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I. Many writers have very naturally conceived that the myth of Ixion, who is fabled to have embraced a cloud instead of Hera, and so to have begotten the centaurs, is really typical of ambitious men; for, although they aim at obtaining glory, and set before themselves a lofty ideal of virtue, yet they never succeed in producing any very distinct result, because all their actions are coloured by various human passions and prejudices, just as the...
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Plutarch's Lives, Volume IV

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Overview

I. Many writers have very naturally conceived that the myth of Ixion, who is fabled to have embraced a cloud instead of Hera, and so to have begotten the centaurs, is really typical of ambitious men; for, although they aim at obtaining glory, and set before themselves a lofty ideal of virtue, yet they never succeed in producing any very distinct result, because all their actions are coloured by various human passions and prejudices, just as the herdsmen with their flocks say in Sophokles’s play:—

“We needs must serve them, though their lords we be,
And to their mute commands obedience pay.”
These verses really represent the state of those who, in order to obtain the empty title of statesmen and popular leaders, govern a country by following the caprices and impulses of the people. Just as the men stationed in the bows of a ship see what is coming before the steersmen, but yet look up to them as their chiefs and execute their orders; so they who govern with a view solely to their own popularity, although they may be called rulers, are, in truth, nothing more than slaves of the people.

II. An absolutely perfect man would not even wish for popularity, except so far as it enabled him to take part in politics, and caused him to be trusted by the people; yet a young and ambitious man must be excused if he feels pride in the glory and reputation which he gains by 2 brilliant exploits. For, as Theophrastus says, the virtue which buds and sprouts in youthful minds is confirmed by praise, and the high spirit thus formed leads it to attempt greater things. On the other hand, an excessive love of praise is dangerous in all cases, but, in statesmen, utterly ruinous; for when it takes hold of men in the possession of great power it drives them to commit acts of sheer madness, because they forget that honourable conduct must increase their popularity, and think that any measure that increases their popularity must necessarily be a good one. We ought to tell the people that they cannot have the same man to lead them and to follow them, just as Phokion is said to have replied to Antipater, when he demanded some disgraceful service from him, “I cannot be Antipater’s friend and his toady at the same time.” One might also quote the fable of the serpent’s tail which murmured against the head and desired sometimes to take the lead, and not always follow the head, but which when allowed to lead the way took the wrong path and caused the head to be miserably crushed, because it allowed itself to be guided by that which could neither see nor hear. This has been the fate of many of those politicians who court the favour of the people; for, after they have once shared their blind impulses, they lose the power of checking their folly, and of restoring good discipline and order. These reflections upon the favour of the people occurred to me when I thought of its power, as shown in the case of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus, men who were well born, well educated, and began their political career with great promise, and yet were ruined, not so much by an excessive craving for popular applause as by a very pardonable fear of disgrace. They both received at the outset great proofs of their countrymen’s goodwill, but felt ashamed to remain as it were in their debt, and they ever strove to wipe out their obligations to the people by legislation on their behalf, and by their beneficent measures continually increased their popularity, until, in the heat of the rivalry thus created, they found themselves pledged to a line of policy in which they could not even pause with honour, and which they could not desist from without disgrace. The reader, however, will be able to form his own opinion 3 about them from their history, and I shall now write, as a parallel to them, the lives of that pair of Laconian reformers, Agis and Kleomenes, kings of Sparta, who, like the Gracchi, increased the power of the people, and endeavoured to restore an admirable and just constitution which had fallen into desuetude; but who, like them, incurred the hatred of the governing class, who were unwilling to relinquish their encroachments and privileges. These Lacedæmonians were not indeed brothers, yet they pursued a kindred policy, with the same objects in view.

III. After the desire for silver and gold had penetrated into Sparta, the acquisition of wealth produced greed and meanness, while the use and enjoyment of riches was followed by luxury, effeminacy, and extravagance. Thus it fell out that Sparta lost her high and honoured position in Greece, and remained in obscurity and disgrace until the reign of Agis and Leonidas. Agis was of the Eurypontid line, the son of Eudamidas, and the sixth in descent from king Agesilaus, who invaded Asia, and became the most powerful man in Greece. This Agesilaus had a son named Archidamus,
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940148896906
  • Publisher: Lost Leaf Publications
  • Publication date: 1/3/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 749 KB

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