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This webpage reproduces the essay
Quomodo quis sentiat. . .

by
Plutarch

as published in Vol. I
of the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927

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. I) Plutarch, Moralia

p399 How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue

Copyright

The work appears in pp399‑457 of Vol. I of the Loeb Classical Library's edition of the Moralia, first published in 1927. It is now in the public domain pursuant to the 1978 revision of the U. S. Copyright Code, since the copyright expired in 1955 and was not renewed at the appropriate time, which would have been that year or the year before. (Details here on the copyright law involved.)

Loeb Edition Introduction

The essay on Progress in Virtue is one of Plutarch's polemics against the Stoics, and is directed mainly against two of the doctrines of the Stoic philosophy. The first is that the wise man alone is virtuous, and that wisdom with attendant virtue is a sudden acquisition with no preliminary stages; the second is in a way the corollary of the first, since, if a man is not perfect (i.e. wise), it may be argued that it matters little how trivial is his imperfection and whether his faults be great or small. "He that offendeth in one point is guilty of all."

Against such doctrines as these Plutarch's strong common sense revolts, and he endeavours to show not only that ethical advance is possible, but that there are plenty of signs by which it can be recognized.

The essay is addressed (or dedicated) to Q. Sosius1 Senecio, one of Plutarch's numerous Roman friends, who was twice consul in the early years of Trajan's reign. It was at his request that Plutarch composed the Symposiacs, in which his name frequently appears, and to him are inscribed also the parallel lives of Theseus and Romulus, Demosthenes and Cicero, and Dion and Brutus. Plutarch had been with him much in Rome, and he had visited Plutarch in Greece. It is doubtless the same Sosius whom the younger Pliny addressed in two letters (I.13 and IV.4) which have come down to us.

p401 75b 1 1 What possible form of argument, my dear Sosius Senecio, will keep alive in a man the consciousness that he is growing better in regard to virtue, if it is a fact that the successive stages of his progress produce no abatement of his unwisdom, but, on the contrary, vice constantly besets all progress and with countervailing weight drags him down,

As leaden weights submerge the fisher's net?2

For, by the same token, in music or grammar a man would not realize that he was making any improvement if in the process of learning he should in no wise lower the level of his ignorance about these subjects, and his lack of proficiency should all the time persist to the same degree. So, too, in the case of a sick man, a course of treatment that should not in some way effect an easing and alleviation of the malady, by making it to yield and let go its hold on him, would not afford him any perception of a change for the better Cuntil the opposite condition had been unmistakably engendered, his body having completely recovered its strength. On the contrary, just as in these cases persons make no progress unless their progress is marked by such an abatement of what is oppressing them, that, when the scale turns p403and they swing upward in the opposite direction, they can note the change, so too, in the study of philosophy, neither progress nor any sense of progress is to be assumed, if the soul does not put aside any of its gross stupidity and purge itself thereof, and if, up to the moment of its attaining the absolute and perfect good, it is wedded to evil which is also absolute. Why if this is so, the wise man in a moment or a second of time Dchanges from the lowest possible depravity to an unsurpassable state of virtue; and all his vice, of which he has not in long years succeeded in removing even a small portion, he suddenly leaves behind for ever.

Yet you doubtless know that, on the other hand, the authors of such assertions make for themselves much trouble and great difficulties over the unwitting man,3 who has as yet failed to apprehend the fact that he has become wise, but does not know, and hesitates to believe, that his advancement, which has been effected by the gradual and long-continued process of divesting himself of some qualities and adding others, has, as walking brings one where he would be, imperceptibly and quietly brought him into virtue's company. But if there were such a swiftness in the change and a difference so vast, Ethat the man who was the very worst in the morning should have become the very best at evening, or should the change so come about that he who was a worthless dolt when he fell asleep should awake wise, and, having dismissed from his soul his gross stupidities and false concepts of yesterday, could exclaim:

False dreams, farewell! Ye are but naught, it seems,4

p405 — who would fail to recognize that a great difference like this had been wrought in his own self, and that the light of wisdom had all at once burst upon him? Why, it seems to me that anyone who, like Caeneus,5 were made from woman in answer to prayer, would sooner fail to recognize the transformation, than that anyone made temperate, wise, and brave, Ffrom being cowardly, foolish, and licentious, and transferred from a bestial to a godlike life, should for a single second not perceive what had happened to him.

2 1 Rightly has it been said:

Adjust the stone to fit

The line, and not the line to fit the stone.6

But those who do not adjust their tenets to fit the facts, but rather try to force the facts into an unnatural agreement with their own assumptions,7 have filled philosophy with a great number of difficulties, of which the greatest is that 76 which would assign all men to a general category of badness with the single exception of the absolutely perfect man; the result of which is to make a puzzle out of what we call progress, since it falls but little short of the utmost foolishness, and represents men who have been released by it from all kinds of passions and weaknesses as living in a state of equal wretchedness with those who have not yet been freed from a single one of the worst evils. Now these men really refute themselves when, in their lectures, they put the wrongdoing of Aristeides on an equality with that of Phalaris, and cowardice of Brasidas on equality with that of Dolon, Band the hard-hearted attitude of Plato p407as actually not differing at all from that of Meletus; whereas in their life and practice they show an aversion for these latter men and avoid them as ruthless, but the former they seem to think are men of great worth, for they cite them with confidence in the most important matters.

