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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the essay
Animine an corporis affectiones sint peiores


as published in Vol. VI
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1939

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

(Vol. VI) Plutarch, Moralia

 p377  Whether the Affections of the Soul are Worse than Those of the Body


The work appears in pp377‑391 of Vol. VI of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1939. The Greek text and the English translation (by W. C. Helmbold) are now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1967 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

Loeb Edition Introduction

This popular oration, or diatribe,​1 was read by Plutarch​2 in some city of Asia Minor: Volkmann​3 thought Sardis, the capital of the province; Haupt​4 thought Halicarnassus; Wilamowitz​5 Ephesus. The occasion is clearly the consul's yearly hearing of lawsuits from the whole province.

The proof that afflictions of the soul are worse than diseases of the body is treated in a popular and, in chapter 4, dramatic manner. The conclusion is lost.

The same subject was treated in his commonplace fashion by Maximus Tyrius,​6 who shows no knowledge of Plutarch's oration, nor any relation to his sources; Cicero, however, at the beginning of the third book of the Tusculan Disputations, exhibits some kinship with Plutarch's argument. Siefert​7 has twice elaborated his opinion that some of this work of  p379 Plutarch's was drawn from the ὑπόμνημα (Ι should prefer to say ὑπομνήματα)​8 which Plutarch used in writing De Tranquillitate.

The text is not good. The work is listed as No. 208 in the Lamprias catalogue.

 p381  500b 1 1   [link to original Greek text] Homer,​9 having contemplated the mortal varieties of animals and having compared them with each other in respect to their lives and habits, cried out that nothing is

More wretched than man,

Of all that breathes and creeps upon the earth,

awarding to man an unfortunate primacy in excess of evils. cBut as for us, as though acknowledging that man has won the victory in wretchedness and has been proclaimed the most miserable of animals, let us compare him with himself, dividing body and soul for competition of their individual miseries, a task not unprofitable but even quite necessary, to the end that we may learn whether it is through Fortune or through ourselves that we live more wretchedly. For while disease grows in the body through Nature, vice and depravity in the soul are first the soul's own doing, and then its affliction. It will be no slight aid toward tranquillity of mind, if the worse condition be curable, being both lighter to bear and lacking intensity.

 p383  2 1   [link to original Greek text] The fox in Aesop,​10 disputing at law with the leopard concerning their claims to variety,​11 when the leopard had shown her body with its glossy surface bright and spotted, dand the fox's tawny skin was rough and unpleasant to the eye,

"But look at me within, sir judge," said she,

"And you will find me fuller far than she

Of fair variety,"​12

making manifest the versatility of her character which changes to many forms as necessity arises. Shall we, then, say in our own case, "Many of your diseases and affections, O man, your body naturally produces of itself, and it receives also many that befall it from without; but if you lay yourself open on the inside, you will find a storehouse and treasury, as Democritus​13 says, of all manner of evils and many abnormal states, ewhich do not flow in from outside, but have, as it were, subterranean and earth-born springs, which Vice, being widely diffused and abundantly supplied with those abnormal states, causes to gush forth"? And if the diseases in the flesh are detected by the pulse and biliousness, and temperatures and sudden pains confirm their presence, but the evils in the soul escape the notice of most men, they are for this reason worse evils, since they also deprive the sufferer of any awareness of themselves. For although the reason,​14 if sound, perceives the diseases  p385 which affect the body, yet, being itself afflicted with those of the soul, it can form no judgement of its own afflictions, for it is affected in the very part by which it judges; and, of the soul's diseases, one must account as first and greatest ignorance, fwhich causes Vice beyond hope of cure to abide with most men, to cling to them through life, and to die with them. For the beginning of the riddance of disease is awareness which leads the ailing part to the use of what will relieve it; but the man who through disbelief in his ailment does not know what he needs, refuses the remedy, even if it be at hand. For it is true of the diseases of the body also that those are worse which are attended by inability to perceive the body's condition: 501lethargies, migraine, epilepsies, apoplexies, and those very fevers which, raising inflammation to the pitch of delirium and confounding consciousness, as on a musical instrument,

Will touch the heart-strings never touched before.​15

3 1   [link to original Greek text] Therefore professional physicians desire, in the first place that a man should not be ill; and next, if he is ill, that he should not be unaware that he is ill​16 — which is the case with all the maladies which affect the soul. For when men act foolishly​17 or licentiously or unjustly, they do not think that they are doing wrong, but some even think that they are doing right. For although no one has ever called a fever "health," nor consumption "excellent condition," bnor gout "swiftness of foot," nor sallowness a "fresh complexion," yet many call hot temper18  p387 "manliness," and love "friendship,"​19 and envy "emulation," and cowardice "caution." Again, while men sick in body send for a doctor, since they perceive whom they need to counteract their ailments, yet those that are sick in soul avoid philosophers, for they think that they are doing well in those very matters where they are at fault. The fact is that, if we follow on this line of reasoning, we maintain that defective eyesight is easier to bear than madness, and gout than inflammation of the brain! For a man that is sick in body perceives it and calls loudly for a physician, and when he comes, allows him to anoint the eyes or open the veins; cbut you hear the maddened Agavê say,​20 not recognizing her dearest by reason of her affliction:

From the mountain we bring

To the palace a fresh-cut tendril,

A fortunate capture.

