An essay by Plutarch
How One May Discern A Flatterer From A Friend
Title: How One May Discern A Flatterer From A Friend
Author: Plutarch [More Titles by Plutarch]
Sec. I. Plato says, Antiochus Philopappus, that all men pardon the man who acknowledges that he is excessively fond of himself, but that there is among many other defects this very grave one in self-love, that by it a man becomes incapable of being a just and impartial judge about himself, for love is blind in regard to the loved object, unless a person has learnt and accustomed himself to honour and pursue what is noble rather than his own selfish interests. This gives a great field for the flatterer in friendship, who finds a wonderful base of operations in our self-love, which makes each person his own first and greatest flatterer, and easily admits a flatterer from without, who will be, so he thinks and hopes, both a witness and confirmer of his good opinion of himself. For he that lies open to the reproach of being fond of flatterers is very fond of himself, and owing to his goodwill to himself wishes to possess all good qualities, and thinks he actually does; the wish is not ridiculous, but the thought is misleading and requires a good deal of caution. And if truth is a divine thing, and, according to Plato, the beginning of all good things both to the gods and men, the flatterer is likely to be an enemy to the gods, and especially to Apollo, for he always sets himself against that famous saying, "Know thyself," implanting in everybody's mind self-deceit and ignorance of his own good or bad qualities, thus making his good points defective and imperfect, and his bad points altogether incorrigible.
Sec. II. If however, as is the case with most other bad things, the flatterer attacked only or chiefly ignoble or worthless persons, the evil would not be so mischievous or so difficult to guard against. But since, as wood-worms breed most in soft and sweet wood, those whose characters are honourable and good and equitable encourage and support the flatterer most,--and moreover, as Simonides says, "rearing of horses does not go with the oil-flask, but with fruitful fields," so we see that flattery does not join itself to the poor, the obscure, or those without means, but is the snare and bane of great houses and estates, and often overturns kingdoms and principalities,--it is a matter of no small importance, needing much foresight, to examine the question, that so flattery may be easily detected, and neither injure nor discredit friendship. For just as lice leave dying persons, and abandon bodies when the blood on which they feed is drying up, so one never yet saw flatterers dancing attendance on dry and cold poverty, but they fasten on wealth and position and there get fat, but speedily decamp if reverses come. But we ought not to wait to experience that, which would be unprofitable, or rather injurious and dangerous. For not to find friends at a time when you want them is hard, as also not to be able to exchange an inconstant and bad friend for a constant and good one. For a friend should be like money tried before being required, not found faulty in our need. For we ought not to have our wits about us only when the mischief is done, but we ought to try and prevent the flatterer doing any harm to us: for otherwise we shall be in the same plight as people who test deadly poisons by first tasting them, and kill or nearly kill themselves in the experiment. We do not praise such, nor again all those who, looking at their friend simply from the point of view of decorum and utility, think that they can detect all agreeable and pleasant companions as flatterers in the very act. For a friend ought not to be disagreeable or unpleasant, nor ought friendship to be a thing high and mighty with sourness and austerity, but even its decorous deportment ought to be attractive and winning, for by it
"The Graces and Desire have pitched their tents,"and not only to a person in misfortune "is it sweet to look into the eyes of a friendly person," as Euripides says, but no less does it bring pleasure and charm in good fortune, than when it relieves the sorrows and difficulties of adversity. And as Evenus said "fire was the best sauce," so the deity, mixing up friendship with life, has made everything bright and sweet and acceptable by its presence and the enjoyment it brings. How else indeed could the flatterer insinuate himself by the pleasure he gives, unless he knew that friendship admitted the pleasurable element? It would be impossible to say. But just as spurious and mock gold only imitates the brightness and glitter of real gold, so the flatterer seems to imitate the pleasantness and agreeableness of the real friend, and to exhibit himself ever merry and bright, contradicting and opposing nothing. We must not however on that account suspect all who praise as simple flatterers. For friendship requires praise as much as censure on the proper occasion. Indeed peevishness and querulousness are altogether alien to friendship and social life: but when goodwill bestows praise ungrudgingly and readily upon good actions, people endure also easily and without pain admonition and plainspeaking, believing and continuing to love the person who took such pleasure in praising, as if now he only blamed out of necessity.
Sec. III. It is difficult then, someone may say, to distinguish between the flatterer and the friend, if they differ neither in the pleasure they give nor in the praise they bestow; for as to services and attentions you may often see friendship outstripped by flattery. Certainly it is so, I should reply, if we are trying to find the genuine flatterer who handles his craft with cleverness and art, but not if, like most people, we consider those persons flatterers who are called their own oil-flask-carriers and table-men, men who begin to talk, as one said, the moment their hands have been washed for dinner, whose servility, ribaldry, and want of all decency, is apparent at the first dish and glass. It did not of course require very much discrimination to detect Melanthius the parasite of Alexander of Pherae of flattery, who, to those who asked how Alexander was murdered, answered, "Through his side into my belly": or those who formed a circle round a wealthy table, "whom neither fire, nor sword, nor steel, would keep from running to a feast": or those female flatterers in Cyprus, who after they crossed over into Syria were nicknamed "step-ladders," because they lay down and let the kings' wives use their bodies as steps to mount their carriages.
Sec. IV. What kind of flatterer then must we be on our guard against? The one who neither seems to be nor acknowledges himself to be one: whom you will not always find in the vicinity of your kitchen, who is not to be caught watching the dial to see how near it is to dinner-time, nor gets so drunk as to throw himself down anyhow, but one who is generally sober, and a busybody, and thinks he ought to have a hand in your affairs, and wishes to share in your secrets, and as to friendship plays rather a tragic than a satyric or comic part. For as Plato says, "it is the height of injustice to appear to be just when you are not really so," so we must deem the most dangerous kind of flattery not the open but the secret, not the playful but the serious. For it throws suspicion even upon a genuine friendship, which we may often confound with it, if we are not careful. When Gobryas pursued one of the Magi into a dark room, and was on the ground wrestling with him, and Darius came up and was doubtful how he could kill one without killing both, Gobryas bade him thrust his sword boldly through both of them; but we, since we give no assent to that saying, "Let friend perish so the enemy perish with him," in our endeavour to distinguish the flatterer from the friend, seeing that their resemblances are so many, ought to take great care that we do not reject the good with the bad, nor in sparing what is beneficial fall in with what is injurious. For as wild grains mixed up with wheat, if very similar in size and appearance, are not easily kept apart, for if the sieve have small holes they don't pass through, and if large holes they pass with the corn, so flattery is not easily distinguished from friendship, being mixed up with it in feeling and emotion, habit and custom.
Sec. V. Because however friendship is the most pleasant of all things, and nothing more glads the heart of man, therefore the flatterer attracts by the pleasure he gives, pleasure being in fact his field. And because favours and good services accompany friendship, as the proverb says "a friend is more necessary than fire or water," therefore the flatterer volunteers all sorts of services, and strives to show himself on all occasions zealous and obliging and ready. And since friendship is mainly produced by a similarity of tastes and habits, and to have the same likes and dislikes first brings people together and unites them through sympathy, the flatterer observing this moulds himself like material and demeans himself accordingly, seeking completely to imitate and resemble those whom he desires to ingratiate himself with, being supple in change, and plausible in his imitations, so that one would say,
"Achilles' son, O no, it is himself."But his cleverest trick is that, observing that freedom of speech, is both spoken of and reckoned as the peculiar and natural voice of friendship, while not speaking freely is considered unfriendly and disingenuous, he has not failed to imitate this trait of friendship also. But just as clever cooks infuse bitter sauces and sharp seasoning to prevent sweet things from cloying, so these flatterers do not use a genuine or serviceable freedom of speech, but merely a winking and tickling innuendo. He is therefore difficult to detect, like those creatures which naturally change their colour and take that of the material or place near them. But since he deceives and conceals his true character by his imitations, it is our duty to unmask him and detect him by the differences between him and the true friend, and to show that he is, as Plato says, "tricked out in other people's colours and forms, from lack of any of his own."