3 1 But as for us, we observe that there are degrees in every kind of evil, and especially in the indeterminate and undefined kind that has to do with the soul. (In the same way also there are different degrees of progress produced by the abatement of baseness like a receding shadow, as reason gradually illuminates and purifies the soul.) CWe do not, therefore, think that consciousness of the change is unreasonable in the case of persons who are, as it were, making their way upward out of some deep gorge, but there are ways in which it can be computed. Of these I beg you to consider the first without further preface. Just as men sailing out into the open sea calculate their run by the time elapsed in conjunction with the strength of the wind, reckoning how much distance, after spending a certain time, while carried onward by a certain force, they are likely to have accomplished; so too in philosophy a man may take for himself as a proof that he is gaining ground the uniformity and continuity of his course, which makes on the way no frequent halts, followed by leaps and bounds, but smoothly and regularly forges ahead, and goes through the course of philosophic reasoning without mishap. For the lines:

If even small upon the small you place

And do this oft,8

Dare not merely well put in regard to the increase of p409money, but they apply to everything, and especially to advancement in virtue, since reason thereby gains the aid of constant and effective habit. But the variation and obtuseness often shown by students of philosophy not only cause delays and stoppages in their progress on the road to knowledge, but also bring about retrogressions, since vice always makes an onset on the man who yields ground by loitering, and carries him backward in the opposite direction.

Mathematicians tell us that the planets, when their forward movement ceases, become for the moment stationary, but in the study of philosophy there is no intermission when progress halts, nor any such thing as remaining stationary, Ebut Nature, being never free from motion of some sort, is wont to move up or down, as though suspended on a balance, and to be swayed by the better motives, or else under the influence of the contrary motives it moves rapidly towards what is worse. If therefore you follow the advice given by the god in the oracle, to "fight the Cirrhaeans all days and all nights," and are conscious that you likewise in the daytime and the night-time have always carried on an unrelenting warfare against vice, or at least that you have not often relaxed your vigilance nor constantly granted admission to divers pleasures, recreations, and pastimes, which are, as it were, envoys sent by vice to treat for a truce, it is then quite probable that you may go on with good courage and confidence to what still remains.

4 1 FHowever, even though it be that intermissions occur in one's philosophical studies, yet if the later periods of study are more constant and p411long-continued than they were earlier,9 this is no slight indication that the spirit of indifference is being expelled through industry and practice; but there is something pernicious in the opposite condition, when numerous and continued set-backs occur after no long time, as if the spirit of eagerness were withering away. 77 We may compare a reed, the growth of which at its beginning has a very great impetus, which results in an even and continuous length, at first in long sections, since it meets with few obstacles and repulses, but later, as though for lack of breath as it gets higher up, it grows weak and weary, and is gathered up in the many frequent nodules, when the life-giving spirit meets with buffets and shocks; so with philosophy, those who at the outset engage in long excursions into its realms and later meet with a long series of obstacles and distractions without becoming aware of Bany change toward the better, finally get wearied out, and give up. But a man of the other type "is again given wings"10 by the help he gets as he is carried onward, and by the strength and eagerness born of successful accomplishment brushes aside pretences as though they were a hindering crowd in his path. In the same way that an indication of the beginning of love is to be found, not in the taking delight in the presence of the loved one (for this is usual), but in feeling a sting of pain when separated; just so are many allured by philosophy and seem to take hold of the task of learning with high aspirations, but if they are forced by other business and occupations to leave it, all that excitement of theirs subsides and they no longer care. But

p413 He in whose heart the prick of youthful love11

Cis planted may appear to you moderate and mild while present at philosophical discussions; but when he is separated and apart from them, behold him ardent and troubled, and dissatisfied with all business and occupations, and, cherishing the mere recollection, he is driven about like an irrational being by his yearning towards philosophy. For we ought not to enjoy being present at discussions as we enjoy the presence of perfumes, and then when we are removed from them not seek after them or even feel uneasy; but we ought in our periods of separation to experience a sensation akin in a way to hunger and thirsty, and so be led to cleave to what makes for real progress, whether it chance to be a wedding or wealth or the duties of friendship or military service that causes the temporary parting. DFor the greater the acquisition from philosophy is, the more annoyance there is in being cut off from it.

5 1 Quite the same as this, or nearly the same, is the very ancient elucidation of progress found in Hesiod,12 which sets forth that the way is no longer uphill, nor very steep, but easy and smooth and readily accomplished, as though it were made smooth by practice, and as though it brought on a light, which is to be found in the study of philosophy, and an illumination succeeding upon perplexity, errant thought, and much vacillation, which students of philosophy encounter at the outset, like persons who have left behind the land which they know Eand are not yet in sight of the land to which they are sailing. For having given up the common and familiar things before gaining knowledge and possession of the better, they are carried hither and thither in the p415interval, and oftentimes in the wrong direction. An illustration is the story told about Sextius, the Roman, to the effect that he had renounced his honours and offices in the State for philosophy, but, because he was impatient and found the subject difficult at the outset, he came very near throwing himself down from an upper story. A similar tale, too, they record about Diogenes13 of Sinope at the beginning of his devotion to philosophy. The Athenians were keeping holiday with public banquets and shows in the theatre Fand informal gatherings among themselves, and indulging in merry-making the whole night long, while Diogenes, huddled up in a corner trying to sleep, fell into some very disturbing and disheartening reflexions how he from no compulsion had entered upon a toilsome and strange mode of life, and as a result of his own act he was now sitting without part or parcel in all these good things. A moment later, however, a mouse, it is said, crept up and busied itself with the crumbs of his bread, whereupon he once more recovered his spirits, 78 and said to himself as though rebuking himself for cowardice, "What are you saying, Diogenes? Your leavings make a feast for this creature, but as for you, a man of birth and breeding, just because you cannot be getting drunk over there, reclining on soft and flowery couches, do you bewail and lament your lot?' Now when such fits of dejection become of infrequent occurrence and the objections and protests made by sound sense against them quickly come to our help, as though rallying after a temporary route, and easily dissipate our depression and dismay, we may well believe that our progress rests on a firm foundation.

