46 Plutarch.

Plutarch's Lives Volume III online

. (page 45 of 55)
Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 45 of 55)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


writer he had no superior among his contemporaries. His varied talents
are further shown by his numerous literary labours, of which some
small notices remain. His views were large and enlightened, his
schemes were vast and boundless. His genius deserved a better sphere
than the degenerate republic in which he lived. But the power which he
acquired did not die with him. A youth of tender age succeeded to the
name and the inheritance of Cæsar, and by his great talents and a long
career of wonderful success consolidated that Monarchy which we call
the Roman Empire.

Shakspere has founded his play of Julius Cæsar on Plutarch's Life of
Cæsar and the Lives of Brutus and Antonius. The passages in North's
version which he has more particularly turned to his purpose are
collected in Mr. Knight's edition of Shakspere (8vo. edition).
Shakspere has three Roman plays, Coriolanus, Julius Cæsar, and Antony
and Cleopatra. As a drama the first is the best. The play of Julius
Cæsar has been estimated very differently by different critics. Mr.
Knight has many valuable remarks on these Roman plays (vol. xi.), and
he has shown the way, as he conceives, in which they should be viewed.
The Julius Cæsar is so constructed as to show the usurpation and death
of Cæsar, and the fall of Brutus, the chief of the assassins, at the
battle of Philippi. With Brutus the hopes of his party fell. The play
should therefore rather be entitled Marcus Brutus than Julius Cæsar;
and it is deficient in that unity without which no great dramatic
effect can be produced. The name and the fame of Cæsar,

the noblest man,
That ever lived in the tide of time,

obscure the meaner talents of Brutus; and that death which in Plutarch
forms a truly tragical catastrophe, here occurs in the middle of the
action, which would appropriately terminate with it. But we have to
follow the historical course of events; we follow Brutus to his fate
at the battle of Philippi, and witness the vengeance of which Cæsar's
ghost forewarns the false friends. Shakspere may have meant to
represent Brutus as the last of the Romans, and the Republic as dying
with him; but he also represents him as haunted by the ghost of his
murdered benefactor, and losing heart before the final contest. The
"great dæmon" of Cæsar avenged him on his enemies; and in this point
of view the play has a unity. Brutus dies like a Roman, and that
murder to which he was led by the instigation of others, only renders
the Monarchy inevitable and necessary. But if the play is faulty in
construction, as I venture to think it is, it has other merits of the
highest order, which place it in some respects among the best works of
the great master of dramatic art.]


LIFE OF PHOKION.

I. The orator Demades, who became one of the chief men in Athens by
his subservience to the Macedonians and Antipater, and who was forced
to say and to write much that was derogatory to the glory and contrary
to the traditional policy of Athens, used to excuse himself by
pleading that he did not come to the helm before the vessel of the
State was an utter wreck. This expression, which seems a bold one when
used by Demades, might with great truth have been applied to the
policy of Phokion. Indeed Demades himself wrecked Athens by his
licentious life and policy, and when he was an old man Antipater said
of him that he was like a victim which has been cut up for sacrifice,
for there was nothing left of him but his tongue and his paunch; while
the true virtue of Phokion was obscured by the evil days for Greece
during which he lived, which prevented his obtaining the distinction
which he deserved. We must not believe Sophokles, when he says that
virtue is feeble and dies out in men:

"Why, not the very mind that's born with man,
When he's unfortunate, remains the same."

Yet we must admit that fortune has so much power even over good men,
that it has sometimes withheld from them their due meed of esteem and
praise, has sullied their reputations with unworthy calumnies, and
made it difficult for the world to believe in their virtue.