Sec. VI. Let us examine the matter then from the beginning. I said that friendship originated in most cases from a similar disposition and nature, generally inclined to the same habits and morals, and rejoicing in the same pursuits, studies, and amusements, as the following lines testify: "To old man the voice of old man is sweetest, to boy that of boy, to woman is most acceptable that of woman, to the sick person that of sick person, while he that is overtaken by misfortune is a comforter to one in trouble." The flatterer knowing then that it is innate in us to delight in, and enjoy the company of, and to love, those who are like ourselves, attempts first to approach and get near a person in this direction, (as one tries to catch an animal in the pastures,) by the same pursuits and amusements and studies and modes of life quietly throwing out his bait, and disguising himself in false colours, till his victim give him an opportunity to catch him, and become tame and tractable at his touch. Then too he censures the things and modes of life and persons that he knows his victim dislikes, while he praises those he fancies immoderately, overdoing it indeed with his show of surprise and excessive admiration, making him more and more convinced that his likes and dislikes are the fruits of judgement and not of caprice.
Sec. VII. How then is the flatterer convicted, and by what differences is he detected, of being only a counterfeit, and not really like his victim? We must first then look at the even tenor and consistency of his principles, if he always delights in the same things, and always praises the same things, and directs and governs his life after one pattern, as becomes the noble lover of consistent friendship and familiarity. Such a person is a friend. But the flatterer having no fixed character of his own, and not seeking to lead the life suitable for him, but shaping and modelling himself after another's pattern, is neither simple nor uniform, but complex and unstable, assuming different appearances, like water poured from vessel to vessel, ever in a state of flux and accommodating himself entirely to the fashion of those who entertain him. The ape indeed, as it seems, attempting to imitate man, is caught imitating his movements and dancing like him, but the flatterer himself attracts and decoys other men, imitating not all alike, for with one he sings and dances, with another he wrestles and gets covered with the dust of the palaestra, while he follows a third fond of hunting and the chase all but shouting out the words of Phaedra,
"Then wise Odysseus stript him of his rags,"his threadbare cloak is thrown aside, his beard is shorn off like a fruitless crop, he goes in for wine-coolers and tankards, and laughs loudly in the streets, and jeers at philosophers. As they say happened at Syracuse, when Plato went there, and Dionysius was seized with a furious passion for philosophy, and so great was the concourse of geometricians that they raised up quite a cloud of dust in the palace, but when Plato fell out of favour, and Dionysius gave up philosophy, and went back again headlong to wine and women and trifles and debauchery, then all the court was metamorphosed, as if they all had drunk of Circe's cup, for ignorance and oblivion and silliness reigned rampant. I am borne out in what I say by the behaviour of great flatterers and demagogues, the greatest of whom Alcibiades, a jeerer and horse-rearer at Athens, and living a gay and merry life, wore his hair closely shaven at Lacedaemon, and washed in cold water, and attired himself in a threadbare cloak; while in Thrace he fought and drank; and at Tissaphernes' court lived delicately and luxuriously and in a pretentious style; and thus curried favour and was popular with everybody by imitating their habits and ways. Such was not the way however in which Epaminondas or Agesilaus acted, for though they associated with very many men and states and different modes of life, they maintained everywhere their usual demeanour, both in dress and diet and language and behaviour. So Plato at Syracuse was exactly the same man as in the Academy, the same with Dionysius as with Dion.
Sec. VIII. As to the changes of the flatterer, which resemble those of the polypus, a man may most easily detect them by himself pretending to change about frequently, and by censuring the kind of life he used formerly to praise, and anon approving of the words actions and modes of life that he used to be displeased with. He will then see that the flatterer is never consistent or himself, never loving hating rejoicing grieving at his own initiative, but like a mirror, merely reflecting the image of other people's emotions and manners and feelings. Such a one will say, if you censure one of your friends to him, "You are slow in finding the fellow out, he never pleased me from the first." But if on the other hand you change your language and praise him, he will swear by Zeus that he rejoices at it, and is himself under obligations to the man, and believes in him. And if you talk of the necessity of changing your mode of life, of retiring from public life to a life of privacy and ease, he says, "We ought long ago to have got rid of uproar and envy." But if you think of returning again to public life, he chimes in, "Your sentiments do you honour: retirement from business is pleasant, but inglorious and mean." One ought to say at once to such a one, "'Stranger, quite different now you look to what you did before.' I do not need a friend to change his opinions with me and to assent to me in everything, my shadow will do that better, but I need one that will speak the truth and help me with his judgement." This is one way of detecting the flatterer.
Sec. IX. We must also observe another difference in the resemblance between the friend and flatterer. The true friend does not imitate you in everything, nor is he too keen to praise, but praises only what is excellent, for as Sophocles says,
"He is not born to share in hate but love,"yes, by Zeus, and he is born to share in doing what is right and in loving what is noble, and not to share in wrong-doing or misbehaviour, unless it be that, as a running of the eyes is catching, so through companionship and intimacy he may against his will contract by infection some vice or ill habit, as they say Plato's intimates imitated his stoop, Aristotle's his lisp, and king Alexander's his holding his head a little on one side, and rapidity of utterance in conversation, for people mostly pick up unawares such traits of character. But the flatterer is exactly like the chameleon, which takes every colour but white, and so he, though unable to imitate what is worth his while, leaves nothing that is bad unimitated. And just as poor painters unable to make a fine portrait from inefficiency in their craft, bring out the likeness by painting all the wrinkles, moles and scars, so the flatterer imitates his friend's intemperance, superstition, hot temper, sourness to domestics, suspicion of his friends and relations. For he is by nature inclined to what is worst, and thinks that imitation of what is bad is as far as possible removed from censure. For those are suspected who have noble aims in life, and seem to be vexed and disgusted at their friends' faults, for that injured and even ruined Dion with Dionysius, Samius with Philip, and Cleomenes with Ptolemy. But he that wishes to be and appear at the same time both agreeable and trustworthy pretends to rejoice more in what is bad, as being through excessive love for his friend not even offended at his vices, but as one with him in feeling and nature in all matters. And so they claim to share in involuntary and chance ailments, and pretend to have the same complaints, in flattery to those who suffer from any, as that their eyesight and sense of hearing are deficient, if their friends are somewhat blind or deaf, as the flatterers of Dionysius, who was rather short-sighted, jostled one another at a dinner party, and knocked the dishes off the table, as if from defect of vision. And some to make their cases more similar wind themselves in closer, and dive even into family secrets for parallels. For seeing that their friends are unfortunate in marriage, or suspicious about the behaviour of their sons or relations, they do not spare themselves, but make quite a Jeremiad about their own sons, or wife, or kinsfolk, or relations, proclaiming loudly their own family secrets. For similarity in situation makes people more sympathetic, and their friends having received as it were hostages by their confessions, entrust them in return with their secrets, and having once made confidants of them, dare not take back their confidence. I actually know of a man who turned his wife out of doors because his friend had put away his; but as he secretly visited her and sent messages to her, he was detected by his friend's wife noticing his conduct. So little did he know the nature of a flatterer that thought the following lines more applicable to a crab than a flatterer, "His whole body is belly, his eye is on everything, he is a creature creeping on his teeth," for such is a true picture of the parasite, "friends of the frying-pan, hunting for a dinner," to borrow the language of Eupolis.
