How the ancients treated insults. (ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER)

How the ancients treated insults. (ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER)

The Greeks and Romans were thorough heroes, if you like; but they knew nothing about point d’honneur. If they had any idea of a duel, it was totally unconnected with the life of the nobles; it was merely the exhibition of mercenary gladiators, slaves devoted to slaughter, condemned criminals, who, alternately with wild beasts, were set to butcher one another to make a Roman holiday. When Christianity was introduced, gladiatorial shows were done away with, and their place taken, in Christian times, by the duel, which was a way of settling difficulties by the Judgment of God.

If the gladiatorial fight was a cruel sacrifice to the prevailing desire for great spectacles, dueling is a cruel sacrifice to existing prejudices — a sacrifice, not of criminals, slaves and prisoners, but of the noble and the free.

There are a great many traits in the character of the ancients which show that they were entirely free from these prejudices. When, for instance, Marius was summoned to a duel by a Teutonic chief, he returned answer to the effect that, if the chief were tired of his life, he might go and hang himself; at the same time he offered him a veteran gladiator for a round or two. Plutarch relates in his life of Themistocles that Eurybiades, who was in command of the fleet, once raised his stick to strike him; whereupon Themistocles, instead of drawing his sword, simply said: Strike, but hear me. How sorry the reader must be, if he is an honorableman, to find that we have no information that the Athenian officers refused in a body to serve any longer under Themistocles, if he acted like that! In a certain passage in Plato’s Laws the philosopher speaks at length of [Greek: aikia] or assault, showing us clearly enough that the ancients had no notion of any feeling of honor in connection with such matters. Once, when somebody kicked Socrates, the patience with which he took the insult surprised one of his friends. Do you think, said Socrates, that if an ass happened to kick me, I should resent it? On another occasion, when he was asked, Has not that fellow abused and insulted you? No, was his answer, what he says is not addressed to me Stobaeus has preserved a long passage from Musonius, from which we can see how the ancients treated insults. They knew no other form of satisfaction than that which the law provided, and wise people despised even this. If a Greek received a box on the ear, he could get satisfaction by the aid of the law; as is evident from Plato’s Gorgias, where Socrates’ opinion may be found. The same thing may be seen in the account given by Gellius of one Lucius Veratius, who had the audacity to give some Roman citizens whom he met on the road a box on the ear, without any provocation whatever; but to avoid any ulterior consequences, he told a slave to bring a bag of small money, and on the spot paid the trivial legal penalty to the men whom he had astonished by his conduct.

Crates, the celebrated Cynic philosopher, got such a box on the ear from Nicodromus, the musician, that his face swelled up and became black and blue; whereupon he put a label on his forehead, with the inscription, Nicodromus fecit, which brought much disgrace to the fluteplayer who had committed such a piece of brutality upon the man whom all Athens honored as a household god. And in a letter to Melesippus, Diogenes of Sinope tells us that he got a beating from the drunken sons of the Athenians; but he adds that it was a matter of no importance. And Seneca devotes the last few chapters of his De Constantia to a lengthy discussion on insult — contumelia; in order to show that a wise man will take no notice of it. In Chapter XIV, he says, What shall a wise man do, if he is given a blow? What Cato did, when some one struck him on the mouth; — not fire up or avenge the insult, or even return the blow, but simply ignore it.

Yes, you say, but these men were philosophers. — And you are fools, eh? Precisely.






The Wisdom of Life

Arthur Schopenhauer



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