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This webpage reproduces the essay
De se ipsum citra invidiam laudando

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. VII
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1959

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. VII) Plutarch, Moralia

p109 On Praising Oneself Inoffensively

Copyright

The work appears in pp109‑167 of Vol. VII of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1959. It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1987 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.)

p110 Loeb Edition Introduction

In this essay Plutarch takes a topic of the rhetorical schools, "How to praise oneself inoffensively,"1 and treats it as a moralist. Neither Plato nor Aristotle discusses self-praise; the nearest approach is the passage in the Nicomachean Ethics (IV.7) on the alazōn and the eirōn (the "boastful" and the "mock-modest" man, as Ross translates). These Aristotle judges according to the truth or falsity of their claims, whereas Plutarch supposes his statesman virtuous and truthful and deals with the ends that justify him in praising himself and the devices that by making the self-praise palatable enable him to use it so as to achieve those ends.

This adaptation of rhetorical precepts to a moral use has led to a certain enlargement of the point of view. Thus in the earlier and more rhetorically p111 coloured parts of the essay Plutarch speaks of "the statesman";2 later he speaks more generally of "us";3 again he at times has an actual oration in mind,4 but elsewhere writes as if the scene of the self-praise were an ordinary conversation or the circle of some grandee. Plutarch doubtless felt that only the statesman was justified in praising himself; in any case the expansion is natural enough: the rhetorical precepts were formulated for actual speech-making, whereas the moralist is concerned with all self-praise, not least when it occurs in daily life.

The essay falls into three main parts: the introduction, the discussion of the circumstances that justify self-praise and of the devices that make it acceptable, and advice for avoiding it when it is uncalled for.

1. Self-praise is offensive for a number of reasons. The statesman will however risk it when to accomplish some worthy end he must establish his own character with the audience. Other justifications Plutarch will consider later.5 Everywhere, however, we must see to it that the self-praise does not have a "frivolous"6 and offensive character.

2. Plutarch now tells how offence is avoided and p112gives further reasons for self-praise. Self-praise escapes censure when the speaker is defending himself, is unfortunate, or is the victim of injustice; again it is acceptable when it is presented indirectly, the speaker showing that the opposite of the conduct with which he is charged would have been shameful; when it is interwoven with praise of the audience; when it appears as praise of others of similar merit;7 when the credit is given partly to chance and partly to God; when praise has already been introduced by others, and the speaker corrects it; when he includes in it certain shortcomings of his own; or when he mentions the hardships endured in winning the praise. But suspicion of vanity is also avoided when the self-praise is beneficial. A man then might praise himself to arouse emulation in his hearers, to check the headstrong, to overawe an enemy or raise the spirits of his friends; and to prevent vice from being commended he might even set his own praises against those of others.

3. Lastly precepts are given for avoiding unseasonable self-praise. There are circumstances of special danger: when we hear others praised, when we recount some lucky exploit of our own (and especially when we tell of praises received), and we censure others. Those with a craving for glory must be especially careful to abstain from self-praise when praised by others. The best precaution of all is to p113 remember vividly the bad impression made on us by others' praise of themselves.8

If, as seems likely, the Herculanus to whom the essay is addressed is C. Julius Eurycles Herculanus L. Vibullius Pius (for whom see Groag in Pauly-Wissowa X, coll. 580‑585), it belongs to Plutarch's old age. It is No. 85 in the catalogue of Lamprias.

There are Latin translations by Julius Gabrielius (Gabrielli)9 and Thomas Naogeorgus (Kirchmeyer),10 and an Italian translation by L. Domenichi.11

The text rests on C G Xυ I W Fº D RySs hki JK Zab N Mε Vvw Ylfpq. Once α2 is quoted for a conjecture.

p115 (539) 1 1 In theory, my dear Herculanus, it is agreed that to speak to others of one's own importance or power is offensive, Bbut in practice not many even of those who condemn such conduct avoid the odium of it. Thus Euripides12 says:

If speech were got by purchase, there is none

Would care to lay out money on self-praise.

But since the bounteous air provides it free

There's none but dwells with pleasure on his merits

Real or fancied, for it cost him nothing.

CYet he brags most intolerably, interweaving with the calamities and concerns of his tragedies the irrelevant theme of his own praise. Pindar does the like. Though he says13

Untimely vaunting plays the tune for madness

p117 he never wearies of extolling his own powers, which indeed deserve all praise — who denies it? —; but even the winners of the crown at the games are proclaimed victors by others, who thus remove the odium of self-praise. Thus when Timotheüs14 writes in celebration of his triumph over Phrynis,

O blest wert thou, Timotheüs, when the herald

Called forth: "Timotheüs of Miletus wins

The prize from Camon's son, the modulator

Of soft Ionic cadences,"

Dwe are properly disgusted at this jarring and irregular15 heralding of his own victory. For while praise from others, as Xenophon16 said, is the most pleasant of recitals, praise of ourselves is for others most distressing. For first we regard self-praisers as shameless, since they should be embarrassed even by praise from others;17 second as unfair, as they arrogate to themselves what it is for others to bestow; and in the third place if we listen in silence we appear disgruntled and envious, while if we shy at this we are forced to join in the eulogies and confirm them against our better judgement, Ethus submitting to a thing more in keeping with unmanly flattery than with the showing of esteem — the praise of a man to his face.

