Laches, or Courage
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Laches, or Courage.
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Laches, or Courage
Written 380 B.C.E
Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
LYSIMACHUS, son of Aristides
MELESIAS, son of Thucydides
Lys. You have seen the exhibition of the man fighting in
armour, Nicias and Laches, but we did not tell you at the time the reason
why my friend Melesias and I asked you to go with us and see him. I think
that we may as well confess what this was, for we certainly ought not to
have any reserve with you. The reason was, that we were intending to ask
your advice. Some laugh at the very notion of advising others, and when
they are asked will not say what they think. They guess at the wishes of
the person who asks them, and answer according to his, and not according
to their own, opinion. But as we know that you are good judges, and will
say exactly what you think, we have taken you into our counsels. The matter
about which I am making all this preface is as follows: Melesias and I
have two sons; that is his son, and he is named Thucydides, after his grandfather;
and this is mine, who is also called after his grandfather, Aristides.
Now, we are resolved to take the greatest care of the youths, and not to
let them run about as they like, which is too often the way with the young,
when they are no longer children, but to begin at once and do the utmost
that we can for them. And knowing you to have sons of your own, we thought
that you were most likely to have attended to their training and improvement,
and, if perchance you have not attended to them, we may remind you that
you ought to have done so, and would invite you to assist us in the fulfillment
of a common duty. I will tell you, Nicias and Laches, even at the risk
of being tedious, how we came to think of this. Melesias and I live together,
and our sons live with us; and now, as I was saying at first, we are going
to confess to you. Both of us often talk to the lads about the many noble
deeds which our own fathers did in war and peace-in the management of the
allies, and in the administration of the city; but neither of us has any
deeds of his own which he can show. The truth is that we are ashamed of
this contrast being seen by them, and we blame our fathers for letting
us be spoiled in the days of our youth, while they were occupied with the
concerns of others; and we urge all this upon the lads, pointing out to
them that they will not grow up to honour if they are rebellious and take
no pains about themselves; but that if they take pains they may, perhaps,
become worthy of the names which they bear. They, on their part, promise
to comply with our wishes; and our care is to discover what studies or
pursuits are likely to be most improving to them. Some one commended to
us the art of fighting in armour, which he thought an excellent accomplishment
for a young man to learn; and he praised the man whose exhibition you have
seen, and told us to go and see him. And we determined that we would go,
and get you to accompany us; and we were intending at the same time, if
you did not object, to take counsel with you about the education of our
sons. That is the matter which we wanted to talk over with you; and we
hope that you will give us your opinion about this art of fighting in armour,
and about any other studies or pursuits which may or may not be desirable
for a young man to learn. Please to say whether you agree to our
Nic. As far as I am concerned, Lysimachus and Melesias,
I applaud your purpose, and will gladly assist you; and I believe that
you, Laches, will be equally glad.
La. Certainly, Nicias; and I quite approve of the remark
which Lysimachus made about his own father and the father of Melesias,
and which is applicable, not only to them, but to us, and to every one
who is occupied with public affairs. As he says, such persons are too apt
to be negligent and careless of their own children and their private concerns.
There is much truth in that remark of yours, Lysimachus. But why, instead
of consulting us, do you not consult our friend Socrates about the education
of the youths? He is of the same deme with you, and is always passing his
time in places where the youth have any noble study or pursuit, such as
you are enquiring after.
Lys. Why, Laches, has Socrates ever attended to matters
of this sort?
La. Certainly, Lysimachus.
Nic. That I have the means of knowing as well as Laches;
for quite lately he supplied me with a teacher of music for my sons,-Damon,
the disciple of Agathocles, who is a most accomplished man in every way,
as well as a musician, and a companion of inestimable value for young men
at their age.
Lys. Those who have reached my time of life, Socrates and
Nicias and Laches, fall out of acquaintance with the young, because they
are generally detained at home by old age; but you, O son of Sophroniscus,
should let your fellow demesman have the benefits of any advice which you
are able to give. Moreover I have a claim upon you as an old friend of
your father; for I and he were always companions and friends, and to the
hour of his death there never was a difference between us; and now it comes
back to me, at the mention of your name, that I have heard these lads talking
to one another at home, and often speaking of Socrates in terms of the
highest praise; but I have never thought to ask them whether the son of
Sophroniscus was the person whom they meant. Tell me, my boys, whether
this is the Socrates of whom you have often spoken?
Son. Certainly, father, this is he.
Lys. I am delighted to hear, Socrates, that you maintain
the name of your father, who was a most excellent man; and I further rejoice
at the prospect of our family ties being renewed.
La. Indeed, Lysimachus, you ought not to give him up; for
I can assure you that I have seen him maintaining, not only his father's,
but also his country's name. He was my companion in the retreat from Delium,
and I can tell you that if others had only been like him, the honour of
our country would have been upheld, and the great defeat would never have
Lys. That is very high praise which is accorded to you,
Socrates, by faithful witnesses and for actions like those which they praise.
Let me tell you the pleasure which I feel in hearing of your fame; and
I hope that you will regard me as one of your warmest friends. You ought
to have visited us long ago, and made yourself at home with us; but now,
from this day forward, as we have at last found one another out, do as
I say-come and make acquaintance with me, and with these young men, that
I may continue your friend, as I was your father's. I shall expect you
to do so, and shall venture at some future time to remind you of your duty.
