As for Dio of Prusa, I do not know what one ought to call him, such was his excellence in all departments; for, as the proverb says, he was a “horn of Amalthea, [the horn of plenty, or cornucopia, was said to have belonged to a goat named Amalthea which suckled the infant Zeus],” since in him is compounded the noblest of all that has been most nobly expressed. His style has the ring of Demosthenes and Plato, but Dio has besides a peculiar resonance of his own, which enhances theirs as the bridge enhances the tone of musical instruments; and it was combined with a serious and direct simplicity of expression. Again, in Dio's orations the elements of his own noble character were admirably displayed. For though he very often rebuked licentious cities, he did not show himself acrimonious or ungracious, but like one who restrains an unruly horse with the bridle rather than the whip; and when he set out to praise cities that were well governed, he did not seem to extol them, but rather to guide their attention to the fact that they would be ruined if they should change their ways. In other connections also the temper of his philosophy was never vulgar or ironical; and though his attacks were made with a heavy hand, they were tempered and as it were seasoned with benevolence. That he had also a talent for writing history is proved by his treatise On the Getae; he did in fact travel as far as the Getae during his wandering as an exile. As for his Tale of Euboea, the Encomium of a Parrot, and all those writings in which he handled themes of no great importance, we must not regard them as mere trifles, but rather as sophistic compositions; for it is characteristic of a sophist to devote serious study to themes even so slight as these.
He lived at a time when Apollonius of Tyana and Euphrates of Tyre were teaching their philosophy, and he was intimate with both men, though in their quarrel with one another they went to extremes that are alien to the philosophic temper. His visit to the Getic tribes I cannot rightly call exile, since he had not been ordered to go into exile, yet it was not merely a traveller's tour, for he vanished from men's sight, hiding himself from their eyes and ears, and occupying himself in various ways in various lands, through fear of the tyrants in the capital [Rome] at whose hands all philosophy was suffering persecution. [Life of Apollonius vii. 4.] But while he planted and dug, drew water for baths and gardens, and performed many such menial tasks for a living, he did not neglect the study of letters, but sustained himself with two books; these were the Phaedo of Plato, and Demosthenes On the False Embassy. He often visited the military camps in the rags he was wont to wear, and after the assassination of Domitian, when he saw that the troops were beginning to mutiny [Suetonius Domitian 23], he could not contain himself at the sight of the disorder that had broken out, but stripped off his rags, leaped on to a high altar, and began his harangue with the verse:
Then Odysseus of many counsels stripped him of his rags, [Odyssey xxii. 1.]
and having said this and thus revealed that he was no beggar, nor what they believed him to be, but Dio the sage, he delivered a spirited and energetic indictment of the tyrant; and he convinced the soldiers that they would be wiser if they acted in accordance with the will of the Roman people. And indeed the persuasive charm of the man was such as to captivate even men who were not versed in Greek letters. An instance of this is that the Emperor Trajan in Rome set him by his side on the golden chariot in which the Emperors ride in procession when they celebrate their triumphs in war, and often he would turn to Dio and say: “I do not understand what you are saying, but I love you as I love myself.”
The images employed by Dio in his orations are entirely in the sophistic manner, but though he abounds in them his style is nevertheless clear and in keeping with the matter in hand.
Philostratus of Lemnos, in composing the Lives of the Sophists who had preceded him, divides them into two classes at the beginning of his treatise: first the sophists in the exact sense, and second those who, although really students of philosophy, had nevertheless been classified as sophist on account of their reputation for beauty of their language. He gives Dio his place amongst these, as also Carneades the Athenian, and Leo of Byzantium, and many others who passed their lives in the profession of philosophy, but had accustomed themselves to a sophistical form of style; and again he accounts amongst these Eudoxus of Cnidus, a man at first known as one of Aristotle's disciples, but also well versed in astronomy, at least as much of the art as was cultivated in those days.
For our part let Dio through all his works be a sophist, as he is said to be, in virtue of the range of that 'tongue of gold' which he possessed, if anyone chooses to consider the cult of oratory an achievement proper to the sophist. The nature of this, indeed, we shall examine a little bit later. If we consider his aims [however], Dio should neither be placed alone nor with the men just mentioned, but rather with Aristocles [of Pergamon] although he is to be contrasted even with him. Both of them changed their earlier attitude, but Aristocles was a man who from being a philosopher and an earnest one at that, and one whose brow was knit with thought, ended among the sophists, and not only indulged in every luxury, but even reached the culminating point.
After spending the bloom of his youth in the advocacy of the Peripatetic views, and in publishing treatises for the Greeks with all the philosopher's enthusiasm, he fell a victim to sophistic opinion to such an extent that he repented him when an old man of the very seriousness of his youths, and in his contests shook the lecture-rooms of Italy and Asia with his declamations. Moreover, he had given himself over to the cottabus and introduced flute girls at dinner parties, and besides gave public banquets.
Dio, however, from being a senseless sophist ended his life as a philosopher, and favored in this rather by fortune than by his own judgment, has himself given us an account of that good fortune. So it was the duty of one writing his biography to describe the flaw in the man and not simply to reckon him thus with Carneades and Eudoxus. Whichever of their subjects you take, it is a philosophic one handled in a sophistical way; that is to say the style is wantonly, withal cunningly, set forth, and brings in much of the element of grace. In this way also by men whom they fascinated in speech by the beauty of their phrases, they were deemed worthy of the title of sophist, but it seems to me that they themselves would have repudiated this and would have declined it if offered, since philosophy brings such an expression into contempt, for Plato had just risen up against the name. But Dio showed forth brilliantly in each of these two walks of life respectively, and is at war with himself in his subjects, publishing speeches setting forth these opposite ways of life.
Now we should not, methinks, pass over in silence the facts concerning this man, least of all on account of the discrepancy found in his speeches. As to what Philostratus says in the following passage, when he absolves him from blame for composing a panegyric on a bird called 'a parrot', on the ground that it is the part of a sophist not to scorn even such a subject, in all this he seems to confute himself, for he announced to us before that this man is one of the slandered, inasmuch as, though all the while a philosopher, he is dragged into being a sophist; for he speaks as follows:
'The ancients described as sophists not only those of their rhetoricians who made loud speeches and were brilliant men, but also those of the philosophers who expounded their thoughts in a fluent style. In behalf of these latter we ought to speak first, for although they were not sophists but only seemed so, they have passed under this designation.'
Then he distinctly enumerates the men who are philosophers, amongst these Dio, and others after Dio, and in taking leave of the last of them, says: 'So much for the philosophers who have the reputation of being sophists,' only saying in another way the same thing, namely, that not being sophists, they usurped that name. And yet in the meantime he admits, it would seem, that he is in doubt in what rank of his chorus to place this man, for he is really very expert. What then did you say at first, and what afterwards? Was it that the one thing is, and the other only appears to be?