2 1 Yet in spite of all this there are times when the p119statesman might venture on self-glorification, as it is called,18 not for any personal glory or pleasure, but when the occasion and the matter in hand demand that the truth be told about himself, as it might about another — especially when by permitting himself to mention his good accomplishments and character he is enabled to achieve some similar good. For such praise as this yields a handsome return, Fas a greater harvest of yet nobler praise springs up from it as from a seed. Indeed it is not as a reward or compensation for his merit that the statesman demands recognition and values it when accorded to his acts: he does so rather because the enjoyment of confidence and good repute affords means for further and yet nobler actions.19 For when men are trusting and friendly it is pleasant and easy to do them good; whereas in the presence of distrust and dislike it is impossible to put one's merit to use and force benefits on those who shun them. Whether there are also other reasons for a statesman's self-praise is a question to consider, 540so that, while avoiding all that is frivolous and offensive in the practice, we may not overlook its possible uses.

3 1 Now the praise is frivolous which men are felt to bestow upon themselves merely to receive it; and it is held in the greatest contempt, as it appears to aim at gratifying ambition and an unseasonable appetite p121for fame. For just as those who can find no other food are compelled to feed unnaturally on their own persons,20 and this is the extremity of famine, so when those who hunger for praise cannot find others to praise them, they give the appearance of seeking sustenance and succour Bfor their vainglorious appetite from themselves, a graceless spectacle. But when they do not even seek to be praised simply and in themselves, but try to rival the honour that belongs to others and set against it their own accomplishments and acts in the hope of dimming the glory of another, their conduct is not only frivolous, but envious and spiteful as well. For the proverb21 makes of him who sets foot in another's chorus a meddler and a fool; and self-praise that is thrust by envy and jealousy among praises of others should be most diligently avoided; indeed we should not even endure such praise from others, Cbut should give place to those on whom honour is conferred when they deserve it. If we hold them undeserving and of little worth, let us not strip them of their praise by presenting our own, but plainly refute their claim and show their reputation to be groundless. Here then is something we clearly must avoid.

4 1 In the first place self-praise goes unresented if p123you are defending your good name or answering a charge, as Pericles when he said:22

"Yet I, with whom you are angry, yield to none, I believe, in devising needful measures and laying them before you; and I love my country and cannot be bought."

DFor not only is there nothing puffed up, vainglorious, or proud in taking a high tone about oneself at such a moment, but it displays as well a lofty spirit and greatness of character, which by refusing to be humbled humbles and overpowers envy. For men no longer think it fit even to pass judgement on such as these, but exult and rejoice and catch the inspiration of the swelling speech, when it is well-founded and true.23 The facts confirm this. Thus when the generals were tried on the charge that they had not returned home at once on the expiration of their term as Boeotarchs, but had invaded Laconia and handled the Messenian affair, Ethe Thebans came near to condemning Pelopidas, who truckled to them and entreated mercy; but when Epameinondas expatiated on the glory of his acts and said in conclusion that he was ready to die if they would admit that he had founded Messenê, ravaged Laconia, and united p125Arcadia against their will, they did not even wait to take up the vote against him, but with admiration for the man commingled with delight and laughter broke up the meeting.24 Neither then should we altogether blame Sthenelus in Homer25 for saying

Far better men are we than were our sires,

Fbut remember the words26

For shame! Why dost thou, valiant Tydeus' son,

Hang back? Why peer about the paths of war?

For Sthenelus had not even received the insult himself; he was answering the affront to his friend, and the imputation gave a pardonable latitude to his self-praise. The Romans again were annoyed with Cicero for frequently vaunting his success with Catiline;27 but when Scipio said that it ill befitted them to sit in judgement over Scipio, to whom they owed the power to sit in judgement for all mankind, they put garlands on their heads, escorted him to the Capitol, and joined him in the sacrifice. 541For Cicero boasted not from necessity but for glory; whereas the peril of the other did away with envy.28

5 1 This holds not only of those on trial and in peril; the unfortunate as well can boast and extol themselves with better grace than the fortunate. For the p127 fortunate are felt to lay hands on glory, as it were, and take their pleasure of it in gratification of their pride, but the others, far removed from ambition by their plight, are looked upon as breasting ill-fortune, shoring up their courage, and eschewing all appeal to pity and all whining and self-abasement in adversity. And so, just as we regard those Bwho strut on a walk and hold up their chin as fatuous and vain, but when in boxing or fighting men rise to their full height and hold the head erect, we applaud; so the man cast down by fortune, when he stands upright in fighting posture

Like a boxer closing in,29

using self-glorification to pass from a humbled and perilous state to an attitude of triumph and pride, strikes us not as offensive or bold, but as great and indomitable. Thus in Homer Patroclus is moderate and inoffensive in success, but boastful in death, when he said30

CHad twenty faced me such as thou . . .

