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This webpage reproduces the essay
De amore prolis


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

 p328  On Affection for Offspring


The work appears in pp328‑357 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 essay, or declamation, is clearly in an unfinished state throughout and a good deal is doubtless lost at the end, for the author has done little more with his subject than to show that φιλοστοργία1 is more complete in man than in beasts.​2 The efforts of Döhner​3 and Weissenberger​4 to prove that the essay is not genuine have not been successful. Döhner is, further, quite wrong, as Patzig​5 and Weissenberger have shown, in assuming the work to be an epitome.  p329 It is best regarded as an unfinished fragment, containing, so far as it goes, the rough and unrevised hand of Plutarch.

Dyroff's​6 attempt to show that this work was composed before De Esu Carnium, De Sollertia Animalium, and Gryllus is not to be taken seriously: the grounds are too slight.

The text is very corrupt. The work is not listed in the Lamprias catalogue.

 p331  (493) 1 1  Trials of cases on appeal​7 before special arbitrators and the carrying of cases before foreign courts were first devised by the Greeks by reason of their mutual distrusts, Bsince they had need of the justice supplied by others than themselves, like any other non-indigenous necessity. Is it thus, then, that philosophers also, because of their disagreements with each other, refer some of their questions to the nature of irrational animals, as though to a foreign city, and submit the decision to the emotions and character and habits of these creatures as to a court that cannot be influenced or bribed? Or is this also a common charge against human depravity — Cthat, being in doubt about the most necessary and important things, we seek among horses and dogs and birds how we ourselves should marry and beget and bring up children (as though we had no plain indication of Nature in ourselves); and that we term the traits which brute beasts have "characters" and "emotions," and accuse our life of a great deviation  p333 and departure from Nature, confused and disordered as we are at the very beginning concerning even the first principles? For in dumb animals Nature preserves their special characteristics pure and unmixed and simple, but in men, through reason and habit, they have been modified by many opinions and adventitious judgements so that they have lost their proper form and have acquired a pleasing variety comparable to the variety of perfumes made by the pharmacist on the basis of a single oil. DAnd let us not wonder if irrational animals follow Nature more closely than rational ones; for animals are, in fact, outdone in this by plants, to which Nature has given neither imagination nor impulse, nor desire for something different, which causes men to shake themselves free from what Nature desires; but plants, as though they were fastened in chains, remain in the power of Nature, always traversing the one path along with Nature leads them. Yet in wild beasts versatility of reasoning and uncommon cleverness and excessive love of freedom are not too highly developed; and though they have irrational impulses and desires and often wander about on circuitous paths, they do not go far afield, but ride, as it were, at the anchor provided by Nature, who points out to them the straight way, as to an ass which proceeds under bit and bridle. But in man ungoverned reason is absolute master, and, Ediscovering now one way of deviation and innovation and now another, has left no clear or certain vestige of Nature visible.8

2 1 Observe to what extent there exists in animals  p335 conformity to nature in regard to their marriages. In the first place, they do not wait for laws against celibacy or late wedlock, as did the citizens of Lycurgus​9 and Solon,​10 nor fear loss of civil rights because of childlessness, nor pursue the honours of the ius trium liberorum,​11 as many Romans do when they marry and beget children, not that they may have heirs, but that they may inherit. In the next place, the male does not consort with the female during all seasons, for the end and aim is not pleasure, but procreation and the begetting of offspring; Ftherefore it is in the season of spring, which has procreative breezes​12 and a temperature suitable to intercourse,​13 that the female, rendered submissive and desirable, comes to consort with the male, exulting, as she does, in the pleasing odour of her flesh and the peculiar adornment​14 of her body, and filled with dew and clean grass;​15 494but when she perceives that she is pregnant and sated, she modestly retires and takes thought for the birth and safety of her offspring. But it is impossible to recount the procedure in a manner worthy of the subject, except to say that each of the pair is as one in their affection for their offspring, in their forethought, their endurance, and  p337 their self-control. Further, though we call the bee wise and believe that it

Makes the yellow honey its care,​16

flattering the saccharine quality of its sweetness which tickles our palates, yet we overlook the wisdom and artifice of the other creatures which is manifested in the bearing and the nurture of offspring. As, for example, the king-fisher​17 after conception makes her nest by gathering the thorns of the sea-needle and interweaving and joining them together, Band makes it round and oblong in form, like a fisherman's creel; and, packing the thorns closely together with the most exact jointure and density, submits it to the dashing of the waves so that, being gradually beaten upon and riveted together, the hard-packed surface may become water-proof; and it does become hard to divide with iron or stone. And what is more wonderful, the mouth of the nest is so exactly fitted to the size and measure of the king-fisher that no other creature, either larger or smaller, may enter, and, so they say, that it will not admit even the most minute drops of sea-water.18

CAnd sea-dogs​19 are a very good example, for they bring forth their young alive within their bodies,​20 but permit their offspring to emerge and forage, and then take them back again and enfold them in their vitals and let them sleep there.

 p339  And the she-bear,​21 the most savage and sullen of beasts, brings forth her young formless and without visible joints, and with her tongue, as with a tool, she moulds into shape their skin;​22 and thus she is thought, not only to bear, but to fashion her cub.