Sec. X. However let us put off all this to its proper place in the discourse. But let us not fail to notice the wiliness of the flatterer's imitation, in that, even if he imitates any good points in the person he flatters, he always takes care to give him the palm. Whereas among real friends there is no rivalry or jealousy of one another, but they are satisfied and contented alike whether they are equal or one of them is superior. But the flatterer, ever remembering that he is to play second fiddle, makes his copy always fall a little short of the original, for he admits that he is everywhere outstripped and left behind, except in vice. For in that alone he claims pre-eminence, for if his friend is peevish, he says he is atrabilious; if his friend is superstitious, he says he is a fanatic; if his friend is in love, he says he is madly in love; if his friend laughs, he will say, "You laughed a little unseasonably, but I almost died of laughter." But in regard to any good points his action is quite the opposite. He says he can run quickly, but his friend flies; he says he can ride pretty well, but his friend is a Centaur on horseback. He says "I am not a bad poet, and don't write very bad lines",
"'But your sonorous verse is like Jove's thunder.'"Thus he shows at once that his friend's aims in life are good, and that his friend has reached a height he cannot soar to. Such then are the differences in the resemblances between the flatterer and the friend.
Sec. XI. But since, as has been said before, to give pleasure is common to both, for the good man delights in his friends as much as the bad man in his flatterers, let us consider the difference between them here too. The difference lies in the different aim of each in giving pleasure. Look at it this way. There is no doubt a sweet smell in perfume. So there is also in medicine. But the difference is that while in perfume pleasure and nothing else is designed, in medicine either purging, or warming, or adding flesh to the system, is the primary object, and the sweet smell is only a secondary consideration. Again painters mix gay colours and dyes: there are also some drugs which are gay in appearance and not unpleasing in colour. What then is the difference between these? Manifestly we distinguish by the end each aims at. So too the social life of friends employs mirth to add a charm to some good and useful end, and sometimes makes joking and a good table and wine, aye, and even chaff and banter, the seasoning to noble and serious matters, as in the line,
"Much they enjoyed talking to one another,"and again,
or pounds hellebore and compels him to drink it,--neither in the one case making unpleasantness, nor in the other pleasantness, his end and aim, but in both studying only the interest of his patient,--so the friend sometimes by praise and kindness, extolling him and gladdening his heart, leads him to what is noble, as Agamemnon,
"Teucer, dear head, thou son of Telamon,
But where on the other hand there is need of correction, then he rebukes with biting words and with the freedom worthy of a friend,
Sec. XII. They say the gadfly attacks bulls, and the tick dogs, in the ear: so the flatterer besieges with praise the ears of those who are fond of praise, and sticks there and is hard to dislodge. We ought therefore here to make a wide-awake and careful discrimination, whether the praise is bestowed on the action or the man. It is bestowed on the action, if people praise the absent rather than the present, if also those that have the same aims and aspirations praise not only us but all that are similarly disposed, and do not evidently say and do one thing at one time, and the direct contrary at another; and the greatest test is if we are conscious, in the matters for which we get the praise, that we have not regretted them, and are not ashamed at them, and would not rather have said and done differently. For our own inward judgement, testifying the contrary and not admitting the praise, is above passion, and impregnable and proof against the flatterer. But I know not how it is that most people in misfortune cannot bear exhortation, but are captivated more by condolence and sympathy, and when they have done something wrong and acted amiss, he that by censure and blame implants in them the stings of repentance is looked upon by them as hostile and an accuser, while they welcome and regard as friendly and well-disposed to them the person who bestows praise and panegyric on what they have done. Those then that readily praise and join in applauding some word or action on the part of someone whether in jest or earnest, only do temporary harm for the moment, but those who injure the character by their praise, aye, and by their flattery undermine the morals, act like those slaves who do not steal from the bin, but from the seed corn. For they pervert the disposition, which is the seed of actions, and the character, which is the principle and fountain of life, by attaching to vice names that belong properly only to virtue. For as Thucydides says, in times of faction and war "people change the accustomed meaning of words as applied to acts at their will and pleasure, for reckless daring is then considered bravery to one's comrades, and prudent delay specious cowardice, and sober-mindedness the cloak of the coward, and taking everything into account before action a real desire to do nothing." So too in the case of flattery we must observe and be on our guard against wastefulness being called liberality, and cowardliness prudence, and madness quick-wittedness, and meanness frugality, and the amorous man called social and affectionate, and the term manly applied to the passionate and vain man, and the term civil applied to the paltry and mean man. As I remember Plato says the lover is a flatterer of the beloved one, and calls the snub nose graceful, and the aquiline nose royal, and swarthy people manly, and fair people the children of the gods, and the olive complexion is merely the lover's phrase to gloss over and palliate excessive pallor. And yet the ugly man persuaded he is handsome, or the short man persuaded he is tall, cannot long remain in the error, and receives only slight injury from it, and not irreparable mischief: but praise applied to vices as if they were virtues, so that one is not vexed but delighted with a vicious life, removes all shame from wrong-doing, and was the ruin of the Sicilians, by calling the savage cruelty of Dionysius and Phalaris detestation of wickedness and uprightness. It was the ruin of Egypt, by styling Ptolemy's effeminacy, and superstition, and howlings, and beating of drums, religion and service to the gods. It was nearly the overthrow and destruction of the ancient manners of the Romans, palliating the luxury and intemperance and display of Antony as exhibitions of jollity and kindliness, when his power and fortune were at their zenith. What else invested Ptolemy with his pipe and fiddle? What else brought Nero on the tragic stage, and invested him with the mask and buskins? Was it not the praise of flatterers? And are not many kings called Apollos if they can just sing a song, and Dionysuses if they get drunk, and Herculeses if they can wrestle, and do they not joy in such titles, and are they not dragged into every kind of disgrace by flattery?
Sec. XIII. Wherefore we must be especially on our guard against the flatterer in regard to praise; as indeed he is very well aware himself, and clever to avoid suspicion. If he light upon some dandy, or rustic in a thick leather garment, he treats him with nothing but jeers and mocks, as Struthias insulted Bias, ironically praising him for his stupidity, saying, "You have drunk more than king Alexander," and, "that he was ready to die of laughing at his tale about the Cyprian." But when he sees people more refined very much on their guard, and observing both time and place, he does not praise them directly, but draws off a little and wheels round and approaches them noiselessly, as one tries to catch a wild animal. For sometimes he reports to a man the panegyric of other persons upon him, (as orators do, introducing some third person,) saying that he had a very pleasant conversation in the market with some strangers and men of worth, who mentioned how they admired his many good points. On another occasion he concocts and fabricates some false and trifling charges against him, pretending he has heard them from other people, and runs up with a serious face and inquires, where he said or did such and such a thing. And upon his denying he ever did, he pounces on him at once and compliments his man with, "I thought it strange that you should have spoken ill of your friends, seeing that you don't even treat your enemies so: and that you should have tried to rob other people, seeing that you are so lavish with your own money."
Sec. XIV. Other flatterers again, just as painters heighten the effect of their pictures by the combination of light and shade, so by censure abuse detraction and ridicule of the opposite virtues secretly praise and foment the actual vices of those they flatter. Thus they censure modesty as merely rustic behaviour in the company of profligates, and greedy people, and villains, and such as have got rich by evil and dishonourable courses; and contentment and uprightness they call having no spirit or energy in action; and when they associate with lazy and idle persons who avoid all public duties, they are not ashamed to call the life of a citizen wearisome meddling in other people's affairs, and the desire to hold office fruitless vain-glory. And some ere now to flatter an orator have depreciated a philosopher, and others won favour with wanton women by traducing those wives who are faithful to their husbands as constitutionally cold and countrybred. And by an acme of villainy flatterers do not always spare even themselves. For as wrestlers stoop that they may the easier give their adversaries a fall, so by censuring themselves they glide into praising others. "I am a cowardly slave," says such a one, "at sea, I shirk labour, I am madly in rage if a word is said against me; but this man fears nothing, has no vices, is a rare good fellow, patient and easy in all circumstances." But if a person has an excellent idea of his own good sense, and desires to be austere and self-opinionated, and in his moral rectitude is ever spouting that line of Homer,
"Tydides, neither praise nor blame me much,"the artistic flatterer does not attack him as he attacked others, but employs against such a one a new device. For he comes to him about his own private affairs, as if desirous to have the advice of one wiser than himself; he has, he says, more intimate friends, but he is obliged to trouble him; "for whither shall we that are deficient in judgement go? whom shall we trust?" And having listened to his utterance he departs, saying he has received an oracle not an opinion. And if he notices that somebody lays claim to experience in oratory, he gives him some of his writings, and begs him to read and correct them. So, when king Mithridates took a fancy to play the surgeon, several of his friends offered themselves for operating upon, as for cutting or cauterizing, flattering in deed and not in word, for his being credited by them would seem to prove his skill.