Again Phocion, who was at other times of mild temper, gave after his condemnation many signs of his great spirit, notably when he said to one of those sentenced to die with him, who was lamenting and showing impatience, "What's the matter, my good man? Are you not content to die with Phocion?"31

Further, it is no less, nay even more, permissible for a statesman when wronged to make some boast to p129 those who deal hardly with him. Thus Achilles at other times yielded the glory to Heaven and showed his modesty by saying:

If we by Zeus' high will

Shall take at last the lofty walls of Troy;32

but when wrongfully affronted and outraged he let his anger give full course to vaunting:

DTwelve cities with my fleet have I made empty33

and:

For they see not

The glancing light upon my helm draw nigh.34

For the freedom of speech that is involved in a plea for justice gives scope for self-praise. Thus Themistocles neither said nor did anything invidious at the time of his successes; but when he saw that the Athenians had grown weary of him and indifferent, he did not hesitate to say: E"My innocent friends, why so tired of repeated benefits from the same hands?"35 And again: "In a storm you take shelter with me, as under a tree; but in fair weather you pluck the leaves as you pass me by."36

7 1 Now the wrongs of these men did not bear directly on the triumphs that they recalled to their p131persecutors. But a man reproached for his very triumphs is entirely pardonable and escapes all censure if he extols what he has done. For this, it is felt, is not recrimination37 but self-defence. It was this, for example, that allowed Demosthenes to speak with full freedom and made palatable the self-praise with which he fills nearly the whole oration On the Crown, as he glories Fin the very charges brought against him: his conduct as ambassador and statesman in the war.

8 1 Not far removed from this is the use of contrast. There is a certain graceful effect in showing that the opposite of what one is charged with would have been shameful and base.38 Thus Lycurgus39 said at Athens when abused for buying off an informer: "What do you think of my character as a citizen, when after all these years in office I am caught giving money dishonestly, instead of taking it?" 542And when Metellus told Cicero40 that his testimony had killed more men than his pleading had saved, he replied: "Who denies that I am more honest than eloquent?" Such too are the words of Demosthenes:41 "Who would not rightly have condemned me to death if even by word I had tried to sully any of our country's glories?" And "What do you think these blackguards would have said if the cities had deserted us p133 while I was busy quibbling about that?"42 And in general the oration On the Crown uses the most felicitous contrasts, as each charge is refuted, to introduce self-praise.

9 1 There is in that oration a further point that it is useful to note: Bby most harmoniously blending the praises of his audience43 with his own he removed the offensiveness and self-love in his words, praising the Athenians for their conduct towards the Euboeans and toward the Thebans, and for all the good that they had done the people of Byzantium and of the Chersonese, claiming for himself but a share in carrying out instructions.44 For in this way the hearers, taken off guard, accept with pleasure the praise of the speaker, which insinuates itself along with the praise of themselves; and their delight in the rehearsal of their own successes is followed at once with admiration and approval of him who made them possible. Hence Epameinondas said when Menecleidas Cderided him as prouder than Agamemnon: "But it is your doing, men of Thebes; with your help alone I overthrew the Spartan empire in a day."

p135 10 1 Since towards one who praises himself the generality of men feel a great hostility and resentment, but do not feel so strongly against one who praises another, but often even listen with pleasure and voice their agreement, some, when the occasion allows, are in the habit of praising others whose aims and acts are the same as their own and whose general character is similar. In this way they conciliate the hearer and draw his attention to themselves; for although they are speaking of another, Dhe at once recognizes in the speaker a merit that from its similarity deserves the same praises. For as one who vilifies another in terms that apply to himself does not deceive the audience, which sees that he vilifies himself rather than the other, so when one good man commends another he reminds hearers conscious of his merit of himself, so that they at once exclaim "And are not you one of these?" Alexander by honouring Heracles, and again Androcottus45 by honouring Alexander, won esteem for themselves for similar merit; whereas when Dionysius46 made sport of Gelon and dubbed him the jest47 of Sicily, he unwittingly in his envy defamed the greatness and majesty of his own power.

11 1 EThis the statesman must in any case understand and for this he must seize the proper occasions. p137 But those who are forced to speak in their own praise are made more endurable by another procedure as well: not to lay claim to everything, but to disburden themselves, as it were, of honour, letting part of it rest with chance, and part with God. For this reason Achilles did well to say

Since I by Heaven's will have slain this man,48

and Timoleon did well to erect an altar at Syracuse to the Goddess of Accidents in commemoration of his acts, and to consecrate his house to the Good Daemon.49 Best of all is what Python of Athens did.50 After killing Cotys he had come to Athens Fand the speakers were outdoing one another in extolling him to the assembly. Noticing that some persons were jealous and disaffected he came forward and said: "This, men of Athens, was the doing of some god; I did but lend my arm." Sulla too got rid of envy by always praising his luck, eventually proclaiming himself the Fortunate.51 For men would rather be bested by luck than by merit, feeling that in the first event another had had an advantage, in the second, that the failure lies in themselves and is their own doing. 543Thus the code of Zaleucus52 found favour with the Locrians not least, it is said, because he asserted that Athena had constantly appeared to him and had in each case guided and instructed him in his legislation, and that p139 nothing he proposed was of his own invention or devising.