p417 6 1 Since, however, students of philosophy are not of themselves the only source of the dejecting and reactionary influences, which, as the result of weakness, affect them, Bbut since also the sober advice of friends and the bitter criticisms of the unfriendly, in the form of scoffing and joking, cause a warping and weakening of purpose, and have even made some persons renounce philosophy altogether, no slight indication of progress would be shown by gentleness of demeanour in the face of such criticisms, and by not being disturbed or irritated by those who name this or that acquaintance of about the same age, and tell how he is prospering at Court, or getting a big dower at marriage, or going down to the Forum, attended by a great crowd, to stand for some office or to advocate some cause. For plainly the man who is not disconcerted or affected under such circumstances is one on whom philosophy has got a right hold. CFor to cease emulating what the great majority admire is impossible, except for those who have acquired the faculty of admiring virtue. For to confront the world boldly is with some people possible only under the influence of anger or mental derangement; but to contemn actions which the world admires is quite impossible without real and solid wisdom. This is the reason why they compare their own state with the other and vaunt themselves over it, as does Solon:14

We will not bargain with them ever to take in exchange

All of their wealth for our virtue, since virtue is ever abiding;

Riches are held for a time here or there among men.

Diogenes, too, used to compare his moving Dfrom Corinth to Athens, and from Athens to Corinth p419again, with the sojourns of the Persian king at Susa in the spring, at Babylon in the winter, and in Media in the summer. So too Agesilaus remarked in regard to the Great King, "In what is he greater than I, unless he be more just?" And Aristotle, writing to Antipater about Alexander, said that it was not Alexander alone who had the right to be proud because he held sway over many, but any man had just as good a right, if had the correct ideas about God.15 EAnd Zeno, seeing that Theophrastus was admired for having many pupils, said, "It is true his chorus is larger, but mine is more harmonious."

7 1 Whenever, then, by thus setting the advantages of virtue over against merely external advantages, you have succeeded in dispelling all envy and jealousy and the things that vex and depress many beginners in philosophy, you are thus again making clear to yourself in a significant way the reality of your progress. Of no slight significance either is the change which occurs in one's discourse. For practically all beginners in philosophy are more inclined to pursue those forms of discourse which make for repute; some of these beginners, like birds, are led by their flightiness and ambition to alight on the resplendent heights of the Natural Sciences; while others, "like puppies, delighting to pull and tear," as Plato puts it,16 Fgo in for the disputations, knotty problems, and quibbles; but the majority enter a course in Logic and Argumentation, where they straightway stock themselves up for the practice of sophistry; while a few go about making a collection of apophthegms and anecdotes, but, as Anacharsis said of the Greeks that he never saw them put their money to any use p421save to count it, so these persons are for ever foolishly taking account and inventory of their literary stock, but they lay up nothing else which would be to their own profit. 79Quite in place here is Antiphanes'17 story, which somebody has recounted and applied to Plato's close acquaintances. Antiphanes said humorously that in a certain city words congealed with the cold the moment they were spoken, and later, as they thawed out, people heard in the summer what they had said to one another in the winter; it was the same way, he asserted, with what was said by Plato to men still in their youth; not until long afterwards, if ever, did most of them come to perceive the meaning, when they had become old men. And this is the general experience with philosophy as a whole until the judgement acquires a healthy stability, and begins to find itself in accord with principles productive of character and breadth of mind, and to look for the kind of discourse whose footprints, in the words of Aesop,18 are turned toward us rather than away from us. BFor as Sophocles said, that only after handling with a light touch the turgidity of Aeschylus and next his harshness and artificiality in composition, did he, as a third step, change the character of the language, which has the most to do with moral character and goodness, so, in the same way, when students of philosophy pass from the ostentatious and artificial to the kind of discourse which deals with character and feeling they begin to make real and unaffected progress.

8 1 Observe, then, not only when you are perusing the writings of philosophers Cand listening to p423their discourses, whether you do not give more attention to the mere language than to the subject matter, and whether you are not more on the alert for passages which involve something difficult and odd rather than for those which convey something useful, substantial, and beneficial; moreover, when you are busying yourself with poems and history, you must watch yourself to see whether anything escapes you among the ideas which are suitably expressed and tend to improvement of character or alleviation of emotion. For as Simonides19 says of the bee that it flits among the flowers,

