Socrates : Then what do you say of courage ? At what price would you allow yourself to be deprived of it ?
Alcibiades : I would give up life itself if I had to be a coward.
Socrates : Then you regard cowardice as the uttermost evil.
Alcibiades : I do.
Socrates : On a par with death, it seems.
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And life and courage are the extreme opposites of death and cowardice ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And you would most desire to have the former, and least the latter ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Is that because you think the former best, and the latter worst ?
Alcibiades : To be sure.
Socrates : So you reckon courage among the best things, and death among the worst.
Alcibiades : I do.
Socrates : Then the rescue of ones friends in battle, inasmuch as it is noble in respect of the working of good by courage, you have termed noble ?
Alcibiades : Apparently.
Socrates : But evil, in respect of the working of evil by death ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : So we may fairly describe each of these workings as follows : as you call either of them evil because of the evil it produces, so you must call it good because of the good it produces.
Alcibiades : I believe that is so.
Socrates : And again, are they noble inasmuch as they are good, and base inasmuch as they are evil ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Then in saying that the rescue of ones friends in battle is noble and yet evil, you mean just the same as if you called the rescue good, but evil.
Alcibiades : I believe what you say is true, Socrates.
Socrates : So nothing noble, in so far as it is noble, is evil, and nothing base, in so far as it is base, is good.
Alcibiades : Apparently.
Socrates : Now then, consider it again in this way : whoever does nobly, does well too, does he not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And are not those who do well happy ?
Alcibiades : Of course.
Socrates : And they are happy because of the acquisition of good things ?
Alcibiades : Certainly.
Socrates : And they acquire these by doing well and nobly ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : So doing well is good ?
Alcibiades : Of course.
Socrates : And welfare is noble ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Hence we have seen again that noble and good are the same thing.
Alcibiades : Apparently.
Socrates : Then whatever we find to be noble we shall find also to be good, by this argument at least.
Alcibiades : We must.
Socrates : Well then, are good things expedient or not ?
Alcibiades : Expedient.
Socrates : And do you remember what our admissions were about just things ?
Alcibiades : I think we said that those who do just things must do noble things.
Socrates : And that those who do noble things must do good things ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And that good things are expedient ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Hence just things, Alcibiades, are expedient.
Alcibiades : So it seems.
Socrates : Well now, are not you the speaker of all this, and I the questioner ?
Alcibiades : I seem to be, apparently.
Socrates : So if anyone stands up to advise either the Athenians or the Peparethians, imagining that he understands what is just and unjust, and says that just things are sometimes evil, could you do other than laugh him to scorn, since you actually say yourself that just and expedient are the same ?
Alcibiades : But by Heaven, Socrates, I do not even know what I am saying, I feel altogether in such a strange state ! For from moment to moment I change my view under your questioning.
Socrates : And are you unaware, my friend, what this feeling is ?
Alcibiades : I am, quite.
Socrates : Well, do you suppose that if someone should ask you whether you have two eyes or three, two hands or four, or anything else of that sort, you would answer differently from moment to moment, or always the same thing ?
Alcibiades : I begin to have misgivings about myself, but still I think I should make the same answer.
Socrates : And the reason would be, because you know ?
Alcibiades : I think so.
Socrates : Then if you involuntarily give contradictory answers, clearly it must be about things of which you are ignorant.
Alcibiades : Very likely.
Socrates : And you say you are bewildered in answering about just and unjust, noble and base, evil and good, expedient and inexpedient ? Now, is it not obvious that your bewilderment is caused by your ignorance of these things ?
Alcibiades : I agree.
Socrates : Then is it the case that when a man does not know a thing he must needs be bewildered in spirit regarding that thing ?
Alcibiades : Yes, of course.
Socrates : Well now, do you know in what way you can ascend to heaven ?
Alcibiades : On my word, not I.
Socrates : Is that too a kind of question about which your judgement is bewildered ?
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : Do you know the reason, or shall I state it ?
Alcibiades : State it.
Socrates : It is, my friend, that while not knowing the matter you do not suppose that you know it.