And in Homer​23 the lion —

Whom hunters meet leading his young within

A wood; he glares with valour and draws down

His eye-lids till they hide his eyes —

Ddoes he look like a beast that has any notion of making terms with the hunters for his children's lives? For, in general, the love of animals for their children makes the timid bold, the lazy energetic, the voracious sparing; like the bird in Homer​24 which brings to her nestlings

Whatever morsels she can catch, though she

Fares ill herself,

for she feeds her young at the cost of her own hunger, and, though she has laid hold of food for her belly, she withholds it and presses it tightly with her beak, lest she gulp it down unawares; or

As a bitch bestrides her tender pup, and barks

At one she does not know, and longs to fight,​25

Eacquiring, as it were, a second courage in her fear for her young.

And partridges,​26 when, accompanied by their  p341 young, they are being pursued, allow the fledglings to fly ahead and attempt to escape, and contrive to fix the hunter's attention on themselves by wheeling close and, when they are almost captured, fly off and away, then again remain at rest and place themselves within the reach of the hunter's hope, until, by so exposing themselves to danger for their nestlings' safety, they have led on the hunters to a considerable distance.

And we have before our eyes every day the manner in which hens​27 care for their brood, drooping their wings for some to creep under, Fand receiving with joyous and affectionate clucks others that mount upon their backs or run up to them from every direction; and though they flee from dogs and snakes if they are frightened only for themselves, if their fright is for their children, they stand their ground and fight it out beyond their strength.

Are we, then, to believe that Nature has implanted these emotions in these creatures because she is solicitous for the offspring of hens and dogs and bears, and not, rather, because she is striving to make us ashamed and to wound us, when we reflect that these instances are examples to those of us who would follow the lead of Nature, 495but to those who are callous, as rebukes for their insensibility, by citing which they​28 disparage human nature as being the only kind that has no disinterested affection and that does not know how to love without prospect of gain? In our theatres, indeed, people applaud the verse of the poet who said,29

What man will love his fellow-man for pay?

 p343  And yet, according to Epicurus,​30 it is for pay that a father loves his son, a mother her child, children their parents; but if beasts come to understand speech and someone should bring together to a common theatre horses and cows and dogs and birds and should revise this speech and say, "Dogs do not love their pups, nor horses their colts, nor birds their nestlings, for pay, Bbut gratuitously and naturally," it would be recognized by the emotions of them all that this was well and truly spoken. For it is shameful — great Heaven! — that the begetting and the pains and travail and the nurture of beasts should be "Nature" and "a free gift," but that those of men should be loans and wages and caution-money, all given on condition of a return!31

3 1 But such a statement is neither true nor worth the hearing. For just as in uncultivated plants, such as wild vines and figs and olives, Nature has implanted the principles, though crude and imperfect, of cultivated fruits, so on irrational animals she has bestowed a love of offspring, though imperfect and insufficient as regards the sense of justice Cand one which does not advance beyond utility; but in the case of man, a rational and social animal, Nature, by introducing him to a conception of justice and law and to the worship of the gods and to the founding of cities and to human kindness, has furnished noble and beautiful and fruitful seeds of all these in the joy we have in our children and our love of them, emotions which accompany their first beginnings; and these qualities are found in the very constitution of their bodies. For although Nature is everywhere exact and workmanlike  p345 with no deficiency or superfluity, "and has," as Erasistratus​32 said, "no trumpery about her"; yet when it comes to the processes of procreation, it is impossible to describe them in a fitting manner, and perhaps it would not be decent to fix our attention too precisely Dupon the names and designations of these forbidden topics, but it is proper that we should apprehend the admirable adaptation of those hidden and concealed parts to the functions of procreation and bringing to birth. However, the production​33 and administering of milk is sufficient proof of Nature's foresight and care. For in women the amount of blood exceeds the use for it because of the sluggishness and paucity of their breath and, coming to the surface, wanders at large and burdens them; at other times it is Nature's custom and care to discharge the blood at monthly periods by opening canals and channels for it, to lighten and cleanse the rest of the body Eand in season to render the womb fertile ground for ploughing, as it were, and sowing. But when the womb receives the seed as it encounters it and enfolds it and it has taken root​34 there ("for the umbilical cord grows at first in the womb," as Democritus​35 says, "as an anchorage against the swell and drift, a cable and vine" for the fruit now conceived that is to be), Nature shuts the monthly  p347 canals of purification and, taking the drifting blood, uses it for nourishment and irrigates​36 the embryo,​37 which already is beginning to be formed and shaped, until, having been carried the number of months proper to its growth within the womb, it needs other nourishment and abiding-place. FAt that time, then, Nature, more carefully than any gardener or irrigator, turns and changes the blood from one use to another and has in readiness subterranean springs, as it were, of a fresh-flowing stream; and the springs receive the blood in no perfunctory or unemotional manner, 496but are even able, by the gentle heat and soft womanliness of respiration, to digest, mollify, and change it; for such a disposition and temper does the breast have within it. Yet there are no outflowing streams of milk nor spouts which discharge it all at once,​38 but the breast terminates in flesh that is full of springs and can filter the milk gently through minute passage-ways; and it thus gives a store of food that is comfortable for the infant's mouth and pleasant for it to touch and to grasp.