Making the yellow honey its care,

while the rest of the world contents itself with their colour and fragrance, getting nothing else from them, so, while the rest of the world ranges amid poems for the sake of pleasure or diversion, if a man, through his own initiative, finds and collects something worth while, it is reasonable to expect Dthat he at last, from force of habit and fondness of what is beautiful and appropriate, has made himself capable of appreciating it. In the case, for example, of persons who make use of Plato and Xenophon for their language, and gather therefrom nothing else but the purity of their Attic style, like dew and bloom, what can you say of them, save that they are the sort of persons that content themselves with the sweet odour and bouquet of medicines, but have no desire for their sedative and purgative virtues, nor the power to discern them? But those who are making still more and more progress are always able to derive benefit, not only from what is said, but also from what is seen and done, Eand to gather what is appropriate and useful therefrom. p425Examples are found in the stories told of Aeschylus and of others like him. Aeschylus at the Isthmian games was watching a boxing-match, and when one of the men was hit the crowd in the theatre burst into a roar. Aeschylus nudged Ion of Chios, and said, "You see what a thing training is; the man who is hit says nothing; it is the spectators who shout."20 Brasidas caught a mouse among some dried figs, got bitten, and let it go; thereupon he said to himself, "Heavens, there is nothing so small or weak that it will not save its life if it has courage to defend itself."21 Diogenes22 at the first sight of a man drinking from his hands took his cup from his wallet and threw it away. FThus attention and intense application makes persons perceptive and receptive of anything that conducts to virtue, from whatever source it come. This is more apt to be the case if they combine theory with practice, not only, as Thucydides23 says, "carrying on their practice amid dangers," but also when confronted by pleasures or contentions, and when busy over lawsuits and pleadings at court and the conduct of public affairs, thus, as it were, giving themselves a demonstration of their convictions, or rather arriving at their convictions by putting them to a practical test; 80 whereas, those who are still studying, and busily looking to see what they can get from philosophy which they can straightway haul out for display in the Forum, or at a gathering of young men, or at an evening party at Court, ought not to be thought to practise philosophy any more than apothecaries are to be thought to practise medicine; or rather, a charlatan of this sort does not p427differ at all from the bird described by Homer,24 for whatever he gets he proffers through the mouth to his pupils as to an "unfledged brood,"

Badly, however, it goes with himself,

if he does not devote to his own advantage, or assimilate at all, anything of what he receives.

9 1 BIt is therefore imperative that we consider carefully whether, as for ourselves, we employ our discourse for our own improvement, and whether, as it affects others, we employ it, not for the sake of momentary repute, nor from motives of ambition, but rather with the wish to hear and to impart something; but most of all must we consider whether the spirit of contention and quarrelling over debatable questions has been put down, and whether we have ceased to equip ourselves with arguments, as with boxing-gloves or brass knuckles, with which to contend against one another, and to take more delight in scoring a hit or a knockout than in learning and imparting something. For reasonableness and mildness in such matters, and the ability to join in discussions without wrangling, and to close them without anger, Cand to avoid a sort of arrogance over success in argument and exasperation over defeat, are the marks of a man who is making adequate progress. Aristippus made this clear when he was once outwitted in an argument by a man who had plenty of assurance, but was otherwise foolish and flighty. For seeing that the man was rejoicing and in great conceit, Aristippus said, "For all that I have been defeated I am going home to enjoy a sweeter sleep than you who have defeated me."

It is possible also in the practice of speaking to p429take some measure of ourselves, if, when a large audience has unexpectedly assembled, we do not suffer from stage-fright, and if we are not dispirited when arguing in the presence of a small number; Dand if, when the need has arisen to speak before the people or a magistrate, we do not let the occasion slip through lack of time to put our discourse into orderly form, as is told, for instance, of Demosthenes and Alcibiades. For the latter, although most keen in thinking out his subject matter, yet because of a certain lack of confidence about his manner of speaking, used to interrupt himself in the midst of his subject, and oftentimes, through his quest and pursuit of an elusive word or phrase while actually engaged in speaking, he made a flat failure. But Homer felt no repugnance against making the very first of his lines unmetrical;25 so abounding was his confidence regarding the rest on account of his ability. EIt is rather to be expected, therefore, that those whose strivings are towards virtue and honour will avail themselves of the occasion and the subject, and give least thought to the shouting and applause that may be called forth by their manner of speaking.

10 1 Everybody, without exception, ought to pay careful attention, not only to his words, but also to his actions, to see whether the element of usefulness in them prevails over ostentation, and whether their whole aim is the truth rather than display. For if true love for a youth or a woman does not seek witnesses, but enjoys the fruits of pleasure even if it consummate its desire in secret, it is even more to be expected that the lover of honour and wisdom, in the familiar intercourse with virtue which comes through his actions, should keep his pride in himself to himself p431and be silent, feeling no need of eulogists and auditors. FTake, for example, the case of the man who in his own house called his maidservant and cried out, "Look at me, Dionysia; I have stopped being conceited"; very much like this is the behaviour of the man who performs some gracious and civil action, and then by telling about it and circulating it everywhere makes it clear that he is still looking beyond himself, and is still attracted toward repute, and that he has not yet had even a glimpse of virtue, nay, that he is not really awake but only dreaming as he roams about amid the shadows and phantoms of virtue, and afterwards puts what he has done on view like a painting. It is therefore the mark of a man who is making progress, 81not only when he has given to a friend or done a kindness to an acquaintance to refrain from telling it to others, but also when he has given an honest judgement amidst a numerous and dishonest majority, when he has peremptorily declined a discreditable conference with some rich man or some official, when he has scorned bribes, and even when he has felt a craving in the night for a drink and has not taken it, or when he has fought a good fight, like Agesilaus,26 against a kiss of a lovely girl or youth, to keep all this to himself and put the seal of silence on it. In fact, such a man, by standing well in his own estimation, inasmuch as he feels no disdain, but only pleasure and satisfaction at the thought that he is at the same time a competent witness and observer of honourable deeds, Bshows that reason is already growing within him and taking root in his own self, and, in the words of Democritus,27 that he is "becoming accustomed to find within himself the sources of enjoyment." p433Farmers take more pleasure in looking at the heads of grain that are bent over and bowed toward the ground, but those that tower aloft owing to their lightness the farmers think are empty cheats; so among the young men who would study philosophy: those who are most empty and have no weight, have assurance and a pose and a gait, and a countenance filled with a haughtiness and disdain which spares nobody; but, as their heads begin to fill and to accumulate some fruitage from their lectures and reading, they lay aside their swagger and superficiality. CAnd just as when empty vessels are being filled with a liquid the air inside is expelled by the pressure, so when men are being filled with the really good things, their conceit gives way and their self-opinion becomes less inflexible; and, ceasing to feel pride in their philosopher's beard and gown, they transfer their training to their mind, and apply their stinging and bitter criticism most of all to themselves, and are milder in their intercourse with others. They do not arrogate to themselves, as before, the name of philosophy and the repute of studying it, or even give themselves the title of philosopher; Din fact, a young man of good parts, on being addressed by this title by another, would be quick to say with a blush:

