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Theophrastus: Warmongering’s rumormongering

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

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Theophrastus
From Characters
Translated by J.M. Edmonds

Newsmaking is the putting together of fictitious sayings and doings at a man’s own caprice; and the Newsmaker is one that no sooner meets a friend than his face softens and he asks him with a smile ‘Where do you come from? How do you? and Have you any news of this?’ and throwing himself, so to speak, upon him ‘Can there be any greater news? nay, and it is good news’; and without suffering him to answer, ‘What?’ cries he, ‘have you heard nothing? methinks I can give you a rare feast.’

And it seems he has some soldier, or a servant of Asteius the flute-player’s, or maybe Lycon the contractor, come straight from the battle-field, who has told him all about it. Thus his authorities are such as no man could lay hands on. Yet he recounts, with them for sponsors, how that Polyperchon and the King have won a battle, and Casander is taken.

And if it be asked him ‘Do you believe this? ‘he will reply that it is so indeed, ’tis common talk, and the report gains ground, and everyone says the same; all agree about the battle, and the butchers’ bill is very long; he can tell it from the faces of the Government, they are all so changed. Moreover, he has been told in secret that they are keeping in close hiding one that came four days ago out of Macedonia who has seen it all. While this long tale is telling, you cannot think how true to life are his cries of woe: ‘Poor Casander! unhappy man! do you see how luck turns? Well, he was a strong man once, and now!’ and he ends with saying, ‘But mind you, this must go no further,’ albeit he has
been running up to all the town to tell them of it.

It is a marvel to me what object such men can have in making their news. They not merely tell lies, but forge tales that bring them no profit. For often-times have they lost their cloaks gathering crowds at the baths, or been cast in their suits-at-law by default a-winning battles by land or sea in the Porch, or it may be have missed their dinner taking cities by assault of word. Their manner of life is hard indeed; for what porch is there, or workshop, or part of the market-place which they do not haunt day in day out, to the utter undoing of their hearers, so do they weary them with their lying tales?

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