II. It would seem that democracies, when elated by success, are
especially prone to break out into wanton maltreatment of their
greatest men; and this is also true in the opposite case: for
misfortunes render popular assemblies harsh, irritable, and uncertain
in temper, so that it becomes a dangerous matter to address them,
because they take offence at any speaker who gives them wholesome
counsel. When he blames them for their mistakes, they think that he is
reproaching them with their misfortunes, and when he speaks his mind
freely about their condition, they imagine that he is insulting them.
Just as honey irritates wounds and sores, so does true and sensible
advice exasperate the unfortunate, if it be not of a gentle and
soothing nature: exactly as the poet calls sweet things agreeable,
because they agree with the taste, and do not oppose or fight against
it. An inflamed eye prefers the shade, and shuns strong lights: and a
city, when involved in misfortunes, becomes timid and weak through its
inability to endure plain speaking at a time when it especially needs
it, as otherwise its mistakes cannot be repaired. For this reason the
position of a statesman in a democracy must always be full of peril;
for if he tries merely to please the people he will share their ruin,
while if he thwarts them he will be destroyed by them.

Astronomers teach us that the sun does not move in exactly the same
course as the stars, and yet not in one which is opposed to them, but
by revolving in an inclined and oblique orbit performs an easy and
excellent circuit through them all, by which means everything is kept
in its place, and its elements combined in the most admirable manner.
So too in political matters, the man who takes too high a tone, and
opposes the popular will in all cases, must be thought harsh and
morose, while on the other hand he who always follows the people and
shares in all their mistakes pursues a dangerous and ruinous policy.
The art of government by which states are made great consists in
sometimes making concessions to the people, and gratifying them when
they are obedient to authority, and at the same time insisting upon
salutary measures. Men willingly obey and support such a ruler if he
does not act in a harsh and tyrannical fashion: but he has a very
difficult and laborious part to play, and it is hard for him to
combine the sternness of a sovereign with the gentleness of a popular
leader, If, however, he succeed in combining these qualities, they
produce the truest and noblest harmony, like that by which God is
said to regulate the universe, as everything is brought about by
gentle persuasion, and not by violence.

III. All this was exemplified in the case of the younger Cato: for he
had not the art of persuasion and was unacceptable to the people, nor
did he rise to eminence by the popular favour, but Cicero[622] says
that he lost his consulship because he acted as if he were living in
the Republic of Plato, and not in the dregs of Romulus. Such men seem
to me to resemble fruits which grow out of season: for men gaze upon
them with wonder, but do not eat them: and the stern antique virtue of
Cato, displayed as it was in a corrupt and dissolute age, long after
the season for it had gone by, gained him great glory and renown, but
proved totally useless, as it was of too exalted a type to suit the
political exigencies of the day. When Cato began his career, his
country was not already ruined, as was that of Phokion. The ship of
the state was indeed labouring heavily in the storm, but Cato,
although he was not permitted to take the helm and guide the vessel,
exerted himself so manfully, and gave so much assistance to those who
were more powerful than himself, that he all but triumphed over
fortune. The constitution was, no doubt, finally overthrown; but its
ruin was due to others, and only took place after a long and severe
struggle, during which Cato very nearly succeeded in saving it. I have
chosen Phokion to compare with him, not because of the general
resemblance of their characters as good and statesmanlike men, for a
man may possess the same quality in various forms, as, for example,
the courage of Alkibiades was of a different kind to that of
Epameinondas; the ability of Themistokles was different to that of
Aristeides; and the justice of Numa Pompilius was different to that of
Agesilaus. But in the case of Phokion and Cato, their virtues bore the
same stamp, form, and ethical complexion down to the most minute
particulars. Both alike possessed the same mixture of kindness and
severity, of caution and daring: both alike cared for the safety of
others and neglected their own: both alike shrank from baseness, and
were zealous for the right; so that one would have to use a very nice
discrimination to discover the points of difference between their
respective dispositions.

IV. Cato is admitted by all writers to have been a man of noble
descent, as will be explained in his life: and I imagine that the
family of Phokion was not altogether mean and contemptible. If his
father had really been a pestle maker, as we are told by Idomeneus,
who may be sure that Glaukippus, the son of Hypereides, who collected
and flung at him such a mass of abuse, would not have omitted to
mention his low birth, nor would he have been so well brought up as to
have been a scholar of Plato while a lad, and afterwards to have
studied under Xenokrates in the Academy; while from his youth up he
always took an interest in liberal branches of learning. We are told
by the historian Douris that scarcely any Athenian ever saw Phokion
laughing or weeping, or bathing in the public baths, or with his hand
outside of his cloak, when he wore one. Indeed when he was in the
country or on a campaign he always went barefooted and wore only his
tunic, unless the cold was excessively severe; so that the soldiers
used to say in jest that it was a sign of wintry weather to see
Phokion wearing his cloak.

