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This webpage reproduces the essay
On Being a Busybody

by
Plutarch

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!

[image ALT: a blank space]

(Vol. VI) Plutarch, Moralia

Copyright

The work appears in pp469‑517 of Vol. VI of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1939. It is 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.)

p471 Loeb Edition Introduction

This essay, which was apparently written only a short time before De Garrulitate,1 has much the same interest and charm as that pleasant work. The essays are akin in many ways; portions of the later treatise are merely a reshaping of ideas and commonplaces which the earlier had adumbrated.

The source of much of this work has been traced to Ariston of Chios by O. Hense (Rhein. Mus., XLV.541 ff.); and F. Krauss2 has shown with some success the relation to diatribe literature.

The essay was already known to Aulus Gellius (XI.16), who speaks with feeling of the difficulty of rendering πολυπραγμοσύνη in Latin;3 nor has it been unknown to English moralists. Jeremy Taylor has again borrowed largely from it in his Holy Living, II.5.

In the translation of this and the preceding essay I am greatly indebted to Mr. Tucker's4 spirited version, from which I have taken numerous phrases and sometimes whole sentences.

The work is No. 97 in the Lamprias catalogue.

p473 (515B) 1  It is perhaps best to avoid a house which has no ventilation, or is gloomy, or cold in winter, or unhealthy; yet if familiarity has made you fond of the place, it is possible to make it brighter, better ventilated, and healthier by altering the lights, shifting the stairs, and opening some doors and closing others. Even some cities have gained by such changes. CSo in the case of my own town,5 which used to face the west and receive the full force of the sun in the late afternoon from Parnassus, they say that it was turned by Chaeron to face the east. And Empedocles,6 the natural philosopher, by blocking up a certain mountain gorge, which permitted the south wind to blow a dire and pestilential draught down upon the plains, was thought to have shut plague out of his country.

Since, then, there are certain unhealthy and injurious states of mind which allow winter and darkness to enter the soul, it is better to thrust these out and to make a clean sweep to the foundations, thus giving to ourselves a clear sky and light and pure air; Dbut if that is impossible, it is best at least to interchange and readjust them in some way other, turning or shifting them about.

p475 Such a malady of the mind, to take the first instance, is curiosity, which is a desire to learn the troubles of others,7 a disease which is thought to be free from neither envy nor malice:

Why do you look so sharp on others' ills,

Malignant man, yet overlook your own?8

Shift your curiosity from things without and turn it inwards; if you enjoy dealing with the recital of troubles, you have much occupation at home:

Great as the water flowing down Alizon,

Many as the leaves around the oak,9

so great a quantity of transgressions will you find your own life, Eof afflictions in your own soul, of oversights in the performance of your own obligations.

For as Xenophon10 says that good householders have a special place for sacrificial utensils, and a special place for dinner-ware, and that farming implements should be stored elsewhere, and apart from them the weapons of war; even so in your own case you have one store of faults arising from envy, another from jealousy, another from cowardice, another from pettiness. Assault these, examine these! Block up the windows and the side-doors of your curiosity that open on your neighbours' property, and open up others leading to your own — to the men's quarters, to the women's quarters, to the living-rooms of your servants! FHere this curiosity and meddlesomeness of yours will have an occupation not unhelpful or p477malicious, but useful and salutary if each one will but say to himself

Where did I err? And what deed have I done?

What duty neglected?11

2 But as it is, like the Lamia in the fable, who, they say, when at home sleeps in blindness with her eyes stored away in a jar, 516but when she goes abroad puts in her eyes and can see, so each one of us, in our dealings with others abroad, puts his meddlesomeness, like an eye, into his maliciousness; but we are often tripped up by our own faults and vices by reason of our ignorance of them, since we provide ourselves with no sight or light by which to inspect them. Therefore the busybody is also more useful to his enemies than to himself,12 for he rebukes and drags out their faults and demonstrates to them what they should avoid or correct, but he neglects the greater part of his own domestic errors through his passionate interest in those abroad. So Odysseus13 refused to converse even with his mother until he had learned from the seer14 the matters by reason of which he had come to the House of Hades; Band when he had his answer, he both turned to his mother and also made inquiries of the other women,15 asking who was Tyro, who the beautiful Chloris, why Epicastê met her death