Alcibiades : Here again, how do you mean ?
Socrates : Do your share, in seeing for yourself. Are you bewildered about the kind of thing that you do not know and are aware of not knowing ? For instance, you know, I suppose, that you do not know about the preparation of a tasty dish ?
Alcibiades : Quite so.
Socrates : Then do you think for yourself how you are to prepare it, and get bewildered, or do you entrust it to the person who knows ?
Alcibiades : I do the latter.
Socrates : And what if you should be on a ship at sea ? Would you think whether the tiller should be moved inwards or outwards, and in your ignorance bewilder yourself, or would you entrust it to the helmsman, and be quiet ?
Alcibiades : I would leave it to him.
Socrates : So you are not bewildered about what you do not know, so long as you know that you do not know ?
Alcibiades : It seems I am not,
Socrates : Then do you note that mistakes in action also are due to this ignorance of thinking one knows when one does not ?
Alcibiades : Here again, how do you mean ?
Socrates : We set about acting, I suppose, when we think we know what we are doing ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : But when people think they do not know, I suppose they hand it over to others ?
Alcibiades : To be sure.
Socrates : And so that kind of ignorant person makes no mistakes in life, because they entrust such matters to others ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : Who then are those who make mistakes ? For, I take it, they cannot be those who know.
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : But since it is neither those who know, nor those of the ignorant who know that they do not know, the only people left, I think, are those who do not know, but think that they do ?
Alcibiades : Yes, only those.
Socrates : Then this ignorance is a cause of evils, and is the discreditable sort of stupidity ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And when it is about the greatest matters, it is most injurious and base ?
Alcibiades : By far.
Socrates : Well then, can you mention any greater things than the just, the noble, the good, and the expedient ?
Alcibiades : No, indeed.
Socrates : And it is about these, you say, that you are bewildered ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : But if you are bewildered, is it not clear from what has gone before that you are not only ignorant of the greatest things, but while not knowing them you think that you do ?
Alcibiades : I am afraid so.
Socrates : Alack then, Alcibiades, for the plight you are in ! I shrink indeed from giving it a name, but still, as we are alone, let me speak out. You are wedded to stupidity, my fine friend, of the vilest kind ; you are impeached of this by your own words, out of your own mouth ; and this, it seems, is why you dash into politics before you have been educated. And you are not alone in this plight, but you share it with most of those who manage our citys affairs, except just a few, and perhaps your guardian, Pericles.
Alcibiades : Yes, you know, Socrates, they say he did not get his wisdom independently, but consorted with many wise men, such as Pythocleides and Anaxagoras ; and now, old as he is, he still confers with Damon for that very purpose.
Socrates : Well, but did you ever find a man who was wise in anything and yet unable to make another man wise in the same things as himself ? For instance, the man who taught you letters was wise himself, and also made you wise, and anyone else he wished to, did he not ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And you too, who learnt from him, will be able to make another man wise ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : And the same holds of the harper and the trainer ?
Alcibiades : Certainly.
Socrates : For, I presume, it is a fine proof of ones knowing anything that one knows, when one is able to point to another man whom one has made to know it.
Alcibiades : I agree.
Socrates : Well then, can you tell me whom Pericles made wise ? One of his sons, to begin with ?
Alcibiades : But what if the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, Socrates ?
Socrates : Well, Cleinias, your brother.
Alcibiades : But why should you mention Cleinias, a madman ?
Socrates : Well, if Cleinias is mad and the two sons of Pericles were simpletons, what reason are we to assign, in your case, for his allowing you to be in your present condition ?
Alcibiades : I believe I am myself to blame for not attending to him.
Socrates : But tell me of any other Athenian or foreigner, slave or freeman, who is accounted to have become wiser through converse with Pericles ; as I can tell you that Pythodorus son of Isolochus, and Callias, son of Calliades, became through that of Zeno ; each of them has paid Zeno a hundred minae, and has become both wise and distinguished.
Alcibiades : Well, upon my word, I cannot.
