Pliny the Elder


Pliny. Natural History, Volume I: Books 1-2. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library 330. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2022, from

V. For this reason I deem it a mark of human weakness to seek to discover the shape and form of God. Whoever God is—provided there is a God—and in whatever region he is, he consists wholly of sense, sight and hearing, wholly of soul, wholly of mind, wholly of himself. To believe in gods without number, and gods corresponding to men’s vices as well as to their virtues, like the Goddesses of Modesty, Concord, Intelligence, Hope, Honour, Mercy and Faith—or else, as Democritus held, only two, Punishment and Reward, reaches an even greater height of folly. Frail, toiling mortality, remembering its own weakness, has divided such deities into groups, so as to worship in sections, each the deity he is most in need of. Consequently different races have different names for the deities, and we find countless deities in the same races, even those of the lower world being classified into groups, and diseases and also many forms of plague, in our nervous anxiety to get them placated. Because of this there is actually a Temple of Fever consecrated by the nation on the Palatine Hill, and one of Bereavement at the Temple of the Household Deities, and an Altar of Misfortune on the Esquiline. For this reason we can infer a larger population of celestials than of human beings, as individuals also make an equal number of gods on their own, by adopting their own private Junos and Genii; while certain nations have animals, even some loathsome ones, for gods, and many things still more disgraceful to tell of—swearing by rotten articles of food and other things of that sort. To believe even in marriages taking place between gods, without anybody all through the long ages of time being born as a result of them, and that some are always old and grey, others youths and boys, and gods with dusky complexions, winged, lame, born from eggs, living and dying on alternate days—this almost ranks with the mad fancies of children; but it passes all bounds of shamelessness to invent acts of adultery taking place between the gods themselves, followed by altercation and enmity, and the existence of deities of theft and of crime. For mortal to aid mortal—this is god; and this is the road to eternal glory: by this road went our Roman chieftains… To enrol such men among the deities is the most ancient method of paying them gratitude for their benefactions. In fact the names of the other gods, and also of the stars that I have mentioned above, originated from the services of men: at all events who would not admit that it is the interpretation of men’s characters that prompts them to call each other Jupiter or Mercury or other names, and that originates the nomenclature of heaven? That that supreme being, whatever it be, pays heed to man’s affairs is a ridiculous notion. Can we believe that it would not be defiled by so gloomy and so multifarious a duty? Can we doubt it? It is scarcely pertinent to determine which is more profitable for the human race, when some men pay no regard to the gods at all and the regard paid by others is of a shameful nature: they serve as the lackeys of foreign ritual, and they carry gods on their fingers; also they pass sentence of punishment upon the monsters they worship, and devise elaborate viands for them; they subject themselves to awful tyrannies, so as to find no repose even in sleep; they do not decide on marriage or having a family or indeed anything else except by the command of sacrifices; others cheat in the very Capitol and swear false oaths by Jupiter who wields the thunderbolts—and these indeed make a profit out of their crimes, whereas the others are penalized by their religious observances.
Nevertheless mortality has rendered our guesses about God even more obscure by inventing for itself a deity intermediate between these two conceptions. Everywhere in the whole world at every hour by all men’s voices Fortune alone is invoked and named, alone accused, alone impeached, alone pondered, alone applauded, alone rebuked and visited with reproaches; deemed volatile and indeed by most men blind as well, wayward, inconstant, uncertain, fickle in her favours and favouring the unworthy. To her is debited all that is spent and credited all that is received, she alone fills both pages in the whole of mortals’ account; and we are so much at the mercy of chance that Chance herself, by whom God is proved uncertain, takes the place of God. Another set of people banishes fortune also, and attributes events to its star and to the laws of birth, holding that for all men that ever are to be God’s decree has been enacted once for all, while for the rest of time leisure has been vouchsafed to Him. This belief begins to take root, and the learned and unlearned mob alike go marching on towards it at the double: witness the warnings drawn from lightning, the forecasts made by oracles, the prophecies of augurs, and even inconsiderable trifles—a sneeze, a stumble—counted as omens. His late Majesty put abroad a story that on the day on which he was almost overthrown by a mutiny in the army he had put his left boot on the wrong foot. This series of instances entangles unforeseeing mortality, so that among these things but one thing is in the least certain—that nothing certain exists, and that nothing is more pitiable, or more presnmptuous, than man! inasmuch as with the rest of living creatures their sole anxiety is for the means of life, in which nature’s bounty of itself suffices, the one blessing indeed that is actually preferable to every other being the fact that they do not think about glory, money, ambition, and above all death.
