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Plato and Xenophon on Friendship. A Comparative Study (Plato Lysis and Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6)*

Citation with persistent identifier:

Tamiolaki, Melina. “Plato and Xenophon on Friendship. A Comparative Study (Plato Lysis and Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6)”. CHS Research Bulletin 2, no. 2 (2014). http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hlnc.essay:TamiolakiM.Plato_and_Xenophon_on_Friendship_a_Comparative_Study.2014

…if Xenophon’s understanding of Socrates is correct, I believe that in sophisticated, inquisitive Athens people would rather have Socrates done away with because he bored them than because they feared him.

S. Kierkegaard. 1841. The Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates (edited by H. Hong Princeton 1989) 18. Copenhagen.

1§1 Kierkegaard was not alone in holding this opinion about Xenophon’s Socrates. His statement reflects a trend in nineteenth-century scholarship, which was obsessed with resolving the so-called “Socratic problem” and tried to discover the “real” (i.e. historical) Socrates through the writings of his disciples.[1] Although Xenophon played a cardinal role in this investigation, he was cast in the shadow of Plato and treated with great prejudice, as an uninspired author with no original (philosophical or other) contribution and consequently, as an inadequate source for the reconstruction of the historical Socrates.[2] It is only very recently that this trend has begun to change. Two important factors have contributed to this shift. The first one is the realization that it is rather impossible to reconstruct the historical Socrates. It has now become widely acknowledged that what has been transmitted to us is not Socrates, but SocratesP and SocratesX (denoting respectively Plato’s and Xenophon’s Socrates) and that the different portraits of him should be examined in their own right as divergent responses (philosophical, political, and ideological) to the problems raised by the historical Socrates and the society in which he lived. The second decisive factor which has considerably transformed Socratic studies is the rehabilitation of Xenophon. Xenophon is no longer considered a second-class author and his work is no longer studied selectively (e.g. the historical works as separated from the philosophical ones and vice versa), but as a coherent corpus pervaded by important recurrent themes that deserve exploration.[3]

1§2 Although this line of research has yielded significant results, there is still much work to be done, especially regarding the comparison between Plato and Xenophon. So far this comparison has been mainly limited to the works of the same title (namely, the Apology and the Symposium), but its scope deserves to be broadened.[4] More importantly, a double-sided dialog is worth fostering, since studies devoted to Xenophon’s Socratica always refer to Plato as a point of comparison, whereas Platonic studies continue to dismiss or overlook Xenophon.[5] A possible explanation for the neglect of Xenophon by Platonists is that Plato can illuminate Xenophon, while Xenophon does not (necessarily) illuminate Plato. Indeed, the comparison is perhaps more worth undertaking for the sake of Xenophon: it can help us grasp the distinctive character of his Socratic works, which combine a philosophical (Socratic) discourse with political interests and ideas.[6] But I would also be tempted to admit that, despite the insurmountable difficulties involved in the reconstruction of the historical Socrates, a more systematic comparison of the works of his main disciples would enable us to better assess some traits of his personality and hence could potentially have historical value and impact.[7]

1§3 This paper attempts such a comparison, by focusing on a common theme shared between Plato and Xenophon, which is discussed in the Lysis and the Conversations of Socrates respectively: philia (conventionally translated as friendship[8]). Plato and Xenophon were not of course the first to treat philia in their works. The term and concept had a long history which can be traced back to the archaic period. During the classical period philia embraced a wide range of meanings: private friendship, kinship, political friendship and partisanship, alliance, loyalty, and affection.[9] Aristotle later offered a thorough investigation of philia in his Nicomachean Ethics (Book VIII) while other authors, such as Stoic and Epicurean philosophers and Cicero continued to reflect on this topic.[10] What is distinctive about Plato and Xenophon, however, is that they each exploited a conventional contemporary concern in order to promote a specific image of Socrates. Moreover, contrary to other authors, they both discuss philia in contexts which often involve (directly or indirectly) erôs or ta paidika. Finally, it is interesting that both of them present a theory of friendship which they adapt to their thematic interests and priorities.

1§4 The setting of the discussions of friendship in the Lysis and the Conversations of Socrates can be summarized as follows. Lysis belongs to Plato’s early dialogs[11] and contains four main protagonists: Socrates, Hippothales, Lysis, and Menexenus.[12] Lysis and Menexenus are presented as very young and friends with each other, while Hippothales is an older man, and (potential) erastês of Lysis.[13] Socrates interacts with this (erotic?) triangle in various ways: he initially undertakes a discussion with Lysis in front of Hippothales, with the aim of showing Hippothales how an erastês should approach the erômenos. At a second stage, he begins a theoretical discussion with Menexenus on the topic of “who is φίλος,” with the (apparent) aim of testing the philia between Menexenus and Lysis. Socrates manages to baffle his interlocutor who, after a while, willingly gives up the investigation. So, at a final stage, Socrates turns again to Lysis and pursues with him the main bulk of the theoretical inquiry about philia. After a series of intellectual acrobatics, the dialog ends in aporia.

1§5 The context of Xenophon’s Conversations of Socrates is no less interesting. Xenophon is himself interested in philia (especially in a political context) and stresses the fact that Socrates attributed great value to good friends (μέγιστον κέρδος ἕξειν φίλον ἀγαθόν κτησάμενον, Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.2.7). But the centrality of philia and philoi in the Conversations of Socrates is linked with the accusation against the Athenian philosopher. Xenophon reports that the accuser of Socrates commented negatively on his opinions about philoi:

ἔφη δὲ καὶ περὶ τῶν φίλων αὐτὸν λέγειν ὡς οὐδὲν ὄφελος εὔνους εἶναι, εἰ μὴ καὶ ὠφελεῖν δυνήσονται· μόνους δὲ φάσκειν αὐτὸν ἀξίους εἶναι τιμῆς τοὺς εἰδότας τὰ δέοντα καὶ ἑρμηνεῦσαι δυναμένους·

He (the accuser) said that, concerning friends, Socrates maintained, that their goodwill is not useful, unless they are able to be useful themselves; that he [Socrates] also claimed that the only ones deserving of honor are those who know what they should and are in a position to explain it.

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.2.53–55

1§6 Philia is thus closely related to honor (τιμή) and usefulness (ὠφέλεια) and it is expected that its treatment will be inscribed into the apologetic intention of Xenophon’s work. Surprisingly, Xenophon confirms a bit later that Socrates indeed held these opinions about friends (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.2.53: ἐγὼ δ’αὐτὸν οἶδα μὲν ταῦτα λέγοντα), but he is interested in demonstrating that they were not detrimental to Athenian society. In fact, the second book of the Conversations of Socrates constitutes a detailed and multi-faceted refutation of this charge: through a series of discussions between Socrates and several Athenians of his time, Xenophon strives to show that Socrates encouraged his fellow citizens to be useful to each other and, above all, that Socrates proved himself to be beneficial to everybody whom he encountered.[14] Further, the third book of the Conversations of Socrates contains a conversation between Socrates and the courtesan Theodote, in the course of which the issue of friendship is again raised (this time in a heterosexual context).[15]

1§7 The focus of my paper will be the passages of the Conversations of Socrates which reveal a common background with Plato’s Lysis.[16] My study has been greatly inspired by the valuable work of Louis-André Dorion. Dorion has devoted an essay to the utility of friendship in Plato and Xenophon, in which he shows that the fundamental divergence between the Platonic and Xenophontic treatments of friendship is epistemological.[17] He has also included a list of common themes in the Lysis and the Conversations of Socrates in his commentary, by noting that “les conceptions de l’amitié qui sont développées dans ces deux logoi sokratikoi sont très différentes à de nombreux points de vue, mais elles n’ont jamais fait l’objet d’une analyse comparative.”[18] I take this comment at face value. In my paper I aim to complete Dorion’s treatment in the following ways: a) by attempting a closer examination of the similarities and divergences between Plato and Xenophon regarding the terminology and the theory of friendship, b) by highlighting the distinctive traits of Plato and Xenophon in their respective treatments of philia, and c) by examining the implications of the portrait of Socrates that emerges from these logoi and its connection with the apologetic purposes of both authors.

Terminology: φιλία versus ὠφέλεια?

2§1 This section analyzes the variations and shifts in meaning that Plato and Xenophon employ in their treatment of philia. These variations raise several questions: why do the two authors choose a specific word in a specific context and why do they present Socrates formulating his questions and answers in this or that way? Are variations deliberate or accidental? In what follows it will be evident that Plato uses with great fluidity the words related to philia, while Xenophon, for his part, provides more food for thought regarding the concept of ὠφέλεια (usefulness).

2§2 I start with philia in Plato. The versatility of the terminology in the Lysis has already attracted scholarly attention and several interpretations have been proposed: it may reflect the complex nature of friendship in classical Athens; Plato might have wanted to suggest that the nature of philia is aporetic; his main concern is not philia, but erôs; Greek syntax and grammar (especially inflections) allow Plato to play with words related to philos.[19] The philosophical aim of the Lysis is a complex topic upon which I will offer some tentative suggestions in the following sections of this paper. For the present discussion, I would like to comment on two shifts in meaning which can be observed in this dialog:

2§3 a) From φίλος to φιλεῖν and back to φίλος. At first glance Socrates seems to be interested in the common use of the word philos and philia, in the sense of the bond (not dependent on blood) that is created between two persons. He comments on Lysis’ friendship with Menexenus by appealing to a banalité (Plato Lysis 207c10): Οὐκοῦν κοινὰ τά γε φίλων λέγεται (“Well, it is said that friends have everything in common”). He returns to this usage a bit later, when he claims that he wishes to acquire a good friend (Plato Lysis 211e4: καὶ βουλοίμην ἄν μοι φίλον ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι…). However, when he starts his first interrogation of Lysis regarding the relation of the young man with his parents, he shifts from φίλος to φιλέω. Socrates’ question is not whether Lysis’ parents are friends with their son, but whether they love him:

“I suppose, Lysis, that your father and mother love you very much (σφόδρα φιλεῖ σε ὁ πατήρ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ).”