Socrates : Very good : then what is your intention regarding yourself ? Will you remain as you are, or take some trouble ?
Alcibiades : We must put our heads together, Socrates. And indeed, as soon as you speak, I take the point and agree. For the men who manage the citys affairs, apart from a few, do strike me as uneducated.
Socrates : Then what does that mean ?
Alcibiades : That if they were educated, I suppose anyone who undertook to contend against them would have to get some knowledge and practice first, as he would for a match with athletes : but now, seeing that these men have gone in for politics as amateurs, what need is there for me to practise and have the trouble of learning ? For I am sure that my natural powers alone will give me an easy victory over them.
Socrates : Ho, ho, my good sir, what a thing to say ! How unworthy of your looks and your other advantages !
Alcibiades : What is your meaning now, Socrates ? What is the connection ?
Socrates : I am grieved for you, and for my love.
Alcibiades : Why, pray ?
Socrates : That you should expect your contest to be with the men we have here.
Alcibiades : Well, but with whom is it to be ?
Socrates : Is that a worthy question to be asked by a man who considers himself high-spirited ?
Alcibiades : How do you mean ? Is not my contest with these men ?
Socrates : Well, suppose you were intending to steer a warship into action, would you be content to be the best hand among the crew at steering or, while regarding this skill as a necessary qualification, would you keep your eye on your actual opponents in the fight, and not, as now, on your fellow-fighters ? These, I conceive, you ought so far to surpass that they would not feel fit to be your opponents, but only to be your despised fellow-fighters against the enemy, if you mean really to make your mark with some noble action that will be worthy both of yourself and of the city.
Alcibiades : Why, I do mean to.
Socrates : So you think it quite fitting for you to be satisfied if you are better than the soldiers, but neglect to keep your eye on the enemys leaders with a view to showing yourself better than they are, or to plan and practise against them !
Alcibiades : Of whom are you speaking now, Socrates ?
Socrates : Do you not know that our city makes war occasionally on the Spartans and on the Great King ?
Alcibiades : That is true.
Socrates : And if you are minded to be the head of our state, you would be right in thinking that your contest is with the kings of Sparta and of Persia ?
Alcibiades : That sounds like the truth.
Socrates : No, my good friend ; you ought rather to keep your eye on Meidias the quail-filliper and others of his sort — who undertake to manage the citys affairs, while they still have the slavish hair (as the women would say) showing in their minds through their lack of culture, and have not yet got rid of it ; who, moreover, have come with their outlandish speech to flatter the state, not to rule it — to these, I tell you, should your eyes be turned ; and then you can disregard yourself, and need neither learn what is to be learnt for the great contest in which you are to be engaged, nor practise [120c] what requires practice, and so ensure that you are perfectly prepared before entering upon a political career.
Alcibiades : Why, Socrates, I believe you are right ; though I think neither the Spartan generals nor the Persian king are at all different from other people.
Socrates : But, my excellent friend, consider what this notion of yours means.
Alcibiades : In regard to what ?
Socrates : First of all, do you think you would take more pains over yourself if you feared them and thought them terrible, or if you did not ?
Alcibiades : Clearly, if I thought them terrible.
Socrates : And do you think you will come to any harm by taking pains over yourself ?
Alcibiades : By no means ; rather that I shall get much benefit.
Socrates : And on this single count that notion of yours is so much to the bad.
Alcibiades : True.
Socrates : Then, in the second place, observe the probability that it is false.
Alcibiades : How so ?
Socrates : Is it probable that noble races should produce better natures, or not ?
Alcibiades : Clearly, noble races would.
Socrates : And will not the well-born, provided they are well brought up, probably be perfected in virtue ?
Alcibiades : That must be so.
Socrates : Then let us consider, by comparing our lot with theirs, whether the Spartan and Persian kings appear to be of inferior birth. Do we not know that the former are descendants of Hercules and the latter of Achaemenes, and that the line of Hercules and the line of Achaemenes go back to Perseus, son of Zeus ?
Alcibiades : Yes, and mine, Socrates, to Eurysaces, and that of Eurysaces to Zeus !