V. Though one of the kindest and most affable of men, he was of a
forbidding and severe countenance, so that men who did not know him
well feared to address him when alone. Once when Chares in a speech
mentioned Phokion's gloomy brow, the Athenians began to laugh. "Yet,"
said he, "his brow has never harmed you: but the laughter of these men
has brought great sorrow upon the state." In like manner also the
oratory of Phokion was most valuable, as it incited his countrymen to
win brilliant successes, and to form lofty aspirations. He spoke in a
brief, harsh, commanding style, without any attempt to flatter or
please his audience. Just as Zeno says that a philosopher ought to
steep his words in meaning, so Phokion's speeches conveyed the
greatest possible amount of meaning in the smallest compass. It is
probably in allusion to this that Polyeuktus[623] of Sphettus said
that Demosthenes was the best orator, but that Phokion was the most
powerful speaker. As the smallest coins are those which have the
greatest intrinsic value, so Phokion in his speeches seemed to say
much with few words. We are told that once while the people were
flocking into the theatre Phokion was walking up and down near the
stage, plunged in thought. "You seem meditative, Phokion," said one of
his friends. "Yes, by Zeus," answered he, "I am considering whether I
can shorten the speech which I am going to make to the Athenians."
Demosthenes himself, who despised the other orators, when Phokion rose
used to whisper to his friends, "Here comes the cleaver of my
harangues." Much of his influence, however, must be ascribed to his
personal character; since a word or a gesture of a truly good man
carries more weight than ten thousand eloquently argued speeches.

VI. While yet a youth Phokion especially attached himself to the
general Chabrias, and followed him in his campaigns, in which he
gained considerable military experience, and in some instances was
able to correct the strange inequalities of his commander's
temperament. Chabrias, usually sluggish and hard to rouse, when in
action became vehemently excited, and tried to outdo the boldest of
his followers in acts of daring: indeed he lost his life at Chios by
being the first to run his ship on shore and to try to effect a
landing in the face of the enemy. Phokion, who was a man of action,
and cautious nevertheless, proved most useful in stirring up Chabrias
when sluggish, and again in moderating his eagerness when roused. In
consequence of this, Chabrias, who was of a kindly and noble
disposition, loved Phokion and promoted him to many responsible posts,
so that his name became well known throughout Greece, as Chabrias
entrusted him with the management of the most important military
operations. At the battle of Naxos he enabled Phokion to win great
glory, by placing him in command of the left wing, where the most
important struggle took place, and where the victory was finally
decided. As this was the first sea fight, since the capture and ruin
of Athens, which the Athenians won by themselves, without allies, over
other Greeks, they were greatly pleased with Chabrias, and Phokion was
henceforth spoken of as a man of military genius. The battle was won
during the performance of the Great Mysteries at Eleusis; and every
year afterwards, on the sixteenth day of the month Böedromion,
Chabrias used to entertain the Athenians, and offer libations of wine
to the gods.

VII. After this Chabrias sent Phokion to visit the islands and exact
tribute from them, giving him an escort of twenty ships of war: upon
which Phokion is said to have remarked, that if he was sent to fight
the islanders, he should require a larger force, but that if he was
going to the allies of Athens, one ship would suffice for him. He
sailed in his own trireme, visited all the states, simply and
unassumingly explained the objects of his mission to their leading
men, and returned home with a large fleet, which the allies despatched
to convey their tribute safe to Athens.

