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After the last Flavian Emperor Domitian was murdered in 96, five Emperors were selected or adopted based on their ability rather than on birth. This resulted in a series of capable and more responsible Emperors until Marcus Aurelius was succeeded by his son Commodus in 180. Nerva, a senior senator, was the first Emperor to be freely selected by the Senate. He was only Emperor from September 96 until his death in January 98, but he helped set the new pattern by adopting the powerful governor of Upper Germany, Trajan. From a family of jurists Nerva had been consul with Vespasian in 71 and with Domitian in 90. Suetonius wrote that Nerva had debauched the youthful Domitian, but Martial praised his quiet life and poetry. People celebrated the new freedom, and funds were made available by melting down silver and gold images of Domitian. Nerva freed those on trial for treason and recalled exiles. Yet he put to death slaves and freedmen who plotted against their masters, and he prohibited their making complaints. He protected Jews from being accused of treason and exploited by tax collectors, and informers were put to death. Nerva swore he would not execute any senator, and he kept his word even when Calpurnius Crassus and others plotted against him.
Nerva prided himself in acting in such a way that he could retire safely into private life. He returned confiscated property and granted land to very poor Romans, selling imperial luxuries and abolishing sacrifices and spectacles to do so. He reduced tribute Domitian had increased, and he exempted close relations from the five-percent inheritance tax. His laws prohibited castration and marriage to a niece. Nerva assisted afflicted communities and removed the burden from Italians of providing vehicles to the public posting service. Nerva ended Domitian's ban on stage actors although Trajan reinstated it. Nerva kept on Domitian's prefect Casperius Aelianus, and after a year the praetorian guards demanded Nerva hand over those who killed Domitian. Instead Nerva offered them his own neck; but they ignored him and killed the two assassins, forcing Nerva to thank them publicly for doing so. Nerva adopted Trajan and made him co-regent, even though he was a Spaniard, because of his ability; although Trajan commanded so many legions close to Italy, many believed he would have become Emperor anyway. Nerva died of a fever.
Trajan's father was consul under Vespasian, a commander in the Jewish war, and governor of Syria. The Emperor Trajan had been a military tribune in the Syrian army and commanded the legion in Tarraconensis (Spain) that responded to Domitian's request when Saturninus rebelled. Nerva appointed Trajan governor of Upper Germany and then adopted him. Trajan enlarged the Roman army to thirty legions and fought two big wars in Dacia from 101 to 106, commanding twelve legions with 120,000 men. After the first war Romans garrisoned Dacia. When Decebalus broke the treaty, Trajan had a bridge built across the Danube and captured the Dacian capital at Sarmizegethusa, causing their king Decebalus to commit suicide. Dacia lost most of its men, and as a Roman province it was settled by people from the Roman empire. Trajan brought back to Rome the royal Dacian treasury of about a half million Roman pounds of gold and a million of silver. The annual yield from Dacian mines would supply Roman Emperors with substantial income. At Rome Trajan celebrated his triumph on 123 days, slaughtering 11,000 animals in spectacles in which 10,000 gladiators fought. Palma, the Roman governor of Syria, conquered the Arabian region around Petra.
Trajan mixed with people and the Senate so that it was said he was more loved than feared. He told friends he behaved toward citizens the way he wished Emperors to behave toward him. Trajan gave the praetorian prefect a sword and told him to use it for him if he ruled well, but against him if badly. He too swore not to execute senators and sent conspirators into exile. The historian Dio Cassius wrote that he loved and honored the good while ignoring others.
When the younger Pliny became consul in 100, he delivered a Panegyricus to the Senate in which he contrasted the despotism of Domitian with the tolerance of Trajan. Pliny observed that people no longer feared informers but feared the law instead. People learn that honesty pays; now at least it was enough that it was doing them no harm. Pliny thanked Trajan that virtue is being rewarded by honors, priesthoods, and provinces. Pliny wrote that a ruler does more for the morals of his country by permitting good conduct than by compelling it, for fear is an unreliable teacher of morals; people learn better from good examples. A prince's best guard is his innocence. The only citadel never breached is never to need defenses. Pliny argued that it is useless to be armed with terror if one lacks the protection of love; for arms only incite more arms. Instead of the usual idea that the prince is above the law, Pliny now found the law is above the prince. He believed that the gods would only preserve Trajan if he ruled the state well and in the interests of all. Rewarding good service and punishing the bad makes people better. Pliny noted that men were being promoted based on merit. A person may deceive another, but no one can deceive oneself if one looks closely at one's life. Pliny observed that a person's pleasures usually told most about the person's true worth and self-control.
When some of Trajan's procurators exploited the rich in their provinces, his wife Plotina made him detest such unjust exaction. Yet many of his city magistrates and governors were charged with crimes, because he was less diligent in checking them than Domitian had been. Trajan spent large sums on war and public works, repairing roads, harbors, and public buildings. He also built libraries. A new harbor was built at Ostia to ensure the grain supply.
Trajan reformed laws by prohibiting anonymous accusations, and fathers who mistreated sons were required to emancipate them. He protected soldiers from technically invalid wills, and he punished those who mutilated their sons to prevent them from being drafted into the army. Trajan completed the child welfare program that Nerva had initiated, distributing free grain at Rome to 5,000 needy children. He required candidates for office to invest one-third of their estate in Italian land. Trajan began the practice of making permanent loans to Italian landowners for which they only had to pay five percent interest to their municipality. According to Dio Cassius, he drank heavily and was a pederast, but in his relations with boys he harmed no one.
When the Armenian king got his throne from the Parthian king in 113, Trajan organized another expensive campaign. He declined gifts from the Parthian king Osroes. After wintering in Antioch, Trajan invaded Armenia, capturing Arsamosata without a battle. He appointed Catilius Severus to govern Armenia along with Cappadocia. Next Trajan entered Mesopotamia, capturing Nisibis and Batnae. Trajan entered Babylon and Ctesiphon. He sailed down the Tigris to the sea and thought of going to India. Returning to Babylon, he learned of rebellions against the garrisons he had placed in the new provinces of Mesopotamia and Assyria. He sent Maximus and the Moor Lusius Quietus; Maximus was killed, but Lusius recaptured Nisibis and sacked Edessa. Trajan's army also captured and burned Seleucia.
About 116 CE Jewish rebellions led to 220,000 being killed in Cyrenaica, 240,000 on Cyprus, and many in Egypt. The general Marcus Turbo commanded Roman armies in Cyrenaica and Egypt, and Lusius was sent against rebellions by Jews in Mesopotamia. To prevent Parthian rebellion Trajan crowned Parthamaspates as their king, though he was soon rejected and replaced by the Parthians' traditional rule. On his way back to Syria Trajan was unable to besiege revolting Hatra because of the Arabian desert. Trajan became ill and died in Cilicia in 117; it was reported that he had adopted his kinsman Hadrian, who was governor of Syria.
Dio Chrysostom was born in Prusa of Bithynia about 40 CE and died about 120. Dio became a sophist and criticized philosophers such as Musonius until he was converted by him in Rome. In 82 Dio was banished by Domitian from Rome, Italy, and Bithynia for advising a conspiring relative of the Emperor. He lived like a poor Cynic traveling and doing manual labor. People often asked him questions, and he began to speak about human duties and what is beneficial. Chrysostom means "golden mouth." In Viminacium on the Danube, Dio wrote a history of the Getae; but it is not extant. Dio visited military camps in his rags. According to Philostratus, when he saw troops beginning to mutiny after Domitian's assassination, Dio leaped on an altar and stripped off his rags like Odysseus as he quoted Homer. Then he energetically indicted the tyrant but persuaded the soldiers it would be wiser to act according to the will of the Roman people.
Dio's exile was ended, and the next summer he made an oration at Olympia. At Rome he was well received by Nerva. Dio Chrysostom gained royal favors for his native Prusa and returned there. He headed an embassy from Prusa to thank the Emperor, but Nerva had died. Dio became a close friend of Emperor Trajan, who said he loved him as himself even though he did not understand what he was saying. Dio traveled before returning to Prusa to beautify the city, where he became involved in an urban renewal lawsuit in 111. No more was heard of him after that.
Some of Dio Chrysostom's four discourses On Kingship may have been presented at birthday celebrations of Trajan. In the first Dio wrote that although music may arouse the martial spirit, it is more difficult for it to make the soul just and prudent; he believed only the spoken word of the wise can do that. A king should not use power to become licentious and profligate, arrogant, and lawless; but he should devote his attention to guiding and shepherding his people. The just and good person has the greatest faith in the just and good gods. Next a good king honors and loves the good, while caring for all. His greatest pleasure may come from conferring benefits. Dio favored preparing for war so as to be able to live in peace. Yet the greatest defense of a king is found in the loyal hearts of those watching out for his welfare.
In the third discourse Dio praised Trajan but argues that he is not flattering him, claiming he was the only one bold enough to risk his life in telling the truth to Domitian when others thought falsehood necessary. Flattery he considered outrageous, because it gives to vice the rewards of virtue. Such a perverter of truth lies to the very persons who know best one is lying. Unless the object of flattery is a fool, one appears more odious than pleasing. When flatterers are discovered, they are hated and mocked. It is reasonable for a ruler to steel oneself against pleasure, because life is short and filled mostly with remembrance of the past and expectation of the future. Dio asked whether the wicked or the virtuous find more joy in remembering the past or are more encouraged about the future. The wise realize that labor brings health and a good reputation, while luxurious ease results in the opposite and makes labor appear more difficult while blunting pleasures.
The fourth discourse is a dialog between the Macedonian conqueror Alexander and the Cynic philosopher Diogenes. Diogenes argues that this powerful king is his own bitterest foe as long as he is bad and foolish. Diogenes asks if he realizes it is a sign of fear to carry a weapon. Thus he encourages him to trust acting justly not arms. He should not try to become king before he attains wisdom. He will never be a king until he has made his spirit commanding, free, and royal instead of slavish, illiberal, and vicious. Diogenes then describes the three most common lives as self-indulgence in pleasures, acquisitive greed, and ambition for glory.
In his 6th discourse Dio described the simple and free life of Diogenes, the only independent person in the world, comparing this to the misery of the king of Persia. He continued this theme in his 8th discourse on virtue, arguing that a noble person battles hardships as one's greatest antagonists. The strongest person is the one who can stay farthest from pleasures. Like Diogenes, during his exile Dio found that the pleasure of eating and drinking is increased when one is hungry or thirsty and that simple food and water can be most delightful. One can condition oneself to cold and heat as other animals do. Dio wrote how Diogenes at the Isthmian games questioned the value of being proclaimed the fastest runner. In Dio's 10th discourse Diogenes encounters a man looking for his lost slave and wanting to consult a god; he persuades him to give up both pursuits. He can simplify his life without a bad slave, and he should first aim to know himself before consulting an oracle.
Dio believed that as courage, justice, and temperance increased, there would be less surplus wealth and luxuries. He observed that most people consider freedom the greatest blessing and that slavery is a shameful condition. Yet they have little knowledge of what freedom and slavery are, and they do little to escape slavery and to gain freedom. We are permitted to do what is just and beneficial, because doing the opposite results in suffering and punishment. Thus freedom is knowing what is allowed, and slavery is ignorance of what is just and good. In discussing distress Dio pointed out that an intelligent person is free by not feeling pain because of troubles and stress. Nothing by itself must cause fear, but it results from false opinion and our own weakness. There is uncertainty in everything. All who have come before us are dead, and we may die any day. Perhaps the greatest achievement would be to live one day free of worry, fear, and similar emotions.
In his discourse on coveting, Dio associated this vice with greed, citing a passage from Euripides' Phoenician Women that greed destroys the prosperity of families and overthrows states, that human law requires us to honor equality in order to establish common friendship and peace for all. Yet quarrels, strife, and foreign wars are due to desire for more but result in each side being deprived even of what is sufficient. What is more important than life? Yet men destroy even that for money, often causing their own countries to be laid waste. Wealth moderately put to use does not injure but makes life easier and frees it from want; but if it becomes excessive, it causes far more worries and troubles than pleasures. Dio wrote that the great majority feed in their hearts an entire army of desires and try to accumulate property far beyond their needs. In outlining education for public speaking Dio most highly recommended reading the works of Homer, Menander, Euripides, Thucydides, Demosthenes, and Socratics like Xenophon. In writing about retirement Dio noted that the mind should be trained never to turn aside or withdraw from its proper work, or one will not be able to rise above one's surroundings to accomplish things.
Dio Chrysostom questioned whether it is right to go to war with those who have not done a wrongful act. If they have done something wrong, he asked, how serious is it? Philosophers take a long-range perspective and are not influenced by anger, contentiousness, and bribery, but act justly. Dio believed that guardian spirits are good and that the wise are fortunate and happy because they are guided by them; but the unhappy are so, not because their guardian spirit is bad, but because they neglect the good spirit.
Philostratus in his Lives of the Sophists wrote that Dio often reproached licentious cities, but he managed to do so without being ungracious like one who restrains an unruly horse with the bridle rather than the whip. At Rhodes Dio criticized their assembly for voting statues to honor men and then chiseling off the names of old statues to add the new name. He spoke in the theater at Alexandria criticizing their usual entertainment. He said the gods control all blessings and distribute them to those who are ready to receive, like the water from the Nile that comes from a divine source above; but evils like the filthy canals in the city are their own creation. Human folly and love of luxury and ambition make life vexatious and full of deceit, wickedness, pain, and other ills. The one cure from the gods is education; for persons who use reason consistently will be healthy and happy.
At the Cilician capital of Tarsus Dio suggested that the gods no longer love the wanton, senseless, and unrestrained, who are inclined toward insolence, laziness, and luxury. They should not rely on speakers who praise them, for they only deceive and vainly excite them like foolish children. Rather they should welcome the one who will point out their faults and can make them think. Dio compared those who said that practically everyone has changed to those who do not take care of themselves in an epidemic because nearly all are sick. People are walking around asleep dreaming instead of being guided by reason. Dio is like the physician who touches the sore spot; he makes it smart, but his medicine is mild considering the seriousness of their case. In relation to other cities Dio asked them to behave with consideration according to their honor and not in a spirit of hostility and hatred. If they do so, everyone will follow their leadership willingly with admiration and affection. Superiority in virtue and kindness are their true blessings and are worthy of emulation. Dio noted how the rivalry between Athens and Sparta caused them both to lose their good reputations and then their power and wealth until finally they were subjected by their foes. This is like fellow slaves quarreling with each other over glory and pre-eminence. Yet the greatest things the philosophers pursue seriously are always within our control.