Socrates : Yes, and mine, noble Alcibiades, to Daedalus, and Daedalus to Hephaestus, son of Zeus ! But take the lines of those people, going back from them : you have a succession of kings reaching to Zeus — on the one hand, kings of Argos and Sparta ; on the other, of Persia, which they have always ruled, and frequently Asia also, as at present ; whereas we are private persons ourselves, and so were our fathers. And then, suppose that you had to make what show you could of your ancestors, and of Salamis as the native land of Eurysaces, or of Aegina as the home of the yet earlier Aeacus, to impress Artaxerxes, son of Xerxes, how you must expect to be laughed at ! Why, I am afraid we are quite outdone by those persons in pride of birth and upbringing altogether. Or have you not observed how great are the advantages of the Spartan kings, and how their wives are kept under statutory ward of the ephors, in order that every possible precaution may be taken against the king being born of any but the Heracleidae ? And the Persian king so far surpasses us that no one has a suspicion that he could have been born of anybody but the king before him ; and hence the kings wife has nothing to guard her except fear. When the eldest son, the heir to the throne, is born, first of all the kings subjects who are in his palace have a feast, and then for ever after on that date the whole of Asia celebrates the kings birthday with sacrifice and feasting : but when we are born, as the comic poet says, even the neighbors barely notice it, Alcibiades. After that comes the nurture of the child, not at the hands of a woman-nurse of little worth, but of the most highly approved eunuchs in the kings service, who are charged with the whole tendance of the new-born child, and especially with the business of making him as handsome as possible by moulding his limbs into a correct shape ; and while doing this they are in high honor. When the boys are seven years old they are given horses and have riding lessons, and they begin to follow the chase. And when the boy reaches fourteen years he is taken over by the royal tutors, as they call them there : these are four men chosen as the most highly esteemed among the Persians of mature age, namely, the wisest one, the justest one, the most temperate one, and the bravest one. The first of these teaches him the magian lore of Zoroaster, son of Horomazes ; and that is the worship of the gods : he teaches him also what pertains to a king. The justest teaches him to be truthful all his life long ; the most temperate, not to be mastered by even a single pleasure, in order that he may be accustomed to be a free man and a veritable king, who is the master first of all that is in him, not the slave ; while the bravest trains him to be fearless and undaunted, telling him that to be daunted is to be enslaved. But you, Alcibiades, had a tutor set over you by Pericles from amongst his servants,who was old as to be the most useless of them, Zopyrus the Thracian. I might describe to you at length the nurture and education of your competitors, were it not too much of a task ; and besides, what I have said suffices to show the rest that follows thereon. But about your birth, Alcibiades, or nurture or education, or about those of any other Athenian, one may say that nobody cares, unless it be some lover whom you chance to have. And again, if you chose to glance at the wealth, the luxury, the robes with sweeping trains, the anointings with myrrh, the attendant troops of menials, and all the other refinements of the Persians, you would be ashamed at your own case, on perceiving its inferiority to theirs. Should you choose, again, to look at the temperance and orderliness, the facility and placidity, the magnanimity and discipline, the courage and endurance, and the toil-loving, success-loving, honor-loving spirit of the Spartans, you would count yourself but a child in all these things. If again you regard wealth, and think yourself something in that way, I must not keep silence on this point either, if you are to realize where you stand. For in this respect you have only to look at the wealth of the Spartans, and you will perceive that our riches here are far inferior to theirs. Think of all the land that they have both in their own and in the Messenian country : not one of our estates could compete with theirs in extent and excellence, nor again in ownership of slaves, and especially of those of the helot class, nor yet of horses, nor of all the flocks and herds that graze in Messene. However, I pass over all these things : but there is more gold and silver privately held in Lacedaemon than in the whole of Greece ; for during many generations treasure has been passing in to them from every part of Greece, and often from the barbarians also, but not passing out to anyone ; and just as in