I am no god, I assure you; why think me like the immortals?28

For as Aeschylus29 puts it:

The ardent eye betrays the youthful maid

Who once has tasted of the joys of love;

p435 but with the young man who has had a taste of real progress in philosophy these words of Sappho30 are always associated:

My tongue breaks down, and all at once

A secret flame throughout my body runs;

Nevertheless, you will see an eye untroubled and serene, and you would yearn to hear him speak. Just as persons who are being initiated into the Mysteries throng together at the outset amid tumult and shouting, and jostle against one another, Ebut when the holy rites are being performed and disclosed the people are immediately attentive in awe and silence, so too at the beginning of philosophy: about its portals also you will see great tumult and talking and boldness, as some boorishly and violently try to jostle their way towards the repute it bestows; but he who has succeeded in getting inside, and has seen a great light, as though a shrine were opened, adopts another bearing of silence and amazement, and "humble and orderly attends upon"31 reason as upon a god. To these the humorous remark of Menedemus may, as it seems, be nicely applied; Ffor he said that the multitudes who came to Athens to school were, at the outset wise; later they became lovers of wisdom, later still orators, and, as time went on, just ordinary persons, and the more they laid hold on reason the more they laid aside their self-opinion and conceit.

11 1 Of persons needing the services of a physician those who have a painful tooth or finger go straightway to those who treat such ills; those who have p437fever summon the physicians to their houses, and implore their assistance; but those who have reached a state of melancholia or frenzy or delirium sometimes cannot endure even the physicians' visits, but either drive them away or run away from them, 82 not realizing even that they are ill, because of the violence of their illness. So also of the erring: the incurable are those who take an hostile and savage attitude and show a hot temper toward those who take them to task and admonish them, while those who patiently submit to admonition and welcome it are in less serious plight. And for a man who is in error to submit himself to those who take him to task, to tell what is the matter with him, to disclose his depravity, and not to rejoice in hiding his fault or to take satisfaction in its not being known, but to confess it, and to feel the need of somebody to take him in hand and admonish him, is no slight indication of progress. So Diogenes32 has somewhere said that, as a matter of self-preservation, a man should be concerned to find either an earnest friend or an ardent enemy, so that either by stern reprehension or by kindly attention he may escape vice. BBut just so long as a man, displaying a spot or a stain on his garment or a rip in his shoe, puts on airs in public by affecting a silly unconcern for such matters, or, by passing some jest about himself for being dwarfed or hump-backed, imagines that he is thus showing a spirit of youthful bravado, while, at the same time, the inward ugliness of his soul, the despicable acts of his life, his displays of pettiness or love of pleasure or malice or envy, he covers up and conceals as though they were ulcerous sores, and allows nobody to touch them or even see them because of his fear of being p439reprehended for them — such a man's part in progress is little, or rather none at all. CBut the man who grapples with these faults, especially if he shows himself able and willing to make himself unhappy and wretched over his errors, and, next to that, to submit to another's admonitions without flinching, and with a spirit made purer by such reproofs — such a man truly has every appearance of trying to divest himself of baseness and of abominating it. Beyond all question, anyone ought to have enough self-respect to avoid even giving the impression of being bad; but the man who is more disturbed over the actual existence of baseness than over any ill-repute does not try to avoid uncomplimentary remarks to himself, or replying to them, when this may be made a means of improvement. Very neat was the remark made by Diogenes to a young man,33 who, being seen at a tavern, fled for refuge within. D"The farther you flee inside," said he, "the more you are in the tavern." And so of low things, the more each man denies, just so much the deeper does he become involved in vice, and cut off his escape therefrom. So, too, it is that among poor people those who make a show of being rich are even poorer because of their pretension; but the man who is making true progress takes as his example Hippocrates,34 who published and recorded his failure to apprehend the facts about the cranial sutures; for such a man accounts it a dreadful thing, that here was Hippocrates who declared his own error Eso that others should not repeat his experience, and yet he himself, a man bent on saving his soul alive, should not have the courage to submit to p441being taken to task, and to confess his fatuity and ignorance. Indeed the declarations of Bion and Pyrrho might be construed as indication, not merely of progress, but rather of a higher state of mind and one which comes nearer to the ideal. Bion said to his intimate friends that they might well be justified in thinking that they were making progress when they could listen to their revilers as though they heard them say:

Friend, since you have not the look of a man that is base or unthinking,35

Health and great joy be yours, and God grant that you ever may prosper.36

FAnd the story about Pyrrho is that when he was on a voyage, and in peril during a storm, he pointed to a little pig contentedly feeding upon some barley which had been spilled near by, and said to his companions that a similar indifference must be acquired from reason and philosophy by the man who does not wish to be disturbed by anything that may befall him.