In speaking to his native country in Borysthenes Dio promoted the philosophical theory of a noble and benevolent fellowship of gods and humans which gives a share of citizenship to all living beings who have reason and intellect. He believed this code better and more just than that of Sparta which denied citizenship to the Helots. He recounted a Zoroastrian myth in which the gods are led by the one best endowed with truth.
Dio spoke to the Nicomedians urging them to find concord with their neighbor Nicaea. Although concord is so much better than war, people have often chosen wars not because they are deluded that fighting is better than keeping the peace, but because some are striving for royal power, some for liberty, some for territory, and some for control of the sea. These two cities are struggling for primacy; but if they are concerned for the welfare of all Bithynia, they will be no less displeased over wrongs inflicted upon others than those inflicted upon themselves; also if anyone flees to them for succor, they will aid them promptly and impartially. This conduct will yield them primacy, not quarreling with Nicaeans over titles. By joining forces they will control other cities that might wrong them; but now other cities take advantage of their strife, giving primacy to them. Together the two cities would double their resources, and lawbreakers could not escape justice by fleeing from one city to the other. They should not listen to those who malign them to each other for selfish purposes, and so they should avoid being irritated for petty reasons. Dio believed that once concord is achieved, the gods will help it to endure.
Dio also spoke against the internal strife in Nicaea, suggesting that the gods desire nothing more than virtue, orderly government, and honor for good citizens. He prayed that the gods might cast out strife and jealousy and implant love and unity. In his own city of Prusa Dio argued for concord with their neighbor Apameia, as he believed it is never profitable even for the greatest city to indulge in hostile strife with the humblest village. When the opposing city is not small, the hostility will inevitably cause pain and do harm. Dio reminded them that the Apameians need Prusa's timber and that Prusa has no other harbor for trade except that of Apameia. Dio believed unwillingness to yield or make concessions, which some imagine are not manly, is rather senseless and stupid. Dio felt patriotic feelings toward Prusa; but he also recognized the democratic right of others to disagree with him, confident he could persuade them to change. Immunity from criticism is more likely to be given to dictators than to benefactors. Dio described the disadvantage of enmity and the benefits of concord and friendship.
Furthermore, any enmity towards any people is an irksome, grievous thing.
For there is no enemy so weak as not on occasion
to hurt even the man who appears to be very strong,
or to display his hatred by either saying some painful word
or doing some injurious act.
For the fruit of hatred is never, so to speak, sweet or beneficial,
but of all things most unpleasant and bitter,
nor is any burden so hard to bear or so fatiguing as enmity.
For example, while it always interferes
with strokes of good fortune, it increases disasters,
and while for him who suffers from something else it doubles the pain,
it does not permit those who are enjoying good fortune
to rejoice in fitting measure.
For it is inevitable, I suppose,
that the masses should be harmed by one another,
and, on the other hand, be despised and held in low esteem by the others,
not only as having antagonists to begin with,
but also as being themselves foolish and contentious.
However, there is nothing finer or more godlike
than friendship and concord,
whether between man and man or between city and city.
For who are they who acquire
the good things of life more becomingly,
when it is their friends who assist in supplying them?
Who escape the bad things more easily
than those who have friends as allies?
Who are less affected by distress
than those who have persons to share their suffering
and to help them bear it?
To whom is good fortune sweeter
than to those who gladden by their success
not only themselves but others too?1
After bringing concessions for Prusa from Trajan, Dio Chrysostom promoted such improvements to the city as colonnades and fountains but also fortifications, harbors, and shipyards. He even aimed to bring together many inhabitants in a federation of cities with Prusa as the head. According to Dio all in the assembly approved his plan and supported it financially.
In old age probably at Rome Dio delivered his Euboean Discourse in which he told the story of simple hunters who generously aided a shipwrecked traveler. He described the happiness of their rural life and noted that the poor often are more helpful to those in need than the rich, whose aid usually is a loan which must be returned with interest. Dio then turned to the difficulty the poor had surviving in cities, where only the water was free; even firewood had to be bought. He was concerned that many jobs for those without wealth were sedentary and unhealthy. He was also critical of corrupt professions such as entertainers and lawyers.
Dio's strongest arguments were against prostitution as shameful and brutal lust. Brothel-keepers unite individuals without love and affection for the sake of filthy lucre. Women and children captured in war or purchased as slaves are exposed to shameful ends in dirty booths. Dio believed this sordid trade should be forbidden and not legal. This adultery committed with outcasts can lead to assaults on the chastity of women and boys of good families. To the argument that unbarred brothels at low prices would protect free and respected wives from bribes and gifts, he argued that men become weary of what is cheap and desire what is forbidden. Where intrigues with married women are carried on with respectability, the maidenhood of unmarried girls will be in danger. When the seduction of women becomes easy, some men will turn to corrupting boys. Although Dio Chrysostom never mentioned Christians, his preaching in many ways was a classical parallel of that new morality.
Plutarch was born about 46 CE in Boeotia at Chaeronea, which is midway between Thebes and Delphi. His father was also a philosopher and biographer, and Plutarch was given a good education. In 66-67 he studied mathematics and philosophy at Athens with the Peripatetic philosopher Ammonius, though as a Platonist Plutarch was later more closely associated with the Academy. He often lectured at Rome between 75 and 90. At Chaeronea he held municipal posts such as building commissioner and chief magistrate. He traveled in Greece, to Sardis, Alexandria, and on public business to Rome. Plutarch lectured and taught adults philosophy and ethics at Chaeronea. About 95 he became one of the two permanent priests at Delphi, and he had a second home there. He was married and mentioned four sons when his infant daughter died. Plutarch probably died about 120.
Plutarch is best known for writing biographies, of which 48 survive, including 22 pairs of parallel Greek and Roman lives down to the end of the civil war with Antony's death in 30 BC. His motive for undertaking these was the ethical improvement of others; but he soon found history to be a mirror from which he learned to adjust and regulate his own conduct. These biographies have influenced generations and were an extremely valuable resource for the first volume of this series on the history of ethics. Extant also are 78 ethika or moral essays, though this designation was originally for the largest group, not all of his other varied writings. Some of these were not written by him but were given his name. The influence of Plutarch's writing has been great. Marcus Aurelius took his biographies with him campaigning against the Marcomanni. Writing in Greek, his work became schoolbooks in the eastern empire for centuries. Byzantine scholars introduced them into Italy during the Renaissance. An excellent French translation by Jacques Amyot of the Lives in 1559 and the Moralia in 1572 led to North's English Parallel Lives in 1579 and Philemon Holland's English Moralia in 1603.
In writing on "Moral Virtue" Plutarch reviewed the theories of Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. He agreed with Plato that in the psyche there is clearly a difference between what judges and what suffers passions and that the latter obeys the former and yields, while the rational element is what is obeyed or resisted. The one who has the worst part obedient to the better has power over oneself and is better than the one who allows the brutish and unreasonable part of the soul to get its way. The reason as divine and heavenly should naturally command and rule that which is sensual. In "Virtue and Vice" Plutarch wrote that people enjoy wealth, power, and reputation better and bear poverty, exile, and old age more gently according to the serenity of their character. Vice makes every activity more troublesome. Yet a courageous soul is calm and joyful. Learn what is honorable and good, and you will be content with your lot. In "Can Vice Cause Unhappiness?" Plutarch held that vice makes everyone completely miserable without needing instruments or ministers. No misfortune is really bad without the aid of vice. Yet vice can ruin the fortunate with lust, anger, superstitious fears, and so on.
Plutarch sent an essay "On Listening" to a young man just old enough to wear adult clothes, warning him that undisciplined youths wanting freedom often set over themselves more tyrannical masters than teachers or trainers, namely desires. Now is the time to replace the rules they have been under with the divine leadership of reason; for only those who follow reason can be considered free. Listening is more important than speaking, because we listen more than we speak. One is apt listening to others to notice faults such as sloppy thinking, hollow phrases, clichés, applause seeking, and so on more than when one is speaking oneself. Plutarch recommended the study of poetry as a search for truth with the critical awareness of what is false from fables that may be taken allegorically. He suggested that unjustifiable writings be corrected or balanced by other passages. He believed poetry can prepare students for philosophy.
Plutarch wrote that the virtues of men and women are the same, and he gave numerous examples of courageous women from various cities and heroic individual actions by women. In a long essay "On the Malice of Herodotus" he criticized the pioneer historian from an ethical point of view for characterizing people in abusive ways. Plutarch wrote in defense of Boeotians, Corinthians, and other Greeks.
Plutarch gave many examples in his essay "How to Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend." Self-love can open the domain of friendship to the flatterer. Truth and knowing oneself are the best defenses against the deception of flattery. Flatterers imitate the pleasant and attractive aspects of friendship by putting on a cheerful face and never being negative. They may even imitate frankness by criticizing activities and ways of life he or she sees the subject disliking while praising extravagantly what the other likes. The flatterer has no constancy nor authentic likes and dislikes but acts like a vanity mirror. Like an understudy, the flatterer, while imitating the other person, keeps inferior and defective in everything except what is bad. A true friend will not be afraid to upset one when it does good but should not let the upset destroy the friendship, using it like a sharp medicine to protect the patient. Plutarch asked if it is not flattery that diverts tyrants into utterly scandalous behavior.
Flatterers do not defer to virtue or age but rather to wealth and reputation. They wait for some emotion they can fatten up, like a tumor that inflames the mind. They encourage the angry to lash out, the spendthrift to buy, the cowardly to run away, and the suspicious to be cautious. A friend is straightforward, uncomplicated, and sincere; but the flatterer always conforms to the other person in opinions, pleasures, and passions.
For a friend is there as a colleague not a co-rogue,
to consult with not to conspire with,
for support in spreading facts not fictions-
and yes, even to share his adversity not his perversity.2
Plutarch warned against using candor to a friend when many people are there. It was said that Pythagoras once reproached a pupil harshly in front of others, and the young man hanged himself. Pythagoras never again told anyone off in the presence of others. Most disgraceful is to expose a husband where his wife can hear, a father where his children can see, someone in love before the beloved, or a teacher in front of the pupils. Such people may completely forget themselves when censured before those whose good opinion they want to maintain.
In "On Being Aware of Moral Progress" Plutarch noted that frenzied and agitated dreams can tell us that our mind does not yet have its own regulator but is still being formed by opinions and rules which are unraveled by the emotions. Detachment is an exalted and divine state, and progress toward it is a taming of the emotions. Thus it is important for us to examine our emotions and assess their differences. If our desires and fears and rages are less intense than they were before because we are using reason to decrease their violence so that our sense of disgrace is sharper than our fear, we prefer to emulate rather than envy; we value a good reputation more than money; our actions are slow rather than hasty; and we are astounded rather than contemptuous of arguments; then we may assume progress in that the vices now engage more respectable emotions.
In "How to Profit by One's Enemies" Plutarch observed that as states must have good order and government to counter border warfare so individuals may be stimulated by enmities to practice soberness and guard against bad habits. He suggested you could distress the person who hates you, not by reviling but by showing self-control, being truthful, and treating everyone with kindness and justice. If you do criticize, make sure you are not guilty of those things, because nothing is more disgraceful than that hypocrisy. He agreed with Antisthenes that if one is not admonished by true friends, one needs ardent enemies to turn one from error. Insults and abusive attacks can also help one to discipline the temper and learn patience. Plutarch warned against residues of envy, hatred, jealousy, and vindictiveness that may be introduced by enmity, just as laws made during war under bad conditions may injure people if they are not abolished after the emergency.
Plutarch in "On Having Many Friends" described the coin of friendship as goodwill and graciousness combined with virtue, and he considered this rare. True friendship is good because of virtue, pleasant because of intimacy, and necessary because of usefulness. He found it as difficult to put aside an unsatisfactory friend as it is to get rid of harmful food once it has been eaten. He recommended not accepting friendship from acquaintances too readily but to seek after those who are worthy. Too many friends causes separation as it does not allow blending of goodwill in intimacy, because one's attention is constantly being transferred to another. Friendship seeks intimacy with a steady character, which is hard to find.
Plutarch gave advice about keeping well, suggesting that good and constant habits will make life pleasant. He warned against excess in eating and drinking and against all self-indulgence. Increase in civil discord and the rule of despots may be blamed on luxury and extravagance. He recommended appropriate exercise for scholars and deep massage with oil. He concluded that health provides the best opportunity for obtaining and using virtue in words and action. He also advised cooperation and intellectual companionship to brides and grooms.
Plutarch's concept translated "Superstition" literally means "dread of deities," and he described it as an emotional idea that produces fear of gods causing pain and injury. Even an unmoved atheist is better off than the perverted mind of the superstitious person. Plutarch believed atheism is based on erroneous reasoning, but superstition is an emotion based on erroneous reasoning. By denying all spirits atheism can look for other causes of events. Superstitious fear renders one impotent and helpless, because it can relate to anything as "afflictions of God" or "attacks by an evil spirit." Atheism does not cause superstition, but superstitious beliefs can lead to atheism. Plutarch concluded that true religion lies in between the extremes of superstitious belief and hardened atheism.
Like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, Plutarch also wrote on anger. In his "On the Avoidance of Anger" Sulla asks Fundanus to explain how he has been able to tame his temper so that it is now moderate and obedient to reason. Fundanus admits that anger makes the inside full of chaos, smoke, and noise so that the mind cannot see or hear what is beneficial. When rational discrimination immediately bears down on an outburst, it not only remedies the current situation but also strengthens the mind's detachment and energy for the future. He recommends not listening to or obeying a tyrannical temper by keeping quiet as if the angry emotion were a disease. Anger arises from mental pain and suffering because of weakness; he disagrees with the notion that it is the mind's tendons. Just as Philip destroyed Olynthus and could not rebuild it, anger too is good at demolition and ruination; but construction, preservation, mercy, and patience require gentleness, forgiveness, and the moderating of passion. Fundanus also disagreed with the poet who wrote that respect follows fear, arguing that it is the reverse. Respect engenders the fear that leads to self-restraint, while flogging does not instill remorse but the intention to get away with misdeeds in the future.
