Rambling: Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1.1.15

Xenophon, Memorabilia 1.1.15, trans. Amy Bonnette:

And he [Socrates] examined also the following about them [Sophists/pre-Socratics]. Just as those who learn human matters believe that they will do what they learn both for themselves and for anyone else they wish, so, too, those who seek out the divine things (ta theia) hold that after they understand the necessities responsible for each thing coming to be they will make winds, rains, seasons and anything else of the sort they need whenever they wish. Or they do not even hope for such a thing, but it is enough for them merely to understand in what way each of the things of this sort comes to be.

This passage has been puzzling me for a while now. One of the central issues that Bonnette raises in her translation and that I’m avoiding talking about in the dissertation is “utility.” The word that means “to use” also means “deal with” and “consult;” that word is the verb for many sentences where “Socrates” is the subject. So one very rough, moralistic theme we can derive from this passage is that Socratic moderation is utility that stands between “control of everything” and pure wonderment.

Only: Socrates himself sought out the divine things. “Wonder” is a major theme of Platonic/Aristotlean philosophy, and when Xenophon implicitly confesses in the Anabasis that despite his many exploits, Socrates was probably right that he should never have even left home, one has to think how these divine things relate to human things, if such a relation is possible.

One thing you might be interested in is “divine things,” ta theia. Socrates claimed to have a “divine thing” that was able to predict outcomes, but his word for it was daimonion. From daimonion we get “demonic:” in Greek it was very close to the word for “crazy,” and sometimes even a substitute for “natural.” Theia you can see is closer to theos, which may be a more legitimate notion of the divine. Are there divine things that belong to the gods, and other divine things completely beyond human things, but within our reach perhaps?

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