You all know honest Socrates Who always spoke the truth They owed him thanks for that, you'd think But what happened? Why, they put hemlock in his drink And swore that he misled the youth. How honest was this Socrates! Yet long before the day was out The consequence was clear, alas: His honesty had brought him to this pass. A man is better off without
This excerpt is from "The Song of the Great Souls of the Earth," a song that delivers another of Brecht's thematic pronouncements—that during war, virtues become fatal to those who possess them. This song tells of four great figures, Solomon, Julius Caesar, Socrates, and Saint Martin, who meet their dark fates due to their respective virtues, wisdom, bravery, honesty, and kindness. Thus, a "man is better off without." This refrain is ironic as the Cook sings the song for food. In other words, a man might do without virtues but not bread. Indeed, for the Cook, virtues are to be bartered for food, "try honesty, that should be worth a dinner" he cries.
This song is also an allegory for Mother Courage and her children. Eilif is Caesar; Swiss Cheese is Socrates; and Kattrin is Saint Martin. Similarly, Courage's wisdom only brings about her ruin. Note the dissonances in this apparently transparent allegory. Swiss Cheese, for example, is not that similar to Socrates. Here Brecht exploits the apparently arbitrary relations between allegory's terms. In this case, the gap lies between the song and the characters. This manifest gap would hopefully impel the spectator to become aware of the structures that make these figurative relations possible.