On Talkativeness (PLUTARCH)

On Talkativeness (PLUTARCH)

We must apply our reasoning powers to the effects of the opposite behaviour, always hearing and remembering and keeping close at hand the praises bestowed on reticence, and the solemn, holy, and mysterious character of silence, remembering also that terse and pithy speakers and those who can pack much sense into a short speech are more admired and loved, and are considered to be wiser, than these unbridled and headstrong talkers.

Plato, in fact, commends such pithy men, declaring that they are like skilful throwers of the javelin, for what they say is crisp, solid, and compact.

And Lycurgus, constraining his fellow citizens from their earliest childhood to acquire this clever habit by means of silence, made them concise and terse in speech.

For just as the Celtiberians make steel from iron by burying it in the earth and then cleaning off the large earthy accumulation, so the speech of Spartans has no dross, but being disciplined by the removal of all superfluities, it is tempered to complete efficiency ; for this capacity of theirs for aphoristic speech and for quickness and the ability to turn out a neat phrase in repartee is the fruit of much silence. And we must be careful to offer to chatterers examples of this terseness, so that they may see how charming and how effective they are. For example : ‘The Spartans to Philip: Dionysius in Corinth.’  And again, when Philip wrote to them, ‘If I invade Laconia, I shall turn you out,’ they wrote back, ‘If.’

And when King Demetrius was annoyed and shouted, ‘Have the Spartans sent only one envoy to me?’ the envoy replied undismayed, ‘One to one.’’

And among the men of old also sententious speakers are admired, and upon the temple of the Pythian Apollo the Amphictyons inscribed, not the Iliad and the Odyssey or the paeans of Pindar, but ‘Know thyself’ and ‘Avoid extremes’ and ‘Give a pledge and mischief is at hand,’  admiring, as they did, the compactness and simplicity of the expression which contains within a small compass a well-forged sentiment.

And is not the god himself fond of conciseness and brevity in his oracles, and is he not called Loxias because he avoids prolixity rather than obscurity?

And are not those who indicate by signs, without a word, what must be done, praised and admired exceedingly?

So Heracleitus, when his fellow citizens asked him to propose some opinion about concord, mounted the platform, took a cup of cold water, sprinkled it with barley-meal, stirred it with penny-royal, drank it up, and departed, thus demonstrating to them that to be satisfied with whatever they happen upon and not to want expensive things is to keep cities in peace and concord.

And Scilurus, king of the Scythians, left behind him eighty sons ; when he was dying, he asked for a bundle of spearshafts and bade his sons take it and break it in pieces, tied closely together as the shafts were.

When they gave up the task, he himself drew all the spears out one by one and easily broke them in two, thus revealing that the harmony and concord of his sons was a strong and invincible thing, but that their disunion would be weak and unstable.





Plutarch’s Morals



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