Front Page Titles (by Subject) WHETHER 'TWERE RIGHTLY SAID, LIVE CONCEALED. - The Morals, vol. 3
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WHETHER ’TWERE RIGHTLY SAID, LIVE CONCEALED. - Plutarch, The Morals, vol. 3 
Plutarch’s Morals. Translated from the Greek by Several Hands. Corrected and Revised by William W. Goodwin, with an Introduction by Ralph Waldo Emerson. 5 Volumes. (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878). Vol. 3.
Part of: Plutarch’s Morals, 5 vols.
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WHETHER ’TWERE RIGHTLY SAID, LIVE CONCEALED.
1.It is sure, he that said it had no mind to live concealed, for he spoke it out of a design of being taken notice of for his very saying it, as if he saw deeper into things than every vulgar eye, and of purchasing to himself a reputation, how unjustly soever, by inveigling others into obscurity and retirement. But the poet says right:
For they tell us of one Philoxenus the son of Eryxis, and Gnatho the Sicilian, who were so over greedy after any dainties set before them, that they would blow their nose in the dish, whereby, turning the stomachs of the other guests, they themselves went away fuller crammed with the rarities. Thus fares it with all those whose appetite is always lusting and insatiate after glory. They bespatter the repute of others, as their rivals in honor, that they themselves may advance smoothly to it and without a rub. They do like watermen, who look astern while they row the boat ahead, still so managing the strokes of the oar that the vessel may make on to its port. So these men who recommend to us such kind of precepts row hard after glory, but with their face another way. To what purpose else need this have been said? — why committed to writing and handed down to posterity? Would he live incognito to his contemporaries, who is so eager to be known to succeeding ages?
2. But besides, doth not the thing itself sound ill, to bid you keep all your lifetime out of the world’s eye, as if you had rifled the sepulchres of the dead, or done such like detestable villany which you should hide for? What! is it grown a crime to live, unless you can keep all others from knowing you do so? For my part, I should pronounce that even an ill-liver ought not to withdraw himself from the converse of others. No; let him be known, let him be reclaimed, let him repent; so that, if you have any stock of virtue, let it not lie unemployed, or if you have been viciously bent, do not by flying the means continue unreclaimed and uncured. Point me out therefore and distinguish me the man to whom you adopt this admonition. If to one devoid of sense, goodness, or wit, it is like one that should caution a person under a fever or raving madness not to let it be known where he is, for fear the physicians should find him, but rather to skulk in some dark corner, where he and his diseases may escape discovery. So you who labor under that pernicious, that scarce curable disease, wickedness, are by parity of reason bid to conceal your vices, your envyings, your superstitions, like some disorderly or feverous pulse, for fear of falling into the hands of them who might prescribe well to you and set you to rights again. Whereas, alas! in the days of remote antiquity, men exhibited the sick to public view, when every charitable passenger who had labored himself under the like malady, or had experienced a remedy on them that did, communicated to the diseased all the receipts he knew; thus, say they, skill in physic was patched up by multiplied experiments, and grew to a mighty art. At the same rate ought all the infirmities of a dissolute life, all the irregular passions of the soul, to be laid open to the view of all, and undergo the touch of every skilful hand, that all who examine into the temper may be able to prescribe accordingly. For instance, doth anger transport you? The advice in that case is, Shun the occasions of it. Doth jealousy torment you? Take this or that course. Art thou love-sick? It hath been my own case and infirmity to be so too; but I saw the folly of it, I repented, I grew wiser. But for those that lie, denying, hiding, mincing, and palliating their vices, it makes them but take the deeper dye, it rivets their faults into them.
3. Again, if on the other hand this advice be calculated for the owners of worth and virtue, if they must be condemned to privacy and live unknown to the world, you do in effect bid Epaminondas lay down his arms, you bid Lycurgus rescind his laws, you bid Thrasybulus spare the tyrants, in a word, you bid Pythagoras forbear his instructions, and Socrates his reasonings and discourses; nay, you lay injunctions chiefly upon yourself, Epicurus, not to maintain that epistolary correspondence with your Asiatic friends, not to entertain your Egyptian visitants, not to be tutor to the youth of Lampsacus, not to present and send about your books to women as well as men, out of an ostentation of some wisdom in yourself more than vulgar, not to leave such particular directions about your funeral. And in fine, to what purpose, Epicurus, did you keep a public table? Why that concourse of friends, that resort of fair young men, at your doors? Why so many thousand lines so elaborately composed and writ upon Metrodorus, Aristobulus, and Chaeredemus, that death itself might not rob us of them; if virtue must be doomed to oblivion, art to idleness and inactivity, philosophy to silence, and all a man’s happiness must be forgotten?