But what say you of the matter of which we were beginning to speak-the
art of fighting in armour? Is that a practice in which the lads may be
Soc. I will endeavour to advise you, Lysimachus, as far
as I can in this matter, and also in every way will comply with your wishes;
but as I am younger and not so experienced, I think that I ought certainly
to hear first what my elders have to say, and to learn of them, and if
I have anything to add, then I may venture to give my opinion to them as
well as to you. Suppose, Nicias, that one or other of you
Nic. I have no objection, Socrates; and my opinion is that
the acquirement of this art is in many ways useful to young men. It is
an advantage to them that among the favourite amusements of their leisure
hours they should have one which tends to improve and not to injure their
bodily health. No gymnastics could be better or harder exercise; and this,
and the art of riding, are of all arts most befitting to a freeman; for
they only who are thus trained in the use of arms are the athletes of our
military profession, trained in that on which the conflict turns. Moreover
in actual battle, when you have to fight in a line with a number of others,
such an acquirement will be of some use, and will be of the greatest whenever
the ranks are broken and you have to fight singly, either in pursuit, when
you are attacking some one who is defending himself, or in flight, when
you have to defend yourself against an assailant. Certainly he who possessed
the art could not meet with any harm at the hands of a single person, or
perhaps of several; and in any case he would have a great advantage. Further,
this sort of skill inclines a man to the love of other noble lessons; for
every man who has learned how to fight in armour will desire to learn the
proper arrangement of an army, which is the sequel of the lesson: and when
he has learned this, and his ambition is once fired, he will go on to learn
the complete art of the general. There is no difficulty in seeing that
the knowledge and practice of other military arts will be honourable and
valuable to a man; and this lesson may be the beginning of them. Let me
add a further advantage, which is by no means a slight one,-that this science
will make any man a great deal more valiant and self-possessed in the field.
And I will not disdain to mention, what by some may he thought to be a
small matter;-he will make a better appearance at the right time; that
is to say, at the time when his appearance will strike terror into his
enemies. My opinion then, Lysimachus, is, as I say, that the youths should
be instructed in this art, and for the reasons which I have given. But
Laches may take a different view; and I shall be very glad to hear what
he has to say.
La. I should not like to maintain, Nicias, that any kind
of knowledge is not to be learned; for all knowledge appears to be a good:
and if, as Nicias and as the teachers of the art affirm, this use of arms
is really a species of knowledge, then it ought to be learned; but if not,
and if those who profess to teach it are deceivers only; or if it be knowledge,
but not of a valuable sort, then what is the use of learning it? I say
this, because I think that if it had been really valuable, the Lacedaemonians,
whose whole life is passed in finding out and practising the arts which
give them an advantage over other nations in war, would have discovered
this one. And even if they had not, still these professors of the art would
certainly not have failed to discover that of all the Hellenes the Lacedaemonians
have the greatest interest in such matters, and that a master of the art
who was honoured among them would be sure to make his fortune among other
nations, just as a tragic poet would who is honoured among ourselves; which
is the reason why he who fancies that he can write a tragedy does not go
about itinerating in the neighbouring states, but rushes straight, and
exhibits at Athens; and this is natural. Whereas I perceive that these
fighters in armour regard Lacedaemon as a sacred inviolable territory,
which they do not touch with the point of their foot; but they make a circuit
of the neighbouring states, and would rather exhibit to any others than
to the Spartans; and particularly to those who would themselves acknowledge
that they are by no means first-rate in the arts of war. Further, Lysimachus,
I have encountered a good many of these gentlemen in actual service, and
have taken their measure, which I can give you at once; for none of these
masters of fence have ever been distinguished in war,-there has been a
sort of fatality about them; while in all other arts the men of note have
been always those who have practised the art, they appear to be a most
unfortunate exception. For example, this very Stesilaus, whom you and I
have just witnessed exhibiting in all that crowd and making such great
professions of his powers, I have seen at another time making, in sober
truth, an involuntary exhibition of himself, which was a far better spectacle.
He was a marine on board a ship which struck a transport vessel, and was
armed with a weapon, half spear half scythe; the singularity of this weapon
was worthy of the singularity of the man. To make a long story short, I
will only tell you what happened to this notable invention of the scythe-spear.
He was fighting, and the scythe was caught in the rigging of the other
ship, and stuck fast; and he tugged, but was unable to get his weapon free.
The two ships were passing one another. He first ran along his own ship
holding on to the spear; but as the other ship passed by and drew him after
as he was holding on, he let the spear slip through his hand until he retained
only the end of the handle. The people in the transport clapped their hands,
and laughed at his ridiculous figure; and when some one threw a stone,
which fell on the deck at his feet, and he quitted of the scythe-spear,
the crew of his own trireme also burst out laughing; they could not refrain
when they beheld the weapon waving in the air, suspended from the transport.
Now I do not deny that there may be something in such an art, as Nicias
asserts, but I tell you my experience; and, as I said at first, whether
this be an art of which the advantage is so slight, or not an art at all,
but only an imposition, in either case such an acquirement is not worth
having. For my opinion is, that if the professor of this art be a coward,
he will be likely to become rash, and his character will be only more notorious;
or if he be brave, and fail ever so little, other men will be on the watch,
and he will be greatly traduced; for there is a jealousy of such pretenders;
and unless a man be preeminent in valour, he cannot help being ridiculous,
if he says that he has this sort of skill. Such is my judgment, Lysimachus,
of the desirableness of this art; but, as I said at first, ask Socrates,
and do not let him go until he has given you his opinion of the
Lys. I am going to ask this favour of you, Socrates; as
is the more necessary because the two councillors disagree, and some one
is in a manner still needed who will decide between them. Had they agreed,
no arbiter would have been required. But as Laches has voted one way and
Nicias another, I should like to hear with which of our two friends you
Soc. What, Lysimachus, are you going to accept the opinion
of the majority?