Plato Lysis 207d7


“Well, if your father and mother love you (εἴ σε φιλεῖ ὁ πατὴρ καὶ ἡ μήτηρ) and want to make you happy, it seems obvious that they make every effort in order to secure your happiness.”

Plato Lysis 207e4

2§4 These questions create the impression that Socrates directs the conversation to emotional matters, the love of parents for their children.[20] But the discussion takes an unexpected turn. Socrates subtly challenges the fact that Lysis’ parents love their son, on the grounds that they do not let him do whatever he wants. This observation is then qualified, with the argument that Lysis has not yet acquired the superior knowledge (βέλτιον φρονεῖν), which would allow him to act with complete freedom. It is remarkable that in the course of the argumentation about the importance of superior knowledge, the φιλ- related words do not occur. They (re)appear at the end, when Socrates concludes:

Ἆρ’ οὖν τῳ φίλοι ἐσόμεθα καί τις ἡμᾶς φιλήσει ἐν τούτοις, ἐν οἷς ἂν ὦμεν ἀνωφελεῖς; Οὐ δῆτα, ἔφη. Νῦν ἄρα οὐδὲ σὲ ὁ πατὴρ οὐδὲ ἄλλος ἄλλον οὐδένα φιλεῖ, καθ’ ὅσον ἂν ᾖ ἄχρηστος. Οὐκ ἔοικεν, ἔφη. Ἐὰν μὲν ἄρα σοφὸς γένῃ, ὦ παῖ, πάντες σοι φίλοι καὶ πάντες σοι οἰκεῖοι ἔσονται – χρήσιμος γὰρ καὶ ἀγαθὸς ἔσῃ – εἰ δὲ μή, σοὶ οὔτε ἄλλος οὐδεὶς οὔτε ὁ πατὴρ φίλος ἔσται οὔτε ἡ μήτηρ οὔτε οἱ οἰκεῖοι.

“Will we then be friends to anyone and will anyone love us in those things in which we are not beneficial?” “Certainly not.” “So neither your father nor anybody else loves anybody who is useless.” “It doesn’t seem so,” he said. “So, my boy, if you become wise, everyone will be friend and akin to you – because you will be of use and good – otherwise nobody (be it father, mother, or relatives) will be your friends.”

Plato Lysis 210c6–210d4

2§5 Socrates’ conclusion is wide-ranging (it involves φίλος and φιλεῖν, parents and friends), but it also testifies to another shift: from parents who express φιλεῖν to parents as φίλοι. This shift represents a transition from a concrete emotion (the love of parents for their children) to a general and universal situation (all people being friends with those who have superior knowledge). The transition suggests that Socrates’ main interest is not the relationship between parents and children. While parents were initially singled out as a special category of people who (are expected to) love (φιλεῖν), they end up forming only a part of the whole who (should) be φίλοι with the wise (note also the indefinite pronouns τῳ, τις). In this way, the special character of parental love vanishes, since it is blurred with (and becomes part of) the friendship of all people for the wise.[21]

2§6 b) From φίλος to φίλον. The second shift concerns the terms φίλος and φίλον. Socrates begins his theoretical discussion with Menexenus with the following question:

Καί μοι εἰπέ· ἐπειδάν τίς τινα φιλῇ, πότερος ποτέρου φίλος γίγνεται, ὁ φιλῶν τοῦ φιλουμένου ἢ ὁ φιλούμενος τοῦ φιλοῦντος· ἢ οὐδὲν διαφέρει;

“So tell me, when one person loves another, which of the two becomes the friend of the other – the loving of the loved, or the loved of the loving? Or is there no difference?”

Plato Lysis 212b1–2

2§7 As the elenchus proceeds, the discussion shifts to the neutral adjective φίλον and two antithetical conclusions are reached:

Τὸ φιλούμενον ἄρα τῷ φιλοῦντι φίλον ἐστίν, ὡς ἔοικεν, ὦ Μενέξενε, ἐάντε φιλῇ ἐάντε καὶ μισῇ.

“Τhen the loved object is dear to the person who loves it, as it seems, Menexenus, regardless of whether it loves or hates in return.”

Plato Lysis 212e7–8


τὸ φιλοῦν ἂν εἴη φίλον τοῦ φιλουμένου.

“It is the one who loves that should be a friend of the person who is loved.”

Plato Lysis 213b6

2§8 The shift is double: a) thematic: from the concrete noun φίλος (denoting a friend of somebody) to the abstract noun τὸ φίλον and b) syntactical: from φίλος with genitive (noun: friend of somebody) to φίλον with dative (usually as an adjective: “dear to” or “cherished by” somebody). These vacillations can be justified by the fact that the Lysis is not presented as a dialog of definition: there are no questions of the type “what is friendship” and the words related to ὁρίζω and ὁρισμός (define, definition) are absent from this dialog.[22] The function of these shifts is double. First of all, they facilitate the refutation of all arguments.[23] Let us consider, for instance, the following sequence:

Οὐκ ἄρα ἐστὶν φίλον τῷ φιλοῦντι οὐδὲν μὴ οὐκ ἀντιφιλοῦν. Οὐκ ἔοικεν. Οὐδ’ ἄρα φίλιπποί εἰσιν οὓς ἂν οἱ ἵπποι μὴ ἀντιφιλῶσιν, οὐδὲ φιλόρτυγες, οὐδ’ αὖ φιλόκυνές γε καὶ φίλοινοι καὶ φιλογυμνασταὶ καὶ φιλόσοφοι, ἂν μὴ ἡ σοφία αὐτοὺς ἀντιφιλῇ.

“So nothing is dear to the lover of it if it does not love in return.” “Apparently not.” “And so we find no horse-lovers where the horses do not love in return, no quail-lovers, dog-lovers, wine-lovers, or sport-lovers on such terms, nor lovers of wisdom if wisdom does not love them in return.”

Plato Lysis 212d7–10, translation Penne and Rowe 2005, with modifications

2§9 Socrates here questions reciprocity as the basis of friendship on the grounds that there are emotions which cannot be reciprocated (such as the love for horses and ultimately the love for wisdom: horses and wisdom cannot love back). This argument is tricky, because it relies on a change in the topic of the conversation. Socrates began his conversation by talking specifically about interpersonal relationships (about lovers who love and seek to be loved in return: φιλοῦντες οἴονται οὐκ ἀντιφιλεῖσθαι, Plato Lysis 212c1–2); yet his refutation is based on a (rather arbitrary) shift to horses and wisdom. It is the blurring of φίλος with τὸ φίλον and the continuous transition from the specific to the abstract that allows Socrates to make these shifts. The variations in meaning of φιλ- words also affect the composite words φίλιπποι, φιλόρτυγες, and φιλόσοφοι, which can be interpreted in two ways: those who love horses, philosophy, etc. and those who are friends of horses, philosophy, etc. Socrates deliberately chooses the love-aspect meaning, in order to strengthen his thesis that reciprocal love is not the foundation of friendship, because it cannot be universally applicable.[24] The most important effect of these oscillations, however, is that they progressively lead the discussion to an abstract theme which is Socrates’ (and presumably Plato’s) primary concern. The switching from φίλος to φίλον thus foreshadows (and acts as a transition to) the πρῶτον φίλον, which will be analyzed later in the dialog (Plato Lysis 219c).

2§10 Unlike Plato, Xenophon does not propose a theoretical abstraction about friendship. The terms philos and philia appear abundantly in his works, and he is to be credited with a more concrete use of them. In his corpus philia usually denotes the bond between two persons (which can be personal or political).  Furthermore, contrary to Plato, Xenophon rarely has recourse to the φιλ- verbal forms.[25] Finally, an interesting linguistic innovation is attested in the Conversations of Socrates, the expression τὰ φιλικά, which is employed in parallel with τὰ πολεμικά and τὰ θηρατικά (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.21, 2.6.33), and is to be contrasted with the Platonic τὰ ἐρωτικά (Plato Symposium 198d1, 201d8, 209e6). It seems then that for Xenophon, philia is treated conventionally, like… “business as usual.”

2§11 Another important feature that considerably differentiates Xenophon from Plato in his treatment of philia is the emphasis on ὠφέλεια (usefulness). The adjectives ὠφέλιμος and χρήσιμος occur in Plato, but do not contribute decisively to the theoretical discussion of friendship (Plato Lysis 210c, 214e, 219c–d). On the contrary, in Xenophon the concept of ὠφέλεια occupies a central position and has sparked controversy as to whether it implies a utilitarian perspective of friendship.[26] The closer examination of terminology can contribute to this debate. I would like to draw attention to a shift in meaning which has been overlooked by scholars: Xenophon’s terminology oscillates between ὠφέλιμος and χρήσιμος. The following two passages are indicative of this shift. The first one is placed at the very beginning of Xenophon’s treatment of friendship. Xenophon reports that Socrates conversed on the topic of friendship, because he had observed that people tended to neglect their friends. He defends the attendance of friends (ἐπιμέλεια) as follows:

καίτοι πρὸς ποῖον κτῆμα τῶν ἄλλων παραβαλλόμενος φίλος ἀγαθὸς οὐκ ἂν πολλῷ κρείττων φανείη; ποῖος γὰρ ἵππος ἢ ποῖον ζεῦγος οὕτω χρήσιμον ὥσπερ ὁ χρηστὸς φίλος; ποῖον δὲ ἀνδράποδον οὕτως εὔνουν καὶ παραμόνιμον; ἢ ποῖον ἄλλο κτῆμα οὕτω πάγχρηστον;

And yet on comparison, to which of the other possessions would a good friend not appear far superior? For what horse or what ox team can be of greater use than a good friend? What slave is so well-intentioned and constant? Or what other possession is so universally good?