For my part I do not split hairs over these contradictions, and I am willing to admit that Dio was really a philosopher and only played at sophistry, as long as he shall be found gentle and compassionate to philosophy, and has nowhere done her violence or marshaled against her reckless and evil-minded words. But this man of all the sophists had behaved with the greatest effrontery to philosophers and philosophy. The reason for this, I think, is that, since a nature full of power was allotted to him, even the practice of oratory made him speak the truth, for he was persuaded that it was better to live according to philosophy.
It follows from this that his works directed against the philosophers are carried out with great attention to expression and shirk no brightness of language. The work addressed to Musonius also was another of a similar language. Dio was not merely exercising his powers in this instance, but was writing from conviction; I affirm this with every confidence and could easily convince another, given that he were clever at detecting truth and dissimulation of character in any sort of speech.
Now when Dio betook himself to philosophy, then indeed and then most of all did the power of his nature become manifest. For as though his natural bent of mind had recognized late in the day its true sphere of action, he was drawn away from his profession of sophistry, not by degrees, but suddenly and with all sails set; and then indeed he handled the rhetorical parts of his arguments no longer with the powers of a rhetorician, but in the manner of a statesman.
If anyone is ignorant of the difference between the statesman and the rhetorician in the same subject of discourse, let him go over intelligently the funeral oration of Aspasia in Plato, and that of Pericles in Thucydides. Each one is far more beautiful than the other if judged according to its own canons.
Now Dio does not seem to have persevered with the systematic propositions of philosophy, nor to have continued to devote his attention to the tenets of natural science, for he had made the change late in the day. But he profited, it seems, by the teachings of the Stoa in so far as ethics are concerned, and showed virility of mind beyond any of his contemporaries; he set himself to admonish mankind whether kings or private citizens, speaking as well to the individual as to the masses, and to this end he devoted his long reserved training in oratory.
On account of this it would be well, I think, to inscribe on each discourse of Dio whether it was written before his exile or after it, as the case may be, not merely on those in which there is some allusion to the exile, as some have already done, but on all without exception. In this way we should be enabled to separate those works which are philosophical from those which are in essence sophistic, keeping them apart, and we shall not have to encounter him as though engaged in a night battle, at one moment attacking Socrates and Zeno with Dionysiac jeers and demanding that their disciples should depart from every land and sea, as being the curse of towns and states; and at another crowning them with wreaths and holding them up as examples of a noble and temperate life.
But Philostratus, without taking the trouble to think about it, assumes that the 'Eulogy on the parrot' and the 'Euboean' belong to the same line of thought, and then devotes himself impartially, in behalf of both these works, to the defense of Dio, that the latter may not appear to have devoted serious hours to trifles. Now this is only to give greater importance to one of the works in question. For while proclaiming his place to be amongst those who have passed their whole lives in philosophy, he not only admits, as he develops the argument, that Dio has done some work of the sophistic sort, but defrauds the man also on things that really exist in virtue of the philosophical side of his nature, by assigning these to the sophistic works.
Now if anyone denies that the 'Euboean' is a serious work and has been written in defense of serious views, he would not easily, I think, accept anyone of Dio's works in such wise at least as to call it philosophical. The treatise is an outline of a happy life, and is one most worthy of perusal for the poor and the rich alike, for it tends to repress the temperament swollen with riches by showing that happiness lies in another direction, and it awakens the nature beaten down by poverty and frees it from humiliation.
On the one hand this is a tale that would soothe the ears of all men and might have persuaded Xerxes himself, even that Xerxes who led the great expedition against the Greeks, that on his diet of millet a huntsman in the mountains of Euboea was a happier man than he. On the other hand it is in accord with the best precepts, and in his own practice of these no one is ashamed of poverty, even if he cannot escape it. For these reasons they are the better judges who have placed this work next in order of excellence to his last 'On Kingship', in which he presents four lives and their demons, taking in turn the lover of possessions, the lover of enjoyment, thirdly the lover of honors, and above all the benevolent and industrious one. All these he describes and arranges in their true proportion, then brings the book to an end after promising that he will at once give us the rest when he shall be permitted by the gods to do so.
Now set aside the figures of Diogenes and Socrates, who occur in so many works, and who seem exceptional in natural genius. These two it is not in the power of every man to emulate, but only such an one as has made promise from the first of a certain preference for what pertains to philosophy. If, however, you are only seeking a man, after our common humanity, one who can turn his hand to everything, one just, pious, independent, and benevolent according to his means; in that case no other examples of such a happy life could be offered you in exchange for those of the 'Euboean'. Moreover, somewhere in this book he praises the Essenes, a whole happy township in the midst of Palestine, beside the Dead Sea, lying at some point not far from Sodom itself.
From the moment, then, that Dio began to study philosophy seriously and inclined to admonishing mankind, he actually published not one unprofitable speech, but to him who reads in no careless spirit it will be evident that the form of Dio's exposition is not one and the same, but varies according as his subjects are sophistic or social. In the former he carries his head high and gives himself airs like a peacock gazing about himself and as though rejoicing in the splendor of his speech, as one turning his eyes upon that alone, and making euphony his object. You may take his description of Tempe as an example of this, and also his 'Memnon'. In this his manner of expressing himself is somewhat arrogant; but as to the books of his second period, in these you would least detect anything frivolous or presumptuous. Nor is this a matter for wonderment, inasmuch as philosophy drives luxury even from the tongue, delighting in a beauty which is grave and orderly, as is her old tradition, one in accord with nature and in harmony with underlying principles.
Now Dio also when he threads his way through history falls in with this tradition, following the most ancient authorities whether in oration or argument. Of his sound and dominant position take either the 'Parliamentary' or the 'Senatorial' as an example. And if you like to take up any of his addresses to cities, delivered and published, you may see each of the old-fashioned styles but nothing of the more modern note, which seeks to overload the fairness of nature, such as are the essays which we called to mind a moment ago, namely the 'Memnon' and the 'Tempe'. Of this last type is the 'Attack on the philosophers', for even if he does not so pretend, it smacks of the auditorium and its grace, nor can you find a more fascinating piece of rhetoric in Dio.
Again, I am lost in amazement at the destiny of philosophy if it be true that no comedy is more famous than the Clouds. Certainly Aristophanes has recited non with equal power. Take this as a sign of terseness and fluency:
He dipt the insect's feet in melted wax Which hardening to his sandals as it cooled Gave him the space by rule infallible. [Aristophanes, Clouds, 149; tr. Mitchell.]
Moreover his indictment of Plato, On Behalf of the Four, made Aristides famous amongst the Greeks. This essay was devoid of all finished art, nor could you give it a place in the category of rhetoric at least with any justice to rhetorical laws; but it is composed with an ineffable beauty of form and with an astonishing grace, bringing as it were, a reckless delight by its use of names and words.
This Dio, moreover, was at his very pinnacle in his essay against the philosophers, above all in that quality which the younger men of the present day call culmination. In a word, he adapted himself to a style by far too pompous for a convincing speaker, and yet in such a genre he seemed quite to surpass himself. Dio has not, however, so much betrayed the old rhetoric, even in those passages where he clearly seems to recede from its narrative traditions, to such an extent that it might even escape us that it is Dio, since he was veered to the modern school.
