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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces the essay
On Virtue and Vice


as published in Vol. II
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1928

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!

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(Vol. II) Plutarch, Moralia


The work appears in pp93‑101 of Vol. II of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1928. It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1956 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.)

p93 Loeb Edition Introduction

Plutarch's essay on Virtue and Vice is an excellent sermon which has not been overlooked by Christian preachers.

p95 1 1  (100) [link to original Greek text] Clothes are supposed to make a man warm, not of course by warming him themselves in the sense of adding their warmth to him, because each garment by itself is cold, and for this reason very often persons who feel hot and feverish keep changing from one set of clothes to another; cbut the warmth which a man gives off from his own person the clothing, closely applied to the body, confines and enwraps, and does not allow it, when thus imprisoned in the body, to be dissipated again. Now the same condition existing in human affairs deceives most people, who think that, if they surround themselves with vast houses, and get together a mass of slaves and money, they shall live pleasantly.1 But a pleasant and happy life comes not from external things, but, on the contrary, man draws on his own character as a source2 from which to add the element of pleasure and joy to the things which surround him.

dBright with a blazing fire a house looks far more cheerful,3

[link to original Greek text] and wealth is pleasanter, and repute and power more resplendent, if with them goes the gladness which springs from the heart; and so too men bear poverty, exile, and old age lightly and gently in proportion to the serenity and mildness of their character.

p97 2 1   [link to original Greek text] As perfumes make coarse and ragged garments fragrant, but the body of Anchises gave off a noisome exudation,

Damping the linen robe adown his back,4

[link to original Greek text] so every occupation and manner of life, if attended by virtue, is untroubled and delightful, while, on the other hand, any admixture of vice renders those things ewhich to others seem splendid, precious, in imposing, only troublesome, sickening, and unwelcome to their possessors.

This man is happy deemed 'mid public throng,

But when he opes his door he's thrice a wretch;

His wife controls, commands, and always fights.5

[link to original Greek text] Yet it is not difficult for any man to get rid of a bad wife if he be a real man and not a slave; but against his own vice it is not possible to draw up a writing of divorcement and forthwith to be rid of troubles and to be at peace, having arranged to be by himself. No, his vice, a settled tenant of his very vitals always, both at night and by day,

Burns, but without e'er a brand, and consigns to an eld all untimely.6

f [link to original Greek text] For in travelling vice is a troublesome companion because of arrogance, at dinner an expensive companion owing to gluttony, and a distressing bedfellow, since by anxieties, cares and jealousies it drives out and destroys sleep. For what slumber there may be is sleep and repose for the body only, but for the soul terrors, dreams, and agitations, because of superstition.

p99 When grief o'ertakes me as I close my eyes,

I'm murdered by my dreams.7

[link to original Greek text] says one man. In such a state do envy, fear, temper, and licentiousness put a man. For by day vice, looking outside of itself and conforming its attitude to others, 101 is abashed and veils its emotions, and does not give itself up completely to its impulses, but oftentimes resists them and struggles against them; but in the hours of slumber, when it has escaped from opinion and law, and got away as far as possible from feeling fear or shame, it sets every desire stirring, and awakens its depravity and licentiousness. It "attempts incest," as Plato8 says, partakes of forbidden meats, abstains from nothing which it wishes to do, but revels in lawlessness so far as it can, with images and visions which end in no pleasure or accomplishment of desire, bbut have only the power to stir to fierce activity the emotional and morbid propensities.9

3 1   [link to original Greek text] Where, then, is the pleasure in vice, if in no part of it is to be found freedom from care and grief, or contentment or tranquillity or calm? For a well-balanced and healthy condition of the body gives room for engendering the pleasures of the flesh; but in the soul lasting joy and gladness cannot possibly be engendered, unless it provide itself first with cheerfulness, fearlessness, and courageousness as a basis to rest upon, or as a calm tranquillity that no billows disturb; otherwise, even though some hope or delectation lure us with a smile, anxiety suddenly breaks p101forth, like a hidden rock appearing in fair weather, and the soul is overwhelmed and confounded.

4 1  c [link to original Greek text] Heap up gold, amass silver, build stately promenades, fill your house with slaves and the city with your debtors; unless you lay level the emotions of your soul, put a stop to your insatiate desires, and quit yourself of fears and anxieties, you are but decanting wine for a man in a fever, offering honey to a bilious man, and preparing tid-bits and dainties for sufferers from colic or dysentery, who cannot retain them or be strengthened by them, but are only brought nearer to death thereby. Does not your observation of sick persons teach you that they dislike and reject and decline the finest and costliest viands which their attendants offer dand try to force upon them; and then later, when their whole condition has changed, and good breathing, wholesome blood, and normal temperature have returned to their bodies, they get up and have joy and satisfaction in eating plain bread with cheese and cress?10 It is such a condition that reason creates in the soul. You will be contented with your lot if you learn what the honourable and good is. You will be luxurious in poverty, and live like a king, and you will find no less satisfaction in the care-free life of a private citizen than in the life connected with high military or civic office. If you become a philosopher, you will live not unpleasantly, but you will learn to subsist pleasantly anywhere and with any resources. eWealth will give you gladness for the good you will do to many, poverty for your freedom from many cares, repute for the honours you will enjoy, and obscurity for the certainty that you shall not be envied.

The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 Cf. Moralia, 99E, supra.

2 A dictum of Zeno's; cf. Plutarch, Moralia, 477A, and Von Arnim, Stoicorum veterum fragmenta, I p50.

3 A verse attributed to Homer; cf. The Contest of Homer and Hesiod, 274. Again quoted Moralia, 762D.

4 From the Laocoön of Sophocles; cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Sophocles, No. 344.

5 Perhaps from Menander; cf. Kock, Com. Attic. Frag. III p86, and Plutarch, Moralia, 471B.

6 Hesiod, Works and Days, 705.

Thayer's Note: Quoted again by Plutarch in Mor. 527A.

7 From some poet of the new comedy; cf. Kock, Com. Att. Frag. III p444, Adespota, No. 185.

8 Republic, p. 571D.

9 Cf. Moralia, 83A, supra.

10 Cf. Moralia, 466D.

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Page updated: 4 Apr 10