Plutarch has Fundanus describe how he tries to quell his anger in punishing by allowing the defendants the right to justify themselves and by listening to them. This gives time to check the emotion and let it dissolve while rationality finds a fitting punishment. He observed that anger is often triggered by the belief that one has been slighted and ignored. Thus angry feelings are increased by self-regard and discontent, usually accompanied by a luxurious and enervating way of life. Anger can ruin marriage and friendship. When anger is absent, even drunkenness can be tolerated, though drinking and anger can produce cruelty and madness. In our lighter moments anger imposes enmity on affability, disputing on debate, arrogance on authority, envy on success, and hostility on failure. Anger even accepts harm to oneself while destroying another, as its most disagreeable element is the desire to hurt someone else. Turning our thoughts inward to see how we are like that too may change righteous indignation to tolerance.
Similarly in writing "On Contentment" Plutarch asked why be so quick to spot someone else's weakness while overlooking your own? Also people may obsessively contemplate their own faults while failing to apply one's mind to good things. Instead of being upset about what one has lost, why not feel happy about what one has kept? He warned against the usual practice of envying those who are better off, as prisoners envy the freed, the freed those who have always been free; these envy citizens, who envy the rich, who envy provincial commanders, who envy kings, who envy the gods. Clearly contentment is not based on one's position in society. Plutarch suggested treating the mind like a painting, giving prominence to bright and vivid colors while allowing the gloomy hues to fade into the obscurity of the background.
Plutarch took the Stoic position that fortune may deprive us of wealth and relationships; but it cannot make a good person bad, cowardly, mean-spirited, petty, or spiteful, and it cannot deprive us of a helpful attitude toward life. The wise calm most physical matters because their self-control, responsible regimen, and moderate exercise tend to prevent illness. Plutarch reminded us that it is always in our power not to lie, mislead, steal, or intrigue. These are important to happiness because while reason eradicates other discomforts, reason itself may create remorse when the conscience is pricked. Good deeds leave behind in the intelligent person's mind a pleasant and fresh impression. Plutarch believed the world is a sacred temple suitable for divinity, and life is an initiation into its natural wonders. Thus he suggested we celebrate them everyday in joy and contentment.
Plutarch explained why some become preoccupied with other people's lives in "On Being a Busybody."
Yet there are some who cannot bear to face their own lives,
regarding these as a most unlovely spectacle,
or to reflect and revolve upon themselves,
like a light, the power of reason,
but their souls, being full of all manner of vices,
shuddering and frightened at what is within,
leap outwards and prowl about other people's concerns
and there batten and make fat their own malice.3
He explained the origin of the word "sycophant" as one who informed against those exporting prohibited figs, and he warned busybodies that they may be similarly hated.
In "On the Love of Wealth" Plutarch noted that this desire is not satiated like hunger and thirst; for neither gold nor silver relieves the craving for money, and the greed for gain is not stopped by acquiring new gains. A person absorbed in getting money, lamenting expenditures, and doing base and painful things to acquire more money even though one has houses, land, herds, slaves, and much clothing has the trouble Plutarch called "mental poverty." Avarice is an oppressive and vexing mistress, because it compels us to make money but forbids us spending it; it arouses the desire but cheats us of the pleasure. He concluded that mastery of self is needed whether one dines alone or gives a sumptuous feast.
In his essay "On the Slowness of the Gods to Punish" Plutarch noted that a horse is best trained by immediately punishing its mistakes; but if there is a long delay, it does no good. Yet divine retribution seems to take a long time and may even affect future generations. Yet on the human side it can be argued that some delay in punishing can teach us to avoid anger so that reprimanding may be more rational. Perhaps God is taking a careful look at sick minds to see if they are inclined to remorse. It can be argued that every sinner's mind ponders how to get rid of the memory of its crimes in order to cleanse its conscience and make a fresh start in life. Plutarch closed this essay with a fabulous tale about Thespesius, who went out of his body and observed souls in the other world. Those who had spent their lives in undetected iniquity, covering themselves with the semblance of goodness, were harassed and tormented until they turned themselves inside out. The last thing he saw was souls being prepared for rebirth.
Plutarch gave a very dramatic account of the patriotic plot that liberated Thebes from Spartan rule in December 379 BC in a fascinating dialog called "On the Daimonion of Socrates." The conspirators meet at the house of Simmias, a friend of Socrates, and discuss the Spartan excavation of the Alcmena tomb. An ancient script was deciphered by Egyptian priests as a message that God advises the Greeks to stop fighting but compete in philosophy and to give up their weapons and settle their disputes by means of the Muses and discussion. Pythagorean ideas are criticized by Galaxidorus, who denounces religious mysticism in favor of the rationalism of Socrates. Yet Theocritus replies that Socrates had a daimonion (which might be translated as a "guardian angel"). Then the Theban hero Epaminondas arrives with the Pythagorean Theanor. The latter wants to repay the former for attending to the funeral of the Pythagorean Lysis; but Epaminondas refuses the gift because of his philosophic discipline of poverty.
Meanwhile Hipposthenidas tries to call off the plot because he fears it is discovered; but his messenger is delayed and called back. Simmias admires Socrates for being able to receive guidance from the angel directly in waking consciousness. Simmias relates the story of Timarchus, whose soul left his body and traveled to the other world, where he observed the process of reincarnation. Disobedient souls are restrained by a kind of bridle, which people experience as remorse for sins or lawless and indulgent pleasures. Finally the Thebans carry out their plan to make the Spartans drunk so that they can kill them and recover their city.
When Plutarch wrote to his wife to console her for the death of their infant daughter, they already had four sons and grandchildren. He commended her for not indulging in excessive grief, which can be an enemy of affection and love and can lead to an insatiable desire to grieve if it becomes a habit. Mental distress subsides when it is dispersed in physical calm. He reminded her that since the soul cannot be destroyed, life in the physical body could be compared to the behavior of caged birds. In "On the Use of Reason by 'Irrational' Animals" Plutarch had one of the transformed pigs in the Odyssey debate with Odysseus whether humans or animals had more virtue and contentment.
In his essay "Philosophers and Men in Power" Plutarch argued that philosophers by associating with rulers can make them more just, moderate, and eager to do good. They will be a public blessing by dispensing justice and making the orderly and good prosper. Writing "To an Uneducated Ruler" he asked who shall rule the ruler and gave Pindar's answer, the law, which he interpreted as reason found within. The ruler should be more afraid of doing evil than of suffering it, because the former causes the latter. The danger is that those who can do what they wish will do what they should not. Power gives wickedness speed, making anger murder, erotic love adultery, and coveting confiscation. Suspicion may cause those slandered to be executed. Power quickly reveals the corruption in souls, like water poured into a leaky container immediately spills out as acts of desire, anger, falsehood, and bad taste.
Plutarch shared his "Precepts of Statecraft." He began by recommending policy be based on judgment and reason, not impulse or contentiousness. Politicians must apply themselves to understanding the character of the citizens, and after gaining their confidence they can try to train their character gently toward what is better by treating them mildly. Being on the public stage, one must first educate and order one's own character, for it is difficult to change the multitude. Virtue though is not the only important thing; oratory is its co-worker. One's speech should be unaffected, high-minded, frank, foreseeing, and thoughtfully concerned for others. One should be careful about assisting friends only after the main public interests are safe and of course should not do so in corrupt ways. Plutarch believed that refusing to make peace with a personal enemy for things we ought to give up even for a friend is uncivilized and beastly.
Politicians in assembly should not all express the same opinion as if by a previous agreement but should express different opinions and draw people along by persuasion to the public advantage. Plutarch also knew the value of having friends in high places, and he stated that the Romans are eager to promote the political interests of their friends. Ordinary citizens may be soothed by granting them equality, and the powerful can be given concessions within the bounds of local government, solving problems as though they were diseases in the body politic. One may conciliate superiors, honor equals, and add prestige to the inferior, while being friendly to all. One should compete with every official in zeal, forethought for the common good, and wisdom. He urged us to moderate our ambition, because honor is within ourselves. The main thing is to instill concord and friendship while removing strife, discord, and enmity. Private troubles can become public ones and small troubles great ones if they are overlooked and do not receive counsel and treatment from the beginning. Thus the politician should attend to offenses, like diseases in a person that might spread quickly if one does not take hold of them, treat them, and cure them.
Plutarch's two short essays on "The Eating of Flesh" argued against that practice. Meat is usually unnecessary now that food is more plentiful than in primitive times. Humans are not naturally carnivorous and lack the appropriate teeth, claws, and stomach to digest flesh. Humans don't eat lions and wolves that are killed in self-defense but tame animals that harm no one. He believed that meat, like wine, may strengthen the body; but they weaken the soul, especially when consumed to satiety. He wrote, "We shall eat flesh, but from hunger, not as a luxury. We shall kill an animal, but in pity and sorrow, not degrading or torturing it, which is the current practice in many cases."4 The killing of animals has aroused violent instincts and led to wars and the murder of humans. Another argument against the practice is the migration of souls from body to body.
Plutarch also wrote extensively on the religion of Isis and Osiris, oracles such as the one at Delphi, and the various philosophical schools. He noted that the Stoics Zeno, Cleanthes, and Chrysippus wrote about government, but none of them were involved in political, diplomatic, or military activities. He found numerous inconsistencies in the writings of Chrysippus. He criticized the hedonists in the long essay "That Epicurus Actually Makes a Pleasant Life Impossible." In addition to his biographical contributions and as a Platonist philosopher and teacher, Plutarch wrote much to apply ethical values to various aspects of life in his synthesis of classical philosophy and religion.
Epictetus was born to a slave woman in the city of Hierapolis in Phrygia about 50 CE; his name means "newly acquired." His master Epaphroditus was Nero's secretary and allowed him to study with the prominent Stoic teacher Musonius Rufus in Rome. Origen quoted an account by Celsus describing how his master twisted his leg. Epictetus smiled and informed him it would break; after it broke, he merely reminded his master that he had told him it would. He was lame for the rest of his life. Epictetus gained his freedom and began teaching philosophy some time before Domitian banished philosophers from Rome and Italy in 89. Then Epictetus went to Nicopolis, a town in Epirus founded by Augustus to celebrate his victory at Actium. There he taught while living simply in a house with a mat, a pallet, and an earthenware lamp, which replaced the iron one that was stolen. In his old age when friends of his were going to expose their baby, Epictetus married in order to bring up the child. He emulated Socrates and did not write anything; but his pupil Flavius Arrianus (the historian Arrian) published his notes in eight books of Discourses, the first four of which survive, and a compendium Handbook (Encheiridion). Epictetus probably died late in the reign of Hadrian which ended in 138.
Epictetus focused on the rational faculty, which is the only faculty we have received that examines itself and all other faculties. It is best and supreme over all and is the only thing which the gods have put in our power. All other things are not under our power. Thus we must make the best use we can of what is within our power while using the rest according to nature as it pleases God. I must die, and I may have to be put in chains or go into exile; but Epictetus questioned whether I must lament. No one can hinder me from smiling and being cheerful and content. You may fetter my leg, he said, but not even Zeus can overpower my will. In deciding what to do, each person knowing oneself must decide how much one is worth and at what price one should sell oneself; for all sell themselves at various prices.
We have a body in common with the animals and intelligence in common with the gods. Many incline toward the miserable and mortal kinship, a few to what is divine and happy. Everyone uses things according to their opinions; the few formed for fidelity and modesty have no ignoble thoughts about themselves. Yet most neglect what is better and attach themselves to things related to their wretched flesh, like treacherous wolves, lions, and foxes. Virtue produces tranquillity. The work of improvement enables one to achieve what one desires and not fall into that which one would avoid. Epictetus praised providence based on seeing and gratitude. God has made humans spectators of God and its works, yet not only spectators but interpreters as well. God has given us the ability to bear everything that happens without being depressed or broken. Epictetus aimed to reveal powers for greatness and courage, while expecting others to show fault-finding and accusations.
Instead of identifying as an Athenian or Corinthian, Epictetus encouraged people to think of themselves as citizens of the world. In observing the intelligent administration of the world one realizes the greatest and most comprehensive community is of people and God. By having communion with God one may not only call oneself a cosmopolitan but also a son of God. With this divine kinship why should we grieve or flatter or envy? A person is not made miserable through the means of another. We are only responsible for what is in our power, the proper use of appearances. Why then draw on ourselves things for which we are not responsible and so give trouble to ourselves? When someone asked Epictetus to persuade his brother to stop being angry with him, he pointed out that philosophy does not secure external things. The art of living is each person's life. His brother's anger is external to him; but if he would send his brother, Epictetus would talk to him about it. He asked why we are angry with many, and one might say because they are thieves and robbers. This means they are mistaken about good and evil. Then should we be angry with them or pity them? Show them their error, and they may desist from their errors.
Epictetus defined education as learning how to adapt intelligence to particular things according to nature, then to distinguish what things are in our power. In our power are will and all acts depending on will. Things not in our power are the body, possessions, relatives, country, and all with whom we live in society. Thus we should transfer the concept of the good to what is within our power. To look after my own interest may lead to taking the land of a neighbor, which is the origin of wars, civil commotion, tyrannies, and conspiracies. It is circumstances which reveal what people are. Therefore when a difficulty falls on you, remember that God is training you. Keep by all means what is your own, and do not desire what belongs to others. Fidelity and virtuous shame are yours. Who can take them from you? Who will hinder you using them? But when you act by seeking what is not your own, you lose what is your own. The law of life is to act according to nature. We should realize that consequences will not escape us.
Nothing else can conquer will except will itself, and opinion conquers itself and is not conquered by another. Since the law of nature is that the superior overpowers the inferior, why not use the superior principles? Epictetus admitted that the man who stole his lamp was superior in wakefulness; but he bought the lamp at the price of becoming a thief. Epictetus explained that caution should be used in things that are dependent on the will, but we may employ confidence in those things not within our power. Yet many do the reverse and attempt to avoid what is not within their power, resulting in fear and being disturbed. We can be confident about death, because it is inevitable; but we can be cautious about the fear of death since that is within our power.
Many think that only the free should be educated; but philosophers believe that only the educated are free. God does not allow those not educated to be free. No one in a state of fear or sorrow or perturbation is free; but the one who is free of those is delivered from servitude. If you run after externals, you must ramble up and down in obedience to the will of your master, who is the one who has power over the things you seek to gain or avoid. Epictetus argued that divination is useless, because it does not explain anything about good or evil.