He not only esteemed and looked up to Chabrias while he lived, but
after his death he took care of his family, and endeavoured to make a
good man of his son Ktesippus; and though he found this youth stupid
and unmanageable, he never ceased his efforts to amend his character
and to conceal his faults. Once only we are told that when on some
campaign the young man was tormenting him with unreasonable questions,
and offering him advice as though he were appointed assistant-general,
Phokion exclaimed, "O Chabrias, Chabrias, I do indeed prove myself
grateful for your friendship for me, by enduring this from your son!"
Observing that the public men of the day had, as if by lot, divided
the duties of the war-office and of the public assembly amongst
themselves, so that Eubulus, Aristophon, Demosthenes, Lykurgus, and
Hypereides did nothing except make speeches to the people and bring
forward bills, while Diopeithes, Menestheus, Leosthenes, and Chares
rose entirely by acting as generals and by making war, Phokion wished
to restore the era of Perikles, Aristeides, and Solon, statesmen who
were able to manage both of these branches of the administration with
equal success. Each one of those great men seemed to him, in the words
of Archilochus, to have been

"A man, who served the grisly god of arms,
Yet well could comprehend the Muses's charms."

The tutelary goddess of Athens herself, he remarked, presided equally
over war and over domestic administration, and was worshipped under
both attributes.

VIII. With this object in view Phokion invariably used his political
influence in favour of peace, but nevertheless was elected
general[624] more times not only than any of his contemporaries, but
also than any of his predecessors: yet he never canvassed his
countrymen or made any effort to obtain the office, though he did not
refuse to fill it at his country's bidding. All historians admit that
he was elected general five-and-forty times, and never once missed
being elected, since even when he was absent the Athenians used to
send for him to come home and be elected; so that his enemies used to
wonder that Phokion, who always thwarted the Athenians and never
flattered them either by word or deed, should be favoured by them, and
were wont to say that the Athenians in their hours of relaxation used
to amuse themselves by listening to the speeches of their more lively
and brilliant orators, just as royal personages are said to amuse
themselves with their favourites after dinner, but that they made
their appointments to public offices in a sober and earnest spirit,
choosing for that purpose the most severe and sensible man in Athens,
and the one too, who alone, or at any rate more than any one else, was
in the habit of opposing their impulses and wishes. When an oracle was
brought from Delphi and read before the assembly, which said that
when all the Athenians were of one mind, one man would be opposed to
the state, Phokion rose and said that he was the man in question, for
he disapproved of the whole of their policy. And once when he made
some remark in a speech which was vociferously applauded, and he saw
the whole assembly unanimous in its approval of his words, he turned
to some of his friends and said, "Have I inadvertently said something
bad?"

IX. Once when the Athenians were asking for subscriptions for some
festival, and all the others had paid their subscriptions, Phokion,
after he had been frequently asked to subscribe, answered, "Ask these
rich men: for my part I should be ashamed of myself if I were to give
money to you, and not pay what I owe to this man here," pointing to
Kallikles the money-lender. As the people did not cease shouting and
abusing him, he told them a fable: "A cowardly man went to the wars,
and when he heard the cawing of the crows, he laid down his arms and
sat still. Then he took up his arms and marched on, and they again
began to caw, so he halted again. At last he said, 'You may caw as
loud as you please, but you shall never make a meal of me.'" On
another occasion when the Athenians wished to send him to meet the
enemy, and when he refused, called him a coward, he said, "You are not
able to make me brave, nor am I able to make you cowards. However, we
understand one another." At some dangerous crisis the people were
greatly enraged with him, and demanded an account of his conduct as
general. "I hope," said he, "my good friends, that you will save
yourselves first." As the Athenians, when at war, were
humble-spirited, and full of fears, but after peace was made became
bold, and reproached Phokion for having lost them their chance of
victory, he said, "You are fortunate in having a general who
understands you; for if you had not, you would long ago have been
ruined." When the Athenians wished to decide some dispute about
territory by arms instead of by arbitration, Phokion advised them to
fight the Bœotians with words, in which they were superior, not with
arms, in which they were inferior to them. Once when they would not
attend to his words, or listen to him, he said, "You are able to force
me to do what I do not wish, but you shall never force me to counsel
what I do not approve." When Demosthenes, one of the orators of the
opposite party, said to him, "Phokion, the Athenians will kill you, if
they lose their senses." He answered, "Yes, but they will kill you, if
they regain them." When he saw Polyeuktus of Sphettus in a great heat
urging the Athenians to go to war with Philip, panting and sweating
profusely, as he was a very fat man, and drinking great draughts of
water, he said, "Ought you to believe what this man says, and vote for
war? What sort of a figure will he make in a suit of armour and with a
shield to carry, when the enemy are at hand, if he cannot explain his
thoughts to you without nearly choking himself?" When Lykurgus abused
him freely in the public assembly and above all, reproached him with
having advised the people to deliver up ten citizens to Alexander when
he demanded them, he said, "I have often given the people good advice,
but they will not obey me."