Lys. Why, yes, Socrates; what else am I to
Soc. And would you do so too, Melesias? If you were deliberating
about the gymnastic training of your son, would you follow the advice of
the majority of us, or the opinion of the one who had been trained and
exercised under a skilful master?
Mel. The latter, Socrates; as would surely be
Soc. His one vote would be worth more than the vote of all
Soc. And for this reason, as I imagine,-because a good decision
is based on knowledge and not on numbers?
Mel. To be sure.
Soc. Must we not then first of all ask, whether there is
any one of us who has knowledge of that about which we are deliberating?
If there is, let us take his advice, though he be one only, and not mind
the rest; if there is not, let us seek further counsel. Is this a slight
matter about which you and Lysimachus are deliberating? Are you not risking
the greatest of your possessions? For children are your riches; and upon
their turning out well or ill depends the whole order of their father's
Mel. That is true.
Soc. Great care, then, is required in this
Soc. Suppose, as I was just now saying, that we were considering,
or wanting to consider, who was the best trainer. Should we not select
him who knew and had practised the art, and had the best
Mel. I think that we should.
Soc. But would there not arise a prior question about the
nature of the art of which we want to find the masters?
Mel. I do not understand.
Soc. Let me try to make my meaning plainer then. I do not
think that we have as yet decided what that is about which we are consulting,
when we ask which of us is or is not skilled in the art, and has or has
not had a teacher of the art.
Nic. Why, Socrates, is not the question whether young men
ought or ought not to learn the art of fighting in armour?
Soc. Yes, Nicias; but there is also a prior question, which
I may illustrate in this way: When a person considers about applying a
medicine to the eyes, would you say that he is consulting about the medicine
or about the eyes?
Nic. About the eyes.
Soc. And when he considers whether he shall set a bridle
on a horse and at what time, he is thinking of the horse and not of the
Soc. And in a word, when he considers anything for the sake
of another thing, he thinks of the end and not of the
Soc. And when you call in an adviser, you should see whether
he too is skilful in the accomplishment of the end which you have in
Nic. Most true.
Soc. And at present we have in view some knowledge, of which
the end is the soul of youth?
Soc. And we are enquiring, Which of us is skilful or successful
in the treatment of the soul, and which of us has had good
La. Well but, Socrates; did you never observe that some
persons, who have had no teachers, are more skilful than those who have,
in some things?
Soc. Yes, Laches, I have observed that; but you would not
be very willing to trust them if they only professed to be masters of their
art, unless they could show some proof of their skill or excellence in
one or more works.
La. That is true.
Soc. And therefore, Laches and Nicias, as Lysimachus and
Melesias, in their anxiety to improve the minds of their sons, have asked
our advice about them, we too should tell them who our teachers were, if
we say that we have had any, and prove them to be in the first place men
of merit and experienced trainers of the minds of youth and also to have
been really our teachers. Or if any of us says that he has no teacher,
but that he has works of his own to show; then he should point out to them
what Athenians or strangers, bond or free, he is generally acknowledged
to have improved. But if he can show neither teachers nor works, then he
should tell them to look out for others; and not run the risk of spoiling
the children of friends, and thereby incurring the most formidable accusation
which can be brought against any one by those nearest to him. As for myself,
Lysimachus and Melesias, I am the first to confess that I have never had
a teacher of the art of virtue; although I have always from my earliest
youth desired to have one. But I am too poor to give money to the Sophists,
who are the only professors of moral improvement; and to this day I have
never been able to discover the art myself, though I should not be surprised
if Nicias or Laches may have discovered or learned it; for they are far
wealthier than I am, and may therefore have learnt of others. And they
are older too; so that they have had more time to make the discovery. And
I really believe that they are able to educate a man; for unless they had
been confident in their own knowledge, they would never have spoken thus
decidedly of the pursuits which are advantageous or hurtful to a young
man. I repose confidence in both of them; but I am surprised to find that
they differ from one another. And therefore, Lysimachus, as Laches suggested
that you should detain me, and not let me go until I answered, I in turn
earnestly beseech and advise you to detain Laches and Nicias, and question
them. I would have you say to them: Socrates avers that he has no knowledge
of the matter-he is unable to decide which of you speaks truly; neither
discoverer nor student is he of anything of the kind. But you, Laches and
Nicias, should each of you tell us who is the most skilful educator whom
you have ever known; and whether you invented the art yourselves, or learned
of another; and if you learned, who were your respective teachers, and
who were their brothers in the art; and then, if you are too much occupied
in politics to teach us yourselves, let us go to them, and present them
with gifts, or make interest with them, or both, in the hope that they
may be induced to take charge of our children and of yours; and then they
will not grow up inferior, and disgrace their ancestors. But if you are
yourselves original discoverers in that field, give us some proof of your
skill. Who are they who, having been inferior persons, have become under
your care good and noble? For if this is your first attempt at education,
there is a danger that you may be trying the experiment, not on the "vile
corpus" of a Carian slave, but on your own sons, or the sons of your friend,
and, as the proverb says, "break the large vessel in learning to make pots."
