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theaetetus   


our servant, and must wait our leisure. Who is our judge? Or where
is the spectator having any right to censure or control us, as he
might the poets?
Soc. Then, as this is your wish, I will describe the leaders; for
there is no use in talking about the inferior sort. In the first
place, the lords of philosophy have never, from their youth upwards,
known their way to the Agora, or the dicastery, or the council, or any
other political assembly; they neither see nor hear the laws or
decrees, as they are called, of the state written or recited; the
eagerness of political societies in the attainment of office-clubs,
and banquets, and revels, and singing-maidens,-do not enter even
into their dreams. Whether any event has turned out well or ill in the
city, what disgrace may have descended to any one from his
ancestors, male or female, are matters of which the philosopher no
more knows than he can tell, as they say, how many pints are contained
in the ocean. Neither is he conscious of his ignorance. For he does
not hold aloof in order; that he may gain a reputation; but the
truth is, that the outer form of him only is in the city: his mind,
disdaining the littlenesses and nothingnesses of human things, is
"flying all abroad" as Pindar says, measuring earth and heaven and the
things which are under and on the earth and above the heaven,
interrogating the whole nature of each and all in their entirety,
but not condescending to anything which is within reach.
Theod. What do you mean, Socrates?
Soc. I will illustrate my meaning, Theodorus, by the jest which
the clever witty Thracian handmaid is said to have made about
Thales, when he fell into a well as he was looking up at the stars.
She said, that he was so eager to know what was going on in heaven,
that he could not see what was before his feet. This is a jest which
is equally applicable to all philosophers. For the philosopher is
wholly unacquainted with his next-door neighbour; he is ignorant,
not only of what he is doing, but he hardly knows whether he is a
man or an animal; he is searching into the essence of man, and busy in
enquiring what belongs to such a nature to do or suffer different from
any other;-I think that you understand me, Theodorus?
Theod. I do, and what you say is true.
Soc. And thus, my friend, on every occasion, private as well as
public, as I said at first, when he appears in a law-court, or in
any place in which he has to speak of things which are at his feet and
before his eyes, he is the jest, not only of Thracian handmaids but of
the general herd, tumbling into wells and every sort of disaster
through his inexperience. His awkwardness is fearful, and gives the
impression of imbecility. When he is reviled, he has nothing
personal to say in answer to the civilities of his adversaries, for he
knows no scandals of any one, and they do not interest him; and
therefore he is laughed at for his sheepishness; and when others are
being praised and glorified, in the simplicity of his heart he
cannot help going into fits of laughter, so that he seems to be a
downright idiot. When he hears a tyrant or king eulogized, he
fancies that he is listening to the praises of some keeper of cattle-a
swineherd, or shepherd, or perhaps a cowherd, who is congratulated
on the quantity of milk which he squeezes from them; and he remarks
that the creature whom they tend, and out of whom they squeeze the
wealth, is of a less traitable and more insidious nature. Then, again,
he observes that the great man is of necessity as ill-mannered and
uneducated as any shepherd-for he has no leisure, and he is surrounded
by a wall, which is his mountain-pen. Hearing of enormous landed
proprietors of ten thousand acres and more, our philosopher deems this
to be a trifle, because he has been accustomed to think of the whole
earth; and when they sing the, praises of family, and say that someone
is a gentleman because he can show seven generations of wealthy
ancestors, he thinks that their sentiments only betray a dull and
narrow vision in those who utter them, and who are not educated enough
to look at the whole, nor to consider that every man has had thousands

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