He handless lawlessness rather cautiously, and like one diffident when he brings forward anything venturesome and insolent. He could scarcely indeed escape a condemnation if we examined him in relation to the audacity which subsequently prevailed amongst the orators. But in most of his works, in all of them indeed, we may place him with the well-balanced orators of the past, beside anyone of whom he was altogether worthy to speak either before the people or an individual; for the rhythmical element in his language is restrained just as the depth of the moral impression he makes it chastened, as befits a sort of chastiser and moral guide of a whole city affected by folly.
But inasmuch as we said that Dio's faculty of expression is neither altogether uniform nor is it even open to doubt that both styles belong to Dio, one being that of an orator and the other that of a social reformer; so also as to the thoughts, whosoever, not himself divorced from thought, will cast his eye over any of Dio's books, will recognize that they are of his authorship, written in one or the other of the two styles belonging to his subject matter; and even if he takes the most trivial of all he will see that Dio is the most resourceful of men in finding words for everything by his rhetorical power.
He stands out far beyond sophists in his enterprise and, even granting that any other sophist has been resourceful, he is far from being worthy to be compared with Dio in versatility. At the same time a certain marvelous individuality characterizes the thoughts of Dio. Let the 'Rhodian' and the 'Trojan' reveal this to you, and also, if you like, the 'Praise of the Mosquito', for even trivialities become serious subjects with Dio, who followed his natural bent everywhere, and you would not fail to recognize that these works belonged to the same make and power.
It occurred to me to say this about Dio to my latest son who is yet to be; for while I was going through Dio's writings of every description, in the midst of all this the oracle came to me. Of a truth I have come to feel the instincts of a father. Already I long to be with my son, and teach him what I think about every prose writer and every writing, introducing to him men who are dear to me with the criticism that befits each. May Dio of Prusa be amongst these also, a man exceptional in speech and in knowledge. And after praising him thus, I hand over Dio to him that he may commence to read his political works after the masters of the noble philosophy, and may regard them as a borderland between my own preparatory teaching and instruction in the ultimate truths.
It would be well for you, my son, when you have continued the pursuit of intellectual demonstrations and when your mind is congested or your understanding is overburdened with weighty doctrines, it will be well for you, I say, not at once to rush to comedy or any mere form of rhetoric when in need of a change of occupation; for this would be to idle in a disorderly way, and perchance far beyond what is reasonable. Rather should the strained cord be relaxed by degrees until, if it seems good to you (and may it so seem!) you have arrived even at the opposite extreme, having gone through all things that have been dallied over and played with by men who were comrades of the Muses, until, I say, with increased zeal you again use these and certain kindred writings as a means of moral ascent. This would be the best conduct to pursue as you run the length of this noble double course, at one moment playing with your books, at another working with them. For I think the philosopher must not be rude or evil in any other way, but should be initiated in all gracious conduct and should also be an unmistakable Greek; that is to say, should be able to keep in touch with mankind by taking care not to neglect any written work.
It seems that the prelude to philosophy is nothing else than a curiosity about knowledge, and in children the disposition to love a story is the promise of a philosophical goal. And yet of what art or knowledge could she [Philosophy] be an art and a knowledge? It lies in her very essence that she is understood to be borne on her way by all of these [the Muses], if so be she has no predilection among them, so as to regard one from her point of vantage, and to busy herself with another who is moving forward, while she has them all for a bodyguard as befits a queen. Are not the Muses all together, as their names indicate, whether it be that the gods so named them, or that men employ a term divine? At all events they make up a company by reason I presume, of this very union. No one of them is ever separated from another, nor in a banquet of the gods does she display her own work, neither does she get an altar or a shrine amongst men.
And yet there are some who from want of nature's endowment are ever seeking to divide into small portions that which is in them indivisible, and so one man has attained proficiency in the art of one Muse, and another in that of another. But philosophy dominates them all. And this is what is doubtless set forth by the immediate presence of Apollo in the harmony of the Muses.
Now this speech would define as an artist and an expert the man who cuts off for himself any one branch of knowledge, one such man belonging to one divinity [Muse], another to another; but it would call philosopher that one who has been fitted together from the harmony of all, and has made the multitude of arts into one. Or rather he has not attained this yet, for this must be added to him also, namely, that he have a task of his own superior to that of his company. Thus the story goes that Apollo sings at one time with the Muses, leading off himself, and giving the time to the band, and at another sings by himself; but the first would be the sacred and ineffable melody.
So our philosopher will commune, now with himself, and now with the god through philosophy, but he will commune with men by the subordinate powers of speech. He will possess knowledge indeed as a lover of literature, whereas he will pass judgment upon each and everything as a philosopher. But these immovable men who despise rhetoric and poetry do not seem to me to be what they are of their own free will, and owing to the poverty of their natural gifts they are incapable of even small achievements. You may more easily see such men than see anything in their minds, and their tongues are unable to interpret any thought. I, for one, even wish to distrust them, nor would I say that they are concealing something hidden like the Vestal Virgins, first because it is not even in the divine order that a man should be wise about great things who is ignorant about small ones, and further because, just as God has conceived clear images of his secret powers, tangible bodies of the ideas, thus a soul possessing beauty and fruitful of the noblest things, possesses the force which is transmissible even to things outside, for no one of the divine agencies is willing to be the last removed.
If then the man who refrains from talk in all sorts of ways is best to conceal the inviolable doctrines, and also acquires the power of dealing with assemblies of people at his will; of necessity must that man fall short who has not been initiated in the inner circle beforehand nor has celebrated the rites of the Muses. For one of these two experiences overtakes him; either to be silent, or to say what the law commands to be kept in silence. Thus he will either take as subjects of his discourses the fortunes of the town, and will associate with men on terms of vulgar familiarity, which no freeborn man would deign to do, or if he desires to be a leader in philosophy he will live in idleness.
Now it is possible that this he would not, even if he could, but certain that he could not if he would. For my part I admire Proteus of Pharos also, for, being wise in great things, he had thrown about himself a cloak of wondrous @sophistic discourse, and associated with chance comers in every way. For they departed in amazement at the display surrounding him, without investigating the truth of the things concerning which they were troubled. Now let there be some vestibule of the temple for the uninitiated, but the man who once gives himself solemn airs does not dissemble but rather irritates and fans the flames of greediness in nature by which everyone busies himself overmuch with that which is sacred. If Ixion had not grasped the cloud instead of Hera, and if he had not been satisfied to embrace the mere image he would never willingly have abandoned his mad chase.
Discourse therefore must be got ready in place of discourse, in place of the greater the less. This indeed would be a an excellent one also and, when men encounter it before the other, the one will be greatly gripped by it and will welcome it, and will even think that no other could be better, while the other would who has received a share of the divine nature will be thereby exalted and will come to understand the former also. And whom the god stirs, for him the temple also will be opened by us.