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.4.5, translation Bonnette 1994, adapted

2§12 The second passage is part of Xenophon’s conversation with Critobulus. Socrates asks him to enumerate the qualities of a good friend:

Τί δ’; ὅστις διὰ τὸν ἔρωτα τοῦ χρηματίζεσθαι μηδὲ πρὸς ἓν ἄλλο σχολὴν ποιεῖται ἢ ὁπόθεν αὐτός τι κερδανεῖ; Ἀφεκτέον καὶ τούτου, ὡς ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ· ἀνωφελὴς γὰρ ἂν εἴη τῷ χρωμένῳ. Τί δέ; ὅστις στασιώδης τέ ἐστι καὶ θέλων πολλοὺς τοῖς φίλοις ἐχθροὺς παρέχειν; Φευκτέον νὴ Δία καὶ τοῦτον. Εἰ δέ τις τούτων μὲν τῶν κακῶν μηδὲν ἔχοι, εὖ δὲ πάσχων ἀνέχεται, μηδὲν φροντίζων τοῦ ἀντευεργετεῖν; Ἀνωφελὴς ἂν εἴη καὶ οὗτος.[27]

“What about the one who, because of his strong desire for making wealth, provides himself with leisure for nothing other than what he can derive some gain from?” “One should stay away from him, in my opinion; for he would be in no way beneficial to the one dealing with him.” “What about someone who is factious and wants to provide his friends with many enemies?” “By Zeus, one should flee from him, too.” “And if someone has none of these bad qualities but experiences being well treated while not worrying at all about doing good deeds in return? This one would not be beneficial either.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.3–4, translation Bonnette 1994

2§13 Although the terms χρήσιμος and ὠφέλιμος are used interchangeably, their nuance is different: the word ὠφέλιμος carries connotations of a long-term perspective, whereas χρήσιμος can mean “useful on a specific occasion“; the appropriate translation would thus be for the former “useful” and for the latter “of use.” This nuance is not captured in translations,[28] but it has significant implications: it is not coincidental that Socrates is never characterized as simply χρήσιμος. Furthermore, when Xenophon speaks about friends being χρήσιμοι, he emphasizes the practical aspects of their usefulness (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.4.5–7). On the contrary, when he comments on their ὠφέλεια, he refers to their character: a useful friend is a virtuous friend, who possesses the virtues that Socrates himself possesses, like self-mastery, etc. (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.4). Overall, a good friend can be both χρήσιμος and ὠφέλιμος, but it is the second trait that is crucial, since it connects him with Socrates.[29] From this perspective, the debate about utilitarianism or altruism in Xenophon is somewhat misplaced and anachronistic, because the central concern in his work is usefulness and not utility.

2§14 These varied emphases and oscillations in terminology set a clear background for the treatment that both authors give to the topic of friendship. Plato’s shifts from φίλος to φίλον allow for (an even obscure) theoretical elaboration, while Xenophon’s oscillations between ὠφέλιμος and χρήσιμος provoke a different sort of reflection: what is the root of Xenophon’s interest in ὠφέλεια? Does Xenophon intend to blur the distinction between these two concepts? A closer examination of the common themes between the Lysis and the Conversations of Socrates in the treatment of philia can help us proceed with this investigation.

Plato and Xenophon: Common themes in the treatment of philia

3§1 The treatments of the topic of philia in Plato and Xenophon share many common themes. For some of these themes the two authors could draw on popular culture, while other topics may represent Socrates’ own interests. Both Plato and Xenophon contribute in their respective ways to a broader reflection on friendship: Plato’s focus on individual (and philosophical) friendship “depoliticizes” this concept, while Xenophon redefines individual friendship, based, for his part, on political premises. In what follows I will distinguish common themes (which refer to similar background and images used by the two authors) from the theoretical elaboration of friendship.

Common themes

3§2 The most important common themes between Plato and Xenophon in their treatments of philia are the following: the concept of a friend as a possession; the homoerotic background of conversations and Socrates’ own erotic activity; the metaphor of hunting; and the general praise for a friend.

3§3 a) The friend as a possession. SocratesP states:

 “Since I was a boy I’ve actually always had a desire for a certain kind of possession, like everyone else (τυγχάνω γὰρ ἐκ παιδὸς ἐπιθυμῶν κτήματός του, ὥσπερ ἄλλος ἄλλου) only it’s different things for different people: one person has a desire to get horses, while for another it’s dogs, for another gold, for another, public honors; but as for me, I don’t get excited about these things – what I’m absolutely passionate about is acquiring friends (ἐγὼ δὲ πρὸς μὲν ταῦτα πρᾴως ἔχω, πρὸς δὲ τὴν τῶν φίλων κτῆσιν πάνυ ἐρωτικῶς) and I’d wish for a good friend more than for the best example any man has of a quail or a cock, and – Zeus! – I’d wish, myself, more for that than for the best horse and dog; and I do believe – I swear by the dog! – more than the gold of Darius I’d much sooner get me a friend or, rather, more than getting Darius himself…”

Plato Lysis 211d7–e9, translation Penne and Rowe 2005

3§4 The same topic is raised by Xenophon:

I heard him [Socrates] once conversing about friends; he said such things as, in my opinion at least, might be especially beneficial to someone regarding the acquisition and treatment of friends (μάλιστ’ ἄν τις ὠφελεῖσθαι πρὸς φίλων κτῆσίν τε καὶ χρείαν). For he said that he heard from many people that a sure and good friend is the best of all possessions (ὡς πάντων κτημάτων κράτιστον ἂν εἴη φίλος σαφὴς καὶ ἀγαθός). But he said that he saw the many attending to anything rather than the acquisition of friends.

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.4.1, translation Bonnette 1994


– καίτοι πρὸς ποῖον κτῆμα τῶν ἄλλων παραβαλλόμενος φίλος ἀγαθὸς οὐκ ἂν πολλῷ κρείττων φανείη; ποῖος γὰρ ἵππος ἢ ποῖον ζεῦγος οὕτω χρήσιμον ὥσπερ ὁ χρηστὸς φίλος; ποῖον δὲ ἀνδράποδον οὕτως εὔνουν καὶ παραμόνιμον; ἢ ποῖον ἄλλο κτῆμα οὕτω πάγχρηστον;

And yet on comparison, to which of the other possessions would a good friend not appear far superior ? For what horse or what ox team is as useful as a good friend? What slave is so well intentioned and constant? Or what other possession is so universally useful?

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.4.5, translation Bonnette 1994, adapted

3§5 There is, however, a subtle difference between these two versions of Socrates: SocratesP establishes a distinction between himself and those who desire horses and highlights the fact that he attributes greater value to friends; he compares friends with all other possessions and he chooses friends. SocratesX, on the contrary, does not compare friends with other possessions, but the usefulness of friends in relation to the usefulness of other possessions; in these terms, he maintains that a friend is the best of all possessions. The implication is that SocratesP lives (or can live) happily only with his friends, whereas SocratesX is happy with all his possessions, friends being singled out as the most valuable among them.

3§6 b) Since SocratesP seems to valorize friends to a greater degree than SocratesX, it is expected that he will be a more attractive intellectual seducer. Indeed, there is a (homo)erotic background in both authors, but again the differences are important. In the Lysis the investigation about philia is intermingled with the discussion of erôs or ta paidika on two levels. On the level of performance (or the plot) of the dialog, Hippothales is depicted as a potential erastês of Lysis and Socrates discusses with him ways of approaching the erômenos. There is also an implicit comparison (and contrast) between Hippothales and Socrates as erastai. On a theoretical level, Socrates establishes a connection between philia, erôs, and epithumia in a conclusion which represents the summit of his argumentation:

Τοῦ οἰκείου δή, ὡς ἔοικεν, ὅ τε ἔρως καὶ ἡ φιλία καὶ ἡ ἐπιθυμία τυγχάνει οὖσα.

“It is what is akin to us, then, that is the object of erôs and friendship and desire.”

Plato Lysis 221e

3§7 Xenophon, for his part, does not explicitly connect philia with erôs in the Conversations of Socrates. There is a homoerotic connotation in the conversation in which Socrates encourages Critobulus to avoid kissing young boys (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.32).[30] But erôs does not play a central role in the discussion of friendship. Apart from metaphorical expressions employed in the course of the dialog (like ἔρως τοῦ χρηματίζεσθαι, Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.4), the most important reference to erôs is found in Socrates’ description of his activity:

ἴσως δ’ ἄν τί σοι κἀγὼ συλλαβεῖν εἰς τὴν τῶν καλῶν τε κἀγαθῶν θήραν ἔχοιμι διὰ τὸ ἐρωτικὸς εἶναι· δεινῶς γάρ, ὧν ἂν ἐπιθυμήσω ἀνθρώπων, ὅλος ὥρμημαι ἐπὶ τὸ φιλῶν τε αὐτοὺς ἀντιφιλεῖσθαι ὑπ’ αὐτῶν καὶ ποθῶν ἀντιποθεῖσθαι, καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν συνεῖναι καὶ ἀντεπιθυμεῖσθαι τῆς συνουσίας.