Tying a noose, sheer-hung, from the high roof.16

p479 But we, while treating our own affairs with considerable laxity and ignorance and neglect, pry into the pedigrees of the rest of the world: our neighbour's grandfather was a Syrian and his grandmother a Thracian;17 so‑and‑so owes three talents and has not paid the interest. We inquire also into such matters as where so‑and‑so's wife was coming back from,18 Cand what A and B's private conversation in the corner was about. Yet Socrates went about seeking to solve the question of what arguments Pythagoras used to carry conviction; and Aristippus, when he met Ischomachus at Olympia, asked him by what manner of conversation Socrates succeeded in so affecting the young men. And when Aristippus had gleaned a few odd seeds and samples of Socrates' talk, he was so moved that he suffered a physical collapse and became quite pale and thin. Finally he sailed for Athens and slaked his burning thirst with draughts from the fountain-head, and engaged in a study of the man and his words and his philosophy, of which the end and aim was to come to recognize one's own vices and so rid oneself of them.

3 Yet there are some who cannot bear to face their own lives, Dregarding these as a most unlovely spectacle, or to reflect and revolve up themselves, like a light, the power of reason, but their souls, being full of all manner of vices, shuddering and frightened at what is within, leap outwards and prowl about other people's concerns and there batten and make fat their own malice. For as a domestic fowl will often, though its own food lies near at hand, slip into a corner and there scratch

p481 Where one sole barley grain perhaps appears

In the dung-heap,19

in the same way busybodies, passing over topics and narratives which are in plain view and matters concerning which no one prevents their inquiring or is vexed if inquiry is made, Epick out the hidden and obscure troubles of every household. And yet it was surely a clever answer that the Egyptian gave to the man who asked him what he was carrying wrapped up: "That's why it is wrapped up." And why, if you please, are you inquisitive about what is concealed? If it were not something bad, it would not be concealed. Yet it is not customary to walk into the house of someone else without at least first knocking on the door; but nowadays there are doormen and formerly there were knockers to be struck at the door and give warning, so that the stranger might not catch the mistress of the house or the unmarried daughter unawares, or a slave being punished or the maid-servants screaming. But it is for these very things that the busybody slips in. FA sober and respectable household he would not willingly enter as a spectator even if he were invited to come; but the matters to conceal which keys and bolts and street-doors are used — these are what he uncovers and communicates to outsiders. And yet "the winds with which we are most vexed," as Ariston20 says, "are those which pull up our garments," but the busybody strips off not only the mantles and tunics of those near him, but also their very walls; he flings the doors wide open and makes his way, like p483a piercing wind, "through the maiden of tender skin,"21 and creeps in, 517searching out with slanderous intent drunken revels and dances and all‑night festivals.

4 And like Cleon in the comedy,22

His hands in Beggar-town, his mind on Thefton,23

so the mind of the busybody is at the same time in mansions of the rich, in hovels of the poor, in royal courts, and in bridal chambers of the newly‑wed. He searches out everybody's business, that of strangers and that of rulers, nor is this search of his without danger; but just as though a man should taste aconite24 through curiosity about its properties, he would find that he had killed the taster before he had got his taste, so those who search out the vices of those more powerful than themselves destroy themselves before they acquire their knowledge. BFor instance those who scarcely glance25 at these sunbeams which have been poured down so lavishly upon us all, but recklessly dare to gaze upon the orb itself and to rend its radiance apart, striving to force their way within, are blinded. This is the reason why Philippides,26 the comic poet, made an excellent reply when King Lysimachus once said to him, "Which one of my possessions may I share with you?" "Anything, Sire," said Philippides, "except your secrets." For only the most pleasant and most decorous attributes of kings are displayed openly — their banquets and wealth and festivals and favours; but if there is anything p485secret, do not approach it, but let it be! CThe joy of a prosperous king is not concealed, nor is his laughter when he is amused, nor his outlay on entertainment and favours; but it is time for alarm when something is hidden, something dark, unsmiling, unapproachable, a storehouse of festering wrath, or the meditation of a punishment indicative of sullen anger, or jealousy of a wife, or some suspicion against a son, or distrust of a friend. Beware of this darkening and gathering cloud! That which is now hidden will be disclosed to you when the cloud bursts forth amid crashes of thunder and bolts of lightning!