When one known for adultery came to him, Epictetus noted that laying aside fidelity to make designs on a neighbor's wife destroys a person of fidelity, modesty, and sanctity. One is also overthrowing neighborhood, friendship, and community, for who will trust that person? Modest actions preserve the modest person; immodest actions destroy that. The same is true with fidelity. Shamelessness strengthens the shameless person, faithlessness the faithless, abusive words the abusive person, anger the person with an angry temper, and unequal giving and receiving makes the avaricious even more so. This is why philosophers admonish us not to be satisfied with learning only, but they urge us to add study and practice. For we often have long been accustomed to doing contrary things. Just as the adulterer loses modesty and temperance, so the angry person loses temper, and the coward fortitude. No one is bad without suffering some loss and damage; though if you look at money only, they may gain in that. Epictetus asked why he should respond to an unjust act with an unjust act since that would be hurting himself because the other had hurt himself.
Philosophers weigh and test rules of behavior by examining and confirming them; then when they are known, the wise and good use them. Epictetus suggested that the way to cast away sadness, fear, desire, envy, malevolence, avarice, effeminacy, and intemperance is by looking only to God with your affection and consecrating yourself to divine commands. Any other way compels one to be overcome by stronger things, and then one will never be able to find tranquillity. In struggling against appearances he observed that the affections of the soul easily become habits. So being angry feeds the fire of that habit. Being overcome by sexual intercourse increases incontinence. Corresponding acts strengthen those habits. If you wish not to be angry, count the days on which you have not been angry. The habit will weaken as you experience more peaceful days; when you reach thirty days or more, the habit may be completely destroyed. Epictetus commended himself for abstaining when a woman stripped and lay down next to him and even tempted him with fondling. He exhorted us to be willing to appear beautiful to God in purity with our own pure self and God.
In regard to friendship Epictetus believed that only those who understand the good can also know how to love. How can those unable to distinguish good from bad possess the power to love? Thus true loving is only in the power of the wise. Everyone is attached to their own interest, for wherever the "I" and "Mine" are placed, the animal inclines. If it is in the flesh, then that is the ruling power; if in the will, then it is there; and if in externals, it is there. Only when I am where my will is, may I be a friend as I should be; for then my interest will be to maintain fidelity, modesty, patience, abstinence, and cooperation. If I separate myself from honesty, Epictetus concluded, then the doctrine of Epicurus, that honesty is only what opinion holds, becomes strong. Can there be friendship without honest communication?
Give thanks to God for things like wine and oil that you receive, but remember that God gives you something better, the ability to use them, prove them, and estimate the value of each. Eyes see, but whether we should look upon the wife of someone else and in what manner is decided by the will. Whether we believe what is said or not and whether we are moved by it or not are also in the faculty of the will. The will makes use of everything else and can even destroy the whole person. Can anything be stronger than this? Why then are the things subject to restraint often stronger than what is not? Those who do not know who they are nor for what purpose they exist, what the world is, with whom they are associated, what things are good and bad, beautiful and ugly, who do not understand discourse nor demonstration nor what is true or false and cannot distinguish them, will neither desire according to nature nor turn away nor move upward nor intend nor assent nor dissent nor suspend judgment. Such people go around blind thinking they are somebody when they are nobody. Every error is a contradiction, because those who err do not wish to do so; but they do not do what they wish to do. Thieves seek their own interest, but do they achieve it? Show the rational faculty a contradiction, and it will withdraw from it. If you do not show it, blame yourself instead of the one not persuaded.
Just as it is the nature of every soul to assent to the true, dissent from the false, and withhold judgment from what is uncertain, so it is its nature to move toward the good, turn away from the evil, and feel neutral toward what is neither good nor evil. Yet we often make judgments about things that lie outside the province of moral purpose and so weep and sigh. Misfortune, strife, disagreement, fault-finding, accusing, and impiety are all such judgments. Epictetus recommended the arrogant practice submission when you are reviled and not being disturbed when you are insulted. Then you will make progress so that even if someone hits you, you will not react. Neighbors may be bad for themselves; but for me they can be good, because they exercise my good disposition and fair-mindedness. Epictetus called this the "magic wand of Hermes," which turns what it touches into gold. Bring whatever you will, and I will turn it into a good. Disease, death, poverty, reviling, danger to one's life in court - all these become helpful when treated as challenges to the good will.
Let not someone else acting contrary to nature become an evil for you; for you are born not to be humiliated nor to suffer misfortune but to share good fortune. God made all humanity to be happy and serene, giving us resources, some our own and others not our own. What is subject to hindrance, deprivation, and compulsion are not our own; but those which cannot be hindered are our own. God gives us the ability to distinguish the true nature of the good and evil. Epictetus recommended we become affectionate as a person of noble spirit who is fortunate; for it is against nature to be abject or broken in spirit or depend on something other than yourself or to blame either God or other people. Yet in loving others remember they are mortal, as generals riding in triumph are reminded by one standing behind. They are not one of your possessions but have been given to you temporarily like figs or clusters of grapes in certain seasons. To want such fruit in the winter is foolish.
The longest chapter in the Discourses of Epictetus is on freedom. The free live according to their will and are not subject to compulsion nor hindrance nor force. Their choices are unhampered; they attain their desires; and their aversions do not fall into what they would avoid. Epictetus asked who wishes to live in error, deceived, impetuous, unjust, unrestrained, peevish, or abject? The answer is no one. Thus no bad person lives according to their will, and no bad person is free. For no one wishes to live in grief, fear, envy, pity, desiring things and failing to get them, avoiding things and falling into them. Epictetus pointed out that even the friend of Caesar is not relieved of hindrance or compulsion nor does that one live securely or serenely. Whoever possesses the science of how to live cannot help but be a master. True human nature is not to bite or kick or throw into prison or behead, but to do good, work together, and pray for the success of others. Therefore one is doing badly when one acts unfeelingly. Epictetus cited Socrates and Diogenes as the greatest exemplars of freedom. He concluded that freedom is not satisfying what you desire but is gained by destroying your desires. He suggested keeping vigils to acquire judgment that will free you, and he recommended devoting yourself to a philosopher instead of to a rich old man.
Epictetus warned against continuing to associate too much with those descending to lower levels, or you will ruin yourself. Remember that nothing is done without paying for it and that one will not remain the same person if one does not do the same things. Choose, therefore, what you prefer. He asked why you blame the one who gives you all when something is withdrawn from you. When you have lost some external thing, ask yourself what you have acquired in its place. If this is more valuable, do not say you have suffered a loss but made an exchange. By paying attention to your sense impressions and watching over them you are guarding self-respect, fidelity, and mental constancy undisturbed by passion, pain, fear, or confusion. In this way one may be free and a friend of God. Regardless of what the external object may be, the value you put on it makes you subservient to someone else. Epictetus emphasized self-improvement.
If you see any of the things
that you have learned and studied thoroughly
coming to fruition for you in action, rejoice in these things.
If you have put away or reduced a malignant disposition and reviling
or impertinence or foul language or recklessness or negligence;
if you are not moved by the things that once moved you,
or at least not to the same degree,
then you can keep festival day after day;
today because you behaved well in this action,
tomorrow because you behaved well in another.
How much greater cause for thanksgiving is this
than a consulship or a governorship?
These things come to you from your own self and from the gods.
Remember who the Giver is, and to whom He gives, and for what end.
If you are brought up in reasonings such as these,
can you any longer raise the questions
where you are going to be happy, and where you please God?5
The fine and good do not contend with anyone, nor do they, as far as they have power, allow others to contend. Epictetus urged people to announce that they are at peace with all people, no matter what they do. He even suggested being amused at those who think they are hurting you. He pointed out that the opinions of others are in the class of things outside one's sphere of moral purpose and beyond one's control. So if you are disturbed by the opinions of others, do you still fancy that you have been persuaded as to what things are good and evil? Epictetus found his true emancipation in God by knowing divine commands. No one could make a slave of him although they might master his body or property. Their power still did not extend beyond those things to him. He chose to wish what takes place; for he regarded God's will as better than his will. He attached himself to God as a servant and follower, making his choice and desire and will one with God's. He was not frightened by threats made against his body; for he knew that he was not flesh, bones, and muscles but that which employs them, that which governs the impressions of the senses and understands them. Epictetus taught,
You have but to will a thing, and it has happened;
the reform has been made;
as, on the other hand, you have but to drop into a doze and all is lost.
For it is within you that both destruction and deliverance lie.
But what good do I get after all that?
And what greater good than this are you looking for?
Instead of shameless, you will be self-respecting;
instead of faithless, faithful; instead of dissolute, self-controlled.
If you are looking for anything else greater than these things,
go ahead and do what you are doing;
not even a god can any longer save you.6
There is no activity in life to which attention does not extend. Is not attention always better than inattention? Epictetus suggested paying attention to general principles, that no one is master of another's moral principles. Thus no one has the power to procure good for me nor to involve me in evil, but I alone have authority over myself in these. When these are secure, there is no excuse for being disturbed about external things. I have but one whom I must please and obey; that is God, and after God, myself. God commends me to myself and subjects me alone to my moral purpose, giving me standards for its correct use. Epictetus hoped that death would find him occupied with these things so that he could say to God that the faculties he received enabled him to understand God's governance and to follow it, that he did not dishonor God, that he dealt with his senses and his preconceptions without blaming God, that he was not discontented with what happened nor did he wish it otherwise, that he did not violate his relationships with others, and that he was grateful for what God gave him.
The Encheiridion or Handbook of Epictetus summarizes many of his teachings and includes more preaching. He noted that our duties are generally measured by our social relationships to a father or brother or neighbor or citizen or a commanding officer. Even if they are bad or wrong you, you can still maintain your good relation with them. For no one will harm you without your consent, and you are only harmed when you think you have been harmed. Epictetus contrasted the position and character of the average, who never expect benefit or harm from themselves but from those outside, with the philosopher, who expects every benefit or harm to come from oneself. He summarized the signs of those making progress as follows:
They blame no one, praise no one, fault no one, accuse no one,
say nothing about themselves
as though being someone or knowing something.
If someone praises them, they laugh to themselves at the one praising;
if blamed, they make no defense.
They go around like the feeble,
taking care about moving any of what is set, until it has been fixed.
They keep out of themselves every desire;
and they transfer aversion only to things against nature in our power.
They use unrestrained effort toward everything.
If they seem foolish or unlearned, they do not care.
In a word, as a treacherous enemy they guard themselves.7
Such were the teachings of the man born a slave who found freedom within himself.
Hadrian was born on January 24 in 76 CE. After his father died ten years later, one of his guardians was Trajan. He studied Greek culture so enthusiastically that he was called "Little Greek." His military training began at 15, and he was a military tribune in Lower Moesia, where an astrologer told him he would be Emperor. Hadrian was favored by Trajan and married his grandniece. He served under Trajan in the Dacian war and commanded a legion in the second campaign. Trajan gave him four million sesterces to put on games and then appointed him praetorian governor of Lower Pannonia, where he restrained the Sarmatians, maintained military discipline, and checked wayward procurators. Hadrian was made a consul in 108 and, through the favor of Trajan's wife Plotina, for 118. While he was governor of Syria at Antioch, he received his letter of adoption by the Emperor in August 117 only a few days before news of Trajan's death. His possession of a large military force in the area facilitated his taking power, though rumors spread that Hadrian had bribed Trajan's freedmen and cultivated his boy favorites by having frequent sexual relations with them.
As Emperor Hadrian began by giving a double donative to soldiers. He gave up all territory beyond the Euphrates, making Parthian king Parthamaspates ruler over neighboring peoples. Provinces Trajan had annexed in Armenia, Mesopotamia, and Assyria, were abandoned. Hadrian disarmed Lusius Quietus by taking away the Moorish tribesmen under his command, because he suspected him of wanting imperial power. It was said he refused to execute other conspirators, though a procurator killed Frugi Cassius in exile. After the Jews were suppressed, Hadrian appointed Marcius Turbo to put down an uprising in Mauretania. Then he transferred Turbo to Pannonia and Dacia while he headed for Moesia, where he made peace with the Roxolani king. While Hadrian was away, the Senate ordered four of Trajan's consular generals executed for plotting to murder Hadrian, including Lusius Quietus.
To gain favor in 118 Hadrian burned in the Forum records of 900,000,000 sesterces of debt, remitting private debts owed to the imperial treasury for fifteen years. He made grants to senators whose property had fallen below that required by the senatorial register, and he bestowed largesses on those in public offices and to help women maintain their social positions. He produced a gladiatorial show for six days, and a thousand wild beasts appeared in the arena on his birthday, though he refused circus games on other days.
Hadrian tightened discipline in the army by reducing luxuries and by improving arms and equipment. He used soldier "foragers" to spy on provincial staffs. Hadrian instituted a law forbidding senators from farming out taxes. His passion for young men and married women did not always endear him to his friends. Hadrian made Roman administration more professional by excluding imperial household freedmen, enabling the equestrian class to dominate government departments with three grades of officials. Civilian careers were distinguished from military ones, and the secretariat separated Latin and Greek correspondence. Annual edicts of praetors were codified into law by the distinguished jurist Salvius Julianus. By now imperial edicts had completely replaced the legislation of the old tribal assembly. The rights of minors, women, and slaves were protected by law from abusive parents and masters. A slave could not be sold to a pimp or a gladiatorial trainer without cause, and Hadrian abolished workhouses for slaves and freedmen. Yet by now citizens had been divided into a superior class (honestiores) of senators, knights, landowners, soldiers, civil servants, and municipal counselors with more rights and milder penalties than the inferior class (humiliores) of everyone else.
In the provinces political power tended to concentrate among the wealthy, who supported and thus controlled much of local government. As these families passed on their wealth, hereditary aristocracies tended to develop. Hadrian promoted education by endowing professorial chairs in the provinces and by supporting municipal schools. Hadrian honored and supported the arts, though he occasionally interfered by imposing his own ideas. Hadrian traveled more than any other Emperor, spending half his reign outside of Italy. He aided allied and subject cities by supporting their water supplies, harbors, food, public works, and treasuries. According to Dio Cassius he was able to stop rioting in Alexandria with a letter of reproach. These supportive measures and Rome's well disciplined army lessened uprisings, and Hadrian arbitrated differences between countries. In 129 Hadrian's conference with kings and princes of the East established vassals to protect the frontier. Hadrian had a continuous wooden palisade built in Raetia and Upper Germany, and long stone walls were constructed in Britain and Numidia.
