Aeschines Socraticus

:"This article refers to the philosopher. For the Athenian orator, see Aeschines."Aeschines Socraticus or Aeschines of Sphettos (ca. 425 - ca. 350 BCE) (Greek: polytonic|Αἰσχίνης, sometimes but now rarely written as "Aischines" or "Æschines"), son of Lysanias, of the deme Sphettus of Athens was in his youth a follower of Socrates.Plato. "Apology", 33d-e] Historians call him Aeschines Socraticus—"the Socratic Aeschines"—to distinguish him from the more historically influential Athenian orator.

Aeschines and Socrates

According to Plato, Aeschines of Sphettus was present at the trial and execution of Socrates.Plato. "Apology", 33e] We know that after Socrates' death, Aeschines went on to write philosophical dialogues, just as Plato did, in which Socrates played the role of the main interlocutor. Though Aeschines' dialogues have survived only in the form of fragments and quotations by later writers, he was renowned in antiquity for his accurate portrayal of Socratic conversations. In this sense, he was probably superior to Xenophon and may have been closer to Plato in dramatic skill. (Many modern scholars believe that Xenophon's writings are inspired almost entirely by Plato's and/or by the influence of other Socratics such as Antisthenes and Hermogenes. [e.g., Charles Kahn, "Plato and the Socratic Dialogue", pp. 76-79 & 393-401] On the other hand, there is no good reason to think that Aeschines' writings were not based almost entirely on his own personal recollections of Socrates.)

Socratic Dialogues

We know that Aeschines wrote the following dialogues:
*"Alcibiades" (not to be confused with either Platonic dialogue of the same name),
*"Axiochus" (not to be confused with the dialogue of the same name erroneously included in the Platonic corpus),

Of these, we have the most information about the "Alcibiades" and the "Aspasia", and only a little about the others. The "Suda" notes other works, not accepted by modern scholars, ["It is generally agreed that the Suidas' testimony concerning the ["akephaloi"] is not trustworthy" (D. E. Eichholz, "The Pseudo-Platonic Dialogue "Eryxias", "The Classical Quarterly", Vol. 29, No. 3. (1935), pp. 129-149 at pp. 140-141).] called "headless" or "Prefaceless" ("akephaloi"): "Phaidon", "Polyainos", "Drakon", "Eryxias", "On Excellence", "The Erasistratoi", and "The Skythikoi"."Αἰσχίνης". "Suda". Adler number: alphaiota,346]

The 2nd century CE sophist Publius Aelius Aristides quotes from the "Alicibiades" at length, preserving for us the largest surviving chunk of Aeschines' written work. Just before World War I, Arthur Hunt recovered from Oxyrhynchus a papyrus (#1608) containing a long, fragmentary passage from this dialogue that had been lost since ancient times. [John Burnet, "Platonism" (1928), chap. II.] In the dialogue, Socrates converses with a young, ambitious Alcibiades about Themistocles and argues that Alcibiades is unprepared for a career in politics since he has failed to "care for himself" in such a way as to avoid thinking that he knows more than what he actually knows on matters of the most importance. Socrates seems to argue for the view that success is directly proportional to knowledge (though knowledge may not be "sufficient" for complete success), as opposed to being dependent merely on fortune or divine dispensation, independent of knowledge. Socrates' arguments cause the usually cocky Alcibiades to weep in shame and despair—a result also attested to by Plato in the "Symposium". Socrates claims that it is only through "loving" Alcibiades that he can improve him (by cultivating in him a desire to pursue knowledge?), since Socrates has no knowledge of his own to teach.

