Plutarch’s Morals: On Moral Virtue


The Moral Liberal, Classics Library


Plutarch’s Morals: “On Moral Virtue”, 75 A.C.E.


§ i. I propose to discuss what is called and appears to be moral virtue (which differs mainly from contemplative virtue in that it has emotion for its matter, and reason for its form), what its nature is, and how it subsists, and whether that part of the soul which takes it in is furnished with reason of its own, or participates in something foreign, and if the latter, whether as things that are mixed with something better than themselves, or rather as that which is subject to superintendence and command, and may be said to share in the power of that which commands. For I think it is clear that virtue can exist and continue altogether free from matter and mixture. My best course will be to run briefly over the views of others, not so much to display my research as because, when their ideas have been set forth, mine will become more clear and be on a firmer basis.

§ ii. Menedemus of Eretria took away the number and differences of virtues, on the ground that virtue was one though it had many names; for that just as mortal is synonymous with man, so temperance and bravery and justice were the same thing. And Aristo of Chios also made virtue one in substance, and called it soundness of mind: its diversities and varieties only existing in certain relations, as if one called our sight when it took in white objects white-sight, and when it took in black objects black-sight, and so on. For virtue, when it considers what it ought to do and what it ought not to do, is called prudence; and when it curbs passion, and sets a fit and proper limit to pleasure, it is called self-control; and when it is associated with our dealings and covenants with one another, it is called justice; just as a knife is one article,99 though at different times it cuts different things in half: and so, too, fire acts on different matter though it has but one property. And Zeno of Cittium seems to incline somewhat to the same view, as he defines prudence in distribution as justice, in choice as self-control, in endurance as fortitude: and those who defend these views maintain that by the term prudence Zeno means knowledge. But Chrysippus, thinking each particular virtue should be arranged under its particular quality, unwittingly stirred up, to use Plato’s language, “a whole swarm of virtues,”219 unusual and unknown. For as from brave we get bravery, and from mild mildness, and from just justice, so from acceptable he got acceptableness, and from good goodness, and from great greatness, and from the honourable honourableness, and he made virtues of many other such clevernesses, affabilities, and versatilities, and filled philosophy, which did not at all require it, with many strange names.

§ iii. Now all these agree in supposing virtue to be a disposition and faculty of the governing part of the soul set in motion by reason, or rather to be reason itself conformable and firm and immutable. They think further that the emotional and unreasoning part of the soul is not by any natural difference distinct from the reasoning part, but that that same part of the soul, which they call intellect and the leading principle of action, being altogether diverted and changed by the passions, and by the alterations which habit or disposition have brought about, becomes either vice or virtue, without having in itself any unreasoning element, but that it is called unreasoning when, by the strong and overpowering force of appetite, it launches out into excesses contrary to the direction of reason. For passion, according to them, is only vicious and intemperate reason, getting its strength and power from bad and faulty judgement. But all of those philosophers seem to have been ignorant that we are all in reality two-fold and composite, though they did not recognize it, and only saw the more evident mixture of soul and body. And yet that there is in the soul itself something composite and two-fold and 100dissimilar (the unreasoning part of it, as if another body, being by necessity and nature mixed up with and united to reason), seems not to have escaped the notice even of Pythagoras, as we infer from his zeal for music, which he introduced to calm and soothe the soul, as knowing that it was not altogether amenable to precept and instruction, or redeemable from vice only by reason, but that it needed some other persuasion and moulding and softening influence to co-operate with reason, unless it were to be altogether intractable and refractory to philosophy. And Plato saw very plainly and confidently and decidedly that the soul of this universe is not simple or uncomposite or uniform, but is made up of forces that work uniformly and differently, in the one case it is ever marshalled in the same order and moves about in one fixed orbit, in the other case it is divided into motions and orbits contrary to each other and changing about, and thus generates differences in things. So, too, the soul of man, being a part or portion of the soul of the universe, and compounded upon similar principles and proportions, is not simple or entirely uniform, but has one part intelligent and reasoning, which is intended by nature to rule and dominate in man, and another part unreasoning, and subject to passion and caprice, and disorderly, and in need of direction. And this last again is divided into two parts, one of which, being most closely connected with the body, is called desire, and the other, sometimes taking part with the body, sometimes with reason, lending its influence against the body, is called anger. And the difference between reason and sense on the one hand, and anger and desire on the other, is shown by their antipathy to one another, so that they are often at variance with one another as to what is best.220 These were at first221 the views of Aristotle, as is clear from his writings, though afterwards he joined anger to desire, as if anger were nothing but a desire and passion for revenge. However, he always considered the emotional and unreasoning part of the soul as distinct from the reasoning, not that it is altogether unreasoning as the perceptive, or nutritive, or 101vegetative portions of the soul, for these are always deaf and disobedient to reason, and in a certain sense are off-shoots from the flesh, and altogether attached to the body; but the emotional, though it is destitute of any reason of its own, yet is naturally inclined to listen to reason and sense, and turn and submit and mould itself accordingly, unless it be entirely corrupted by brute pleasure and a life of indulgence.