the fable of Aesop,  where the fox remarked to the lion on the direction of the footmarks, the traces of the money going into Lacedaemon are clear enough, but nowhere are any to be seen of it coming out ; so that one can be pretty sure that those people are the richest of the Greeks in gold and silver, and that among themselves the richest is the king ; for the largest and most numerous receipts of the kind are those of the kings, and besides there is the levy of the royal tribute in no slight amount, which the Spartans pay to their kings. Now, the Spartan fortunes, though great compared with the wealth of other Greeks, are nought beside that of the Persians and their king. For I myself was once told by a trustworthy person, who had been up to their court, that he traversed a very large tract of excellent land, nearly a days journey, which the inhabitants called the girdle of the kings wife, and another which was similarly called her veil ;  and many other fine and fertile regions reserved for the adornment of the consort ; and each of these regions was named after some part of her apparel. So I imagine, if someone should say to the kings mother Amestris, who was wife of Xerxes, “The son of Deinomache intends to challenge your son ; the mothers dresses are worth perhaps fifty minae at the outside, while the son has under three hundred acres at Erchiae,” she would wonder to what on earth this Alcibiades could be trusting, that he proposed to contend against Artaxerxes ; and I expect she would remark — “The only possible things that the man can be trusting to for his enterprise are industry and wisdom ; for these are the only things of any account among the Greeks.” Whereas if she were informed that this Alcibiades who is actually making such an attempt is, in the first place, as yet barely twenty years old, and secondly, altogether uneducated ; and further, that when his lover tells him that he must first learn, and take pains over himself, and practise, before he enters on a contest with the king, he refuses, and says he will do very well as he is ; I expect she would ask in surprise, “On what, then, can the youngster rely ?” And if we told her, “On beauty, stature, birth, wealth, and mental gifts,” she would conclude we were mad, Alcibiades, when she compared the advantages of her own people in all these respects. And I imagine that even Lampido, daughter of Leotychides and wife of Archidamus and mother of Agis, who have all been kings, would wonder in the same way, when she compared her peoples resources, at your intention of having a contest with her son despite your bad upbringing. And yet, does it not strike you as disgraceful that our enemies wives should have a better idea of the qualities that we need for an attempt against them than we have ourselves ? Ah, my remarkable friend, listen to me and the Delphic motto,  “Know thyself” ; for these people are our competitors, not those whom you think ; and there is nothing that will give us ascendancy over them save only pains and skill. If you are found wanting in these, you will be found wanting also in achievement of renown among Greeks and barbarians both ; and of this I observe you to be more enamored than anyone else ever was of anything.
Alcibiades : Well then, what are the pains that I must take, Socrates ? Can you enlighten me ? For I must say your words are remarkably like the truth.
Socrates : Yes, I can : but we must put our heads together, you know, as to the way in which we can improve ourselves to the utmost. For observe that when I speak of the need of being educated I am not referring only to you, apart from myself ; since my case is identical with yours except in one point.
Alcibiades : What is that  ?
Socrates : My guardian is better and wiser than your one, Pericles.
Alcibiades : Who is he, Socrates ?
Socrates : God, Alcibiades, who until this day would not let me converse with you ; and trusting in him I say that through no other man but me will you attain to eminence.
Alcibiades : You are jesting, Socrates.
Socrates : Perhaps ; I am right, however, in saying that we need to take pains — all men rather badly, but we two very badly indeed.
Alcibiades : As to me, you are not wrong.
Socrates : Nor, I fear, as to myself either.
Alcibiades : Then what can we do ?
Socrates : There must be no crying off or skulking, my good friend.
Alcibiades : No, for that would indeed be unseemly, Socrates.
Socrates : It would ; so let us consider in common. Now tell me : we say, do we not, that we wish to be as good as possible ?
Alcibiades : Yes.
Socrates : In what excellence ?
Alcibiades : Clearly that which is the aim of good men.
Socrates : Good in what ?
Alcibiades : Clearly, good in the management of affairs.
Socrates : What sort of affairs ? Horsemanship ?
Alcibiades : No, no.
Socrates : Because we should apply to horsemen ?