But it agrees with life’s experience to believe that in these matters the gods exercise an interest in human affairs; and that punishment for wickedness, though sometimes tardy, as God is occupied in so vast a mass of things, yet is never frustrated; and that man was not born God’s next of kin for the purpose of approximating to the beasts in vileness. But the chief consolations for nature’s imperfection in the case of man are that not even for God are all things possible—for he cannot, even if he wishes, commit suicide, the supreme boon that he has bestowed on man among all the penalties of life… nor cause a man that has lived not to have lived or one that has held high office not to have held it—and that he has no power over what is past save to forget it, and (to link our fellowship with God by means of frivolous arguments as well) that he cannot cause twice ten not to be twenty, or do many things on similar lines: which facts unquestionably demonstrate the power of nature, and prove that it is this that we mean by the word ‘God.’ It will not have been irrelevant to have diverged to these topics, which have already been widely disseminated because of the unceasing enquiry into the nature of God.
LXIII. Next comes the earth, the one division of the natural world on which for its merits we have bestowed the venerable title of mother. She belongs to men as the sky belongs to God: she receives us at birth, and gives us nurture after birth, and when once brought forth she upholds us always, and at the last when we have now been disinherited by the rest of nature she embraces us in her bosom and at that very time gives us her maternal shelter; sanctified by no service more than that whereby she makes us also sacred, even bearing our monuments and epitaphs and prolonging our name and extending our memory against the shortness of time; whose divinity is the last which in anger we invoke to lie heavy on those who are now no more, as though we did not know that she is the only element that is never wroth with man. Water rises in mist, freezes into hail, swells in waves, falls headlong in torrents; air becomes thick with clouds and rages with storms; but earth is kind and gentle and indulgent, ever a handmaid in the service of mortals, producing under our compulsion, or lavishing of her own accord, what scents and savours, what juices, what surfaces for the touch, what colours! how honestly she repays the interest lent her! what produce she fosters for our benefit! since for living creatures that are noxious the breath of life is to blame—she is compelled to receive them when their seed is sown and to maintain them when they have been born; but their harm lies in the evils of those that generate them. When a serpent has stung a man she harbours it no more, and she exacts retribution even on the account of the helpless; she produces medicinal herbs, and is ever fertile for man’s benefit; nay, even poisons she may be thought to have invented out of compassion for us, lest, when we were weary of life, hunger, the death most alien to earth’s beneficence, should consume us with slow decay, lest precipices should scatter in fragments our lacerated body, lest departure it is seeking; lest if we sought death in the deep our burial should serve for fodder; lest the torture of the steel should cleave our body. So is it! in mercy did she generate the potion whereof the easiest draught—as men drink when thirsty—gifts might painlessly just blot us out, without injury to the body or loss of blood, in such wise that when dead no birds nor beasts should touch us, and one that had perished for himself should be preserved for the earth. Let us own the truth: what earth has produced as a cure for our ills, we have made into a deadly poison; why, do we not also put her indispensable gift of iron to a similar use? Nor yet should we have any right to complain even if she had engendered poison to serve the purpose of crime. In fact in regard to one of nature’s elements we have no gratitude. For what luxuries and for what outrageous uses does she not subserve mankind? She is flung into the sea, or dug away to allow us to let in the channels. Water, iron, wood, fire, stone, growing crops, are employed to torture her at all hours, and much more to make her minister to our luxuries than our sustenance. Yet in order to make the sufferings inflicted on her surface and mere outer skin seem endurable, we probe her entrails, digging into her veins of gold and silver and mines of copper and lead; we actually drive shafts down into the depth to search for gems and certain tiny stones; we drag out her entrails, we seek a jewel merely to be worn upon a finger! How many hands are worn away with toil that a single knuckle may shine resplendent! If any beings of the nether world existed, assuredly even they would have been dug up ere now by the burrowings of avarice and luxury. And can we wonder if earth has also generated some creatures for our harm? since the wild animals, I well believe, are her guardians, and protect her from sacrilegious hands; do not serpents infest our mines, do we not handle veins of gold mingled with the roots of poison? Yet that shows the goddess all the kinder towards us, because all these avenues from which wealth issues lead but to crime and slaughter and warfare, and her whom we besprinkle with our blood we cover with unburied bones, over which nevertheless, when at length our madness has been finally discharged, she draws herself as a veil, and hides even the crimes of mortals.