§ iv. As for those who wonder that what is unreasoning should obey reason, they do not seem to me to recognize the power of reason, how great it is, and how far-reaching its dominion is—a power not gained by harsh and repelling methods, but by attractive ones, as mild persuasion which always accomplishes more than compulsion or violence. For even the spirit and nerves and bones, and other parts of the body, though devoid of reason, yet at any instigation of reason, when she shakes as it were the reins, are all on the alert and compliant and obedient, the feet to run, and the hands to throw or lift, at her bidding. Right excellently has the poet set forth in the following lines the sympathy and accordance between the unreasoning and reason:—
“Thus were her beauteous cheeks diffused with tears, Weeping her husband really present then. But though Odysseus pitied her in heart, His eyes like horn or steel impassive stood Within their lids, and craft his tears repressed.”222

So completely under the control of judgement did he keep his spirit and blood and tears. The same is shown by the subsidence of our passions, which are laid to rest in the presence of handsome women or boys, whom reason and the law forbid us to touch; a case which most frequently happens to lovers, when they hear that they have unwittingly fallen in love with a sister or daughter. For at once passion is laid at the voice of reason, and the body exhibits its members as subservient to decorum. And frequently in the case of dainty food, people very much attracted by it, if they find out at the time or learn afterwards that they have eaten what is unclean or unlawful, 102not only suffer distress and grief in their imagination, but even their very body is upset by the notion, and violent retchings and vomitings follow.223 I fear I should seem to be introducing merely novel and enticing arguments, if I were to enumerate stringed instruments and lyres, and harps and flutes, and other harmonious musical instruments, which, although inanimate, yet speak to man’s passions, rejoicing with him, and mourning with him, and chiming in with him, and rioting with him,—in a word, falling in with the vein and emotions and characters of those that play on them. And they say that Zeno on one occasion, going into the theatre when Amœbeus224 was playing on the harp, said to the pupils, “Let us go and learn what music can be produced by guts and nerves and wood and bones, when they preserve proportion and time and order.” But passing these things over, I would gladly learn from them, if, when they see dogs and horses and birds domesticated, and by habit and training uttering sounds that can be understood, and making obedient movements and gestures, and acting quietly and usefully to us, and when they notice that Achilles in Homer cheers on horses as well as men to the fight,225 they still wonder and doubt, whether the passionate and emotional and painful and pleasurable elements in us are by nature obedient to the voice of reason, and influenced and affected by it, seeing that those elements are not apart from us or detached from us, or formed from outside, or hammered into us by force, but are innate in us, and ever associate with us, and are nourished within us, and abound in us through habit. Accordingly moral character is well called by the Greeks ἧθος, for it is, to speak generally, a quality of the unreasoning element in man, and is called ἧθος because the unreasoning element moulded by reason receives this quality and difference by habit, which is called ἔθος.226 Not that reason wishes to expel passion altogether (that is neither 103possible, nor advisable), but only to keep it within bounds and order, and to engender the moral virtues, which are not apathetic, but hold the due proportion and mean in regard to passion. And this she does by reducing the power of passion to a good habit. For there are said to be three things existing in the soul, power, passion, and habit. Power is the principle or matter of passion, as power to be angry, ashamed, or confident: and passion is the actual setting in motion of that power, being itself anger, confidence, or shame; and habit is the strong formation of power in the unreasoning element engendered by use, being vice if the passions are badly tutored by reason, virtue if they are well tutored.