12 1 Note also the significance of Zeno's statement. For he said that every man might fairly derive from his dreams a consciousness that he was making progress if he observed that during his period of sleep he felt no pleasure in anything disgraceful, and did not tolerate or commit any dreadful or untoward action, but as though in the clear depth of an absolute calm there came over him the radiant thought that the fanciful and emotional element in his soul had been dispelled by reason. 83 Plato,37 apparently realizing this even earlier, has given form and expression to the operations of the fanciful and irrational element in a naturally despotic soul p443during sleep. "It attempts incest," and feels a sudden hunger for a great variety of food, acting in lawless fashion, and giving loose rein to the desires which in the daytime the law keeps confined by means of shame and fear. Now well-trained beasts of burden, even if their driver lets go the reins, do not attempt to turn aside and leave the road, Bbut in their accustomed manner they go on in their places and keep to their course without mishap; and so it is in the case of persons in whom the irrational impulse has already been rendered obedient and gentle by reason and has been thorough chastened; neither during sleep nor as a result of illness is it willing any longer to indulge readily in arrogance or lawlessness because of the desires, but it observes and bears in mind the habit it has acquired, and it is this which endows our vigilance with strength and intensity. For if the body by virtue of training is actually capable of rendering itself and its members so obedient to its injunctions of indifference that the eyes refrain from tears at a piteous sight, and the heart from throbbing in the midst of terrors, Cand the passions chastely remain unexcited and undisturbed in the presence of youthful or maidenly beauty, is it not indeed even more probable that training, by taking hold of the emotional element in the soul, will, as it were, do away with the irregularities and vagaries of our fancies and incitements, and carry its repression of them even into our slumbers? There is a story, illustrating this point, about the philosopher Stilpo, who thought in his slumber that he saw Poseidon, who was angry at him for not having offered up a bull, which was the customary sacrifice; but he himself, in his dream, nowise disconcerted, replied, "What are you saying, p445Poseidon? Do you come whining like a child because I did not run into debt to fill the city with the savour of burnt offerings, Dbut presented a modest offering from what I had in my house?" And then it seemed to him that Poseidon smiled and held out his hand, and said that he would send an abundance of anchovies to the Megarians for Stilpo's sake. So in the case of persons blessed with dreams so pleasant and bright and untroubled, who experience in their hours of slumber no revival of anything terrifying or repellent nor of any act of malice or improbity, men like Zeno assert that such manifestations are bright reflections of their progress, but that torturing memories, perturbations, ignoble desertions, and childish transports of joy and sorrow, such as are experienced in dismal or abnormal dreams, are like to billows that break and toss, inasmuch as the soul does not yet possess the power to keep itself in order, but is still being moulded by external opinions and laws, and when it gets farthest away from these during the hours of slumber, Eit is again made free and open to other influences by the emotions.38 I beg, therefore, that you also will consider whether these things belong to progress in virtue, or to a state of mind already possessed of a constancy and strength based on reason, and hence unwavering.

13 1 Inasmuch as complete indifference is a great and divine thing, whereas progress, as they say, resembles a sort of abatement and moderation of the emotions, it is our duty to compare our present emotions with their former selves and with one another, and thus determine the differences. We must compare them with their former selves, Fto see whether the desires and fears and angry passions p447which we experience to‑day are less intense than they used to be, inasmuch as we, by means of reason, are rapidly getting rid of the cause that kindles and inflames them; and we must compare them with one another, to see whether now we are more inclined to feel shame than fear, to be emulous rather than envious, more eager for good repute than for money, and, in general, whether, in case we err by going to extremes, we, after the manner of musicians, incline to the severity of the Dorian key rather than to the softness of the Lydian, as shown by our being strict rather than lax in our mode of life, and deliberate rather than precipitate in our actions, and given to expressing undue admiration rather than contempt of doctrines and persons. 84 For just as the turning aside of a disease into the less vital parts of the body is an encouraging symptom, so it is reasonable to assume that when the vice of those who are making progress is transformed into more moderate emotions, it is being gradually blotted out. When Phrynis added two strings to the seven-stringed lyre, the Ephors inquired whether he preferred to let them cut out the two upper or the two lower strings;39 but in our case it is both the upper and the lower that require lopping off if we are to be brought to the state which is a mean between excess in either direction; and one of the first results of progress is an abatement of the excess and keenness of our emotions,

BWherein the frenzied are most vehement,

as Sophocles40 expresses it.

14 1 Furthermore, as has already been said, the translating of our judgements into deeds, and not allowing our words to remain mere words, but to make them into actions, is, above all else, a specific mark of p449progress. An indication of this is, in the first place, the desire to emulate what we commend, eagerness to do what we admire, and, on the other hand, unwillingness to do, or even to tolerate, what we censure. For example, it was to be expected that all the Athenians should commend the daring and bravery of Miltiades, yet the remark of Themistocles41 Cthat the trophy of Miltiades would not suffer him to sleep, but roused him from his slumbers, made it plain at once that he was not merely commending and admiring, but emulating and imitating as well. We must therefore believe we are making but little progress so long as the admiration which we feel for successful men remains inert within us and does not of its own self stir us to imitation. In fact, love for a person is not active unless there is some jealousy with it, nor is that commendation of virtue ardent and efficacious which does not prod and prick us, and create in us not envy but an emulation over honourable things which strives earnestly for satisfaction. DFor not only, as Alcibiades42 used to say, must the heart feel such anguish at the philosopher's words that tears will flow; but more than that, the man who is truly making progress, comparing himself with the deeds and conduct of a good and perfect man, and being pricked by the consciousness of his own shortcomings, yet at the same time rejoicing because of his hope and yearning, and being filled with an urging that is never still, is ready in the words of Simonides43