5 What escape is there, then, from this vice? By a process of shifting and diverting our inquisitiveness, as has been said,27 and, if possible, by turning the soul to better and more pleasant objects. Direct your curiosity, to heavenly things and things on earth, in the air, in the sea. DAre you by nature fond of small or of great spectacles? If of great ones, apply your curiosity to the sun: where does it set and whence does it rise? Inquire into the changes in the moon, as you would into those of a human being: what becomes of all the light she has spent and from what source did she regain it, how does it happen that

When out of darkness first she comes anew,

She shows her face increasing fair and full;

And when she reaches once her brightest sheen,

Again she wastes away and comes to naught?28

And these are secrets of Nature, yet Nature is not vexed with those who find them out. Or suppose you have renounced great things. Then turn your p487curiosity to smaller ones: how some plants always blooming and green and rejoicing in the display of their wealth at every season, Ewhile others are sometimes like these, but at other times, like a human spendthrift, they squander all at once their abundance and are left bare and beggared? Why, again, do some plants produce elongated fruits, others angular, and still others round and globular?

But perhaps you will have no curiosity about these subjects since there is nothing evil in them. Yet if your zest for meddling must by all means be for ever feeding and dwelling on depraved things, like a maggot on dead matter, let us escort it to history and supply it with an unstinted abundance of evils. For there you will find

The deaths of men, the shufflings off of life,29

Fseductions of women, assaults of slaves, slanders of friends, compounding of poisons, envies, jealousies, shipwrecks of households, overthrow of empires. Glut and enjoy yourself and cause no trouble or pain to any of your associates!

6 But curiosity apparently takes no pleasure in stale calamities, but wants them hot and fresh; it enjoys the spectacle of novel tragedies and has not much zest for association 518with the comic and more cheerful side of life. Consequently when anyone tells the tale of a wedding or a sacrifice or a complimentary escort, the busybody is a careless and inattentive listener, and declares that he has already heard most of the details and urges the narrator to p489cut them short or skip them. But if someone sitting near at hand narrates the seduction of a maiden or the adultery of a wife or the framing of a law‑suit or a quarrel of brothers, the busybody neither dozes off to sleep nor pleads an engagement,

But asks more speech and proffers both his ears30

and that saying,31

Alas!

How much more readily than glad events

Is mischance carried to the ears of men!

is spoken truly when applied to busybodies. BFor as cupping-glasses32 draw from the flesh what is worst in it, so the ears of busybodies attract the most evil stories. Or rather, as cities have certain unlucky and dismal gates through which they lead out condemned criminals and cast out the refuse33 and the scapegoats, while nothing undefiled or sacred either goes in or out through them, so also the ears of busybodies give passage and thoroughfare to nothing good or decent, but only to gruesome tales, serving, as they do, as conveyance for foul and polluted narratives.

The only song that's heard within my house

Is wailing cries.34

CThis is the one Muse and Siren for busybodies, this is the sweetest of all music to their ears.

For curiosity is really a passion for finding out whatever is hidden and concealed, and no one conceals a good thing when he has it; why, people even pretend to have good things when they have them p491not. Since, then, it is the searching out of troubles that the busybody desires, he is possessed by the affliction called "malignancy,"35 brother to envy and spite. For envy is pain at another's good, while malignancy is joy at another's evil;36 and both spring from a savage and bestial affliction, a vicious nature.

7 So painful for all of us is the revelation of our own troubles Dthat many die rather than reveal to physicians some hidden malady. Just imagine Herophilus37 or Erasistratus38 or Asclepius himself, when he was a mortal man,39 carrying about their drugs and instruments, calling at one house after another, and inquiring whether a man had an abscess in the anus or a woman a cancer in the womb! And yet the inquisitiveness of this profession is a salutary thing. Yet everyone, I imagine, would have driven such a man away, because he does not wait to be sent for, but comes unsummoned to investigate others' infirmities. And busybodies search out these very matters and others still worse, Enot to cure, but merely to expose them. For this reason they are hated deservedly. For example, we are annoyed and displeased with customs-officials, not when they pick up those articles which we are importing openly, but when in the search for concealed goods they pry into baggage and merchandize which are another's property. And yet the law allows them to do this and they would lose40 by not doing so. But busybodies ruin and abandon p493their own interests in their excessive occupation with those of others. Only rarely do they visit the farm, for they cannot endure the quiet and silence of being alone. FBut if, after a long absence, they do chance to put in there, they have more of an eye for their neighbours' vines than for their own, and they ask how many of their neighbours' cattle have died, or how much of his wine has turned sour. But they are soon sated with such news and run away. Yet the true and genuine farmer does not care to hear even news that makes its own way from the city; he says41

