Posts Tagged ‘Plutarch’

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.,)

Read Full Post »

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?



Read Full Post »

Outline:Aegeus is tricked by Pitheus to have sex with his daughter-Theseus is reared by his mother and when time comes he goes in search of his father. Medea wants to kill the youth but his father recognizes him by his sword. He is acknowledged as his legitimate heir. Sons of Pallas and his fifty sons wage war against him and are routed. Exploits of Theseus, Theseus and Ariadne-Theseus kills the minotaur and return to Athens. Credited as making Athens adopt democratic way of government.
As in maps of antiquity areas were sometimes marked with legends that showed ignorance of the cartographer than explained the true case. A lion country may upon close examination would have yielded dandelions than the king of the beasts. But such legends make us reexamine antiquity not for exactness of geography but for understanding the lack of it. I, Plutarch is aiming for an effect and not for explaining facts I do not have. The effect is entertaining my reader, of course.
Theseus is considered as the founder of Athens as Romulus, the founder of Rome. There are several points of resemblance to one another. Both were unacknowledged illegitimate children, and were reputed to descend from the Gods. Both were wise as well as powerful. The one founded Rome, while the other was the joint founder of Athens; and these are two of the most famous of cities. Both carried off women by violence, and neither of them escaped domestic misfortune and retribution, but towards the end of their lives both were at variance with their countrymen from what we have on this from writers of antiquity.(selected)

Read Full Post »

Boredom is the enemy #1 to every serious occupation in life. A story which concerns St. John, a favorite disciple of Jesus is that he was once seen sporting with a tame partridge, by an archer who thought that the holy man should not waste his time in such frivolities; The apostle replied that if the archer did not at times relax his bow, it would lose spring.
Can there be time out for holiness? For a saint like St. Francis even frivolities shall prove his human quality in its naturalness. Addressing the sun as Brother Sun or the birds the revered figure of Assissi proved his time out was in fitness of God’s kingdom. The hand that wounds a man of God is an occasion for him to show his essence. He may dismiss it as natural of being among men of all persuasions and quality. For him forgiving comes easier because he is not only thinking of himself but also of another. Tyrants at home demand service and not understand those who serve also have sometimes difficulties in meeting their demands. They have simply forgotten others since they are full of themselves. Those who slash and burn rain forests do so because they want to aggrandize themselves at the expense of others. How can such fellows call themselves as human or decent?

The great Caesar as Plutarch tells us, on one occasion sought shelter under the roof of a rustic shepherd. At dinner time the meal cooked in rancid oil and served to him made the companion bristle with indignity. Caesar could accept the humble meal and thank him for his hospitality. Caesar proved his greatness even under straitened circumstances. He did not forget where he was and his place. He was a guest and having forced himself on another man’s hospitality knew how to behave. Like Caesar each of us is a guest here on earth.
Can there be time out for holiness? Or let us rephrase it like thus: Can there be time out from being human?
Tailpiece: there is nothing that can fix a problem like capitalism than fixing who we are and our decency to others who also have found sharing the space. None of us owns the earth. Perhaps education that we tout as cure-all is a travesty of true purpose of education. Think of damage done under initiative and free enterprise! colossal damage done by cretins in the name of bold initiative. Ptooii! Education on these fellows seems to fit the proverb:’casting pearls before swine’.

Read Full Post »

Scholar, Diplomat

His life and work by a stroke of luck coincided with a time of crisis when the world order of Eastern Roman Empire was being occulted by Islam. His work laid the soil ready for a catastrophe,- the fall of Constantinople that came later. When it did come humanism and Greek thought from the wreckage of Eastern Roman Empire could put out roots deep and grow in Europe.
Manuel who had embraced the Catholic faith was in favor of Catholic and Orthodox Churches united in faith against the onslaught of an alien faith and culture. This union was first endorsed in Lyons in 1274 but it did not come to fruition. Many like Manuel Chrysoloras saw it as a political necessity.
Chrysoloras remained in Florence 1397-1400. The scholars saw it as a great new opportunity: there were many teachers of law, but no one had studied Greek in Italy for 700 years. While in Florence he began teaching Greek, starting with the rudiments. He moved on to teach in Bologna and later in Venice and Rome. Though he taught widely, a handful of his chosen students remained a close-knit group, among the first humanists of the Renaissance. Among his pupils were numbered some of the foremost figures of the revival of Greek studies in Renaissance Italy.
In 1408, he was sent to Paris on an important mission from the emperor Manuel Palaeologus. In 1413, he went to Germany on an embassy to the emperor Sigismund, the object of which was to fix a place for the church council that later assembled at Constance. Chrysoloras was on his way there, representing the Greek Church, when he died suddenly. His death gave rise to commemorative essays (Chrysolorina).