"For Providence has many different aspects."But we can test this kind of negative praise, that needs more wary caution, by purposely giving strange advice and suggestions, and by adopting absurd corrections. For if he raises no objection but nods assent to everything, and approves of everything, and is always crying out, "Good! How admirable!" he is evidently
"Asking advice, but seeking something else,"wishing by praise to puff you up.
Sec. XV. Moreover, as some have defined painting to be silent poetry, so is there praise in silent flattery. For as hunters are more likely to catch the objects of their chase unawares, if they do not openly appear to be so engaged, but seem to be walking, or tending their sheep, or looking after the farm, so flatterers obtain most success in their praise, when they do not seem to be praising but to be doing something else. For he who gives up his place or seat to the great man when he comes in, and while making a speech to the people or senate breaks off even in the middle, if he observes any rich man wants to speak, and gives up to him alike speech and platform, shows by his silence even more than he would by any amount of vociferation that he thinks the other the better man, and superior to him in judgement. And consequently you may always see them occupying the best places at theatres and public assembly rooms, not that they think themselves worthy of them, but that they may flatter the rich by giving up their places to them; and at public meetings they begin speaking first, and then make way as for better men, and most readily take back their own view, if any influential or rich or famous person espouse the contrary view. And so one can see plainly that all such servility and drawing back on their part is a lowering their sails, not to experience or virtue or age, but to wealth and fame. Not so Apelles the famous painter, who, when Megabyzus sat with him, and wished to talk about lines and shades, said to him, "Do you see my lads yonder grinding colours, they admired just now your purple and gold, but now they are laughing at you for beginning to talk about what you don't understand." And Solon, when Croesus asked him about happiness, replied that Tellus, an obscure Athenian, and Bito and Cleobis were happier than he was. But flatterers proclaim kings and rich men and rulers not only happy and fortunate, but also pre-eminent for wisdom, and art, and every virtue.
Sec. XVI. Now some cannot bear to hear the assertion of the Stoics that the wise man is at once rich, and handsome, and noble, and a king; but flatterers declare that the rich man is at once orator and poet, and (if he likes) painter, and flute-player, and swift-footed, and strong, falling down if he wrestles with them, and if contending with him in running letting him win the race, as Crisso of Himera purposely allowed Alexander to outrun him, which vexed the king very much when he heard of it. And Carneades said that the sons of rich men and kings learnt nothing really well and properly except how to ride, for their master praised and flattered them in their studies, and the person who taught them wrestling always let them throw him, whereas the horse, not knowing or caring whether his rider were a private person or ruler, rich or poor, soon threw him over his head if he could not ride well. Simple therefore and fatuous was that remark of Bion, "If you could by encomiums make your field to yield well and be fruitful, you could not be thought wrong in tilling it so rather than digging it and labouring in it: nor would it be strange in you to praise human beings if by so doing you could be useful and serviceable to them." For a field does not become worse by being praised, but those who praise a man falsely and against his deserts puff him up and ruin him.
Sec. XVII. Enough has been said on this matter: let us now examine outspokenness. For just as Patroclus put on the armour of Achilles, and drove his horses to the battle, only durst not touch his spear from Mount Pelion, but let that alone, so ought the flatterer, tricked out and modelled in the distinctive marks and tokens of the friend, to leave untouched and uncopied only his outspokenness, as the special burden of friendship, "heavy, huge, strong." But since flatterers, to avoid the blame they incur by their buffoonery, and drinking, and gibes, and jokes, sometimes work their ends by frowns and gravity, and intermix censure and reproof, let us not pass this over either without examination. And I think, as in Menander's Play the sham Hercules comes on the stage not with a club stout and strong, but with a light and hollow cane, so the outspokenness of the flatterer is to those who experience it mild and soft, and the very reverse of vigorous, and like those cushions for women's heads, which seem able to stand their ground, but in reality yield and give way under their pressure; so this sham outspokenness is puffed up and inflated with an empty and spurious and hollow bombast, that when it contracts and collapses draws in the person who relies on it. For true and friendly outspokenness attacks wrong-doers, bringing pain that is salutary and likely to make them more careful, like honey biting but cleansing ulcerated parts of the body, but in other respects serviceable and sweet. But we will speak of this anon. But the flatterer first exhibits himself as disagreeable and passionate and unforgiving in his dealings with others. For he is harsh to his servants, and a terrible fellow to attack and ferret out the faults of his kinsmen and friends, and to look up to and respect nobody who is a stranger, but to look down upon them, and is relentless and mischief-making in making people provoked with others, hunting after the reputation of hating vice, as one not likely knowingly to mince matters with the vicious, or ingratiate himself with them either in word or deed. Next he pretends to know nothing of real and great crimes, but he is a terrible fellow to inveigh against trifling and external shortcomings, and to fasten on them with intensity and vehemence, as if he sees any pot or pipkin out of its place, or anyone badly housed, or neglecting his beard or attire, or not adequately attending to a horse or dog. But contempt of parents, and neglect of children, and bad treatment of wife, and haughtiness to friends, and throwing away money, all this he cares nothing about, but is silent and does not dare to make any allusion to it: just as if the trainer in a gymnasium were to allow the athlete to get drunk and live in debauchery, and yet be vexed at the condition of his oil-flask or strigil if out of order; or as if the schoolmaster scolded a boy about his tablet and pen, but paid no attention to a solecism or barbarism. The flatterer is like a man who should make no comment on the speech of a silly and ridiculous orator, but should find fault with his voice, and chide him for injuring his throat by drinking cold water; or like a person bidden to read some wretched composition, who should merely find fault with the thickness of the paper, and call the copyist a dirty and careless fellow. So too when Ptolemy seemed to desire to become learned, his flatterers used to spin out the time till midnight, disputing about some word or line or history, but not one of them all objected to his cruelty and outrages, his torturing and beating people to death. Just as if, when a man has tumours and fistulas, one were to cut his hair and nails with a surgeon's knife, so flatterers use outspokenness only in cases where it gives no pain or distress.
Sec. XVIII. Moreover some of them are cleverer still and make their outspokenness and censure a means of imparting pleasure. As Agis the Argive, when Alexander bestowed great gifts on a buffoon, cried out in envy and displeasure, "What a piece of absurdity!" and on the king turning angrily to him and saying, "What are you talking about?" he replied, "I admit that I am vexed and put out, when I see that all you descendants of Zeus alike take delight in flatterers and jesters, for Hercules had his Cercopes, and Dionysus his Sileni, and with you too I see that such are held in good repute." And on one occasion, when the Emperor Tiberius entered the senate, one of his flatterers got up and said, that being free men they ought to be outspoken, and not suppress or conceal anything that might be important, and having by this exordium engaged everybody's attention, a dead silence prevailing, and even Tiberius being all attention, he said, "Listen, Caesar, to what we all charge you with, although no one ventures to tell you openly of it; you neglect yourself, and are careless about your health, and wear yourself out with anxiety and labour on our behalf, taking no rest either by night or day." And on his stringing much more together in the same strain, they say the orator Cassius Severus said, "This outspokenness will ruin the man."
