I’ve clearly gotten way behind with Plato, and now will need to read at a rate of 10 Stephanus pages per day rather than 5 to keep up. I’m going to experiment with the Charmides on the possibility of blogging this daily, rather than having a posting per dialogue (which frankly encourages me to skip reading and then catch up later). So here’s a quick post on the first 10 pages of the Charmides, which is about “temperance” or sophrosune. (There are a lot of Greek words below, but I’m figuring that anyone actually reading this knows what they mean.)
Charmides 153-162: Socrates returns from the campaign at Potidea and goes to the wrestling-school to catch up on hot youths. After telling everyone all about the campaign, Socrates finds out that the “it boy” is now Charmides, who is entering surrounded by lovers. S. wants to talk to him, so Critias (a cousin) calls him over with the excuse that S. has a cure for the headache he’s been complaining about. S. goes into a long schtick on a cure he got from Thrace, where you use a certain leaf, but you need first to induce sophrosune in the soul with a charm before the leaf can be effective on the head. Weird! Thrace? Inducing sophrosune through magic? What’s up with that? Also, right before the Thracian charm bit, Charmides comes and sits down next to Socrates, and Socrates has a glimpse of what’s under his cloak (!) and “catches fire” in such a way he’s not sure if he’ll be able to speak. Hmmmm. Temperance.
Critias breaks in and says that Charmides is already the sophronestatos of all anyway, and doesn’t need any stinking charm to make him so; Socrates then gets to find out what Charmides says sophrosune is if he’s so full of it (interesting question: if you are extremely x by nature, do you necessarily know what x is? this doesn’t seem to follow unless you have acquired x by teaching rather than by birth or some other way…). So the dialogue proper begins with definition 1): doing everything “quietly” or in a hesuchia-type manner. S. refutes this first by determining that sophrosune is an honorable thing (kalon), then that in specific instances it is more honorable to be “quick” or “vigorous” than “quiet.” Really interesting, given the whole discourse of hesuchia and polypragmosune, that throughout taxeos is taken to be the opposite of hesuchios. I need to work that one out.*
Definition 2) is aidos (translated “modesty” by the Loeb, but having a much wider semantic range). Socrates’ refutation of this feels very cheap: going back to sophrosune as kalon, he extends that to agathon (temperance is both honorable and good) and then pulls out a Homeric quotation that aidos is not good for a poor man, thus aidos is not good but sophrosune is good, so aidos can’t be sophrosune. Hmmm. Also a lot of cultural implications telescoped in that one.
Definition 3) is “doing your own business” (like hesuchia, this is elsewhere an opposite for polypragmosune: rather than “doing lots” you “do your own stuff”). This definition comes from Critias, and after the initial refutation (would it be sophron to make your own clothes, grow your own food, manufacture your own pots etc. – autonomy!!!) Critias steps in to take over answering Socrates about the meaning of “doing your own business.”