“…because I am erotic, perhaps even I might be able to assist you in some way in the hunt for those who are noble and good. For – whatever human beings I desire – , I set out with complete intensity to love them and be loved by them in return, and long for them, to be longed for in return, and to desire to be together with them, to have them desire in return to be together with me.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.28–29, translation Bonnette 1994

3§8 However, Socrates’ self-representation as ἐρωτικός is not really confirmed in the rest of the work: the Conversations of Socrates do not contain scenes comparable with Alcibiades’ famous speech in Plato’s Symposium (Plato Symposium 215a–222b). There is also a subtle irony in Socrates’ self-description here: his statement is uttered in a context of mockery towards Critobulus (Socrates seems to doubt that Critobulus is really capable of achieving the virtue that will make him the perfect friend). This irony undermines rather than enhances Socrates’ erotic activity and opinions about love affairs. Overall, SocratesX is presented as an observer and advisor of (potential) erastai rather than an active intellectual erastês/seducer himself.[31]

3§9 c) The metaphor of hunting is another common theme shared between the two versions of Socrates. But again important differentiations emerge. In Plato, this metaphor is used to describe the activity of the erastês towards the erômenos. Socrates (in a playful mood) tries to explain to Hippothales how he should treat ta paidika:

ἐὰν μὲν γὰρ ἕλῃς τὰπαιδικὰ τοιαῦτα ὄντα, κόσμος σοι ἔσται τὰ λεχθέντα καὶ ᾀσθέντα καὶ τῷ ὄντι ἐγκώμια ὥσπερ νενικηκότι, ὅτι τοιούτων παιδικῶν ἔτυχες· ἐὰν δέ σε διαφύγῃ, ὅσῳ ἂν μείζω σοι εἰρημένα ᾖ ἐγκώμια περὶ τῶν παιδικῶν, τοσούτῳ μειζόνων δόξεις καλῶν τε καὶ ἀγαθῶν ἐστερημένος καταγέλαστος εἶναι. ὅστις οὖν τὰ ἐρωτικά, ὦ φίλε, σοφός, οὐκ ἐπαινεῖ τὸν ἐρώμενον πρὶν ἂν ἕλῃ, δεδιὼς τὸ μέλλον ὅπῃ ἀποβήσεται […] Ποῖός τις οὖν ἄν σοι δοκεῖ θηρευτὴς εἶναι, εἰ ἀνασοβοῖ θηρεύων καὶ δυσαλωτοτέραν τὴν ἄγραν ποιοῖ;

“On the one hand, if you catch your beloved when he is as you describe him, what you have said and sung will be an ornament to you, and truly encomia, as if you were the victor, for having succeeded with a beloved like that, but on the other hand, if he escapes you, the greater the encomia you have uttered about your beloved, so much the greater the beautiful and good things you will seem to have been deprived of, and ridiculous as a result. So the person who is an expert in erotics, my friend, does not praise the one he loves until he catches him, out of fear for how the future will turn out…So what sort of hunter would it be, in your view, that started up his prey and made it more difficult to catch?”

Plato Lysis 205e2–206a10, translation Penne and Rowe 2005

3§10 The Lysis also contains a self-reflective statement on hunting. Socrates uses this metaphor to describe his (temporary) delight in having deciphered the meaning of friendship.

Καὶ δὴ καὶ αὐτὸς ἐγὼ πάνυ ἔχαιρον, ὥσπερ θηρευτής τις,  ἔχων ἀγαπητῶς ὃ ἐθηρευόμην.

“And beyond that, I was myself filled with delight, like a hunter, at the satisfaction of getting hold of what I was hunting.”

Plato Lysis 218c5–6, translation Loeb

3§11 In this context the metaphor of hunting has a philosophical dimension and refers to the search (and capture) of ideas. At the same time, this statement, which is uttered immediately after the agreement of Lysis and Menexenus on Socrates’ elaboration of friendship, also alludes to Socrates’ success as a seducer of the two boys. In this way, the two spheres (philosophical and seductive/erotic) are unified.

3§12 In Xenophon hunting has a more practical dimension, which is not surprising for an author who has (most probably) devoted a treatise to this topic.[32] The metaphor of hunting has a broader application in his work and covers all kinds of friendships. In the Conversations of Socrates Socrates discusses this issue twice: with Critobulus and with the courtesan Theodote. In the first conversation Socrates encourages Critobulus to undertake the hunting of the noble men (θηρᾶν ἐπιχείρει τοὺς καλούς κἀγαθούς) and Critobulus urges Socrates in return to teach him the art of hunting friends (δίδασκε τῶν φίλων τὰ θηρατικά, Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.32). Socrates also makes a comparison between hunting animals and hunting friends and concludes:

Μὰ Δί’, ἔφη, οὐ κατὰ πόδας, ὥσπερ ὁ λαγῶς, οὐδ’ ἀπάτῃ, ὥσπερ αἱ ὄρνιθες, οὐδὲ βίᾳ, ὥσπερ οἱ ἐχθροί· ἄκοντα γὰρ φίλον ἑλεῖν ἐργῶδες· χαλεπὸν δὲ καὶ δήσαντα κατέχειν, ὥσπερ δοῦλον.

“By Zeus,” he said, “[one captures a friend] not by following on his heels, as the hare is hunted, nor with deception, as the birds are, nor with violence, as one’s enemies are. For it is troublesome to capture an unwilling friend, and it is hard to hold him bound like a slave.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.9, translation Bonnette 1994

3§13 In a similar vein with Critobulus, Theodote invites Socrates to become συνθηρατής τῶν φίλων (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 3.11.15). Although this conversation proceeds from a heterosexual background, focusing on Theodote’s friends (i.e. lovers), it ends up as a reflection on how to gain the benevolence and friendship of all people in general. Socrates reaches the same conclusion as before:

Καὶ μήν, ἔφη, πολὺ διαφέρει τὸ κατὰ φύσιν τε καὶ ὀρθῶς ἀνθρώπῳ προσφέρεσθαι. καὶ γὰρ δὴ βίᾳ μὲν οὔτ’ ἂν ἕλοις οὔτε κατάσχοις φίλον, εὐεργεσίᾳ δὲ καὶ ἡδονῇ τὸ θηρίον τοῦτο ἁλώσιμόν τε καὶ παραμόνιμόν ἐστιν.

“And yet,” he said, “it makes a big difference to approach a human being according to nature and correctly. For to be sure you would neither take nor hold a friend by violence, but this prey is both captured and kept constant by means of benefaction and pleasure.”

Χenophon Conversations of Socrates 3.11.11, translation Bonnette 1994

3§14 It becomes obvious that the metaphor of hunting and conquest is more powerful in Xenophon than in Plato. Moreover, Xenophon foregrounds the issue of permanence in the conquest, a concept which is absent in Plato. Finally, it is noteworthy that Xenophon is not interested in differentiating between friendship in a homosexual versus a heterosexual context. It seems then that the metaphor of hunting creates a frame which allows the elimination of gender from the discussion of friendship.

3§15 d) Praise. Socrates’ first conversation with Lysis is presented as a “strategy show” of how an erastês should treat the erômenos. Socrates’ opinion (and subsequent practice) which is again presented in a playful context, is that an erastês should not praise the erômenos, but try to humble him instead (Plato Lysis 210e: ταπεινοῦντα καὶ συστέλλοντα). Xenophon also discusses the topic of praise, but, as expected, the context is not the erastês/erômenos relationship, but that of philia. The fundamental divergence between the two Socrateses is that while SocratesP seems to dismiss praise altogether, SocratesX attributes great importance to it and offers a more elaborate analysis of it. He employs the metaphor of incantations (ἐπῳδάς) and love charms (φίλτρα) to describe praise (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.12)[33] and he contrasts excessive praise (for unreal qualities) with truthful, deserved praise; of course, he openly approves of the latter. More intriguingly, Socrates undertakes a peculiar role in the Conversations of Socrates: he does not establish a one-to-one relationship with Critobulus with regards to praise, but acts as an “intermediary”; he promises him that if he is virtuous, he will praise him to other people whom he might want to acquire as friends (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.33–39).[34]

3§16 To sum up, SocratesP  proves to be a sophisticated seducer who does not really trust hunting or praise but aims through the elenchus to lead his interlocutor to true knowledge. For him a friend is the most valuable of all possessions and can even replace them. SocratesX also values his friends highly, but does not pose the question in zero-sum terms (“friends or other possessions”). He declares himself to be erotic, but he is actually detached: he gives advice and acts as an intermediary in the acquisition of friends whom he views as prey that should be kept forever. The greater sophistication of SocratesP is also reflected in the theoretical elaboration he offers about friendship. 

Theory of friendship: premises and elaboration

3§17 One of the most important differences in the portraits of Socrates created by Plato and Xenophon is that SocratesP acknowledges (even ironically) his ignorance, while SocratesX  is depicted as omniscient and a teacher on all matters.[35] It is thus no wonder that SocratesX proves to be a master in affairs of friendship as well. He discusses friendship with several people, to whom he constantly gives advice (note also the frequency of the verb διδάσκω in contexts which describe how Socrates’ activity is perceived by others: Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.32, 2.6.33, 2.6.39). On the contrary, SocratesP makes the surprising claims that he has no idea how to acquire friends and that he is eager to learn from the paradigm of friendship between Lysis and Menexenus (ἐγὼ δὲ οὕτω πόρρω εἰμὶ τοῦ κτήματος, ὥστε οὐδ’ ὅντινα τρόπον γίγνεται φίλος ἕτερος ἑτέρου οἶδα, Plato Lysis 212a).[36]

3§18 The statement of ignorance prepares the reader for the nature of the questions which will be posed by SocratesP and the premises of his investigation. As expected, the questions of SocratesP are abstract: “πότερος φίλος γίγνεται;” “τίνες εἰσὶν οἱ φίλοι;” “τὸ ἀγαθόν ἐστι φίλον;”. In contrast, the questions of SocratesX are more concrete, practical, and even economical: “what are the qualities of a good friend?” “what is the value of friends?” “what are the criteria for the selection of friends?” “in what ways should one help his friends?”. Furthermore, the issue of reciprocity is discussed only in Plato: SocratesP raises it in his conversation with Menexenus, while the more elaborate theory he proposes at the end is also based on reciprocity.[37] In Xenophon, on the contrary, the inquiry on reciprocity is replaced by strong agency: individual x takes the initiative to find a good friend, to take care of his friends, to value his friends, etc.[38] For instance, Socrates asks Critobulus about the criteria for the choice of friends (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.1: εἰ δεόμεθα φίλου ἀγαθοῦ, πῶς ἄν ἐπιχειροίημεν σκοπεῖν;). In this investigation the question is not posed as to whether Critobulus himself possesses the virtues he seeks in a good friend. Socrates touches upon this issue in the next conversation, which discusses the value of friends: there he concludes that one has to prove himself to be valuable and useful to his friends, so as not be abandoned by them. However, this discussion does not reflect a concern about reciprocity either: it is implied again that (leading) individual x has chosen his friends and has to be useful to them in order to maintain their friendship. Finally, the premise of helping friends and harming enemies does not have a place in Plato, whereas it is taken for granted in Xenophon (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.35: νικᾶν τοὺς μὲν φίλους εὖ ποιοῦντα, τοὺς δ’ἐχθροὺς κακῶς).

