Our dispositions are so prone to upbraidings and to be tainted with envy, that the grief we conceive at others’ prosperity lessens the joy we ought to take in our own. (PLUTARCH) | Part A’

Our dispositions are so prone to upbraidings and to be tainted with envy, that the grief we conceive at others’ prosperity lessens the joy we ought to take in our own. (PLUTARCH) | Part A’

But although, when our eyes are dazzled with too intense a splendor, we refresh our sight by viewing something that is green and florid, yet we fix the optics of our minds upon doleful objects, and compel them to dwell upon the recital of our miseries, plucking them perforce, as it were, from the consideration of what is better.

But why, my friend, art thou so acute to discern even thy own misfortunes, and so industrious to renew them and set them in thy sight, that they may be the more conspicuous, while thou never turnest thy consideration to those good things which are present with thee and thou dost enjoy?

But as cupping-glasses draw the impurest blood out of the body, so thou dost extract the quintessence of infelicity to afflict thyself. In this thou art no better than the Chian merchant, who, while he sold abundance of his best and most generous wine to others, called for some [147] that was pricked and vapid to taste at supper; and one of his servants asking another what he left his master doing, he made this answer, that he was calling for bad when the good was by him. For most men leave the pleasant and delectable things behind them, and run with haste to embrace those which are not only difficult but intolerable.

Aristippus was not of this number, for he knew, even to the niceness of a grain, to put prosperous against adverse fortune into the scale, that the one might outweigh the other.

Therefore when he lost a noble farm, he asked one of his dissembled friends, who pretended to be sorry, not only with regret but impatience, for his mishap: Thou hast but one piece of land, but have I not three farms yet remaining? He assenting to the truth of it: Why then, saith he, should I not rather lament your misfortune, since it is the raving only of a mad man to be concerned at what is lost, and not rather rejoice in what is left? Thus, as children, if you rob them of one of their play-games, will throw away the rest, and cry and scream; so, if Fortune infest us only in one part, we grow fearful and abandon ourselves wholly to her attacks.

But somebody will object to me, What is it that we have?

One is honorable, the other is master of a family; this man hath a good wife, the other a faithful friend. Antipater of Tarsus, when he was upon his death-bed and reckoning up all the good events which had befallen him, would not omit a prosperous voyage which he had when he sailed from Cilicia to Athens. Even the trite and common blessings are not to be despised, but ought to take up a room in our deliberations. We should rejoice that we live, and are in health, and see the sun; that there are no wars nor seditions in our country; that the earth yields to cultivation, and that the sea is open to our traffic; that we can talk, be silent, do business, and be at leisure, when we please. They will afford us greater tranquillity of mind present, if we form some just ideas of them when they are absent; if we often call to our remembrance how solicitous the sick man is after health, how acceptable peace is to put out a war, and what a courtesy it will do us to gain credit and acquire friends in a city of note, where we are strangers and unknown; and contrariwise, how great a grief it is to forego these things when we once have them.

For surely a thing does not become great and precious when we have lost it, while it is of no account so long as we possess it; for the value of a thing cannot be increased by its loss. But we ought not to take pains to acquire things as being of great value, and to be in fear and trembling lest we may lose them, as if they were precious, and then all the time they are safe in our possession, to neglect them as if they were of no importance. But we are so to use them that we may reap satisfaction and gain a solid pleasure from them, that so we may be the better enabled to endure their loss with evenness of temper.

But most men, as Arcesilaus observed, think they must be critics upon other men’s poems, survey their pictures with a curious eye, and examine their statues with all the delicacy of sculpture, but in the meanwhile transiently pass over their own lives, though there be some things in them which will not only detain but please their consideration. But they will not restrain the prospect to themselves, but are perpetually looking abroad, and so become servile admirers of other men’s fortune and reputation; as adulterers are always gloating upon other men’s wives and contemning their own.




Plutarch’s Morals



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