§ v. But since they do not regard every virtue as a mean, nor call it moral, we must discuss this difference by approaching the matter more from first principles. Some things in the world exist absolutely, as the earth, the sky, the stars, and the sea; others have relation to us, as good and evil, as what is desirable or to be avoided, as pleasant and painful: and since reason has an eye to both of these classes, when it considers the former it is scientific and contemplative, when it considers the latter it is deliberative and practical. And prudence is the virtue in the latter case, as knowledge in the former. And there is this difference between prudence and knowledge, prudence consists in applying the contemplative to the practical and emotional so as to make reason paramount. On which account it often needs the help of fortune; whereas knowledge needs neither the help of fortune nor deliberation to gain its ends: for it considers only things which are always the same. And as the geometrician does not deliberate about the triangle, as to whether its interior angles are together equal to two right angles, for he knows it as a fact—and deliberation only takes place in the case of things which differ at different times, not in the case of things which are certain and unchangeable—so the contemplative mind having its scope in first principles, and things that are fixed, and that ever have one nature which does not admit of change, has no need for deliberation. But prudence, which has to enter into matters full of obscurity and confusion, frequently has to take its chance, and104 to deliberate about things which are uncertain, and, in carrying the deliberation into practice, has to co-operate with the unreasoning element, which comes to its help, and is involved in its decisions, for they need an impetus. Now this impetus is given to passion by the moral character, an impetus requiring reason to regulate it, that it may render moderate and not excessive help, and at the seasonable time. For the emotional and unreasoning elements are subject to motions sometimes too quick and vehement, at other times too remiss and slow. And so everything we do may be a success from one point of view, but a failure from many points of view; as to hit the mark one thing only is requisite, but one may miss it in various ways, as one may shoot beyond or too short. This then is the function of practical reason following nature, to prevent our passions going either too far or too short. For where from weakness and want of strength, or from fear and hesitation, the impetus gives in and abandons what is good, there reason is by to stir it up and rekindle it; and where on the other hand it goes ahead too fast and in disorder, there it represses and checks its zeal. And thus setting bounds to the emotional motions, it engenders in the unreasoning part of the soul moral virtues, which are the mean between excess and deficiency. Not that we can say that all virtue exists in the mean, but knowledge and prudence being in no need of the unreasoning element, and being situated in the pure and unemotional part of the soul, is a complete perfection and power of reason, whereby we get the most divine and happy fruit of understanding. But that virtue which is necessary because of the body, and needs the help of the passions as an instrument towards the practical, not destroying or doing away with but ordering and regulating the unreasoning part of the soul, is perfection as regards its power and quality, but in quantity it is a mean correcting both excess and deficiency.

§ vi. But since the word mean has a variety of meanings—for there is one kind of mean compounded of two simple extremes, as grey is the mean between white and black; and there is another kind of mean, where that which contains and is contained is the mean between the containing and contained, as eight is the mean between twelve and105 four; and there is a third kind of mean which has part in neither extreme, as the indifferent is the mean between good and bad,—virtue cannot be a mean in any of these ways. For neither is it a mixture of vices, nor containing that which is defective is it contained by that which is excessive, nor is it again altogether free from, emotional storms of passion, wherein are excess and deficiency. But it is, and is commonly so called, a mean like that in music and harmony. For as in music there is a middle note between the highest and lowest in the scale, which being perfectly in tune avoids the sharpness of the one and the flatness of the other; so virtue, being a motion and power in the unreasoning part of the soul, takes away the remissness and strain, and generally speaking the excess and defect of the appetite, by reducing each of the passions to a state of mean and rectitude. For example, they tell us that bravery is the mean between cowardice and foolhardiness, whereof the former is a defect, the latter an excess of anger: and that liberality is the mean between stinginess and prodigality: and that meekness is the mean between insensibility and savageness: and so of temperance and justice, that the latter, being concerned with contracts, is to assign neither too much nor too little to litigants, and that the former ever reduces the passions to the proper mean between apathy (or insensibility) and gross intemperance. This last illustration serves excellently to show us the radical difference between the unreasoning and reasoning parts of the soul, and to prove to us that passion and reason are wide as the poles asunder. For the difference would not be discernible between temperance and continence, nor between intemperance and incontinence, in pleasure and desires, if the appetite and judgement were in the same portion of the soul. Now temperance is a state, wherein reason holds the reins, and manages the passions as a quiet and well-broken-in animal, finding them obedient and submissive to the reins and masters over their desires.227 Continence on the other hand is not driven by reason without some trouble, not being docile but jibbing and 106kicking, like an animal compelled by bit and bridle and whip and backing, being in itself full of struggles and commotion. Plato explains this by his simile of the chariot-horses of the soul, the worse one of which ever kicking against the other and disturbing the charioteer, he is obliged ever to hold them in with all his might, and to tighten the reins, lest, to borrow the language of Simonides, “he should drop from his hands the purple reins.” And so they do not consider continence to be an absolute virtue, but something less than a virtue; for no mean arises from the concord of the worse with the better, nor is the excess of the passion curtailed, nor does the appetite obey or act in unison with reason, but it both gives and suffers trouble, and is constrained by force, and is as it were an enemy in a town given up to faction.
“The town is full of incense, and at once Resounds with triumph-songs and bitter wailing.”228