Tell us then, what qualities you claim or do not claim. Make them tell
you that, Lysimachus, and do not let them off.
Lys. I very much approve of the words of Socrates, my friends;
but you, Nicias and Laches, must determine whether you will be questioned,
and give an explanation about matters of this sort. Assuredly, I and Melesias
would be greatly pleased to hear you answer the questions which Socrates
asks, if you will: for I began by saying that we took you into our counsels
because we thought that you would have attended to the subject, especially
as you have children who, like our own, are nearly of an age to be educated.
Well, then, if you have no objection, suppose that you take Socrates into
partnership; and do you and he ask and answer one another's questions:
for, as he has well said, we are deliberating about the most important
of our concerns. I hope that you will see fit to comply with our
Nic. I see very clearly, Lysimachus, that you have only
known Socrates' father, and have no acquaintance with Socrates himself:
at least, you can only have known him when he was a child, and may have
met him among his fellow wardsmen, in company with his father, at a sacrifice,
or at some other gathering. You clearly show that you have never known
him since he arrived at manhood.
Lys. Why do you say that, Nicias?
Nic. Because you seem not to be aware that any one who has
an intellectual affinity to Socrates and enters into conversation with
him is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject he may
start, he will be continually carried round and round by him, until at
last he finds that he has to give an account both of his present and past
life; and when he is once entangled, Socrates will not let him go until
he has completely and thoroughly sifted him. Now I am used to his ways;
and I know that he will certainly do as I say, and also that I myself shall
be the sufferer; for I am fond of his conversation, Lysimachus. And I think
that there is no harm in being reminded of any wrong thing which we are,
or have been, doing: he who does not fly from reproof will be sure to take
more heed of his after-life; as Solon says, he will wish and desire to
be learning so long as he lives, and will not think that old age of itself
brings wisdom. To me, to be cross examined by Socrates is neither unusual
nor unpleasant; indeed, I knew all along that where Socrates was, the argument
would soon pass from our sons to ourselves; and therefore, I say that for
my part, I am quite willing to discourse with Socrates in his own manner;
but you had better ask our friend Laches what his feeling may
La. I have but one feeling, Nicias, or (shall I say?) two
feelings, about discussions. Some would think that I am a lover, and to
others I may seem to be a hater of discourse; for when I hear a man discoursing
of virtue, or of any sort of wisdom, who is a true man and worthy of his
theme, I am delighted beyond measure: and I compare the man and his words,
and note the harmony and correspondence of them. And such an one I deem
to be the true musician, attuned to a fairer harmony than that of the lyre,
or any pleasant instrument of music; for truly he has in his own life a
harmony of words and deeds arranged, not in the Ionian, or in the Phrygian
mode, nor yet in the Lydian, but in the true Hellenic mode, which is the
Dorian, and no other. Such an one makes me merry with the sound of his
voice; and when I hear him I am thought to be a lover of discourse; so
eager am I in drinking in his words. But a man whose actions do not agree
with his words is an annoyance to me; and the better he speaks the more
I hate him, and then I seem to be a hater of discourse. As to Socrates,
I have no knowledge of his words, but of old, as would seem, I have had
experience of his deeds; and his deeds show that free and noble sentiments
are natural to him. And if his words accord, then I am of one mind with
him, and shall be delighted to be interrogated by a man such as he is,
and shall not be annoyed at having to learn of him: for I too agree with
Solon, "that I would fain grow old, learning many things." But I must be
allowed to add "of the good only." Socrates must be willing to allow that
he is a good teacher, or I shall be a dull and uncongenial pupil: but that
the teacher is younger, or not as yet in repute-anything of that sort is
of no account with me. And therefore, Socrates, I give you notice that
you may teach and confute me as much as ever you like, and also learn of
me anything which I know. So high is the opinion which I have entertained
of you ever since the day on which you were my companion in danger, and
gave a proof of your valour such as only the man of merit can give. Therefore,
say whatever you like, and do not mind about the difference of our
Soc. I cannot say that either of you show any reluctance
to take counsel and advise with me.
Lys. But this is our proper business; and yours as well
as ours, for I reckon you as one of us. Please then to take my place, and
find out from Nicias and Laches what we want to know, for the sake of the
youths, and talk and consult with them: for I am old, and my memory is
bad; and I do not remember the questions which I am going to ask, or the
answers to them; and if there is any interruption I am quite lost. I will
therefore beg of you to carry on the proposed discussion by yourselves;
and I will listen, and Melesias and I will act upon your
Soc. Let us, Nicias and Laches, comply with the request
of Lysimachus and Melesias. There will be no harm in asking ourselves the
question which was first proposed to us: "Who have been our own instructors
in this sort of training, and whom have we made better?" But the other
mode of carrying on the enquiry will bring us equally to the same point,
and will be more like proceeding from first principles. For if we knew
that the addition of something would improve some other thing, and were
able to make the addition, then, clearly, we must know how that about which
we are advising may be best and most easily attained. Perhaps you do not
understand what I mean. Then let me make my meaning plainer in this way.
Suppose we knew that the addition of sight makes better the eyes which
possess this gift, and also were able to impart sight to the eyes, then,
clearly, we should know the nature of sight, and should be able to advise
how this gift of sight may be best and most easily attained; but if we
knew neither what sight is, nor what hearing is, we should not be very
good medical advisers about the eyes or the ears, or about the best mode
of giving sight and hearing to them.
