Home > Uncategorized > Plutarch: They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and the wealth of other men

Plutarch: They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and the wealth of other men

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

Greek and Roman writers on war and peace

Plutarch: Selections on war and peace

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Plutarch
Translated by John Dryden

From Tiberius Gracchus

Tiberius, maintaining an honourable and just cause, and possessed of eloquence sufficient to have made a less creditable action appear plausible, was no safe or easy antagonist, when, with the people crowding around the hustings, he took his place, and spoke in behalf of the poor. “The savage beasts,” said he, “in Italy, have their particular dens, they have their places of repose and refuge; but the men who bear arms, and expose their lives for the safety of their country, enjoy in the meantime nothing more in it but the air and light and, having no houses or settlements of their own, are constrained to wander from place to place with their wives and children.” He told them that the commanders were guilty of a ridiculous error, when, at the head of their armies, they exhorted the common soldiers to fight for their sepulchres and altars; when not any amongst so many Romans is possessed of either altar or monument, neither have they any houses of their own, or hearths of their ancestors to defend. They fought indeed and were slain, but it was to maintain the luxury and the wealth of other men. They were styled the masters of the world, but in the meantime had not one foot of ground which they could call their own.

From Demetrius

“Mars,” as says Timotheus, “is the tyrant,” but Law, in Pindar’s words, the king of all. Homer does not say that kings received at the hands of Jove besieging engines or ships of war, but sentences of justice, to keep and observe; nor is it the most warlike, unjust, and murderous, but the most righteous of kings, that has from him the name of Jupiter’s “familiar friend” and scholar. Demetrius’s delight was the title most unlike the choice of the king of gods. The divine names were those of the Defender and Keeper, his was that of the Besieger of Cities. The place of virtue was given by him to that which, had he not been as ignorant as he was powerful, he would have known to be vice, and honour by his act was associated with crime…

[He] had foolishly let himself be seduced away from…that highest good which he had thought to obtain by arms and fleets and soldiers he had now discovered unexpectedly in idleness, leisure, and repose. As, indeed, what other end or period is there of all the wars and dangers which hapless princes run into, whose misery and folly it is, not merely that they make luxury and pleasure. instead of virtue and excellence, the object of their lives, but that they do not so much as know where this luxury and pleasure are to be found?

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. December 31, 2015 at 9:42 am

    I’m impressed with Plutarch’s use of the terms “virtue” and “vice” and by turning the two upside down one appears to be the other. This reflects our modern warping of meanings as acquisitiveness and greed is perceived as a virtue and the poor are compelled to fight for those intent on acquiring ever more wealth and power.

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