But there would be no benefit in these many kinds of equipment for procreation, or in such ways and means, such zeal and forethought, if Nature had not implanted in mothers affection and care for their offspring.

BThere is nothing more wretched than a man,​39

Of all that breathes and creeps upon the earth —

the poet tells no falsehood if it is about a new-born  p349 babe that he speaks.​40 For there is nothing so imperfect, so helpless, so naked, so shapeless, so foul, as man observed at birth, to whom alone, one might almost say, Nature has given not even a clean passage to the light;​41 but, defiled with blood and covered with filth and resembling more one just slain than one just born, he is an object for none to touch or lift up or kiss or embrace except for someone who loves with a natural affection. Therefore, while the other animals have their dugs hanging loose beneath the belly, Cin women they grow above on the breast where mothers can kiss and embrace and fondle the infant, the inference being that the end and aim of bearing and rearing a child is not utility, but affection.

4 1 Carry the discussion back to primitive mankind, to those whose women were the first to bear, and whose men were the first to see a child born; they had neither any law which bade them rear their children, nor any expectation of gratitude or of receiving the wages of maintenance "lent to their children when they were young."​42 Nay, I should rather be inclined to affirm that these mothers were hostile and malicious toward their children, since great dangers and travail had come to them from child-birth:

DAs when a sharp pang pierces a woman in labour,

A pang which the Eileithyiae of child-bed send,

The daughters of Hera, who bring the bitter pangs —

These lines, women tell us, were written, not by Homer,​43 but by an Homerid​44 after child-birth or  p351 while she was still in the throes of it and had the pain of travail, alike bitter and sharp, actually present in her entrails. But even then the affection for offspring implanted by Nature would bend and lead the mother: still hot and suffering and shaken with her pangs, she did not neglect or avoid her child, but turned to it and smiled at it and took it up and kissed it, Ethough she reaped nothing sweet or profitable therefrom, but received it with pain and suffering, and "with tatters" of swaddling-clothes

Thus warming and caressing it, both night

And day she passes in alternate toil.​45

For what pay or advantage were these services performed by those ancient parents? Nor is there any for those of our day, since their expectations are uncertain and far off. He that plants a vineyard in the vernal equinox gathers the grapes in the autumnal; he that sows wheat when the Pleiades set reaps it when they rise; cattle and horses and birds bring forth young among other things ready for use; but as for man, his rearing is full of trouble, his growth is slow, his attainment of excellence is far distant and most fathers die before it comes. FNeocles did not live to see the Salamis of Themistocles nor Miltiades the Eurymedon of Cimon; nor did Xanthippus ever hear Pericles harangue the people, nor did Ariston hear Plato expound philosophy; nor did the fathers of Euripides and Sophocles come to know their sons's victories; they but heard them  p353 lisping and learning to speak and witnessed their revellings and drinking bouts and love-affairs, as they indulged in such follies as young men commit; 497so that of all Evenus​46 wrote the only line that is praised or remembered is

For fathers a child is always fear or pain.

Yet none the less fathers do not cease rearing children and, most of all, those who least need them. For it is ridiculous if anyone thinks that the rich sacrifice and rejoice when sons are born to them because they will have someone to support them and bury them — unless, by Heaven, it is for lack of heirs that they bring up children, since it is impossible to find or happen upon anyone willing to accept another's property!