La. That is true, Socrates.
Soc. And are not our two friends, Laches, at this very moment
inviting us to consider in what way the gift of virtue may be imparted
to their sons for the improvement of their minds?
La. Very true.
Soc. Then must we not first know the nature of virtue? For
how can we advise any one about the best mode of attaining something of
which we are wholly ignorant?
La. I do not think that we can, Socrates.
Soc. Then, Laches, we may presume that we know the nature
Soc. And that which we know we must surely be able to
Soc. I would not have us begin, my friend, with enquiring
about the whole of virtue; for that may be more than we can accomplish;
let us first consider whether we have a sufficient knowledge of a part;
the enquiry will thus probably be made easier to us.
La. Let us do as you say, Socrates.
Soc. Then which of the parts of virtue shall we select?
Must we not select that to which the art of fighting in armour is supposed
to conduce? And is not that generally thought to be
La. Yes, certainly.
Soc. Then, Laches, suppose that we first set about determining
the nature of courage, and in the second place proceed to enquire how the
young men may attain this quality by the help of studies and pursuits.
Tell me, if you can, what is courage.
La. Indeed, Socrates, I see no difficulty in answering;
he is a man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and
fights against the enemy; there can be no mistake about
Soc. Very good, Laches; and yet I fear that I did not express
myself clearly; and therefore you have answered not the question which
I intended to ask, but another.
La. What do you mean, Socrates?
Soc. I will endeavour to explain; you would call a man courageous
who remains at his post, and fights with the enemy?
La. Certainly I should.
Soc. And so should I; but what would you say of another
man, who fights flying, instead of remaining?
La. How flying?
Soc. Why, as the Scythians are said to fight, flying as
well as pursuing; and as Homer says in praise of the horses of Aeneas,
that they knew "how to pursue, and fly quickly hither and thither"; and
he passes an encomium on Aeneas himself, as having a knowledge of fear
or flight, and calls him "an author of fear or flight."
La. Yes, Socrates, and there Homer is right: for he was
speaking of chariots, as you were speaking of the Scythian cavalry, who
have that way of fighting; but the heavy-armed Greek fights, as I say,
remaining in his rank.
Soc. And yet, Laches, you must except the Lacedaemonians
at Plataea, who, when they came upon the light shields of the Persians,
are said not to have been willing to stand and fight, and to have fled;
but when the ranks of the Persians were broken, they turned upon them like
cavalry, and won the battle of Plataea.
La. That is true.
Soc. That was my meaning when I said that I was to blame
in having put my question badly, and that this was the reason of your answering
badly. For I meant to ask you not only about the courage of heavy-armed
soldiers, but about the courage of cavalry and every other style of soldier;
and not only who are courageous in war, but who are courageous in perils
by sea, and who in disease, or in poverty, or again in politics, are courageous;
and not only who are courageous against pain or fear, but mighty to contend
against desires and pleasures, either fixed in their rank or turning upon
their enemy. There is this sort of courage-is there not,
La. Certainly, Socrates.
Soc. And all these are courageous, but some have courage
in pleasures, and some in pains: some in desires, and some in fears, and
some are cowards under the same conditions, as I should
La. Very true.
Soc. Now I was asking about courage and cowardice in general.
And I will begin with courage, and once more ask, What is that common quality,
which is the same in all these cases, and which is called courage? Do you
now understand what I mean?
La. Not over well.
Soc. I mean this: As I might ask what is that quality which
is called quickness, and which is found in running, in playing the lyre,
in speaking, in learning, and in many other similar actions, or rather
which we possess in nearly every action that is worth mentioning of arms,
legs, mouth, voice, mind;-would you not apply the term quickness to all
La. Quite true.
Soc. And suppose I were to be asked by some one: What is
that common quality, Socrates, which, in all these uses of the word, you
call quickness? I should say the quality which accomplishes much in a little
time-whether in running, speaking, or in any other sort of
La. You would be quite correct.
Soc. And now, Laches, do you try and tell me in like manner,
What is that common quality which is called courage, and which includes
all the various uses of the term when applied both to pleasure and pain,
and in all the cases to which I was just now referring?
La. I should say that courage is a sort of endurance of
the soul, if I am to speak of the universal nature which pervades them
Soc. But that is what we must do if we are to answer the
question. And yet I cannot say that every kind of endurance is, in my opinion,
to be deemed courage. Hear my reason: I am sure, Laches, that you would
consider courage to be a very noble quality.
La. Most noble, certainly.
Soc. And you would say that a wise endurance is also good
La. Very noble.
Soc. But what would you say of a foolish endurance? Is not
that, on the other hand, to be regarded as evil and
Soc. And is anything noble which is evil and
La. I ought not to say that, Socrates.
Soc. Then you would not admit that sort of endurance to
be courage-for it is not noble, but courage is noble?
La. You are right.
Soc. Then, according to you, only the wise endurance is
Soc. But as to the epithet "wise,"-wise in what? In all
things small as well as great? For example, if a man shows the quality
of endurance in spending his money wisely, knowing that by spending he
will acquire more in the end, do you call him courageous?
La. Assuredly not.
Soc. Or, for example, if a man is a physician, and his son,
or some patient of his, has inflammation of the lungs, and begs that he
may be allowed to eat or drink something, and the other is firm and refuses;
is that courage?