At Jerusalem a city was rebuilt and named Aelia Capitolina after his family name. This new temple to Jupiter, Hadrian's refusal to allow the Jews to rebuild their temple, and his prohibition of circumcision provoked another major revolt by the Jews after he left the region. Rebel Jews, led by the Messianic Simon Bar-Kochba, took advantageous positions and strengthened them with walls and mines. The Roman governor of Judea, Tinnius Rufus, had to retreat, as rebels took over most of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Hadrian sent for his governor in Britain, Julius Severus, to conduct the war in 132. Severus used his large army to intercept small groups and starve the rest, destroying fifty important outposts and 985 small villages. The great stronghold at Bethar was attacked by 100,000 Roman soldiers, and in three days all the inhabitants were massacred. According to Dio Cassius 580,000 were killed in raids and battles, and untold numbers died of famine, disease, and fire, making Judea desolate. Many Romans were also killed in this war that lasted until 135.
This war and the persecution of Jews that followed separated Jews from the Jewish Christians, who tended to give up their Judaic traditions. Hadrian particularly ordered his officers to punish those assembling in schools or ordaining disciples. Ishmael complained that sinful Rome inflicted such severe laws on them that unless they stopped marrying and having children, they would have to transgress some religious laws for a time. Some Tannaim (scholars) were willing to suffer death rather than give up their meetings at schools, including Ishmael and Akiba, who died under the tortures of Rufus, rejoicing that he could love God with his life and saying finally, "God is one."8
Another war broke out when the Alani led by Pharasmanes revolted in Media, Armenia, and Cappadocia, but the governor of Cappadocia persuaded them to stop. In 136 Hadrian adopted the young senator Ceionius Commodus as Lucius Aelius Caesar. This led to his closest male relative, Pedanius Fuscus, being executed and his grandfather Julius Fuscus Servianus, Hadrian's brother-in-law, committing suicide in a suspected conspiracy. Lucius died, and in 138 Hadrian chose the wealthy senator Aurelius Antoninus, who was 51 and had no sons. Hadrian also had Antoninus adopt 16-year-old Marcus Aurelius and the 7-year-old son of Lucius, Lucius Verus, so that future Emperors would be prudent. Hadrian was prevented from committing suicide but died after he abandoned his careful diet.
Antoninus of Gallic origin was born on September 19 in 86 CE and was brought up at Lorium by his grandparents. Several reasons were given to explain why he was called Pius, but they all indicate he was loyal, conservative, and pious. He used his large fortune to assist many people with loans at only four percent. He had been a munificent quaestor, a distinguished praetor, and was consul in 120. Hadrian chose Antoninus as one of four ex-consuls to administer a portion of Italy. He also won praise for his proconsulship of Asia. As one of Hadrian's council at Rome, he always recommended merciful judgments. When Antoninus became Emperor in 138, he gave a largess to the soldiers and people from his own funds and contributed much to Hadrian's public works. Girls received state support and were called Faustinians in honor of his wife. He did not refuse the circus games for his birthday, but he rejected other honors.
Antoninus oversaw various wars, conquering northern Britain through his legate Lollius Urbicus and erecting another wall, forcing the Moors to make peace in Mauretania, and crushing rebellions by Germans, Dacians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Jews. He ordered his procurators to levy moderate tribute and made those who exceeded the limit accountable. The author of the Augustan history credited him with assisting many communities financially. Also his letter was said to have stopped the Parthian king from assaulting the Armenians. Antoninus sent auxiliary soldiers to the Black Sea area to help the Olbiopolitans defeat the Tauroscythae. His efforts were to maintain peace, as he often quoted Scipio that he would prefer to save one citizen than kill a thousand enemies.
Antoninus listened to complaints and pardoned those who had been condemned by Hadrian. It was said that he brought the imperial eminence down to the ordinary citizen, and court servants complained they had no more secret information to sell nor could they intimidate people. Informers were squelched, and confiscation of property became more rare than ever. Atilius Titianus was charged with usurpation and was punished by the Senate. In 145 Cornelius Priscianus in Spain was charged with attempted usurpation and took his own life. In both these cases the Emperor forbade investigation of conspiracy. Those who were convicted of corrupt administration had their estates restored to their children if they restored what had been taken from the provincials. Antoninus bestowed honors and salaries on rhetoricians and philosophers in all provinces.
Antoninus removed salaries from those doing nothing, including the lyric poet Mesomedes. He kept close watch on the accounts and taxes of the provinces. He gave his private fortune to his daughter while donating its interest to the republic. Antoninus sold superfluous imperial assets and lived on his own private estates according to season. He stayed in Rome to be at the center of communications. A new law invalidated bequests made to avoid a penalty. During scarcity his own treasury bought wine, oil, and grain, and these were freely given to people. When his daughter Faustina married Marcus Aurelius in 145, Antoninus gave another donative to soldiers. When Marcus wept after one of his teachers died and was reprimanded by the court, the Emperor told them to let him be human, because neither philosophy nor imperial power can take away feelings. Antoninus set a limit to expenses on gladiatorial games and put the posting service under careful management. He accounted for everything to the Senate and by edicts. He died in 161 of a fever, praised by all according to the historian for his dutifulness, clemency, intelligence, and purity.
Marcus Aurelius was born at Rome April 26 in 121. His father died when he was about three, and Marcus was brought up by his paternal grandfather. The Emperor Hadrian supervised his upbringing, enrolling him in the equestrian order at six and in the college of Salian priests two years later. At the age of twelve Marcus began attending lectures of Stoics and other philosophers and jurists. When Marcus assumed the toga of manhood in 136, Hadrian had him betrothed to the daughter of Lucius Commodus. Two years later Marcus became the son of his uncle Antoninus as both were adopted into the royal Aurelian family. When Pius became Emperor, he had Marcus betrothed instead to his daughter Faustina although she was too young to marry for seven years. The next year Marcus jumped from quaestor to serve as consul with Emperor Antoninus, and he was given the name Caesar. During the 23 years that Antoninus Pius reigned Marcus was only separated from his new father on two nights. No one ever had more domestic training to become Emperor, but he had no experience in the provinces.
When Pius died in 161, the Senate made Marcus Aurelius Emperor, though he was the first to share that honor by making Lucius Commodus his equal. They promised each soldier a bounty of 20,000 sesterces (several years' wages) with more for higher ranks. After two long reigns of relative peace, wars were beginning to break in on the Roman empire. Calpurnius Agricola was sent against the Britons, and Aufidius Victorinus took on the Chatti invading Germany. Parthian king Vologases III entered Armenia, which was protected by Rome and installed an Arsacid relative named Pacorus. Rome's Cappadocia governor Sedatius Severianus took a legion into Armenia, but Parthian forces led by Chosrhoes destroyed them at Elegia, Severianus committing suicide. After the Parthians defeated and sent fleeing Roman forces under Syrian governor Attidius Cornelianus, the Senate agreed to appoint Lucius himself to take command of the war while Marcus ruled in Rome. Lucius lived in luxury in Antioch and its resort town of Daphne while his legates waged war. By 163 forces led by Statius Priscus (transferred from Britain) had captured Artaxata in Armenia, and a New City was built thirty miles closer to the Roman border. Lucius crowned as king of Armenia an Arsacid prince named Sohaemus, who had become a Roman senator and consul.
Marcus deferred to the Senate by allowing ex-consuls and ex-praetors to adjudicate legal matters. He reformed the law so that all youths could receive guardians without special reasons, and he improved the child welfare system. In cases involving slaves Marcus leaned toward giving them freedom instead of treating them as property. During a famine he gave Roman grain to the Italian communities. Marcus limited gladiatorial spectacles and what could be donated to theatrical performances. The Augustan historian concluded that he restored the old laws instead of making new ones, and he described his affect on people as follows:
Towards the people, indeed, he conducted himself
no differently than is the case under a free state.
He was in all matters a very great influence for moderation,
in deterring people from evil and urging them to good deeds,
generous in rewarding and mild in granting pardon;
and he made the bad good and the good very good,
even bearing with restraint criticism from several quarters.9
In 165 Roman forces moved into Mesopotamia, occupying Edessa and Nisibis, while restoring the pro-Roman Mannus in Osrhoene. Avidius Cassius moved down the Euphrates; his army was welcomed into the large Hellenic city of Seleucia, enabling them to capture Ctesiphon and burn the palace of Vologases. Many blamed the plague on the destruction of Seleucia after an agreement had been made. The returning army would spread perhaps ancient history's worst epidemic all the way back to Rome itself. Romans crossed the Tigris and invaded Parthian Media in 166. The province of Syria was enlarged, and the departing Roman army left garrisons at key places such as Kaine Polis (New City) and Nisibis. That year Marcus named his son Commodus Caesar, and the Augustan historian explained his crude character by the allegation of the empress Faustina's passion for a gladiator.
As the Parthian War was winding down, 6,000 Langobardi and Obii crossed the Ister (Danube) into Pannonia; but they were routed and driven back by the Roman cavalry under Vindex and the infantry commanded by Candidus. Eleven tribes sent envoys led by Marcomanni king Ballomarius and made peace with Iallius Bassus, the Roman governor of Upper Pannonia. Germans crossed the Rhine and headed toward Italy, but Marcus sent forces under Pompeianus and Pertinax to stop them. The Marcomanni were also causing trouble. So with Cassius in charge of all Asia, in 168 both Emperors went north to fight them, but at the end of that year Lucius died of apoplexy. While the plague was killing many thousands of civilians and soldiers, Marcus Aurelius used diplomacy and his army to control the Marcomanni, Sarmatian Jazyges, Vandals, and Quadi, liberating the Pannonian provinces. In exchange for their alliance some tribes were given land in Dacia, Pannonia, Moesia, Roman Germany, and even in Italy; but after an uprising in Ravenna, Marcus banished them from Italy. The Astingi and the Lacringi aided Marcus and eventually were allowed to settle in Dacia. However, the Cotini broke their promises and were later destroyed.
Twice as many recruits were needed in 169; slaves were given their freedom for volunteering; special units of gladiators were formed; and bandits were used as guerrilla fighters. The war drained the treasury so much that for two months Marcus Aurelius held an auction in the Forum to sell imperial furnishings, jewelry, and even his wife's embroidered clothing. Also the imperial currency was debased. The next Roman offensive was defeated, and the "barbarian" tribes invaded Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece, even destroying the mysteries temple at Eleusis. Marcus used imperial money frugally but assisted towns on the brink of ruin. Enemy prisoners were treated fairly. Yet the Romans had so many captured that Marcus passed a law that ransomed captives did not gain their freedom until they repaid the amount of the ransom. In 172 a tribe of Egyptian shepherds led by the priest Isidorus defeated the Romans in Egypt and almost captured Alexandria; but Cassius was sent with forces from Syria and managed to divide and conquer them.
Meanwhile the Roman army drove the Jazyges back across the frozen Danube. Marcus refused to negotiate with the Quadi, because they had deceived him and joined the Jazyges. When the Quadi expelled their king Furtius and on their own chose Ariogaesus king, Marcus would not recognize him nor renew their treaty even though they promised to return 50,000 captives if he did. Marcus put a price on the head of Ariogaesus, though when he was captured, he merely sent him to Alexandria. When the Quadi surrounded thirsty Romans, a miraculous rainstorm (claimed to have been caused by an Egyptian magician or by Christian prayers) saved the Roman soldiers. The Quadi were then defeated. Marcus suffered from some condition in his chest and stomach, and he began taking a daily antidote (theriac) containing opium prescribed for him by the famous physician Galen.
In 175 Avidius Cassius led a rebellion in the east, and so Marcus Aurelius came to terms with the Jazyges without his usual consultation with the Senate, and the Jazyges returned 100,000 captives. They were required to live twice as far from the Danube as the Quadi and Marcomanni. The Jazyges then contributed 8,000 cavalry to the Roman alliance, 5,500 being sent to Britain. Marcus told the soldiers and wrote to the Senate that he would have been willing to argue before them or the Senate what is best for the state; but Cassius would not consent to that, and his rebellion had already started a civil war. Marcus hoped that he would be able to pardon Cassius, but that was not to be. The Senate declared Cassius a public enemy, and he was put to death along with his son and the prefect he had appointed. Marcus did pardon others, including communities like Antioch that had sided with Cassius. A few were executed, because they had committed overt crimes on their own account.
To show he was free of guilt Marcus was initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries, and he established teachers at Athens in every branch of knowledge. At Alexandria he negotiated a peace treaty with the Parthian kings and ambassadors. Faustina gave Marcus many children, most of whom died quite young. When she died, he chose not to remarry and put a step-mother over his children; so he took a concubine instead. In 177 Marcus made his son Commodus co-Emperor even though he was only fifteen. In a case of matricide the two wrote that if the defendant is determined insane, punishment should not be considered, because insanity is punishment enough. The insane may be kept in chains though for public security. A husband who killed his wife when caught in adultery was acquitted of capital murder. Because of the shortage of gladiators, Marcus allowed his procurator in Gaul to sell criminals condemned to death. An archaic ritual there had demand human sacrifices; now Rome was supplying victims for six gold pieces each. In 178 Marcus canceled all debts to the imperial treasury back as far as 133, and the documents were publicly burned in the Forum. He was moved to tears by a request from Aelius Aristeides on the earthquake at Smyrna and consented to rebuild the city.
The last two years of his life Marcus spent fighting the Marcomanni, Hermunduri, Jazyges Sarmatae, and the Quadi. Marcus granted concessions to an embassy of the Jazyges after they proved useful to him. Marcus had Roman forces stop the Quadi from migrating to the land of the Senones to show that he did not want their land but to punish them for their previous behavior. The historian Dio Cassius speculated that Marcus would have subdued the entire region if he had lived longer. When he became ill, he stopped eating to bring on death sooner, which came in 180.
Often translated Meditations, Marcus Aurelius wrote down the thoughts he wanted to remember in twelve short books entitled To Himself or To Oneself. The first book describes the character traits he learned from various people. He learned courtesy and serenity from his grandfather; manliness without ostentation from his father; piety, generosity, and simplicity from his mother; to be skeptical from Diognetus; that his character needed work from Rusticus; to make decisions for himself from Apollonius; kindness and patience from Sextus; to watch out for fault-finding from the critic Alexander; from the rhetorician Fronto that malice and duplicity go with absolute power; to take seriously a friend's reproach from Catullus; to love his relations, truth, and justice from Severus; self-control and cheerfulness from Maximus; and many things from his father Antoninus including lenience, decisiveness, diligence, rewarding merit, and efforts to suppress pederasty. The Emperor also helped to cure him of pomposity and to realize he could live at court without royal escorts. Marcus found the qualities of his brother Lucius a continual challenge to his own self-discipline. Much of the correspondence between Marcus and Fronto still exists, showing his lessons in rhetoric and their concern for each other's well being. Rusticus exposed Marcus to the Discourses of Epictetus.
