Posts Tagged ‘Parallel Lives’

II. The first thing to be noted in describing Nikias is the saying of
Aristotle, that there had been in Athens three citizens of great
ability and patriotism, namely, Nikias, the son of Nikeratus,
Thucydides, the son of Melesias, and Theramenes, the son of Hagnon;
though the latter was not equal to the two former, but was reproached
with being a foreigner from the island of Keos; and, also, because he
was not a stable politician but always inclined to change sides, he
was nicknamed Kothornos, which means a large boot which will fit
either leg. Of these three statesmen the eldest was Thucydides, who
was the leader of the conservative opposition to Perikles; while
Nikias, who was a younger man, rose to a certain eminence during the
life of Perikles, as he acted as his colleague in the command of a
military force, and also filled the office of archon. On the death of
Perikles, Nikias at once became the foremost man in Athens, chiefly by
the favour of the rich and noble, who wished to make use of him to
check the plebeian insolence of Kleon; yet Nikias had the good-will
of the common people, and they were eager to further his interests,
Kleon, indeed, became very powerful by caressing the people and giving
them opportunities for earning money from the State, but in spite of
this, many of the lower classes whose favour he especially strove to
obtain, became disgusted with, his greed and insolence, and preferred
to attach themselves to Nikias. Indeed, there was nothing harsh or
overbearing in the pride of Nikias, which arose chiefly from his fear
of being thought to be currying favour with the people. By nature he
was downhearted and prone to despair, but in war these qualities were
concealed by his invariable success in whatever enterprise he
undertook; while in political life his retiring manner and his dread
of the vulgar demagogues, by whom he was easily put out of
countenance, added to his popularity;…

III. Perikles, indeed, used to govern Athens by sheer force of
character and eloquence, and required no tricks of manner or plausible
speeches to gain him credit with the populace; but Nikias had no
natural gifts of this sort, and owed his position merely to his
wealth. As he could not vie with Kleon in the versatile and humorous
power of speech by which the latter swayed the Athenian masses, he
endeavoured to gain the favour of the people by supplying choruses for
the public dramatic performances and instituting athletic sports on a
scale of lavish expenditure which never before had been equalled by
any citizen….

It is said that once during the performance of a play at his expense,
a slave of his appeared upon the stage habited as Dionysus; a tall and
handsome youth, and still beardless. The Athenians were charmed with
his appearance, and applauded for a long time, at the end of which
Nikias rose and said that he did not think it right that one whose
body was thus consecrated to a god should be a slave; and consequently
he gave him his freedom. Tradition also tells us how magnificently and
decorously he arranged the procession at Delos….

IV. These acts of Nikias may have been prompted by ambition and desire
for display, but when viewed in connection with his superstitious
character they seem more probably to have been the outcome of his
devotional feelings; for we are told by Thucydides that he was one who
stood greatly in awe of the gods, and was wholly devoted to religion.
In one of the dialogues of Pasiphon, we read that he offered sacrifice
daily, and that he kept a soothsayer in his house, whom he pretended
to consult upon affairs of state, but really sought his advice about
his own private concerns, especially about his silver mines. He had
extensive mines at Laurium, the working of which afforded him very
large profits, but yet was attended with great risks. He maintained a
large body of slaves at the works; and most of his property consisted
of the silver produced by them. For this reason he was surrounded by
hangers-on, and persons who endeavoured to obtain a share of his
wealth, and he gave money to all alike, both to those who might do him
harm, and to those who really deserved his liberality, for he gave to
bad men through fear, and to good men through good nature. We may find
proof of this in the writings of the comic poets. Telekleides,
speaking of some informer, says:

“Charikles a mina gave him, fearing he might say
Charikles himself was born in a suspicious way;
And Nikias five minas gave. Now, what his reasons were
I know full well, but will not tell, for he’s a trusty fere.”

Eupolis, too, in his comedy of Marikas has a scene where an informer
meets with a poor man who is no politician, and says:

“A. Say where you last with Nikias did meet.
B. Never. Save once I saw him in the street.
A. He owns he saw him. Wherefore should he say
He saw him, if he meant not to betray
His crimes?
C. My friends, you all perceive the fact,
That Nikias is taken in the act.
B. Think you, O fools, that such a man as he
In any wicked act would taken be.”

Just so does Kleon threaten him in Aristophanes’s play:

“The orators I’ll silence, and make Nikias afraid.”

Phrynichus, too, sneers at his cowardice and fear of the popular
demagogues, when he says:

“An honest citizen indeed he was,
And not a coward like to Nikias.”