3§19 These different premises also invite divergent theoretical elaborations. An obvious difference between the two authors concerns the way they exploit the locus communis κοινὰ τὰ τῶν φίλων. SocratesP makes an ironical comment on it: he teases Lysis and Menexenus by telling them that he will not ask them who is the richest, because he assumes that, as friends, they must have everything in common (Plato Lysis 207c9–11). On the contrary, SocratesX takes this maxim seriously and exploits it in his theorization about the ideal friendship (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.22: τὰ μὲν ἑαυτῶν ἀγαθὰ τοῖς φίλοις οἰκεῖα παρέχοντες, τὰ δὲ τῶν φίλων ἑαυτῶν νομίζοντες).

3§20 There are fundamental divergences on a conceptual level as well. For instance, both Socrateses approach friendship from the perspective of morality (good friend vs. bad friend) and both agree that it is impossible for a vicious person to acquire moral friends. But in Xenophon this possibility is raised by Critobulus (when he remarks that vicious rhetors may have virtuous orators as friends) in order to be then refuted on the grounds of utility: a vicious person is useless (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.15–16, 2.9.8). On the contrary, in Plato this idea is rejected altogether (Plato Lysis 214d8). More radically, the very concept of a wicked friend, which is taken for granted in Xenophon (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.5.5: πονηρόν φίλον), does not have a place in Plato.

3§21 Both authors also admit at an initial stage that moral people (ἀγαθοί, χρηστοί) become friends with each other (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.17, Plato Lysis 214d7). But it is interesting that they both then challenge this idea or offer (different) qualifications: on the one hand, for SocratesP, the perfect ἀγαθός cannot have friends at all, because he does not need anybody (Plato Lysis 215b–c). SocratesX, on the other hand, comments on the fact that even moral people often enter into quarrels and staseis with each another (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.17: πολλάκις ἄνδρας καὶ <τὰ> καλὰ πράττοντας καὶ τῶν αἰσχρῶν ἀπεχομένους ὁρᾷς ἀντὶ τοῦ φίλους εἶναι στασιάζοντας ἀλλήλοις καὶ χαλεπώτερον χρωμένους τῶν μηδενὸς ἀξίων ἀνθρώπων). Moreover, Critobulus observes that people who exercise aretê can be envious of and hate each other (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.20: οἱ ἀρετὴν ἀσκοῦντες στασιάζουσί τε περὶ τοῦ πρωτεύειν ἐν ταῖς πόλεσι καὶ φθονοῦντες ἑαυτοῖς μισοῦσιν ἀλλήλους…). In this context the exercise of aretê is placed in a social and competitive context. Again, the idea of a virtuous person hating other people is inconceivable in Plato.

3§22 Another common theme which is raised by the two authors in their treatment of philia is self-sufficiency (αὐτάρκεια). Αὐτάρκεια is valued positively by both of them, but in Xenophon it refers to self-sufficiency with regards to material needs, while in Plato it has a metaphysical dimension: the σοφός is αὐτάρκης and needs nobody as a friend, in contrast with the φιλόσοφος, who is in need of friends (Plato Lysis 218b3–6).[39] Consequently, in Xenophon the good friend should be αὐτάρκης, so as not to be a burden for his friends (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.2), while in Plato the αὐτάρκης cannot have friends, because he has reached a spiritual and moral perfection that does not necessitate contact with friends (or with other people whatsoever).

3§23 A related topic on which the two authors offer different theorizations is the concept of need. SocratesX claims that friendship is natural because of the need men have for each other. But he refers to specific, practical needs (φύσει γὰρ ἔχουσιν οἱ ἄνθρωποι τὰ μὲν φιλικά· δέονταί τε γὰρ ἀλλήλων καὶ ἐλεοῦσι καὶ συνεργοῦντες ὠφελοῦσι καὶ τοῦτο συνιέντες χάριν ἔχουσιν ἀλλήλοις· Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.21). SocratesP, on the contrary, links this kind of need with ἀνάγκη (Plato Lysis 215d4–7: τὸν γὰρ πένητα τῷ πλουσίῳ ἀναγκάζεσθαι φίλον εἶναι καὶ τὸν ἀσθενῆ τῷ ἰσχυρῷ τῆς ἐπικουρίας ἕνεκα, καὶ τὸν κάμνοντα τῷ ἰατρῷ, καὶ πάντα δὴ τὸν μὴ εἰδότα ἀγαπᾶν τὸν εἰδότα καὶ φιλεῖν). It is instead to the concept of ἔνδεια that he gives a positive philosophical dimension (Plato Lysis 221d5–e3: Ἀλλὰ μέντοι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τό γε ἐπιθυμοῦν, οὗ ἂν ἐνδεὲς ᾖ, τούτου ἐπιθυμεῖ. ἦ γάρ; Ναί. Τὸ δ’ ἐνδεὲς ἄρα φίλον ἐκείνου οὗ ἂν ἐνδεὲς ᾖ; Δοκεῖ μοι. Ἐνδεὲς δὲ γίγνεται οὗ ἄν τι ἀφαιρῆται). Finally, the question of the purpose of friendship is raised by both authors (ἕνεκά του καὶ διά τι, Plato Lysis 218d10), but again their answers are different: SocratesX gives a rather materialistic answer to this question by comparing the good friend with the fruit of a tree (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.7: τοῦ καρποῦ ἕνεκεν), while SocratesP offers an abstract philosophical interpretation (διὰ τὸ κακὸν καὶ τὸ ἐχθρὸν ἕνεκα τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ καὶ φίλου 219b1–2).

3§24 What can these divergences tell us? Obviously friendship belonged to the agenda of topics that Socrates discussed with his fellow-citizens. It seems also probable that Socrates contributed to the debate about friendship. In fact, the concept underwent a transformation from the fifth to the fourth century BCE: during the fifth century it had more eminent political connotations (e.g. in the historiographical texts φίλος often means “ally”), while during the fourth century it started being centered on individuals. Socrates is probably to be credited with directing the discussion of friendship towards moral preoccupations and with linking it to virtue. Concerning the thorny issue of the relationship between Plato and Xenophon, the hypothesis of mutual responses in a context of rivalry, though intriguing, cannot be verified. On the contrary, this possibility is rather challenged by the specific adaptation that each author offers to the topic of friendship.

Plato vs. Xenophon: friendship and philosophical aporia vs. friendship as political business

4§1 In order to better assess the contribution of the two authors to the topic of philia, it is worth examining them independently from each other. This section aims at illustrating the distinctive traits of Plato’s and Xenophon’s theories of friendship.

Plato’s Lysis: a false aporia on friendship

4§2 The Lysis is an enigmatic dialog. The interpretations to which it has given rise can be schematically categorized as follows: a) some scholars view it as a prelude to the more elaborate analysis of erôs that we find in the Phaedrus and the Symposium;[40] b) others attempt to interpret the aporia: according to Vlastos, the aporia suggests that the genuine love of the individual does not have a place in Plato;[41] Gonzales maintains that the deciphering of the aporia is immanent in the dialog and can be surmised from Socrates’ words, even if it is not explicitly pronounced;[42] c) more recent approaches focus on the narrative and the apologetic purpose of the dialog.[43]

4§3 Some of these interpretations are open to challenge. The theoretical elaboration upon the πρῶτον φίλον which is developed at the final stages of the Lysis certainly alludes to Plato’s theory of Forms, but the analysis of the Lysis in light of the Symposium and the Phaedrus cannot offer much to the interpretation of the Lysis due to a fundamental divergence between these texts and the latter: the Symposium and the Phaedrus treat erôs throughout, while the very theme of the Lysis is ambiguous (not to say evasive). On the other hand, suggestions for a possible resolution of the aporia are ingenious, but not convincing, since they seem to “fill in” the text with something which is absent from it. Finally, attempts to discover a specific philosophical aim in the dialog (e.g. about the impossibility of love, etc.) are too speculative and are ultimately challenged by the very presence of the aporia.

4§4 It seems likely that Plato intended the dialog to be aporetic. I will go one step further here and argue that he deliberately created a false aporia (i.e. based on unsuccessful premises). We observed before that the variations in meaning regarding the word φίλος, in combination with the shifts from φίλος/φιλεῖν to φίλον, allow Socrates to refute the idea that reciprocity is a prerequisite of friendship. The Lysis contains many refutations of this sort which rely on misleading shifts or changes of the focus of the conversation. Another illustrative example can be found in the first discussion between Socrates and Lysis. In this discussion Socrates ventures and then refutes two consecutive ideas: that similars are friends with each other and that dissimilars are friends with each other (Plato Lysis 214a–216b). He elaborates on the first sequence (similars as friends) on moral terms: the πονηροὶ and the ἀγαθοὶ cannot be friends with anybody, the former because they are unstable and the latter because they are too perfect (and self-sufficient). However, when he analyzes the idea of dissimilars as friends, he operates on two levels: at first he introduces social categories in the discussion (the poor man is in a state of need and has to be a friend to the rich, similarly the ill has to be a friend to the doctor, etc.); but then he returns to moral categories: since just persons cannot be friends with unjust people, good with bad, and so on, it follows that there is no friendship between dissimilars. The refutation of this idea is unsuccessful, because it relies on a (rather arbitrary) intrusion of the moral aspect in the conversation. Moreover, the mixing of the two spheres (social and moral) spoils any effort to reach a unifying conclusion about friendship, since the friendship between the patient and the doctor cannot be comparable with the friendship between the just and the unjust.

4§5 Another element that enhances the aporia is the concept of the οὔτε ἀγαθὸν οὔτε κακόν.  This concept is introduced by Socrates as a way out of the impasse that the focus on the good and bad had created. The idea that is then defended and conveys the impression that it will resolve the aporia is that “the neither good nor bad” is friendly with the good because of the presence of evil. However, the concept of οὔτε ἀγαθὸν οὔτε κακόν is obscure. At first sight it is presented as concerning neutral things. Socrates initially maintains that the human body is neither good nor bad and loves medicine because of illness, which is bad (Plato Lysis 217b). But then it is applied to human beings as well: the philosophers are presented as loving wisdom because of the presence of ignorance, which is bad (Plato Lysis 218b). Several issues thus remain open: what does “neither good nor bad” exactly mean? Does it follow that the “neither good nor bad” is also partly good and partly bad? Is it applied to everything and everybody? It is beyond doubt that this concept is inadequately theorized.

