The Palaestra of Taureas, which is near the Porch of the King Archon.
Socrates, who has just returned to Athens, visits his old friends and tells them the news from the army at Potidaea.
Yesterday evening I returned from the army at Potidaea, and having been a good while away, I thought that I should like to go and look at my old haunts. So I went into the palaestra of Taureas, which is over against the temple adjoining the porch of the King Archon, and there I found a number of persons, most of whom I knew, but not all. My visit was unexpected, and no sooner did they see me entering than they saluted me from afar on all sides; and Chaerephon, who is a kind of madman, started up and ran to me, seizing my hand, and saying, How did you escape, Socrates? — (I should explain that an engagement had taken place at Potidaea not long before we came away, of which the news had only just reached Athens.)
You see, I replied, that here I am.
There was a report, he said, that the engagement was very severe, and that many of our acquaintance had fallen.
That, I replied, was not far from the truth.
I suppose, he said, that you were present.
Then sit down, and tell us the whole story, which as yet we have only heard imperfectly.
I took the place which he assigned to me, by the side of Critias the son of Callaeschrus, and when I had saluted him and the rest of the company, I told them the news from the army, and answered their several enquiries.
He proceeds to make enquiries about the state of philosophy and about the youth; and is told of the beautiful Charmides.
Then, when there had been enough of this, I, in my turn, began to make enquiries about matters at home — about the present state of philosophy, and about the youth. I asked whether any of them were remarkable for wisdom or beauty, or both. Critias, glancing at the door, invited my attention to some youths who were coming in, and talking noisily to one another, followed by a crowd. Of the beauties, Socrates, he said, I fancy that you will soon be able to form a judgment. For those who are just entering are the advanced guard of the great beauty, as he is thought to be, of the day, and he is likely to be not far off himself.
Who is he, I said; and who is his father?
Charmides, he replied, is his name; he is my cousin, and the son of my uncle Glaucon: I rather think that you know him too, although he was not grown up at the time of your departure.
Certainly, I know him, I said, for he was remarkable even then when he was still a child, and I should imagine that by this time he must be almost a young man.
You will see, he said, in a moment what progress he has made and what he is like. He had scarcely said the word, when Charmides entered.
Now you know, my friend, that I cannot measure anything, and of the beautiful, I am simply such a measure as a white line is of chalk; for almost all young persons appear to be beautiful in my eyes. But at that moment, when I saw him coming in, I confess that I was quite astonished at his beauty and stature; all the world seemed to be enamoured of him; amazement and confusion reigned when he entered; and a troop of lovers followed him. That grown-up men like ourselves should have been affected in this way was not surprising, but I observed that there was the same feeling among the boys; all of them, down to the very least child, turned and looked at him, as if he had been a statue.
Chaerephon called me and said: What do you think of him, Socrates? Has he not a beautiful face?
Most beautiful, I said.
But you would think nothing of his face, he replied, if you could see his naked form: he is absolutely perfect.
And to this they all agreed.
By Heracles, I said, there never was such a paragon, if he has only one other slight addition.
What is that? said Critias.
If he has a noble soul; and being of your house, Critias, he may be expected to have this.
He is as fair and good within, as he is without, replied Critias.
whose soul is as fair as his body.
Then, before we see his body, should we not ask him to show us his soul, naked and undisguised? he is just of an age at which he will like to talk.
That he will, said Critias, and I can tell you that he is a philosopher already, and also a considerable poet, not in his own opinion only, but in that of others.
That, my dear Critias, I replied, is a distinction which has long been in your family, and is inherited by you from Solon. But why do you not call him, and show him to us? for even if he were younger than he is, there could be no impropriety in his talking to us in the presence of you, who are his guardian and cousin.
Very well, he said; then I will call him; and turning to the attendant, he said, Call Charmides, and tell him that I want him to come and see a physician about the illness of which he spoke to me the day before yesterday. Then again addressing me, he added: He has been complaining lately of having a headache when he rises in the morning: now why should you not make him believe that you know a cure for the headache?
Why not, I said; but will he come?
He will be sure to come, he replied.
He himself presently appears, and a ludicrous scene ensues.
The feelings suggested to Socrates by the sight of him.