Chrysoloras translated the works of Homer and Plato’s Republic into Latin. His own works, which circulated in manuscript in his life time. His Erotemata Civas Questiones, which was the first basic Greek grammar in use in Western Europe, first published in 1484 and widely reprinted, and it enjoyed considerable success all over Europe. The Lives by Plutarch served as a catalyst to ideals of humanism and a bible for the nascent Renaissance humanist movement. His contribution to spread ideals of Hellenism and Greek scholarship to the West was of immense value.

Read Full Post »

On hearing that Ismenias was an excellent flute player Antisthenes answered:
“But he must be a worthless man,for if he were not, he would not be such a capital flute-player!” King Philip of Macedon, when his son played brilliantly and agreeably on the harp at an entertainment, said to him, “Are you not ashamed, to play so well?” Plutarch said that it was enough for a king, if he sometimes employed his leisure in listening to musicians.
Think how a timely reproof changed Alexander the great to concentrate on things worthwhile? There was nothing that earmarked him to be world conqueror. But he conquered his own inclinations and mind in order to pursue what was important. From skirmishes he graduated to lead men in war and honed his skills to lead them well. His father made him see where his true interest ought to be. Life being short one ought to have his or her priorities right.
‘Reach for the stars’ implies that it is addressed to those who are earth-bound. By developing full potential doesn’t mean growing in all directions. Michelangelo was versatile with words and chisel. His verses showed his talent but his genius shone through sculpture. We know him as painter of the Sistine chapel ceiling and as the sculptor of David. Being able to play Jews-harp is all right but for an orator like Demosthenes excellence in it is at the cost of something more profound and noble.
Plutarch writes thus in his life of Pericles thus: One day in Rome, Caesar, seeing some rich foreigners nursing and petting young lap-dog and monkeys, enquired whether in their parts of
the world the women bore no children: a truly imperial reproof to those who waste on animals the affection which they ought to bestow upon mankind. May we not equally blame those who waste the curiosity and love of knowledge which belongs to human nature, by directing it to worthless, not to useful objects? It is indeed unavoidable that external objects, whether good or bad, should produce some effect upon our senses; but every man is able, if he chooses, to concentrate his mind upon any subject he may please. For this reason we ought to seek virtue, not merely in order to contemplate it, but that we may ourselves derive some benefit from so doing.
He who waters the rosebush and spends pruning it shall have some of its fragrance cling to him.

Read Full Post »