4§6 To sum up, the Lysis contains many potentially valid theses which are refuted by invalid arguments: the existence of reciprocity in friendship is refuted with the argument that horses and wisdom cannot love back; the existence of friendship between socially unequal people (e.g. between the poor and the rich) is rejected because the discussion is directed to moral issues (the just and the unjust). These false refutations aim at deepening the reflection on the topic of friendship, but they also create the impression that the aporia is more artificial than genuine. We should also take into account the fact that Socrates’ interlocutors are two adolescents, which is not the case in other aporetic dialogs (such as the Laches, the Charmides, the Euthyphron, or the Hippias Major). So, the artificiality of the aporia may be also viewed as a more rigorous means of initiating the two young men into the methods of the elenchus. 

Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates: a politically informed theory of friendship

4§7 Philia in Xenophon has motivated no less scholarly controversy. Vincent Azoulay analyzes asymmetrical friendships (between leaders and followers, leaders and allies) which often mask relationships of dependence; he views Xenophon as a forerunner of Hellenistic unequal friendships.[44] More recently, Gabriel Danzig, in an illuminating chapter about Book II of the Conversations of Socrates, shows that friendship provides the opportunity to Xenophon’s Socrates to express unconventional political ideas.[45] At the other extreme, Vivienne Gray sees no inequality or hierarchical relationships in Xenophon and emphasizes the mutual benefit that derives from friendships.[46]

4§8 The comparison of the Conversations of Socrates with Plato’s Lysis presented above allows us to grasp more clearly the distinctive traits of Xenophon’s theory of friendship: the emphasis on usefulness, the connection with hunting and conquest, and the presence of moderate praise. How are we to interpret these traits? In my opinion, Xenophon’s theory of friendship does not only have a strong political background. It is also inspired by political realities. More radically, Xenophon projects these political realities into his ideas about individual friendship. This projection accounts for the peculiar traits of the treatment of philia that we find in the Conversations of Socrates. The discussion of friendship is constantly interwoven with political issues: while discussing philia, Socrates comments on στάσις (civil strife), ἔρις (contest), φθόνος (envy), προδοσία (treason), and φιλοτιμία (love of honor) (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.5.2, 2.6.24, 2.6.26, 3.9.8). The political discourse is so predominant, that the reader is tempted to wonder whether Xenophon is interested in individuals at all.

4§9 More importantly, Xenophon’s conception of and terminology for friendship are highly political. The emphasis on agency (individual x seeking for a friend) is a projection of a political image into the individual sphere: that of the leader (or a city) who seeks for alliances. Xenophon views friends as allies who should be preserved. He also includes war and enemies in his discussion of friendship, themes which clearly point to the political sphere:

– εἴτε διὰ πολέμου ὁρμᾷς αὔξεσθαι καὶ βούλει δύνασθαι τούς τε φίλους ἐλευθεροῦν καὶ τοὺς ἐχθροὺς χειροῦσθαι…

“if you set out to increase yourself through war and wish to be able to make your friends free and subdue your enemies…”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.1.28, translation Bonnette 1994


– Ἤδη δέ ποτ’ ἐσκέψω εἰ ἄρα, ὥσπερ τὸ ἀνδραποδίζεσθαι τοὺς μὲν φίλους ἄδικον εἶναι δοκεῖ, τοὺς δὲ πολεμίους δίκαιον εἶναι, οὕτω καὶ τὸ ἀχαριστεῖν πρὸς μὲν τοὺς φίλους ἄδικόν ἐστι, πρὸς δὲ τοὺς πολεμίους δίκαιον;

“Now have you ever yet examined whether, in the same way as opinion holds it to be unjust to enslave friends but just to enslave enemies, it is also unjust to be ungrateful to friends but just to be ungrateful to enemies?”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.2.2, translation Bonnette 1994


– ἔγνωκας ἀνδρὸς ἀρετὴν εἶναι νικᾶν τοὺς μὲν φίλους εὖ ποιοῦντα, τοὺς δ’ ἐχθροὺς κακῶς.

“you know that the virtue of a man consists in surpassing his friends in benefaction and his enemies in harm.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.35, my translation

It is thus not coincidental that the methods that a friend should use to acquire friends are the same as the methods that Cyrus and Agesilaus use concerning their subjects and allies: benefaction, offering of material gains.[47]

4§10 Moreover, Xenophon frequently comments on the acquisition and preservation of friendships (κτήσωνται, σῳζονται) and emphasizes the connections between hunting, conquest, and retention of one’s prey. The peculiarity of this representation becomes more evident if it is compared with Plato: the vocabulary of acquisition also appears in the latter’s work, but it is not accompanied by an obsession with retention. This idea, however, can be better explained if it is viewed as a projection of a political slogan into ideas about interpersonal relationships; Xenophon’s conception of friendship stems from a political concern, namely the preservation of empire. Leaders of fifth-century Athens, like Pericles, were preoccupied with this topic (Thucydides 2.63.2) and Xenophon also presents Cyrus the Great as having this concern about his empire (Xenophon Cyropaedia 4.1.15, 4.5.15).

4§11 Furthermore, Xenophon constantly blends in his work treatments of the particular individual and of the larger political sphere. This blending is often interpreted as an indication that he values both sets of ideas equally; yet in reality the political is privileged in his thought. It is important that poleis are often used as models for individuals rather than vice versa. A characteristic example of this tendency can be found in the first book of the Conversations of Socrates, in which the surprising idea occurs that the cities and nations should be considered as models of piety for men, because they are the most ancient and wise (!):

οὐχ ὁρᾷς ὅτι τὰ πολυχρονιώτατα καὶ σοφώτατα τῶν ἀνθρωπίνων, πόλεις καὶ ἔθνη, θεοσεβέστατά ἐστι, καὶ αἱ φρονιμώταται ἡλικίαι θεῶν ἐπιμελέσταται;

“Don’t you see that the most ancient and the wisest of human things – cities and nations – are the most pious toward the gods, and that the most sensible ages in life are the most attentive to the gods?”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.4.16, translation Bonnette 1994

4§12 The same precedence of the political can be observed in the discussion of good friends in the second book of the Conversations of Socrates. Socrates makes again the astonishing claim that not only moral men often enter into quarrels with each other, but also “moral” poleis. In this way, he amplifies morality by also attributing it to cities:[48]

Καὶ οὐ μόνον γ’, ἔφη ὁ Κριτόβουλος, οἱ ἰδιῶται τοῦτο ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλὰ καὶ πόλεις αἱ τῶν τε καλῶν μάλιστα ἐπιμελόμεναι καὶ τὰ αἰσχρὰ ἥκιστα προσιέμεναι πολλάκις πολεμικῶς ἔχουσι πρὸς ἀλλήλας.

“Yes,” said Critobulus, “and not only do private individuals do this but also the cities that are most attentive to the noble things and least admit the shameful are frequently in a state of hostility with one another.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.18, translation Bonnette 1994

4§13 In the conversation between Socrates and Critobulus about philia, there is again an intriguing shift from the individual to the political sphere. Socrates comments on the fact that Pericles and Themistocles acquired the benevolence of their cities, and then proceeds to use the relationship of Athens with the two leaders as models for interpersonal relationships:

Ἄλλας δέ τινας οἶσθα ἐπῳδάς; Οὐκ ἀλλ’ ἤκουσα μὲν ὅτι Περικλῆς πολλὰς ἐπίσταιτο, ἃς ἐπᾴδων τῇ πόλει ἐποίει αὐτὴν φιλεῖν αὑτόν. Θεμιστοκλῆς δὲ πῶς ἐποίησε τὴν πόλιν φιλεῖν αὑτόν; Μὰ Δί’ οὐκ ἐπᾴδων, ἀλλὰ περιάψας τι ἀγαθὸν αὐτῇ. Δοκεῖς μοι λέγειν, ὦ Σώκρατες, ὡς, εἰ μέλλοιμεν ἀγαθόν τινα κτήσασθαι φίλον, αὐτοὺς ἡμᾶς ἀγαθοὺς δεῖ γενέσθαι λέγειν τε καὶ πράττειν.

“Do you know other incantations?” “No, but I have heard that Pericles knew many, which he chanted to the city, thus making it love him” “What about Themistocles? How did he make the city love him?” “Not by chanting incantations, by Zeus, but by attaching some good to it.” “In my opinion, Socrates, you are saying that if we are going to acquire some good friend, we ourselves must become good at speaking and taking action.”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.13, translation Bonnette 1994

4§14 There is a debate as to whether Socrates here undermines Pericles or not.[49] The last comment by Critobulus could discard this impression, since it seems to suggest that both Pericles and Themistocles are positive models (the former of speech and the latter of action). However, Socrates does not confirm Critobulus’ comment and replies instead with a question (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.13: “Do you think that it is possible even for someone who is wicked to acquire good friends?”). In fact, Socrates seems to contrast two ways of acquiring benevolence: the Periclean one (praise) and the Themistoclean one (benefaction). The connection of Pericles with praise alludes to the Thucydidean funeral oration, the praise of democracy par excellence; by having Socrates contrasting praise with benefaction, Xenophon subtly criticizes the democratic constitution. Moreover, we can observe in this passage an elaboration of an idea that is presented in the epitaphios, according to which the Athenians should become lovers (ἐρασταί) of their city (Thucydides 2.43.1). Xenophon adapts this idea, by directing the love from the city to the leaders and by subsequently projecting this love into interpersonal relationships: the love that Pericles and Themistocles managed to inspire in their cities can serve as a model for the love that men should try to gain in friendships.