V. Nikias feared so much to give the mob orators grounds for
accusation against him, that he dared not so much as dine with his
follow citizens, and pass his time in their society. Nor did he have
any leisure at all for such amusements, but when general, he used to
spend the whole day in the War office, and when the Senate met he
would be the first to come to the house and the last to leave it. When
there was no public business to be transacted, he was hard to meet
with, as he shut himself up in his house and seldom stirred abroad.
His friends used to tell those who came to his door that they must
pardon him for not receiving them, as he was not at leisure, being
engaged on public business of great importance. One Hieron, whom he
had brought up in his house and educated, assisted him greatly in
throwing this air of mystery and haughty exclusiveness over his life.
This man gave out that he was the son of Dionysius, called Chalkus,
whose poems are still extant, and who was the leader of the expedition
to Italy to found the city of Thurii. Hiero used to keep Nikias
supplied with prophetic responses from the soothsayers, and gave out
to the Athenians that Nikias was toiling night and day on their
behalf, saying that when he was in his bath or at his dinner he was
constantly being interrupted by some important public business or
other, so that, said he, “His night’s rest is broken by his labours,
and his private affairs are neglected through his devotion to those of
the public. He has injured his health, and besides losing his fortune,
has been deserted by many of his friends on account of his not being
able to entertain them and make himself agreeable to them; while other
men find in politics a means of obtaining both friends and fortune, at
the expense of the state.” In very truth the life of Nikias was such
that he might well apply to himself the words of Agamemnon.

“In outward show and stately pomp all others I exceed,
And yet the people’s underling I am in very deed.”
(Ack:The Project Gutenberg EBook of Plutarch’s Lives Volume III., by Plutarch)

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Athenian statesman, contemprory of Demosthenes, the orator.

Phocion was a pupil of Plato and in later life a close friend of the Platonic philosopher Xenocrates. After serving Persia as a mercenary, he was drawn into Athens’ efforts to remain independent of Macedonia. In 348 his tactical skills saved an Athenian force sent to crush allies of Philip II in Euboea. He helped Megara (343) and Byzantium (340) defend themselves against Philip, but from about this time he regarded the Macedonians as unstoppable and cultivated diplomatic relations with them in order to avoid outright conquest. Following the death of Alexander the Great in 323, he advised against the Lamian War, though he led the defense against a Macedonian raid into Athenian territory. Sent to sue for peace the next year, he managed to reduce his city’s indemnities but was forced to accept the occupation of Athens’ port, Piraeus.

Phocion ruled Athens as Macedonia’s agent with great moderation and personal honesty. In the power struggle after the death of the regent in 319, however, he was deposed, convicted of treason, and was decreed the same death as meted out to Scrates, death by drinking hemlock. He was executed by Athenians hoping to restore democracy. Shortly afterward, the Athenians decreed a public burial and a statue in his honour.


When someone made a joke about his severe visage, and some of the local politicians he was not on good terms with laughed in response, he remarked, “My frown never yet made any of you sad, but these jolly men have given you plenty of sorrow.”

Demosthenes once said to Phocion that he might be killed some day, if the people became irrational. Phocion responded: “Yes; however, they would kill you if they came to their senses.” Demosthenes naturally described him as ‘the chopper of my speeches.’

Phocion’s recognized uprightness bestowed on him the cognomen “The Good”. Phocion could have been extremely wealthy, either by his offices or by the high commissions which were managed by him. Instead, he had an extremely frugal lifestyle. This was despite the fact that the entire Athenian political class was quite corrupt in that epoch.]

Philip II offered much money to him and the Macedonian heralds mentioned the future needs of his sons. Phocion responded, “If my sons are like me, my farm, which has enabled my present eminence, will suffice for them. If, instead, they become spoiled by luxury, I will not be the individual who will be guilty for that.”

Alexander sent a delegation to Phocion to offer him 100 talents, but he refused, saying: “I am an honorable man. I would not harm either Alexander’s reputation or mine.” Then, the king further offered him the government and possession of the cities Cius, Mylasa and Elaea. Phocion refused, but did request the release of some men enslaved at Sardis, who were promptly liberated. Soon afterward, Alexander died (323 BC).

In 322 BC, Harpalus arrived at Athens from Asia, seeking refuge. He tried to give 700 talents to Phocion, who rejected this offer. Phocion warned that he shouldn’t attempt to corrupt Athens or he would be punished. Consequently, the angry Harpalus turned the whole assembly against Phocion with his bribes. However, as Phocion kept helping him (with good will but within ethical limits), Harpalus approached Phocion’s son-in-law, Charicles, becoming a friend. Charicles eventually accepted a lavish commission to build a tomb for Harpalus’ mistress, and was investigated for corruption. Phocion refused to help him at the trial, saying: “I chose you to be my son-in-law only for honorable purposes.”

Phocion also refused presents from Menyllus. Phocion said: “You are not a better man than Alexander, so there is no reason to accept your gifts.” With his bribes, Menyllus then became a friend of Phocus.