4. But if indeed, in the state of life we are under, you will needs seclude us from all knowledge and acquaintance with the world (as men shut light from their entertainments and drinking-bouts, for which they set the night apart), let it be only such who make it the whole business of life to heap pleasure upon pleasure; let such live recluses all their days. Were I, in truth, to wanton away my days in the arms of your miss Hedeia, or spend them with Leontium, another dear of yours, — were I to bid defiance to virtue, or to place all that’s good in the gratification of the flesh or the ticklings of a sensual pleasure, — these accursed actions and rites would need darkness and an eternal night to veil them; and may they ever be doomed to oblivion and obscurity. But what should they hide their heads for, who with regard to the works of nature own and magnify a God, who celebrate his justice and providence, who in point of morality are due observers of the law, promoters of society and community among all men, and lovers of the public-weal, and who in the administration thereof prefer the common good before private advantage? Why should such men cloister up themselves, and live recluses from the world? For would you have them out of the way, for fear they should set a good example, and allure others to virtue out of emulation of the precedent? If Themistocles’s valor had been unknown at Athens, Greece had never given Xerxes that repulse. Had not Camillus shown himself in defence of the Romans, their city Rome had no longer stood. Sicily had not recovered her liberty, had Plato been a stranger to Dion. Truly (in my mind) to be known to the world under some eminent character not only carries a reputation with it, but makes the virtues in us become practical like light, which renders us not only visible but useful to others. Epaminondas, during the first forty years of his life, in which no notice was taken of him, was an useless citizen to Thebes; but afterwards, when he had once gained credit and the government amongst the Thebans, he both rescued them from present destruction, and freed even Greece herself from imminent slavery, exhibiting (like light, which is in its own nature glorious, and to others beneficial at the same time) a valor seasonably active and serviceable to his country, yet interwoven with his own laurels. For
Virtue, like finest brass, by use grows bright.*
And not our houses alone, when (as Sophocles has it) they stand long untenanted, run the faster to ruin; but men’s natural parts, lying unemployed for lack of acquaintance with the world, contract a kind of filth or rust and craziness thereby. For sottish ease, and a life wholly sedentary and given up to idleness, spoil and debilitate not only the body but the soul too. And as close waters shadowed over by bordering trees, and stagnated in default of springs to supply current and motion to them, become foul and corrupt; so, methinks, is it with the innate faculties of a dull unstirring soul, — whatever usefulness, whatever seeds of good she may have latent in her, yet when she puts not these powers into action, when once they stagnate, they lose their vigor and run to decay.
5. See you not how on night’s approach a sluggish drowsiness oft-times seizes the body, and sloth and inactiveness surprise the soul, and she finds herself heavy and quite unfit for action? Have you not then observed how a man’s reason (like fire scarce visible and just going out) retires into itself, and how by reason of its inactivity and dulness it is gently agitated by divers fantastical imaginations, so that nothing remains but some obscure indications that the man is alive.
It doth, as it were, bring the world together again, and with his returned light call up and excite all mankind to thought and action; and, as Democritus tells us, men setting themselves every new-spring day to endeavors of mutual beneficence and service one towards another, as if they were fastened in the straitest tie together, do all of them, some from one, some from another quarter of the world, rouse up and awake to action.
6. For my own part, I am fully persuaded that life itself, and our being born at the rate we are, and the origin we share in common with all mankind, were vouchsafed us by God to the intent we should be known to one another. It is true, whilst man, in that little part of him, his soul, lies struggling and scattered in the vast womb of the universe, he is an obscure and unknown being; but, when once he gets hither into this world and puts a body on, he grows illustrious, and from an obscure becomes a conspicuous being; from an hidden, an apparent one. For knowledge does not lead to essence (or being), as some maintain; but the essence of things rather conducts us into the knowledge and understanding thereof. For the birth or generation of individuals gives not any being to them which they had not before, but brings that individual into view; as also the corruption or death of any creature is not its annihilation or reduction into mere nothing, but rather a sending the dissolved being into an invisible state. Hence is it that many persons (conformably to their ancient country laws), taking the Sun to be Apollo, gave him the names of Delius and Pythius (that is, conspicuous and known). But for him, be he either God or Daemon, who hath dominion over the opposite portion, the infernal regions, they call him Hades (that is, invisible),
Emperor of gloomy night and lazy sleep,
for that at our death and dissolution we pass into a state of invisibility and beyond the reach of mortal eyes. I am indeed of opinion, that the ancients called man Phos (that is, light), because from the affinity of their natures strong desires are bred in mankind of continually seeing and being seen to each other. Nay, some philosophers hold the soul itself to be essentially light; which they would prove by this among other arguments, that nothing is so insupportable to the mind of man as ignorance and obscurity. Whatever is destitute of light she avoids, and darkness, the harbor of fears and suspicions, is uneasy to her; whereas, on the other hand, light is so delicious, so desirable a thing, that without that, and wrapped in darkness, none of the delectables in nature are pleasing to her. This makes all our very pleasures, all our diversions and enjoyments, charming and grateful to us, like some universal relishing ingredients mixed with the others to make them palatable. But he that casts himself into obscure retirements, he that sits surrounded in darkness and buries himself alive, seems, in my mind, to repine at his own birth and grudge he ever had a being.
7. And yet it is certain, in the regions prepared for pious souls, they conserve not only an existence in (or agreeable to) nature, but are encircled with glory.
The rivers there without rude murmurs gently glide, and there they meet and bear each other company, passing away their time in commemorating and running over things past and present.
A third state there is of them who have led vicious and wicked lives, which precipitates souls into a kind of hell and miserable abyss,
This is the receptacle of the tormented; here lie they hid under the veils of eternal ignorance and oblivion. For vultures do not everlastingly gorge themselves upon the liver of a wicked man, exposed by angry Gods upon the earth, as poets fondly feign of Prometheus. For either rottenness or the funeral pile hath consumed that long ago. Nor do the bodies of the tormented undergo (as Sisyphus is fabled to do) the toil and pressure of weighty burdens;
For strength no longer flesh and bone sustains.*
There are no reliques of the body in dead men which stripes and tortures can make impressions on; but in very truth the sole punishment of ill-livers is an inglorious obscurity, or a final abolition, which through oblivion hurls and plunges them into deplorable rivers, bottomless seas, and a dark abyss, involving all in uselessness and inactivity, absolute ignorance and obscurity, as their last and eternal doom.
[* ]From Euripides, Frag. 897.
[* ]Sophocles, Frag. 779.
[* ]From Pindar.
[* ]Odyss. XI. 219.