Sec. XIX. These are indeed trifling matters: but the following are more important and do mischief to foolish people, when flatterers accuse them of the very contrary vices and passions to those to which they are really addicted; as Himerius the flatterer twitted a very rich, very mean, and very covetous Athenian with being a careless spendthrift, and likely one day to want bread as well as his children; or on the other hand if they rail at extravagant spendthrifts for meanness and sordidness, as Titus Petronius railed at Nero; or exhort rulers who make savage and cruel attacks on their subjects to lay aside their excessive clemency, and unseasonable and inexpedient mercy. Similar to these is the person who pretends to be on his guard against and afraid of a silly stupid fellow as if he were clever and cunning; and the one who, if any person fond of detraction, rejoicing in defamation and censure, should be induced on any occasion to praise some man of note, fastens on him and alleges against him that he has an itch for praising people. "You are always extolling people of no merit: for who is this fellow, or what has he said or done out of the common?" But it is in regard to the objects of their love that they mostly attack those they flatter, and additionally inflame them. For if they see people at variance with their brothers, or despising their parents, or treating their wives contemptuously, they neither take them to task nor scold them, but fan the flame of their anger still more. "You don't sufficiently appreciate yourself," they say, "you are yourself the cause of your being put upon in this way, through your constant submissiveness and humility." And if there is any tiff or fit of jealousy in regard to some courtesan or adulteress, the flatterer is at hand with remarkable outspokenness, adding fuel to flame, and taking the lady's part, and accusing her lover of acting in a very unkind harsh and shameful manner to her,
"O ingrate, after all those frequent kisses!"Thus Antony's friends, when he was passionately in love with the Egyptian woman, persuaded him that he was loved by her, and twitted him with being cold and haughty to her. "She," they said, "has left her mighty kingdom and happy mode of life, and is wasting her beauty, taking the field with you like some camp-follower,
"The while your heart is proof 'gainst all her charms,"as you neglect her love-lorn as she is." But he that is pleased at being reproached with his wrong-doing, and delights in those that censure him, as he never did in those that praised him, is unconscious that he is really perverted also by what seems to be rebuke. For such outspokenness is like the bites of wanton women, that while seeming to hurt really tickle and excite pleasure. And just as if people mix pure wine, which is by itself an antidote against hemlock, with it and so offer it, they make the poison quite deadly, being rapidly carried to the heart by the warmth, so ill-disposed men, knowing that outspokenness is a great antidote to flattery, make it a means of flattering. And so it was rather a bad answer Bias made, to the person who inquired what was the most formidable animal, "Of wild animals the tyrant, and of tame the flatterer." For it would have been truer to observe that tame flatterers are those that are found round the baths and table, but the one that intrudes into the interior of the house and into the women's apartments with his curiosity and calumny and malignity, like the legs and arms of the polypus, is wild and savage and unmanageable.
Sec. XX. Now one kind of caution against his snares is to know and ever remember that, whereas the soul contains true and noble and reasoning elements, as also unreasoning and false and emotional ones, the friend is always a counsellor and adviser to the better instincts of the soul, as the physician improves and maintains health, whereas the flatterer works upon the emotional and unreasoning ones, and tickles and titillates them and seduces them from reason, employing sensuality as his bait. As then there are some kinds of food which neither benefit the blood or spirit, nor brace up the nerves and marrow, but stir the passions, excite the lower nature, and make the flesh unsound and rotten, so the language of the flatterer adds nothing to soberness and reason, but encourages some love passion, or stirs up foolish rage, or incites to envy, or produces the empty and burdensome vanity of pride, or joins in bewailing woes, or ever by his calumnies and hints makes malignity and illiberality and suspicion sharp and timid and jealous, and cannot fail to be detected by those that closely observe him. For he is ever anchoring himself upon some passion, and fattening it, and, like a bubo, fastens himself on some unsound and inflamed parts of the soul. Are you angry? Have your revenge, says he. Do you desire anything? Get it. Are you afraid? Let us flee. Do you suspect? Entertain no doubts about it. But if he is difficult to detect in thus playing upon our passions, since they often overthrow reason by their intensity and strength, he will give a handle to find him out in smaller matters, being consistent in them too. For if anyone feels a little uneasy after a surfeit or excess in drink, and so is a little particular about his food and doubts the advisability of taking a bath, a friend will try and check him from excess, and bid him be careful and not indulge, whereas the flatterer will drag him to the bath, bid him serve up some fresh food, and not starve himself and so injure his constitution. And if he see him reluctant about a journey or voyage or some business or other, he will say that there is no hurry, that it's all one whether the business be put off, or somebody else despatched to look after it. And if you have promised to lend or give some money to a friend, but have repented of your offer, and yet feel ashamed not to keep your promise, the flatterer will throw his influence into the worse scale, he will confirm your desire to save your purse, he will destroy your reluctance, and will bid you be careful as having many expenses, and others to think about besides that person. And so, unless we are entirely ignorant of our desires, our shamelessness, and our timidity, the flatterer cannot easily escape our detection. For he is ever the advocate of those passions, and outspoken when we desire to repress them. But so much for this matter.
Sec. XXI. Now let us pass on to useful and kind services, for in them too the flatterer makes it very difficult and confusing to detect him from the friend, seeming to be zealous and ready on all occasions and never crying off. For, as Euripides says, a friend's behaviour is, "like the utterance of truth, simple," and plain and inartificial, while that of the flatterer "is in itself unsound, and needs wise remedies," aye, by Zeus, and many such, and not ordinary ones. As for example in chance meetings the friend often neither speaks nor is spoken to, but merely looks and smiles, and then passes on, showing his inner affection and goodwill only by his countenance, which his friend also reciprocates, but the flatterer runs up, follows, holds out his hand at a distance, and if he is seen and addressed first, frequently protests with oaths, and calls witnesses to prove, that he did not see you. So in business friends neglect many unimportant points, are not too punctilious and officious, and do not thrust themselves upon every service, but the flatterer is persevering and unceasing and indefatigable in it, giving nobody else either room or place to help, but putting himself wholly at your disposal, and if you will not find him something to do for you, he is troubled, nay rather altogether dejected and lamenting loudly.
Sec. XXII. To all sensible people all this is an indication, not of true or sober friendship, but of a meretricious one, that embraces you more warmly than there is any occasion for. Nevertheless let us first look at the difference between the friend and flatterer in their promises. For it has been well said by those who have handled this subject before us, that the friend's promise is,
"If I can do it, and 'tis to be done,"but the flatterer's is,
"Speak out your mind, whate'er it is, to me."And the comic dramatists put such fellows on the stage,
Sec. XXIII. But it is not so much by the importunity of the flatterer in regard to services, nor by his facility in making promises, that one can recognize his nature, as by the honourable or dishonourable kind of service, and by the regard to please or to be of real use. For the friend is not as Gorgias defined him, one who will ask his friend to help him in what is right, while he will himself do many services for his friend that are not right.
"For friend should share in good not in bad action."He will therefore rather try and turn him away from what is not becoming, and if he cannot persuade him, good is that answer of Phocion to Antipater, "You cannot have me both as friend and flatterer," that is, as friend and no friend. For one must indeed assist one's friend but not do anything wrong for him, one must advise with him but not plot with him, one must bear witness for him but not join him in fraud, one must certainly share adversity with him but not crime. For since we should not wish even to know of our friends' dishonourable acts, much less should we desire to share their dishonour by acting with them. As then the Lacedaemonians, when conquered in battle by Antipater, on settling the terms of peace, begged that he would lay upon them what burdens he pleased, provided he enjoined nothing dishonourable, so the friend, if any necessity arise involving expense or danger or trouble, is the first to desire to be applied to and share in it with alacrity and without crying off, but if there be anything disgraceful in connection with it he begs to have nothing to do with it. The flatterer on the contrary cries off from toilsome and dangerous employments, and if you put him to the test by ringing him, he returns a hollow and spurious sound, and finds some excuse; whereas use him in disgraceful and low and disreputable service, and trample upon him, he will think no treatment too bad or ignominious. Have you observed the ape? He cannot guard the house like the dog, nor bear burdens like the horse, nor plough like the ox, so he has to bear insult and ribaldry, and put up with being made sport of, exhibiting himself as an instrument to produce laughter. So too the flatterer, who can neither advocate your cause, nor give you useful counsel, nor share in your contention with anybody, but shirks all labour and toil, never makes any excuses in underhand transactions, is sure to lend a helping hand in any love affair, is energetic in setting free some harlot, and not careless in clearing off the account of a drinking score, nor remiss in making preparations for banquets, and obsequious to concubines, but if ordered to be uncivil to your relations, or to help in turning your wife out of doors, he is relentless and not to be put out of countenance. So that he is not hard to detect here too. For if ordered to do anything you please disreputable or dishonourable, he is ready to take any pains to oblige you.
