Home | Texts by category | | Quick Search:   
Works by Plutarch
Pages of Pericles

Previous | Next


CAESAR once, seeing some wealthy strangers at Rome, carrying up and
down with them in their arms and bosoms young puppy-dogs and monkeys,
embracing and making much of them, took occasion not unnaturally to
ask whether the women in their country were not used to bear children;
by that prince-like reprimand gravely reflecting upon persons who
spend and lavish upon brute beasts that affection and kindness which
nature has implanted in us to be bestowed on those of our own kind.
With like reason may we blame those who misuse that love of inquiry
and observation which nature has implanted in our souls, by expending
it on objects unworthy of the attention either of their eyes or their
ears, while they disregard such as are excellent in themselves, and
would do them good.
The mere outward sense, being passive in responding to the impression
of the objects that come in its way and strike upon it, perhaps cannot
help entertaining and taking notice of everything that addresses it,
be it what it will, useful or unuseful; but, in the exercise of his
mental perception, every man, if he chooses, has a natural power to
turn himself upon all occasions, and to change and shift with the
greatest ease to what he shall himself judge desirable. So that it
becomes a man's duty to pursue and make after the best and choicest
of everything, that he may not only employ his contemplation, but
may also be improved by it. For as that colour is more suitable to
the eye whose freshness and pleasantness stimulates and strengthens
the sight, so a man ought to apply his intellectual perception to
such objects as, with the sense of delight, are apt to call it forth,
and allure it to its own proper good and advantage.
Such objects we find in the acts of virtue, which also produce in
the minds of mere readers about them an emulation and eagerness that
may lead them on to imitation. In other things there does not immediately
follow upon the admiration and liking of the thing done any strong
desire of doing the like. Nay, many times, on the very contrary, when
we are pleased with the work, we slight and set little by the workman
or artist himself, as for instance, in perfumes and purple dyes, we
are taken with the things themselves well enough, but do not think
dyers and perfumers otherwise than low and sordid people. It was not
said amiss by Antisthenes, when people told him that one Ismenias
was an excellent piper. "It may be so," said he, "but he is but a
wretched human being, otherwise he would not have been an excellent
piper." And King Philip, to the same purpose, told his son Alexander,
who once at a merry-meeting played a piece of music charmingly and
skilfully, "Are you not ashamed, son, to play so well?" For it is
enough for a king or prince to find leisure sometimes to hear others
sing, and he does the muses quite honour enough when he pleases to
be but present, while others engage in such exercises and trials of
He who busies himself in mean occupations produces, in the very pains
he takes about things of little or no use, an evidence against himself
of his negligence and indisposition to what is really good. Nor did
any generous and ingenuous young man, at the sight of the statue of
Jupiter at Pisa, ever desire to be a Phidias, or on seeing that of
Juno at Argos, long to be a Polycletus, or feel induced by his pleasure
in their poems to wish to be an Anacreon or Philetas or Archilochus.
For it does not necessarily follow, that, if a piece of work please
for its gracefulness, therefore he that wrought it deserves our admiration.
Whence it is that neither do such things really profit or advantage
the beholders, upon the sight of which no zeal arises for the imitation
of them, nor any impulse or inclination, which may prompt any desire
or endeavour of doing the like. But virtue, by the bare statement
of its actions, can so affect men's minds as to create at once both
admiration of the things done and desire to imitate the doers of them.
The goods of fortune we would possess and would enjoy; those of virtue
we long to practise and exercise: we are content to receive the former
from others, the latter we wish others to experience from us. Moral

Previous | Next
Site Search