Front Page Titles (by Subject) OF BANISHMENT, OR FLYING ONE'S COUNTRY. - The Morals, vol. 3
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OF BANISHMENT, OR FLYING ONE’S COUNTRY. - 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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OF BANISHMENT, OR FLYING ONE’S COUNTRY.
1.One may say of discourses what they use to say of friends, that they are the best and firmest that afford their useful presence and help in calamities. Many indeed present themselves and discourse with those that are fallen into misfortunes, who yet do them more harm than good. Like men that attempt to succor drowning persons and have themselves no skill in diving under water, they entangle one another, and sink together to the bottom. The discourses of friends, such as would help an afflicted person, ought to be directed to the consolation, and not to the patronage of his sorrows. For we have no need in our distresses of such as may bear us company in weeping and howling, like a chorus in a tragedy, but of such as will deal freely with us, and will convince us that, — as it is in all cases vain and foolish and to no purpose to grieve and cast down one’s self, — so, when the things themselves that afflict us, after a rational examination and discovery of what they are, give a man leave to say to himself thus,
it would be extremely ridiculous for him not to put the question to his body, and ask it what it has suffered, nor to his soul, and ask how much worse it is become by this accident, but only to make use of those teachers of grief from abroad, who come to bear a part with him in his sorrow, or to express indignation at what has happened.
2. Let us therefore, when we are alone, question with ourselves concerning the things that have befallen us, considering them as heavy loads. The body, we know, is under pressure by a burden lying upon it; but the soul oft-times adds a further weight of her own to things. A stone is hard and ice is cold by nature, not by any thing from without happening to make such qualities and impressions upon them. But as for banishment and disgraces and loss of honors (and so for their contraries, crowns, chief rule, and precedency of place), our opinion prescribing the measure of our joys or sorrows and not the nature of the things themselves, every man makes them to himself light or heavy, easy to be borne or grievous. You may hear Polynices’s answer to this question,
But you may hear Alcman in quite another strain, as the epigrammatist has brought him in saying:
Thus one man’s opinion makes the same thing commodious, like current money, and another man’s unserviceable and hurtful.
3. But let us grant (as many say and sing) that it is a grievous thing to be banished. So there are also many things that we eat, of a bitter, sharp, and biting taste, which yet by a mixture of other things more mild and sweet have all their unpleasantness taken off. There are also some colors troublesome to look upon, which bear so hard and strike so piercingly upon the sight, that they confound and dazzle it; if now by mixing shadows with them, or by turning our eyes upon some green and pleasant color, we remedy this inconvenience, thou mayst also do the same to the afflictions that befall thee, considering them with a mixture of those advantages and benefits thou still enjoyest, as wealth, friends, vacancy from business, and a supply of all things necessary to human life. For I think there are few Sardians but would desire to be in your condition, though banished, and would choose to live as you may do, though in a strange country, rather than — like snails that grow to their shells — enjoy no other good, saving only what they have at home without trouble.
4. As he therefore in the comedy that advised his unfortunate friend to take heart and to revenge himself of Fortune, being asked which way, answered, By the help of philosophy; so we also may be revenged of her, by acting worthily like philosophers. For what course do we take when it is rainy weather, or a cold north wind blows? We creep to the fireside, or go into a bath, put on more clothes, or go into a dry house; and do not sit still in a shower and cry. It is in thy power above most men’s to revive and cherish that part of thy life which seems to be chill and benumbed, not needing any other helps, but only according to thy best judgment and prudence making use of the things that thou possessest. The cupping-glasses physicians use, by drawing the worst humors out of the body, alleviate and preserve the rest; but they that are prone to grieve and make sad complaints, by mustering together alway the worst of their afflictive circumstances, by debating these things over and over, being fastened (as it were) to their troubles, make the most advantageous things to be wholly useless to themselves, and especially when their case requires most help and assistance. As for those two hogsheads, my friend, which Homer says lie in heaven, full, the one of the good, the other of the ill fates of men, — it is not Jupiter that sits to draw out and transmit to some a moderate share of evils mixed with good, but to others only unqualified streams of evil; but it is we ourselves who do it. Those of us that are wise, drawing out of the good to temper with our evils, make our lives pleasant and potable; but the greater part (which are fools) are like sieves, which let the best pass through, but the worst and the very dregs of misfortune stick to them and remain behind.