12 1 But it is perhaps for the altogether intractable and envious that such medicines and palliatives must be invented. With the fair-minded it is not amiss to use another device, that of amending the praise: when praised as eloquent, rich, or powerful, Bto request the other not to mention such points but rather to consider whether one is of worthy character, commits no injuries, and leads a useful life. He that does this does not introduce the praise, but transfers it; and he leaves the impression not of delighting in the encomiasts but of being displeased with them for praise that is unbecoming and bestowed for the wrong reasons, using his better points to draw attention from the worse, not from a desire for praise, but to show how to praise aright. Indeed the words "Not with stone did I encircle Athens nor with brick; survey the wall I built and you will discover arms, cavalry, and allies"53 appear to reflect such a procedure. Still more does the saying of Pericles. CHis friends, we are told, lamented as he lay dying and were disconsolate, recalling his commands and power and the many trophies, victories, and cities he had won and left to Athens. Rallying a moment he rebuked them for extolling what many others had done as well and what was in part the work of fortune rather than of merit, while they passed over the noblest and greatest encomium and his alone, that no Athenian for any p141 act of his had put on mourning.54 This precedent allows the orator, if meritorious, Dwhen praised for eloquence, to transfer the praise to his life and character, and the commander admired for skill or success in war to speak freely of his clemency and justice; and again, when the praise runs on the contrary to extravagance, as with the invidious flattery used by many, it permits one to say:

"No god am I; why likenest thou me

To the immortals?55

If you know me truly, commend my probity, temperance, reasonableness, or humanity." For to him who declines the greater honours envy is not displeased to grant the more moderate, and does not cheat of true praise Ethose who reject what is false and vain. Hence those kings who were unwilling to be proclaimed a god56 or son of a god,57 but rather Philadelphus58 or Philometor59 or Euergetes60 or Theophiles,61 were ungrudgingly honoured by those who gave them these p143noble yet human titles. So again, while men resent the writers and speakers who assume the epithet "wise," they are delighted with those who say that they love wisdom62 or are advancing in merit, or put forward some other such moderate and inoffensive claim. Whereas the rhetorical sophists Fwho at their displays of eloquence accept from the audience the cries of "how divine" and "spoken like a god" lose even such commendation as "fairly said" and "spoken as becomes a man."

13 1 Again, as those who would spare the susceptibilities of sufferers from sore eyes temper with shade whatever is unduly brilliant, so some do not present their own praise in all its brilliance and undimmed, but throw in certain minor shortcomings, failures, or faults, thus obviating any effect of displeasure or disapproval. Thus Epeius says after his extravagant talk about boxing and his vaunt that a blow from him would rip clean through the skin and smash the bones:63

Nay is it not enough

That I am slack in war?64

544But he indeed is perhaps ridiculous for mitigating his athlete's bragging by a confession of cowardice and unmanliness. There is tact, however, and grace in one who tells of some slip of his own or some mistake or p145 feeling of ambition or weakness for some piece of instruction or information, like Odysseus:

But my heart

Was fain to hear, and nodding with my brows

I bade my mates unbind me65

and again:

BI hearkened not — far better had it been —

For I would see the man himself, and hoped

To have from him some hospitable gift.66

And in general when faults not altogether degrading or ignoble are set down beside the praise they do away with envy. Many also blunt the edge of envy by occasionally inserting into their own praise a confession even of poverty and indigence or actually of low birth. Thus when Agathocles67 at a banquet was presenting the young men with cups of enchased gold he ordered earthen cups also to be brought and said: "You see what perseverance, diligence, and courage can do; CI once fashioned cups of clay; I now fashion them of gold." For Agathocles was believed to have been brought up in the potter's trade because of his low birth and poverty; and from this state he rose to become king of well-nigh the whole of Sicily.

14 1 These antidotes for self-praise we can introduce p147from outside; others are in a way inherent in the very content of the praise. Such Cato used when he said that he was envied for neglecting his own affairs and spending sleepless nights to serve his country.68 So too with the lines

I wise? I could have rested at my ease

Unmarked among the mass of those who served

And shared an equal fortune with the wisest

and

Since I would not my former credit lose

So hardly won, I take upon myself

This present task as well.69

DFor it is with reputation and character as with a house or an estate: the multitude envy those thought to have acquired them at no cost or trouble; they do not envy those who have purchased them with much hardship and peril.70

15 1 It is not enough, however, to praise ourselves without giving offence and arousing envy; there should be some use and advantage in it as well, that we may appear not merely to be intent on praise, but to have some further end in view. Consider first, then, whether a man might praise himself to exhort his hearers and inspire them with emulation and ambition, as Nestor by recounting his own exploits and battles incited Patroclus71 and roused the nine champions p149 to offer themselves for the single combat.72 For exhortation that includes action as well as argument Eand presents the speaker's own example73 and challenge is endued with life: it arouses and spurs the hearer, and not only awakens his ardour and fixes his purpose, but also affords him hope that the end can be attained and is not impossible. Therefore in the Spartan choruses the old men sing:74

Time was when we were valiant youths;

the boys sing:

So we shall be, and braver far;

and the young men:

So we now are: you need but look.