I would reckon this too among the crimes of our ingratitude, that we are ignorant of her nature.


Pliny. Natural History, Volume II: Books 3-7. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library 352. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1942. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2022, from

THE above is a description of the world, and of the lands, races, seas, important rivers, islands and cities that it contains.
The nature of the animals also contained in it is not less important than the study of almost any other department, albeit here too the human mind is not capable of exploring the whole field.
The first place will rightly be assigned to man, for whose sake [great] Nature appears to have created all other things—thongh she asks a cruel price for all her generous gifts, making it hardly possible to judge whether she has been more a kind parent to man or more a harsh stepmother. First of all, man alone of all animals she drapes with borrowed resources. On all the rest in various wise she bestows coverings—shells, bark, spines, hides, fur, bristles, hair, down, feathers, scales, fleeces; even the trunks of trees she has protected against cold and heat by bark, sometimes in two layers: but man alone on the day of his birth she casts away naked on the naked ground, to burst at once into wailing and weeping, and none other among all the animals is more prone to tears, and that immediately at the very beginning of life; whereas, I vow, the much-talked-of smile of infancy even at the earliest is bestowed on no child less than six weeks old. This initiation into the light is followed by a period of bondage such as befalls not even the animals bred in our midst, fettering all his limbs; and thus when successfully born he lies with hands and feet in shackles, weeping—the animal that is to lord it over all the rest, and he initiates his life with punishment because of one fault only, the offence of being born. Alas the madness of those who think that from these beginnings they were bred to proud estate!
His earliest promise of strength and first grant of time makes him like a four-footed animal. When does man begin to walk? when to speak? when is his mouth firm enough to take food? how long does his skull throb, a mark of his being the weakest among all animals? Then his diseases, and all the cures contrived against his ills—these cures also subsequently defeated by new disorders! And the fact that all other creatures are aware of their own nature, some using speed, others swift flight, others swimming, whereas man alone knows nothing save by education—neither how to speak nor how to walk nor who to eat; in short the only thing he can do by natural instinct is to weep! Consequently there have been many who believed that it were best not to be born, or to be put away as soon as possible. On man alone of living creatures is bestowed grief, on him alone luxury, and that in countless forms and reaching every separate part of his frame; he alone has ambition, avarice, immeasurable appetite for life, superstition, anxiety about burial and even about what will happen after he is no more. No creature’s life is more precarious, none has a greater lust for all enjoyments, a more confused timidity, a fiercer rage. In fine, all other living creatures pass their time worthily among their own species: we see them herd together and stand firm against other kinds of animals—fierce lions do not fight among themselves, the serpent’s bite attacks not serpents, even the monsters of the sea and the fishes are only cruel against different species; whereas to man, I vow, most of his evils come from his fellowman.
