an excerpt from


in a free version
Anthony Weir


Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C.E., and was a pupil of Socrates. Because he marched with the Spartans (see his famous Anabasis)
he was exiled from Athens. Sparta gave him land and property in Scillus, where he lived for many years before having to move again,
this time to Corinth, where he died in 354 B.C.

The Symposium records the discussion of Socrates
and company at a dinner given by Callias for his handsome, sporty young man Autolycus (or Autolykos, 'The Very Wolf').
Dakyns (see opposite) believed that Plato knew of this work,
and that it influenced him to some extent when he wrote his own famous Symposium.

It is an account of an imaginary (?) banquet at which, like Plato's, every diner gives a speech on a pre-determined subject - in this case, their own personal source of pride.

Antisthenes, Diogenes' mentor, and himself a pupil of Gorgias and Socrates, is one of the invited.
The host is Callias the millionaire entrepreneur who presents a speech typically-hypocritical of his type - in praise of poverty.

Antisthenes, "the dog" before Diogenes, praises wealth....


Socrates asked - What about you, Antisthenes ? what makes you feel good about yourself ?

- My wealth, answered Antisthenes.

So - are you rolling in it ? enquired Hermogenes.
- No, I haven't got a penny, he replied.
Have you plenty of dirt, then ?
- Only enough sand for Autolycus there to exfoliate himself with.

Well, said Socrates, please tell us how, with no visible means of support, you can take such pride in your 'wealth'.

- Because, replied Antisthenes, to my mind wealth and poverty are not external things but internal ones. For example, there are any number of rich people who are so needy that they will take any risk and work 24/7 just to get richer. I know brothers who have inherited equally, yet one is on the pig's back, while the other struggles to make ends meet.

There are political leaders who commit far more serious crimes for financial gain than down-and-outs can possibly do. Poverty may induce people to rob, steal and enslave - but there are people in power who will wipe out entire families, kill thousands and even reduce whole cities to slavery - all for financial gain.

Frankly, I pity them. They are like compulsive eaters, unsatisfiable. I on the other hand enjoy resources so vast and plentiful that I hardly know their extent. I get enough to eat and drink, and have enough clothing to keep me as warm outside in winter as millionaire Callias beside me here.
And inside my house I am perfectly protected against the elements. My bed is so comfortable that it is difficult to rouse me in the mornings. And if I get a sexual urge, I can satisfy it with whatever comes to hand. In fact, there is no lack of warmth in the caresses I receive, precisely because they are not in demand by other folk!

I find my pleasures in life so enjoyable - some indeed almost too pleasurable - that I almost wish I had fewer of them! But my greatest treasure is this: if I were robbed of my entire fortune, even the meanest, least-secure employment would restore it to me in no time at all.

I don't need to go to trendy shops to improve my 'quality of life'. I have inner resources. I can entertain myself. I can enjoy savouring a bit of hunger before going off to pick delicious wild things to eat. As for luxury items, I can enjoy them - this expensive, apple-scented, white Thasian wine, for example - if and when I get them. Simple tastes and an appreciation of frugality make for a healthy and sane moral outlook, and the person who is content with what he has is not grasping, cheating, or corrupt.

Moreover, my kind of wealth is liberal and freely-shared - and 'Open Source'. Socrates sitting here bestowed this fortune to me, letting me take just as much as I could take on board. I am happy to display my opulence to the world, and offer these riches freely to anyone who wants them.

Finally, I have the most valuable possession in all the world: unbroken leisure - 24/7! I am free at any time to listen to all the charming sounds on offer, admire what is admirable around me, pursue my thoughts, and, best of all, discuss philosophy with Socrates - who chooses his companions for their true worth and not according to their status and their credit-cards.


"The most useful thing to know in life
is how to unlearn what is untrue."



The 1898 version, translated by H. G. Dakyns,
and re-published on the web as an open resource by
The Gutenberg Project.



Soc. Well, and what is it you pride yourself upon, Antisthenes?

On wealth (he answered).

Whereupon Hermogenes inquired: Had he then a large amount of money? (17)

 (17) i.e. "out at interest," or, "in the funds," as we should say.

Not one sixpence: (18) that I swear to you (he answered).

 (18) Lit. "not an obol" = "a threepenny bit," circa.

Herm. Then you possess large property in land?

Ant. Enough, I daresay, for the youngster there, Autolycus, to dust himself withal. (19)

 (19) i.e. "to sprinkle himself with sand, after anointing." Cf.
    Lucian, xxxviii., "Amor." 45.


Soc. Antisthenes, to explain to us, how it is that you, with means so scanty, make so loud a boast of wealth.