519Then he will tell me while he digs

On what terms peace was made. The cursèd scamp

Now strolls around and meddles with these things.

8 And the busybody, shunning the country as something stale and uninteresting and undramatic, pushes into the bazaar and the market-place and the harbours: "Is there any news?" "Weren't you at market early this morning? Well then, do you suppose the city has changed its constitution in three hours?" If, however, someone really does have something of that nature to tell him, he dismounts from his horse, grasps his informant's hand, kisses him, and stands there listening. BBut if someone meets him and tells him that there is no news, he exclaims as though he were annoyed, "What do you mean? Haven't you been at market? Didn't you pass the War Office? Didn't you interview the new arrivals from Italy either?" It is for this reason that the legislation of the Locrian magistrates was excellent. For if anyone who had been out of town came p495up and asked, "Is there any news?" they fined him. Just as cooks42 pray for a good crop of young animals and fishermen for a good haul of fish, in the same way busybodies pray for a good crop of calamities, a good haul of difficulties, for novelties, and changes, that they, like cooks and fishermen, may always have something to fish out or butcher.

Another good law was that of the legislator of Thurii,43 for he forbade the lampooning on the comic stage of all citizens except adulterers and busybodies. And indeed adultery does seem to be a sort of curiosity about another's pleasure Cand a searching out and examination of matters which are closely guarded and escape general observation, while curiosity is an encroaching, a debauching and denuding of secret things.

9 Since a natural consequence of much learning is to have much to say (and for this reason Pythagoras44 enjoined upon the young a five years' silence which he called a "Truce to Speech"), a necessary concomitant of inquisitiveness is to speak evil.45 For what the curious delight to hear they delight to tell, and what they zealously collect from others they joyously reveal to everyone else. Consequently, in addition to its other evils, their disease Dactually impedes the fulfilment of their desires.46 For everyone is on his guard to hide things from them and is reluctant to do anything while a busybody is looking, or to say anything while one is listening, but defers consultation and postpones the consideration of business until such an inquisitive person is out of p497the way. And if, when either some secret matter is under discussion or some important business is being transacted, a busybody comes on the scene, men drop the matter from the discussion and conceal it, as one does a tidbit when a cat runs by. Consequently these persons are often the only ones to whom those matters are not told or shown which everyone else may hear and see.

For the same reason the busybody is deprived of everybody's confidence:47 Ewe should prefer, on any account, to entrust our letters and papers and seals to slaves and strangers rather than to inquisitive friends and relatives. That noble Bellerophon48 did not break the seal even on a letter accusing himself which he was carrying, but kept his hands from the king's letter by reason of that same continence which kept him from the king's wife. Inquisitiveness, in fact, is indicative of incontinence no less than is adultery, and in addition, it is indicative of terrible folly and fatuity. For to pass by so many women who are public property open to all and then to be drawn toward a woman who is kept under lock and key and is expensive, and often, if it so happens, quite ugly, is the very height of madness and insanity. FAnd it is this same thing which busybodies do: they pass by much that is beautiful to see and to hear, many matters excellent for relaxation and amusement, and spend their time digging into other men's trifling correspondence, gluing their ears to their neighbours' walls, whispering with slaves and women of the streets, and often incurring danger, and always infamy.