Marcus reminded himself that the offenses of others he encountered are caused by ignorance of what is good and evil. Thus they cannot injure him. Rather than be angry with his brother, he can work together with him like two hands. The Stoic view is that one is flesh (physical body), breath (spirit), and reason (mind) that rules all. Marcus concentrated on reason. Time is to be used to advance one's enlightenment. He resolved to do what is correct with dignity, humanity, independence, and justice, freeing his mind from other considerations. By approaching each action as if it were one's last he dismissed wayward thoughts, emotional reactions, the desire to impress, self-admiration, and discontent with one's lot. If you are distracted by outward cares, allow yourself quiet space to know the good and curb restlessness. No one can hinder you from conforming to Nature in word and deed. At any time one can withdraw from life. Yet living and dying, honor and dishonor, pain and pleasure, riches and poverty, and so on are neither good nor evil, for they neither elevate nor degrade.
Hold fast to the divine spirit within and serve it loyally by keeping it pure from passion, aimlessness, and discontent. To quarrel with circumstances is to rebel against Nature, for Nature includes our individual nature. It is also wrong to reject or oppose a fellow creature with malicious intent. A third self-inflicted wrong is surrendering to pleasure or pain; fourth is being insincere or false; and fifth is wasting energy without purpose or thought. A philosopher keeps the divine spirit unscathed within, transcending all pleasure and pain, acting with purpose and without falsehood, not depending on another's actions, accepting everything as coming from the same Source as oneself, and waiting graciously for death as a mere dissolving of the elements.
A person aspiring to the heights, who makes full use of the indwelling power that keeps one unsullied by pleasure or insult, is a minister of the gods. The greatest contest is the struggle to master passions. Why ask what others are saying or doing unless the public interest requires it? One should fix one's attention on one's own concerns in the universal web to see that one's actions are honorable, believing one is under a higher direction and not forgetting the brotherhood of all rational beings nor that a concern for every person is proper for humanity. The secret of cheerfulness is not depending on help from outside to find tranquillity but to stand upright oneself, not be set up. Marcus recommended avowing allegiance to the gods and compassion for humanity, for all else is mean and worthless compared to the deity within. The most important task in life is to keep one's mind from straying from the concerns of an intelligent and social being. From your reasoning power you can gain circumspection, good relations with your fellow humans, and conformity with the will of heaven.
Humans live only in the present, and mortal life is a little thing. The mind is enlarged by its ability to examine methodically and accurately life's experiences in order to understand the purpose of each and its value to the universe and people as members of the universal city in which every city is like a household. Analyze each impression. Does it ask for the moral response of gentleness, courage, candor, good faith, sincerity, self-reliance, or another quality? Realize that each strand in the complex web comes from God. It may be the work of a person who is ignorant of what Nature requires. I, however, may act in accordance with Nature's law of brotherhood and deal amiably and fairly with them. By acting in conformity with nature and making each word fearlessly truthful the good life may be yours.
The inward power that rules us by being true to Nature will always adjust itself readily to circumstances. At any moment one may retire within oneself, for the soul is an untroubled retreat. Do the vices of humanity bother you? Remember that rational beings are created for one another, and toleration is part of justice; people do not do evil intentionally. Outward things can never touch the soul; so disquiet can only arise from inward fancies. The universe is change, and life is belief. Put aside the opinion that "I have been wronged" and the feeling will go with it. Reject the sense of being injured, and the injury will disappear. Act according to reason for the common good; but reconsider any decision if anyone corrects you and persuades you of a better way to serve justice or the common good. Time and ease can be gained by acting justly and ignoring what neighbors are saying or doing. Contentment comes from doing a few things well. Always think of the universe as a living organism with a single soul.
Reserve your right to act according to your own nature and also the cosmic Nature without being put off by critics guided by their own reasons. Marcus suggested cultivating qualities within your power such as sincerity, dignity, industriousness, and sobriety. Avoid grumbling and be frugal, considerate, and frank. The fulfillment of Nature should be viewed like the health of our body. Receive gladly what occurs even if it is unpalatable, for it balances the health of the universe and the well-being of God. If it were not beneficial to the whole, it would never happen to the individual; for Nature's government only brings about what is designed for good. For Marcus the goods a person should value are such things as prudence, temperance, justice, and courage, while the goods of wealth, luxury, and prestige are what leave no room for personal ease. Outward things cannot touch the soul and have no power to sway it; for the soul moves itself and has self-approved standards to evaluate experience. Marcus did not concern himself with another doing wrong; but he believed he received what the cosmic Nature willed him to receive, and he acted as his own nature willed him to act. He observed that the Mind of the universe is social, that lower forms served the higher, and the higher are linked in mutual dependence. What people set their hearts on in this life is vanity, corruption, and trash.
Marcus believed that the best revenge for an offense is to refrain from imitating it. He found and recommended finding delight in passing from one service to the community to another, keeping God always in mind. The one who values the soul aims to keep all its activities rational and social, working with others to this end. Marcus was willing to change if anyone could prove to him that he was wrong in thought or deed. He sought the truth, which never hurt anyone. Persisting in self-delusion and ignorance is what does harm. He noted that in death Alexander of Macedon was no different than a stable-boy. Marcus recommended keeping oneself simple, good, pure, serious, unassuming, kind, affectionate, and resolute in duty. Revere the gods and help fellow humans. Life is short and bears only the fruit of holiness inside and selfless action outside. Then he exhorted himself to be like his adopted father, the previous Emperor.
Be in all things Antoninus's disciple;
remember his insistence on the control of conduct by reason,
his calm composure on all occasions, and his own holiness;
the serenity of his look and the sweetness of his manner;
his scorn of notoriety, and his zeal for the mastery of facts;
how he would never dismiss a subject
until he had looked thoroughly into it and understood it clearly;
how he would suffer unjust criticisms without replying in kind;
how he was never hasty, and no friend to tale-bearers;
shrewd in his judgments of men and manners,
yet never censorious;
wholly free from nervousness, suspicion, and over-subtlety;
how easily satisfied he was
in such matters as lodging, bed, dress, meals, and service;
how industrious, and how patient;
how, thanks to his frugal diet,
he could remain at work from morning till night
without even attending to the calls of nature
until his customary hour;
how firm and constant he was in his friendships,
tolerating the most outspoken amendments;
what reverence, untainted by the smallest trace of superstition,
he showed to the gods.
Remember all this, so that when your own last hour comes
your conscience may be as clear as his.10
Very likely this described Marcus Aurelius as much as his father. He wrote that nothing can stop you living according to your own personal nature, and nothing can happen to you that is against the laws of the cosmic Nature.
Everything Marcus did, by himself or with another, was aimed to serve the harmony of all. For a rational being acting according to nature is acting according to reason. He advised us, when anyone offends us, first to ask under what conception of good and ill it was committed. Knowing that, anger will usually give way to pity. Withdraw into yourself; for our master reason only asks us to act justly and so achieve calm. Marcus urged us to dig inside ourselves to the well-spring of good; always dig, and it will always flow. He thought it ridiculous not to flee from one's own wickedness, which is possible, yet to try to flee from another's, which is not possible. He believed that universal Nature creates an orderly world, and so everything happening follows a logical sequence. Remembering this helps one face many things more calmly.
Marcus Aurelius believed that what is good for a person is what helps to make one just, self-disciplined, courageous, and independent; bad is what has the contrary effect. In considering any action, ask what the consequences will be. He wrote that you may break your heart, but people will still go on as before. His first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. Second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are, remembering one's duty is to be good. He urged one to say what you think is most just, though with courtesy, modesty, and sincerity. For Marcus repentance is remorse for a lost opportunity to help, because what is good is always helpful and must be the concern of every person. Yet a good person does not regret letting an opportunity for pleasure pass. Therefore, he concluded, pleasure is neither good nor helpful. He considered thoughts of blame out of place. If you can, correct an offender; if you cannot, correct the offense; if both are impossible, what good are recriminations? Nothing pointless is worth doing.
From the perspective of the soul Marcus wrote of these three relationships: to our bodily shell which envelops us, to the divine Cause which is the source of all, and to the fellow mortals around us. He wrote, "Accept modestly; surrender gracefully."11 Distress, coming from something external, is not because of the thing itself but from your estimate of it; this is in your power to revoke at any moment. If the cause is in your character, then reform your principles. Who can hinder you? If it is failing to take a sound action that is bothering you, then why not take it, instead of worrying? For the Stoics vice does not injure the universe nor harm anyone but the culprit, and one can free oneself from it as soon as one chooses. Even though we are made to help each other, still each person's self has sovereign rights. Otherwise my neighbor's vice would become my evil. Marcus believed God has not willed this, lest my happiness should be in the power of another. Yet since people do exist for each other; you can either improve them, or put up with them.
Marcus believed that Nature made all rational beings for mutual benefit, to help each other and not to do harm. Injustice is a sin, as is untruthfulness. Truth is another name for Nature, for to go contrary to truth is mutiny against Nature. The sinner only sins against oneself; the wrongdoer wrongs oneself in becoming worse by one's action. If things originate in one intelligent source and make up a single body, then no part should complain of what happens for the good of the whole. Instead of praying to be granted things, Marcus recommended praying to be delivered from dreading or lusting or grieving. When you are indignant with anyone, turn your thoughts to yourself; for it is your error to have put faith in that person.
If I believe I am a part of the whole under Nature's governing, then I have a bond of kinship with other similar parts. Thus I should not grieve over what is assigned to me from the Whole, for what is beneficial to the whole can never be harmful to a part. Nothing outside the Whole can compel it to harm itself. Thus I should do nothing to injure the common welfare of fellow parts but direct every impulse to their good. In doing this I will find the current of my life flowing smoothly as one who consistently serves people. In a rare admission Marcus asked whether those who hunt Sarmatians are anything but robbers.
For the soul to respect other souls like itself implies that the principle of rationality includes justice. Marcus urged firmness in decision and action but at the same time gentleness to those who obstruct or molest you. He listed ten counsels in response to being offended. First, remember your close bond with all humans. Second, consider their characters. Third, if their action is not right, it can only be unintentional or ignorant. Fourth, you offend in various ways and are not different. Fifth, you cannot be sure they are doing wrong, for there may be other motives. Sixth, remind yourself that mortal life is brief. Seventh, it is not their action that annoys, but your interpretation of it. Eighth, our anger is more detrimental to us than what causes the anger. Ninth, genuine kindness is irresistible; a gentle word of admonition often is enough. Tenth, to expect bad people never to do bad things is to hope for the impossible; to tolerate their offenses against others and expect none against yourself is irrational.
In the last book Marcus encouraged himself (and his readers) to have done with the past and trust the future to providence by seeking the paths of holiness and justice - holiness by a loving acceptance of what Nature produces for you, justice in frank and truthful speech and in action by respecting law and every person's rights. Look for something higher and more godlike within you than mere instincts and emotions that "twitch you like a puppet." Ask what is clouding my understanding at this moment. Is it fear or jealousy or lust or something else? He concluded by commending humans to their cosmopolitan citizenship so that without complaining about one's span of life one may pass on with a smiling face under the smile of the one who bids you go.
Juvenal was born to a prosperous family in Aquinum about 55 CE. In 78 he commanded a cohort of Dalmatian auxiliaries and served in Britain under Agricola. Juvenal was exiled to Egypt about 93 by Domitian for criticizing an influential actor at court. His five books containing a total of Sixteen Satires were probably published between 110 and 130. His brilliant writing exposed the moral climate of the empire and was first used by Christian polemicists before it became popular in later centuries.
In the First Satire Juvenal asked who could endure the monstrous city of Rome with so callous a heart and swallow one's wrath so as not to write satires when it is crammed with corpulent owners, chiseling advocates, and informers. Who cares for reputation if one can keep the cash? A young blade who squanders his family fortune on race horses can still get command of a cohort. One sees forgers carried on the necks of six porters in a litter. Honesty may be praised; but honest men freeze as wealth springs from crime. Indignation drove him to verse. Observing so rich a crop of vices, Juvenal wondered when the purse of greed yawned wider. The same man who loses ten thousand on a throw of the dice grudges a shirt to his shivering slave. Clients used to be guests; now Roman citizens scramble for scraps at their patron's doorstep. Temples worship abstractions like honor, peace, victory, virtue, or concord; but wealth, not God, is given the deepest reverence. Many survive on the dole, a mere pittance. Juvenal poked fun at those who waddle to the bath with a stomach bloated by undigested peacock meat and die of a heart attack before they can make a will. Every vice reaching its ruinous zenith gives the satirist ample material. No one dares speak against the man, who poisoned three uncles with belladonna, riding in a feather-bed litter.
In his second satire Juvenal complained of a Roman clique who affects peasant virtues and uses high-flown moral discourse as a front for their lechery. Even the worst people despise these bogus moralists. Juvenal satirized the prevalence of homosexuality, noting that male brides yearn to be noticed in the newspapers. He wondered what he could do in Rome since he never learned to lie, and he refused to be an accomplice in theft, which meant no governor would accept him on his staff. In fact no one could get to the top easily if meager resources crippled their talent.
By far the longest satire of Juvenal is the 6th, his tirade against women and their sensuality. He described a decline from the heralded golden age of Saturn when chastity lingered until Justice withdrew to heaven. In the past poverty had kept Latin women chaste by hard work and little sleep. Now he complained they were suffering from the evils of a peace that lasted too long so that the deadlier invader, luxury, avenged the world they conquered. No lust or crime spares them, as filthy lucre brings foreign morals, and enervating wealth destroys them with self-indulgence. Juvenal described women who completely ignore their husbands without giving a thought to all they cost them, being more a neighbor than a wife except when she loathes his friends and slaves or runs up bills.
In the 7th satire Juvenal noted that all the arts and scholarly work depended now on Caesar, probably meaning Hadrian. No one else who cared could afford to support such cultural activities. He concluded this sad commentary on Roman values by observing that a school teacher makes less money in a year than a jockey gets from one race. Then he made fun of those who pride themselves in their family trees. For Juvenal virtue remains the one true nobility, not a hall lined with waxen busts. He would be glad to acknowledge their noble status regardless of their birth if they would prove their life is stainless and that their deeds and words are always just. When one finally obtained the reward of a provincial governorship, he advised curbing anger and greed to pity the destitute local inhabitants whose bones have been sucked dry of marrow. Observe the law, respect the Senate's decrees, think of the rewards given to a good ruler, and remember that their parliament may strike down with the thunderbolt of justice governors more piratical than the Cilicians. The higher a criminal's position the more public will be the shame his vices call down on him.
