After the same manner we may learn to refuse such as come to borrow considerable sums of us, if we have used to deny in little matters where refusal is easy. As Archelaus, king of Macedon, sat at supper, one of his retinue, a fellow who thought there was nothing so honest as to receive, begged of him a golden cup. But the king commanded a waiter to give it immediately to Euripides: For you, sir, said he, are fit indeed to ask any thing, but to receive nothing; and he deserves to receive, though he lacks the confidence to ask. Thus wisely did he make his judgment, and not bashful timidity, his guide in bestowing favors. Yet we oftentimes, when the honesty, nearness, and necessities of our friends and relations are not motives sufficient to prevail with us to their relief, can give profusely to impudence and importunity, not out of any willingness to bestow our money so ill, but merely for want of confidence and resolution to deny. This was the case of Antigonus the elder. Being wearied out with the importunity of Bias, Give, said he to his servants, one talent to Bias and necessity. Yet at other times he was as expert at encountering such addresses as any prince, and dismissed them with as remarkable answers. Thus a certain Cynic one day begging of him a groat, he made answer, That is not for a prince to give. And the poor man replying, Then bestow a talent, he reparteed briskly, Nor that for a Cynic (or, for a dog) to receive. Diogenes went about begging to all the statues in the Ceramicus; and his answer to some that wondered at his fancy in it was, he was practising how to bear a repulse. But indeed it chiefly lies upon us to exercise ourselves in smaller matters to refuse an unreasonable request, that we may not be at loss how to refuse on occasions of greater magnitude. For no one, as Demosthenes says, who has spent all the money that he had in unnecessary expenses, will have plenty of money that he has not for his necessary expenses.* And our disgrace is increased many fold, if we want what is necessary or decent, and abound in trifles and fopperies.
Source: Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878).