4§15 Finally, the summit of Socrates’ argumentation about friendship deserves close examination:

 ἀλλ’ ὅμως … ἡ φιλία … συνάπτει τοὺς καλούς τε κἀγαθούς. διὰ γὰρ τὴν ἀρετὴν αἱροῦνται μὲν ἄνευ πόνου τὰ μέτρια κεκτῆσθαι μᾶλλον ἢ διὰ πολέμου πάντων κυριεύειν

“Nevertheless … friendship unites those who are noble and good. Because of their virtue, they choose to possess less without toil rather than be lords of all things through war…”

Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.22–23, translation Bonnette 1994

4§16 This passage follows the conversation about people (and cities) entering into quarrels with one other in spite of their morality.[50] It is intriguing for two reasons. First, because Socrates shifts the focus of the conversation: from the ἀγαθοί to the καλοὶ κἀγαθοί. The καλοί κἀγαθοί are the noble men.[51] In Xenophon’s works Ischomachus, the protagonist of the Oeconomicus, represents the καλὸς κἀγαθός par excellence. So, the idealized friendship presented by Socrates is socially conditioned and reserved to noble men. It is thus no surprise that the discussion in the Conversations of Socrates ends with Socrates’ encouragement to Critobulus to hunt the καλοὶ κἀγαθοί. Second, the idea of acquiring moderate possessions without toil is peculiar for an author like Xenophon, who continuously valorizes toil.[52] But this inconsistency is explained if we take into consideration the fact that Xenophon thinks primarily in political terms (the concept of the conquest of everything through war clearly points to that direction). Again it seems that the root of this idea is political discourse about Athens. The Athenians of the fifth century BCE are generally presented in historical and political contexts as restless and always willing to acquire more. The following passage from Thucydides’ speech of the Corinthians at the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, regarding the character of the Athenians, is particularly telling:

καὶ ταῦτα μετὰ πόνων πάντα καὶ κινδύνων διὅλου τοῦ αἰῶνος μοχθοῦσι, καὶ ἀπολαύουσιν ἐλάχιστα τῶν ὑπαρχόντων διὰ τὸ αἰεὶ κτᾶσθαι

“And they have acquired these [things], because they continuously labor, undertaking toil and dangers. And they enjoy very little of what they have, because they continually acquire more.”

Thucydides 1.70.8

4§17 In this context πόνος is linked with imperialism. Consequently, the phrase ἄνευ πόνου in the Xenophontic description of philia can be interpreted as an adaptation of prior political discourse about fifth-century Athenians alluding to the absence of imperialism. Xenophon is not an advocate of imperialism and the idea of avoiding the conquest of everything is present in his other works as well, again in contexts relating to empires (Xenophon Cyropaedia 1.6.45; Xenophon Hellenica 6.3.16; cf. also the conclusion of the Revenus). In the Conversations of Socrates it is transferred to individuals. Xenophon probably means that, concerning individuals, noble men (who are moreover ideal friends) do not display greediness. But he expresses this idea in a markedly politicized way.

4§18 Overall, the distinctive character of Xenophon’s theory of friendship lies in the fact that it is politically informed and politically inspired. Xenophon’s ideas about friendship become more intelligible if we view them as deriving from and reflecting political issues and concerns. Contrary to Plato, who exhibits an independent interest in morality and individual virtue, Xenophon subjects individual morality to his political interests and priorities.

Conclusion: Plato, Xenophon, and the Apology for Socrates

5§1 The comparison between Plato and Xenophon on the topic of philia leaves us in something of a quandary. On the one hand, both authors raise the same issues (ὠφέλεια, αὐτάρκεια, need, morality) but with different emphases. We can reasonably assume that these topics were discussed by the historical Socrates. On the other hand, both authors also make distinctive adaptations according to their interests: the elaboration on the πρῶτον φίλον reflects Platonic priorities, while the highly politicized formulations in the treatment of philia that we find in the Conversations of Socrates are probably more Xenophontic than Socratic. One could wonder whether the divergences (even the incompatibility) that we observe between the two treatments ultimately undermine the value of the comparison. I believe that this is not the case. The crucial unifying element between the two authors is that they both aim to promote a specific image of Socrates.

5§2 Xenophon makes it abundantly evident that the Conversations of Socrates are intended to offer a defence of Socrates, and he clearly inscribes the treatment of philia into this perspective of the work. Plato, on the contrary, is subtler: he does not reveal an apologetic purpose in the Lysis, but the setting of the dialog is telling: two young men are involved and Socrates discusses with them not only philia, but also thornier topics, such as the relationship between parents and children. Furthermore, although Socrates begins his conversation about philia, by considering the two young men as models, he progressively proves himself to be a truly attractive friend. The end of the dialog is also revealing: the conversation is abruptly interrupted by the intrusion of the παιδαγωγοί who force the young men to go home, thus spoiling their companionship with Socrates. These elements suggest that the background of the Lysis is the charge against Socrates concerning the corruption of the youth. It thus becomes clear that the two authors are responding to the same event (the condemnation of Socrates). The issue which is raised then is to what extent their responses are successful.

5§3 Despite his apologetic zeal, Xenophon does not really succeed in defending Socrates. It is noteworthy that he establishes a connection between two charges against Socrates: his opinions about the usefulness of friends and the corruption of the youth (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.2.52). Nevertheless, he focuses on the theme of usefulness and does not really address the issue of corruption. The detail devoted to the topic of usefulness of friends suggests that, for Xenophon, the concept of usefulness is an overarching theme which suffices to refute every charge: if Socrates benefited everybody and also encouraged his companions to be useful to the people of their entourage, he could not have been detrimental to the young. However, this image is loosely inferred from Xenophon’s treatment and is not really confirmed by his narrative, which, on the contrary, often discloses the subversiveness of certain Socratic views. For instance, when Socrates discusses with Critobulus the topic of the value of friends (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.5), he admits that if somebody is not useful to his friends, he deserves to be abandoned by them. Of course, usefulness is conceived on moral grounds, but the lack of reciprocity implied in the idea that somebody chooses his friends on the grounds of usefulness (even moral usefulness) is somewhat disturbing. Finally, the intrusion of Xenophontic themes into the Socratic conversations of the Conversations of Socrates also contributes little to the apology: the constant mixing of moral discussions with political preoccupations shows Socrates to be a peculiar quasi-political figure and eventually distracts the reader from the main purpose of the work.[53]

5§4 Plato, for his part, does a much better job. Gabriel Danzig recently commented on the success of Plato’s apologetics. According to his interpretation of the Lysis, more specifically, the progressive move of the discussion towards the πρῶτον φίλον suggests that Socrates’ interests were purely philosophical and that, consequently, he could have never corrupted the youth.[54] But Plato may be subtler than that. In fact the Lysis is characterized by a remarkable correspondence between narrative setting and theoretical analysis: the dialog begins with Socrates’ astonishing claim that he does not have friends and that he wants to learn from the paradigm of Lysis and Menexenus; it ends with Socrates’ statement that he is incapable of deciphering the meaning of friendship. In this way the practical aporia concerning the acquisition of friends matches the theoretical one. However, both aporiae are fake. Socrates’ statement about not having friends is another facet of his ironical ignorance. It is also noteworthy that he presents himself as φιλέταιρος (Plato Lysis 211e), which is an interesting understatement (especially if contrasted with the Xenophontic adjective ἐρωτικός). The theoretical aporia of the dialog is not genuine either: the analysis here has shown that Socrates’s theoretical elaborations contain in reality many valid theses about friendship which he refutes with rather artificial arguments. If we accept that irony (in the sense of false aporia) is the unifying element between the two levels of the dialog (the plot and the theory), a possible solution to the enigma of the Lysis emerges: it seems that Plato’s aim was to enhance our uncertainty about Socrates’ personality and ultimately to conceal the fact that Socrates could indeed be a seducer of the youth.

5§5 To sum up, the comparison of philia in Plato and Xenophon highlights their different interests and priorities, but also reveals a common background: the condemnation of Socrates largely defines the treatment that each author gives to this topic. Xenophon makes the usefulness of friends the center of his apology for Socrates, while Plato’s Lysis can be viewed as a response to the accusation about the corruption of the youth. However, Xenophon fails to achieve what he openly announces, that is to offer a compelling defence of Socrates. Plato, on the contrary, succeeds in accomplishing what he does not explicitly state, that is offering a subtle apology for Socrates: he does not defend Socrates by assuming (or trying to persuade us) that he was not provocative and subversive. He prefers instead, through Socratic irony and self-undermining, to leave us wondering about whether Socrates could really be so provocative and subversive. In the end, both authors’ treatments of philia exemplify the challenges and ambiguities of being friends with Socrates. 


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*This paper is part of a research I conducted as a fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies during the spring semester of 2014. A previous version of it was presented at the CHS Research Symposium (April, 25–26, 2014). I would like to thank the senior fellows (especially Angelos Chaniotis and Mark Schiefsky) and the audience of the Symposium for useful comments. I am also grateful to Sarah Brown Ferrario for stylistic suggestions and other pertinent observations, which helped me further clarify my thesis. Finally, I thank Ross Jaffe, for the copy-editing of my paper. Unless otherwise stated, translations in this paper are mine.

[1] For a survey of the “rise and fall of the Socratic problem,” see Dorion 2009.

[2] Regrettably, this is not a tendency only of the nineteenth century. For instance Gigon’s continuous (and strained) efforts to spot possible models from which Xenophon might have drawn inspiration (Gigon 1953, 1956) represent another aspect of underestimation of this author.

[3] For the rehabilitation of Xenophon, see Dorion 2000:XCIX–CXVIII.

[4] See, for instance, Pontier 2006, for a systematic comparison between Plato and Xenophon on the topic of order. Cf. also Yamagata 2012, who, however, does not take into account basic scholarship in Xenophon.

[5] Concerning the Lysis, for instance, Penner and Rowe 2005, compare it with Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus, as well as with Aristotle, but not with Xenophon. The same impression is conveyed by the sub-title of Nichols 2009 (Socrates on Friendship and Community. Reflections on Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus and the Lysis), whose book contains only one passing reference to Xenophon. Stickler 2010 does not mention Xenophon either. Bordt 1998 takes Xenophon into account, although without undertaking a systematic comparison with Plato. For the underestimation of Xenophon by Platonists, see also Morrison 1987.