FHere the legislator acted well and like a statesman in proposing to the young examples close at hand and taken from their own people, employing as spokesmen the very men whose actions were to be their model.

16 1 But there are also times when in order to overawe and restrain the hearer and to humble and subdue the headstrong and rash, it is not amiss to make p151 some boast and extol oneself. To quote Nestor once more:

Time was I served

With better men than you, and never these

Disdained my counsel.75

545So too Aristotle76 said to Alexander that not only the rulers of a great empire have a right to be proud but also those with true opinions about the gods. Useful too against public and private enemies are such remarks as these:

Unhappy they whose sons oppose my power,77

and Agesilaüs'78 saying about the King of the Persians (who was called "Great"): "Wherein greater than I, if not more just?" And Epameinondas'79 reply to the Lacedaemonians when they denounced the Thebans: "We have at any rate put a stop to your Laconic speech."

BThese however are against enemies public and private; among friends and countrymen we can not only calm and chasten the overbold, but also restore and rouse the spirits of the terrified and timorous by a seasonable recourse to self-praise. Thus in danger and in battle Cyrus "boasted, but at other times was not given to high talk."80 And Antigonus the Second81 p153 was ordinarily sober and moderate, but in the sea-fight off Cos, when one of his friends said, "Do you not see how greatly the enemy's ships outnumber ours?" he replied, C"Yes, but against how many do you, my friends, set me?" This too Homer appears to have understood, for he represents Odysseus, when his men were dismayed at the noise and raging waters of Charybdis, as recalling to them his own skill and stout heart:

No greater peril this than when by force

The Cyclops penned us in his hollow cave;

Yet from that cave my manhood and my wit

Availed to save us.82

This is not the self-praise of a demagogue or would‑be sophist or of one who courts plaudits and cheers,83 but of a man who offers his virtue and understanding to his friends as security against despair. DFor at critical moments a successful outcome may depend largely on the regard and confidence that are placed in some man who possesses the experience and talents of a leader.

17 1 That it is most unstatesmanlike to pit oneself against the praise and fame of others was said earlier;84 yet where mistaken praise injures and corrupts by p155arousing emulation of evil and inducing the adoption of an unsound policy where important issues are at stake, it is no disservice to counteract it, or rather to divert the hearer's purpose to a better course by pointing out the difference. One would be well content, I think, to see the multitude, when vice is denounced and censured, Ewilling to abstain from it; but if vice should acquire good standing, and if honour and reputation should be added to its temptations in the way of pleasure or profit, there is no human nature so fortunate or strong as not to succumb. It is not then with the praise of persons, but with that of acts, when they are vicious, that the statesman must wage war. For this sort of praise perverts; it brings with it the imitation and emulation of what is shameful as if it were noble.

FSuch praise is best shown for what it is when true praise is set beside it. For example the tragic actor Theodorus85 once remarked, it is said, to the comedian Satyrus that there was nothing wonderful in making the audience laugh, but in making them weep and lament. Now I think if a philosopher replies to this same Theodorus: "Sir, it is not making men lament and weep, but putting an end to sorrow and lamentation that is admirable," this self-praise86 benefits the hearer and corrects his judgement. Thus Zeno87 said of the great number of Theophrastus' pupils: "His p157is the larger chorus, mine the more harmonious." 546And while Leosthenes still prospered in his campaign Phocion replied when the speakers asked what service he had done the state: "Only that when I was general you speakers delivered no funeral oration, as all who died were buried in their family graves."88 And the lines

This have I: what I ate, what with high hand

I seized, the lover's soft delight89

were very happily answered by Crates90 when he wrote

This have I: what I learned, what with deep thought

BI grasped, the Muses' stern delight.

Such praise as this is good and helpful, teaching admiration and love of the useful and profitable rather than of the vain and superfluous. So let this point take its place with the others in our discussion of the subject.

18 1 As the discussion now requires and invites us to proceed to the next point, it remains to state how we may each avoid unseasonable self-praise. Boasting has in self-love a powerful base of operations, and we can often detect its assaults even against those p159who are held to take but a modest interest in glory. For as one of the rules of health is either to avoid unwholesome places altogether, Cor being in them to take the greater care, so with self-love: there are certain treacherous situations and themes that make us blunder into it on the slightest occasion.

