we went with Polemarchus to his house; and there we found his brothers
Lysias and Euthydemus, and with them Thrasymachus the Chalcedonian,
Charmantides the Paeanian, and Cleitophon the son of Aristonymus.
There too was Cephalus the father of Polemarchus, whom I had not
seen for a long time, and I thought him very much aged. He was seated
on a cushioned chair, and had a garland on his head, for he had
been sacrificing in the court; and there were some other chairs
in the room arranged in a semicircle, upon which we sat down by
him. He saluted me eagerly, and then he said: --
You don't come to see me, Socrates, as often as you ought: If I
were still able to go and see you I would not ask you to come to
me. But at my age I can hardly get to the city, and therefore you
should come oftener to the Piraeus. For let me tell you, that the
more the pleasures of the body fade away, the greater to me is the
pleasure and charm of conversation. Do not then deny my request,
but make our house your resort and keep company with these young
men; we are old friends, and you will be quite at home with us.
Socrates: There is nothing
which for my part I like better, Cephalus, than conversing with
aged men; for I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey
which I too may have to go, and of whom I ought to enquire, whether
the way is smooth and easy, or rugged and difficult. And this is
a question which I should like to ask of you who have arrived at
that time which the poets call the 'threshold of old age' --Is life
harder towards the end, or what report do you give of it?
Cephalus: I will tell you, Socrates,
he said, what my own feeling is. Men of my age flock together; we
are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings
the tale of my acquaintance commonly is --I cannot eat, I cannot
drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was
a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life.
Some complain of the slights which are put upon them by relations,
and they will tell you sadly of how many evils their old age is
the cause. But to me, Socrates, these complainers seem to blame
that which is not really in fault. For if old age were the cause,
I too being old, and every other old man, would have felt as they
do. But this is not my own experience, nor that of others whom I
have known. How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in
answer to the question, How does love suit with age, Sophocles,
--are you still the man you were? Peace, he replied; most gladly
have I escaped the thing of which you speak; I feel as if I had
escaped from a mad and furious master. His words have often occurred
to my mind since, and they seem as good to me now as at the time
when he uttered them. For certainly old age has a great sense of
calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles
says, we are freed from the grasp not of one mad master only, but
of many. The truth is, Socrates, that these regrets, and also the
complaints about relations, are to be attributed to the same cause,
which is not old age, but men's characters and tempers; for he who
is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age,
but to him who is of an opposite disposition youth and age are equally
Socrates: I listened in admiration,
and wanting to draw him out, that he might go on --Yes, Cephalus,
I said: but I rather suspect that people in general are not convinced
by you when you speak thus; they think that old age sits lightly
upon you, not because of your happy disposition, but because you
are rich, and wealth is well known to be a great comforter.
Cephalus You are right, he replied; they are not convinced: and
there is something in what they say; not, however, so much as they
imagine. I might answer them as Themistocles answered the Seriphian
who was abusing him and saying that he was famous, not for his own
merits but because he was an Athenian: 'If you had been a native
of my country or I of yours, neither of us would have been famous.'
And to those who are not rich and are impatient of old age, the
same reply may be made; for to the good poor man old age cannot
be a light burden, nor can a bad rich man ever have peace with himself.
Socrates: May I ask, Cephalus,
whether your fortune was for the most part inherited or acquired
Cephalus: Acquired! Socrates; do you
want to know how much I acquired? In the art of making money I have
been midway between my father and grandfather: for my grandfather,
whose name I bear, doubled and trebled the value of his patrimony,
that which he inherited being much what I possess now; but my father
Lysanias reduced the property below what it is at present: and I
shall be satisfied if I leave to these my sons not less but a little
more than I received.
Socrates: That was why I asked
you the question, I replied, because I see that you are indifferent
about money, which is a characteristic rather of those who have
inherited their fortunes than of those who have acquired them; the
makers of fortunes have a second love of money as a creation of
their own, resembling the affection of authors for their own poems,
or of parents for their children, besides that natural love of it
for the sake of use and profit which is common to them and all men.
And hence they are very bad company, for they can talk about nothing
but the praises of wealth.
Cephalus: That is true, he said.
Socrates: Yes, that is very
true, but may I ask another question? What do you consider to be
the greatest blessing which you have reaped from your wealth?
Cephalus: One, he said, of which I
could not expect easily to convince others. For let me tell you,
Socrates, that when a man thinks himself to be near death, fears
and cares enter into his mind which he never had before; the tales
of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there of deeds
done here were once a laughing matter to him, but now he is tormented
with the thought that they may be true: either from the weakness
of age, or because he is now drawing nearer to that other place,
he has a clearer view of these things; suspicions and alarms crowd
thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs
he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions
is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep
for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings. But to him who
is conscious of no sin, sweet hope, as Pindar charmingly says, is
the kind nurse of his age:
Hope, he says, cherishes the soul of him who lives in justice and
holiness and is the nurse of his age and the companion of his journey;
--hope which is mightiest to sway the restless soul of man.
How admirable are his words! And the great blessing of riches,
I do not say to every man, but to a good man, is, that he has had
no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally
or unintentionally; and when he departs to the world below he is
not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts
which he owes to men. Now to this peace of mind the possession of
wealth greatly contributes; and therefore I say, that, setting one
thing against another, of the many advantages which wealth has to
give, to a man of sense this is in my opinion the greatest.
Socrates: Well said, Cephalus,
I replied; but as concerning justice, what is it? --to speak the
truth and to pay your debts --no more than this? And even to this
are there not exceptions? Suppose that a friend when in his right
mind has deposited arms with me and he asks for them when he is
not in his right mind, ought I to give them back to him? No one
would say that I ought or that I should be right in doing so, any
more than they would say that I ought always to speak the truth
to one who is in his condition.
Cephalus: You are quite right, he
Socrates: But then, I said,
speaking the truth and paying your debts is not a correct definition
Quite correct, Socrates, if Simonides is to be believed, said Polemarchus
Cephalus: I fear, said Cephalus, that
I must go now, for I have to look after the sacrifices, and I hand
over the argument to Polemarchus and the company.
Socrates: Is not Polemarchus
your heir? I said.
Cephalus: To be sure, he answered,
and went away laughing to the sacrifices.