Odious and Peculiar

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Something more on the death of Socrates. Either the reviewer or the author is being too harsh to Xenophon's Socrates, who is not so mundane as he appears at first glance--at least, outside the Oeconomicus, where he is only a stock figure taking advice from someone suspiciously like Xenophon himself.

I will confess that I have always liked Xenophon better than Plato. He seems like a genial, well-bred sort of fellow who would share with you that dish of figs which Plato would gobble sans honte.

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Xenophon's Socrates gives his friends job-hunting advice. Can you imagine Plato's Socrates doing that? I suppose the difference is that Plato never actually needed to work for money--or at least that is my impression of him.
There's an otherworldly quality to Plato's Socrates--I'm thinking of the description of him standing out in the cold, thinking, for days, until he comes to the end of his thought and returns to the army camp. Xenophon's Socrates is no slave to his bodily needs, but he doesn't seem to hold the same low opinion of them. Or at least, when he does, there's a sense that Xenophon is willing to call BS.

Even Xenophon's treatment of Socrates' advice is less worshipful than Plato's take on it. X's willingness to make his decision before consulting the oracle, and seek only to know the best way to accomplish his goal, is not something I can picture Plato doing.

As for the working for money, I can't really say. Plato certainly taught at the Academy, but whether out of need or simply for the pleasure of it, I don't know. I suspect the latter. Xenophon was no poor man himself, but seems to have had a taste for manual labor and appropriately self-improving hardship.

Plato certainly doesn't seem to care much for the things of this world, but whether that's because they came easily to him or out of genuine philosophical conviction, I'm not sure.
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