I. And about the human race as a whole we have in large part spoken in our account of the various nations. Nor shall we now deal with manners and customs, which are beyond counting and almost as numerous as the groups of mankind; yet there are some that I think ought not to be omitted, and especially those of the people living more remote from the sea; some things among which I doubt not will appear portentous and incredible to many. For who ever believed in the Ethiopians before actually seeing them? or what is not deemed miraculous when first it comes into knowledge? how many things are judged impossible before they actually occur? Indeed the power and majesty of the nature of the universe at every turn lacks credence if one’s mind embraces parts of it only and not the whole. Not to mention peacocks, or the spotted skins of tigers and panthers and the colourings of so many animals, a small matter to tell of but one of measureless extent if pondered on is the number of national languages and dialects and varieties of speech, so numerous that a foreigner scarcely counts as a human being for someone of another race! Again though our physiognomy contains ten features or only a few more, to think that among all the thousands of human beings there exist no two countenances that are not distinct—a thing that no art could supply by counterfeit in so small a number of specimens! Nevertheless in most instances of these I shall not myself pledge my own faith, and shall preferably ascribe the facts to the authorities who will be quoted for all doubtful points: only do not let us be too proud to follow the Greeks, because of their far greater industry or older devotion to study.
XIX. It is stated that Crassus the grandfather of Crassus who fell in Parthia never laughed, and was consequently called Agelastus, and that likewise there have been many cases of people who never wept, and that the famous philosopher Socrates always wore the same look on his countenance, never gayer and never more perturbed. This temperament sometimes develops into a kind of rigidity and a hard, unbending severity of nature, and takes away the emotions natural to humanity; persons of this sort are called ‘apathetic’ by the Greeks, who have known many men of the kind, and among them surprising to say, chiefly founders of schools of philosophy, Diogenes the Cynic, Pyrrho, Herachtus, Timo—the last indeed going as far as to hate the whole human race. But these small peculiarities of nature are known to occur variously in many persons, for instance in the case of Drusus’s daughter Antonia never spitting, in the poet and ex-consul Pomponius never belching. Persons whose bones are by nature solid, a rather rare class, are called ‘horny.’
XXXI. Persons who have surpassed the rest of mortal kind in the remaining gifts of the mind are: in wisdom, the people who on this account won at Rome the surnames of Wise and Sage, and in Greece Socrates, whom Pythian Apollo’s oracle placed before all other men.
XXXII. Again, partnership with the oracles was bestowed by mortals on the Spartan Chilo, by canonizing in letters of gold at Delphi his three precepts, which are these: Know thyself; Desire nothing too much; The comrade of debt and litigation is misery. Moreover when he expired from joy on his son’s being victorious at Olympia, the whole of Greece followed in his funeral procession.
XL. The one race of outstanding eminence in virtue among all the races in the whole world is undoubtedly the Roman. What human being has had the greatest happiness is not a question for human judgement, since prosperity itself different people define in different ways and each according to his own temperament. If we wish to make a true judgement and discard all fortune’s pomp in deciding the point, none among mortals is happy. Fortune deals lavishly and makes an indulgent bargain with the man whom it is possible justly to pronounce not unhappy. In fact, apart from other considerations, assuredly there is a fear that fortune may grow weary, and this fear once entertained, happiness has no firm foundation. What of the proverb that none among mortals is wise all the time? And would that as many men as possible may deem this proverb false, and not as the utterance of a prophet! Mortality, being so vain and so ingenious in self-deception, makes its calculation after the manner of the Thracian tribe that puts stone counters of different colours corresponding to each day’s experience in an urn, and on the last day sorts them and counts them out and thus pronounces judgement about each individual. What of the fact that the very day commended by that stone of brilliant whiteness contained the source of misfortune? How many men have been overthrown by attaining power! How many have been ruined and plunged into the direst torments by wealth! Wealth forsooth it is called if a man has had an hour of joy while surrounded by it. So doubtless is it! Different days pass verdict on different men and only the last day a final verdict on all men; and consequently no day is to be trusted. What of the fact that goods are not equal to evils even if of equal number, and that no joy can counterbalance the smallest grief? Alas what vain and foolish application! we count the number of the days, when it is their weight that is in question!