Sec. XXIV. One might detect again how greatly the flatterer differs from the friend by his behaviour to other friends. For the friend is best pleased with loving and being beloved by many, and also always tries to contrive for his friend that he too may be much loved and honoured, for he believes in the proverb "the goods of friends are common property," and thinks it ought to apply to nothing more than to friends; but the false and spurious and counterfeit friend, knowing how much he debases friendship, like debased and spurious coin, is not only by nature envious, but shows his envy even of those who are like himself, striving to outdo them in scurrility and gossip, while he quakes and trembles at any of his betters, not by Zeus "merely walking on foot by their Lydian chariot," but, to use the language of Simonides, "not even, having pure lead by comparison with their refined gold." Whenever then, being light and counterfeit and false, he is put to the test at close quarters with a true and solid and cast-iron friendship, he cannot stand the test but is detected at once, and imitates the conduct of the painter that painted some wretched cocks, for he ordered his lad to scare away all live cocks as far from his picture as possible. So he too scares away real friends and will not let them come near if he can help it, but if he cannot prevent that, he openly fawns upon them, and courts them, and admires them as his betters, but privately runs them down and spreads calumnies about them. And when secret detraction has produced a sore feeling, if he has not effected his end completely, he remembers and observes the teaching of Medius, who was the chief of Alexander's flatterers, and a leading sophist in conspiracy against the best men. He bade people confidently sow their calumny broadcast and bite with it, teaching them that even if the person injured should heal his sore, the scar of the calumny would remain. Consumed by these scars, or rather gangrenes and cancers, Alexander put to death Callisthenes, and Parmenio, and Philotas; while he himself submitted to be completely outwitted by such as Agnon, and Bagoas, and Agesias, and Demetrius, who worshipped him and tricked him up and feigned him to be a barbaric god. So great is the power of flattery, and nowhere greater, as it seems, than among the greatest people. For their thinking and wishing the best about themselves makes them credit the flatterer, and gives him courage. For lofty heights are difficult of approach and hard to reach for those who endeavour to scale them, but the highmindedness and conceit of a person thrown off his balance by good fortune or good natural parts is easily reached by mean and petty people.
Sec. XXV. And so we advised at the beginning of this discourse, and now advise again, to cut off self-love and too high an opinion of ourselves; for that flatters us first, and makes us more impressionable and prepared for external flatterers. But if we hearken to the god, and recognize the immense importance to everyone of that saying, "Know thyself," and at the same time carefully observe our nature and education and training, with its thousand shortcomings in respect to good, and the large proportion of vice and vanity mixed up with our words and deeds and feelings, we shall not make ourselves so easy a mark for flatterers. Alexander said that he disbelieved those who called him a god chiefly in regard to sleep and the sexual delight, for in both those things he was more ignoble and emotional than in other respects. So we, if we observe the blots, blemishes, shortcomings, and imperfections of our private selves, shall perceive clearly that we do not need a friend who shall bestow upon us praise and panegyric, but one that will reprove us, and speak plainly to us, aye, by Zeus, and censure us if we have done amiss. For it is only a few out of many that venture to speak plainly to their friends rather than gratify them, and even among those few you will not easily find any who know how to do so properly, for they think they are outspoken when they abuse and scold. And yet, just as in the case of any other medicine, to employ freedom of speech unseasonably is only to give needless pain and trouble, and in a manner to do so as to produce vexation the very thing the flatterer does so as to produce pleasure. For it does people harm not only to praise them unseasonably but also to blame them unseasonably, and especially exposes them to the successful attack of flatterers, for, like water, they abandon the rugged hills for the soft grassy valleys. And so outspokenness ought to be tempered with kindness, and reason ought to be called in to correct its excessive tartness, (as we tone down the too powerful glare of a lamp), that people may not, by being troubled and grieved at continual blame and rebuke, fly for refuge to the shade of the flatterer, and turn aside to him to free themselves from annoyance. For we ought, Philopappus, to banish all vice by virtue, not by the opposite vice, as some hold, by exchanging modesty for impudence, and countrified ways for town ribaldry, and by removing their character as far as possible from cowardice and effeminacy, even if that should make people get very near to audacity and foolhardiness. And some even make superstition a plea for atheism, and stupidity a plea for knavery, perverting their nature, like a stick bent double, from inability to set it straight. But the basest disowning of flattery is to be disagreeable without any purpose in view, and it shows an altogether inelegant and clumsy unfitness for social intercourse to shun by unpleasing moroseness the suspicion of being mean and servile in friendship; like the freedman in the comedy who thought railing only enjoying freedom of speech. Seeing then, that it is equally disgraceful to become a flatterer through trying only to please, as in avoiding flattery to destroy all friendship and intimacy by excessive freedom of speech, we must avoid both these extremes, and, as in any other case, make our freedom of speech agreeable by its moderation. So the subject itself seems next to demand that I should conclude it by discussing that point.
Sec. XXVI. As then we see that much trouble arises from excessive freedom of speech, let us first of all detach from it any element of self-love, being carefully on our guard that we may not appear to upbraid on account of any private hurt or injury. For people do not regard a speech on the speaker's own behalf as arising from goodwill, but from anger, and reproach rather than admonition. For freedom in speech is friendly and has weight, but reproach is selfish and little. And so people respect and admire those that speak their mind freely, but accuse back and despise those that reproach them: as Agamemnon would not stand the moderate freedom of speech of Achilles, but submitted to and endured the bitter attack and speech of Odysseus,
Sec. XXVII. In the next place, let us clear away as it were and remove all insolence, and jeering, and mocking, and ribaldry, which are the evil seasonings of freedom of speech. For as, when the surgeon performs an operation, a certain neatness and delicacy of touch ought to accompany his use of the knife, but all pantomimic and venturesome and fashionable suppleness and over-finicalness ought to be far away from his hand, so freedom of speech admits of dexterity and politeness, provided that a pleasant way of putting it does not destroy the power of the rebuke, for impudence and coarseness and insolence, if added to freedom of speech, entirely mar and ruin the effect. And so the harper plausibly and elegantly silenced Philip, who ventured to dispute with him about proper playing on the harp, by answering him, "God forbid that you should be so unfortunate, O king, as to understand harping better than me." But that was not a right answer of Epicharmus, when Hiero a few days after putting to death some of his friends invited him to supper, "You did not invite me," he said, "the other day, when you sacrificed your friends." Bad also was that answer of Antiphon, who, when Dionysius asked him "which was the best kind of bronze," answered, "That of which the Athenians made statues of Harmodius and Aristogiton." For this unpleasant and bitter kind of language profits not those that use it, nor does scurrility and puerile jesting please, but such kind of speeches are indications of an incontinent tongue inspired by hate, and full of malignity and insolence, and those who use such language do but ruin themselves, recklessly dancing on the verge of a well. For Antiphon was put to death by Dionysius, and Timagenes lost the friendship of Augustus, not by using on any occasion too free a tongue, but at supper-parties and walks always declining to talk seriously, "only saying what he knew would make the Argives laugh," and thus virtually charging friendship with being only a cloak for abuse. For even the comic poets have introduced on the stage many grave sentiments well adapted to public life, but joking and ribaldry being mixed with them, like insipid sauces with food, destroy their effect and make them lose their nourishing power, so that the comic poets only get a reputation for malignity and coarseness, and the audience get no benefit from what is said. We may on other occasions jest and laugh with our friends, but let our outspokenness be coupled with seriousness and gravity, and if it be on important matters, let our speech be trustworthy and moving from its pathos, and animation, and tone of voice. And on all occasions to let an opportunity slip by is very injurious, but especially does it destroy the usefulness of freedom of speech. It is plain therefore that we must abstain from freedom of speech when men are in their cups. For he disturbs the harmony of a social gathering who, in the midst of mirth and jollity, introduces a topic that shall knit the brows and contract the face, and shall act as a damper to the Lysian god, who, as Pindar says, "looses the rope of all our cares and anxieties." There is also great danger in such ill-timed freedom of speech. For wine makes people easily slip into rage, and oftentimes freedom of speech in liquor makes enemies. And generally speaking it is not noble or brave but cowardly to conceal your ideas when people are sober and to give free vent to them at table, snarling like cowardly dogs. We need say no more therefore on this head.