10 For this reason the most useful means possible for turning the busybody from his vice is for him to p499remember what he has previously learned.49 520For, as Simonides50 used to say that when he opened his boxes after some time, he always found the fee‑box full, but the thanks‑box empty, so if one opens from time to time the deposit‑box of inquisitiveness and examines it, full as it is of many useless, futile, and unlovely things, perhaps this procedure would give sufficient offence, so completely disagreeable and silly would it appear. Suppose a man should run over the works of the ancients and pick out the worst passages in them and keep a book compiled from such things as "headless lines" in Homer51 and solecisms in the tragedians and Bthe unbecoming and licentious language applied to women by which Archilochus52 makes a sorry spectacle of himself, would he not deserve that curse in the tragedy,

Be damned, compiler of men's miseries?53

And even without this curse, such a man's treasure-house of other people's faults is unbecoming and useless. It is like the city populated by the vilest and most intractable of men which Philip founded and called Roguesborough.54

Busybodies, however, by gleaning and gathering the blunders and errors and solecisms, not of lines or poems, but of lives, carry about with them a most p501inelegant and unlovely record‑box of evils, their own memory. CTherefore just as at Rome there are some who take no account of paintings or statues or even, by Heaven, of the beauty of the boys and women for sale, but haunt the monster-market, examining those who have no calves, or are weasel-armed,55 or have three eyes, or ostrich-heads, and searching to learn whether there has been born some

Commingled shape and misformed prodigy,56

yet if one continually conduct them to such sights, they will soon experience satiety and nausea; so let those who are curious about life's failures, the blots on the scutcheon, the delinquencies and errors in other people's homes, Dremind themselves that their former discoveries have brought them no favour or profit.

11 The greatest factor, however, in ridding ourselves of this affliction is the habit of beginning early to train and teach ourselves to acquire this self-control. It is, in fact, by habituation that the disease has come to increase, advancing, as it does, little by little. How this habit is acquired, we shall learn when we discuss the proper training. So first let us begin with the most trifling and unimportant matters. What difficulty is there about refraining from reading the inscriptions on tombs as we journey along the roads? Or what is there arduous in just glancing at the writing on walls Ewhen we take our walks? We have only to remind ourselves that p503nothing useful or pleasant has been written there: merely "commemorates" so‑and‑so "wishing him well," and someone else is the "best of friends," and much twaddle of this sort.57 It may seem that no harm will come from reading these, but harm you it does by imperceptibly instilling the practice of searching out matters which do not concern you. And as hunters do not allow young hounds to turn aside and follow every scent, but pull them up and check them with the leash, keeping their sense of smell pure and untainted for their proper task in order that it may keep more keenly to the trail,

FWith nostrils tracking down the paths of beasts,58

so one should be careful to do away with or divert to useful ends the sallies and wanderings of the busybody, directed as they are to everything that one may see and hear. For as eagles and lions59 draw in their claws when they walk so that they may not wear off the sharpness of the tips, so, 521if we consider that curiosity for learning has also a sharp and keen edge, let us not waste or blunt it upon matters of no value.

12 In the second place, then, let us accustom ourselves not to look inside when we pass another's door, nor with our curious gaze to clutch, as it were by main force, at what is happening within, but let us ever keep ready for use the saying of Xenocrates, p505that it makes no difference whether it is the feet or the eyes that we set within another's house; for what the eyes behold is neither just nor honourable, and not even pleasant.

Unsightly, stranger, are the things within,60

since the greater part of what we see inside is of this sort — kitchen utensils lying about and servant-girls sitting in idleness, Band nothing important or pleasurable. And this practice of throwing sidelong and furtive glances, distorting the soul as it disease, is shameful, and the habit it implants is depraved. For instance, when Diogenes61 saw the Olympic victor Dioxippus making his triumphal entry in his chariot and unable to tear his eyes away from a beautiful woman who was among the spectators of the procession, but continually turning around and throwing side-glances in her direction, "Do you see," said the Cynic, "how a slip of a girl gets a strangle-hold on our athlete?" And you may observe how every kind of spectacle alike gets a strangle-hold on busybodies and twists their necks round Cwhen they once acquire a habit and practice of scattering their glances in all directions. But, as I think, the faculty of vision should not be spinning about outside of us,62 like an ill‑trained servant girl, but when it is sent on an errand by the soul it should quickly reach its destination and deliver its message, then return again in good order within the governance of the reason and heed its command. But as it is, the words of Sophocles63 come true:

p507 Then the Aenianian's hard-mouthed yearlings break

From his control and bolt;