La. No; that is not courage at all, any more than the
Soc. Again, take the case of one who endures in war, and
is willing to fight, and wisely calculates and knows that others will help
him, and that there will be fewer and inferior men against him than there
are with him; and suppose that he has also advantages of position; would
you say of such a one who endures with all this wisdom and preparation,
that he, or some man in the opposing army who is in the opposite circumstances
to these and yet endures and remains at his post, is the
La. I should say that the latter, Socrates, was the
Soc. But, surely, this is a foolish endurance in comparison
with the other?
La. That is true.
Soc. Then you would say that he who in an engagement of
cavalry endures, having the knowledge of horsemanship, is not so courageous
as he who endures, having no such knowledge?
La. So I should say.
Soc. And he who endures, having a knowledge of the use of
the sling, or the bow, or of any other art, is not so courageous as he
who endures, not having such a knowledge?
Soc. And he who descends into a well, and dives, and holds
out in this or any similar action, having no knowledge of diving, or the
like, is, as you would say, more courageous than those who have this
La. Why, Socrates, what else can a man
Soc. Nothing, if that be what he thinks.
La. But that is what I do think.
Soc. And yet men who thus run risks and endure are foolish,
Laches, in comparison of those who do the same things, having the skill
to do them.
La. That is true.
Soc. But foolish boldness and endurance appeared before
to be base and hurtful to us.
La. Quite true.
Soc. Whereas courage was acknowledged to be a noble
Soc. And now on the contrary we are saying that the foolish
endurance, which was before held in dishonour, is courage.
La. Very true.
Soc. And are we right in saying so?
La. Indeed, Socrates, I am sure that we are not
Soc. Then according to your statement, you and I, Laches,
are not attuned to the Dorian mode, which is a harmony of words and deeds;
for our deeds are not in accordance with our words. Any one would say that
we had courage who saw us in action, but not, I imagine, he who heard us
talking about courage just now.
La. That is most true.
Soc. And is this condition of ours satisfactory?
La. Quite the reverse.
Soc. Suppose, however, that we admit the principle of which
we are speaking to a certain extent.
La. To what extent and what principle do you
Soc. The principle of endurance. We too must endure and
persevere in the enquiry, and then courage will not laugh at our faintheartedness
in searching for courage; which after all may, very likely, be
La. I am ready to go on, Socrates; and yet I am unused to
investigations of this sort. But the spirit of controversy has been aroused
in me by what has been said; and I am really grieved at being thus unable
to-express my meaning. For I fancy that I do know the nature of courage;
but, somehow or other, she has slipped away from me, and I cannot get hold
of her and tell her nature.
Soc. But, my dear friend, should not the good sportsman
follow the track, and not be lazy?
La. Certainly, he should.
Soc. And shall we invite Nicias to join us? he may be better
at the sport than we are. What do you say?
La. I should like that.
Soc. Come then, Nicias, and do what you can to help your
friends, who are tossing on the waves of argument, and at the last gasp:
you see our extremity, and may save us and also settle your own opinion,
if you will tell us what you think about courage.
Nic. I have been thinking, Socrates, that you and Laches
are not defining courage in the right way; for you have forgotten an excellent
saying which I have heard from your own lips.
Soc. What is it, Nicias?
Nic. I have often heard you say that "Every man is good
in that in which he is wise, and bad in that in which he is
Soc. That is certainly true, Nicias.
Nic. And therefore if the brave man is good, he is also
Soc. Do you hear him, Laches?
La. Yes, I hear him, but I do not very well understand
Soc. I think that I understand him; and he appears to me
to mean that courage is a sort of wisdom.
La. What can he possibly mean, Socrates?
Soc. That is a question which you must ask of
Soc. Tell him then, Nicias, what you mean by this wisdom;
for you surely do not mean the wisdom which plays the
Nic. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor the wisdom which plays the lyre?
Soc. But what is this knowledge then, and of
La. I think that you put the question to him very well,
Socrates; and I would like him to say what is the nature of this knowledge
Nic. I mean to say, Laches, that courage is the knowledge
of that which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in
La. How strangely he is talking, Socrates.
Soc. Why do you say so, Laches?
La. Why, surely courage is one thing, and wisdom
Soc. That is just what Nicias denies.
La. Yes, that is what he denies; but he is
Soc. Suppose that we instruct instead of abusing
Nic. Laches does not want to instruct me, Socrates; but
having been proved to be talking nonsense himself, he wants to prove that
I have been doing the same.
La. Very true, Nicias; and you are talking nonsense, as
I shall endeavour to show. Let me ask you a question: Do not physicians
know the dangers of disease? or do the courageous know them? or are the
physicians the same as the courageous?
Nic. Not at all.
La. No more than the husbandmen who know the dangers of
husbandry, or than other craftsmen, who have a knowledge of that which
inspires them with fear or confidence in their own arts, and yet they are
not courageous a whit the more for that.
Soc. What is Laches saying, Nicias? He appears to be saying
something of importance.
Nic. Yes, he is saying something, but it is not
Soc. How so?
Nic. Why, because he does not see that the physician's knowledge
only extends to the nature of health and disease: he can tell the sick
man no more than this. Do you imagine, Laches, that the physician knows
whether health or disease is the more terrible to a man? Had not many a
man better never get up from a sick bed? I should like to know whether
you think that life is always better than death. May not death often be
the better of the two?
La. Yes certainly so in my opinion.
Nic. And do you think that the same things are terrible
to those who had better die, and to those who had better
La. Certainly not.
