeing that I had shown myself the enemy of such order, but rather to some abode of riot, which would indeed ill become one who had professed to be a lover of virtue and righteousness. And as for my children, how shall I benefit them? By taking them elsewhere and bringing them up not as citizens of Athens, but as citizens of some other state which I myself here have judged inferior, seeing that all my life long I have deliberately preferred Athens to it?' Verily, Callias, when he said this, I had no answer. But here we are at Phædo's house."

Callias was not a little surprised when he was introduced to the man whom he had been brought to see. Phædo was a man much younger than himself; indeed he had scarcely completed his eighteenth year. His appearance was singularly attractive, and his manners had all the grace and ease of a well-born and well-bred man. That he was not an Athenian was evident from his speech, which was somewhat tinged with a Doric accent. Altogether Callias was at a loss to think who or what he could be, and how he came to be regarded as the best interpreter of the Master's last words. An opportunity, however, arrived for enlightening him. After a few minutes' conversation, a slave appeared with a message for the master of the house. Plato who had been compelled to absent himself from the last interview with Socrates, as has been said, was still so unwell that his physician forbade the excitement of seeing visitors. He now sent for Phædo to entrust him with a message of apology for his fellow disciples whom he was unable to entertain, and partly to set him free to act the part of host in his stead.

Crito seized the opportunity of his temporary absence from the room to give some particulars about him. "He comes of a very good family in Elis, and was taken prisoner about this time last year when Athens and Sparta were allies and acting against that country. He was sold in the slave market here, and I cannot tell the cruelties that he endured from the wretch who bought him. Somehow be heard of Socrates, ran away from his owner and begged for the Master's protection. Of course, the only thing was to buy him, and equally of course, Socrates was wholly unable to do this. But the Master, if he had no wealth of his own, happily had wealthy friends. He went to Plato and, by great good luck, Plato had a very powerful hold over the poor fellow's owner; the man owed him a large sum of money, the interest of which was overdue. He was purchased, and at once set free. Plato found that he had been remarkably well educated and that he showed an extraordinary aptitude for philosophy. The lad's devotion to Socrates was unbounded. He never lost a chance of being near him; he was present of course at the last day, and he watched and listened with an intense earnestness that seemed to engrave everything on his mind as one engraves letters upon marble or bronze. But, see, he is coming back. Now you will understand why I have brought you to see him."

The young man, at this moment, returned to the room.

"Tell me, Phædo," said Crito, "what you saw and heard on the last day of the Master's life. My friend Callias here, who has just come back from campaigning against the Great King, desires to hear it from you, and, indeed, though we all were present on that day, you seem to remember it more accurately than any."

"I will do my best," said the youth modestly. "I do not know," he went on, addressing himself especially to Callias, "whether you will wholly understand me when I say that I did not feel compassion as one might feel for one who was dying—he was so calm and so happy. Neither, on the other hand, did I feel the pleasure that commonly followed from his discourses, for I knew that he would soon cease to be."

"It was just so with all of us," said Crito, "but go on."

"We had been to visit Socrates daily through the time of his imprisonment, assembling very early in the morning, and waiting till the doors of the prison were opened, and so we did on this day, only earlier than usual, because we knew that the Sacred Ship had arrived the evening before. The jailer came out. 'You must wait, gentlemen,' he said, 'the Eleven are with him. They are taking off his chains, and are telling him that he must die to-day.' After a little while the man came out again, and said that we might go in. When we went in, we found Socrates sitting on the side of his bed, and his wife, Xanthippe, near him, holding one of his children in her arms. As soon as she saw us, she began to lament and say, 'O Socrates, here are your friends come to see you for the last time.' Then Socrates, looking at her, said to Crito, 'Let some one take her home.' So one of Crito's servants led her away. After a while, for of course I must leave out many things, the Master said, "I have a message for Evenus, who seeks to know, I am told, why I have taken to writing verses in prison. Tell him that a god appeared to me in a dream and told me to cultivate the muses. Tell him also that if he is wise he will follow me as speedily as possible, for it seems that the Athenians command that I depart to-day.'

"'But, Socrates,' said Simmias, 'this is a strange piece of advice, and one which Evenus is not likely to take.'

"'Why so,' said Socrates, 'is he not a philosopher? Surely he should be ready to go the road which I am going. Only he must not kill himself.'

"'Why do you say this?' said Cebes.