5. Wherefore, if we fall into any real evil or calamity, we must bring in what is pleasant and delightful of the remaining good things in our possession, and thus, by what we enjoy at home, mitigate the sense of those evils that befall us from abroad. But where there is no evil in the nature of the things, but the whole of that which afflicts us is framed by imagination and false opinion, in this case we must do just as we deal with children that are apt to be frighted with false faces and vizards; by bringing them nearer, and making them handle and turn them on every side, they are brought at last to despise them; so we, by a nearer touching and fixing our consideration upon our feigned evils, may be able to detect and discover the weakness and vanity of what we fear and so tragically deplore.
Such is your present condition of being banished out of that which you account your country; for nature has given us no country, as it has given us no house or field, no smith’s or apothecary’s shop, as Ariston said; but every one of them is always made or rather called such a man’s by his dwelling in it or making use of it. For man (as Plato says) is not an earthly and unmovable, but a heavenly plant, the head raising the body erect as from a root, and directed upwards toward heaven.* Hence is that saying of Hercules:
But Socrates expressed it better, when he said, he was not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world (just as a man calls himself a citizen of Rhodes or Corinth), because he did not enclose himself within the limits of Sunium, Taenarum, or the Ceraunian mountains.
These are the boundaries of our country, and no man is an exile or a stranger or foreigner in these, where there is the same fire, water, air, the same rulers, administrators, and presidents, the same sun, moon, and daystar; where there are the same laws to all, and where, under one orderly disposition and government, are the summer and winter solstices, the equinoxes, Pleiades, Arcturus, times of sowing and planting; where there is one king and supreme ruler, which is God, who comprehends the beginning, the middle, and end of the universe; who passes through all things in a straight course, compassing all things according to nature: justice follows him to take vengeance on those that transgress the divine law, which justice we naturally all make use of towards all men, as being citizens of the same community.
6. But for thee to complain that thou dost not dwell at Sardis is no objection; for all the Athenians do not inhabit Collytus, nor do all the men of Corinth live in the Cranium, nor all of Lacedaemon in Pitane.
Do you look upon those Athenians as strangers and banished persons who removed from Melite to Diomea, — whence they called the month Metageitnion, and the sacrifices they offered in memory of their removal Metageitnia, being pleased with and cheerfully accepting this new neighborhood to another people? Surely you will not say so. What parts of the inhabited earth or of the whole earth can be said to be far distant one from another, when mathematicians demonstrate that the whole earth is to be accounted as an indivisible point, compared with the heavens? But we, like pismires or bees, when we are cast out of one ant-hill or hive, are in great anxiety, and take on as if we were strangers and undone, not knowing how to make and account all things our own, as indeed they are. We shall certainly laugh at his folly who shall affirm there was a better moon at Athens than at Corinth; and yet we in a sort commit the same error, when being in a strange country we look upon the earth, the sea, the air, the heavens doubtfully, as if they were not the same, but quite different from those we have been accustomed to. Nature in our first production sent us out free and loose; we bind and straiten and pin up ourselves in houses, and reduce ourselves into a scant and little room.
Moreover, we laugh at the kings of Persia, who (if the story be true) will drink only the water of the River Choaspes, by this means making the rest of the habitable world to be without water, as to themselves; but we, when we remove to other countries, and retain our longings after Cephissus and Eurotas, and are pleased with nothing so much as the hills Taygetus and Parnassus, we make the whole earth unhabitable to ourselves, and are without a house or city where we can dwell.