Pliny. Natural History, Volume IV: Books 12-16. Translated by H. Rackham. Loeb Classical Library 370. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1945. Internet Archive. Retrieved 2022, from

I. SO far we have been dealing mostly with foreign trees that cannot be trained to grow elsewhere than in their place of origin and that refuse to be naturalized in strange countries. We may now speak of those common to various countries, of all of which Italy can be thought to be the special parent. Only it must be remembered by the student that for the present we are specifying their natures and not their modes of cultivation, although actually a very large factor in the nature of a tree is due to its cultivation. There is one thing at which I cannot sufficiently wonder—that of some trees the very memory has perished, and even the names recorded by authors have passed out of knowledge. For who would not admit that now that intercommunication has been established throughout the world by the majesty of the Roman Empire, life has been advanced by the interchange of commodities and by partnership in the blessings of peace, and that even things that had previously lain concealed have all now been established in general use? Still, it must be asserted, we do not find people acquainted with much that has been handed down by the writers of former days: so much more productive was the research of the men of old, or else so much more successful was their industry, when a thousand years ago at the dawn of literature Hesiod began putting forth rules for agriculture, and not a few writers followed him in these researches—which has been a source of more toil to us, inasmuch as nowadays it is necessary to investigate not only subsequent discoveries but also those that had already been made by the men of old, because general slackness has decreed an utter destruction of records.

And for this fault who can discover other causes than the general movement of affairs in the world? The fact is that other customs have come into vogue, and the minds of men are occupied about other matters: the only arts cultivated are the arts of avarice. Previously a nation’s sovereignty was self-contained, and consequently the people’s genius was also circumscribed; and so a certain barrenness of fortune made it a necessity to exercise the gifts of the mind, and kings innumerable received the homage of the arts, and put these riches in the front place when displaying their resources, believing that by the arts they could prolong their immortality. This was the reason why the rewards of life and also its achievements were then so abundant. But later generations have been positively handicapped by the expansion of the world and by our multiplicity of resources. After senators began to be selected and judges appointed on the score of wealth, and wealth became the sole adornment of magistrate and military commander, after lack of children to succeed one began to occupy the place of highest influence and power, and legacy-hunting ranked as the most profitable profession, and the only delights consisted in ownership, the true prizes of life went to ruin, and all the arts that derived their name ‘liberal’ from liberty, the supreme good, fell into the opposite class, and servility began to be the sole means of advancement. This deity was worshipped by different men in different manners and in different matters, although every man’s prayer was directed to the same end and to hopes of possessing; indeed even men of high character everywhere preferred to cultivate the vices of others rather than the good gifts that were their own. The consequence is, I protest, that pleasure has begun to live and life itself has ceased. We, however, will carry our researches even into matters that have passed out of notice, and will not be daunted by the lowliness of certain objects, any more than we were when dealing with the animals, although we see that Virgil, the prince of poets, was led by this consideration to make omissions among the resources of the garden and in those which he has recorded has only culled out the flower of his subject, happy and gracious as he is: he has only named fifteen kinds of grapes in all and three of olives and as many pears, and of apples only the Assyrian citron, neglecting all the rest.
XXVIII. And if anybody cares to consider the matter more carefully, there is no department of man’s life on which more labour is spent—as if nature had not given us the most healthy of beverages to drink, which all other animals make use of, whereas we compel even our beasts of burden to drink wine! and so much toil and labour and outlay is paid as the price of a thing that perverts men’s minds and produces madness, having caused the commission of thousands of crimes, and being so attractive that a large part of mankind knows of nothing else worth living for! Nay, what is more, to enable us to take more, we reduce its strength by means of a linen strainer, and other enticements are devised and even poisonous mixtures are invented to promote drinking, some men taking a dose of hemlock before they begin, in order that fear of death may compel them to drink, while others take powdered pumice and preparations which I am ashamed to teach the use of by describing