Such is the state of soul of the continent person owing to his conflicting condition. On the same grounds they consider incontinence to be something less than vice, but intemperance to be a complete vice. For it, having both its appetite and reason depraved, is by the one carried away to desire disgraceful things,229 by the other, through bad judgement consenting to desire, loses even the perception of wrongdoing. But incontinence keeps its judgement sound through reason, but is carried away against its judgement by passion which is too strong for reason, whence it differs from intemperance. For in the one case reason is mastered by passion, in the other it does not even make a fight against it, in the one case it opposes its desires even when it follows them, in the other it is their advocate and even leader, in the one case it gladly participates in what is wrong, in the other sorrowfully, in the one case it willingly rushes into what is disgraceful, in the other it abandons the honourable unwillingly. And as there is a difference in their deeds, so no less manifest is the difference 107in their language. For these are the expressions of the intemperate. “What grace or pleasure in life is there without golden Aphrodite? May I die, when I care no longer for these things!” And another says, “To eat, to drink, to enjoy the gifts of Aphrodite is everything, for all other things I look upon as supplementary,” as if from the bottom of his soul he gave himself up to pleasures, and was completely subverted by them. And not less so he who said, “Let me be ruined, it is best for me,” had his judgement diseased through his passion. But the sayings of incontinence are quite different, as
“My nature forces me against my judgement,”230

and
“Alas! it is poor mortals’ plague and bane, To know the good, yet not the good pursue.”231

And again—
“My anger draws me on, has no control, ‘Tis but a sandy hook against a tempest.”

Here he compares not badly to a sandy hook, a sorry kind of anchor, the soul that is unsettled and has no steady reason, but surrenders judgment through flabbiness and feebleness. And not unlike this image are the lines,
“As some ship moored and fastened to the shore, If the wind blows, the cables cannot hold it.”

By cables he means the judgement which resists what is disgraceful, though sometimes it gives way under a tremendous storm of passion. For indeed it is with full sail that the intemperate man is borne on to pleasure by his desires, and surrenders himself to them, and even plays the part of pilot to the vessel; whereas the incontinent man is dragged sidelong into the disgraceful, and is its victim, as it were, while he desires eagerly to resist and overcome his passion, as Timon bantered Anaxarchus: “The recklessness and frantic energy of Anaxarchus to rush anywhere seemed like a dog’s courage, but he being aware of it was miserable, so people said, but his voluptuous nature ever plunged him into excesses again, nature which even 108most sophists are afraid of.” For neither is the wise man continent but temperate, nor the fool incontinent but intemperate; for the one delights in what is good, and the other is not vexed at what is bad. Incontinence, therefore, is a mark of a sophistical soul, endued with reason which cannot abide by what it knows to be right.