Menelaus was in no wise ignorant of the real Proteus; for he was a Greek hero and a son-in-law worthy of Zeus, to whom he was bound from the first by no trivial bands. Clearly the fire and the tree and the wild beast were tales of animals and plants, but also concerned themselves with the primary elements of which are composed things coming into being. He cared not even for these but aspired to penetrate still further into nature. It is really a gift divine to suffice for all men in the degree to which each person is able to profit thereby. Let him who has attained to the summit keep in mind also that he is a human being, and let him be able to associate with every men, as much as in him lies. Why then should anyone banish the Muses, who make it possible both to please mankind and to keep the divine things unsullied, as by a veil cast o’er them?
If our human nature is a variable quality also, it will certainly weary of a life of contemplation, to the point of foregoing its greatness, and of descending; for we are not mind undefiled but mind in the soul of a living creature; and for our own sakes therefore we must seek after the more human forms of literature, providing a home for our nature when it descends. One must be content to have a neighbor somewhere towards whom to turn and make atonement to the soul’s constitution, which needs kindliness so as not to fall farther, nor yet to pass its life in all the diversity of nature. For God has made pleasure to be a fastening for the soul by which it supports the proximity of the body. Such then is the beauty of literature. It does not go down towards matter, not does it dip the mind in the lowest powers, but rather gives it force to rise up in a moment and to hasten upwards to real being, for even the low part of such a life is high.
But for the one who is incapable of tasting pleasure in its purity - and nature needs the soothing element - what shall he do or whither shall he turn? Will his course not tend towards that which is unworthy even to relate? For obviously men of this sort will not despise nature, though they will also profess an untiring zeal for contemplation, making themselves out to be passionless gods although clothed in flesh. Nay, if they were to make such profession, let them know that so far from being gods or wise and divine men, the are empty-headed, and boasters into the bargain. They would have been better if they had defined wisely what is fitting to each manner of man. A condition untouched by passion is by its very nature in God only, but men who change evil for virtue succeed in moderating their passions: the very flight from excess would be the achievement of the sage.
I have ere observed even men of foreign race, of both these noble classes, men who professed a contemplative existence, and for that reason took no part in public life, and became unsociable in their haste to release themselves from nature. They had sacred songs, holy symbols, and certain ordered approaches to the Divinity. All these things cut the men off from turning to matter, and they pass their lives apart from each other, so as neither to see nor to hear anything pleasant.
For bread they eat not at all, nor drink they the wine that is ruddy.
In saying so much about the men in question, one would not overshoot the mark. But not even these men who have made such a brilliant struggle against nature, and who, as we might say, are most worthy to share in the perfect life, not even do such as these rejoice in it untiringly. For our perishable nature brings even these back when they have only settled down a short time in the happy place of that real existence which is theirs. Nor can they, I suppose, for all future time keep their mind on the surface and take their fill of the beauty of the intelligible, not though this had once been their fortune.
I hear, indeed, that not to all of these does such fortune come, not even to the majority, but only to less than a few, those whose first impulse was divinely inspired; and they remain under its influence as far as the nature of man admits, nor are they to be wheedled by any resistance on nature’s part.
For there are many that carry the thyrsus, but few are the Bacchi.
But even these men do not bear the Bacchic frenzy with sufficient patience, but at one moment they rest in the god, at another in the universe, and again in their bodies. They know that they are but men, small fragments of the universe at that, having lesser lives lying beneath them, and suspicious of these to the point of frustrating them, lest they should bestir themselves and rise against them. What, after all, is the meaning of their baskets and of the wickerwork objects which they handle, if not to signify first of all that they were human beings at a given moment; in other words, were paying attention to matters here below? For they are not in a state of contemplation at the moment when they are dealing craftily with the wicker objects.
They further felt disdain for that inactivity which our nature cannot support, inasmuch as nature gives us many sources of motion. Accordingly, that they may not do anything else, they have made it a law amongst them to occupy themselves therewith, and they impel their nature in this direction and, what is more, they derive pleasure from bringing their work to its perfection; a pleasure so much the greater as the works are fairer and more numerous.
A certain element in us ought indeed to be occupied with the things of this life, but the force must not be a powerful one, lest it drag us down too far and take too great possession of us. The foreign race, be it said, is more stubborn in maintaining an enterprise than the Greek, for in whatever direction it has started out it is violent and unyielding. The latter is refined and has more gentleness in his composition, and for this reason would more quickly give away.
Now I should wish it to be a property of our nature to be always lifted up toward contemplation; but as this is obviously impracticable, I should like in turn to cling to the best and again in turn to descend to nature, there to cleave to merriment and anoint life with cheerfulness. For I know that I am a man, and neither a god that I should be adamant in face of every pleasure, nor a brute that I should take delight in the pleasures of the body. There remains, however, something to seek between these, and what can surpass a life spent in literature and its concerns; what pleasure is purer, what passionate attachment is more free from passion; what has less to do with matter; what is more undefiled? Again, in this respect I put the Greek before the foreigner and consider him the wiser, because when forced to descend he has taken his first stand in the neighborhood, for he has taken his stand upon knowledge. Knowledge is an outlet for the mind and, when moved from one argument to another, it has also made an advance thereby.
Now what could be more allied to mind than argument, or what ferry is more suited to conduct us to mind? For wherever there is argument, there also, I assume, is mind, and if not, at all events some knowledge of inferior subjects which implies intellectual perception. For in this connection certain processes of 'contemplation' get their name, as well as works of the lesser mind, speculations rhetorical, poetical, and those touching on physics and mathematics. None the less all these brighten the eye within us and clear away the rheum, thoroughly arouse it and accustom it by degrees to the objects of vision, so that it may some day take courage to face a more august spectacle still, and not blink at once when gazing upon the sun.
Thus the Greek trains his perceptions by his pleasures, and even out of sport derives advantage for his most important object. Further, to exercise the critical faculty, to compose a prose or poetical work, is not outside of the province of mind. Again, to purify and polish one’s style, to find the main argument, to arrange it in order, and to recognize it when arranged by another, how can all these things be matters devoid of interest, and mere toys? But as to those who tread the other path deemed to be of adamant, even though, truth to say, some of them arrive at the goal, they seem to me scarcely to have traveled a path at all. Nay, how is a path possible where there is no gradual progress apparent; where there is no first and second stage or any order of going!
But their procedure is like Bacchic frenzy - like the leap of a man mad, or possessed - the attainment of a goal without running the race, a passing beyond reason without the previous exercise of reasoning. For the sacred matter [contemplation] is not like attention belonging to knowledge, or an outlet of mind, nor is it like one thing in one place and another in another. On the contrary - to compare small and greater - it is like Aristotle's view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit (for revelation).
