Quotable quotes

For I do not believe there is such difference between beast and beast, in point of reason and understanding and memory, as between man and man.

Plutarch

Advertisements

On contentment

Plutarch says Plato compared human life to a game at dice. He advises we ought to throw according to our requirements, and, having thrown, to make the best use of whatever turns up.

It is not in our power indeed to determine what the throw will be, but it is our part, if we are wise, to accept in a right spirit whatever fortune sends, and so contrive matters that we wish should do us most good, and what we do not wish should do us least harm.

On silence

Plutarch writes

Before you speak, reflect on the following

  • what is this word that is so eager for utterance
  • to what is this tongue marching
  • what good will come of speaking now or what harm of silence

He proceeds to ask

if words are neither useful to the speaker, nor necessary for the hearer, nor contain any pleasure or charm, why are they spoken?

Plutarch’s morals 

The philosophers tell us that some bodies are composed of distinct parts,as a fleet or army; others of connected parts, as a house or ship; others united and growing together, as every other animal is. the marriage of lovers is like this last class, that of those who marry for dowry or children is like the second class, and that of those who only sleep together is like the first class, who may be said to live in the same house, but in no other sense to live together. but just as doctors tell us that liquids are the only things that thoroughly mix, so in married people there must be a complete union of bodies, wealth, friends and relations. And thus the Roman legislator forbade married people to exchange presents with another, not that they should not go shares with one another,  but that they should consider everything as common property. 

I think that is sound advice. 

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.

 

Camillus, Pericles, Fabius Maximus

Camillus was five times chosen dictator, triumphed four times, and was styled a second founder of Rome, yet never was so much as once consul.

During his censorship one very good act of his is recorded, that, whereas the wars had made many widows, he obliged such as had no wives, some by fair persuasion, others by threatening to set fines on their heads, to take them in marriage; another necessary one, in causing orphans to be rated, who before were exempted from taxes, the frequent wars requiring more than ordinary expenses to maintain them.

He got himself banished from Rome for being too powerful. These Romans and Greeks were interesting people. Anytime someone appeared to have so much power, they banished him from the state. I wish we could do this now.

Pericles is a man who was beyond corruption. He, for reasons unknown to us, led to the death of many Athenians in the Peloponnesian war by failing to ratify the peace treaty that the  Lacedaemonians had offered could satisfy him.

Most of his laws are not extant today, or rather, were not extant in the time of Plutarch.

He adorned Athens with grand buildings. And when the citizens complained that he had drawn a lot of money from the public treasury, he asked that the buildings to be charged to his account and have the inscriptions in his name. The citizens on hearing this pleaded with him to draw from the public account and do as he pleased either to bring down or to build whatever monument or building he thought good for the public good.

He was frugal. There is a report that his household was not amused at his exactness with regards to spending. He even had an “accountant” whose duty was to ensure there was no waste in the family.

Of his head, a poem is written thus

And here by way of summary, now we’ve done,

Behold, in brief, the heads of all in one.

I know you know that great speech by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, Pericles paying tribute to those who had lost their lives in war said

For, we do not see them themselves, but only by the honors we pay them, and by the benefits they do us, attribute to them immortality; and the like attributes belong also to those that die in the service of their country.

His greatest failure, if we can call it that, was to let personal difference between him and Cimon and Thucydides use his power to have them ostracized.

After the loss of his legitimate sons, he asked that a law that stated only lawfully begotten children could be considered citizens be repealed so

so the name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful name and race of his family might not, for absolute want of a lawful heir to succeed, be wholly lost and extinguished.

A request the people granted arguing his suffering deserved their pity and even indignation, and his request was such as became a man to ask, and men to grant.

Fabius we are told was the son of Hercules and nymph.

He was five times consul, and in his first consulship had the honor of a triumph for the victory he gained over the Ligurians, whom he defeated in a set battle, and drove them to take shelter in the Alps, from whence they never after made any inroad nor depredation upon their neighbors.

During his reign, Hannibal attacked Italy and for a long time he tried to avoid direct combat with him arguing that with time Hannibal would be forced to retire and return to Carthage. Many of the Romans thought this strategy was because of a lack of courage on his part.

As testament to his honour and wisdom, we have Minucius, a young general who had been given as much power as Fabius address his troops in this manner

To conduct great matters and never commit a fault is above the force of human nature; but to learn and improve by the faults we have committed, is that which becomes a good and sensible man.  Some reasons I may have to accuse fortune, but I have many more to thank her;for in a few hours she hath cured a long mistake, and taught me that I am not the man who should command others, but have need of another to command me; and that we are not to contend for victory over those to whom it is our advantage to yield.  Therefore in everything else henceforth the dictator must be your commander; only in showing gratitude towards him I will still be your leader, and always be the first to obey his orders.

We find ambition and rivalry made him oppose the campaign of Scipio to Carthage, a campaign that in the end saw the defeat of Hannibal and Carthage come under Rome, a victory Fabius did not live to see for he died shortly after Hannibal left Italy for Carthage after being recalled to attend to matters at home.

Lives of the noble Grecian and Romans

In this post and a few subsequent posts, I will write about the lives of some nobles of Greece and Rome as recorded by Plutarch in his book by the same title and list a few of the laws these fellows made or their systems of government. I will not write of their failures, call it bias, but that is not my interest for the moment. Anyone interested can write about that.

In the next posts, I will have for the title of the blog post, just the name of the particular leader and followed by his laws.

For this post we will cover Solon and Lycurgus

One of the laws of Solon I agree with is where he forbade dowries to be given; the wife was to have three suites of clothes, a little inconsiderable household stuff and that was all for he would not have marriages contracted for gain or an estate but for pure love, kind affection and birth of children.

He at the same enacted a law that no man for the future should engage the body of his debtor for security.

Now about Lycurgus,

here is a man who resigned a kingdom.

He caused his citizens to cast away their gold or silver and abandon costly furniture and rich tables.

He instituted communal eating places.

He instituted strict education for the youth.

I will mention one other regulation he instituted touching on burials. To cut off all superstition, he allowed the citizens to bury their dead within the city and even round their temples, to the end that their youth might be accustomed to such spectacles and not be afraid to see a dead body or imagine that to touch a corpse or tread upon a grave would defile a man.