"You will correct me," said Phædo, turning to the company, "if I misrepresent anything that you said."

"Speak on without fear," said Simmias, "you seem to have the memory of all the muses."

Phædo resumed, "Socrates said, 'You ask me why a man may not kill himself? Well, there is first this reason, that we are as sentinels set at a post, which we must not leave until we are bidden; then again if men be servants of the gods, as seems likely, how can they withdraw from this service without leave? Would you not be angry if one of your servants were to do it?'

"'True,' said Cebes, 'but if we are the servants of the gods, and therefore in the best guardianship, should we not be sorry to quit it? If so, is it not for the foolish to desire death and for the wise to regret it?' 'You are right,' replied the Master, 'and if I did not expect when I depart hence to go to the realms of the wise and good gods and to the company of righteous men, I should indeed grieve at death. And that I am right in so expecting let me now seek to prove to you, for what better could I do on the last day of my life? But stay; Crito wishes to say something. What is it?' Crito said, 'He who has to give the poison says that you must talk as little as possible, for that if a man so excites himself he has to drink sometimes two potions or even three.' 'Let him take his course,' said the Master, 'and prepare what he thinks needful. And now to the matter in hand. Death, then, is nothing but a separation of the soul from the body. That you concede. And you concede further that a philosopher should care little for the things of the body, and that when he is most free from the body, then he sees most clearly the highest and best things, perceiving, for instance, right and justice and honor and goodness, veritable things all of them, but such as cannot be discerned with the eyes or handled with the hands. For the body with its desires and wants hinders us, and makes us waste our time on the things that it covets, so that we have neither time nor temper for wisdom. If then we are ever to reach absolute Truth we must get rid of the hindrance. While we live we do this to the best of our ability, and he is the wisest man and best philosopher who does it most completely; but wholly we cannot do it, till the god shall liberate us from the control of this companion. And this is done by Death, which is the complete separation of soul and body. Shall then the philosopher, who has all his life been striving for such partial separation as may be possible, complain when the gods send him this separation that is complete? And this is my defence, my friend, for holding it to be a good thing to die.' 'Yes,' replied Cebes, 'but many fear that when the soul is thus parted from the body, it may be nowhere, being dissipated like a breath or a puff of smoke when the body with which it has been united dies.' 'You desire, then,' said Socrates, 'that I should prove to you that the soul does not perish when it is thus separated from the body?' 'Yes,' we said, 'that is what we all wish.' 'First then,' he went on, 'is it not true that everything implies that which is opposite to it, as Right Implies Wrong, and Fair implies Foul, and to sleep is the opposite of to wake? If so does not to die imply its opposite to live again?

"'Secondly, is it not true that the highest part of our knowledge is a remembering again? For there are things which we know not through our senses. How then do we know them? Surely because we had this knowledge of them at some previous time.'

"'But,' said Cebes, 'may it not be true that the soul has been made beforehand to enter the body; and having entered it lives therein, and yet perishes when its dwelling is dissolved?'

"'Being of a frail nature, I suppose,' said the Master, 'it's all to be blown away by the wind, so that a man should be especially afraid to die on a stormy day.'

"At this we all laughed, for we did laugh many times and heartily that day, though now this may seem to others and indeed to ourselves almost incredible, seeing what we were about to lose.

"'Well,' the Master went on, 'I will seek to relieve you of this fear. Is it not true that things that are made up of parts are liable to be separated? And is it not also true that the soul is not made up of parts, but is simple and not compounded? Also it is visible things that perish; but the soul is not visible. Again the soul is the ruler, and the body the servant. Is it not true that the divine and immortal rule the human and mortal senses?'

"To this we all agreed.

"The Master began again, for he now, as I may say, had to put before us the conclusion of the whole matter. 'We may think thus, then, may we not? If the soul depart from the body in a state of purity, not taking with it any of the uncleannesses of the body, from which indeed it has kept itself free during life as far as was possible—for this is true philosophy—then it departs into that invisible region which is of its own nature, and being freed from all fears and desires and other evils of mortality, spends the rest of its existence with the gods and the spirits of the good that are like unto itself. But if it depart, polluted and impure, having served the body, and suffered itself to be bewitched by its pleasures and desires, then it cannot attain to this pure and heavenly region, but must abide in some place that is more fitted for it.'