Now, the state of fitness for revelation also is irrational, and if reason play no part in preparing it, much more so. Therefore also their direct descent to some slight experience [as their ascent] is itself immediate [i.e., not an intelligible process], and extends much farther. It is like a fall, just as we liken the ascent to a leap. For reason did not speed them on their way, neither did it receive them on their return. How can these two conditions harmonize - a handling of primary reality succeeded by a plunge into brushwood and withies?
Be this as it may, man is, and is called, rational, in virtue of the intermediate and governing faculty, which these have never exercised at any time - at least to judge from appearances. The end then, the condition we wish to attain, is the same for both of us; and if we attained it, there would be no difference between us.
But as regards the intervening process, our native philosopher has shown himself the sounder thinker, for he has prepared himself a road and ascends it as if it were a ladder, so that the ascent is in some degree his own achievement, since as he advances he will probably encounter somewhere his soul's desire. And even if he does not encounter it, at all events he has advanced on his road, and this is no small matter; even thus he would differ from the bulk of mankind as much as they do from the beasts of the field.
Those of our number who arrive in this way would be the more numerous inasmuch as their attempt is a natural one, but it might come about in another way, if there did not chance to be some nobility of soul drawing the first inspiration from above; and an exceptional type of mind, one that would be its own master and would be moved by itself. Of such caliber was Amus the Egyptian, who did not discover the use of letters, but passed judgment upon the discovery, so great was his superiority of mind. Such a man is quicker to solve the problem, even without philosophical method, for the natural philosopher suffices and would, I suppose, much more than suffice if someone stimulated him or appealed to him, for he has a wonderful power of augmenting the seed within him, and of lighting a whole conflagration with the small spark of reason which he has received. The forces of Greek education will therefore effect nothing disadvantageous to these men, even if they do not effect something useful; education which leads on those who are less robust, fires them up anew and thoroughly warms what is divine in them.
In the other case, however, the consummation falls to the lot only of those who are happy in their own hearts; albeit the race of such souls must be rarer than that that of the phoenix, whose periodic appearances the Egyptians calculate. The majority of men would labor in vain and exhaust themselves hunting for the intelligible essence without intelligence, particularly those whom the first endowment of nature has not urged on to a life like this. For these would indeed benefit by such an impulse, but I regard the impulse itself as a token of a mind in motion. The most of them are neither moved by their inner natures, nor in the 'second voyage', as the proverb says, are they stirred from sleep by leisure to turn towards the mind. But they have striven after the exalted choice as they would after any other thing that is highly esteemed, people of all classes, each class of necessity combining.
Concerning these men, then, I stoutly maintain that they will labor and wear themselves out in vain, inasmuch as they have neither inborn nor acquired intellect; for it seems dangerously near impiety to suggest that the Divinity will dwell in any other part of us than in the mind, since that is God's own temple. On this account wise men, Greeks and foreigners alike, have handed down the tradition of occupying themselves with the purificatory virtues, walling off all preoccupations with nature that these may not offer an impediment to their intellectual activities.
This was the thought of the first men who founded each of the two systems of philosophy. But they [the foreigners] strengthen virtues rather by habits than by reason, and they consider these virtues to be three in number, for those who admit mere self-control do not admit reasoning intelligence; that is to say, if we agree that the quality they possess is self-control. In any case it is impossible that the virtues should not enter in and be grouped through their inevitable sequence. The men in question think that they ought to be temperate without knowing why they ought to be temperate; they only accept a rule of conduct as they would any unjustifiable law, of which the lawgiver knows that is for another reason, namely for the process of thinking, and that it is serviceable for an ascent, in other words, for the avoidance of passion for anything material. Again such men abstain from sexual commerce, paying reference to abstinence for its own sake, thus making the smallest thing of the greatest importance, for they imagine that the preparation is the goal. But we, on the contrary, admire the virtues as elements only of the whole philosophy.
We have learned from Plato that it is perhaps not lawful that the impure should have contact with the pure. Now virtues purify by cleansing what is alien to them. If the soul had been the good, it would have sufficed for its own purification, and it would have been already an excellent thing that it came into being by itself; but while it is clearly not a good thing (for if it were so it would never have come into the sphere of evil), it has nevertheless the form of good and by its nature holds a middle place. When it inclined toward the evil side, virtue brought it up and washed it of its stain, and again placed it midway; but an advance must be made towards the good, and this now through reason; for mind is the name which joins the together intelligible things.
Thus, if it were our object to gaze upon the heavens, it would not suffice that we were not looking on the ground, but that after we had passed range of vision midway of the two, we should then turn our gaze on high. In very truth we should gain benefit from the virtues in becoming disentangled of a partiality for matter. But an uplifting force is needed, for it is insufficient that a man be not evil, he must even be a god. And this state most resembles the turning away from the body and as many thing as are of the body, and the turning, through the intellect, to God.
We therefore, while honoring the virtues, know what rank they hold, to wit, the place that the letters of the alphabet hold towards the knowledge of a book, for the virtues are the earliest [steps] of those ascending to mind. But we do not possess all in possessing the virtues; we have only removed the obstacle, and we have prepared the while those things apart from which it is not even holy to hope to attain the end. In this way far from despairing of this end, we are already in pursuit of it through mind with the help of a procedure discovered by the happy men of old. Now, in seeking, I do not know whether we shall ever find, but scarcely would such fortune come to him who is not enamored [with the end] or knows not whether it is worthy to be sought. And yet those escape from these difficulties in the best way who are steadfast to this and give themselves no further trouble, for once they have purified themselves, they could not be evil.
But there are those who attempt to excel the multitude, learning perchance that reason is the glory of man, and yet have dishonored all instruction by which the mind is strengthened. These men are self-moved in strange ways and out on solemn airs towards philosophy. Whatever false notion came into their mind, this they made wicked and malicious by their own additions to it, bringing forth blind offspring, not worthy to be called the offspring of thought, still less that of mind, but the products of absurd assumption and erring imagination.
You would observe that they are in a laughable situation, or rather in a very pitiable one; for inasmuch as we are human, it is the better part not to laugh at human misfortunes but rather to pity them. Alas for their arguments, alas for their doctrines: if it occurred to rams to philosophize, I do not know what they would hold in honor rather than this. Let us say to them, for it would be well worth it: O boldest of all men, if we had known that you had been so fortunate as to hold the estimate of the soul which was that of Amus, or Zoroaster, or Hermes Trismegistus, or Antonius, we should not have presumed to teach you or to conduct you through a course of study, endowed as you would be with a greatness of mind to which even conclusions are but premises. If it should happen to us to meet such an one as this at any time, we should be awe-struck before him and treat him with veneration. But you we regard as less than our common human nature and no readier of whit than dullards. We therefore think it right even to admonish you, making common property of what we may find best for us.
Keep then the first principles, for men near unto the god have handed them down, and by so doing you will be, according to Plato, holding the middle course; no longer without knowledge, but not yet wise; honoring right opinion, apart from argument and demonstrations; for it is unholy to regard truth as ignorant, nor will any reasoning admit that the unreasoned thing is wise. Once satisfied with these ordering, you would have been treated with moderation, and would be guiltless before God and guiltless also before men. You will even have just praise as your portion, for to a man of the common herd the fact is sufficient.
