LACHES OR COURAGE
translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: LYSIMACHUS, son of Aristides; MELESIAS, son
of Thucydides; THEIR SONS; NICIAS; LACHES; SOCRATES.
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 proposal.
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
Lys . Why, Laches, has Socrates ever attended to matters of this
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, 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 occurred.
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 advantageously instructed?
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 begin.
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 matter.
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 agree.
Soc. What, Lysimachus, are you going to accept the opinion of the
ma j ority?
Lys. Why, yes, Socrates; what else am I to do?
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 reasonable.
Soc. His one vote would be worth more than the vote of all us four?
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 house.
Mel. That is true.
Soc. Great care, then, is required in this matter?
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 teachers?
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 means?
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 teachers?
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
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 request.
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 be.
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 ages.
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 of virtue?
Soc. And that which we know we must surely be able to tell?
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 courage?
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 hov
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 s
man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and
fights against the enemy; there can be no mistake about that.
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, Laches?
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 imagine.
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 of them?
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 all.
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 and noble?
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 hurtful?
Soc. And is anything noble which is evil and hurtful?
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 courage?
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 last.
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 braver?
La. I should say that the latter, Socrates, was the braver.
Soc. But, surely, this is a foolish endurance in comparison with the
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 say?
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 quality.
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 right.
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 mean?
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 unwise."
Soc. That is certainly true, Nicias.
Nic. And therefore if the brave man is good, he is also wise.
Soc. Do you hear him, Laches?
La. Yes, I hear him, but I do not very well understand him.
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 himself.
Soc. Tell him then, Nicias, what you mean by this wisdom; for you
surely do not mean the wisdom which plays the flute?
Nic. Certainly not.
Soc. Nor the wisdom which plays the lyre?
Soc. But what is this knowledge then, and of what?
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 or
Nic. I mean to say, Laches, that courage is the knowledge of that
which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in anything.
La. How strangely he is talking, Socrates.
Soc. Why do you say so, Laches?
La. Why, surely courage is one thing, and wisdom another.
Soc. That is just what Nicias denies.
La. Yes, that is what he denies; but he is so.
Soc. Suppose that we instruct instead of abusing him?
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 true.
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 live?
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 him.
La. Do you, Socrates, if you like, ask him: I think that I have
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 courageous.
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 courage.
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 courage.
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 actions .
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 of virtue.
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 virtue.
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,
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 me?
Nic. I agree.
Soc. And the knowledge of these things you call courage?
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, or
Nic. Yes, indeed Socrates; that is my opinion.
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
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 virtue?
Nic. It would seem so.
Soc. But we were saying that courage is one of the parts of virtue?
Nic. Yes, that was what we were saying.
Soc. And that is in contradiction with our present view?
Nic. That appears to be the case.
Soc. Then, Nicias, we have not discovered what courage is.
Nic. We have not.
La. And yet, friend Nicias, 1 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 the
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 says,
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 education.
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, God