It is true that one who is sick in body gives in at once and goes to bed and remains quiet while he is being cured, and if, perchance, when the fever comes upon him, he tosses a bit and tumbles his body about, one of those who sit by him will say to him gently,

Lie still, poor wretch, and move not from your bed,​21

and so checks and restrains him; but those who suffer from diseases of the soul are then most active, then  p389 least at rest. For impulses are the beginning of action, and the soul's abnormal states are violent impulses. dThat is the reason why they do not allow the soul to be at rest, but just at the time when man most needs repose and silence and relaxation, then his fits of temper, of contentiousness, of love, or grief, drag him into the open air and strip him bare, and he is forced both to do many lawless things and to give tongue to many things unsuited to the occasion.

4 1   [link to original Greek text] As, therefore, the storm that prevents a sailor from putting into port is more dangerous than that which does not allow him to sail, so those storms of the soul are more serious which do not allow a man to compose or to calm his disturbed reason; but pilotless and without ballast, in confusion and aimless wandering, rushing headlong in oblique and reeling courses, ehe suffers a terrible shipwreck, as it were, and ruins his life. Consequently for this reason also it is worse to be sick in soul than in body; for men afflicted in body only suffer, but those afflicted in soul both suffer and do ill.22

But why need I recount the multitude of the soul's maladies? The present occasion of itself brings them to mind. Do you see this vast and promiscuous crowd which jostles and surges in confusion here about the tribunal and the market-place? These persons have come together, not to sacrifice to their country's gods, not to share in each other's family rites, not bringing "to Ascraean Zeus​23 the first-fruits  p391 of Lydian harvests,"​24 fnor, in honour of Dionysus, to celebrate his mystic festival on sacred nights with common revellings, but, as it were, a mighty pestilence drives them together here with yearly visitations stirring up Asia, which must come for law-suits and litigation at certain stated times; 502and the overwhelming multitude, like streams flowing together, has inundated this one market-place and boils with fury and dashes together in a tumult "of destroyers and destroyed."​25 What fevers, what agues, have brought this about? What stoppages, or irruptions of blood,​26 or distemperature of heat, or overflow of humours, have caused this? If you examine every law-suit, as though it were a person, to discover what gave rise to it and whence it came, you will find that obstinate anger begat one, frantic ambition another, unjust desire a third . . .

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 So Pohlenz, as I think, correctly: I therefore do not accept Wilamowitz's combination of this and the preceding work as fragments of the same dialogue.

2 Xylander, practically alone, denies the genuineness — on what grounds he does not say.

3 Plutarch, vol. I 62 f.

4 Opuscula, III.554 (Hermes, VI.258).

5 Hermes, XL.161 ff.

6 Orat. 7 ed. Hobein, 13 ed. Dübner.

7 Comm. Ienenses, 1896, pp106‑110; Plutarchs Schrift Περὶ εὐθυμίας, pp26‑28.

8 See the introduction to the De Tranquillitate.

9 Il., XVII.446‑447; cf. 496B, supra.

10 Fable 42 ed. Halm; cf.  Moralia, 155B; Babrius, Fable 180 ed. Crusius; Siefert, Plutarchs Schrift Περὶ εὐθυμίας, pp27‑28.

Thayer's Note: I've been unable to pinpoint a fable by Babrius bearing the number 180, but the substance of the fable, "The Leopard and the Fox", is given at MythFolklore.Net in an English translation by Gibbs (2002) and with links to the Latin poet Avianus' Fable 40 and Chambry's edition of a Greek source, numbered 37.

11 ποικιλία when applied to an animal's skin refers to colour and markings, but when it is applied to the mind it means "subtlety" or "cunning."

12 Cf. Wilamowitz, Hermes, XL p164; Diehl, Anthologia Lyrica, I p304: Plutarch's words are apparently adapted from an unknown choliambic poet. See also Knox, Choliambica (L. C. L.), p350.

13 Diels, Frag. d. Vorsokratiker,5 vol. II p172, Frag. 149.

14 Cf. Cicero, Tusc. Disp., III.1.

15 Cf. 456C, supra.

16 Cf. Moralia, 102D; Cicero, Tusc. Disp., III.6.12.

17 Cf. Moralia, 81F.

18 Cf. 462F, supra.

19 "Si on juge de l'amour par la plupart de ses effets, il ressemble plus à la haine qu'à l'amitié." — De la Rochefoucauld.

20 Euripides, Bacchae, 1169‑1171; cf. Life of Crassus, XXXIII (564F): Agavê, bearing the head of her son Pentheus, was a commonplace of philosophical rhetoric; see, for example, Horace, Sermones, II.3.303.

Thayer's Note: If this is weirdly tantalizing to you rather than crystal clear, see the Loeb editor's note in the Life of Crassus.

21 Euripides, Orestes, 258; cf. 475D, supra.

22 Cf. Cicero, Tusc. Disp., III.5.10.

23 For the cult of Ascraean Zeus at Halicarnassus cf. Apollonius, Historia Mirabilium, 13 (Keller, Rerum Naturalium Scriptores Graeci Minores, I, p47).

24 Probably a quotation from a poet: Reiske thought Pindar; Haupt (Opuscula, III.554), an anonymous tragic poet (and cf. Wilamowitz, Hermes, XL.163, 164, note 1).

25 Homer, Il., IV.451.

26 Cf. Moralia, 129D.

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