§ vii. Such, then, are the differences between incontinence and intemperance, and continence and temperance have their counterpart and analogous differences; for remorse and trouble and annoyance are companions of continence, whereas in the soul of the temperate person there is everywhere such equability and calm and soundness, by which the unreasoning is adjusted and harmonized to reason, being adorned with obedience and wonderful mildness, that looking at it you would say with the poet, “At once the wind was laid, and a wondrous calm ensued, for the god allayed the fury of the waves,”232 reason having extinguished the vehement and furious and frantic motions of the desires, and making those which nature necessarily requires sympathetic and obedient and friendly and co-operative in carrying purposes out in action, so that they do not outrun or come short of reason, or behave disorderly and disobediently, but that every appetite is tractable, “as sucking foal runs by the side of its dam.”233 And this confirms the saying of Xenocrates about true philosophers, that they alone do willingly what all others do unwillingly at the compulsion of the law, as dogs are turned away from their pleasures by a blow, or cats by a noise, looking at nothing but their danger. It is clear then that there is in the soul a perception of such a generic and specific difference in relation to the desires, as of something fighting against and opposing them. But some say that there is no radical distinction difference or variance between reason and passion, but that there is a shifting of one and the same reason from one to the other, which escapes our notice owing to the sharpness and quickness of the change, so that we do not see at a glance that desire and repentance, anger and fear, giving way to what is disgraceful 109through passion, and recovery from the same, are the same natural property of the soul. For desire and fear and anger and the like they consider only depraved opinions and judgements, not in one portion of the soul only but in all its leading principles, inclinations and yieldings, and assents and impulses, and generally speaking in its energies soon changed, like the sallies of children, whose fury and excessive violence is unstable by reason of their weakness. But these views are, in the first place, contrary to evidence and observation; for no one observes in himself a change from passion to judgement, and from judgement back to passion; nor does anyone cease from loving when he reflects that it would be well to break the affair off and strive with all his might against it; nor again, does he put on one side reflection and judgement, when he gives way and is overcome by desire. Moreover, when he resists passion by reason, he does not escape passion altogether; nor again, when he is mastered by passion does he fail to discern his fault through reason: so that neither by passion does he abolish reason, nor does he by reason get rid of passion, but is tossed about to and fro alternately between passion and reason. And those who suppose that the leading principle in the soul is at one time desire, and at another time reason in opposition to desire, are not unlike people who would make the hunter and the animal he hunts one and the same person, but alternately changing from hunter to animal, from animal to hunter. As their eyesight is plainly deficient, so these are faulty in regard to their perceptions, seeing that they must perceive in themselves not a change of one and the same thing, but a difference and struggle between two opposing elements. “What then,” say they, “does not the deliberative element in a man often hold different views, and is it not swayed to different opinions as to expediency, and yet it is one and the same thing?” Certainly, I reply; but the case is not similar. For the rational part of the soul does not fight against itself, but though it has only one faculty, it makes use of different reasonings; or rather the reasoning is one, but employs itself in different subjects as on different matter. And so there is neither pain in reasonings without passion, nor are men compelled, as it were, to choose something contrary to110 their judgement, unless indeed some passion, as in a balance, secretly predominates in the scale. For this often happens, reason not opposing reason, but ambition, or contention, or favour, or jealousy, or fear opposing reason, that we do but think there is a difference between two reasons, as in the line, “They were ashamed to refuse, and feared to accept,”234 or, “To die in battle is dreadful but glorious; but not to die, though cowardly, is more pleasant.” Moreover, in judgements about contracts passions come in and cause the greatest delay; and in the councils of kings those who speak to ingratiate themselves do not favour either of the two cases, but give themselves up to passion without regard to what is expedient; and so those that rule in aristocracies do not allow orators to be pathetic in their pleadings. For reasoning without passion has a direct tendency to justice, while if passion is infused, a contest and difference is excited between pleasure and pain on the one hand, and judgement and justice on the other. For otherwise how is it that in philosophical speculations people are with little pain frequently induced by others to change their opinions, and even Aristotle himself and Democritus and Chrysippus have rejected without trouble or pain, and even with pleasure, some of the opinions which they formerly advocated? For no passion stands in the way in the theoretic and scientific part of the soul, and the unreasoning element is quiet and gives no trouble therein. And so reason gladly inclines to the truth, when it is evident, and abandons error; for in it, and not in passion, lies a willingness to listen to conviction and to change one’s opinions on conviction. But the deliberations and judgements and arbitrations of most people as to matters of fact being mixed up with passion, give reason no easy or pleasant access, as she is held fast and incommoded by the unreasonable, which assails her through pleasure, or fear, or pain, or desire. And the decision in these cases lies with sense which has dealings with both passion and reason, for if one gets the better of the other the other is not destroyed, but only dragged along by force in spite of its resistance. For he who is dissatisfied with himself for 111falling in love calls in reason to his aid to overcome his passion, for both reason and passion are in his soul, and he perceives they are contrary one to the other, and violently represses the inflammatory one of the two. On the other hand, in deliberations and speculations without passion (such as the contemplative part of the soul is most conversant with), if they are evenly balanced no decision takes place, but the matter is left in doubt, which is a sort of stationary position of the mind in conflicting arguments. But should there be any inclination to one of the two sides, the most powerful opinion carries the day, yet without giving pain or creating hostility. And, generally speaking, when reason seems opposed to reason, there is no perception of two distinct things, but only of one under different phases, whereas when the unreasoning has a controversy with reason, since there can be no victory or defeat without pain, forthwith they tear the soul in two,235 and make the difference between them apparent.

§ viii. And not only from their contest, but quite as much from their agreement, can we see that the source of the passions is something quite distinct from that of reason. For since236 one may love either a good and excellent child or a bad and vicious one, and be unreasonably angry with one’s children or parents, yet in behalf of them show a just anger against enemies or tyrants; as in the one case there is the perception of a difference and struggle between passion and reason, so in the other there is a perception of persuasion and agreement inclining, as it were, the scale, and giving their help. Moreover a good man marrying a wife according to the laws is minded to associate and live with her justly and soberly, but as time goes on, his intercourse with her having engendered a strong passion for her, he perceives that his love and affection are increased by reason. Just so, again, young fellows falling in with kindly teachers at first submit themselves to them out of necessity and emulation for learning, but end by loving them, and instead of being their pupils and scholars become and get the title of their lovers. The same is the case in cities in respect to good 112magistrates, and neighbours, and connections by marriage; for beginning at first to associate with one another from necessity and propriety, they afterwards go on to love almost insensibly, reason drawing over and persuading the emotional element. And he who said—
“There are two kinds of shame, the one not bad, The other a sad burden to a family,”237

is it not clear that he felt this emotion in himself often contrary to reason and detrimental by hesitation and delay to opportunities and actions?