[6] I have presented some aspects of this mixing of philosophical and political discourse in Tamiolaki 2010:370–394, and 2013.

[7] Despite the voluminous work of Giannantoni 1990, the image of Socrates would have been more complete if the works of his other disciples had not been preserved in fragments. See also Döring 2009.

[8] Given that the word φιλία covers a wide range of themes that cannot be captured in the translation “friendship,” in the course of my paper I will use the transliterated term philia.

[9] See Konstan 1997:24–92; cf. Bordt 1998:50–60.

[10] For friendship in Aristotle, see Stern-Gillet 1995, Pangle 2003; for Cicero, see Konstan 1997:122–128; for the Stoics, Hurka 2013; for the Epicureans, Armstrong 2011.

[11] For a detailed discussion of the chronology of Lysis, see Bordt 1998:96–106, who concludes that it belongs to the early but not first dialogs of Plato and places its writing after 394 BCE.

[12] There is also another character, Ctesippus, but his role is marginal in the discussion of friendship.

[13] The nature of the erastês/erômenos relationship in ancient Greece is uncertain. See Dover 1978:52–53, who comments on the fact that we cannot be certain about bodily contact between the erastês and erômenos.

[14] For discussions of the second book, see Gray 1998:129–137; Bevilacqua 2010: ad loc.; Dorion 2011: ad loc. and Danzig forthcoming.

[15] Τhe bibliography on Socrates’ conversation with Theodote is ample. See Delatte 1933:148–161, Goldhill 1998, Narcy 2004 and for a recent interpretation, Chernyakhovskaya 2014:177–194.

[16] The majority of these passages are found in Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6, which will be the main focus of my paper. The question, however, of whether this chapter depends on or responds to the other is rather outdated. See Dorion 2011:193: “il nous paraît exclu que le chapitre 6 [des Mémorables] dépende directement de Lysis.” See also below, for the fundamental divergences between the two treatments.

[17] Dorion 2013b:207–208: Plato insists less on utility and more on the knowledge of good (ἐπιστήμη τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ), whereas Xenophon identifies knowledge with self-mastery (ἐγκράτεια) and privileges utility by defining even the good in relation to it.

[18] Dorion 2011, Annexe 2:415.

[19] Gonzales 1995:70, observes that “aporia is rooted in the very nature of friendship”; cf. also Gonzales 2000:386: “the φίλος concept during the classical period is characterized by unresolved tensions and contradictions”; Stickler 2010 sides with those who believe that the Lysis is primarily about erôs. Glidden 1980 analyzes the terminology of philos in the Lysis from a linguistic and philosophical perspective.

[20] For an analysis of the dialog from the perspective of the emotions, see Schultz 2013:17–37, who analyzes how Socrates exploits the emotional responses and dispositions of his interlocutors. It is interesting, however, that the theory of friendship as such is not developed from the perspective of the emotions either in Plato or in Xenophon.

[21] Xenophon also discusses the relationship between mother and son, but he highlights, on the contrary, the distinctive nature of maternal love (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.2.13).

[22] See Sedley 1989, for further arguments on this topic. Perhaps it is also relevant that in Xenophon’s Conversations of Socrates philia is not included in the list of themes Socrates wanted to define: αὐτὸς δὲ περὶ τῶν ἀνθρωπείων ἀεὶ διελέγετο σκοπῶν τί εὐσεβές, τί ἀσεβές, τί καλόν, τί αἰσχρόν, τί δίκαιον, τί ἄδικον, τί σωφροσύνη, τί μανία, τί ἀνδρεία, τί δειλία, τί πόλις, τί πολιτικός, τί ἀρχὴ ἀνθρώπων, τί ἀρχικὸς ἀνθρώπων… (Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 1.1.16).

[23] Cf. Danzig 2010:221, who notes that “the ambiguity of the term φίλος means that every answer will be refuted.” I insist on the fact that Plato is aware of this ambiguity and elaborates on it.

[24] It should be noted, however, that reciprocity plays a cardinal role in the theory of friendship, which will be later analyzed by Socrates. But in this case it is related to the concept of οἰκεῖον (akin): we are friends when we are akin to each other. See Gonzales 2000, Joosse 2010.

[25] Participle: φιλοῦσαν, Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.2.13, referring to the love of the mother; verb φιλεῖν: Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.13, referring to the love of the city for good leaders; participle φιλῶν, verb ἀντιφιλεῖσθαι: Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.28, referring to Socrates describing his activity. Moreover, the verb φιλέω has also the meaning of “kiss” in his work, Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 2.6.33: participle φιλήσοντος and the hapax καταφιλήσοντος. In this paper I confine my analysis to the Conversations of Socrates. Interestingly, the verb φιλέω is also used in Xenophon to denote love for one’s leader (Xenophon Cyropaedia 1.6.24, 8.1.47, Xenophon Anabasis 1.9.28). See also below, for the political connotations of friendship in Xenophon.

[26] See an excellent discussion in Van Berkel 2010. While I agree with her that the verb χρῆσθαι is characterized by “a semantic pluri-formity” (261), I would not subscribe to her conclusion that Socrates redefines χρήματα so as to cover anything beneficial (262). My impression is that we should be alert to the distinction between χρήματα and ὠφέλεια and that the latter has a greater value in Xenophon. Dorion 2013b analyzes the concept of ὠφέλεια from an epistemological/philosophical perspective. Cf. also Bevilacqua 2010:157–171; for the utilitarian perspective in Xenophon, and some qualifications offered by Chernyakhovskaya 2014:154–166.

[27] Cf. also Xenophon Conversations of Socrates 4.6.8–9, a conversation in which τὸ ἀγαθὸν is identified with τὸ ὠφέλιμον. This passage does not belong to the treatment of friendship, but can illuminate it.

[28] English translations render both words as “useful,” French as “utile,” German as “nützlich,” Italian as “utile.” Concerning the word χρηστός, Dorion chooses the translation “serviable” (French), but I think that “morally good” would be more appropriate: χρηστός φίλος is used as a synonym of ἀγαθός φίλος, contrasted with πονηρός φίλος.

[29] Cf. Dorion 2011:196: “En énumérant les principales qualités de l’ami véritable, Socrate brosse en fait son propre portrait.”

[30] For a recent discussion of paidikos erôs, see Chernyakhovskaya 2014:166–177, who challenges the view that Xenophon was hostile to homosexual love.

[31] The same image is conveyed by the presentation of Socrates as μαστροπός (Xenophon Symposium 4.56–64).

[32] For Xenophon’s treatise On Hunting, see L’Allier 2008 and 2012.

[33] See Dorion 2011:200–201, for incantation in Plato as a metaphor for Socratic dialectic. Cf. also below, for the political connotations of this idea in Xenophon.

[34] During the conversation with Theodote Socrates states again that he teaches his students incantations and love charms (Xenophon Conversation of Socrates 3.11.16), but these statements are part of his effort to ingratiate himself with her.

[35] For the main differences between the two Socrateses, see Dorion 2013a.

[36] I take this claim to be ironical, but not all commentators agree on this point. See also below, the section on the false aporia in the Lysis.

[37] See Gonzales 2000.

[38] Danzig forthcoming.

[39] Interestingly, αὐτάρκεια has a metaphysical dimension in the Conversations of Socrates as well and is described as a divine quality (Xenophon 1.6.10), but this dimension is not put forth in the treatment of friendship. See Dorion 2000: ad loc.

[40] Penne and Rowe 2005:300–312.

[41] Vlastos 1973.

[42] Gonzales 1995, for instance, argues that at the end of the dialog (Plato Lysis 222c4–8), what Socrates does not say but in reality resolves the aporia is that “the good is akin or belongs to that which is neither good nor bad.” Wolfsdorf 2007:249–250, also maintains that the resolution of the aporia can be found in the last conversation of Socrates with the two adolescents. In his opinion, if the two adolescents had supported the distinction between the like and the belonging, that Socrates proposes, a consistent theory of friendship would have emerged. He further makes the attractive suggestion that Plato does not present the two young men support this distinction, because he is caught in a tension between conventional ideas (endorsed by the Athenian society) and novel ones that he possibly wishes to introduce.

[43] Danzig 2010:201–237; Schultz 2013:17–37.

[44] Azoulay 2004:281–326.

[45] Danzig forthcoming.

[46] Gray 2011:291–329. Gray criticizes the approach of Azoulay on the grounds that it represents a dark reading of Xenophon which emphasizes exploitation in friendship. However, Azoulay does not discuss exploitation per se, but instead analyzes an undeniable (historical and linguistic) reality in the work of Xenophon, i.e. unequal relationships.

[47] Gray 2011:7–24, interprets these features in Xenophon’s leaders as an application of a Socratic theory of leadership, but the process is rather the reverse: it is Xenophon who “contaminates” his Socratic discourse with (his own) political preoccupations.

[48] It is difficult, though, to know which cities Xenophon had in mind: Athens and Sparta? Or rather Sparta and its allies?

[49] See a detailed discussion in Dorion 2011:203–208, who links incantations with Pericles’ capacities to persuade his fellow-citizens.

[50] The rest of the argumentation, focusing on how men should manage their emotions in a political context, is also highly interesting but I omit it, since it is not directly linked to the present investigation.

[51] For the aristocratic connotations of kalokagathia, see Bourriot 1995. Cf. Bevilacqua 2010:187–196, 448n42, 454n66.

[52] For the valorization of toil in Xenophon, see Johnstone 1994. Dorion 2011:214, notes the paradox, but gives a philosophical explanation: “peut-être n’y a-t-il pas de contradiction : l’acquisition de la vertu nécessite l’effort, mais la vertu, une fois acquise, permet d’obtenir des biens sans effort.”

[53] For Socrates as a virtuous though virtual leader, see Tamiolaki 2012:580–586.

[54] Danzig 2010:201–237.

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