7. When certain Egyptians, not enduring the anger and hard usage of their king, went to dwell in Ethiopia, and some earnestly entreated them to return to their wives and children they had left behind them, they very impudently showed them their privy parts, saying they should never want wives or children whilst they carried those about them. But it is more grave and becoming to say that whosoever happens to be provided with a competency of the necessaries to life, wheresoever he is, is not without a city or a dwelling, nor need reckon himself a stranger there; only he ought to have besides these prudence and consideration, like a governing anchor, that he may be able to make advantage of any port at which he arrives. It is not easy indeed for him that has lost his wealth quickly to gather it up again; but every city becomes presently that man’s country who has the skill to use it, and who has those roots which can live and thrive, cling and grow to every place. Such had Themistocles, and such had Demetrius Phalareus; for this last named, after his banishment, being the prime friend of King Ptolemy in Alexandria, not only was abundantly provided for himself, but also sent presents to the Athenians. As for Themistocles, he was maintained by an allowance suitable to his quality at the King’s charge, and is reported to have said to his wife and children, We had been undone, if we had not been undone. Diogenes the Cynic also, when one told him, The Sinopians have condemned thee to fly from Pontus, replied, And I have condemned them to stay in Pontus,
Stratonicus enquiring of his host in the isle of Seriphus what crime among them was punished with banishment, and being told forgery was so punished, he asked him why he did not commit that crime that he might be removed out of that strait place; and yet there, as the comedian expresses it, they reap down their figs with slings, and that island is provided with all things that it wants.
8. For if you consider the truth of things, setting aside vain fancy and opinion, he that has got an agreeable city to dwell in is a stranger and foreigner to all the rest, for it seems not reasonable and just, that leaving his own he should go to dwell in another city. As the proverb is, “Sparta is the province fallen to your lot, adorn it,” though it should be in no credit or prove unhealthful, though disturbed with seditions, and its affairs in distemper and out of order. But as for him whom Fortune has deprived of his own habitation, it gives him leave to go and dwell where he pleases. That good precept of the Pythagoreans, “Make choice of the best life you can, and custom will make it pleasant,” is here also wise and useful. Choose the best and pleasantest place to live in, and time will make it thy country, and such a country as will not encumber and distract thee, not laying on thee such commands as these, — Bring in so much money; Go on such an embassy to Rome; Entertain such a governor; Bear such a public office. If a prudent person and no way conceited, calls these things to mind, he will choose to live in exile in such a sorry island as Gyarus, or in Cynarus that is “so hard and barren and unfit for plantation,” and do this without reluctancy, not making such sorrowful complaints as the women do in the poet Simonides:
but will rather remind himself of that saying of King Philip, who receiving a fall in a place of wrestling, when he turned himself in rising and saw the print of his body in the dust, exclaimed, Good God! what a small portion of earth has Nature assigned us, and yet we covet the whole world.
9. I presume you have seen the island of Naxos, or at least the town of Hyria here hard by; in the former of which Ephialtes and Otus made their abode, and in the latter Orion dwelt. Alcmaeon’s seat was on the newly hardened mud which the river Achelous had cast up, — when he fled from the Furies, as the poets tell us, — but I guess it was when he fled from the rulers of the state and from seditions, and to avoid those furies, the sycophants and informers, that he chose that little spot of ground to dwell on, where he was free from business and lived in ease and quiet. Tiberius Caesar passed the last seven years of his life in the island of Capreae; and that sacred governing spirit that swayed the whole world, and was enclosed as it were in his breast, yet for so long time never removed nor changed place. And yet the thoughts and cares of the empire, that were poured in upon him and invaded him on every side, made that island’s repose and retirement to be less pure and undisturbed to him. But he that by retreating to a small island can free himself from great evils is a miserable man, if he does not often say and sing those verses of Pindar to himself, —
not being disquieted with seditions or the edicts of princes, nor with administering affairs when the public is in straits, nor undergoing officers that are hard to be put by and denied.
10. For if that be a good saying of Callimachus, that we ought not to measure wisdom by a Persian cord, much less should we measure happiness by cords of furlongs, or, if we chance to inhabit an island of two hundred furlongs and not (like Sicily) of four days’ sail in compass, think that we ought to disquiet ourselves and lament as if we were very miserable and unfortunate. For what does a place of large extent contribute to the tranquillity of one’s life? Do you not hear Tantalus saying in the tragedy:
But he says a little after:
Nausithous, forsaking the spacious country of Hyperia because the Cyclops bordered upon it, and removing to an island far distant from all other people, chose there,
and yet he procured a very pleasant way of living to his own citizens.
