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15. Let us next speak of the goods that are due to fortune, all those, at least, which produce certain characters in men. [2] A characteristic of noble birth is that he who possesses it is more ambitious; for all men, when they start with any good, are accustomed to heap it up, and noble birth is a heritage of honor from one's ancestors. Such men are prone to look down even upon those who are as important as their ancestors,
because the same things1 are more honorable and inspire greater vanity when remote than when they are recent. [3] The idea of noble birth refers to excellence of race, that of noble character to not degenerating from the family type, a quality not as a rule found in those of noble birth, most of whom are good for nothing. For in the generations of men there is a kind of crop as in the fruits of the field; sometimes, if the race is good, for a certain period men out of the common are born in it, and then it deteriorates. Highly gifted families often degenerate into maniacs, as, for example, the descendants of Alcibiades and the elder Dionysius; those that are stable into fools and dullards, like the descendants of Cimon, Pericles, and Socrates.

1 i.e., the advantages and distinctions the family possessed of old; such distinctions, when possessed by those of later date, are less thought of.

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