§ ix. In a certain sense yielding to the force of these arguments, they call shame modesty, pleasure joy, and timidity caution; nor would anyone blame them for this euphemism, if they only gave those specious names to the emotions that are consistent with reason, while they gave other kinds of names to those emotions that resist and do violence to reason. But whenever, though convicted by their tears and tremblings and changes of colour, they avoid the terms pain and fear, and speak of bitings and states of excitement, and gloss over the passions by calling them inclinations, they seem to contrive evasions and flights from facts by names sophistical, and not philosophical. And yet again they seem to use words rightly when they call those joys and wishes and cautions not apathies but good conditions of the mind. For it is a happy disposition of the soul when reason does not annihilate passion, but orders and arranges it in the case of temperate persons. But what is the condition of worthless and incontinent persons, who, when they judge they ought to love their father and mother better than some boy or girl they are enamoured of, yet cannot, and yet at once love their mistress or flatterer, when they judge they ought to hate them? For if passion and judgement were the same thing, love and hate would immediately follow the judging it right to love and hate, whereas the contrary happens, passion following some judgements, but declining to follow others. Wherefore they acknowledge, the facts compelling them to do so, that every judgement is not passion, but only that judgement that is provocative of violent and excessive impulse: ad113mitting that judgement and passion in us are something different, as what moves is different from what is moved. Even Chrysippus himself, by his defining in many places endurance and continence to be habits that follow the lead of reason, proves that he is compelled by the facts to admit, that that element in us which follows absolutely is something different from that which follows when persuaded, but resists when not persuaded.

§ x. Now as to those who make all sins and offences equal, it is not now the occasion to discuss if in other respects they deviate from truth: but as regards the passions238 they seem to go clean contrary to reason and evidence. For according to them every passion is a sin, and everyone who grieves, or fears, or desires, commits sin. But in good truth it is evident that there are great differences between passions, according as one is more or less affected by them. For who would say that the craven fear of Dolon239 was not something very different from the fear of Ajax, “who retreated with his face to the enemy and at a foot’s pace, drawing back slowly knee after knee”?240 Or who would say that the grief of Plato at the death of Socrates was identical with the grief of Alexander at the death of Clitus, when he attempted to lay violent hands on himself? For grief is beyond measure intensified by falling out against expectation: and the calamity that comes unlooked for is more painful than that we may reasonably fear: as if when expecting to see one’s friend basking in prosperity and admiration, one should hear that he had been put to the torture, as Parmenio heard about Philotas. And who would say that the anger of Magas against Philemon was equal to that of Nicocreon against Anaxarchus? Both Magas and Nicocreon had been insulted, but whereas Nicocreon brayed Anaxarchus to death with iron pestles and made mincemeat of him, Magas contented himself with bidding the executioner lay his naked sword on Philemon’s neck, and then let him go.241 And so Plato called anger the 114nerves of the mind, since it can be both intensified by bitterness, and slackened by mildness. To evade these and similar arguments, they deny that intensity and excess of passion are according to judgement, wherein is the propensity to fault, but maintain that they are bites and contractions and diffusings capable of increase or diminution through the unreasoning element. And yet it is evident that there are differences as regards judgements; for some judge poverty to be no evil, while others judge it to be a great evil, and others again the very greatest evil, insomuch that they even throw themselves headlong down rocks and into the sea on account of it. Again as to death, some think it an evil only in depriving us of good things, whereas others think it so in regard to eternal punishments and awful torments in the world below. Health again is valued by some as natural and advantageous, while to others it seems the greatest blessing of life, in comparison with which they reckon little either of wealth or children or “royal power that makes one equal to the gods,” and at last come to think even virtue useless and unprofitable, if health be absent. Thus it is clear that even with regard to judgements themselves some err more, some less. But I shall bring no further proof of this now, but this one may assume therefrom, that they themselves concede that the unreasoning element is something different from judgement, in that they allow that by it passion becomes greater and more violent, and while they quarrel about the name and word they give up the thing itself to those who maintain that the emotional and unreasoning part of the soul is distinct from the reasoning and judging element. And in his treatise on Anomaly,242 Chrysippus, after telling us that anger is blind, and frequently does not let one see what is obvious, frequently also obscures what we do get a sight of, goes on to say, “The encroachment of the passions blots out reason, and makes things look different to what they should look, violently forcing people on unreasonable acts.” And he quotes as witness Menander, who says, “Alas! 115poor me, wherever were my brains in my body at the time when I chose that line of conduct, and not this?” And Chrysippus proceeds, “Though every living creature endowed with reason is naturally inclined to use reason and to be governed by it on every occasion, yet often do we reject it, being borne away by a more violent impulse;” thus admitting what results from the difference between passion and reason. For otherwise it is ridiculous, as Plato says, to argue that a man is sometimes better than himself, sometimes worse, sometimes master of himself, sometimes not master of himself.