Because (he answered) I hold to the belief, sirs, that wealth and poverty do not lie in a man's estate, but in men's souls. Even in private life how many scores of people have I seen, who, although they roll in wealth, yet deem themselves so poor, there is nothing they will shrink from, neither toil nor danger, in order to add a little to their store. (55) I have known two brothers, (56) heirs to equal fortunes, one of whom has enough, more than enough, to cover his expenditure; the other is in absolute indigence. And so to monarchs, there are not a few, I perceive, so ravenous of wealth that they will outdo the veriest vagrants in atrocity. Want (57) prompts a thousand crimes, you must admit. Why do men steal? why break burglariously into houses? why hale men and women captive and make slaves of them? Is it not from want? Nay, there are monarchs who at one fell swoop destroy whole houses, make wholesale massacre, and oftentimes reduce entire states to slavery, and all for the sake of wealth. These I must needs pity for the cruel malady which plagues them. Their condition, to my mind, resembles that poor creature's who, in spite of all he has (58) and all he eats, can never stay the wolf that gnaws his vitals.

 (55) Cf. "Cyrop." VIII. ii. 21; Hor. "Epist." i. 2. 26, "semper avarus

 (56) Is Antisthenes thinking of Callias and Hermogenes? (presuming
    these are sons of Hipponicus and brothers). Cf. "Mem." II. x. 3.

 (57) Or, "'Tis want that does it." See "Pol. Ath." i. 5; "Rev," i. 1.

 (58) Reading {ekhon}, or if {pinon}, transl. "who eats and drinks, but
    never sates himself."

But as to me, my riches are so plentiful I cannot lay my hands on them myself; (59) yet for all that I have enough to eat till my hunger is stayed, to drink till my thirst is sated; (60) to clothe myself withal; and out of doors not Callias there, with all his riches, is more safe than I from shivering; and when I find myself indoors, what warmer shirting (61) do I need than my bare walls? what ampler greatcoat than the tiles above my head? these seem to suit me well enough; and as to bedclothes, I am not so ill supplied but it is a business to arouse me in the morning.

 (59) "That I can scarce discover any portion of it." Zeune cf. "Econ."
    viii. 2.
 (60) So "the master" himself. See "Mem." I. ii. 1, vi. 5.

 (61) Cf. Aristot. "Pol." ii. 8. 1, of Hippodamus.

And as to sexual desire, my body's need is satisfied by what comes first to hand. Indeed, there is no lack of warmth in the caress which greets me, just because it is unsought by others. (62)

 (62) Cf. "Mem." I. iii. 14, the germ of cynicism and stoicism, the
    Socratic {XS} form of "better to marry than to burn."

Well then, these several pleasures I enjoy so fully that I am much more apt to pray for less than more of them, so strongly do I feel that some of them are sweeter than what is good for one or profitable.

But of all the precious things in my possession, I reckon this the choicest, that were I robbed of my whole present stock, there is no work so mean, but it would amply serve me to furnish me with sustenance. Why, look you, whenever I desire to fare delicately, I have not to purchase precious viands in the market, which becomes expensive, but I open the storehouse of my soul, and dole them out. (63) Indeed, as far as pleasure goes, I find it better to await desire before I suffer meat or drink to pass my lips, than to have recourse to any of your costly viands, as, for instance, now, when I have chanced on this fine Thasian wine, (64) and sip it without thirst. But indeed, the man who makes frugality, not wealth of worldly goods, his aim, is on the face of it a much more upright person. And why?—the man who is content with what he has will least of all be prone to clutch at what is his neighbour's.

 (63) Or, "turn to the storehouse of a healthy appetite." See "Apol."
    18, the same sentiment "ex ore Socratis."

 (64) See Athen. "Deipnos." i. 28.

And here's a point worth noting. Wealth of my sort will make you liberal of soul. Look at Socrates; from him it was I got these riches. He did not supply me with it by weight or by measure, but just as much as I could carry, he with bounteous hand consigned to me. And I, too, grudge it to no man now. To all my friends without distinction I am ready to display my opulence: come one, come all; and whosoever likes to take a share is welcome to the wealth that lies within my soul. Yes, and moreover, that most luxurious of possessions, (65) unbroken leisure, you can see, is mine, which leaves me free to contemplate things worthy of contemplation, (66) and to drink in with my ears all charming sounds. And what I value most, freedom to spend whole days in pure scholastic intercourse (67) with Socrates, to whom I am devoted. (68) And he, on his side, is not the person to admire those whose tale of gold and silver happens to be the largest, but those who are well-pleasing to him he chooses for companions, and will consort with to the end.

 (65) See Eur. "Ion," 601. Lit. "at every moment I command it."

 (66) "To gaze upon all fairest shows (like a spectator in the
    theatre), and to drink in sounds most delectable." So Walt

 (67) Aristot. "Rhet." ii. 4. 12; "Eth. N." ix. 4. 9.

 (68) See "Mem." III. xi. 17.

With these words the speaker ended, and Callias exclaimed:

By Hera, I envy you your wealth, Antisthenes, firstly, because the state does not lay burthens on you and treat you like a slave; and secondly, people do not fall into a rage with you when you refuse to be their creditor.