Our major sources for the "Aspasia" are Athenaeus, Plutarch, and Cicero. In the dialogue, Socrates recommends that Callias send his son Hipponicus to Aspasia to learn politics. In the dialogue, Socrates argues, among other things, that women are capable of the exact same military and political "virtues" as are men, which Socrates proves by referring Callias to the examples of Aspasia herself (who famously advised Pericles), Thargelia of Miletus (a courtesan who supposedly persuaded many Greeks to ally themselves with Xerxes who in turn gave Thargelia part of Thessaly to rule), and the legendary Persian warrior-queen Rhodogyne. (The doctrine is likewise found in Plato's "Meno" and "Republic", and so is confirmed as genuinely Socratic.) A certain Xenophon is also mentioned in the dialogue—Socrates says that Aspasia exhorted this Xenophon and his wife to cultivate knowledge of self as a means to virtue—but the Xenophon in question is likely distinct from Xenophon of Erchia, who is more familiar to us as another author of Socratic memoirs.

In the "Telauges", Socrates converses with the Pythagorean ascetic Telauges (a companion of Hermogenes who was Callias' half-brother and a follower of Socrates) and Crito's young son Critobulus. In the dialogue, Socrates criticizes Telauges for his extreme asceticism and Critobulus for his ostentatiousness, apparently in an attempt to argue for a moderate position.

The "Axiochus"—named after the uncle of Alcibiades—criticized Alcibiades for being a drunkard and a womanizer. Evidently, it was, like the "Alcibiades", one of the many works that the Socratics published to clear Socrates of any blame for Alcibiades' corruption.

In the "Callias", there is a discussion of the "correct use" of wealth; it is argued that how one holds up under poverty is a better measure of virtue than how well one makes use of wealth. In the dialogue, Prodicus is criticized for having taught Theramenes.

The setting of the "Miltiades" is the stoa of Zeus Eleutherios. The dialogue is between Socrates, Euripides, Hagnon (stepfather of Theramenes), and Miltiades son of Stesagoras. This Miltiades is not to be confused with Miltiades the Younger, but is probably a close relative of his. The dialogue contains an encomium to Miltiades for having had an exemplary training and education in his youth, perhaps in contrast to the kind of education offered by sophists like Protagoras.


Diogenes Laertius, in his brief "Life" of Aeschines, reports that Aeschines, having fallen into dire financial straits, went to the court of Dionysius the Younger in Syracuse and then returned to Athens after Dionysius was deposed by Dion. (If this is true, Aeschines must have lived at least until 356, which would mean that he probably died of old age in Athens, as he was likely not less than 18 at the time of Socrates' trial in 399.) He is also said to have practised rhetoric, writing speeches for litigants. [Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of the Eminent Philosophers", 2.60-64]

Athenaeus quotes a passage from a lost trial speech by Lysias "Against Aeschines", in which Aeschines' adversary chastises him for incurring a debt while working as a perfume vendor and not paying it back, a turn of events that is surprising—the speaker alleges—given that Aeschines was a student of Socrates and that both of them spoke so much of virtue and justice. Among other charges, Aeschines is basically characterized as a sophist in the speech. (We gather that the litigation in question was one brought by Aeschines himself against his lender for reasons that are not made clear in Athenaeus' quotation.) [Athenaeus, "Deipnosophistae".]

Diogenes Laertius claims that, contrary to Plato's "Crito", it was Aeschines rather than Crito who urged Socrates after his trial to flee Athens rather than face his sentence; Diogenes says that Plato puts the arguments into Crito's mouth because Plato disliked Aeschines due to his association with Aristippus. [Diogenes Laertius, "Lives of the Eminent Philosophers", 2.60] But Diogenes' source for this is Idomeneus of Lampsacus, a notorious scandalmonger.

From Hegesander of Delphi (2nd century CE)—via Athenaeus—we hear of the scandal that Plato stole away Aeschines' only student Xenocrates. But Hegesander is notoriously unreliable, and the story is entirely uncorroborated. There is no other evidence of Aeschines' having a "philosophy" of his own to teach or any followers of his own.