Not sand or dust or feathers of birds of varied note

Could heap up so great a number​47

as is the number of those seeking inheritances.48

The sire of fifty daughters,​49 Danaüs;

Bbut if he had been childless, he would have had more heirs, and heirs unlike his own. For sons feel no gratitude, nor, for the sake of inheriting, do they pay court or show honour, knowing that they receive the inheritance as their due. But you hear the words of  p355 strangers clustering around the childless man, like those famous verses of the Poet,50

O Demos, judge one case, then to your bath:

Gorge, guzzle, stuff, and take three obols' pay.

And the remark of Euripides,51

Money it is that finds out friends for men

And holds the greatest power among mankind,

Cis not a simple and general truth, but applies to the childless: it is these whom rich men feast, whom great men court, for these alone do advocates plead gratis.

A rich man with an unknown heir's a power.​52

Many, at any rate, who had many friends and much honour, the birth of one child has made friendless and powerless. Therefore not even toward the acquisition of power is there any aid to be derived from children, but the whole force of Nature exists no less in man than in beasts.53

5 1 Now both this and many other excellences are obscured by vice, as a thicket springs up beside seeds planted in a garden. Or are we to say that man has no natural love for himself Djust because many men cut their throats or hurl themselves from precipices? And Oedipus54

Smote his eyes with a brooch and at each blow

The bloody eye-balls wet his beard;

 p357  and Hegesias​55 by the eloquence of his reasoning persuaded many of his hearers to starve themselves to death.

In many a guise the gods appear.​56

But these are like those diseases and morbid states of the soul which drive men from their natural condition, as they themselves testify against themselves. For if a sow tears to pieces her suckling pig, or a bitch her puppy, men grow despondent and disturbed and offer to the gods sacrifices to avert the evil, and consider it a portent on the ground that Nature prescribes to all creatures that they should love and rear their offspring, not destroy them. EMoreover, as in mines the gold, though mingled and covered with much earth, yet gleams through, so Nature, even in characters and passions which are themselves perverted, reveals their love for their offspring. For when poor men do not rear their children it is because they fear that if they are educated less well than is befitting​57 they will become servile and boorish and destitute of all the virtues; since they consider poverty the worst of evils, they cannot endure to let their children share it with them, as though it were a kind of disease, serious and grievous. . . .

The Editor's Notes:

1 Volkmann reminds us that De Amore Prolis is a bad Latin translation for the title, but that there is no better: cf. Fronto, I, p280, II, p154 ed. Haines (L. C. L.) for the statement that there is no such quality as τὸ φιλόστοργον at Rome and consequently no name for it. See also Marcus Aurelius, I.11.

2 Volkmann, Leben, Schriften,º u. Philos. Plutarchs, II pp165‑167, attempts to complete the thought of this treatise.

3 Quaest. Plut., III pp26 ff.

4 Die Sprache Plutarchs, II pp31‑33. When Weissenberger attempts to find discrepancies between Plutarch's thought here and elsewhere, he chooses examples in which he either misinterprets the meaning or else forgets that Plutarch is ironical and intends the opposite of what he says.

5 Quaest. Plut., pp3‑21: by far the most complete discussion of the vocabulary and syntax of this strange work, Patzig's conclusion is that we have here a finished essay of Plutarch; this is untenable, but his arguments for genuineness are quite conclusive. None of his successors, not even Pohlenz, shows any knowledge of his valuable work.

6 Program Würzburg, 1896/7.

7 Plutarch is probably referring to the common practice of small states appealing to the greater, Athens or Rhodes, to arbitrate in disputes; the distrust was thus not of all other Greeks but of fellow-citizens. Cf. Schwyzer, Dial. Gr. Exempla, 83 for an inscription in which Argos regulates the relations between Cnossus and Tylissus circa 450 B.C.; see also M. N. Tod, International Arbitration among the Greeks (Oxford, 1913).

8 The text of this chapter is exceedingly corrupt; the restorations and suggestions adopted here claim only an approximation to the required thought.

9 Cf. Life of Lysander, xxx (451A‑B); Life of Lycurgus, xv.1 (48C); Moralia, 227F; Ariston in Stobaeus, vol. IV, p497 ed. Hense (or von Arnim, Stoic. Vet. Frag., I p89); Clement of Alexandria, Stromateis, II.141 (vol. II p191 ed. Stählin).

10 This is not true of Solon; cf. Stobaeus, vol. IV p521 ed. Hense.

11 See, for example, Hardy's notes on Pliny, Epistulae, X.2. Plutarch refers to a law of Augustus limiting the right of inheritance and the privileges of those who had less than three children.