The Pleasure of Books

Books are one way of communicating with the dead and the past. It is a mystical experience pure and simple.
There are those who are, as Isaac Disraeli the father of the British Prime Minister would describe, men with one book. Sir William Jones read the works of Cicero every year. Demosthenes felt such delight in the history of Thucidides, and in order to obtain a familiar and perfect mastery of his style he copied his history eight times. Selim the Second had the commentaries of Caesar translated for his use; and it is recorded that his military ardor was heightened by his reading. (Ack: Curiosities in Literature-vol iv)
Charles Laughton in recent times was known to write down in long hand the specimen works of an author before he played the role for the screen. By this method he had spiritually put on the mantle of Rembrandt or any other as it were.
Napoleon in his youth read Plutarch so extensively that it showed. When he visited his homeland on a furlough he had long chats with General Paoli, whose adjutant his father had been long ago. At the end of their conversation once, the old General shook his head and said, ’There is nothing modern about you, Napoleon, you come from the age of Plutarch.’ Harry Truman as a fledgling senator found use for Parallel Lives by Plutarch,- and human nature being such, he found Greek and Roman counterparts in the modern senators he came to deal with,- and thanks to his reading, he was forewarned to survive the Washington political jungle.
Reading an autobiography has all the charm of conversing with a mind that is very much before you and whether he has come down to your level or you have been lifted to his does not spoil the mood. You are open for impressions of his time and his train of thoughts. It is no wonder a book, imaginary or true when it is well written has the power to break down the illusion of time and place. Even after Arthur Conan Doyle’s death, letters have come in for his brainchild, the immortal sleuth Sherlock Holmes. Much earlier when Samuel Richardson wrote Clarissa it created a sensation.
One day Mrs. Barbauld was going to Hampstead in the stagecoach, she had a Frenchman for her companion. In chatting with him she realized he was making a trip to Hampstead for the express purpose of seeing the house in the Flask Walk where Clarissa lodged.
Recently Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code made droves of visitors follow the route that the hero had taken to crack the code.
An appeal of books whether formatted in electronic ink or on paper is what it contains. Life of man and woman may be a constant search for meaning around which each may arrange his or her days in order. Unfortunately reality allows no such easy way out. Powerful books serve as a mirror where we see our lives reflected back to us complete with much needed insight, even though much of details have undergone some changes. Balzac’s imagination was such he could invest in them reality needed enough. When an admirer, one day brought news of a common acquaintance who was ill Balzac heard him for a while and asked, ’But let’s get back to reality. Who is going to marry Eugenie Grandet?’
Oscar Wilde in his own characteristic way summed up effect of Balzac’s books on a reader. ’A steady course of Balzac reduces our living friends to shadows…;who would care to go out to meet Tomkins, the friend of one’s boyhood, when one can sit at home with Lucien de Rubempré(one of Balzac’s characters)? It is pleasanter to have an entrée to Balzac’s society than to receive from all the duchesses of Mayfair’.

An alderman of Oxford religiously read Defoe’s classic each year and believed Robinson Crusoe was a real person. Great was dismay to be told by a friend it was not so. He also said it was based loosely on a true incident which befell a Scottish sailor by name Alexander Selkirk.
He replied that he wished that he were not informed the truth ‘for in undeceiving me, you have deprived me of one of the greatest pleasures of my old age.’
Benjamin Franklin
At a dinner party where Benjamin Franklin was one of the distinguished guests he was asked by Abbe Raynal, ”What kind o f man deserves the most pity?”
Franklin answered, ”A lonesome man on a rainy day, who does not know how to read.”
Harry S. Truman had a lonely childhood, made worse by his physical debilities. He took to wearing glasses since he was six years old. He was a voracious reader mostly of history. Later in life he would say much of his political acumen and understanding of people he had gathered out of Plutarch.
In 1957 Truman during an interview asserted that Alexander the Great died as a result of drinking 33 quarts of wine.
The interviewer was puzzled at the figure and checked up with the Library of Congress. With great difficulty the researcher unearthed in an obscure and long out of print volume of the Ancient Greeks he found that the President was right after all.
John Dryden(1631-1700)the Poet Laurate was unhappily married and his literary pursuits annoyed his wife all the more.
Once she faulted him,’Lord Mr. Dryden,how can you always be poring over these musty books? I wish I were a book and then I should have more of your company.’
‘Pray my dear,’ was his answer, ‘if you do become a book let it be an almanack, for then I’ll change you every year’.
Their conjugal life must have been strained for the poet to compose the following epitaph for her.
‘Here lies my wife: here let her lie!
Now she’s at rest, and so am I’

Mark Twain was traveling through Europe and at one point he had an Englishman in his compartment. Having introduced himself Mark Twain turned his attention to his reading. His companion startled him by saying,’ Mr. Clemens I would give ten pounds not to have read your Huckleberry Finn.’
And when the author looked up, awaiting an explanation of this extraordinary remark, the Englishman smiled and added: ’So I could again have the pleasure of reading it for the first time.’


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,470 other followers