The Cyclades islands were formerly inhabited by the children of Minos, and afterwards by the children of Codrus and Neleus; in which now fools that are banished thither think they are punished. And indeed, what island is there to which men are wont to be banished that is not larger than the land that lies about Scillus, in which Xenophon after his military expedition passed delicately his old age? The Academy near Athens, that was purchased for three thousand drachmas, was the place where Plato, Xenocrates, and Polemo dwelt; there they held their schools, and there they lived all their lifetime, except one day every year, when Xenocrates came into the city at the time of the Bacchanals and the new tragedies, to grace the feast, as they say. Theocritus of Chios reproached Aristotle, who affected a court-life with Philip and Alexander, that he chose instead of the Academy rather to dwell at the mouth of Borborus. For there is a river by Pella, which the Macedonians call by that name.
But as for islands, Homer sets himself as it were studiously to commend them in these verses:
And among the famous men that dwelt in islands they reckon Aeolus, a great favorite of the Gods, the most prudent Ulysses, the most valiant Ajax, and Alcinous, the most courteous entertainer of strangers.
11. When Zeno was told that the only ship he had remaining was cast away at sea with all her lading, he replied: Well done Fortune, that hast reduced me to the habit and life of a philosopher. And, indeed, a man that is not puffed up with conceit nor madly in love with a crowd will not, I suppose, have any reason to accuse Fortune for constraining him to live in an island, but will rather commend her for removing so much anxiety and agitation of his mind, for putting a stop to his rambles in foreign countries, to his dangers at sea, and the noise and tumult of the exchange, and for giving him a fixed, vacant, undisturbed life, such a life as he may truly call his own, describing as it were a circle about him, in which is contained the use of all things necessary. For what island is there that has not a horse, a walk, and a bath in it; that has not fishes and hares for such as delight in hunting and angling and such like sports? But the chiefest of all is, that the quiet which others thirst so much after thou commonly mayst have here without seeking. For those that are gamesters at dice, shutting up themselves at home, there are sycophants and busy spies that hunt them out, and prosecute them from their houses of pleasure and gardens in the suburbs, and hale them by violence before the judges or the court. But none sails to an island to give a man any disturbance, no petitioner, no borrower, no urger to suretyship, no one that comes to beg his voice when he stands candidate for an office; only the best friends and familiars, out of good-will and desire to see him, may come over thither; and the rest of his life is safe and inviolable to him, if he has the will and the skill to live at ease. But he that cries up the happiness of those that run about in other countries, or spend the most of their life in inns and passage-boats, is no wiser than he is that thinks the planets in a better estate than the fixed stars. And yet every planet rolling about in its proper sphere, as in an island, keeps its order. For the sun never transgresses its limited measures, as Heraclitus says; if it did do so, the Furies, which are the attendants of Justice, would find it out and punish it.
12. These things, my friend, and such like we say and sing to those who, by being banished into an island, have no correspondence or commerce with other people,
But as for thee, who art not assigned to one place only, but forbidden only to live in one, the prohibiting thee one is the giving thee leave to dwell anywhere else besides. If on one hand it is urged thus against you: You are in no office, you are not of the senate, nor preside as moderator at the public games, you may oppose on the other hand thus: We head no factions, we make no expensive treats, nor give long attendance at the governor’s gates; we care not at all who is chosen into our province, though he be choleric or unsufferably vexatious.
But just as Archilochus disparaged the island of Thasos because of its asperity and inequality in some places, overlooking its fruitful fields and vineyards, saying thus of it,
so we, whilst we pore upon one part of banishment which is ignominious, overlook its vacancy from business, and that leisure and freedom it affords us.
