As Americans, we struggle daily with questions of ethics — what the ancients
called moralia. As individuals, we can find answers in the words of thinkers
whose wisdom transcends politics and time.
Born in Greece in A.D. 46, Plutarch was a biographer, an essayist, and a priest
of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi, appointed to speak for the gods in all manner
of human questioning. He had a marked influence on some of the thinkers who have
most influenced our modern thinking — most notably, Shakespeare and Emerson.
But what draws us still to the wise old Greek is his attention to, as he calls it,
“the real business of life.” Plutarch gives us not oracles but useful advice, thoughtful
counsel to gather round us as we go about the business of living. Here, some of
his wise words:
- Nature has fenced and barricaded in us nothing so much as the tongue,
having put the teeth before it as a barrier.
- Men teach us to speak, but the gods teach us to be silent.
- Diogenes used to go round begging to the statues, and when people expressed
said he was practicing how to bear refusals.
- I began my cure of anger by noticing its effects in others.
- If you take people as they are, as you would look upon barking dogs as only
following their nature,
you will be happier in the disposition you will then have.
- It is the act of a madman to distress oneself over what is lost, and not to
rejoice at what is left.
- The wise make the past clearly present to them through memory.
- The sensible person hopes for better things, but expects worse, and makes
the most of either.
- Though we cannot say that we suffer any other evil at the hands of those who
we are anxious to get rid of them and breathe again.
- Diogenes said that one who wished to do what was right ought to seek either
a good friend or red-hot enemy.