First, when others are praised, our rivalry erupts, as we said,91 into praise of self; it is seized with a certain barely controllable yearning and urge for glory that stings and tickles like an itch, especially when the other is praised for something in which he is our equal or inferior. For just as in the hungry the sight of others eating makes the appetite sharper and keener, Dso the praise of others not far removed inflames with jealousy those who are intemperate in seeking glory.

19 1 Second, in telling of exploits that have been lucky and have turned out according to plan, many are so pleased with themselves that before they know it they have drifted into vainglorious boasting. For once they come to talk of some of victory or political success or act or word of theirs that found favour with leading men, they get out of hand and go too far.92 To this sort of self-glorification one may observe that courtiers and the military most readily succumb. p161But it may also attack those who have returned from a governor's banquet Eor from handling affairs of state. For with the mention of illustrious and royal personages they interweave certain gracious remarks that these personages have addressed to them, and fancy that they are not praising themselves but recounting praise received from others. Some even suppose that the self-praise is quite unobserved by their audience when they report the greetings, salutations, and attentions of kings and generals, feeling that what they recite is not their own praise but proofs of the courtesy and affability of others. FWe must therefore look warily to ourselves when we recount praise received from others and see that we do not allow any taint or suggestion of self-love and self-praise to appear, lest we be thought to make Patroclus our excuse,93 while we are really singing our own praise.

20 1 But the topic of censure and reproof also has its dangers and offers opportunities of deviation to those who suffer from a morbid craving for glory. Here old men especially go astray: once they have been drawn into admonishing others and rating unworthy habits and unwise acts, they magnify themselves as men who in the like circumstances have been prodigies of wisdom. 547These indeed, if not merely distinguished by years but by reputation and merit as well, must have licence. What they do is not unprofitable — far from it —: it arouses emulation and a kind of ambition in the persons so rebuked. But the p163rest of us must carefully avoid and be wary of this deviation. For to point out the faults of our neighbours in any case gives pain, can hardly be borne, and requires great tact; but when a man intermingles praise of himself with censure of another, and uses another's disgrace to secure glory for himself, he is altogether odious and vulgar, as one who would win applause from the humiliation of another.94

21 1 Again, as those who are naturally prone and prompt to laugh Bshould take special care to avoid being tickled or so handled that the smoothest particles95 of the body glide and flow together and thus bring on and precipitate the fit, in the same way those with a too ardent weakness for fame should especially be advised to abstain from praising themselves when they are praised by others. For you should blush when praised, not be unblushing;96 you should restrain those who mention some great merit of yours, not find fault with them for doing you scant justice, as most do, going on themselves to recall and gorge97 themselves Con other actions and feats of prowess until by thus commending themselves they undo the commendation of others. Now some98 tickle these men p165as it were by flattery and puff them up; others maliciously throw out a little tribute as a kind of bait to elicit self-praise; still others press for details and interrogate them for the fun of it, as with Menander's99 soldier:

— What made this scar? — A javelin. — O please

Tell us the story. — I was on a ladder

Scaling a wall . . . I in all seriousness

Proceed to demonstrate; and then once more

They sneered at me.

22 1 DIn all these circumstances we cannot be too cautious, not allowing ourselves to be drawn out by the praise nor to be led on by the questions. The surest precaution and safeguard is to attend closely to the self-praise of others and to remember the distaste and vexation that was felt by all: no other kind of talk is so odious or offensive. For although we can point to no further harm than the mere hearing of the self-praise, yet as though instinctively irked by the performance and uncomfortable we are eager to escape and breathe freely again. Why even a flatterer, a hanger‑on, a man in need, Efinds it hard in his necessity to stomach and endure a rich man or satrap or king bestowing praises on himself, and calls it the most exorbitant reckoning he ever paid. Witness p167the character in Menander:100

He murders me. The feasting makes me thin.

Good God! The wit! The military wit!

What airs he gives himself, the blasted windbag!

These are the flatterers and language to which we are prompted not only by soldiers and the newly rich with their flaunting and ostentatious talk, but also by sophists, philosophers, and commanders who are full of their own importance and hold forth on the theme; and if we remember that praise of oneself always involves dispraise from others, Fthat this vainglory has an inglorious end, the audience being left, as Demosthenes101 says, with a feeling of vexation, not with any belief in the truth of the self-portrait, we shall avoid talking about ourselves unless we have in prospect some great advantage to our hearers or to ourselves.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 See L. Radermacher's illuminating discussion, "Studien zur Geschichte der griechischen Rhetorik, II: Plutarchs Schrift de se ipso citra invidiam laudando," Rheinisches Museum, LII (1897), pp419‑424, and M. Pohlenz' concluding remarks in Göttinger Nachrichten, 1913, pp358 f. The very term for self-praise, periautologia, that is used by the rhetoricians (see Alexander in Spengel, Rhet. Graec. III, p4.9 and Plutarch, 539E) comes from the softened expression "to speak about myself" that Demosthenes uses in the oration On the Crown (4 and 321); and it is probable that the whole topic was suggested to the rhetoricians by that oration.

