In this post, I am simply going to present the text itself. Escoffier will be providing his reading of it in the next couple of days.
There was once a beautiful woman in the city whose name was Theodote and who was the sort to keep company with whoever persuaded her. When one of those who were present mentioned her and said that the beauty of the woman surpassed speech, and when he said that painters, to whom she displayed as much of herself as it was noble to display, visited her to draw her likeness, Socrates said, “We must go to behold her, for surely it is not possible for those who have merely heard to learn what surpasses speech.” And the one who had described her said, “Hurry up and follow.”
Thus they went to Theodote and came upon her standing for a certain painter, and they beheld her. After the painter left off, Socrates said, “Men, should we be more grateful to Theodote for displaying to us her beauty, or she to us because we beheld? If the display is more beneficial to her, is it for her to be grateful to us, while if the beholding is more beneficial to us, for us to be grateful to her?”
And when someone said that what he said was just, he said, “She, then, already gains from our praise and will be the more benefited whenever we should report it to more people, while we already desire to touch what we have beheld and will go away rather excited and will long for what we have left behind. From these things it is possible that it is we who serve and it is she who receive service.”
And Theodote said, “By Zeus, if this is so, then it is I who should be grateful to you for the beholding.”
After this, Socrates—seeing that she herself was adorned in a costly manner and that her mother, who was with her, was dressed in served in no chance manner and that her maidservants were many and good-looking and that not even these were inattentively maintained and that her household was furnished with the other things in abundance—said, “Tell me, Theodote, do you own a farm?”
“Not I,” she said.
“How about a household with revenues?”
“Not a household either.”
“But some artisans, perhaps?”
“Not artisans either,” she said.
“Then what source do you have for your provisions?” he said.
“If someone who has become my friend wants to treat men well,” she said, “he is my livelihood.”
“By Hera, Theodote,” he said, “it is a noble profession indeed, and far better to possess a herd of friends than a herd of sheep, goats and cattle. But,” he said, “do you entrust it to chance whether some friend will light on you, like a fly, or do you yourself contrive something?”
“How could I find a contrivance for this?” she said.
“It belongs much more, by Zeus, to you to do this than to spiders,” he said. “You know how they hunt for things for their livelihood: for, of course, they weave fine webs and use whatever falls into them for sustenance.”
“Are you advising me too,” she said, “to weave some hunting net?”
“No, for you surely shouldn’t think that you will hunt so artlessly the prey that is worth the most: friends. Don’t you see that even for rabbits, which are worth very little, hunters can craft many artifices? For, since they graze at night, they procure for themselves dogs fit for nighttime hunting and hunt them with these. And because they run away when it is day, they acquire other dogs who find the rabbits out by perceiving through scent the path they take from their grazing ground to their lair. And because they are swift-footed enough to escape by running even when they are visible, they furnish themselves with still other dogs, swift ones, so that they may capture them by following on their heels. And because some of them escape even from these, they set nets up on the paths through which they flee, so that when they fall into them they may become enmeshed.”
“So with what thing of this sort,” she said, “could I hunt friends?”
“By Zeus,” he said, “if instead of a dog you acquire someone who will track and find for you those who love beauty and are rich, and who, after finding them, will contrive to throw them into your nets.”
“And what sort of nets,” she said, “do I have?”
“To be sure, one that is indeed very entangling: your body,” he said. “And in it a soul, through which you learn both how you might gratify with a look and delight with what you say; and that you must receive with gladness one who is attentive but shut out one who is spoiled; and that when a friend is sick, at least, to watch over him worriedly, and when he does something noble to be exceedingly pleased by it along with him; and to gratify with your whole soul the one who worries about you exceedingly. I know very well that you know how to love, at any rate, in a manner not only soft but also well intentioned; and as to the fact that your friends are best for you, I know that you convince not only by speech but by deed.”
“By Zeus,” said Theodote, “I, for my part, contrive none of these things.”
