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SELECTION FROM PLUTARCH'S “MORALS.”
I. To speak generally, what we are wont to say about the arts and sciences is also true of moral excellence, for to its perfect development three things must meet together, natural ability, theory, and practice. By theory I mean training, and by practice working at one's craft. Now the foundation must be laid in training, and practice gives facility, but perfection is attained only by the junction of all three. For if any one of these elements be wanting, excellence must be so far deficient. For natural ability without training is blind: and training without natural ability is defective, and practice without both natural ability and training is imperfect. For just as in farming the first requisite is good soil, next a good farmer, next good seed, so also here: the soil corresponds to natural ability, the training to the farmer, the seed to precepts and instruction. I should therefore maintain stoutly that these three elements were found combined in the souls of such universally famous men as Pythagoras, and Socrates, and Plato, and of all who have won undying fame. Happy at any rate and dear to the gods is he to whom any deity has vouchsafed all these elements!
But if anyone thinks that those who have not good natural ability cannot to some extent make up for the deficiencies of nature by right training and practice, let such a one know that he is very wide of the mark, if not out of it altogether. For good natural parts are impaired by sloth ; while inferior ability is mended by training: and while simple things escape the eyes of the careless, difficult things are reached by painstaking. The wonderful efficacy and power of long
and continuous labor you may see indeed every day in the world around you. Thus water continually dropping wears away rocks: and iron and steel are molded by the hands of the artificer: and chariot wheels bent by some strain can never recover their original symmetry: and the crooked staves of actors can never be made straight. But by toil what is contrary to nature becomes stronger than even nature itself.
The next point to discuss will be nutrition. In my opinion mothers ought to nurse and suckle their own children. For they will bring them up with more sympathy and care, if they love them so intimately and, as the proverb puts it," from their first growing their nails.” Whereas the affection of wet or dry nurses is spurious and counterfeit, being merely for pay. And nature itself teaches that mothers ought themselves to suckle and rear those they have given birth to.
For infancy is supple and easily molded, and what children learn sinks deeply into their souls while they are young and tender, whereas everything hard is softened only with great difficulty. For just as seals are impressed on soft wax, so instruction leaves its permanent mark on the minds of those still young. And divine Plato seems to me to give excellent advice to nurses not to tell their children any kind of fables, that their souls may not in the very dawn of existence be full of folly or corruption. Phocylides the poet also seems to give admirable advice when he says, “We must teach good habits while the pupil is still a boy."
3. Attention also must be given to this point, that the lads that are to wait upon and be with young people must be first and foremost of good morals, and able to speak Greek distinctly and idiomatically, that they may not by contact with foreigners of loose morals contract any of their viciousness. For as those who are fond of quoting
proverbs say not amiss, “If you live with a lame man, you will learn to halt."
4. Next, when our boys are old enough to be put into the hands of pedagogues, great care must be taken that we do not hand them over to slaves, or foreigners, or flighty persons. For what happens nowadays in many cases is highly ridiculous: good slaves are made farmers, or sailors, or merchants, or stewards, or money-lenders; but if they find a winebibbing, greedy, and utterly useless slave, to him parents commit the charge of their sons, whereas the good tutor ought to be such a one as was Phoenix, the tutor of Achilles. The point also which I am now going to speak about is of the utmost importance. The schoolmasters we ought to select for our boys should be of blameless life, of pure character, and of great experience. For a good training is the source and root of gentlemanly behavior. And just as farmers prop up their trees, so good schoolmasters prop up the young by good advice and suggestions, that they may become upright. How one must despise, therefore, some fathers, who, whether from ignorance or inexperience before putting the intended teachers to the test, commit their sons to the charge of untried and untested men. If they act so through inexperience it is not so ridiculous; but it is to the remotest degree absurd when, though perfectly aware of both the inexperience and worthlessness of some schoolmasters, they yet entrust their sons to them: some overcome by flattery, others to gratify friends who solicit their favors; acting just as if anybody ill in body, passing over the experienced physician, should, to gratify his friend, call him in and so throw away his life; or as if to gratify one's friend one should reject the best pilot and choose him instead. Zeus and all the gods! can anyone bearing the sacred name of father put obliging a petitioner before obtaining the best education for his sons ?
Were they not then wise words that the time-honored Socrates used to utter and say that he would proclaim, if he could, climbing up to the highest part of the city, “Men, what can you be thinking of, who move heaven and earth to make money while you bestow next to no attention on the sons you are going to leave that
money to ?”
I would add to this that such fathers act very similarly to a person who should be very careful about his shoe but care nothing about his foot. Many persons also are so niggardly about their children, and indifferent to their interests, that for the sake of a paltry saving, they prefer worthless teachers for their children, practicing a vile economy at the expense of their children's ignorance. A propos of this, Aristippus on one occasion rebuked an empty-headed parent neatly and wittily. For being asked how much money a parent ought to pay for his son's education, he answered, “A thousand drachmæ.” And he replying, “ Hercules, what a price! I could buy a slave for as much;” Aristippus answered, “ You shall have two slaves then, your son and the slave you buy." And is it not altogether strange that you accustom your son to take his food in his right hand, and chide him if he offers his left, whereas you care very little about his hearing good and sound discourses? I will tell you what happens to such admirable fathers, when they have educated and brought up their sons so badly: when the sons grow to man's estate, they disregard a sober and well-ordered life, and rush headlong into disorderly and low vices; then at the last the parents are sorry they have neglected their education, bemoaning bitterly when it is too late their sons' debasement.
5. I say, then, to speak comprehensively (and I might be justly considered in so saying to speak as an oracle, not to be delivering a mere precept), that a good education
and sound bringing-up is of the first and middle and last importance; and I declare it to be most instrumental and conducive to virtue and happiness. For all other human blessings compared to this are petty and insignificant. For noble birth is a great honor, but it is an advantage from our forefathers. And wealth is valuable, but it is the acquisition of Fortune, who has often taken it away from those who had it, and brought it to those who little expected it; and much wealth is a sort of mark for villainous slaves and informers to shoot at to fill their own purses; and what is a most important point, even the greatest villains have money sometimes. And glory is noble, but insecure. And beauty is highly desirable, but shortlived. And health is highly valuable, but soon impaired. And strength is desirable, but illness or age soon makes sad inroads into it. And generally speaking, if any one prides himself on his bodily strength, let him know that he is deficient in judgment. For how much inferior is the strength of a man to that of animals, as elephants, bulls, and lions! ( But education is of all our advantages the only one immortal and divine. And two of the most powerful agencies in man's nature are mind and reason. And mind governs reason, and reason obeys mind; and mind is irremovable by fortune, cannot be taken away by informers, cannot be destroyed by disease, cannot have inroads made into it by old age. For the mind alone flourishes in age; and while time takes away everything else, it adds wisdom to old age. Even war, that sweeps away everything else like a winter torrent, cannot take away
education. 6. And as I advise parents to think nothing more important than the education of their children, so I maintain that it must be a sound and healthy education, and that our sons must be kept as far as possible from vulgar twaddle. For what pleases the vulgar displeases the wise.