However, if you do not remain in your place, and if you still seek for what is beyond and busy yourselves with the question 'Wherefore', you would do well to love wisdom, that sacred possession. But do not conduct the quest by yourselves, for you are untrained, and there is danger of your falling into some abyss of folly and so perishing utterly; the catastrophe that even Socrates feared that he might suffer, and which he did not conceal from Parmenides and Zeno, those men so dear to him. And yet that man was Socrates, and you - precisely what you are.
It is nevertheless dreadful rashness on your part to deem yourself worthy to make an incursion into the sanctities of thought, an that too with your vulgar form of diction. They say of a truth that the sowing of Cadmus produced on one and the same day a crop of heavy armed men; but a crop of theologians - no legend ever recounted such an awful portent as this! For truth is not a commodity lying on the ground, or deposited by the wayside, or a quarry to be captured in a hunt.
What then? Let philosophy be summoned here as an ally, and let those who are to endure all that outward journey, prodigious in length, be prepared for it by education both early and late. You must get rid of your boorishness, and watch small mysteries before undertaking great ones; you must learn to step in the chorus before carrying a torch; and you must carry a torch before becoming an initiating priest. Shall you be willing to endure toils upon toils? But again great things are not achieved without the dust of conflict, and yet if you had taken the affair in hand in time, something even of pleasure would have been added to the work, such as they who have pressed forward grasp for themselves. But you are ashamed to learn so late in the day. Nay, this is no disgrace at all; as to ignorance, - it is a disgrace greater even than that, and when you are in a state of ignorance you cannot put up with it in its undiluted form; otherwise, you might, this long while, have been living temperately, neither knowing nor pretending to know, and this is half-knowledge. You would have known at least this much, that you have knowledge of nothing, instead of dragging after you a double ignorance with great display, filled with pride instead of wisdom and undertaking to teach before you have learnt.
I will say again of you: 'Alas for your words, alas for your opinions!' What monsters are born of you absolutely incoherent and many-headed, such as they say once rose up against the gods! And what would anyone say about this except that the whole divine element is torn to pieces by your outrageous suppositions? This would not have happened if you had properly studied the average man; but success lay there all the while in the golden mean. Icarus, when he scorned to use his feet, very quickly missed both air and earth, for he despised the latter and the former he could not attain.
All this has been directed not more against those of the other school than against those amongst ourselves who are grandiloquent although illogical, the very men who have furnished the present work with an occasion for coming to the rescue of preliminary education. Whatever anyone might be inclined to give for these worthless and brainless fellows, they would be dear at three for an obol. I give thanks both to skilful poets, good rhetoricians, and to anyone who has constructed history in memorable fashion, and in general I should like no one of those who have helped to contribute the good in the possession of each, the common stock of the Greeks, to go unrewarded. It is they who, taking us to themselves at the period of infancy, nursed us when we were still weak in intellect, mingling for us the sweet with the beneficial, for no one would have accepted these things unmixed, because of their acidity and of the delicacy of his perceptive faculties at the time.
And in this way by strengthening us and passing us on, one though one subject and another through another, they gave us over to the sciences; and they prepared us for fitness to aspire to the heights, and once there, whenever they perceive our souls besprinkled with sweat, and our nature growing weary, they call us gently back. And [the Muse] Calliope, receiving us as we had come, parched with drought, gave us rest, conducting us to the flowery meads, that we should not be consumed with our labor, and set before us a complete banquet of her Athenian far-fetched phrases and poetic piquancy, by which she first unmanned us, then spurred us on, ourselves the while unaware of this, and little by little brought us round in some wise, and finally made us again strip for the coming contest.
Now he who does not regard the Muses merely as a preliminary ceremonial of initiation, but thinks that the actual force of wisdom is in them, and does not wish to understand them, if perchance they speak enigmatically of something unusual and only hint at their meaning; he, I say, who admires the beauty that lies in them, and gapes at it, and is enthralled by this, such a man, it is true, has accomplished nothing extraordinary. But may many good things still be his, if he be a man of culture and graciousness!
In the same way, although we do not admire swans with the amazement which we bestow upon eagles when their flight is aloft, far above anything visible; nevertheless we take pleasure in looking at them and delight in their song, and may none of them through act of min ever sing for the last time! Now though the others are royal birds, and live beside the scepter of Zeus, nevertheless a certain one of the gods [Apollo], himself the offspring of Zeus, was allotted these, and they are not deemed unworthy of his tripod. To be an eagle and a swan at the same time, and to possess the advantages of both, nature has not granted to birds. But to man God has given it, granting him both success with his tongue and mastery over philosophy.
This battle has been fought by me, on behalf of the Muses, against those who partake not of the Muses, namely those who maliciously shun the exposure of their ignorance by taking refuge in abusing the very things of which they are ignorant; and even if I have spoken more seriously on the subject than my first promise would warrant, something quite serious may come from those who jest. It is impossible to do anything not affected by one's entire state of mind, but even if we play with the greater part of our nature, we are not deprived of the whole. For we give ourselves up to a playful mood which, on the one hand, is allowable, since Dio must find some testimony at my hands, to the end that my destined son may become the heir of his teaching also, but a mood which, on the other hand, has run far afield and over courses of all kind; for the sallies of triflers know no bounds; they are like the open country, like liberty itself, like writing of words not to be declaimed with an eye on the water-clock.
I once saw a judge of the ephetes measuring out the time for the pleaders. He himself, during a portion of the allotted period, was dozing, at another time wide awake to no purpose, and he was as far away from the subject as possible. None the less, the orator continued, as one soon of necessity to be reduced to silence. But I am free of such time-limit, nor does it cramp me, inasmuch as I have neither to prepare to address such a ridiculous judge, nor yet need I enter a more senseless court of justice, having battered at the audience in my audience hall, and having promised to all the youngsters in the town a recitation deftly turned.
How dreadful is the role of those who show off their eloquence before audiences! Surely the man who has to please so many people of ill-assorted temperaments is striving after the unattainable. Such is the people's orator, absolutely the slave of the mob, at the mercy of all, and to do him an ill turn is open to all men. The sophist, if laughed at, is a dead man, and he suspects the sullen hearer as well. For he is always the sophist whatever subject he treats of, borrowing appearance rather than truth. A man who is all attention troubles him, as one seeking a handle against him, and none the less he who wags his head about in all directions, as though he did not think the rhetorical display worth listening to.
