Thursday, March 6, 2014

Socrates: "let us seek to gain knowledge from above, by divination, for the Gods grant signs ....."

"No one who wishes to manage a house or city with success: no one aspiring to guide the helm of state aright, can afford to dispense with aid from above. Doubtless, skill in carpentering, building, smithying, farming, of the art of governing men, together with the theory of these processes, and the sciences of arithmetic, economy, strategy, are affairs of study, and within the grasp of human intelligence. Yet there is a side even of these, and that not the least important, which the Gods reserve to themselves, the bearing of which is hidden from mortal vision. Thus, let a man sow a field or plant a farm never so well, yet he cannot foretell who will gather in the fruits: another may build him a house of fairest proportion, yet he knows not who will inhabit it. Neither can a general foresee whether it will profit him to conduct a campaign, nor a politician be certain whether his leadership will turn to evil or good. Nor can the man who weds a fair wife, looking forward to joy, know whether through her he shall not reap sorrow. Neither can he who has built up a powerful connection in the state know whether he shall not by means of it be cast out of his city. To suppose that all these matters lay within the scope of human judgment, to the exclusion of the preternatural, is preternatural folly. Nor is it less extravagant to go and consult the will of Heaven on any questions which it is given to us to decide by dint of learning. As though a man should inquire, 'Am I to choose an expert driver as my coachman, or one who has never handled the reins?' 'Shall I appoint a mariner to be skipper of my vessel, or a landsman?' And so with respect to all we may know by numbering, weighing, and measuring. To seek advice from Heaven on such points is a sort of profanity. Our duty is plain: where we are permitted to work through our natural faculties, there let us by all means apply them. But in things which are hidden, let us seek to gain knowledge from above, by divination; for the Gods grant signs to those to whom they will be gracious."

Socrates (from Xenophon's Memorabilia, Book 1: link)