that is, the senses which have not received what we called above right instruction and training run away, dragging the intellect with them, and often plunge it into deep disaster. Consequently, though that story about Democritus64 is false, Dthat he deliberately destroyed his sight by fixing his eyes on a red‑hot mirror and allowing its heat to be reflected on his sight, in order that his eyes might not repeatedly summon his intellect outside and disturb it, but might allow his mind to remain inside at home and occupy itself with pure thinking, blocking up as it were windows which open on the street; yet nothing is more true than this, that those who make most use of the intellect make fewest calls upon the senses.65 We observe, for instance, that men have built their sanctuaries of the Muses66 far from cities and that they have called night "kindly"67 from a belief that its quiet and absence of distraction is greatly conducive to the investigation and solution of the problems in hand.

13 EYet truly, neither is this68 a difficult nor arduous task: when men are reviling and abusing each other in the market-place, not to approach them, or when a crowd is running to see something or other, to remain seated, or, if you are without self-control, to get up and go away. For you will reap no advantage from mixing yourself with busybodies, whereas you will p509obtain great benefit from forcibly turning aside your curiosity and curtailing it and training it to obey reason.

And after this it is well to make our training more intensive and pass by a theatre where a successful performance is in progress; and, when our friends urge us to see a certain dancer or comedian, to thrust them aside; Fand, when shouts are heard on the race-course or in the circus, not to turn round. For as Socrates69 used to advise the avoidance of such foods as tempt us to eat when we are not hungry and such drinks as tempt us to imbibe when we are not thirsty, so we also should avoid and guard against such sights and sounds as master and attract us without fulfilling any need of ours. Thus Cyrus70 was unwilling to see Pantheia; and when Araspes declared that the woman's beauty was worth seeing, Cyrus said, 522"Then this is all the more reason for keeping away from her. For if, persuaded by you, I should go to her, perhaps she herself might tempt me, when I couldn't spare the time, to go to see her again and sit by her, to the neglect of many important matters." So too Alexander71 would not go to see Darius's wife who was said to be very beautiful, but although he visited her mother, an elderly woman, he could not bring himself to see the young and beautiful daughter. Yet we peep into women's litters and hang about their windows, and think we are doing nothing wrong Bin thus making our curiosity prone to slip and slide into all kinds of vice.

p511 14 Since, therefore, for the attainment of justice you may sometimes forgo an honest gain that you may accustom yourself to keep clear of dishonest profit, so likewise, for the attainment of continence, you may sometimes keep aloof from your own wife in order that you may never be stirred by another's. Then apply this habit to inquisitiveness and endeavour sometimes not to hear or see some of the things that concern you, and when someone wishes to tell you something that has happened in your house, put him off and refuse to hear words that are supposed to have been spoken about you. It was, in fact, curiosity which involved Oedipus in the greatest calamities. Believing that he was no Corinthian, but a foreigner, Cand seeking to discover his identity, he encountered Laïus; and when he had killed Laïus and had taken, in addition to the throne, his own mother to wife, though seeming to all to be blessed by fortune, he began again to try to discover his identity. And although his wife attempted to prevent him, all the more vigorously did he cross-examine the old man who knew the truth, bringing every form of compulsion to bear. And at last, when circumstances were already bringing him to suspect the truth and the old man72 cried out,

Alas! I stand on the dread brink of speech,73

Oedipus was none the less so inflamed and maddened by his affliction74 that he replied,

And I of hearing, and yet hear I must;75

so bitter-sweet, so uncontrollable is the itching of curiosity, like the itching of a sore which gets bloody whenever we scratch it. DBut the man who has got p513rid of this disease and is gentle by nature will say, if he is ignorant of something unpleasant,

Forgetfulness of evil, sovereign queen,

How wise you are!76

15 We must, therefore, also habituate ourselves to things like these: when a letter is brought to us, not to open it quickly or in a hurry, as most people do, who go so far as to bite through the fastenings if their teeth are too slow; when a messenger arrives from somewhere or other, not to rush up, or even to rise to our feet; when a friend says, "I have something new to tell you," to say, "I should prefer that you had something useful or profitable."

When I was once lecturing in Rome, that famous Rusticus,77 Ewhom Domitian later killed through envy at his repute, was among my hearers, and a soldier came through the audience and delivered to him a letter from the emperor. There was a silence and I, too, made a pause, that he might read his letter; but he refused and did not break the seal until I had finished my lecture and the audience had dispersed. Because of this incident everyone admired the dignity of the man.