“And yet,” he said, “it makes a big difference to approach a human being according to nature and correctly. For to be sure you would neither take nor hold a friend by violence, but this prey is both captured and kept constant by means of benefaction and pleasure.”
“You speak truly,” she said.
“You must first, then,” he said, “require that those who worry about you do the sort of things that they will least regret doing, and then you yourself should then make a return by gratifying them in the same fashion. For this way they would most become friends and love for the longest time and confer the greatest benefactions. And you would most gratify them, if you should give of yourself to those who are in need. For you see that even the most pleasant of foods, if someone offers it before there is desire, appears unpleasant and even provokes disgust in those who are satiated; but if someone offers it after inducing hunger, even if it is very common it appears quite pleasant.”
“How then,” she said, “would I be able to induce hunger in someone for what I have?”
“By Zeus,” he said, “if, first, you neither approach nor offer any reminder to those who are satiated until they stop being full and are in need again. Then, if you offer reminders to those who are in need by means of the most decorous intimacy possible and by visibly wishing to gratify, yet fleeing—until they are most in need. For it makes a big difference to give the same gifts at that point, rather than before they desire them.”
And Theodote said, “Why then, Socrates, don’t you become my fellow hunter of friends?”
“If, by Zeus,” he said, “you persuade me.”
“How, then, might I persuade you?” she said.
“You yourself will seek this out and will contrive it,” he said, “if you have some need of me.”
“Then visit often,” she said.
And Socrates, joking about his own lack of busyness, said, “But Theodote, it is not very easy for me to find leisure, for in fact many affairs both private and public deprive me of leisure. And I also have female friends who will not allow me to leave them day or night, since they are learning love charms and incantations from me.”
“Do you understand these things as well, Socrates?” she said.
“Well,” he said, “why do you think Apollodorus here and Antisthenes are never absent from me? And why do you think Cebes and Simmias are present from Thebes? Know well that this hasn’t happened without many love charms, incantations and spells.”
“Then lend me the spell,” she said, “so that I might draw it first against you.”
“But by Zeus,” he said, “I myself do not wish to be drawn to you—but that you come to me.”
“Then I will go to you,” she said. “Only receive me.”
“But I will receive you,” he said, “unless some female dearer than you is inside.”
1. Translates the Greek word kalos, which has a variety of meanings in English, including “beautiful,” “fine” and “good.” This ambiguity is a key feature of Xenophon’s writing and Socrates’ thought. For instance, one of the other three of Xenophon’s Socratic writings, the Oeconomicus (or “Skilled Household Manager”) hinges on Socrates “discovery” that those who appear kalos on the outside are not necessarily kalos on the inside.
2. Theodote was a famous courtesan or hetaira, sort of a high class whore or, if you want to be generous, a kind of escort/call girl/geisha. To be distinguished from an ordinary prostitute (porne) who supplies sex only. There was no bright line between a hetaira and a “kept woman” so the moral distinction based on any open transaction is ambiguous. Athenian women (as was true of most Greek women) were expected to stay in the home most of the time and their education was poor. Hetairai on the other hand were highly educated in music, the arts, and poetry. Hence some sophisticated (and rich) Greek men felt that hetairai made more interesting companions than their own wives. The most famous hetaira of all was Aspasia, mistress of Pericles. Theodote herself eventually (later than the date of the dramatic action depicted here) became the mistress of Alcibiades.
3. suneinai; ambiguous, can also imply sexual intercourse.
4. Oaths are often overlooked in reading Socratic writings in both Plato and Xenophon but they are key to the dramatic action of the work. In general, they convey the speakers’ emphasis and surprise.
5. Hera was Zeus’ wife (and sister) and the goddess of women and marriage. This oath would typically be used by women—see, e.g., Aristophanes’ Assemblywomen (155-156, 189-190), in which women disguising themselves as men give themselves away by the use of this oath.
6. Two devoted followers of Socrates. Apollodorus serves as the narrator of Plato’s Symposium. Antisthenes was an early follower of the sophists but later “converted” to Socratic philosophy.