To run like a weanling colt beside its dam,

Eso great is his craving all but to merge his own identity in that of the good man. Indeed a peculiar p451symptom of true progress is found in this feeling of love and affection for the disposition shown by those whose deeds we try to emulate, and in the fact that our efforts to make ourselves like them are always attended by a goodwill which accords to them a fair meed of honour. But, on the other hand, if any man is imbued with a spirit of contentiousness and envy towards his betters, let him understand that he is merely chafing with jealousy at another's repute or power, but not honouring or even admiring virtue.

15 1 Whenever, therefore, we begin so to love good men, that not only, as Plato44 puts it, do we regard as blessed the man himself who has self-control, "and blessed, too, anyone of the company which hears the words that come from the lips of such a man," but also, through our admiration and affection for his habit, gait, look, and smile, we are eager to join, as it were, and cement ourselves to him, Fthen we must believe that we are truly making progress. Still more is this the case if we do not limit our admiration of the good to their days of unclouded fortune, but if, just as lovers fondly welcome even lisping or pallor in their fair ones,45 and as the tears and dejection of Pantheia46 in all her grief and wretchedness smote the heart of Araspes, so we do not shrink at the thought of the exile of Aristeides,47 the imprisonment of Anaxagoras, or the penury of Socrates, or the sentence pronounced on Phocion,48 but because we believe that virtue, even when attended by such afflictions, is worthy of our love, we try to approach close to it, and at each experience of this sort give utterance to this sentiment of Euripides,49

p453 85The noble honour find in everything.

For an enthusiasm which carries its possessor to the point where he feels no disquietude, but only admiration and emulation of what seems terrible, can never more be turned aside from what is honourable. With men of this sort it has already become a constant practice, on proceeding to any business, or on taking office, or on encountering any dispensation of Fortune, to set before their eyes good men of the present or of the past,50 and to reflect: "What would Plato have done in this case? What would Epameinondas have said? How would Lycurgus have conducted himself, or Agesilaus?" BAnd before such mirrors as these, figuratively speaking, they array themselves or readjust their habit, and either repress some of their more ignoble utterances, or resist the onset of some emotion. True it is that those who got by heart the names of the Idaean Dactyls51 use them as charms against terrors, repeating each name with calm assurance; but it is also true that the thought and recollection of good men almost instantly comes to mind and gives support to those who are making progress towards virtue, and in every onset of the emotions and in all difficulties keeps them upright and saves them from falling. Wherefore let this also serve you as a token by which you can mark the man who is advancing towards virtue.

16 1 Moreover, to be no longer thrown into great confusion, or to blush, Cor to conceal or rearrange some personal detail at the sudden appearance of a man of high repute and principles, but to be able to advance and meet such persons without timidity, gives a man some assurance that he knows where he stands. So p455Alexander, as it appears, on seeing a messenger hastening toward him with exceeding joy and holding out his hand, said, "What are you going to report to me, my good friend? That Homer has come to life again?" For he thought that his exploits lacked nothing save commemoration for posterity.52 In the young man, however, who is still improving in character no love is more firmly implanted Dthan that of taking a real pleasure in the presence of good and honourable men, and of affording to them free opportunity to see his house, his table, his wife, his children, his pursuits, his discourses, whether spoken or written; and in consequence he feels a pang when he recalls a father or professor now dead who never saw him in such condition, and for no blessing would he pray God so earnestly as that they might come to life again, and become observers of his life and actions. On the other hand, in direct contrast with such men as these, those who have ruined themselves through their own neglect cannot even in their dreams look upon their relatives without fear and trembling.

17 1 EStill another, and a not unimportant indication of progress, which, if you will, you may add to the foregoing, is this a man no longer holds the opinion that any one of his sins is unimportant, but is studiously circumspect and heedful regarding all. For just as those who have given up the hope of ever being rich make nothing of their small expenditures, with the idea that whatever is added to a little will make nothing great,53 whereas Hope as it draws nearer to its goal joins hands with wealth in increasing the desire for wealth, so it is with the activities which bear upon virtue: the man who does not acquiesce much in the sentiments "What difference does this p457make?" and "This way now; better next time," but who gives heed to each separate thing, and is impatient and vexed if vice ever finds its way into the most insignificant of his errors Fand suggests a reason for condoning it — this man already shows plainly that he is winning for himself a spotless treasure and that he scorns to sully himself in any way whatever. On the other hand, to imagine that nothing can cause any great disgrace, or can even be of any great importance, makes men easy-going and careless about little things. True enough, it makes no difference, when men are building some rough wall which is to have a coping, whether they throw into the foundation a chance piece of timber or a stone picked up from the ground, or whether they put into the lower courses a fallen slab from some tomb, the same sort of thing that moral slovens do when they bring together promiscuously and accumulate actions and conduct of every kind; 86 but those who are making progress, of whose life already, as of some holy temple or large palace,

The golden foundation hath been wrought,54

do not indiscriminately accept for it a single action, but, using reason to guide them, they bring each one into place and fit it where it belongs. And we may well conceive that Polycleitus had this in mind when he said that the task is hardest for those whose clay has reached the stage when they must use the finger-nail.55


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 So spelled in the best MSS. of Pliny and in inscriptions. Σόσσιος is found in Greek inscriptions.