"Much else he said on this point to which we listened as though it were another Orpheus that was singing to us. And when he had ended and sat wrapt in thought, we were silent, fearing to disturb him. And so we remained for no little space of time in silence, he sitting on the bed, as if he neither saw nor heeded any of the things that were about him and we regarding him most earnestly.

"After a while he woke up, as it were, from his reverie and said, 'You have agreed with me so far; yet it may be that you have fears and doubts in your minds which I have not yet, dispersed. If so let me hear them, that I may, if it be possible, rid you of them, for indeed I cannot, as I conceive, leave behind me a greater gift for you than such a riddance. Speak, then, if there is anything that you would say.'

"Simmias said—I put, you will perceive, his argument in a few words: 'May it not be that the soul is in the body as a harmony is in a harp? For the harmony is invisible and beautiful and divine, and the harp is visible and material and mortal. Yet when the harp perishes, then the harmony also, of necessity, ceases to be.'

"When Simmias had ended, Cebes began: 'I do indeed believe that the soul is more durable than the body. Just so the weaver is more durable than the thing which he weaves. Yet at the last, one thing that he weaves proves to be more durable than he. So may the soul outlast many bodies, and yet perish finally, worn out, so to speak, by having gone through so many births.'

"Have I put these things rightly, O Simmias and Cebes?" said the young philosopher, addressing them, "though indeed I have made them very brief."

"You have put them rightly," the two agreed.

"When we heard these things," Phædo went on, "we were also greatly disturbed; for we desired to believe that which the Master was seeking to prove, and seemed to have attained certainly, and now we were thrown back again into confusion and doubt."

"And how did the Master take it, O Phædo?" told Callias; "for indeed I feel much as you describe yourselves as having felt. Having reached a certain hope, not to say conviction, I am now disturbed by fears."

"Nothing could be more admirable than his behavior. That he should be able to answer, was to be expected; but that he should receive these objections so sweetly; so gently, and perceiving our dismay, quickly encourage us, and, so to speak, reform our broken ranks—this indeed was beyond all praise.

"I myself was sitting on a low seat by the side of his bed. He dropped his hand, and stroked my head and the hair which lay upon my neck, I wore it long in those days, for he was often wont to play with my hair. Then he said, 'I suppose, Phædo, that you intend to cut off these beautiful locks to-morrow, as mourners are wont to do.'

"'I suppose so,' I said.

"'But you must cut them oft to-day and not to-morrow if our doctrine be stricken to death, and we cannot bring it to life again.' Then he turned to Simmias and Cebes, and said, 'Hear now what I have to say, but while you hear, think much of the truth but little of Socrates; and be on your guard lest in my eagerness I deceive not myself only but you also, and leave my sting behind me when I die even as does a bee. You, Simmias, think that the soul may be but as a harmony in the body. But do you not remember what we said about all knowledge being a remembering, and that what the soul knows it has before learnt? It existed then before the body; but a harmony cannot exist before the things are put together of which it proceeds. Then again harmony may be more or less; but one soul cannot be more a soul than another. And if, as the wise men say, virtue is harmony and vice discord, we have a harmony of a discord, which cannot be; finally one part of the soul often opposes another, as reason opposes appetite; how then is the soul a harmony? You, Cebes, hold, indeed, that the soul is durable, but may not be immortal. Hear then my answer. You believe that there are ideas or principles of things, and that these ideas, being invisible, are the real causes of things that are visible.' Cebes acknowledged that he did so believe. 'Is not now the soul the principle of life, and is not this principle the opposite of death? In its essence, therefore, it is immortal; but that which is immortal cannot be destroyed, no, even though there are things which seem to threaten its existence.'

"'To affirm positively about such matters,' he said, 'is not the part of a wise man. Yet what I have said seems reasonable. And anyhow he who has scorned the body and its pleasures during life, and has adorned the soul with her proper virtues, justice and courage and truth, may surely await his passage to the other world with a good hope. But now destiny calls me, and I must obey. But I will bathe before I take the poison, that the women may not have the trouble of washing my body.'

"Then Crito asked: 'Have you any directions to give us?'

'Nothing now; if you rightly order your own lives, you will do the best for me and my children; but if you do not, then whatever you may promise, you will fail.'

"'But,' Crito asked, 'how shall we bury you?'

"'As you will,' said he, 'provided only you can catch me and that I do not slip out of your hands.' Then he smiled, and said, 'Crito here will not be persuaded that I am saying the truth. He thinks that I am the dead body that he will soon see here, and asks how he shall bury me. Assure him then that when this dead body is laid in the grave or put upon the pyre to be burnt it is not Socrates that he sees. For to speak in this way, O Crito, is not only absurd but harmful.'