§ xi. For how is it possible that the same person can be both better and worse than himself, both master of himself and not master, unless everyone is in some way twofold, having in himself both a better and worse self? For so he that makes the baser element subject to the better has self-control and is a superior man, whereas he who allows the nobler element of the soul to follow and be subservient to the incorrigible and unreasoning element, is inferior to what he might be, and is called incontinent, and is in an unnatural condition. For by nature it appertains to reason, which is divine, to rule and govern the unreasoning element, which has its origin from the body, which it also naturally resembles and participates in its passions, being placed in it and mixed up with it, as is proved by the impulses to bodily delights, which are always fierce or languid according to the changes of the body. And so it is that young men are keen and vehement in their desires, being red hot and raging from their fulness of blood and animal heat, whereas with old men the liver, which is the seat of desire, is dried up and weak and feeble, and reason has more power with them than passion which decays with the body. This principle also no doubt characterizes the nature of animals as regards the sexual appetite. For it is not of course from any fitness or unfitness of opinions, that some animals are so bold and resolute in the presence of danger, while others are helpless and full of fear and trembling; but this difference of emotion is produced by the workings of the blood and spirit and body, the emotional part growing out of the flesh, as from a root, and carrying along with it its quality and temperament. And that the body of man116 sympathizes with and is affected by the emotional impulses is proved by pallors, and blushings, and tremblings, and palpitations of the heart, as on the other hand by an all-pervading joy in the hope and expectation of pleasures. But whenever the mind is by itself and unmoved by passion, the body is in repose and at rest, having no participation or share in the working of the intellect, unless it involve the emotional, or the unreasoning element call it in. So that it is clear that there are two distinct parts of the soul differing from one another in their faculties.

§ xii. And generally speaking of all existing things, as they themselves admit and is clear, some are governed by nature, some by habit, some by an unreasoning soul, some by a soul that has reason and intelligence. Man too participates in all this, and is subject to all those differences here mentioned, for he is affected by habit, and nourished by nature, and uses reason and intelligence. He has also a share of the unreasoning element, and has the principle of passion innate in him, not as a mere episode in his life but as a necessity, which ought not therefore to be entirely rooted out, but requires care and attention. For the function of reason is no Thracian or Lycurgean one to root up and destroy all the good elements in passion indiscriminately with the bad, but, as some genial and mild god, to prune what is wild, and to correct disproportion, and after that to train and cultivate the useful part. For as those who are afraid to get drunk do not pour on the ground their wine, but mix it with water, so those who are afraid of the disturbing element in passion do not eradicate passion altogether but temper it. Similarly with oxen and horses people try to restrain their mad bounds and restiveness, not their movements and powers of work, and so reason makes use of the passions when they have become tame and docile, not by cutting out the sinews or altogether mutilating the serviceable part of the soul. For as Pindar says, “The horse to the chariot, and the ox to the plough, while he that meditates destruction for the boar must find a staunch hound.”243 But much more useful than these are the whole tribe of passions when they wait on reason and 117run parallel to virtue. Thus moderate anger is useful to courage, and hatred of evil to uprightness, and righteous indignation against those who are fortunate beyond their deserts, when they are inflamed in their souls with folly and insolence and need a check. And no one if they wished could pluck away or sever244 natural affection from friendship, or pity from philanthropy, or sympathy both in joy and grief from genuine goodwill. And if those err who wish to banish love because of erotic madness, neither are they right who blame all desire because of love of money, but they act like people who refuse to run because they might stumble, or to throw because they might throw wide of the mark, or object to sing altogether because they might make a false note. For as in sounds music does not create melody by the banishment of sharps and flats, and as in bodies the art of the physician procures health not by the doing away of cold and heat but by their being blended in due proportions and quantities, so is victory won in the soul by the powers and motions of the passions being reduced by reason to moderation and due proportion. For excessive grief or fear or joy in the soul (I speak not of mere joy grief or fear), resembles a body swollen or inflamed. And Homer when he says excellently,
“The brave man’s colour never changes, nor Is he much frightened,”245