But when one nourishes his curiosity upon permissible material until he renders it vigorous and violent, he is no longer able to master it easily, since it is borne, by force of habit, toward forbidden things. And such persons pry into their friends' correspondence, thrust themselves into secret meetings, Fbecome spectators of sacred rites which it is an impiety p515for them to see, tread consecrated ground, investigate the deeds and words of kings.

16 And yet surely in the case of despots,78 who have to know everything, it is the tribe of so‑called "Ears" and "Jackals" that makes them most detested. It was Darius Nothus, who had no confidence in himself and regarded everyone with fear and suspicion, who first instituted "Listeners"; and "Jackals" 523were distributed by the Dionysii79 among the people of Syracuse. Consequently when the revolution came, these were the first persons whom the Syracusans arrested and crushed to death. And in fact the tribe of informers is from the same clan and family as busybodies. But while informers search to see whether anyone has planned or committed a misdemeanour, busybodies investigate and make public even the involuntary mischances of their neighbours. And it is said that the person called aliterios80 first acquired his name from being a busybody. For it appears that when there was a severe famine at Athens Band those who possessed wheat would not contribute it to the common stock, but ground81 it in their houses secretly by night, some persons went about listening for the noise of the mills, and so acquired the name aliterioi. It was in the same way, they say, that the sycophant82 won his name. Since the export of figs83 was prohibited, men who revealed84 and gave information against those p517who did export them were called sycophants. So it is well worth the while of busybodies to consider this fact also, that they may be ashamed of the resemblance and relationship of their own practice to that of persons who are very cordially hated and loathed.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 And no doubt also before De Tranquillitate (so rightly Brokate).

2 Die Rhetorischen Schriften Plutarchs, Munich Diss., Nürnberg, 1912, pp67 ff. See also the interesting table (p87) of rhetorical figures which places our essay in the very centre of Plutarch's literary activity.

3 It is hard to render it in English also. The translator uses the word "curiosity" — Ed.

4 Select Essays of Plutarch, Oxford, Clarendon, 1913.

5 Chaeroneia.

6 Diels, Frag. d. Vorsokratiker5, I p284, Λ 14; cf. Moralia, 1126B.

7 Cf. Menander's typical curious slave, a πολυπράγμων, who says (Frag. 580 Kock): οὐδὲν γλυκύτερόν ἐστιν ἢ πάντ᾽ εἰδέναι.

8 Kock, Com. Att. Frag., III p476, ades. 359; cf. 469B, supra.

9 A verse of unknown origin; the text is probably corrupt.

10 Oeconomicus, VIII.19, 20.

11 "Pythagoras," Carmina Aurea, 42; cf. Moralia, 168B.

12 Cf. Moralia, 87B‑C.

13 Cf. Homer, Od., XI.88 ff.; Ps.‑Lucian, De Astrologia, 24.

14 Teiresias.

15 Od., XI.229 ff.

16 Ibid. 278; Epicastê is better known as Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus.

17 That is, both were probably slaves.

18 i.e., where she had been.

19 Perhaps a verse of Callimachus (Frag. anon. 374 ed. Schneider).

20 Von Arnim, Stoic. Vet. Frag., I pp89‑90, Frag. 401.

21 Hesiod, Works and Days, 519; cf. 465D, supra.

22 Aristophanes, Knights, 79; Klopidai (Thrift-deme) is a play upon the actual deme Kropidai.

23 Or better, Theevingen.

24 Cf. Moralia, 49E.

25 Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia, IV.3.14.

26 Cf. 508C, supra.

27 In 515D, supra.

28 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p315, Sophocles, Frag. 787 (871 ed. Pearson); the full quotation may be found in Life of Demetrius, xlv (911C‑D). Cf. also Moralia, 282B.

29 Aeschylus, Suppliants, 937; cf. Moralia, 937F.

30 Callimachus, Frag. anon. 375 ed. Schneider.

31 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p913, ades. 386.