(ack: wikipedia,Brittania encyclo.,)

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Historians are not agreed upon the origin and meaning of the famous name

of Rome. One version tells us that after the capture

of Troy some fugitives obtained ships, were carried by the winds to the

Tyrrhenian or Tuscan coast, and cast anchor in the Tiber. There the

women, who had suffered much from the sea voyage, were advised by one

who was accounted chief among them for wisdom and noble birth, Roma by

name, to burn the ships. At first the men were angry at this, but

afterwards, being compelled to settle round about the Palatine Hill,

they fared better than they expected, as they found the country fertile

and the neighbours hospitable; so they paid great honour to Roma, and

called the city after her name.

 Take Two:

Some say that Roma, who gave the name to the city, was the daughter

of Italus and Leucaria, or of Telephus the son of Hercules, and the wife

of Aeneas, while others say that she was the daughter of Ascanius the

son of Aeneas. Since these versions are disputed re is And even those who follow the most reasonable of these legends, and admit that it was

Romulus who founded the city after his own name, do not agree about his


Take Three:

Some say that Romulus was the son of Aeneas and Dexithea the

daughter of Phorbas, and with his brother Romus was brought to Italy

when a child, and that as the river was in flood, all the other boats

were swamped, but that in which the children were was carried to a soft

bank and miraculously preserved, from which the name of Rome was given

to the place.

Take Four:

Others say that Roma, the daughter of that Trojan lady,

married Latinus the son of Telemachus and bore a son, Romulus.

Take Five: 

In the house of Tarchetius, the king of the Albani, a cruel and lawless

man, a miracle took place. A male figure arose from the hearth, and

remained there for many days. Now there was in Etruria an oracle of

Tethys, which told Tarchetius that a virgin must be offered to the

figure; for there should be born of her a son surpassing all mankind in

strength, valour, and good fortune. Tarchetius hereupon explained the

oracle to one of his daughters, and ordered her to give herself up to

the figure; but she, not liking to do so, sent her servant-maid instead.

Tarchetius, when he learned this, was greatly incensed, and cast them

both into prison, meaning to put them to death. However, in a dream,

Vesta appeared to him, forbidding him to slay them. In consequence of

this he locked them up with a loom, telling them that when they had

woven the piece of work upon it they should be married. So they wove all

day, and during the night other maidens sent by Tarchetius undid their

work again. Now when the servant-maid was delivered of twins, Tarchetius

gave them to one Teratius, and bade him destroy them. He laid them down

near the river; and there they were suckled by a she-wolf, while all

sorts of birds brought them morsels of food, until one day a cowherd saw

them. Filled with wonder he ventured to come up to the children and

bear them off. Saved from death in this manner they grew up, and then

attacked and slew Tarchetius. This is the legend given by one

Promathion, the compiler of a history of Italy.(Parallel Lives by Plutarch)

Founding of Rome belongs to the past. Who is funding her now?



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Plutarch as a writer of biographies is always a pleasure to come back to when one’s vital forces are vitiated by the meanness of living close to the plough. Our earthly existence has to deal with much of doing what are necessities that lay our larder stocked but do not however satiate the spirit. Plutarch is a writer of Parallel Lives. For examples he treats the lives of Alexander the great and Julius Caesar as pendent to one another. ‘For,’ he says, ‘I
do not write Histories, but Lives; nor do the most conspicuous acts of
necessity exhibit a man’s virtue or his vice, but oftentimes some slight
circumstance, a word, or a jest, shows a man’s character better than
battles with the slaughter of tens of thousands, and the greatest arrays
of armies and sieges of cities. Now, as painters produce a likeness by a
representation of the countenance and the expression of the eyes,
without troubling themselves about the other parts of the body, so I
must be allowed to look rather into the signs of a man’s character, and
thus give a portrait of his life, leaving others to describe great
events and battles.’ The object then of Plutarch in his Biographies was
a moral end, and the exhibition of the principal events in a man’s life
was subordinate to this his main design; and though he may not always
have adhered to the principle which he laid down, it cannot be denied
that his view of what biography should be, is much more exact than that
of most persons who have attempted this style of composition. The life
of a statesman or of a general, when written with a view of giving a
complete history of all the public events in which he was engaged, is
not biography, but history… Though altogether deficient in that critical sagacity
which discerns truth from falsehood, and distinguishes the intricacies
of confused and conflicting statements, Plutarch has preserved in his
Lives a vast number of facts which would otherwise have been unknown to
us. He was a great reader, and must have had access to large libraries.
It is said that he quotes two hundred and fifty writers, a great part of
whose works are now entirely lost.” (_Penny Cyclopaedia)

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