Nic. And do you suppose that the physician or any other
artist knows this, or any one indeed, except he who is skilled in the grounds
of fear and hope? And him I call the courageous.
Soc. Do you understand his meaning, Laches?
La. Yes; I suppose that, in his way of speaking, the soothsayers
are courageous. For who but one of them can know to whom to die or to live
is better? And yet Nicias, would you allow that you are yourself a soothsayer,
or are you neither a soothsayer nor courageous?
Nic. What! do you mean to say that the soothsayer ought
to know the grounds of hope or fear?
La. Indeed I do: who but he?
Nic. Much rather I should say he of whom I speak; for the
soothsayer ought to know only the signs of things that are about to come
to pass, whether death or disease, or loss of property, or victory, or
defeat in war, or in any sort of contest; but to whom the suffering or
not suffering of these things will be for the best, can no more be decided
by the soothsayer than by one who is no soothsayer.
La. I cannot understand what Nicias would be at, Socrates;
for he represents the courageous man as neither a soothsayer, nor a physician,
nor in any other character, unless he means to say that he is a god. My
opinion is that he does not like honestly to confess that he is talking
nonsense, but that he shuffles up and down in order to conceal the difficulty
into which he has got himself. You and I, Socrates, might have practised
a similar shuffle just now, if we had only wanted to avoid the appearance
of inconsistency. And if we had been arguing in a court of law there might
have been reason in so doing; but why should a man deck himself out with
vain words at a meeting of friends such as this?
Soc. I quite agree with you, Laches, that he should not.
But perhaps Nicias is serious, and not merely talking for the sake of talking.
Let us ask him just to explain what he means, and if he has reason on his
side we will agree with him; if not, we will instruct
La. Do you, Socrates, if you like, ask him: I think that
I have asked enough.
Soc. I do not see why I should not; and my question will
do for both of us.
La. Very good.
Soc. Then tell me, Nicias, or rather tell us, for Laches
and I are partners in the argument: Do you mean to affirm that courage
is the knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear?
Nic. I do.
Soc. And not every man has this knowledge; the physician
and the soothsayer have it not; and they will not be courageous unless
they acquire it-that is what you were saying?
Nic. I was.
Soc. Then this is certainly not a thing which every pig
would know, as the proverb says, and therefore he could not be
Nic. I think not.
Soc. Clearly not, Nicias; not even such a big pig as the
Crommyonian sow would be called by you courageous. And this I say not as
a joke, but because I think that he who assents to your doctrine, that
courage is the knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope, cannot allow
that any wild beast is courageous, unless he admits that a lion, or a leopard,
or perhaps a boar, or any other animal, has such a degree of wisdom that
he knows things which but a few human beings ever know by reason of their
difficulty. He who takes your view of courage must affirm that a lion,
and a stag, and a bull, and a monkey, have equally little pretensions to
La. Capital, Socrates; by the gods, that is truly good.
And I hope, Nicias, that you will tell us whether these animals, which
we all admit to be courageous, are really wiser than mankind; or whether
you will have the boldness, in the face of universal opinion, to deny their
Nic. Why, Laches, I do not call animals or any other things
which have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, courageous,
but only fearless and senseless. Do you imagine that I should call little
children courageous, which fear no dangers because they know none? There
is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage.
I am of opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very
few, but that rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought,
are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many children,
many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the term "courageous"
actions which I call rash;-my courageous actions are wise
La. Behold, Socrates, how admirably, as he thinks, he dresses
himself out in words, while seeking to deprive of the honour of courage
those whom all the world acknowledges to be courageous.
Nic. Not so, Laches, but do not be alarmed; for I am quite
willing to say of you and also of Lamachus, and of many other Athenians,
that you are courageous and therefore wise.
La. I could answer that; but I would not have you cast in
my teeth that I am a haughty Aexonian.
Soc. Do not answer him, Laches; I rather fancy that you
are not aware of the source from which his wisdom is derived. He has got
all this from my friend Damon, and Damon is always with Prodicus, who,
of all the Sophists, is considered to be the best puller to pieces of words
of this sort.
La. Yes, Socrates; and the examination of such niceties
is a much more suitable employment for a Sophist than for a great statesman
whom the city chooses to preside over her.
Soc. Yes, my sweet friend, but a great statesman is likely
to have a great intelligence. And I think that the view which is implied
in Nicias' definition of courage is worthy of examination.
La. Then examine for yourself, Socrates.
Soc. That is what I am going to do, my dear friend. Do not,
however, suppose I shall let you out of the partnership; for I shall expect
you to apply your mind, and join with me in the consideration of the
La. I will if you think that I ought.
Soc. Yes, I do; but I must beg of you, Nicias, to begin
again. You remember that we originally considered courage to be a part
Nic. Very true.
Soc. And you yourself said that it was a part; and there
were many other parts, all of which taken together are called
Soc. Do you agree with me about the parts? For I say that
justice, temperance, and the like, are all of them parts of virtue as well
as courage. Would you not say the same?
Soc. Well then, so far we are agreed. And now let us proceed
a step, and try to arrive at a similar agreement about the fearful and
the hopeful: I do not want you to be thinking one thing and myself another.
Let me then tell you my own opinion, and if I am wrong you shall set me
in my opinion the terrible and the are the things which do or do not create
fear, and fear is not of the present, nor of the past, but is of future
and expected evil. Do you not agree to that, Laches?
La. Yes, Socrates, entirely.
