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

Previous | Next


natural philosophy in the same manner as Parmenides did, but had also
perfected himself in an art of his own for refuting and silencing
opponents in argument; as Timon of Phlius describes it-
"Also the two-edged tongue of mighty Zeno, who,
Say what one would, could argue it untrue."
But he that saw most of Pericles, and furnished him most especially
with a weight and grandeur of sense, superior to all arts of popularity,
and in general gave him his elevation and sublimity of purpose and
of character, was Anaxagoras of Clazomenae; whom the men of those
times called by the name of Nous, that is, mind, or intelligence,
whether in admiration of the great and extraordinary gift he had displayed
for the science of nature, or because that he was the first of the
philosophers who did not refer the first ordering of the world to
fortune or chance, nor to necessity or compulsion, but to a pure,
unadulterated intelligence, which in all other existing mixed and
compound things acts as a principle of discrimination, and of combination
of like with like.
For this man, Pericles entertained an extraordinary esteem and admiration,
and filling himself with this lofty and, as they call it, up-in-the-air
sort of thought, derived hence not merely, as was natural, elevation
of purpose and dignity of language, raised far above the base and
dishonest buffooneries of mob eloquence, but, besides this, a composure
of countenance, and a serenity and calmness in all his movements,
which no occurrence whilst he was speaking could disturb, a sustained
and even tone of voice, and various other advantages of a similar
kind, which produced the greatest effect on his hearers. Once, after
being reviled and ill-spoken of all day long in his own hearing by
some vile and abandoned fellow in the open market-place, where he
was engaged in the despatch of some urgent affair. He continued his
business in perfect silence, and in the evening returned home composedly,
the man still dogging him at the heels, and pelting him all the way
with abuse and foul language; and stepping into his house, it being
by this time dark, he ordered one of his servants to take a light,
and to go along with the man and see him safe home. Ion, it is true,
the dramatic poet, says that Pericles's manner in company was somewhat
over-assuming and pompous; and that into his high-bearing there entered
a good deal of slightingness and scorn of others; he reserves his
commendation for Cimon's ease and pliancy and natural grace in society.
Ion, however, who must needs make virtue, like a show of tragedies,
include some comic scenes, we shall not altogether rely upon; Zeno
used to bid those who called Pericles's gravity the affectation of
a charlatan, to go and affect the like themselves; inasmuch as this
mere counterfeiting might in time insensibly instil into them a real
love and knowledge of those noble qualities.
Nor were these the only advantages which Pericles derived from Anaxagoras's
acquaintance; he seems also to have become, by his instructions, superior
to that superstition with which an ignorant wonder at appearances,
for example, in the heavens, possesses the minds of people unacquainted
with their causes, eager for the supernatural, and excitable through
an inexperience which the knowledge of natural causes removes, replacing
wild and timid superstition by the good hope and assurance of an intelligent
There is a story, that once Pericles had brought to him from a country
farm of his a ram's head with one horn, and that Lampon, the diviner,
upon seeing the horn grow strong and solid out of the midst of the
forehead, gave it as his judgment, that, there being at that time
two potent factions, parties, or interests in the city, the one of
Thucydides and the other of Pericles, the government would come about
to that one of them in whose ground or estate this token or indication
of fate had shown itself. But that Anaxagoras, cleaving the skull
in sunder, showed to the bystanders that the brain had not filled
up its natural place, but being oblong, like an egg, had collected
from all parts of the vessel which contained it in a point to that
place from whence the root of the horn took its rise. And that, for

Previous | Next
Site Search