Sec. XXVIII. But since many people do not think fit or even dare to find fault with their friends when in prosperity, but think that condition altogether out of the reach and range of rebuke, but inveigh against them if they have made a slip or stumble, and trample upon them if they are in dejection and in their power, and, like a stream swollen above its banks, pour upon them then the torrent of all their eloquence, and enjoy and are glad at their reverse of fortune, owing to their former contempt of them when they were poor themselves, it is not amiss to discuss this somewhat, and to answer those words of Euripides,
"What need of friends, when things go well with us?"for those in prosperity stand in especial need of friends who shall be outspoken to them, and abate their excessive pride. For there are few who are sensible in prosperity, most need to borrow wisdom from others, and such considerations as shall keep them lowly when puffed up and giving themselves airs owing to their good fortune. But when the deity has abased them and stripped them of their conceit, there is something in their very circumstances to reprove them and bring about a change of mind. And so there is no need then of a friendly outspokenness, nor of weighty or caustic words, but truly in such reverses "it is sweet to look into the eyes of a friendly person," consoling and cheering one up: as Xenophon tells us that the sight of Clearchus in battle and dangers, and his calm benevolent face, inspired courage in his men when in peril. But he who uses to a man in adversity too great freedom and severity of speech, like a man applying too pungent a remedy to an inflamed and angry eye, neither cures him nor abates his pain, but adds anger to his grief, and exasperates his mental distress. For example anyone well is not at all angry or fierce with a friend, who blames him for his excesses with women and wine, his laziness and taking no exercise, his frequent baths, and his unseasonable surfeiting: but to a person ill all this is unsufferable, and even worse than his illness to hear, "All this has happened to you through your intemperance, and luxury, your dainty food, and love for women." The patient answers, "How unseasonable is all this, good sir! I am making my will, the doctors are preparing me a dose of castor and scammony, and you are scolding me and plying me with philosophy." And thus the affairs of the unfortunate do not admit of outspokenness and a string of Polonius-like saws, but they require kindness and help. For when children fall down their nurses do not run up to them and scold, but pick them up, and clean them, and tidy their dress, and afterwards find fault and correct them. The story is told of Demetrius of Phalerum, when an exile from his native country, and living a humble and obscure life at Thebes, that he was not pleased to see Crates approaching, for he expected to receive from him cynical outspokenness and harsh language. But as Crates talked kindly to him, and discussed his exile, and pointed out that there was no evil in it, or anything that ought to put him about, for he had only got rid of the uncertainties and dangers of public life, and at the same time bade him trust in himself and his condition of mind, Demetrius cheered up and became happier, and said to his friends, "Out upon all my former business and employments, that left me no leisure to know such a man as this!"
Sec. XXIX. In what cases then ought a friend to be vehement, and when ought he to use emphatic freedom of language? When circumstances call upon him to check some headlong pleasure or rage or insolence, or to curtail avarice, or to correct some foolish negligence. Thus Solon spoke out to Croesus, who was corrupted and enervated by insecure good fortune, bidding him look to the end. Thus Socrates restrained Alcibiades, and wrung from him genuine tears by his reproof, and changed his heart. Such also was the plain dealing of Cyrus with Cyaxares, and of Plato with Dion, for when Dion was most famous and attracted to himself the notice of all men, by the splendour and greatness of his exploits, Plato warned him to fear and be on his guard against "pleasing only himself, for so he would lose all his friends." Speusippus also wrote to him not to plume himself on being a great person only with lads and women, but to see to it that by adorning Sicily with piety and justice and good laws he might make the Academy glorious. On the other hand Euctus and Eulaeus, companions of Perseus, in the days of his prosperity ingratiated themselves with him, and assented to him in all things, and danced attendance upon him, like all the other courtiers, but when he fled after his defeat by the Romans at Pydna, they attacked him and censured him bitterly, reminding him and upbraiding him in regard to everything he had done amiss or neglected to do, till he was so greatly exasperated both from grief and rage that he whipped out his sword and killed both of them.
Sec. XXX. Let so much suffice for general occasions of freedom of speech. There are also particular occasions, which our friends themselves furnish, that one who really cares for his friends will not neglect, but make use of. In some cases a question, or narrative, or the censure or praise of similar things in other people, gives as it were the cue for freedom of speech. Thus it is related that Demaratus came to Macedonia from Corinth at the time when Philip was at variance with his wife and son, and when the king asked if the Greeks were at harmony with one another, Demaratus, being his well-wisher and friend, answered, "It is certainly very rich of you, Philip, inquiring as to concord between the Athenians and Peloponnesians, when you don't observe that your own house is full of strife and variance." Good also was the answer of Diogenes, who, when Philip was marching to fight against the Greeks, stole into his camp, and was arrested and brought before him, and the king not recognizing him asked if he was a spy, "Certainly," replied he, "Philip, I have come to spy out your inconsiderate folly, which makes you, under no compulsion, come here and hazard your kingdom and life on a moment's cast of the die." This was perhaps rather too strong a remark.
Sec. XXXI. Another suitable time for reproof is when people have been abused by others for their faults, and have consequently become humble, and abated their pride. The man of tact will ingeniously seize the occasion, checking and baffling those that used the abuse, but privately speaking seriously to his friend, and reminding him, that he ought to be more careful if for no other reason than to take off the edge of his enemies' satire. He will say, "How can they open their mouths against you, or what can they urge, if you give up and abandon what you get this bad name about?" Thus pain comes only from abuse, but profit from reproof. And some correct their friends more daintily by blaming others; censuring others for what they know are their friends' faults. Thus my master Ammonius in afternoon school, noticing that some of his pupils had not dined sufficiently simply, bade one of his freedmen scourge his own son, charging him with being unable to get through his dinner without vinegar, but in acting thus he had an eye to us, so that this indirect rebuke touched the guilty persons.