Soc. That is my view, Nicias; the terrible things, as I
should say, are the evils which are future; and the hopeful are the good
or not evil things which are future. Do you or do you not agree with
Nic. I agree.
Soc. And the knowledge of these things you call
Soc. And now let me see whether you agree with Laches and
myself as to a third point.
Nic. What is that?
Soc. I will tell you. He and I have a notion that there
is not one knowledge or science of the past, another of the present, a
third of what is likely to be best and what will be best in the future;
but that of all three there is one science only: for example, there is
one science of medicine which is concerned with the inspection of health
equally in all times, present, past, and future; and one science of husbandry
in like manner, which is concerned with the productions of the earth in
all times. As to the art of the general, you yourselves will be my witnesses
that he has an excellent foreknowledge of the future, and that he claims
to be the master and not the servant of the soothsayer, because he knows
better what is happening or is likely to happen in war: and accordingly
the law places the soothsayer under the general, and not the general under
the soothsayer. Am I not correct in saying so, Laches?
La. Quite correct.
Soc. And do you, Nicias, also acknowledge that the same
science has understanding of the same things, whether future, present,
Nic. Yes, indeed Socrates; that is my
Soc. And courage, my friend, is, as you say, a knowledge
of the fearful and of the hopeful?
Soc. And the fearful, and the hopeful, are admitted to be
future goods and future evils?
Soc. And the same science has to do with the same things
in the future or at any time?
Nic. That is true.
Soc. Then courage is not the science which is concerned
with the fearful and hopeful, for they are future only; courage, like the
other sciences, is concerned not only with good and evil of the future,
but of the present and past, and of any time?
Nic. That, as I suppose, is true.
Soc. Then the answer which you have given, Nicias, includes
only a third part of courage; but our question extended to the whole nature
of courage: and according to your view, that is, according to your present
view, courage is not only the knowledge of the hopeful and the fearful,
but seems to include nearly every good and evil without reference to time.
What do you say to that alteration in your statement?
Nic. I agree, Socrates.
Soc. But then, my dear friend, if a man knew all good and
evil, and how. they are, and have been, and will be produced, would he
not be perfect, and wanting in no virtue, whether justice, or temperance,
or holiness? He would possess them all, and he would know which were dangers'
and which were not, and guard against them whether they were supernatural
or natural; and he would provide the good, as he would know how to deal
both with gods or men.
Nic. I think, Socrates, that there is a great deal of truth
in what you say.
Soc. But then, Nicias, courage, according to this new definition
of yours, instead of being a part of virtue only, will be all
Nic. It would seem so.
Soc. But we were saying that courage is one of the parts
Nic. Yes, that was what we were saying.
Soc. And that is in contradiction with our present
Nic. That appears to be the case.
Soc. Then, Nicias, we have not discovered what courage
Nic. We have not.
La. And yet, friend Nicias,l imagined that you would have
made the discovery, when you were so contemptuous of the answers which
I made to Socrates. I had very great hopes that you would have been enlightened
by the wisdom of Damon.
Nic. I perceive, Laches, that you think nothing of having
displayed your ignorance of the nature of courage, but you look only to
see whether I have not made a similar display; and if we are both equally
ignorant of the things which a man who is good for anything should know,
that, I suppose, will be of no consequence. You certainly appear to me
very like the rest of the world, looking at your neighbour and not at yourself.
I am of opinion that enough has been said on the subject which we have
been discussing; and if anything has been imperfectly said, that may be
hereafter corrected by the help of Damon, whom you think to laugh down,
although you have never seen him, and with the help of others. And when
I am satisfied myself, I will freely impart my satisfaction to you, for
I think that you are very much in want of knowledge.
La. You are a philosopher, Nicias; of that I am aware: nevertheless
I would recommend Lysimachus and Melesias not to take you and me as advisers
about the education of their children; but, as I said at first, they should
ask Socrates and not let him off; if my own sons were old enough, I would
have asked him myself.
Nic. To that I quite agree, if Socrates is willing to take
them under his charge. I should not wish for any one else to be the tutor
of Niceratus. But I observe that when I mention the matter to him he recommends
to me some other tutor and refuses himself. Perhaps he may be more ready
to listen to you, Lysimachus.
Lys. He ought, Nicias: for certainly I would do things for
him which I would not do for many others. What do you say, Socrates-will
you comply? And are you ready to give assistance in the improvement of
Soc. Indeed, Lysimachus, I should be very wrong in refusing
to aid in the improvement of anybody. And if I had shown in this conversation
that I had a knowledge which Nicias and Laches have not, then I admit that
you would be right in inviting me to perform this duty; but as we are all
in the same perplexity, why should one of us be preferred to another? I
certainly think that no one should; and under these circumstances, let
me offer you a piece of advice (and this need not go further than ourselves).
I maintain, my friends, that every one of us should seek out the best teacher
whom he can find, first for ourselves, who are greatly in need of one,
and then for the youth, regardless of expense or anything. But I cannot
advise that we remain as we are. And if any one laughs at us for going
to school at our age, I would quote to them the authority of Homer, who
Modesty is not good for a needy man. Let us, then, regardless of
what may be said of us, make the education of the youths our own
Lys. I like your proposal, Socrates; and as I am the oldest,
I am also the most eager to go to school with the boys. Let me beg a favour
of you: Come to my house to-morrow at dawn, and we will advise about these
matters. For the present, let us make an end of the
Soc. I will come to you to-morrow, Lysimachus, as you propose,