does not take away all fear but only excessive fear, that bravery may not become recklessness, nor confidence foolhardiness. So also in regard to pleasure we must do away with excessive desire, and in regard to vengeance with excessive hatred of evil. For so in the former case one will not be apathetic but temperate, and in the latter one will not be savage or cruel but just. But if the passions were entirely removed, supposing that to be possible, reason would become in many duller and blunter, like the pilot in the absence of a storm. And no doubt it is from having noticed this that legislators try to excite in states ambition and emulation among their townsmen, and stir up and increase their courage and pugnacity against enemies 118by the sound of trumpets and flutes. For it is not only in poems, as Plato says, that he that is inspired by the Muses, and as it were possessed by them, will laugh to shame the plodding artist, but also in fighting battles passion and enthusiasm will be irresistible and invincible, such as Homer makes the gods inspire men with, as in the line,
“Thus speaking he infused great might in Hector, The shepherd of the people.”246

and,
“He is not mad like this without the god,”247

as if the god had added passion to reason as an incitement and spur. And you may see those very persons, whose opinions I am combating, frequently urging on the young by praises, and frequently checking them by rebukes, though pleasure follows the one, pain the other. For rebukes and censure produce repentance and shame, the one bringing grief, the other fear, and these they mostly make use of for purposes of correction. And so Diogenes, when Plato was being praised, said, “What has he to vaunt of, who has been a philosopher so long, and yet never gave pain to anyone?” For one could not say, to use the words of Xenocrates, that the mathematics are such handles to philosophy as are the emotions of young men, such as shame, desire, repentance, pleasure, pain, ambition, whereon reason and the law laying a suitable grip succeed in putting the young man on the right road. So that it was no bad remark of the Lacedæmonian tutor, that he would make the boy entrusted to his charge pleased with what was good and displeased with what was bad,248 for a higher or nobler aim cannot be proposed in the education fit for a freeborn lad.

219 See “Meno,” p. 72, A.

220 Omitting ἕτερα, which Reiske justly suspects.

221 Reading πρῶτον with Wyttenbach.

222 Homer, “Odyssey,” xix. 208-212.

223 As in the story in “Gil Blas” of the person who, after eating a ragout of rabbit, was told it was a ragout of cat.—Book X. chapter xii.

224 As to Amœbeus, see Athenæus, p. 623. D.

225 “Iliad,” xvi. 167.

226 Generally speaking ἔθος is the habit, ἦθος the moral character generated by habit. The former is Aristotle’s ἐνέργεια, the latter his ἕξις.

227 I have adopted, it will be seen, the suggestion of Wyttenbach, “τῷ λογισμῷ mutandum videtur in τὸν χαλινόν.”

228 Sophocles, “Œdipus Tyrannus,” 4, 5. Quoted by our author again “On Abundance of Friends,” § vi.

229 Reading with “Reiske,” ἐξάγεται πρὸς τὸ ἐπιθυμεῖν τὰ αἰσχρά.

230 In the “Chrysippus” of Euripides, Fragm.

231 Compare Romans viii. 19.

232 “Odyssey,” xii. 168, 169.

233 This line is from Simonides, and is quoted again in “How one may be aware of one’s Progress in Virtue,” § xiv.

234 “Iliad,” vii. 93.

235 Reading with Reiske, εἰς δύο.

236 Reading ἐτεὶ with Reiske and Wyttenbach.

237 Euripides, “Hippolytus” 385, 386.

238 Reading with Reiske πάθεσι for πλείοσι.

239 See “Iliad,” x. 374, sq.

240 “Iliad,” xi. 547.

241 “De Anaxarchi supplicio nota res. v. Menage ad Diog. Läert. 9, 59. De Magae, reguli Cyrenarum, adversus Philemonem lenitate v. De Cohibenda Ira, § ix.”—Reiske.

242 “Celebres fuere quondam Chrysippi sex libri περὶ τῆς κατὰ τὰς λήξεις ἀνωμαλίας, in quibus auctore Varrone, propositum habuit ostendere, similes res dissimilibus verbis et similibus dissimiles esse notatas vocabulis. v. Menage ad Diog. Läert. 7, 192.”—Reiske.

243 Compare “On Contentedness of Mind,” § xiii.

244 Reading with Reiske, ἀποῤῥήξειεν.

245 “Iliad,” xiii. 284, 285.

246 “Iliad,” xv. 262.

247 “Iliad,” v. 185.

248 Compare “That Virtue may be Taught,” § ii.



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Translated with notes and index Arthur Richard Shillitoe, MA. The copyright for the original of this document is held in the Public Domain. Font, formatting, spelling modernizations, typo/transcription corrections, and explanatory footnotes for this version of Plutarch’s “Morals” Copyright © 2011 Steve Farrell and The Moral Liberal.