Scene: - A newly-erected Palaestra outside the walls of Athens.
I was going from the Academy straight to the Lyceum, intending to take the outer road, which is close under the wall. When I came to the postern gate of the city, which is by the fountain of Panops, I fell in with Hippothales, the son of Hieronymus, and Ctesippus the Paeanian, and a company of young men who were standing with them. Hippothales, seeing me approach, asked whence I came and whither I was going.
I am going, I replied, from the Academy straight to the Lyceum.
Then come straight to us, he said, and put in here; you may as well.
Who are you, I said; and where am I to come?
He showed me an enclosed space and an open door over against the wall. And there, he said, is the building at which we all meet: and a goodly company we are.
And what is this building, I asked; and what sort of entertainment have you?
The building, he replied, is a newly erected Palaestra; and the entertainment is generally conversation, to which you are welcome.
Thank you, I said; and is there any teacher there?
Yes, he said, your old friend and admirer, Miccus.
Indeed, I replied; he is a very eminent professor.
Are you disposed, he said, to go with me and see them?
Yes, I said; but I should like to know first, what is expected of me, and who is the favourite among you?
Some persons have one favourite, Socrates, and some another, he said.
And who is yours? I asked: tell me that, Hippothales.
At this he blushed; and I said to him, O Hippothales, thou son of Hieronymus! do not say that you are, or that you are not, in love; the confession is too late; for I see that you are not only in love, but are already far gone in your love. Simple and foolish as I am, the Gods have given me the power of understanding affections of this kind.
Whereupon he blushed more and more.
Ctesippus said: I like to see you blushing, Hippothales, and hesitating to tell Socrates the name; when, if he were with you but for a very short time, you would have plagued him to death by talking about nothing else. Indeed, Socrates, he has literally deafened us, and stopped our ears with the praises of Lysis; and if he is a little intoxicated, there is every likelihood that we may have our sleep murdered with a cry of Lysis. His performances in prose are bad enough, but nothing at all in comparison with his verse; and when he drenches us with his poems and other compositions, it is really too bad; and worse still is his manner of singing them to his love; he has a voice which is truly appalling, and we cannot help hearing him: and now having a question put to him by you, behold he is blushing.
Who is Lysis? I said: I suppose that he must be young; for the name does not recall any one to me.
Why, he said, his father being a very well known man, he retains his patronymic, and is not as yet commonly called by his own name; but, although you do not know his name, I am sure that you must know his face, for that is quite enough to distinguish him.
But tell me whose son he is, I said.
He is the eldest son of Democrates, of the deme of Aexone.
Ah, Hippothales, I said; what a noble and really perfect love you have found! I wish that you would favour me with the exhibition which you have been making to the rest of the company, and then I shall be able to judge whether you know what a lover ought to say about his love, either to the youth himself, or to others.
Nay, Socrates, he said; you surely do not attach any importance to what he is saying.
Do you mean, I said, that you disown the love of the person whom he says that you love?
No; but I deny that I make verses or address compositions to him.
He is not in his right mind, said Ctesippus; he is talking nonsense, and is stark mad.
O Hippothales, I said, if you have ever made any verses or songs in honour of your favourite, I do not want to hear them; but I want to know the purport of them, that I may be able to judge of your mode of approaching your fair one.
Ctesippus will be able to tell you, he said; for if, as he avers, the sound of my words is always dinning in his ears, he must have a very accurate knowledge and recollection of them.
Yes, indeed, said Ctesippus; I know only too well; and very ridiculous the tale is: for although he is a lover, and very devotedly in love, he has nothing particular to talk about to his beloved which a child might not say. Now is not that ridiculous? He can only speak of the wealth of Democrates, which the whole city celebrates, and grandfather Lysis, and the other ancestors of the youth, and their stud of horses, and their victory at the Pythian games, and at the Isthmus, and at Nemea with four horses and single horses — these are the tales which he composes and repeats. And there is greater twaddle still. Only the day before yesterday he made a poem in which he described the entertainment of Heracles, who was a connexion of the family, setting forth how in virtue of this relationship he was hospitably received by an ancestor of Lysis; this ancestor was himself begotten of Zeus by the daughter of the founder of the deme. And these are the sort of old wives’ tales which he sings and recites to us, and we are obliged to listen to him.
When I heard this, I said: O ridiculous Hippothales! how can you be making and singing hymns in honour of yourself before you have won?
But my songs and verses, he said, are not in honour of myself, Socrates.
You think not? I said.
Nay, but what do you think? he replied.
Most assuredly, I said, those songs are all in your own honour; for if you win your beautiful love, your discourses and songs will be a glory, to you, and may be truly regarded as hymns of praise composed in honour of you who have conquered and won such a love; but if he slips away from you, the more you have praised him, the more ridiculous you will look at having lost this fairest and best of blessings; and therefore the wise lover does not praise his beloved until he has won him, because he is afraid of accidents. There is also another danger; the fair, when any one praises or magnifies them, are filled with the spirit of pride and vain — glory. Do you not agree with me?
Yes, he said.
And the more vain — glorious they are, the more difficult is the capture of them?
I believe you.
What should you say of a hunter who frightened away his prey, and made the capture of the animals which he is hunting more difficult?
He would be a bad hunter, undoubtedly.
Yes; and if, instead of soothing them, he were to infuriate them with words and songs, that would show a great want of wit: do you not agree.
And now reflect, Hippothales, and see whether you are not guilty of all these errors in writing poetry. For I can hardly suppose that you will affirm a man to be a good poet who injures himself by his poetry.
Assuredly not, he said; such a poet would be a fool. And this is the reason why I take you into my counsels, Socrates, and I shall be glad of any further advice which you may have to offer. Will you tell me by what words or actions I may become endeared to my love?
That is not easy to determine, I said; but if you will bring your love to me, and will let me talk with him, I may perhaps be able to show you how to converse with him, instead of singing and reciting in the fashion of which you are accused.
There will be no difficulty in bringing him, he replied; if you will only go with Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and sit down and talk, I believe that he will come of his own accord; for he is fond of listening, Socrates. And as this is the festival of the Hermaea, the young men and boys are all together, and there is no separation between them. He will be sure to come: but if he does not, Ctesippus with whom he is familiar, and whose relation Menexenus is his great friend, shall call him.
That will be the way, I said. Thereupon I led Ctesippus into the Palaestra, and the rest followed.
Upon entering we found that the boys had just been sacrificing; and this part of the festival was nearly at an end. They were all in their white array, and games at dice were going on among them. Most of them were in the outer court amusing themselves; but some were in a corner of the Apodyterium playing at odd and even with a number of dice, which they took out of little wicker baskets. There was also a circle of lookers — on; among them was Lysis. He was standing with the other boys and youths, having a crown upon his head, like a fair vision, and not less worthy of praise for his goodness than for his beauty. We left them, and went over to the opposite side of the room, where, finding a quiet place, we sat down; and then we began to talk. This attracted Lysis, who was constantly turning round to look at us — he was evidently wanting to come to us. For a time he hesitated and had not the courage to come alone; but first of all, his friend Menexenus, leaving his play, entered the Palaestra from the court, and when he saw Ctesippus and myself, was going to take a seat by us; and then Lysis, seeing him, followed, and sat down by his side; and the other boys joined. I should observe that Hippothales, when he saw the crowd, got behind them, where he thought that he would be out of sight of Lysis, lest he should anger him; and there he stood and listened.
I turned to Menexenus, and said: Son of Demophon, which of you two youths is the elder?
That is a matter of dispute between us, he said.
And which is the nobler? Is that also a matter of dispute?
And another disputed point is, which is the fairer?
The two boys laughed.