Juvenal seemed to mature in his later satires. In the 10th satire he wrote,
What you ask for, you get. The Gods aren't fussy, they're willing
To blast you, root and branch, on request. It's universal,
This self-destructive urge, in civilian and soldier
Alike. The gift of the gab, a torrential facility,
Has proved fatal to so many; so has excessive reliance
On muscle and physical beef.12
Yet most people seemed to be concerned only with bread and games. In spite of the beliefs of the Stoics and Cynics he wondered who would embrace poor Virtue naked of the rewards she bestows. Whole countries have been ruined by the vainglory of a few who lusted for power. Juvenal concluded this satire by suggesting we ask
For a sound mind in a sound body, a valiant heart
Without fear of death, that reckons longevity
The least among Nature's gifts, that's strong to endure
All kinds of toil that's untainted by lust and anger,
That prefers the sorrows and labors of Hercules to all
Sardanapalus' downy cushions and women and junketings.
What I've shown you, you can find yourself: there's one
Path, and one way, to a life of peace - through virtue.
Fortune has no divinity, could we but see it: it's we,
We ourselves, who make her a goddess, and set her in the heavens.13
Juvenal in his 13th satire warned that all evil deeds setting bad examples end unpleasantly for the doer. No guilty person can be acquitted by conscience even if they have suborned the judge to award a rigged verdict. The man, whose temper explodes because a friend won't repay capital entrusted to him, he satirized by asking if life experience has taught this person nothing. Juvenal lamented that dishonesty, which used to be exceptional and shocking, is common; it has now been reversed such that honesty is surprising, and a decent God-fearing person is considered a freak. Like Plutarch, Juvenal commented on the time lag in the wrath of the gods. Some try to release their guilt by hoping God may be persuaded to forgive and by rationalizing that the same crime may produce the opposite results of the cross or a royal crown. Juvenal advised those wanting to know the truth of human nature to spend a few days in the courtroom. Then see if you dare to complain about your own misfortunes. Juvenal criticized the vindictive who believe that vengeance is sweeter than life itself for being ignorant and letting their temper flare up for any trifling excuse or flimsy reason. Only the small, mean, weak-willed mind takes pleasure in paying off scores. Juvenal believed that the guilty conscience keeps people in fear and that the mind is its own best torturer because the fear of retribution is more cruel than what judges devise.
Juvenal's 14th satire is concerned with the bad examples children may catch from their parents. Flogging slaves teaches sadism. That crimes are copied by the children raised should be a powerful motive for steering clear of reprehensible acts. Juvenal believed it can be a fine thing to raise another citizen for your country as a capable farmer who is also skilled in the arts of peace and war. The practical and moral education one gives a son can make a great difference. Juvenal criticized the law of Moses for not allowing Jews to help an uncircumcised stranger. He believed avarice has to be taught, because it is against one's natural instincts. This vice is deceptive, as it has the semblance of virtue.
In the 15th satire Juvenal noted that only humans have reason,
and yet they kill their own kind more than savage beasts do. The
ancients crafted hoes, plowshares, and pruning hooks but not swords.
An Egyptian riot in 127 showed that present fury is not even satisfied
with killing but even eats human flesh. In his 16th and last satire
Juvenal suggested that military men are protected by military
courts from the beatings they give, and the whole regiment will
turn on anyone who offends one of theirs. It is easier to get
someone to perjure oneself against a civilian than to get someone
to tell the truth if it is against a soldier's honor or interest.
Greek novels during this period include Xenophon's Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes about a beautiful couple who are separated and survive various adventures and miraculously keep their marriage vows intact. Strongly influenced by Chariton's Chaereas and Callirhoe, this melodramatic yarn replaces Aphrodite and Artemis with Isis, as Anthia protects her chastity in Egypt by saying she is dedicated to the goddess. Finally returned to her beloved husband, Anthia summarizes, "I have found you again, after all my wanderings over land and sea, escaping robbers' threats and pirates' plots and pimps' insults, chains, trenches, fetters, poisons, and tombs."14 Some Greek novels of the second century only survive in summaries by the ninth-century Constantinople patriarch Photius. Of Antonius Diogenes' The Wonders Beyond Thule Photius made the following two observations:
First, that he presents a wrong-doer,
even if he appears to escape countless times,
paying the penalty just the same;
second, that he shows many guiltless people,
though on the brink of great danger,
being saved many times in defiance of expectations.15
Photius also summarized A Babylonian Story by Iamblichus which was written between 165 and 180. The medical writer Theodorus Priscianus in the fourth century recommended this story as a stimulant to those suffering from sexual impotence.
Cleitophon and Leucippe by Achilles Tatius was probably written in the last half of the second century. This romantic adventure is narrated by Cleitophon, whose father wants him to marry his half sister Kalligone; but he falls in love with his cousin Leucippe. Kallisthenes takes advantage of a Byzantine law that a man who kidnaps a woman and makes her his wife is only punished by staying married to her, and he abducts Kalligone. Cleitophon elopes to Egypt with Leucippe, who is captured by bandits and is twice thought dead. Believing her husband Thersandros is dead, the wealthy Melite persuades Cleitophon to marry her, although out of respect for Leucippe he refrains from consummating it until they have left Egypt. However, Thersandros is alive and prosecutes Cleitophon for adultery, while Leucippe under another name has become the slave of Thersandros. After trying to commit suicide by confessing to Leucippe's murder, Cleitophon is eventually cleared in court, while Leucippe proves her remarkable virginity in the temple of Artemis at Ephesus. In spite of their restraint the erotic theme of the novel finally culminates in the marriage of Cleitophon and Leucippe at Byzantium.
A Greek novel about Lucius from Patrae, who is transformed by magic into an ass by mistake after he is given sexual lessons by a woman named the wrestler, was adapted into a more sophisticated Latin novel by Apuleius. Born at the Roman colony Madaura in Morocco about 124, Apuleius and his brother inherited two million sesterces. He studied at Carthage and took up Platonic philosophy at Athens. Apuleius freed three slaves and provided education and dowries for friends. He apparently ran short of money after visiting the Olympic games, but he was helped by Thyasus at Corinth. He was initiated into the mysteries of Isis before going to Rome to study oratory and become a successful lawyer.
Apuleius traveled to Asia Minor and Egypt, where he became ill and married a wealthy older woman, who soon died. He was charged by her family with winning her affection by magic and causing her death. His defense speech discussing magic survived. He argued that poverty is no reproach to a philosopher, because it helps one to be frugal, temperate, content with little, eager for praise, averse to material wealth, safe and simple in living, and to promote what is right. If Apuleius thought that for him to be proved really poor, his accuser Aemilianus must show that he is avaricious. Apuleius described a hypnotic trance in which the mind may be lulled to sleep, estranged from the body, summoned by charms so that all remembrance of what is done is banished for a time and future events may be presaged before it is restored to its original nature. He criticized his prosecutor for accusing him of what he knew to be false. He warned that if one does not have to prove the case, anyone could be charged with magic or witchcraft.
Apuleius admitted that he had been initiated into several mysteries; but because he was sworn to secrecy, he would never disclose them. He reminded Aemilianus of the old saying that a liar should have a good memory. To the evidence that his wife had written that she was insane he suggested that is self-contradictory. He removed the motive when he showed that he did not inherit his late wife's estate that included 400 slaves, but he actually insisted she leave it to her greedy son to release himself from incurring hatred.
Apuleius also wrote three treatises on Platonic philosophy, including "On the God of Socrates." The guardian divinity that connects human souls with God he described as conscience that watches, regulates, observes, reproves evil actions, approves good ones, and if heeded may forewarn, monitor doubtful matters, defend from danger, assist in need, prevent evil, increase blessings, aid when depressed, support when falling, lighten darkness, regulate prosperity, and modify adversity. In areas beyond wisdom Socrates was guided by this prophetic power. Apuleius suggested that better than having wealth and property is to be well educated, learned in philosophy, wise, and skilled in knowledge of the good, for these things last. The Florida of Apuleius contains various anecdotes and philosophical stories he apparently used in his public speeches. He admired the philosophers of India and how before their meal the young men would describe the good things they did or learned that day. Philosophy taught Apuleius that better than seeking his own advantage is to listen to reason and prefer what is expedient for the public. He also described the life of Pythagoras and how he imposed silence on his students for long periods.
Apuleius became a priest of the healing god Asclepius and also of Isis and Osiris. The novel by Apuleius entitled The Transformations of Lucius has become popular as The Golden Ass. Written in the first person, Lucius visits Hypata in Thessaly, where he calls on the wealthy money-lender Milo, whose "high interest is the only thing that has ever interested him highly."16 Their slave girl Fotis engages Lucius in sexual play as a form of "fighting." Drinking wine, Lucius believes he killed three men who attacked him; but the joke is on him when it is revealed these were three inflated wine-skins. Lucius observes Milo's wife Pamphile use magic to become an owl. He wants to fly also; but Fotis gets the wrong ointment, and he is transformed into a jackass and must eat roses to change back. Robbers take goods away from Milo's on the horse of Lucius and on Lucius himself to the bandits' cave. There an old woman tells the story of Cupid and Psyche.
The beautiful Psyche is put on a cliff and is loved by Cupid, son of the goddess Venus; but Psyche must never see her lover. She becomes pregnant, and her child will be divine if she can keep her secret. Psyche's two older sisters make her afraid her lover is a snake and urge her to cut off his head. Using a lamp, Psyche sees the handsome Cupid, but some oil burns his shoulder; he awakes and flies away. In revenge Psyche gets both sisters, now queens of cities, to jump off cliffs to their deaths. Psyche searches for Cupid, but he is in heaven. Venus hears that love relations on earth are in disorder because natural affection is now considered disgusting. Venus reprimands her son for falling for this mortal; but he asks why she is repressing sexual desire in her own son. Venus tests Psyche with several tasks, but Psyche gets miraculous help from ants, Pan's reed, and Jupiter's eagle, which enables her to bring back a box of beauty to Venus from the underworld. Jupiter allows Psyche to drink the nectar to become immortal, but she must always remain faithful to her lawful husband; her daughter is named Pleasure. This charming myth reverses several elements of Eve's story. Here curiosity leads to divinity and the pleasure of sex while encouraging faithful marriage. The soul, instead of dying, becomes immortal.
Lucius as an ass suffers under the loads of the bandits and injures his leg. He tries to escape with the girl Charite; but they are caught and about to be punished with horrible deaths by sewing her into the ass's belly when the young man Haemus suggests they sell her to a brothel and becomes the bandits' captain. Haemus turns out to be Tlepolemus, the bridegroom of Charite, and they kill the bandits. Lucius runs off to a stud-farm, where he barely escapes castration. Tlepolemus is killed by the wicked Thrasyllus, who is blinded by Charite before she slays herself; Thrasyllus allows himself to die of starvation. Lucius is bought by eunuch priests of the great Syrian goddess. However, they are arrested for stealing, and the ass Lucius is purchased by a baker; then he is owned by a market gardener and a centurion.
A councilor's son is nearly stoned to death, but magistrates rule the law requires a trial. In this melodrama the defense is not allowed to call needed witnesses; but a respected doctor proves that the suspected poison was a drug, and he saves the victim and the defendant. The incestuous step-mother is only banished, but the slave who carried out her orders is crucified. Apuleius has Lucius refer to his own profession of lawyers as the lowest of the low. Apuleius also included several melodramatic tales involving women in adultery. Sold again to two brothers, Lucius is used by a lusty woman in the manner of Pasiphae. Maintaining his human intelligence and appetite for cooked food while in the body of an ass, Lucius is soon trained to do tricks and is going to be displayed having sex with a criminal woman in a theater; but he escapes and is divinely guided to a festival of Isis so that he can eat roses, regain his human form, and dedicate his life to serving the goddess. The allegory of his transformation becomes clear as the priest summarizes his experience.
Now at last you have put into the harbor of peace
and stand before the altar of loving-kindness.
Neither your noble blood and rank nor your education
sufficed to keep you from falling a slave to pleasure;
youthful follies ran away with you.
Your luckless curiosity earned you a sinister punishment.17
Now bound to chastity, Lucius refrains from drinking wine and eating meat as he prepares for initiations into the mysteries of Isis and Osiris. Though sworn to secrecy, he describes his mystical experience as approaching the gate of death and returning after seeing a sun-like light at midnight and entering the world of the gods. His days of youthful passion over, Lucius is purifying his life as he matures.
Lucian was born at Samosata in Syria about 115. He was well educated and at 14 left home to study rhetoric during this era when rhetoricians and sophists were prevalent. He apparently earned his living as a lawyer and a traveling lecturer, touring Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy until he settled in Gaul. Lucian's early writings were rhetorical exercises, arguing such things as a man deserves the reward of a tyrannicide because he killed the active son of an elderly tyrant, who then killed himself with the sword left in his son. He also praised Demosthenes and explained how patriotism derives from the love for one's father and the land of one's ancestors. When he was about forty, Lucian moved to Athens and was influenced by the eclectic philosopher Demonax. He disavowed rhetoric to write satirical dialogs and give public readings. In old age Lucian served on the staff of the governor of Egypt, and he outlived Marcus Aurelius, who died in 180.
In 150 or so Lucian wrote a dialog about the philosopher Nigrinus, who praised Greece and Athenians because they are brought up to value poverty and philosophy. Foreigners trying to introduce luxury do not find favor and by gentle steps are trained to correct this tendency. A rich man who brings a crowd of attendants to the baths or gymnasiums is subtly mocked as are flamboyant clothes. Nigrinus believed that a single-hearted person taught to despise wealth may preserve there a pure morality in harmony with the truly beautiful; but the person, over whom gold casts a spell, living among flatterers and slaves, does not know sweet freedom nor the blessing of candor. Nigrinus suggests that those, who give their souls to pleasure by gluttony, wine, and women and who speak in deceit and hypocrisy, should live in Rome. The turmoil of Rome includes slander, insolence, gluttony, flattery, false friends, legacy-hunters, and murderers; but to give evil its due there is no better school for virtue to test moral strength than living in Rome. Lucian commended the example of Nigrinus for his frugal living, habits of bodily exercise, modest bearing, simple dress, gentle manners, constant mind, and for urging followers not to postpone the pursuit of virtue. Nigrinus did not recommend torturing one's body, but he believed our first care should be to discipline the soul.