The extant fragments and quotations concerning Aeschines were collected by the German scholar Heinrich Dittmar. [Heinrich Dittmar. "Aischines von Sphettos". 1912] That collection has been superseded by the Italian scholar Gabriele Giannantoni's work on Socratic writings. [Gabriele Giannantoni."Socratis et Socraticorum Reliquiae". 1991] English translations are hard to find. G.C. Field [G.C. Field. "Plato and His Contemporaries". 1930 (out of print)] has a translation of some of the "Alcibiades" fragments, paraphrases the other "Alcibiades" fragments, and a translation of Cicero's excerpt of "Aspasia". [Cicero's "De Inventione", 1.31.51-52] More recently, David Johnson has published a translation of the all the extant passages from the "Alcibiades". [David Johnson. "Socrates and Alcibiades". 2003]

Charles Kahn provides a good, up-to-date account of Aeschines' writings, with many references to current secondary literature on the topic [Charles Kahn's "Plato and the Socratic Dialogue". pp. 18-29] though it should be noted that Kahn believes—rightly or wrongly—that Aeschines' writings, and in general all Socratic dialogues of the time, constitute "literature" and cannot be an ultimately reliable source of historical information.

Kahn's treatment might profitably be contrasted with A.E. Taylor's position that both Plato and Aeschines preserve a faithful historical legacy in their portrayals of Socrates. ["Aeschines of Sphettus." A.E. Taylor. "Philosophical Studies", 1934]


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Aeschines (disambiguation) — Aeschines or Aischines may refer to: *Aeschines Socraticus, follower of Socrates and author of Socratic dialogues *Aeschines, Athenian orator, one of ten Attic orators *Aeschines of Miletus, lesser known orator, and contemporary of Cicero… …   Wikipedia

  • EUCLIDES Megarensis Socraticus — belli inter Athenienses, et Megarenses tempore, muliebri veste, noctu ad Socratem venire solitus. Ab hoc Philosophi Megarici dicti. Suid. Vide Voss. de Sectis Philosophorum p. 62. Post Socratis obitum, Plato ipsius fuit auditor, cum omnes… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Lysicles — or Lysikles (? 428 BC, Greek: polytonic|Λυσικλῆς) was an Athenian general and leader of the democratic faction in the city. He lived during the fifth century BC and possibly was a friend of Pericles. According to Aeschines Socraticus, Lysicles… …   Wikipedia

  • Alcibiades — Infobox Military Person name= Alcibiades Ἀλκιβιάδης Alkibiádēs caption= Alcibiades allegiance= Athens (415–412 BC Sparta) rank= general (strategos) commands= nickname= lived= 450–404 BC placeofbirth= Athens placeofdeath=… …   Wikipedia

  • List of ancient Greeks — This an alphabetical list of ancient Greeks. These include ethnic Greeks and Greek language speakers from Greece and the Mediterranean world up to about 200 AD. compactTOCRelated articles NOTOC A*Acacius of Caesarea bishop of Caesarea… …   Wikipedia

  • Xenocrates — Infobox Philosopher region = Western Philosophy era = Ancient philosophy color = #B0C4DE image size = 200px image caption = Xenocrates name = Xenocrates birth = c. 396 BC, Chalcedon death = c. 314 BC, Athens school tradition = Platonism main… …   Wikipedia

  • Philosophy of Greek pederasty — The topic of pederasty, one that took pride of place over the love of women in the erotic lives of Greek aristocrats in general and 5th century BC Athenians in particular [ Plato considers love between people solely as a homosexual phenomenon,… …   Wikipedia

  • List of topics in ancient philosophy — * Abderites * Academy * Acumenus * Aenesidemus * Aeschines Socraticus * Aetius (philosopher) * Albinus (philosopher) * Alcmaeon of Croton * Alexander of Aphrodisias * Allegory of the cave * Analogy of the divided line * Anaxagoras * Anaximenes of …   Wikipedia

  • Crito of Alopece — For the Byzantine historian, see Michael Critobulus. Crito[1] of Alopece[2] was a faithful, probably lifelong companion of Socrates. The two had evidently grown up together as friends, being from the same deme and of roughly the same age (Plato,… …   Wikipedia

  • Socrate — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Socrates (homonymie). Socrate (Σωκράτης) Philosophe occidental Antiquité …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.