Sec. XXXII. We must also beware of speaking too freely to a friend in the company of many people, remembering the well-known remark of Plato. For when Socrates reproved one of his friends too vehemently in a discussion at table, Plato said, "Would it not have been better to have said this privately?" Whereupon Socrates replied, "And you too, sir, would it not have become you to make this remark also privately?" And Pythagoras having rebuked one of his pupils somewhat harshly before many people, they say the young fellow went off and hung himself, and from that moment Pythagoras never again rebuked anyone in another's presence. For, as in the case of some foul disease, so also in the case of wrong-doing we ought to make the detection and exposure private, and not ostentatiously public by bringing witnesses and spectators. For it is not the part of a friend but a sophist to seek glory by the ill-fame of another, and to show off in company, like the doctors that perform wonderful cures in the theatres as an advertisement. And independently of the insult, which ought not to be an element in any cure, we must remember that vice is contentious and obstinate. For it is not merely "love," as Euripides says, that "if checked becomes more vehement," but an unsparing rebuke before many people makes every infirmity and vice more impudent. As then Plato urges old men who want to teach the young reverence to act reverently to them first themselves, so among friends a gentle rebuke is gently taken, and a cautious and careful approach and mild censure of the wrong-doer undermines and destroys vice, and makes its own modesty catching. So that line is most excellent, "holding his head near, that the others might not hear." And most especially indecorous is it to expose a husband in the hearing of his wife, or a father before his children, or a lover in the presence of the loved one, or a master before his scholars. For people are beside themselves with pain and rage if reproached before those with whom they desire to be held in good repute. And I think it was not so much wine that exasperated Alexander with Clitus, as his seeming to put him down in the presence of many people. And Aristomenes, the tutor of Ptolemy, because he went up to the king and woke him as he was asleep in an audience of some ambassadors, gave a handle to the king's flatterers who professed to be indignant on his behalf, and said, "If after your immense state-labours and many vigils you have been overpowered by sleep, he ought to have rebuked you privately, and not put his hands upon you before so many people." And Ptolemy sent for a cup of poison and ordered the poor man to drink it up. And Aristophanes said Cleon blamed him for "railing against the state when strangers were present," and so irritating the Athenians. We ought therefore to be very much on our guard in relation to this point too as well as others, if we wish not to make a display and catch the public ear, but to use our freedom of speech for beneficial purposes and to cure vice. Moreover, what Thucydides has represented the Corinthians saying of themselves, that "they had a right to blame their neighbours," is not a bad precept for those to remember who intend to use freedom of speech. Lysander, it seems, on one occasion said to a Megarian, who was speaking somewhat boldly on behalf of Greece among the allies, "Your words require a state to back them": similarly every man's freedom of speech requires character behind it, and especially true is this in regard to those who censure and correct others. Thus Plato said that his life was a tacit rebuke to Speusippus: and doubtless Xenocrates by his mere presence in the schools, and by his earnest look at Polemo, made a changed man of him. Whereas a man of levity and bad character, if he ventures to rebuke anybody, is likely to hear the line,
"He doctors others, all diseased himself."Sec. XXXIII. Yet since circumstances frequently call on people who are bad themselves in association with other such to reprove them, the most convenient mode of reproof will be that which contrives to include the reprover in the same indictment as the reproved, as in the case of the line,
"Now are we all not worth one single Hector."In this mild way did Socrates rebuke young men, as not himself without ignorance, but one that needed in common with them to prosecute virtue, and seek truth. For they gain goodwill and influence, who seem to have the same faults as their friends, and desire to correct themselves as well as them. But he who is high and mighty in setting down another, as if he were himself perfect and without any imperfections, unless he be of a very advanced age, or has an acknowledged reputation for virtue and worth, does no good, but is only regarded as a tiresome bore. And so it was wisely done of Phoenix to relate his own mishaps, how he had meant killing his father, but quickly repented at the thought "that he would be called by the Achaeans parricide," that he might not seem to be rebuking Achilles, as one that had himself never suffered from excess of rage. For kindness of this sort has great influence, and people yield more to those who seem to be sympathetic and not supercilious. And since we ought not to expose an inflamed eye to a strong light, and a soul a prey to the passions cannot bear unmixed reproof and rebuke, one of the most useful remedies will be found to be a slight mixture of praise, as in the following lines,
"Where is thy bow, where thy wing'd arrows, Pandarus,
"Where now is Oedipus, and his famous riddles?"
For not only does it soften the harsh imperiousness of censure, but also, by reminding a man of former noble deeds, implants a desire to emulate his former self in the person who is ashamed of what is low, and makes himself his own exemplar for better things. But if we make a comparison between him and other men, as his contemporaries, his fellow-citizens, or his relations, then the contentious spirit inherent in vice is vexed and exasperated, and is often apt to chime in angrily, "Why don't you go off to my betters then, and leave off bothering me?" We must therefore be on our guard against praising others, when we are rebuking a man, unless indeed it be their parents, as Agamemnon says in Homer,
"Little like Tydeus is his father's son!"or as Odysseus in the play called "The Scyrians,"
Sec. XXXV. Moreover, as Thucydides says "he is well advised who [only] incurs envy in the most important matters," so the friend ought only to take upon himself the unpleasant duty of reproof in grave and momentous cases. For if he is always in a fret and a fume, and rates his acquaintances more like a tutor than a friend, his rebuke will be blunt and ineffective in cases of the highest importance, and he will resemble a doctor who dispenses some sharp and bitter, but important and costly, drug in trifling cases of common occurrence, where it was not at all needed, and so will lose all the advantages that might come from a judicious use of freedom of speech. He will therefore be very much on his guard against continual fault-finding, and if his friend is always pettifogging about minute matters, and is needlessly querulous, it will give him a handle against him in more important shortcomings. Philotimus the doctor, when a patient who had abscesses on his liver showed him his sore finger, said to him, "My friend, it is not the whitlow that matters." So an opportunity sometimes offers itself to a friend to say to a man, who is always finding fault on small and trivial points, "Why are we always discussing mere child's play, tippling, and trifles? Let such a one, my dear sir, send away his mistress, or give up playing at dice, he will then be in my opinion in all respects an excellent fellow." For he who receives pardon on small matters is content that his friend should rebuke him on matters of more moment: but the man who is ever on the scold, everywhere sour and glum, knowing and prying into everything, is scarcely tolerable to his children or brothers, and insufferable to his slaves.
Sec. XXXVI. But since "neither," to use the words of Euripides, "do all troubles proceed only from old age," nor from the stupidity of our friends, we ought to observe not only the shortcomings but also the good points of our friends, aye, by Zeus, and to be ready to praise them first, and only censure them afterwards. For as iron receives its consistency and temper by first being submitted to fire and so made soft and then dipped into cold water, so when friends have been first warmed and melted with praises we can afterwards use gentle remonstrance, which has a similar effect to that of dipping in the case of the metal. For an opportunity will offer itself to say, "Are those actions worthy to be compared with these? Do you see what fruits virtue yields? These are the things we your friends ask of you, these become you, for these you are designed by nature; but all that other kind of conduct we must reject with abhorrence, 'cast it away on a mountain, or throw it into the roaring sea.'" For as a clever doctor would prefer to cure the illness of his patient by sleep and diet rather than by castor or scammony, so a kind friend and good father or teacher delight to use praise rather than blame to correct the character. For nothing makes rebuke less painful or more beneficial than to refrain from anger, and to inveigh against wrong-doing mildly and kindly. And so we ought not sharply to drive home the guilt of those who deny it, or prevent their making their defence, but even contrive to furnish them with specious excuses, and if they seem reluctant to give a bad motive for their action we ought ourselves to find for them a better, as Hector did for his brother Paris,
"Unhappy man, thy anger was not good,"suggesting that his absconding from the battle was not running away or cowardice, but only anger. And Nestor says to Agamemnon,
"You only yielded to your lofty passion."For it has, I think, a better moral tendency to say "You forgot," or "You did it inadvertently," than to say "You acted unfairly," or "You behaved shamefully:" as also "Don't contend with your brother," than "Don't envy your brother;" and "Avoid the woman who is your ruin," than "Stop ruining the woman." Such is the language employed in rebuke that desires to reform and not to wound; that rebuke which looks merely at the effect to be produced acts on another principle. For when it is necessary to stop people on the verge of wrong-doing, or to check some violent and irregular impulse, or if we wish to rouse and infuse vigour in those who prosecute virtue only feebly and languidly, we may then assign strange and unbecoming motives for their behaviour. As Odysseus in Sophocles' play, striving to rouse Achilles, says he is not angry about his supper, but "that he is afraid now that he looks upon the walls of Troy," and when Achilles was vexed at this, and talked of sailing home again, he said,
Sec. XXXVII. Since then, as I have said before, freedom of speech is often painful to the person who is to receive benefit from it, we must imitate the surgeons, who, when they have performed an operation, do not leave the suffering part to pain and smart, but bathe and foment it; so those who do their rebuking daintily run off after paining and smarting, and by different dealing and kind words soothe and mollify them, as statuaries smooth and polish images which have been broken or chipped. But he that is broken and wounded by rebuke, if he is left sullen and swelling with rage and off his equilibrium, is henceforth hard to win back or talk over. And so people who reprove ought to be especially careful on this point, and not to leave them too soon, nor break off their conversation and intercourse with their acquaintances at the exasperating and painful stage.
 Plato, "Laws," v. p. 731 D, E.
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