And yet for no fault of his own does he encounter tyrants so bitter, if he has endured many nights without sleep, and has been on the strain many days, and has come near to distilling away his soul by hunger and anxieties, that he may compile something good. He has come bringing a delightful and sweet recitation to his haughty favorites, on account of whom he is in bad case, though he pretends to be in good health. He also has bathed himself before the appointment and has gone to meet it with brilliant dress and appearance in order that he too may be a noble spectacle. He salutes the oratorium with a smile, and rejoices, but his soul is on the rack; and further, he has been biting gum in order to speak clearly and tunefully. Not even the most worthy of these men would pretend that this is a matter of complete indifference to him, and that he has taken no trouble about his voice, since right in the midst of the declamation he turns and asks for his flask, which the attendant, who has long had it ready, hands over to him. Then he swallows and gargles some of it, that he may put a youthful note to his melodies. Not even after all his troubles does the unlucky fellow happen upon sympathetic auditors; rather would they like him to sing himself out, for then they would have their laugh. Again, they would like him merely to open his mouth and gape with uplifted hand like a statue, and then become more voiceless than a statue, for thus they could leave, as they have long desired.
But [my case is different], for I sing myself; I sing to these cypresses, and this rivulet of water before me rushes along its course, not measured, nor husbanded according to the water-clock or such a supply as some usher may dole out. If I am not yet coming to an end of my song, I shall certainly do so presently, and if not then, why after a good while, for surely I will not sing into the night. The stream runs even after I have ceased, and will run during the night, during the day, until the next year, and for ever. Why then should I be the slave of a fixed period of time, when I have the power to be independent and to conduct my words where it seems to me that they should be led, not at the mercy of supercilious hearers' judgment, but using myself as measure?
For indeed God has accorded me this lot, to be without a master and free to range; since I never acquired for myself even two pupils, not to speak of three, for whose sake I should have had to visit an appointed place wherein to lecture before them on subjects already agreed upon. I knew that I should cut off a great part of my freedom if I had to make a minute study of a book beforehand, a practice by which it comes to pass that the faculty of memory is energetic, but the critical faculty untrained and sterile, that faculty which must needs be the judge of books. It is through this above all that the philosopher exists; let the other be presented to the grammarians.
And indeed some authors of philosophical books might be presented as grammarians who combine and separate syllables very well, but never succeed in bringing to birth anything of their own. Whatsoever they have actually brought forth is blinded by rashness and is empty; for a man cannot cherish the word within him, who must perforce vomit it out every day. Negligence in high seriousness, the employment of seriousness where it is uncalled for, makes all in vain. Birth pangs of the souls take place to the accompaniment of words just as happens in births of bodies; and whosoever accustoms himself to the untimely birth of souls, suffers for the rest much as those who suffer in the body, and the state of that man slipping to a premature delivery can bring to birth nothing sound of limb or likely to live. Thence comes the one ready to speak before the mob, incapable of establishing any point, or when he takes up a question unable to carry it through to its perfected end, as one would finish a statue by polishing it.
Nor do I esteem it a happy existence to submit to giving accounts, both to the pupils themselves and on behalf of the pupils themselves, to their relatives in regard to the daily lessons. The man who is their instructor would like to shine amongst his pupils and to make these boys break out in applause at his words. This is then another theater much more unlucky than the first.
As matters are, I converse with as many as I please, on as many topics as I please; I choose the topics, the times, the places, and the manner. My interlocutor confers a benefit but he also receives it; for my part I should prefer to listen to those who have anything worth saying than to talk myself. To every man it is in every way happier to fall in with his betters than with his inferiors.
Now this is the life of the teacher. Let us first eliminate from the discussion any one or two individuals who by their inborn nature have become superior to the difficulties inherent in the position. In every occupation this also would be apt to take place, that some individuals should show themselves too strong to be undone by the weaknesses that belong to it, and grow out of it.
Once the teacher has attached to him men to admire him, he will accept nothing that anyone else may say. Otherwise the danger is that he should be despised and should have to submit to the flight of his young pupils. If he does not make any resistance, he is losing his own vocation, and he must be maintained in the position of master. It is therefore fated that the instructor must be jealous, and this is the greatest and the grossest of the passions. Accordingly he will pray that no man in the city may become wise and, if such an one appears, he will injure that man's reputation to the end that he alone may be looked up to. He himself then will sit like a jar filled with wisdom even to the rim, and one which could maintain no more. At least there is no room for anything good, for he is a mischievous fellow and a malignant one.
How then could anyone escape in sorrier plight than a man who cannot become better? Socrates gave himself up even to Prodicus on the chance that he could benefit him, and permitted Hippias to put in a word. In the same way he frequented Protagoras and brought the richest young men into association with such a tribe of sophists. For Socrates did not make himself out to be wise, though wise indeed he was, and it was possible for the young men to see, if they gave their attention to the matter, what manner of master Protagoras was and what manner of pupil Socrates. Nay, even Glaucon and Critias argued with him on an equal footing. Not even Simon the cobbler could bring himself to agree entirely with Socrates, but exacted an answer for every word he uttered, and Cleitophon abused him in the house of Lysias the sophist, and openly preferred the intimacy of Thrasymachus.
Socrates was not in the least nettled at this and Cleitophon is wrong in thinking so. Nay, even Phaedrus sufficed him when he encountered him by chance, and Socrates attended Phaedrus as he led the way out of the city, listened patiently to a banal discourse, and delivered another in return to please Phaedrus. So good-tempered a man was he and not one to stand upon his dignity before men. Witness Xanthippe herself. Alas for her slighting attitude! How she treated Socrates! But nothing prevented Socrates from being of good cheer, even when despised. No more shall it prevent me, or any other man who has not given himself over to the multiform wild beast, notoriety, but who lives to please himself and God, who wishes to live with men like a man, and knows how to do so.
Socrates dealing with the more absurd of these discourses, that one attacking love affairs, is indeed able to adopt the truer course and will straightway adopt it; he will sing the praises of the chariot of Zeus and of the sacred chariot-driving of the other eleven gods, for Hestia alone remains in the palace of the immortals. He sings also of the souls who are followers of the gods, and the struggle of they have in bending over the back of heaven. In that other world, perchance he dares, on the other side of the river, to interpret his venturous speech to the boy by the same plane tree, that speech in which he took up the role of rhetorician, and exercised himself in a contest with the sophist Lysias. It is the same boy that he addresses each time: I do not of course mean Phaedrus, for he was a youth already grown to manhood, but a young boy whom he has in his mind, in the bloom of youthful beauty. It is this one whom he persuades and dissuades alternately of what concerns love; and at one time he is playful with him, while at another he speaks gravely.
Why then should not I, in the case of my son, whom God has promised me next year, but who is really present with me already, why, I say, should not I claim the right to play with him, and to speak gravely also, I who certainly desire him to be good in both directions, 'to be gifted with speech in words and with knowledge in things,' and not to despise Socrates for failing to disdain his capacity to adorn in speech even those interred publicly?