2 Cf. 539E, 539F, 541C, 545D, and 545E.

3 Cf. ἕκαστος 546B and the first person plural at 546F (δοκῶμεν), 547A (οἱ δ᾽ ἄλλοι . . . ὀφείλομεν), and 547F (ἀφεξόμεθα).

4 Cf. 540C and ἀκροατήν at 542C and 545D.

5 They are given in chapters 15‑17, summarized in the second part of the following paragraph.

6 "Frivolous" or "purposeless" or "vain" — kenos is literally "empty" — self-praise is defined (540A) as that of persons thought to praise themselves for no other reason than to receive praise. One might have expected to hear that ill-advised self-praise is praise of themselves by such persons. But Plutarch, unlike the rhetoricians, supposes the speaker virtuous and truthful, and therefore not really guilty of mere vanity. Yet for self-praise, even by such a speaker, to achieve its worthy end it must not alienate the audience, or be thought to proceed from a mere hunger for praise.

7 Plutarch hints (542E) that this device can be used at all times, even when the speaker is under no compulsion to praise himself.

8 In moral treatises of this sort it was common to pass from the disorder to the cure: cf. Mor. 510C‑D, 517C, 536C‑D, and Pohlenz, "Ueber Plutarchs Schrift περὶ ἀοργησίας," Hermes, XXXI (1896), pp328‑329.

9 Quomodo aliquis sese laudare sine invidia possit. Plutarchi libellus ad Herculanum, à Iulio Gabrielio Eugubino Latine redditus. Rome, 1552.

10 Plutarchi . . . Libelli septem in latinum conversi, . . . Thoma Naogeorgo . . . interprete. Basle, 1556.

11 Opere Morali di Plutarcho, nuovamente tradotte, per M. Lodovico Domenichi . . . Come altri possa lodarsi da se stesso senza biasimo . . . Lucca, 1560.

12 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. pp675 f., Eur. no. 978.

13 Olympian Odes, IX.41 f.

14 Frag. 27 (ed. Wilamowitz).

15 It violated the regulations that governed such contests.

16 Memorabilia, II.1.31.

17 Cf. Demosthenes, On the Crown, 128, quoted also by Quintilian, Education of the Orator, XI.1.22.

18 Periautologia (self-glorification) is a technical term in rhetoric: see Introduction, p110, note.

19 Cf. Mor. 777E‑F, 821C.

20 Cf. Mor. 1100B.

21 Cf. Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroem. Gr. II, p690, and Mor. 673D.

22 Thucydides, II.60.5.

23 The rhetoricians observe that the highest eloquence overpowers judgement: cf. Cicero, De Oratore, II.42 (178); Quintilian, Education of the Orator, VIII.3.3‑4; and the treatise On the Sublime 1.4.

24 Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. xxv.2‑3 (290E), and Mor. 194A‑C with the note.

25 Il. IV.405; quoted also in Mor. 29A.

26 Il. IV.370‑371.

27 Cf. Quintilian, Education of the Orator, XI.1.17.

28 Cf. Mor. 196F and Livy, XXXVIII.50.12.

29 Sophocles, Trachinian Women, 442.

30 Il. XVI.847.

31 Cf. Life of Phocion, chap. xxxvi.3 (758D); Mor. 189A.

32 Homer, Il. I.128 f.; quoted also in Mor. 29A.

33 Homer, Il. IX.328.

34 Homer, Il. XVI.70‑71.

35 Cf. Life of Themistocles, chap. xxii.2 (123A); Mor. 812B.

36 Cf. Life of Themistocles, chap. xviii.4 (121A); Mor. 185E.

37 For the word cf. Hermogenes, How to be Forceful, chap. 25: ἵνα δοκοίη τὸν ἐχθρὸν λυπεῖν, μὴ Ἀθηναίοις ὀνειδίζειν.

38 Cf. Apsines, Art of Rhetoric, chap. vii (pp273.18‑274.20, ed. Hammer).

39 Cf. Mor. 842A‑B.

40 Cf. Life of Cicero, chap. xxvi.6 (873F), and Mor. 204E‑205A.

41 On the Crown, 101.

42 On the Crown, 240, also quoted in this connexion by Apsines, Art of Rhetoric, chap. vii (p274.4‑7, ed. Hammer).

43 Cf. Cicero, On Invention, I.16 (22): "ab auditorium persona benivolentia captabitur si res ab eis fortiter, sapienter, mansuete gestae proferentur . . ."

44 On the Crown, 80 ff., and especially 88.

45 Cf. Life of Alexander, chap. lxii (699F).

46 Cf. Life of Dion, chap. v.9 (960B).

47 Gelōs in Greek.

48 Homer, Il. XXII.379.

49 Cf. Life of Timoleon, chap. xxxvi.6 (253D); Mor. 816E.

50 Cf. Mor. 816E, 1126C.

51 Felix in Latin, Epaphroditos in Greek. Cf. Life of Sulla, chap. xxxvi.6 (253D); Mor. 318C.

52 Cf. Aristotle, Frag. 548 (ed. Rose).

53 Demosthenes, On the Crown, 299; cf. Hermogenes, How to be Forceful, chap. xxv.

54 Cf. Life of Pericles, chap. xxxviii.3‑4 (178B‑E); Mor. 186D; Julian, Or. 3 (128D); and Eclogae Vaticanae, 15 (ap. Stobaeus, vol. III, p. ix Hense). He had not caused the death of political opponents: see H. N. Couch in Classical Journal, XXXI (1935‑36), pp495‑499.

