The scene is a banquet at the house of Callias who promises to Socrates and his pals that he will show himself worthy of hanging out with by engaging in dialog after the feast. It is a mixture of mingled raillery and serious discussion.
Socrates, after watching the deft and difficult maneuvers of the dancing girl keeping 12 hoops whirling in the air, “This girl’s feat, gentlemen, is only one of the many proofs that woman’s nature is really not a whit inferior to man’s, except in its lack of judgement and physical strength.”
The men then jab at Socrates, saying if that’s the case why not educate his wife, Xanthippe, “the hardest to get along with of all women there are… or all that ever were or ever will be.” Socrates takes this in stride, replying “Because I observe that men who wish to become expert horsemen do not get the most docile horses but rather those that are high-mettled, believing that if they can manage this kind, they will easily handle any other. My course is similar. Mankind at large is what I wish to deal and associate with; and so I have got her, well assured that if I can endure her, I shall have no difficulty in my relations with all the rest of human kind.”
Phillip the buffoon mimics the dancing and flails about, making everyone laugh and get thirsty. Socrates’s wisdom on imbibing:
“Well, gentlemen, so far as drinking is concerned, you have my hearty approval; for wine does of a truth ‘moisten the soul’ and lull our griefs to sleep just as the mandragora does with men, at the same time awakening kindly feelings as oil quickens a flame. However, I suspect that men’s bodies fare the same as those of plants that grow in the ground. When God gives the plants water in floods to drink, they cannot stand up straight or let the breezes blow through them; but when they drink only as much as they enjoy, they grow up very straight and tall and come to full and abundant fruitage. So it is with us. If we pour ourselves immense draughts, it will be no long time before our bodies and our minds reel, and we shall not be able even to draw breath, much less to speak sensibly; but if the servants frequently ‘besprinkle’ us with small cups, we shall not be driven on by the wine to a state of intoxication, but instead shall be brought by its gentle persuasion to a more sportive mood.”
The idea goes around that everyone must talk about what they are proud of in themselves. Callias is first – he has the power to make men better. Niceratus – has memorized all of Homer and can recite the Iliad and Odyssey by heart. Critobulus – takes greatest pride in beauty. Antisthenes – greatest pride in his wealth (yet he does not have a penny or any land). Charmides – “my pride, on the contrary is in my poverty.” (Socrates replies, “A charming thing! It seldom causes envy or is a bone of contention; and it is kept safe without the necessity of a guard, and grows sturdier by neglect!”). Socrates – proud of the trade of procurer (everyone laughs; “procurer” = pimp?) Lycon – pride in his son Autolycus, Autolycus – although he has won a prize at the Panatheniac games is not most proud of that, but of his father. Hermogenes – the goodness and power of his friends.
Then everyone goes around and defends their answers. Niceratus calls up lines from The Iliad, describing the drink Hecamede mixes for the men in Nestor’s cup: “she set a basket, braided in bronze with onions in it, a relish for the drink” (<-- this from the Fagles translation of the Iliad). Niceratus' recollection is "For Homer says somewhere: 'An onion, too, a relish for the drink.' Now if some one will bring an onion, you will receive this benefit without delay; for you will get more pleasure out of your drinking." Critobulus shows through his devotion to Cleinias' beauty how powerful it can be, how he'd do anything for Cleinias. "Madness is in those people who do not elect the handsome men as generals; I certainly would go through fire for Cleinias." He pokes fun at Socrates' looks, who rolls with the punches ("You sound like you think yourself handsomer than me.") He then admits to having a clear image of Cleinias in his heart that would enable him to paint a realistic picture if he was a painter. Socrates then guffaws, "Why do you annoy me then and keep taking me about to places where you can see him in person if you possess so faithful an image of him?" Charmides explains why poverty makes him proud:
So much, at least, every one admits, that assurance is preferable to fear, freedom to slavery, being the recipient of attention to being the giver of it, the confidence of one’s country to its distrust. Now, as for my situation in our commonwealth, when I was rich, I was, to begin with, in dread of some one’s digging through the wall of my house and not only getting my money but also doing me a mischief personally; in the next place, I knuckled down to the blackmailers, knowing well enough that my abilities lay more in the direction of suffering injury than in inflicting it on them . Then, too, I was for ever being ordered by the government to undergo some expenditure or other, and I never had the opportunity for foreign travel. Now, however, since I am stripped of my property over the border and get no income from the property in Attica, and my household effects have been sold, I stretch out and enjoy a sound sleep, I have gained the confidence of the state, I am no longer subjected to threats but do the threatening now myself; and I have the free man’s privilege of going abroad or staying here at home as I please. People now actually rise from their seats in deference to me, and rich men obsequiously give me the right of way on the street. Now I am like a despot; then I was clearly a slave. Then I paid revenue to the body politic; now I live on the tribute that the state pays to me.
After everyone defends their arguments, Socrates expounds lengthily about the nature of love – body vs. spirit love – and the nobility/staying power of each. As the party breaks up, Lycon tells Socrates that he seems to have a truly noble character; interestingly, Lycon will be one of Socrates’ prosecutors at his trial for corruption of youth/atheism/non-Athenian gods.
Xenophon also wrote a quick piece on Socrates’ defense to the jury which doesn’t go into the same depth about the trial as Plato’s, but emphasizes Socrates’ decision to die in order to avoid the plagues of old age.