X. There was one Archibiades, who was surnamed the Laconizer, who grew
a great beard, wore a Spartan cloak, and affected a stern demeanour
like a Spartan. Once when Phokion was being violently attacked in the
assembly he called upon this man to bear witness to the truth of what
he said, and to assist him. Archibiades now rose and said what he
thought would please the Athenians, upon which Phokion, seizing him by
the beard, exclaimed, "Why then, Archibiades, do you not shave?"[625]
When Aristogeiton, the informer, who made warlike speeches in the
public assembly, and urged the people to action, came to be enrolled
on the list for active service leaning on a stick, with his legs
bandaged, Phokion, catching sight of him from the tribune where he
stood, called out "Write down Aristogeiton, a cripple and a villain."
From this it appears strange that so harsh and ungenial a man should
have been named "The Good."

It is difficult, I imagine, but not impossible, for the same man to
be like wine, both sweet and harsh: just as other men and other wines
seem at first to be pleasant, but prove in the end both disagreeable
and injurious to those who use them. We are told that Hypereides once
said to the Athenians, "Men of Athens, do not think whether I am harsh
or not, but whether I am harsh for nothing;" as if it was only
covetousness that made men hated, and as if those persons were not
much more generally disliked who used their power to gratify their
insolence, their private grudges, their anger, or their ambition.
Phokion never harmed any Athenian because he disliked him, and never
accounted any man his enemy, but merely showed himself stern and
inexorable to those who opposed his efforts to save his country, while
in the rest of his life he was so kind and amiable to all men, that he
often helped his opponents, and came to the aid of his political
antagonists when they were in difficulties. Once when his friends
reproached him for having interceded in court for some worthless man
who was being tried, he answered that good men do not need any
intercessor. When Aristogeiton, after he had been condemned, sent for
Phokion, and begged him to visit him, he at once started to go to the
prison; and when his friends tried to prevent him, he said, "My good
sirs, let me go; for where would one wish to meet Aristogeiton rather
than in prison?"

XI. Indeed, if any other generals were sent out to the allies and
people of the islands, they always treated them as enemies, fortified
their walls, blocked up their harbours, and sent their slaves and
cattle, their women and children, into their cities for shelter; but
when Phokion was in command they came out a long way to meet him with
their own ships, crowned with flowers, and led him rejoicing into
their cities.

XII. When Philip stealthily seized Eubœa,[626] landed a Macedonian
army there, and began to win over the cities by means of their
despots, Plutarchus of Eretria sent to Athens and begged the Athenians
to rescue the island from the Macedonians. Phokion was now sent
thither in command of a small force, as it was expected that the
people of the country would rally round him. He found, however,
nothing but treachery and corruption, as all patriotism had been
undermined by the bribes of Philip, and soon was brought into great
danger. He established himself upon a hill which was cut off by a
ravine from the plain near the city of Tamynæ, and there collected the
most trustworthy part of his forces, bidding his officers take no heed
of the undisciplined mass of talkers and cowards who deserted from his
camp and made their way home, observing that they were useless in
action because they would not obey orders, and only hindered the
fighting men, while at Athens the consciousness of their baseness
would prevent their bringing false accusations against him.

XIII. When the enemy[627] drew near, he ordered his troops to remain
quiet under arms until he had finished offering sacrifice. Either the
sacrifices were unfavourable, or else he designedly wasted time,
wishing to bring the enemy as close as possible. The result was that
Plutarchus,[628] imagining that the Athenians were terror-stricken and
hanging back, rushed to attack the enemy at the head of the Eubœans.
Seeing this, the Athenian cavalry could no longer endure to remain
idle, but charged at once, pouring out of their camp in scattered



Online Library46 PlutarchPlutarch's Lives Volume III → online text (page 45 of 55)