"After this he bathed, remaining in the bath-chamber for some time: This being ended, his children were brought to him, and the women of his family also. With these he talked awhile in the presence of Crito, and afterwards commanded that some one should take the women and children away. And it was now near sunset. Hereupon the servant of the Eleven came in, and said, 'O Socrates, you will not be angry with me and curse me when I tell you, as the magistrates constrained me to do, that you must drink the poison. I have always found you most gentle and generous, the best by far of all that have come into this place. You will be angry, not with me, for you know that I am blameless, but with those whom you know to be in fault. And now, for you know what I am come to tell you, bear what must be borne as cheerfully as may be.' And saying this the man turned away his face and wept.

"'Farewell!' said Socrates, 'I will do as you bid,' and looking to us he said, 'How courteous he is! All the time he has been so, sometimes talking to me, and showing himself the best of fellows. And now see how generously he weeps for me! But we must do what he says. Let some one bring the poison, if it has been pounded; if not, let the man pound it.'

"'But,' said Crito, 'the sun is still upon the mountains. I have known some who would prolong the day eating and drinking till it was quite late before they drank. Anyhow do not be in a hurry. There is still plenty of time.'

"'All!' said Socrates, 'these men were quite consistent. They thought that they were gaining so much time. But I too must be consistent. I believe that I shall gain nothing by dying an hour or two later, except indeed the making of myself a laughing stock by clinging to life when there is really nothing left of it to cling to.'

"Then Crito made a sign to the slave that was standing by; he went out, and after some time had passed brought in the man whose duty it was to give the poison, and who brought it in ready mixed in a cup. When Socrates caught sight of him, he said:

"'Well, my friend, you know all about these matters. What must I do?'

"'You will only have to walk about after you have drunk the poison, till you feel a sort of weight in your legs. Then you should lie down, and the poison will do the rest'

"So saying, he reached the cup to the Master, who took it. His hand did not shake; there was not the least change in his color or his look. Only he put his head forward in the way he had, and said to the man:

"'How about making a libation from the cup? May we do it?'

"'Socrates,' said the man, 'we pound just so much as we think sufficient.'

"'I understand,' said the Master. 'Still we may, nay we must, pray to the gods that my removal hence to that place may be fortunate. The gods grant this! Amen!' And as he said this he put the cup to his lips and drank it off in the easiest, quietest way possible.

"Up to that time we had all been fairly well able to keep from tears. But when we saw him drinking the poison, when we knew that he had finished it, we could restrain them no longer. As for myself I covered my face with my mantle, and wept to myself. Not for him did I weep, but for myself, thinking what a friend I had lost. And others were still more overcome than I was. Only Socrates was quite unmoved.

"'Why all this,' he said, 'my dear friends? I sent the women away for this very reason, that they might not vex us in this fashion. I have heard it said that a man ought to die with good words in his ears. Be quiet, I beseech, and bear yourselves like men.'

"When we heard this we were not a little ashamed of ourselves, and kept back our tears. He walked about till he felt the weight in his legs, and then lay down on his back—this was what the man bade him do. Then the man who administered the poison squeezed his foot pretty strongly, and asked him whether he felt anything. He said no. Then the man showed us how the numbness was going higher and higher.

"'When it reaches his heart,' he said, 'he will die.'

"When the groin was cold the Master uncovered his face—for he had covered it before—and said, 'Crito, we owe a cock to Æsculapius; pay it, do not forget.'

"These were the last words he said.

"'I will,' said Crito, 'is there anything more?'

"But he made no answer. A little time after, we saw him move. Then the man uncovered the face, and we saw that his eyes were set. Then Crito closed his mouth and his eyes."

Phædo left the room hastily when he had finished his narrative. For some time there was silence. Then Apollodorus spoke.

"You know, my friends," he said, "that I am not very wise nor at all learned; but he bore with me and my foolishness, and you will also because you know I loved him. Let me say then one thing. Much that Socrates said that day I did not understand, nor do I understand it now when I hear it again. Yet no one could be more fully persuaded than I was that he spoke the truth. And what persuaded me was the sight of the man. So brave was he, so cheerful, so wholly convinced in his own mind, that no one could doubt that he was indeed about to depart to a better place."