2 From an unknown drama of Sophocles; Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Sophocles, No. 756.

3 Plutarch deals more fully with this topic in the essay, "Inconsistencies of the Stoics," Moralia, 1042F.

4 Euripides, Iphigenia in Tauris, 569.

5 Cf. Ovid, Metamorphoses, XII.189 ff.

6 Proverbial; cf. Leutsch and Schneidewin, Paroemiographi Graeci II.625 (88A).

7 Aimed at the Stoics.

8 Hesiod, Works and Days, 361. Quoted more fully supra9E.

9 Some editors would amend the text here, and perhaps rightly, to make the text correspond better to what the sense plainly requires.

10 Homer, Iliad, XIX.386.

11 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Sophocles, No. 757; cf. Plutarch, Moralia, 619A.

12 Works and Days, 289.

13 The story is found also in Aelian, Var. Hist. XIII.26.

14 Bergk, Poetae Lyrici Graeci, II.427, No. 15. Quoted by Plutarch also, Moralia, 92E, 472D, and Life of Solon, ch. iii (p79F).

15 Cf. Julian's Letter to Themistius, p265A (translated in the L. C. L. II p231), and Plutarch, Moralia, 472E.

16 Republic, 539B.

17 Cf. the elaboration of this idea by Addison in the Tatler, No. 254 (Nov. 23, 1710), and by Rabelais in Pantagruel, IV.55 and 56, as well as the postilion's horn in Baron Munchausen's Adventures, chap. vi.

18 In Lion and Fox, No. 137 in the Fables passing as Aesop's.

19 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. III.411, Simon. No. 47; quoted also Moralia, 41F and 494A.

20 Repeated in Moralia, 29F.

21 Repeated in Moralia, 190B and 219C, and with some variation, 208F.

22 Cf. Seneca, Epist. XC and Diogenes Laertius, VI.37.

23 Thucydides, I.18.

24 Iliad, IX.323; referred to also in Moralia, 48A and 494D.

25 Traditionally the reference is to Πηληιάδεω, Iliad, I.1.

26 Xenophon, Agesilaus, 5.4; cf. also Plutarch, Moralia, 31C, 209D, and Life of Agesilaus, chap. xi (602A).

27 Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, II.88.

28 Homer, Od. XVI. 187; again cited by Plutarch in Moralia, 543D.

29 From the Toxotides of Aeschylus; Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Aeschylus, No. 243; quoted with variant reading in Moralia, 767B.

30 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Gr. III.88, Sappho, No. 2: the poem is again referred to in Moralia, 763A; cf. Lyra Graeca in the L. C. L. p186.

31 Plato, Laws, 716A.

32 Again referred to, Moralia, 74C, and in 89B it is ascribed to Antisthenes.

33 According to Plutarch, Moralia, 847F, and Diogenes Laertius, VI.2.34, the young man was Demosthenes the orator.

34 Hippocrates' Works, ed. Chartier, IX.340F (Kuhn, III.561); cf. also Celsus, VIII.4; Quintilian, III.6.64, and Julian, Epist. 58 ("To Dionysius").

35 Homer, Od. VI.187; cf. XX.227.

36 Ibid. XXIV.402.

37 Republic, 571D; the entire passage should be compared.

38 Cf. Plato, Republic, 571C, and Plutarch, Moralia, 100F.

39 Repeated in Moralia, 220C, with some change.

40 Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag., Soph., No. 758.

41 Cf. Plutarch, Life of Themistocles, chap. iii (113B), and Moralia, 92C.

42 Plato, Symposium, 215E.

43 Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Gr. II.738, Simonides of Amorgus, No. 5; repeated in Moralia, 136A, 446E, 790F, and in a fragment quoted by Stobaeus, Florilegium, CXV.18.

44 Plato, Laws, 711E.

45 An echo from Plato, Republic, 474E, which Plutarch cites more fully in Moralia, 45A and 56C.

46 Xenophon, Cyropaedia, V.1.2, and VI.1.31.

47 See Plutarch, Life of Aristeides, chap. vii (323A).

48 See Plutarch, Life of Phocion, chap. xxxv (758B).

49 Nauck, Trag. Gr. Frag., Eurip. No. 961.

50 Seneca (Epistulae Moral. ad Lucilium, I.11.8) says that this idea comes from Epicurus.

51 Fabulous gnomes associated with the Mount Ida of Crete and Phrygia. A possible connexion between these and the "Ephesia grammata" is discussed by Chester C. McCown in the Trans. of the American Philological Assoc. vol. LIV (1923) pp128 ff.; cf. also Plutarch, Mor. 706D.

52 Cf. Cicero, Pro Archia, chap. x.

53 The reference is to Hesiod, Works and Days, 361 (cf. 9E).

54 Pindar, Frag. 206 in Christ's ed.

55 Plutarch again refers to this dictum in Moralia, 636C. It is quite clear from the two passages that Plutarch refers Polycleitus's saying to modelling in clay, and so, too, it is possible to interpret Horace, Sat. I.5.32 ("ad unguem factus homo") and Ars Poet. 294 ("castigavit ad unguem"), but in Persius, Sat. I.65, the plural ("ungues") is used in describing the testing of the fineness of the joint in marble by drawing the nails over it. Cf. the note on ἐξ ὀνύχον, supra3C.


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