Why do you say, inquired Cebes, that a man ought not to take his own life, but that the philosopher will be ready to follow the dying?
Socrates replied: And have you, Cebes and Simmias, who are acquainted with Philolaus, never heard him speak of this?
I never understood him, Socrates.
My words, too, are only an echo; but I am very willing to say what I have heard: and indeed, as I am going to another place, I ought to be thinking and talking of the nature of the pilgrimage which I am about to make. What can I do better in the interval between this and the setting of the sun?
Then tell me, Socrates, why is suicide held not to be right? as I have certainly heard Philolaus affirm when he was staying with us at Thebes: and there are others who say the same, although none of them has ever made me understand him.
But do your best, replied Socrates, and the day may come when you will understand. I suppose that you wonder why, as most things which are evil may be accidentally good, this is to be the only exception (for may not death, too, be better than life in some cases?), and why, when a man is better dead, he is not permitted to be his own benefactor, but must wait for the hand of another.
By Jupiter! yes, indeed, said Cebes, laughing, and speaking in his native Doric.
I admit the appearance of inconsistency, replied Socrates, but there may not be any real inconsistency after all in this. There is a doctrine uttered in secret that man is a prisoner who has no right to open the door of his prison and run away; this is a great mystery which I do not quite understand. Yet I, too, believe that the gods are our guardians, and that we are a possession of theirs. Do you not agree?
Yes, I agree to that, said Cebes.
And if one of your own possessions, an ox or an ass, for example took the liberty of putting himself out of the way when you had given no intimation of your wish that he should die, would you not be angry with him, and would you not punish him if you could?
Certainly, replied Cebes.
Then there may be reason in saying that a man should wait, and not take his own life until God summons him, as he is now summoning me.