Phaedrus' Socrates and His Friends*

Posted by jlubans on September 29, 2018

Caption: Socrates and friends at his execution**.

“The word 'friend' is in common use but true friends are hard to find.
Socrates had erected for himself a very modest house - and I myself would even be willing to die as Socrates died** if I could achieve an equal fame, yes, I would be willing to suffer the same public disapproval if I too could be vindicated after death!
Anyway, just as you would expect on such an occasion, one of his neighbours had to ask,
'Why is it, Socrates, that someone like you would build himself such a tiny little house?'
'Ah,' said Socrates, 'if only I could fill it with true friends!'”
This is my second telling of the “Socrates’ house” fable, once in verse by La Fontaine and today by Phaedrus.
In my interpretation of the La Fontaine version, I contemplated the short-lived friendships in the workplace. Once you leave, it seems too many job-related friendships slip away.
Phaedrus likewise touches on the scarcity of true friends but most notable may be his willingness to die, as Socrates did**, on principle, as long as he “could be vindicated after death!”
Observing the televised blood sport of confirming a Supreme Court justice nominee, I doubt if even Socrates saw much vindication, certainly not enough to drain the hemlock cup.
Phaedrus’ adulation goes too far for me, but his point about the paucity of genuine friends rings true.
And, returning to the blood sport, it seems the more alleged friends one has, the more enemies. The further we scramble up the ladder of success, the more slippery the rungs.
Aristotle said, “In all things moderation." Perhaps a few good friends are sufficient.
But, a life without true friends is an empty house.

*Source: Aesop's Fables. A new translation by Laura Gibbs. Oxford University Press (World's Classics): Oxford, 2002.

**Socrates was executed by the state of Athens in 399 B.C.E.
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© Copyright John Lubans 2018
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