Albeit he thought this too great a task for himself, and therefore attributed to Aspasia his power, Aspasia whom he used to frequent for the pleasure of her instruction on the subject of love. Now if you understand the nature of these discussions on love between Aspasia and Socrates, you will not doubt that philosophy, when she has beheld the last degree of initiation, will recognize beauty everywhere, will welcome it, will praise rhetoric, and will cling to Aspasia and the art of poetry. For this art Socrates practiced without disguise, not as a boy or a young man, but when, already past the prime of his life, he was in prison; at a moment, too, least of all opportune for light diversions to a man of his age, a man who was in circumstances such as had not yet reached the terrible (for what could be terrible to Socrates?), but which were certainly not suitable for trifling. However, he tells us that he was obeying the god.
Do not let us disbelieve him, for the god was making him fit for partnership in his work. Is not he a poet who holds the oracle in Delphi, and, by Zeus, that one amongst the Branchidae? And yet he laid claim to the poetry of Homer as his own.
'I sung it, indeed, but the divine Homer copied it out.'
It has escaped these enemies of fluency of speech therefore that by reason of wisdom they are placing Apollo, Aspasia, and Socrates in a second rank to themselves. Let us on the other hand summon our son to the study of all literature, and we shall pray with him that he may not encounter a rash man who is a potential enemy to the Muses, before he has himself in some way or other become filled with rhetoric and poetry, and is able to understand them, and to come to their defense through his knowledge of them.
What use can he really make of his ancestral poetry? I have diminished the extent of my estates, and many of my slaves have become fellow-citizens of mine. I have gold neither in the form of women's trappings nor in coin; for whatever I once possessed I spent entirely, like Pericles, for necessary purposes. But I have added many times over to the books that I have inherited. All these therefore you, my son, must be able to use.
Now if you are annoyed with me, your father, because I have not corrected for you the manuscripts of Dio, the author who has led to so long a discussion, notice that neither have any other works of a similar nature been corrected for you, nor will Dio need a defense in this respect. Here again there will be need of rhetoric, but I will take my rule from philosophy. The name of Pythagoras of Samos, the son of Mnesarchus, has been inscribed upon the law, the law that does not permit us to make additions to books. On the contrary it demands that they should remain as first written, just as they once held their place in fortune or skill.
In rhetorical speeches the law is that part which is not characterized by rhetoric, for it comes under the head of proofs that are not susceptible of argument, inasmuch as it strength resides, not in the persuasiveness of the speaker, but in the constitution of the state. And yet some of us claim to be orators on such a ground as this, though they are scribes pure and simple. Such men, even if they bring up witnesses in whose testimony the whole case really lies, will imagine that the favorable decision had been due to themselves; they are at the same time so clever and headstrong.
Now, since it is not from the Twelve Tables of the Romans that we have read out the law, so as to make it authoritative even over those unwilling to accept it, but the word comes only from an ancient philosopher, some power of persuasion must needs be added and the speech thus becomes law. But lest we again unknowingly make a great statement about trifles (for in some way or other we are carried back from the lightest subjects to quite serious ones), we will then exercise all the precaution in our power, and if it is really necessary, we will take up some of the things that we have said, and if this is not enough, it would do well to take no additional trouble whatever about it.
Now Pythagoras, or any disciple and supporter of Pythagoras, will say, since his utterances have the force of laws, that the independent mind is best fitted by nature for any vocation, that is to say, a mind which by its energy is actually a poetical and rhetorical force, even if not the most highly endowed for everything. Certain men of this caliber have come here in the past endowed with greatness, or an intimate acquaintance with knowledge, men who needed no teaching, for they were themselves examples of proficiency. The great majority, however, have had no such share in this good fortune; some of them are hopelessly deficient. But possessing a certain power of understanding, some more, some less, some near to the end in view, and some far from it, they are brought to this point by active minds, these minds being the creation of their own activity. Our whole devotion to literature has this one aim in view, namely, the summoning of our forces to activity. Let this employment from the beginning therefore invoke everywhere the help of letters as our guide, and let it be fixed steadily upon the perception of their meaning and, as it advances, let it make trial of its own strength and not entirely cling to the syllables.
For just as any other problem becomes a source of satisfaction to us if our perplexity over it exercises our invention; thus also the mind, compelled to weave that which is missing into the sequence of what is read, and not resting entirely on vision, makes practice in venturing upon a similar work by itself. At the same time it accustoms itself not to belong to others but to itself, for these books containing errors seem to seek out the mind that is superior to mere eyesight.
The teachings of Pythagoras prescribed this to young men, at one time making trial of the natural bent of each of them, at another time esteeming this a preparatory exercise even more suitable to boyhood than the assumptions of plane geometry, for it is no great task to adapt a letter, a syllable, perchance a phrase, or if you will a whole period, and again to employ conveniently what is in the book. This is quite like what happens in the case of the fledglings of eagles. The parents take the eaglets when they are just ready to fly, and bearing them aloft let them go on high, as if permitting them to use their own wings. Then in a moment they take them up again, for they foresee the weakness of their youth, and this trial they repeat frequently until the young have learned thoroughly how to fly.
Now I shall never indulge in youthful boasting before any man, but about these truths, at least, I will boast in your presence. Oft-times I do not attempt to await the conclusion of a book for any good it may do me, but rather do I lift up my eyes and proceed to exercise myself in the narrative, not hesitating in the least but yielding to the opportune moment; and pretending that I am reading straight on, I recite out of my own head whatever it seems to me should follow, and I test what has been thus said in the light of what has been written. Oft-times I find that I have happened upon the same sense and even the same form of expression [as the author]. On the other hand, I have occasionally made a happy shot at a thought, although missing the phrasing itself, and have produced what quite resembled the harmony of the work. And even if the thought was different, it was at all events such as would befit the writer of the book, and one which he would not have rejected if it had come into his mind.
I know that on one occasion I was holding in my hands a volume of the noble and classical order, and when certain men who were present asked me to read something aloud that they might listen to it, I proceeded on this wise. And as opportunity arose I would invent something new and would add an explanation of it, not, but the god of eloquence, that I had rehearsed it, but that, when I came upon it in this way, I fell into harmony with the author’s thought and language. Straightway a great shout of applause arose and there burst forth clapping of hands; they were praising the man who wrote the book and not least on the ground of the additions themselves; to such an extent has the deity made my soul a soft surface to bear the impress of the stamps of diction, and if I had directed my attention by this exercise to uncorrected copies of books, nature would have conducted my mastery to this point when I made the attempt.
A certain sound continues with those whose ears are wearied by the flute, even when its note has ceased, and they remain for some time possessed by it. In this way many times have I forced the note in reading in tragedy, for its music has often added a tragic note to dramas, and I rival comedies in nonsense in response to the labor of the writer. You would say I was the friend at one time of Cratinus and of Crates and at another of Diphilus and Philemon. There is no form, in fine, of metrical conceit or poetry in presence of which I am not exalted, none whose practice I do not carry out, now making whole works to compare with whole works, and now tidbits with tidbits. And as many forms of literary style as exist, and however diverse, in everyone of my imitations of these my own personal note must needs be added. It is thus that the highest string, itself awaiting rhythm, re-echoes it to the melody that is being played.