32 Cf. 469B, supra, and Moralia, 600C.

33 Cf. Moralia, 271A.

34 Cf. 463B, supra.

35 A term better expressed by the German Schadenfreude.

36 Cf. Moralia, 1046B.

37 Of Chalcedon, a great anatomist of the Alexandrian age (flor. circa 300 B.C.).

38 Of Ceos, worked in Alexandria at the height of his fame (258 B.C.).

39 Asclepius, the son of Apollo, was deified after death as the god of medicine.

40 Since the collection of taxes and duties was farmed out to individuals, they would be the losers in failing to make a minute search for dutiable articles.

41 Kock, Com. Att. Frag., III p473, ades. 347; cf. 511E, supra, where it is the typical Athenian slave of whom his farmer-master complains.

42 The professional cook was also a butcher.

43 Charondas.

44 Cf. Life of Numa, viii (65B); De Vita et Poesi Homeri, 149 (Bernardakis, vol. VII p420); Lucian, Vitarum Auctio, 3.

45 Cf. 508C, supra.

46 Cf. 502E‑F, supra.

47 Cf. 503C‑D, supra.

48 Cf. Il., VI.168.

49 With this chapter may be compared chapter 19 of De Vitioso Pudore (Moralia, 536C‑D).

50 Cf. the same story, illustrating the avarice of Simonides, in Moralia, 555F; there the box containing his fees is full of silver.

51 Lines which begin with a short syllable instead of the long one demanded by the metre: cf. Moralia, 397D, 611B; Athenaeus, XIV 632D.

52 Cf. Moralia, 45A.

53 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p913, ades. 388; cf. Moralia, 855B.

54 Cf. Jacoby, Frag. d. gr. Historiker, II B, p561, Theopompus, Frag. 110.

55 That is, with exceptionally short arms.

56 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p680, Euripides, Frag. 996; cf. Life of Theseus, xv (6D).

57 I quote Shilleto's note: "Plutarch rather reminds one, in his evident contempt for Epitaphs, of the cynic who asked, 'Where are all the bad people buried?' Where indeed?"

Thayer's Note: The closest epitaph I've ever seen to what our Cynic would have approved of is the tombstone of a little Roman boy in the lapidary museum of Montefalco in Umbria, on which the parents found nothing better to carve than that he didn't do anything awful. I very much regret that photography was not allowed; you'll just have to take my word for it.

58 From an unknown poet: Empedocles? (cf. Diels, Hermes, XV.176).

59 Cf. Moralia, 966C. "Eagles" is probably corrupt. Pohlenz suggests "cats."

60 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag.2, p617, Euripides, Frag. 790, probably from the Philoctetes.

61 Cf. Aelian, Varia Historia, XII.58.

62 That is, outside of the control of reason.

63 Electra, 724‑725.

64 Diels, Frag. d. Vorsokratiker5, II p89, A 27.

65 Plutarch is thinking of some such passage as Plato, Phaedo, 66A.

66 That is, halls devoted to learning, such as the Museion at Alexandria and the Academy at Athens.

67 Cf. Aeschylus, Agamemnon, 265.

68 Cf. 520D, supra.

69 Cf. 513D, supra.

70 Cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedia, V.1.8; Moralia, 31C.

71 Cf. Life of Alexander, xxii (677B); Moralia, 97D, 338E.

72 The herdsman who had saved Oedipus on Cithaeron.

73 Sophocles, Oedipus Rex, 1169.

74 Curiosity.

75 Sophocles, l.c., 1170.

76 Euripides, Orestes, 213.

77 Probably Arulenus Rusticus, put to death in or after 93 A.D. for having in his biography of Paetus Thrasea called his subject sanctus (Dio, LXVII.13.2, cf. also Tacitus, Agricola, 2).

Thayer's Note: A bit more information about Rusticus is given in another Loeb edition footnote.

78 Cf. Aristotle, Politics, V (VIII).9.3 (1313 B12 ff.).

79 Cf. Life of Dion, xxviii (970B‑C).

80 Transgressor, or outlaw; Plutarch rejects this explanation in Moralia, 297A.

81 The verb ἀλεῖν, from which ἀλιτήριος is here derived.

82 Informer; cf. Life of Solon, xxiv (91E); Athenaeus, 74E‑F.

83 σῦκα.

84 φαίνειν, from which the noun φάντης.


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