Chapter 2

The Wealth of Critobulus

by Xenophon Icon

I myself have sufficient continence and self-command in those respects. So that if you will only advise me on what I am to do to improve my estate, I flatter myself I shall not be hindered by those despotic dames, as you call them.

Come, do not hesitate; only tender me what good advice you can, and trust me I will follow it.

But perhaps, Socrates, you have already passed sentence on us—we are rich enough already, and not in need of any further wealth?

Socrates Socrates= I am rich enough already. But you, Critobulus, are poor, and at times I feel a downright compassion for you in my soul.
Critobulus (Laughing) How much do you suppose our respective properties would fetch in the market?
Socrates If I could find a good purchaser, I suppose all of my effects, including my house, might be worth five minae [20 guineas]. Yours, I am certain, would be less than 100 times that sum.
Critobulus With your estimate, you say that you have no need of further wealth, but I am to be pitied for my poverty?

Yes, my property is enough to meet my wants.

Whereas you, would be barely well off if what you have were multiplied by 3, considering the parade you are fenced with and the reputation that you must live up to.

You must:

  • offer many costly sacrifices – without them, neither gods nor men would tolerate you.
  • welcome numerous foreigners as guests and to entertain them handsomely.
  • feast your fellow-citizens and ply them with all sorts of kindness, or else be cut adrift from your supporters.

You are required to give large contributions, such as:

  • the rearing of studs,
  • (3) the training of choruses,
  • the superintendence of gymnastic schools, or consular duties,
  • (4) being the patron of resident aliens, etc.

During war, you must pay pay to:

  • carry on the triearchy
  • ship money and war taxes so onerous.

I you make mistakes in these, the good citizens of Athens will treat you in the same way as if they caught you stealing their own property.

But worse of all, I see you fondling the notion that you are rich. Without a thought or care how to increase your revenue, your fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, (7) as if you had some special license to amuse yourself.

That is why I pity you. I worry about some irremediable mischief that might happen where you might find yourself in desperate straits.

If I ever needed anything, I am sure to have friends who would assist me.

  • They would make some trifling contribution, but to me would be a deluge of a flood of plenty to my humble living. But your friends are far better off than yourself. Yet they look to you for assistance.
Critobulus It is indeed high time that you should be my patronus, or I shall become truthfully very pitiable.

Just now, when I said that I was rich, you laughed at me as if I had no idea what riches were. You were not happy till you had cross-examined me and forced me to confess that I do not possess 1% of what you have.

Now you are imploring me to:

  • be your patron and
  • save you from becoming a pauper.
Critobulus Yes, for I see that you are skilled in one lucrative operation at all events—the art of creating a surplus.

I hope that a man who can make so much out of so little will not have the slightest difficulty in creating an ample surplus out of an abundance.

If a man did not know how to handle horses, then horses were not wealth to him. Likewise, land, sheep, money, or anything else would not be wealth if he did not know how to use them.

Yet these are the very sources of revenue from which incomes are derived. How do you expect me to know the use of any of them if I never had a single one of them ever?

Critobulus Yes, but we agreed that a science of economy exists no matter how little a man may be blessed with wealth himself. So what hinders you from being its professor?

The same thing that hinders a man from knowing how to play the flute if he had never had a flute or never could borrow one. This is my case with regard to economy.

I had never possessed wealth, which is the instrument of the science of economy. Nor has anyone let me manage his wealth.

You, in fact, are the first person to make so generous an offer.

A learner of the harp is apt to break and spoil the instrument. So if I learn the art of economy on your estate, I shall ruin it outright.

Critobulus (retorting) You are trying to escape an irksome task. You would rather not stretch out your finger to help me bear my necessary burdens more easily.

No, I am not trying to escape.

If you had come to me for water, and I had none in my house, you would not blame me for sending you where you might get it.

If you desired to be taught music by me, and I pointed you to a far more skilful teacher than myself. There are others cleverer than myself about those matters. I have made it long my study to discover who among our fellow-citizens are the greatest adepts in the various branches of knowledge.

I had been amazed at how a set of people are engaged in identical operations. Half of them are in absolute poverty. The other half roll in wealth. I thought that the history of the matter was worth investigation. I found that it all happened very naturally.

Those who carried on their affairs in a haphazard manner I saw were punished by their losses. Those who kept their wits upon the stretch and paid attention I soon perceived to be rewarded by the greater ease and profit of their undertakings. You should learn from them and then you will become as clever a man of business as one might hope to see.


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