55 Homer, Od. XVI.187; also quoted in Mor. 81D.

56 Among the Seleucids Antiochus II, IV, and VI and Demetrius II and III bore the title "god"; and of course all deified rulers were "gods."

57 Thus Alexander was called "son of Zeus" (cf. Life of Alexander, chap. xxvii.9, 680F), Demetrius Poliorcetes "son of Poseidon" (cf. Athenaeus, VI.62, 253CE).

58 That is "lover of his (her) brother (sister)," a title of the Seleucids Demetrius II, Antiochus XI, and Philippus, of the Parthian Artabanus I, of Iotapê, queen of Commagenê, of Mithridates IV of Pontus, of the Egyptian monarchs Arsinoê I, Ptolemy II, X, and XIII, Arsinoê II, and Berenicê III, of the Cappadocian king Ariarathes X, and of Attalus II.

59 That is, "lover of his (her) mother," a title of Ptolemy VI, VII, X, and XI, Cleopatra II and III, and Berenicê III; of Ariarathes VII, Paerisades IV, and Attalus III.

60 That is, "benefactor," a title of Alexander Balas, Antiochus VII, and Ptolemy III, VI, and VII.

61 That is "dear to God (a god)": we have found no such royal title.

62 Cf. Plato, Phaedrus, 278D.

63 Homer, Il. XXIII.673.

64 Homer, Il. XXIII.670.

65 Homer, Od. XII.192‑194.

66 Homer, Od. IX.228‑229.

67 Cf. Mor. 176E.

68 Cf. Life of Cato the Elder, chap. viii.15 (340F).

69 Euripides, Philoctetes, Frags. 787 and 789 (Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., pp616‑617).

70 For this chapter cf. Cicero, De Oratore, II.52 (210).

71 Homer, Il. XI.655‑762.

72 Homer, Il. VII.123‑160; cf. Aristides, Or. XLIX.35 (p153.6‑10, ed. Keil).

73 Cf. Aristides, Or. XLIX.141 (p186.23 f., ed. Keil).

74 Carm. Pop. 17, ed. Diehl; cf. Life of Lycurgus, chap. xxi.3 (53B), and Mor. 238A.

75 Homer, Il. I.260‑261. Cf. Dio Chrysostom, Or. LVII.4.

76 Frag. 664 (ed. Rose); cf. Mor. 78D, 472E.

77 Homer, Il. VI.127, quoted also by Aristides, Or. XLIX.108 (p176, ed. Keil).

78 Cf. Life of Agesilaüs, chap. xxiii.9 (608F); Mor. 78D, 190F, 213C.

79 Cf. Mor. 193D.

80 Cf. Xenophon, Cyropaedeia, VII.1.17, also referred to by Aristides, Or. XLIX.105 (pp174‑175, ed. Keil).

81 Cf. Life of Pelopidas, chap. ii.2 (278D), and Mor. 183D.

82 Homer, Od. XII.209‑212.

83 Literally "tongue-smacking."

84 Chapter 3, supra.

85 Theodorus and Satyrus were celebrated actors of the fourth century. The story is apparently not told elsewhere.

86 Consolation was a recognized function of a philosopher.

87 Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Vet. Frag. I.280; cf. Mor. 78D.

88 Cf. Life of Phocion, chap. xxiii.2 (751F). The dead in war were buried in a public grave; cf. Thucydides, II.34.5.

89 Cf. G. Kinkel, Epicorum Graec. Frag. I.308‑311, and Mor. 330F with the note (where read Philology for Philosophy). The lines passed for the epitaph of Sardanapalus: cf. Cicero, Tusc. Disput. V.35 (101).

90 Frag. 8 (ed. Diels).

91 Chapter 3, supra.

92 Cf. Mor. 630B ff.

93 Cf. Homer, Il. XIX.302, where the slave women lament ostensibly the death of Patroclus, but in reality their own woes: see Eustathius ad loc. and Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroem. Gr. I p294.

94 The word eneudokimein may have been suggested by Demosthenes, On the Crown, 198.

95 An atomistic explanation: cf. Mor. 765C, 766E for a similar explanation of love.

96 Demosthenes, On the Crown, 128; Menander, frag. 527 (vol. II, p176 Körte).

97 Cf. the comparison of the appetite for praise with hunger (540A‑B and 546C‑D, supra).

98 Cf. De Garrulitate, chap. 20.

99 Frag. 745 (vol. II, p234 Körte).

100 Frag. 746 (vol. II, p234 Körte).

101 On the Crown, 128.


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