Phocion

Here was a statesman whose stature measures to that of Solon, Themistocles, Lycurgus among others who was sentenced to death by his countrymen because he was too good for them! Plutarch writes

Phocion and he may be well compared together, not for any mere general resemblances, as though we should say both were good men and great statesmen. For, assuredly, there is difference enough among virtues of the same denomination, as between the bravery of Alcibiades and that of Epaminondas, the prudence of Themistocles and that of Aristides, the justice of Numa and that of Agesilaus. But these men’s virtue, even looking to the most minute points of difference, bear the same colour, stamp, and character impressed upon them, so as not to be distinguishable. The mixture is still made in the same exact proportions whether we look at the combination to be found in them, both of lenity on the one hand, with austerity on the other; their boldness upon some occasions, and caution on others; their extreme solicitude for the public, and perfect neglect of themselves; their fixed and immovable bent to all virtuous and honest actions, accompanied with an extreme tenderness and scrupulosity as to doing anything which might appear mean or unworthy; so that we should need a very nice and subtle logic of discrimination to detect and establish the distinctions between them.

A man moderate in his temperament, cool-headed and just. And a good teacher of discipline. Plutarch tells many examples of his justice and temper such as once when he had to take the Greeks to war and one young soldier feeling so brave left his rank and shortly after seeing the enemy developed cold feet, he reproached him thus

Young man, are you not ashamed twice in one day to desert your station; first than on which I placed you and second the one that on which you placed yourself.

On another occasion, one of his friends warns him that by running counter to the people they would kill him, he says

that will be unjust of them if I give them honest advice, if not, it will be just of them.

His wife says in response to a court jester

for my part, all my ornament is my husband Phocion, now for the twentieth year in office as general at Athens.

There are several more examples of instances of his justice, vision, temper and good sense in Plutarch’s lives. The world would be a better place if were ruled by such statesmen.

Phocion

Consider

These words of Plutarch.

[..]It may be possible enough, that statues may seem to sweat, and to run with tears, and to stand with certain dewy drops of a sanguine color; for timber and stones are frequently known to contract a kind of scurf and rottenness, productive of moisture; and various tints may form on the surfaces, both from within and from the action of the air outside; and by these signs it is not absurd to imagine that the deity may forewarn us.  It may happen, also, that images and statues may sometimes make a noise not unlike that of a moan or groan, through a rupture or violent internal separation of the parts; but that an articulate voice, and such express words, and language so clear and exact and elaborate, should proceed from inanimate things, is, in my judgment, a thing utterly out of possibility.  For it was never known that either the soul of man, or the deity himself, uttered vocal sounds and language, alone, without an organized body and members fitted for speech.  But where history seems in a manner to force our assent by the concurrence of numerous and credible witnesses, we are to conclude that an impression distinct from sensation affects the imaginative part of our nature, and then carries away the judgment, so as to believe it to be a sensation:  just as in sleep we fancy we see and hear, without really doing either.  Persons, however, whose strong feelings of reverence to the deity, and tenderness for religion, will not allow them to deny or invalidate anything of this kind, have certainly a strong argument for their faith, in the wonderful and transcendent character of the divine power; which admits no manner of comparison with ours, either in its nature or its action, the modes or the strength of its operations.  It is no contradiction to reason that it should do things that we cannot do, and effect what for us is impracticable:  differing from us in all respects, in its acts yet more than in other points we may well believe it to be unlike us and remote from us.  Knowledge of divine things for the most part, as Heraclitus says, is lost to us by incredulity.

Then we get to know partly his motivation for writing this history. He writes

It was for the sake of others that I first commenced writing biographies; but I find myself proceeding and attaching myself to it for my own; the virtues of these great men serving me as a sort of looking-glass, in which I may see how to adjust and adorn my own life.  Indeed, it can be compared to nothing but daily living and associating together; we receive, as it were, in our inquiry, and entertain each successive guest, view

Their stature and their qualities,

and select from their actions all that is noblest and worthiest to know.

Ah, and what greater pleasure could one have?

or, what more effective means to one’s moral improvement?

And he continues to write

My method[in response to what he writes Democritus advice], on the contrary, is, by the study of history, and by the familiarity acquired in writing, to habituate my memory to receive and retain images of the best and worthiest characters.  I thus am enabled to free myself from any ignoble, base, or vicious impressions, contracted from the contagion of ill company that I may be unavoidably engaged in, by the remedy of turning my thoughts in a happy and calm temper to view these noble examples.

I don’t know about you, but yours truly agrees with Plutarch and hopes that by the end of this study, we, individually and severally, will be better for it and  also that in my brief snippets do justice to the men as illustrated by Plutarch.

 

Themistocles

A vain Grecian who annoyed their sensibilities by becoming too powerful, got himself ostracized had to run for his dear lives first to those he had treated badly and finally to Xerxes or his son [the biographer is not certain] who he had defeated in war. Such was his desperation.

He saved the Athenians from the Persians by uniting all or most of the Greek cities, helped end the civil wars among them, encouraged the Athenians to invest in marine warfare which at the decisive moment saved them from being overran by the Persians.

He decided to take his life instead of being of assistance to the Persians on their expedition against the Greeks which gained him much respect from the King of Persia who was taken aback by the Greeks for they send away the bravest among them.

And that my friends is where we stop with his story.