Men admired the happiness of the Persian kings, that passed their winter in Babylon, their summer in Media, and the pleasant spring-time at Susa. And he that is an exile may, if he pleases, when the mysteries of Ceres are celebrated, go and live at Eleusis; and he may keep the feasts of Bacchus at Argos; at the time of the Pythian games, he may pass over to Delphi, and of the Isthmian, to Corinth, if public spectacles and shows are the things he admires; if not, then he may be idle, or walk, or read, or sleep quietly; and you may add that privilege Diogenes bragged of when he said, “Aristotle dines when it seems good to King Philip, but Diogenes when he himself pleases,” having no business, no magistrate, no prefect to interrupt and disturb his customary way of living.
13. For this reason, you will find that very few of the most prudent and wise men were buried in their own country, but the most of them, when none forced them to it, weighed anchor and steered their course to live in another port, removing some to Athens, and others from it.
Who ever gave a greater encomium of his own country than Euripides in the following verses?
And yet he that wrote all this went himself into Macedonia, and passed the rest of his days in the court of Archelaus. I suppose you have also heard of this short epigram:
For both he and Simonides before him went into Sicily. And whereas we meet with this title, “This publication of the History of Herodotus of Halicarnassus,” many have changed it into Herodotus of Thurii, for he dwelt at Thurii, and was a member of that colony. And that sacred and divine poet Homer, that adorned the Trojan war, — why was he a controversy to so many cities (every one pleading he was theirs) but because he did not cry up any one of them to the disparagement of the rest? Many also and great are the honors that are paid to Jupiter Hospitalis.
14. If any one object, that these men hunted ambitiously after glory and honor, let him go to the philosophers and the schools and nurseries of wisdom at Athens, those in the Lyceum, the Academy, the Stoa, the Palladium, the Odeum. If he admires and prefers the Peripatetic philosophy before the rest, Aristotle was a native of Stagira, Theophrastus of Ephesus, Straton of Lampsacus, Glycon of Troas, Ariston of Ceus, Critolaus of Phaselis. If thou art for the Stoic philosophy, Zeno was of Citium, Cleanthes of Assus, Chrysippus of Soli, Diogenes of Babylon, Antipater of Tarsus, and Archedemus who was of Athens went over to the Parthians, and left a succession of Stoic philosophers in Babylon. And who, I pray, persecuted and chased these men out of their country? Nobody at all; but they pursued their own quiet, which men cannot easily enjoy at home that are in any reputation or have any power; other things they taught us by what they said, but this by what they did. For even now the most approved and excellent persons live abroad out of their own country, not being transported, but departing voluntarily, not being driven thence, but flying from business and from the disquiets and molestations which they are sure to meet with at home.
It seems to me that the Muses helped the ancient writers to finish their choicest and most approved compositions, by calling in, as it were, banishment to their assistance. Thucydides the Athenian wrote the Peloponnesian and Athenian War in Thrace, hard by the forest of Scapte; Xenophon wrote his history in Scillus belonging to Elis; Philistus in Epirus, Timaeus of Tauromenum at Athens, Androtion the Athenian in Megara, Bacchylides the poet in Peloponnesus. These and many more, after they had lost their country, did not lose all hope nor were dejected in their minds, but took occasion thereupon to express the vivacity of their spirit and the dexterity of their wit, receiving their banishment at the hands of Fortune as a viaticum that she had sent them; whereby they became renowned everywhere after death, whereas there is no remaining mention of those factious persons that expelled them.
15. He therefore is ridiculous that looks upon it as an ignominious thing to be banished. For what is it that thou sayest? Was Diogenes ignominious, when Alexander, who saw him sitting and sunning himself, came and asked him whether he wanted any thing, and he answered him, that he lacked nothing but that he would go a little aside and not stand in his light? The king, admiring the presence of his mind, turned to his followers and said: If I were not Alexander, I would be Diogenes. Was Camillus inglorious because he was expelled Rome, considering he has got the reputation of being its second founder? Neither did Themistocles by his banishment lose any of the renown he had gained in Greece, but added to it that which he had acquired among the barbarians; neither is there any so without all sense of honor, or of such an abject mind, that had not rather be Themistocles the banished, than Leobates that indicted him; or be Cicero that had the same fate, than Clodius that expelled him Rome; or be Timotheus that abandoned his country, than Aristophon that was his accuser.