them. The most cautious of these topers we see getting themselves boiled in hot baths and being carried out of the bathroom unconscious, and others actually unable to wait to get to the dinner table, no, not even to put their clothes on, but straight away on the spot, while still naked and panting, they snatch up huge vessels as if to show off their strength, and pour down the whole of the contents, so as to bring them up again at once, and then drink another draught; and they do this a second and a third time, as if they were born for the purpose of wasting wine, and as if it were impossible for the liquor to be poured away unless by using the human body as a funnel. This is the object of the exercises that have been introduced from foreign countries, and of rolling in the mud and throwing the neck back to show off the muscles of the chest. It is declared that the object of all these exercises is merely to raise a thirst! Then again, think of the drinking matches! think of the vessels engraved with scenes of adultery, as though tippling were not enough by itself to give lessons in licentiousness! Thus wine-bibbing is caused by licence, and actually a prize is offered to promote drunkenness—heaven help us, it is actually purchased. One man gets a prize for tipsiness on condition of his eating as much as he has drunk; another drinks as many cups as are demanded of him by a throw of the dice. Then it is that greedy eyes bid a price for a married woman, and their heavy glances betray it to her husband; then it is that the secrets of the heart are published abroad: some men specify the provisions of their wills, others let out facts of fatal import, and do not keep to themselves words that will come back to them through a slit in their throat—how many men having lost their lives in that way! and truth has come to be proverbially credited to wine. Meantime, even should all turn out for the best, drunkards never see the rising sun, and so shorten their lives. Tippling brings a pale face and hanging cheeks, sore eyes, shaky hands that spill the contents of vessels when they are full, and the condign punishment of haunted sleep and restless nights, and the crowning reward of drunkenness, monstrous licentiousness and delight in iniquity. Next day the breath reeks of the wine-cask, and everything is forgotten—the memory is dead. This is what they call ‘snatching life as it comes!’ when, whereas other men daily lose their yesterdays, these people lose tomorrow also. Forty years ago, during the rule of the Emperor Tiberius, the fashion set in of drinking on an empty stomach and preceding meals with a draught of wine—yet another result of foreign methods and of the doctors’ policy of perpetually advertising themselves by some novelty.


Julian, Emperor of Rome. The Works of Emperor Julian, Volume 1. Translated by Wilmer Cave Wright. Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1913. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg, 2015. Retrieved 2022, from

Oration II
(I will now, however, resume the thread of my discourse and go back to my starting-point, like those who, when a race is being started, run ahead out of the line. Well, I was saying, a moment ago, that Plato declares that a man’s real self is his mind and soul, whereas his body and his estate are but his possessions. This is the distinction made in that marvellous work, the Laws. And so if one were to go back to the beginning and say “That man is best equipped for life who makes everything that relates to happiness depend on his mind and intelligence and not on those outside himself who, by doing or faring well or ill force him out of the straight path,” he is not changing or perverting the sense of the words, but expounds and interprets them correctly. And if for Plato’s word “genius” he substitutes the word “God” he has a perfect right to do so. For if Plato gives the control of our whole life to the presiding “genius” within us which is by nature unaffected by sensation and akin to God, but must endure and suffer much because of its association with the body, and therefore gives the impression to the crowd that it also is subject to sensation and death; and if he says that this is true of every man who wishes to be happy, what must we suppose is his opinion about pure intelligence unmixed with earthly substance, which is indeed synonymous with God? To this I say every man, whether he be a private citizen or a king, ought to entrust the reins of his life, and by a king I mean one who is really worthy of the name, and not counterfeit or falsely so called, but one who is aware of God and discerns his nature because of his affinity with him, and being truly wise bows to the divine authority and yields the supremacy to God. For it is senseless and arrogant indeed for those who cultivate virtue not to submit to God once and for all, as far as possible. For we must believe that this above all else is what God approves. Again, no man must neglect the traditional form of worship or lightly regard this method of paying honour to the higher power, but rather consider that to be virtuous is to be scrupulously devout. For Piety is the child of Justice, and that justice is a characteristic of the more divine type of soul is obvious to all who discuss such matters.)
