CHARMIDES, or TEMPERANCE by Plato, Part 03
Charmides blushed, and the blush heightened his beauty, for modesty is becoming in youth; he then said very ingenuously, that he really could not at once answer, either yes, or no, to the question which I had asked: For, said he, if I affirm that I am not temperate, that would be a strange thing for me to say of myself, and also I should give the lie to Critias, and many others who think as he tells you, that I am temperate: but, on the other hand, if I say that I am, I shall have to praise myself, which would be ill manners; and therefore I do not know how to answer you.
I said to him: That is a natural reply, Charmides, and I think that you and I ought together to enquire whether you have this quality about which I am asking or not; and then you will not be compelled to say what you do not like; neither shall I be a rash practitioner of medicine: therefore, if you please, I will share the enquiry with you, but I will not press you if you would rather not.
There is nothing which I should like better, he said; and as far as I am concerned you may proceed in the way which you think best.
I think, I said, that I had better begin by asking you a question; for if temperance abides in you, you must have an opinion about her; she must give some intimation of her nature and qualities, which may enable you to form a notion of her. Is not that true?
Yes, he said, that I think is true.
You know your native language, I said, and therefore you must be able to tell what you feel about this.
Certainly, he said.
In order, then, that I may form a conjecture whether you have temperance abiding in you or not, tell me, I said, what, in your opinion, is Temperance?
At first he hesitated, and was very unwilling to answer: then he said that he thought temperance was doing things orderly and quietly, such things for example as walking in the streets, and talking, or anything else of that nature. In a word, he said, I should answer that, in my opinion, temperance is quietness.
Are you right, Charmides? I said. No doubt some would affirm that the quiet are the temperate; but let us see whether these words have any meaning; and first tell me whether you would not acknowledge temperance to be of the class of the noble and good?
But which is best when you are at the writing-master's, to write the same letters quickly or quietly?
And to read quickly or slowly?
And in playing the lyre, or wrestling, quickness or sharpness are far better than quietness and slowness?
And the same holds in boxing and in the pancratium?
And in leaping and running and in bodily exercises generally, quickness and agility are good; slowness, and inactivity, and quietness, are bad?
That is evident.
Then, I said, in all bodily actions, not quietness, but the greatest agility and quickness, is noblest and best?
And is temperance a good?
Then, in reference to the body, not quietness, but quickness will be the higher degree of temperance, if temperance is a good?
True, he said.
And which, I said, is better-facility in learning, or difficulty in learning?
Yes, I said; and facility in learning is learning quickly, and difficulty in learning is learning quietly and slowly?
And is it not better to teach another quickly and energetically, rather than quietly and slowly?
And which is better, to call to mind, and to remember, quickly and readily, or quietly and slowly?
And is not shrewdness a quickness or cleverness of the soul, and not a quietness?
And is it not best to understand what is said, whether at the writing-master's or the music-master's, or anywhere else, not as quietly as possible, but as quickly as possible?
And in the searchings or deliberations of the soul, not the quietest, as I imagine, and he who with difficulty deliberates and discovers, is thought worthy of praise, but he who does so most easily and quickly?
Quite true, he said.
And in all that concerns either body or soul, swiftness and activity are clearly better than slowness and quietness?
Clearly they are.
Then temperance is not quietness, nor is the temperate life quiet,-certainly not upon this view; for the life which is temperate is supposed to be the good. And of two things, one is true, either never, or very seldom, do the quiet actions in life appear to be better than the quick and energetic ones; or supposing that of the nobler actions, there are as many quiet, as quick and vehement: still, even if we grant this, temperance will not be acting quietly any more than acting quickly and energetically, either in walking or talking or in anything else; nor will the quiet life be more temperate than the unquiet, seeing that temperance is admitted by us to be a good and noble thing, and the quick have been shown to be as good as the quiet.