12 Cf. Lucretius, I.10‑20: reserata viget genitabilis aura Favoni, and the whole passage.

13 Cf. Aristotle, Historia Animalium, VI.18 (573 A27).

14 Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, III.11.1 (vol. I p242 ed. Stählin).

15 Cf. Moralia, 990C ff.

16 Simonides: Frag. 47 ed. Bergk; 43 ed. Diehl; 57 ed. Edmonds. Cf. Moralia, 41F, 79C.

17 Cf. Moralia, 983C‑D; Aelian, De Natura Animalium, IX.17.

18 In Moralia, 983C (De Sollertia animalium), Plutarch adds a few details to this description.

19 Aelian, op. cit., II.55; Moralia, 982A; for the kinds of γαλεοί (a species of shark), see Mair's note on Oppian, Halieutica, I.379 (L. C. L.).

20 That is, they are viviparous.

21 Cf. Aelian, op. cit., II.19; Aristotle, op. cit., 579 A24; ἀδιάρθρωτα τὰ σκέλη καὶ τὰ πλεῖστα τῶν μορίων.

22 Cf. Aulus Gellius, XVII.10.3.

23 Il., XVII.134‑136.

24 Il., IX.324; cf. Moralia, 80A.

25 Homer, Od., XX.14‑15; cf. De Vita et Poesi Homeri, 86 (Bernardakis, vol. VII p375).

26 Cf. Moralia, 971C‑D; Aelian, op. cit., III.16; Aristotle, Historia Animalium, IX.8 (613 B17); scholia on Aristophanes, Birds, 768.

27 Cf. Aristotle, op. cit., X.8 (613 B15); Anthologia Palatina, IX.95.

28 i.e. the philosophers whose views Plutarch is criticizing.

29 Kock, Com. Att. Frag., III p450, ades. 218.

30 Usener, Epicurea, p320, Frag. 527.

31 Cf. 496C, infra.

32 A famous physician at the court of Seleucus I and later at Alexandria; cf. Life of Demetrius, xxxviii (907A ff.).

33 Cf. Clement of Alexandria, Paedagogus, I.39 (vol. I p113 ed. Stählin); Galen, vol. IV p176 ed. Kühn.

34 Cf. Aristotle, 745 B25; ἀφίησιν εὐθὺς οἷον ῥίζαν τὸν ὀμφαλὸν εὶς τὴν ὑστέραν, and 493 A18: (τῆς γαστρὸς) ῥίζα ὀμφαλός.

35 Frag. B 148, Diels, Frag. d. Vorsokratiker5, II p171; cf. Moralia, 317A.

36 Cf. Celsus, VII.7.17.

37 See Aristotle, 745 B28: διὰ τούτου (τοῦ ὀμφαλοῦ) λαμβάνει τροφὴν αἰματικήν.

38 Cf. Life of Aemilius Paulus, xiv (262B‑D).

39 Homer, Il., XVII.446‑447; cf. 500B, infra.

40 But it is with reference to the dead Patroclus that Zeus speaks these lines.

41 Cf. Moralia, 758A.

42 Plato, Laws, 717C; cf. 479F, supra.

43 Il., XI.269‑271.

44 The ancients used the term, not of women, but of a class of male bards. But Plutarch choosesº to treat the word as a feminine noun, anticipating Samuel Butler's Authoress of the Odyssey.

45 From the Niobê of an unknown poet (cf. Moralia, 691D), attributed by Valckenaer to Sophocles, and recently by A. Lesky (Wien. Stud., LII.7; cf. also Pearson, Fragments of Sophocles, vol. II p98), to Aeschylus.

46 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec., II p270; Edmonds, Elegy and Iambus, I p472.

47 An anonymous fragment; cf. Moralia, 1067D; Diehl, Anthologia Lyrica, II p162; Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, III p452.

48 For the plague of inheritance-seekers at Rome, see Roman Satire passim, especially Horace, SatiresII.5.

49 From the Archelaüs of Euripides: Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p427, Frag. 228.1; cf. Moralia, 837E.

50 Aristophanes, Knights, 50‑51.

51 Phoenissae, 439‑440; but the first line is borrowed from Sophocles, Frag. 85.1 (Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p148).

52 Kock, Com. Att. Frag., III p484, ades. 404.

53 This closes Plutarch's argument that man does not derive his love of offspring from any other source than do the brute beasts.

54 Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, 1276‑1277.

55 Philosopher of Cyrenê, early third century B.C. Cf. Cicero, Tusc. Disp., I.34.83; Valerius Maximus, VIII.9, Ext. 3.

56 From the stock lines at the end of the Alcestis, Andromachê, Helen, and Bacchae of Euripides; cf. Moralia, 58A.

57 Contrast Moralia, 8E on the education of poor children.

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