(For there is nothing at all superior to it, nothing that can constrain and control it, or take it from him who has once possessed it. Indeed it seems to me that this possession bears the same relation to the soul as its light to the sun. For often men have stolen the votive offerings of the Sun and destroyed his temples and gone their way, and some have been punished, and others let alone as not worthy of the punishment that leads to amendment. But his light no one ever takes from the sun, not even the moon when in their conjunctions she oversteps his disc, or when she takes his rays to herself, and often, as the saying is, turns midday into night. Nor is he deprived of his light when he illumines the moon in her station opposite to himself and shares with her his own nature, nor when he fills with light and day this great and wonderful universe. Just so no good man who imparts his goodness to another was ever thought to have less virtue by as much as he had bestowed. So divine and excellent is that possession, and most true is the saying of the Athenian stranger, whoever that inspired man may have been: “All the gold beneath the earth and above ground is too little to give in exchange for virtue.” Let us therefore now boldly call its possessor wealthy, yes and I should say well-born also, and the only king among them all, if anyone agree to this. For as noble birth is better than a lowly pedigree, so virtue is better than a character not in all respects admirable. And let no one say that this statement is contentious and too strong, judging by the ordinary use of words. For the multitude are wont to say that the sons of those who have long been rich are well-born. And yet is it not extraordinary that a cook or cobbler, yes, by Zeus, or some potter who has got money together by his craft, or by some other means, is not considered well-born nor is given that title by the many, whereas if this man’s son inherit his estate and hand it on to his sons, they begin to give themselves airs and compete on the score of noble birth with the Pelopids and the Heraclids? Nay, even a man who is born of noble ancestors, but himself sinks down in the opposite scale of life, could not justly claim kinship with those ancestors, seeing that no one could be enrolled among the Pelopids who had not on his shoulder the birth-mark of that family. And in Boeotia it was said that there was the impression of a spear on the Sown-men from the clod of earth that bore and reared them, and that hence the race long preserved that distinguishing mark. And can we suppose that on men’s souls no mark of that sort is engraved, which shall tell us accurately who their fathers were and vindicate their birth as legitimate? They say that the Celts also have a river which is an incorruptible judge of offspring, and neither can the mothers persuade that river by their laments to hide and conceal their fault for them, nor the fathers who are afraid for their wives and sons in this trial, but it is an arbiter that never swerves or gives a false verdict. But we are corrupted by riches, by physical strength in its prime, by powerful ancestors, an influence from without that overshadows and does not permit us to see clearly or discern the soul; for we are unlike all other living things in this, that by the soul and by nothing else, we should with reason make our decision about noble birth. And it seems to me that the ancients, employing a wondrous sagacity of nature, since their wisdom was not like ours a thing acquired, but they were philosophers by nature, not manufactured, perceived the truth of this, and so they called Heracles the son of Zeus, and Leda’s two sons also, and Minos the law-giver, and Rhadamanthus of Cnossus they deemed worthy of the same distinction. And many others they proclaimed to be the children of other gods, because they so surpassed their mortal parents. For they looked at the soul alone and their actual deeds, and not at wealth piled high and hoary with age, nor at the power that had come down to them from some grandfather or great-grandfather. And yet some of them were the sons of fathers not wholly inglorious. But because of the superabundance in them of that virtue which men honoured and cherished, they were held to be the sons of the gods themselves. This is clear from the following fact. In the case of certain others, though they did not know those who were by nature their sires, they ascribed that title to a divinity, to recompense the virtue of those men. And we ought not to say that they were deceived, and that in ignorance they told lies about the gods. For even if in the case of other gods or deities it was natural that they should be so deceived, when they clothed them in human forms and human shapes, though those deities possess a nature not to be perceived or attained by the senses, but barely recognisable by means of pure intelligence, by reason of their kinship with it; nevertheless in the case of the visible gods it is not probable that they were deceived, for instance, when they entitled Aeetes “son of Helios” and another “son of the Dawn,” and so on with others. But, as I said, we must in these cases believe them, and make our enquiry about noble birth accordingly. And when a man has virtuous parents and himself resembles them, we may with confidence call him nobly born. But when, though his parents lack virtue, he himself can claim to possess it, we must suppose that the father who begat him is Zeus, and we must not pay less respect to him than to those who are the sons of virtuous fathers and emulate their