And what say you to Hannibal the Carthaginian? Did not he use a convenient freedom towards Antiochus (he at that time an exile, and the other a king), when upon an advantageous occasion he advised him to give his enemies battle? He, when he had sacrificed, told him the entrails forbade it. Hannibal sharply rebuked him thus: You are for doing what the flesh of a beast, not what the reason of a wise man, adviseth.
17. But is it not then an ignominious thing to be an exile? Yes, it is among fools, with whom it is a reproach to be poor, to be bald, or of low stature, and (with as much reason) to be a stranger or a pilgrim. But they that do not fall into these mistakes admire good men, though they happen to be poor or strangers or in exile. Do not we see the temple of Theseus venerated by all men, as well as the Parthenon and Eleusinium? And yet Theseus was banished from Athens, by whose means it is at this time inhabited; and lost his abode in that city, which he did not hold as a tenant, but himself built. And what remarkable thing is there remaining in Eleusis, if we are ashamed of Eumolpus, who coming thither from Thrace initiated the Greeks, and still does so, in the mysteries of religion? And whose son was Codrus, that reigned at Athens, but of that Melanthus who was banished from Messene? Will you not commend that speech of Antisthenes, who, when one said to him, Phrygia is thy mother, replied, She was also the mother of the Gods? And if any one reproach thee with thy banishment, why canst not thou answer, that the father of the great conqueror Hercules was an exile? And so was Cadmus the grandfather of Bacchus, who, being sent abroad in search for Europa, did return no more:
As for those things which Aeschylus obscurely insinuates in that expression of his,
And of Apollo, chaste God, banished heaven,
I’ll favor my tongue, as Herodotus phrases it, and say nothing.
Empedocles, when he prefaces to his philosophy thus, —
does not here only point at himself; but in what he says of himself he shows the condition of us all, that we are pilgrims and strangers and exiles here in this world. For know, says he, O men, that it is not blood nor a spirit tempered with it that gave being and beginning to the soul, but it is your terrestrial and mortal body that is made up of these. And by the soft name of pilgrimage, he insinuates the origin of the soul, that comes hither from another place. And the truth is, she flies and wanders up and down, being driven by the divine decrees and laws; and afterwards, as in an island surrounded with a great sea, as Plato speaks, she is tied and linked to the body, just like an oyster to its shell, and because she is not able to remember nor relate,
she has removed, — not from Sardis to Athens, not from Corinth to Lemnos or Scyros, but having changed heaven and the moon for earth and an earthly life, — if she is forced to make little removes here from place to place, the soul hereupon is ill at ease and troubled at her new and strange state, and hangs her head like a decaying plant. And indeed some one country is found to be more agreeable to a plant than another, in which it thrives and flourishes better; but no place can deprive a man of his happiness, unless he pleases, no more than of his virtue and prudence. For Anaxagoras wrote his book of the Squaring of a Circle in prison; and Socrates, just when he was going to drink the poison that killed him, discoursed of philosophy, and exhorted his friends to the study of it; who then admired him as a happy man. But Phaëton and Tantalus, though they mounted up to heaven, yet, the poets tell us, through their folly fell into the extremest calamities.
[* ]Eurip. Phoeniss. 388 and 389.
[† ]This translation is taken from Burges’s Greek Anthology, p. 470. It is there signed J. H. M. (G.)
[* ]Plato, Timaeus, p. 90 A.
[† ]Euripides, Frag. 935.
[* ]Eurip. Iph. Taur. 253.
[* ]From the Niobe of Aeschylus, Frag. 153 and 154.
[† ]Odyss. VI. 204.
[* ]Il. XIV. 230; XXIV. 544; IX. 668; II. 625.
[* ]Il. XXI. 59.
[* ]Eurip. Phoeniss. 388.
[* ]Eurip. Phoeniss. 396.
[† ]Ibid., 430 and 344
[* ]From the Phryxus of Euripides, Frag. 816.