Essays and Miscellanies, by Plutarch

Abstract of a Discourse Showing that the Stoics Speak Greater Improbabilities than the Poets.

Pinder’s Caeneus hath been taken to task by several, for being improbably feigned, impenetrable by steel and impassible in his body, and so

Descending, into hell without a wound.
And with sound foot parting in two the ground.

But the Stoics’ Lapithes, as if they had carved him out of the very adamantine matter of impassibility itself, though he is not invulnerable, nor exempt from either sickness or pain, yet remains fearless, regretless, invincible, and unconstrainable in the midst of wounds, dolors, and torments, and in the very subversions of the walls of his native city, and other such like great calamities. Again, Pindar’s Caeneus is not wounded when struck; but the Stoics’ wise man is not detained when shut up in a prison, suffers no compulsion by being thrown down a precipice, is not tortured when on the rack, takes no hurt by being maimed, and when he catches a fall in wrestling he is still unconquered; when he is encompassed with a rampire, he is not besieged; and when sold by his enemies, he is still not made a prisoner. The wonderful man is like to those ships that have inscribed upon them A PROSPEROUS VOYAGE, OR PROTECTING PROVIDENCE, or A PRESERVATIVE AGAINST DANGERS, and yet for all that endure storms, and are miserably shattered and overturned. Euripides’s Iolaus of a feeble, superannuated old man, by means of a certain prayer, became on a sudden youthful and strong for battle; but the Stoics wise man was yesterday most detestable and the worst of villains, but today is changed on a sudden into a state of virtue, and is become of a wrinkled, pale fellow, and as Aeschylus speaks,

Of an old sickly wretch with stitch in ‘s back,
Distent with rending pains as on a rack,

a gallant, godlike, and beauteous person.

The goddess Minerva took from Ulysses his wrinkles, baldness, and deformity, to make him appear a handsome man. But these men’s wise man, though old age quits not his body, but contrariwise still lays on and heaps more upon it, though he remains (for instance) humpbacked, toothless, one-eyed, is yet neither deformed, disfigured, nor ill-favored. For as beetles are said to relinquish perfumes and to pursue after ill scents; so Stoical love, having used itself to the most foul and deformed persons, if by means of philosophy they change into good form and comeliness, becomes presently disgusted.

He that in the Stoics’ account was in the forenoon (for example) the worst man in the world is in the afternoon the best of men; and he that falls asleep a very sot, dunce, miscreant, and brute, nay, by Jove, a slave and a beggar to boot, rises up the same day a prince, a rich and a happy man, and (which is yet more) a continent, just, determined, and unprepossessed person; — not by shooting forth out of a young and tender body a downy beard or the sprouting tokens of mature youth, but by having in a feeble, soft, unmanful, and undetermined mind, a perfect intellect, a consummate prudence, a godlike disposition, an unprejudiced science, and an unalterable habit. All this time his viciousness gives not the least ground in order to it, but he becomes in an instant, I had almost said, of the vilest brute, a sort of hero, genius, or god. For he that receives his virtue from the Stoics portico may say,

Ask what thou wilt, it shall be granted thee.
(From Menander)

It brings wealth along with it, it contains kingship in it, it confers fortune; it renders men prosperous, and makes them to want nothing and to have a sufficiency of everything, though they have not one drachm of silver in the house.

The fabular relations of the poets are so careful of decorum, that they never leave a Hercules destitute of necessaries; but those still spring, as out of some fountain, as well for him as for his companions. But he that hath received of the Stoics Amalthaea becomes indeed a rich man, but he begs his victuals of other men; he is a king, but resolves syllogisms for hire; he is the only man that hath all things, but yet he pays rent for the house he lives in, and oftentimes buys bread with borrowed money, or else begs it of those that have nothing themselves.

The king of Ithaca begs with a design that none may know who he is, and makes himself

As like a dirty sorry beggar
(“Odyssey,” xvi. 273.)

as he can. But he that is of the Portico, while he bawls and cries out, It is I only that am a king, It is I only that am a rich man, is yet many times seen at other people’s doors saying:—

On poor Hipponax, pray, some pity take,
Bestow an old cast coat for heaven’s sake;
I’m well-nigh dead with cold, and all o’er quake.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24