parents. But when a bad man comes of good parents, we ought to enrol him among the bastards, while as for those who come of a bad stock and resemble their parents, never must we call them well-born, not even though their wealth amounts to ten thousand talents, not though they reckon among their ancestors twenty rulers, or, by Zeus, twenty tyrants, not though they can prove that the victories they won at Olympia or Pytho or in the encounters of war—which are in every way more brilliant than victories in the games—were more than the first Caesar’s, or can point to excavations in Assyria or to the walls of Babylon and the Egyptian pyramids besides, and to all else that is a proof of wealth and great possessions and luxury and a soul that is inflamed by ambition and, being at a loss how to use money, lavishes on things of that sort all those abundant supplies of wealth. For you are well aware that it is not wealth, either ancestral or newly acquired and pouring in from some source or other, that makes a king, nor his purple cloak nor his tiara and sceptre and diadem and ancestral throne, nay nor numerous hoplites and ten thousand cavalry; not though all men should gather together and acknowledge him for their king, because virtue they cannot bestow on him, but only power, ill-omened indeed for him that receives it, but still more for those that bestow it. For once he has received such power, a man of that sort is altogether raised aloft in the clouds, and in nowise differs from the legend of Phaethon and his fate. And there is no need of other instances to make us believe this saying, for the whole of life is full of such disasters and tales about them. And if it seems surprising to you that the title of king, so honourable, so favoured by the gods, cannot justly be claimed by men who, though they rule over a vast territory and nations without number, nevertheless settle questions that arise by an autocratic decision, without intelligence or wisdom or the virtues that go with wisdom, believe me they are not even free men; I do not mean if they merely possess what they have with none to hinder them and have their fill of power, but even though they conquer all who make war against them, and, when they lead an invading army, appear invincible and irresistible. And if any of you doubt this statement, I have no lack of notable witnesses, Greek and barbarian, who fought and won many mighty battles, and became the masters of whole nations and compelled them to pay tribute, and yet were themselves slaves in a still more shameful degree of pleasure, money and wantonness, insolence and injustice. And no man of sense would call them even powerful, not though greatness should shine upon and illumine all that they achieved. For he alone is strong whose virtue aids him to be brave and magnanimous. But he who is the slave of pleasure and cannot control his temper and appetites of all sorts, but is compelled to succumb to trivial things, is neither brave himself nor strong with a man’s strength, though we may perhaps allow him to exult like a bull or lion or leopard in his brute force, if indeed he do not lose even this and, like a drone, merely superintend the labours of others, himself a “feeble warrior,” and cowardly and dissolute. And if that be his character, he is lacking not only in true riches, but in that wealth also which men so highly honour and reverence and desire, on which hang the souls of men of all sorts, so that they undergo countless toils and labours for the sake of daily gain, and endure to sail the sea and to trade and rob and grasp at tyrannies. For they live ever acquiring but ever in want, though I do not say of necessary food and drink and clothes; for the limit of this sort of property has been clearly defined by nature and none can be deprived of it, neither birds nor fish nor wild beasts, much less prudent men. But those who are tortured by the desire and fatal passion for money must suffer a lifelong hunger, and depart from life more miserably than those who lack daily food. For these, once they have filled their bellies, enjoy perfect peace and respite from their torment, but for those others no day is sweet that does not bring them gain, nor does night with her gift of sleep that relaxes the limbs and frees men from care bring for them any remission of their raging madness, but distracts and agitates their souls as they reckon and count up their money. And not even the wealth of Tantalus and Midas, should they possess it, frees those men from their desire and their hard toil therewith, nay nor “Tyranny the greatest and sternest of the gods,” should they become possessed of this also. For have you not heard that Darius, the ruler of Persia, a man not wholly base, but insatiably and shamefully covetous of money, dug up in his greed even the tombs of the dead and exacted the most costly tribute? And hence he acquired the title that is famous among all mankind. For the notables of Persia called him by the name that the Athenians gave to Sarambos.)
… and praise God for him when they pray, not hypocritically or with the lips only, but invoking blessings on him from the bottom of their hearts. But the gods do not wait for their prayers, and unasked they give him celestial rewards, but they do not let him lack human blessings either; and if fate should compel him to fall into any misfortune, I mean one of those incurable calamities that people are always talking about, then the gods make him their follower and associate, and exalt his fame among all mankind…

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