He came as he was bidden, and sat down between Critias and me. Great amusement was occasioned by every one pushing with might and main at his neighbour in order to make a place for him next to themselves, until at the two ends of the row one had to get up and the other was rolled over sideways. Now I, my friend, was beginning to feel awkward; my former bold belief in my powers of conversing with him had vanished. And when Critias told him that I was the person who had the cure, he looked at me in such an indescribable manner, and was just going to ask a question. And at that moment all the people in the palaestra crowded about us, and, O rare! I caught a sight of the inwards of his garment, and took the flame. Then I could no longer contain myself. I thought how well Cydias understood the nature of love, when, in speaking of a fair youth, he warns some one ‘not to bring the fawn in the sight of the lion to be devoured by him,’ for I felt that I had been overcome by a sort of wild-beast appetite. But I controlled myself, and when he asked me if I knew the cure of the headache, I answered, but with an effort, that I did know.
And what is it? he said.
The cure for the headache.
I replied that it was a kind of leaf, which required to be accompanied by a charm, and if a person would repeat the charm at the same time that he used the cure, he would be made whole; but that without the charm the leaf would be of no avail.
Then I will write out the charm from your dictation, he said.
With my consent? I said, or without my consent?
With your consent, Socrates, he said, laughing.
Very good, I said; and are you quite sure that you know my name?
I ought to know you, he replied, for there is a great deal said about you among my companions; and I remember when I was a child seeing you in company with my cousin Critias.
The eyes, as physicians tell us, cannot be cured without the head, nor the head without the body;
I am glad to find that you remember me, I said; for I shall now be more at home with you and shall be better able to explain the nature of the charm, about which I felt a difficulty before. For the charm will do more, Charmides, than only cure the headache. I dare say that you have heard eminent physicians say to a patient who comes to them with bad eyes, that they cannot cure his eyes by themselves, but that if his eyes are to be cured, his head must be treated; and then again they say that to think of curing the head alone, and not the rest of the body also, is the height of folly. And arguing in this way they apply their methods to the whole body, and try to treat and heal the whole and the part together. Did you ever observe that this is what they say?
Yes, he said.
And they are right, and you would agree with them?
Yes, he said, certainly I should.
nor the body without the soul.
His approving answers reassured me, and I began by degrees to regain confidence, and the vital heat returned. Such, Charmides, I said, is the nature of the charm, which I learned when serving with the army from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zamolxis, who are said to be so skilful that they can even give immortality. This Thracian told me that in these notions of theirs, which I was just now mentioning, the Greek physicians are quite right as far as they go; but Zamolxis, he added, our king, who is also a god, says further, ‘that as you ought not to attempt to cure the eyes without the head, or the head without the body, so neither ought you to attempt to cure the body without the soul; and this,’ he said, ‘is the reason why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas, because they are ignorant of the whole, which ought to be studied also; for the part can never be well unless the whole is well.’ For all good and evil, whether in the body or in human nature, originates, as he declared, in the soul, and overflows from thence, as if from the head into the eyes. And therefore if the head and body are to be well, you must begin by curing the soul; that is the first thing. And the cure, my dear youth, has to be effected by the use of certain charms, and these charms are fair words; and by them temperance is implanted in the soul, and where temperance is, there health is speedily imparted, not only to the head, but to the whole body. And he who taught me the cure and the charm at the same time added a special direction: ‘Let no one,’ he said, ‘persuade you to cure the head, until he has first given you his soul to be cured by the charm. For this,’ he said, ‘is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the soul from the body.’ And he added with emphasis, at the same time making me swear to his words, ‘Let no one, however rich, or noble, or fair, persuade you to give him the cure, without the charm.’ Now I have sworn, and I must keep my oath, and therefore if you will allow me to apply the Thracian charm first to your soul, as the stranger directed, I will afterwards proceed to apply the cure to your head. But if not, I do not know what I am to do with you, my dear Charmides.
Critias, when he heard this, said: The headache will be an unexpected gain to my young relation, if the pain in his head compels him to improve his mind: and I can tell you, Socrates, that Charmides is not only pre-eminent in beauty among his equals, but also in that quality which is given by the charm; and this, as you say, is temperance?
Yes, I said.
Then let me tell you that he is the most temperate of human beings, and for his age inferior to none in any quality.
The outward form of Charmides does no discredit to his great ancestors.
Has he temperance also?