This paper uses a problematic passage at Phaedo 69 a – c as a case study to explore the advantages we can gain by reading Plato in his cultural context. Socrates argues that the common conception of courage is strange: people fear death, but endure it because they are afraid of greater evils. They are thus brave through fear. He proposes that we should not exchange greater pleasures, pains, and fears for lesser, like coins, but that there is the only correct coin, for which we must exchange all these things: wisdom ( phronēsis ). Commentators have been puzzled by the precise nature of the exchange envisaged here, sometimes labelling the coinage metaphor as inept, sometimes describing this stretch of argument as “religious” and thus not to be taken seriously. The body of the paper looks at (1) the connection between money and somatic materialism, (2) the incommensurability in Plato of financial and ethical orders, (3) financial metaphors outside Plato that connect coinage with ethics, (4) intrinsic and use values in ancient coinage, and (5) Athenian laws on coinage, weights, and measures that reflect anxiety about debased coins in the fifth and early fourth centuries. It sees the Phaedo passage as the product of a sociopolitical climate which facilitated the consideration of coinage as an embodiment of a value system and which connected counterfeit or debased currency with debased ethical types. Athenians in the early fourth century were much concerned with issues of commensurability between different currencies and with problems of debasement and counterfeiting; understanding this makes Socrates’ use of coinage metaphors less puzzling. Both the metaphor of coinage and the other metaphors in this passage of the Phaedo (painting and initiation) engage with ideas of purity, genuineness, and deception. Taken as a group, these metaphors cover a large area of contemporary popular culture and are used to illustrate a disjunction between popular and philosophical ways of looking at value.