Describing a vision or dream, Lucian explained why he found greater value in culture than in the more physical art of sculpture. In "Toxaris" he portrayed the values of friendship by describing beneficial relationships between men. Abauchas justifies abandoning his wife and children in a burning house to help his friend, arguing that he could easily have other children, but it would be difficult to find such a good friend.
In his essay "Slander," Lucian defined it as "an undefended indictment, concealed from its object, and owing its success to one-sided half-informed procedure."18 Lucian believed that slanderers offend against justice, law, and piety, and are pests to anyone associated with them. By insisting on possessing the listener, they guard against impartiality by blocking them with prejudice. Lucian could think of nothing worse than being condemned unjudged and unheard. Slanderers are cowards, because they do not come out into the open but ambush from a hiding place. These creatures are found mostly in the courts of kings. They concentrate their attacks on hearers' most vulnerable points in order to irritate them. A slavish nature bites the lip while nursing spite and cultivating secret hatred; one thing is in the heart but another on their tongues, playing with comedy's smiles a sinister tragedy. Slander only survives because ignorance conceals the mysteries of human characters. If some God would unveil all lives with illuminating truth, slander would have to retire to the bottomless pit.
In "The Way to Write History" Lucian lamented the fashion of neglecting the examination of facts while indulging in eulogies of generals and commanders. For Lucian the one aim of history should be what is useful, and its single source is the truth. The two indispensable qualifications of his perfect historian are political insight and the faculty of expression. The first Lucian considered a natural gift, but the second can be acquired by long practice, continuous work, and a loving study of the classics. The historian should be a person of independent spirit with nothing to fear or hope from anyone, or else one will be a corrupt judge open to undue influences. Anyone intent on immediate effect may be classed as a flatterer, and flattery is about as helpful to history as personal adornment is to an athlete's training. Lucian's model historian is fearless, incorruptible, independent, frank, and truthful, who will not make concessions to likes and dislikes nor spare anyone out of pity or respect or propriety, an impartial judge kind to all but too kind to none, a literary cosmopolitan with neither ruler nor king, never heeding what this or that person may think, but setting down what happened.
Lucian aimed for a lucidity which leaves nothing obscure while avoiding abstruse expressions and the illiberal jargon of the market, hoping the vulgar will understand and the cultivated will commend. The historian should view the scene from above like Homer's Zeus, and one's brain should reflect events like a clear mirror without distortion, discoloration, or variance. The narration should include a preliminary view of the causes in operation and a precise summary of events. Praise and censure should be sparing, cautious, brief, and never intrusive. Historical characters should not be treated as prisoners on trial. Instead of writing for the present, the historian should aim at eternity by composing for posterity, writing the truth freely without flattery or servility.
In a dialog between Hermotimus and Lycinus Lucian explored the difficulties of pursuing philosophy. Hermotimus has been studying Stoicism for twenty years and hopes that twenty more years will enable him to climb the mountain of philosophy; but the questions of Lycinus make him realize the difficulty of knowing this school of philosophy is best. Hermotimus found more Stoic disciples and so inferred it is superior. He considers Epicureans sensual and self-indulgent, Peripatetics avaricious and contentious, Platonists conceited and vain, but that Stoics are courageous with an open mind. Hermotimus believes his Stoic teacher demolishes the other schools; but Lycinus suggests he must give each school at least twenty years to really understand them. This is not like tasting wine, which is homogeneous throughout. One must investigate critically with mental acumen, intellectual precision, and independence. Discernment and judgment may be learned from a teacher skilled at demonstrating. Yet virtue is manifested in action by doing what is just, wise, and brave; but most advanced philosophers spend their time on sentences and verbal demonstrations and problems. By the end of the dialog Hermotimus' enthusiasm for studying philosophy seems to have evaporated.
In his dialog "The Parasite" Lucian seeks to demonstrate that sponging is a profession. In this parody of philosophic dialog Simon argues that the parasite must distinguish between true and false men, be skilled in directing words and actions so as to achieve intimacy and persuade the patron of one's devotion, be able to tell a good dinner from a bad one, and exercise these skills on a daily basis. Yet parasites find more pleasure than Epicureans who are troubled about cosmic controversies. The parasite can be neither too poor to attain pleasure nor too rich, because much spending brings worries. The profit from learning sponging comes immediately, and noble friendship is the beginning of sponging. It is a royal art to recline like a king. Parasites must be indifferent to reputation and not care what people think about them, desiring neither fame nor wealth nor beauty. When asked if he will feel pain when supplies run short, Simon replies one is not a true sponger when that happens. Lucian also satirized superstition in his dialog "The Liar," and the manners of philosophers are mocked in "A Feast of Lapithae" which results in a brawl. Relations of women are treated in a series of short dialogs of the companions (hetaerae).
In thirty short "Dialogs of the Dead" Lucian satirized temporary earthly attachments which are shown to be valueless in the next world, usually by a Cynic such as Diogenes or Menippus. Diogenes tells Pollux to charge philosophers not to play the fool by quarreling over metaphysics or tricking each other with puzzles. The rich should be told they bring none of their gold, and the handsome lose their good-looks and athletes their muscles. Among the dead one person is as good as another. Charon tells Hermes all the things people must leave behind when departing earth including not only physical things like wealth and beauty but also pomp, pride, cruelty, folly, insolence, hatred, victories, glories, quackery, ignorance, quarrelsomeness, arguments, intricate conceptions, avarice, self-indulgence, impudence, and flattery. The only things Hermes finds light and handy are plain speaking, independence, indifference, high spirit, and jests. Hermes takes them straight to the judgment seat, and Menippus realizes every detail of their lives will now come to light.
Lucian portrayed human characteristics of mythical figures in his "Dialogs of the Gods" and "Dialogs of the Sea-Gods." In a necromantic experiment Menippus tells Philonides how he learned from Homer and Hesiod about the adulterous, rapacious, violent, litigious, usurping, and incestuous gods, observing that human laws are contradicted by the poets' accounts of the gods. So he goes to the philosophers; but he finds them maintaining opposite views with convincing arguments. These same teachers in practice do what is opposed to their precepts. Menippus decides to go to Babylon and asks the help of a Zoroastrian Magus, who takes him disguised as Heracles down to Hades, where he observes Minos judging each prisoner. After their punishment kings and slaves, governors and paupers, rich and beggars, all repent of their sins. An assembly issues a decree against the rich for their violence, ostentation, pride, and injustice, condemning them to be born on earth as asses in order to bear the burdens of the poor. Finally Menippus emerges back on earth through the shrine of Trophonius described by Plutarch.
Another satire of philosophic dialog by Lucian is the "Icaromenippus or Up in the Clouds." Menippus despairs of finding out the truth on earth and so gets Daedalus to give him wings to fly up to heaven. Looking down on earth, he can see many evils being performed. He observes Egyptians engaged in farming, Phoenicians in commerce, Cilicians in piracy, Spartans in flagellation, and Athenians in litigation. After visiting the moon he sets a course between the sun and stars and arrives at the outskirts of heaven. He observes Zeus listening to human prayers. When two men pray for opposite things, he keeps an open mind and, like the skeptics, suspends judgment. At a meeting Zeus speaks as follows:
As we all know, that comparatively recent biological phenomenon
known as the human race is lazy, quarrelsome, empty-headed,
bad-tempered, rather greedy, rather stupid,
with an inflated idea of itself, and a vast amount of arrogance.
It is, to quote Homer, 'a useless burden on the earth.'
Well, these creatures have now split up into various schools of thought
based on various tortuous arguments,
and taken to calling themselves Stoics, Academics, Epicureans, Peripatetics,
or even more ridiculous names.
Their next step is to attach to themselves the grand word virtue,
and go about with furrowed brows and flowing beards,
concealing absolutely revolting characters beneath a veneer of respectability.19
Zeus goes on to say they despise others and say all kinds of extraordinary things about the gods. Teachers collect impressionable youngsters, rant about virtue, and claim to know the answer to any problem; but when they are by themselves you have no idea what they do. The assembly passes a resolution to explode all philosophical and scientific theories but cannot carry out the sentence immediately. Menippus is deposited back on earth by Hermes.
In a dialog with Lycinus a Cynic argues quite well for his austerely simplified life-style, noting that most people are carried away by their appetites, pleasures, fancies, avarice, rage, and fear that are all out of control. With only an old cloak the Cynic has a quiet life doing what he wills and keeping the company he wants; for ignorant and uneducated people have nothing to do with him, and soft livers turn away from him. Yet the refined, reasonable, and sincere seek him out, and these are the people he wishes to see.
Lucian satirized religion in the essay "Of Sacrifice." He asked whether to call them devout worshippers or outcasts, whose opinion of God is so low they believe he needs anything from humans, is pleased by their flattery, or is wounded by their neglect. After discussing various absurd beliefs of ancient religions Lucian suggested one should either laugh at their ignorance like Democritus or deplore their folly like Heraclitus.
Lucian's True History is a satire of the wild stories found in early historians such as Herodotus. Despite his title Lucian warned the readers he will not write one thing that is true, ironically making the paradoxical statement that he is a liar. This famous paradox perplexed philosophers, causing the mind to go round and round, because if the statement is true, the author is a liar; but if the author is a liar, why should we believe the statement? Lucian's inventive imagination is at his best in this model for fantastic travel narratives that even stimulated later science fiction like H. G. Wells' The First Men in the Moon. Lucian offered intellectual entertainment by satirizing various literary works. The narrator's ship is driven by storms across the Atlantic. Then a whirlwind takes them into the air as far as the moon, where men riding vultures are engaged in a war against the people of the sun. The narrator is captured with lunar troops and bound with spiderwebs. After visiting Cloud Cuckooland the travelers are swallowed by an enormous whale, where they fight with other inhabitants. The Greeks start a forest fire to kill the whale from the inside and escape. Before returning, the narrator describes several famous characters on the Isle of the Blessed.
Lucian wrote a letter to a friend about the philosopher Peregrine, who liked to be called Proteus. Wanting fame, he announced that he was going to cremate himself at the next Olympic games in 169. The attempt by Proteus to find a place among the Christians of Palestine yielded the only comments by Lucian on this new religion. Proteus describes them as worshipping a distinguished man who introduced new rites and was crucified for that. Asiatic Christian communities offered sympathy, assistance, and legal advice, and he notes they spared no trouble nor expense. The cynical Lucian had Proteus write
They are always incredibly quick off the mark,
when one of them gets into trouble like this-
in fact they ignore their own interests completely.
Why, they actually sent him large sums of money
by way of compensation for his imprisonment,
so that he made a considerable profit out of them!
For the poor souls have persuaded themselves
that they are immortal and will live for ever.
As a result, they think nothing of death,
and most of them are perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves.
Besides, their first law-giver has convinced them
that once they stop believing in Greek gods,
and start worshipping that crucified sage of theirs,
and living according to his laws,
they are all each other's brothers and sisters.
So, taking this information on trust, without any guarantee of its truth,
they think nothing else matters, and believe in common ownership-
which means that any unscrupulous adventurer who comes along
can soon make a fortune out of them,
for the silly creatures are very easily taken in.20
Proteus believed his suicide would teach the human race to scorn death and show courage in difficult circumstances; but Lucian wondered if the criminal classes would profit from this lesson in fortitude too. How can he improve the honest without hardening and encouraging rogues as well? Proteus did leap into the pyre.
Lucian satirized the Cynics in his dialog "The Runaways" and all the major philosophical schools in "The Sale of Creeds" and "The Fisher." He satirized the religious charlatan Alexander in a biography on his bogus oracle, showing the susceptibility of many at this time to superstitions and prophecies. He hoped to shatter some of their illusions and confirm sensible ideas they might have. He did this as a tribute to Epicurus, whom he considered a great man for perceiving the beauty of truth. Lucian also made fun of religious customs in his essay "Of Mourning," which he believed sprung from the common error that death is the worst thing that can happen to a person.
Lucian did write a positive eulogy of the philosopher Demonax. He never knew him to shout or get angry even when correcting someone. He noted offenses while pardoning offenders, using the physician's model of treating the sickness without getting angry at the sick. Demonax believed that it is human to err but divine to put error right whether it is in God or humans. He considered everyone with a human shape his friend. He defined happiness as freedom, clarifying that whoever is subject to hope or fear is not free. When a friend asked him to accompany him to the temple of Asclepius to pray for his son, Demonax asked could not Asclepius hear them from a distance? He advised a governor to keep his temper, say little, and hear much. When Athenians were considering starting gladiatorial shows to compete with Corinth, Demonax reminded them first to destroy the altar to Pity. He once made the Athenian assembly ashamed of their party spirit by his silent presence. He lived to be nearly one hundred, free of disease and pain, burdening no one, serving friends, and having no enemies. When he could no longer take care of himself, Demonax abstained from food and left life as cheerfully as he had lived.
With his independent philosophical spirit and broad sense of humor Lucian left a large collection of writings that portray many characteristics of the ethics prevalent at the height of the Roman empire under Marcus Aurelius.
1. Dio Chrysostom, 41st Discourse 11-13 tr. H. Lamar
2. Plutarch, "How to Distinguish a Flatterer from a Friend" 64C tr. Robin Waterfield.
3. Plutarch, "On Being a Busybody" 516C-D tr. W. C. Helmbold.
4. Plutarch, "The Eating of Flesh" 996-997 tr. W. C. Helmbold.
5. Arrian's Discourses of Epictetus 4:4:46-48 tr. W. A. Oldfather.
6. Ibid. 4:9:16-18 tr. W. A. Oldfather.
7. Arrian, Handbook of Epictetus 48 tr. Sanderson Beck.
8. Graetz, Heinrich, History of the Jews, Volume 2, p. 428
9. Lives of the Later Caesars tr. Anthony Birley, p. 120.
10. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 6:30 tr. Maxwell Staniforth.
11. Ibid. 8:33.
12. Juvenal, The Sixteen Satires 10:7-12 tr. Peter Green.
13. Ibid. 10:357-366.
14. Xenophon of Ephesus, An Ephesian Tale tr. Graham Anderson in Collected Ancient Greek Novels ed. B. P. Reardon, p. 169.
15. Antonius Diogenes, The Wonders Beyond Thule tr. Gerald N. Sandy in Collected Ancient Greek Novels ed. B. P. Reardon, p. 782.
16. Apuleius, The Golden Ass tr. Robert Graves, p. 19.
17. Ibid., p. 272.
18. The Works of Lucian of Samosata tr. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, Volume 4, p. 3.
19. Lucian, Satirical Sketches tr. Paul Turner, p. 130.
20. Ibid., p. 11.
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