On the Theages

The Theages, now considered a spurious Platonic dialogue, mirrors the form but not the content of the Laches. Whereas in the Laches, the theme is of ‘Courage”, the theme of the Theages is of wisdom.

Demodocus, perhaps the noted military man from Thucydides, is frantic and goes to visit Socrates. They speak in private at Socrates’s “leisure” under the portico in dedication to Zeus who helped the pious old democrats – Marathon fighters – to win over the Persian enemies. Demodocus is a retiring statesman. military man, and farmer who infrequenty visits the city. He is the Platonic counterpart to Strepsiades, the farmer father in Aristophanes’s Clouds. He is fearful as his son desires to visit the sophists, as many of the other boys do, and Demodocus is worried about the counsel and education his son will receive. He is not as much concerned with the money charged by the sophists but wants for his son to receive a good and proper education.

Through the elenchus, Socrates speaks directly to his son, Theages, a “noble” name (meaning “god-revering” or perhaps “god-envying”), and discovers that he is interested in wisdom, but he understands this wisdom to mean finding a teacher who will instruct him in how to rule as many men as possible. In other words, he has tyrannical impulses. At the pursuit of wisdom is some desire to rule over men who are less wise. After testing his soul with three analogies, Socrates discovers Theages unsuitable for the task, and instead rebukes him and offers him the option of a more civic-minded pursuit. Eventually Socrates invokes the “daemon”, as a cover for his mode of inquiry which has dangerous political ramifications, thus removing the totality of blame from himself and his followers or progeny. The short dialogue is an example of how Socrates deals with the young who are ill-prepared for the pursuit of wisdom, rather than merely the acquisition of wisdom, and also with those who are drawn to the radical idleness of the sophists.

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