17 April 2011

Advice from one of the Seven Sages

It may well be that, as many are fond of saying, this is the greatest country ever. Let us suppose it to be so, even though it is hard to ignore many cogent counter-arguments. But in our supposed superiority, why do we not heed the advice of Chilon? The Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi, in his Pensieri, left incomplete at his death in 1837, explains (as translated by J. G. Nichols):
Chilon, who is numbered among the Seven Sages of Greece, advised that the man who is physically strong should be gentle in his behavior, with the purpose, he said, of inspiring in others reverence rather than fear. Affability, a pleasant manner, and even humility are never superfluous in those who, in beauty or intellect or in anything else much desired by the world, are manifestly superior to the majority. This is because the fault for which they have to beg pardon is so grievous, and the enemy they have to placate is so cruel and exacting. The former is superiority, and the latter is envy. The ancients believed this. When they found themselves honoured and in prosperity, they thought it necessary to placate the very gods, expiating with humiliation, with offerings, and with voluntary penances the scarcely expiable sin of happiness and excellence.


Post a Comment

<< Home